Friday, December 31, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 23



The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


Happy Friday and Happy New Year, friends!


---1---

In the Wish I'd Thought of That category:


---2---

A quotable post-Christmas reflection: "I’m torn. The philosophical side of me sniffs and dismisses toys and gifts, the side that tries to ponder upon loftier things. The six-year-old poor girl in me wants the Hollywood stage set Christmas and the IT doll wrapped in shiny foil paper and a sparkly bow. And a pretty red velvet dress. And those sides are like two siblings in the backseat of a car on a trip to eternity, slap fighting the whole way." Antique Mommy, from Giftmas or Christmas or Both.

---3---

You can always rely on Relevant Magazine for a different perspective. In What Christmas Says About America, Elizabeth Korver-Glenn reflects on Isaiah 11 and how our treatment of the Christmas holiday can speak to those from other cultures.

---4---

Also just posted on Relevant is a great article by Rachel Held Evans on making less boring New Year's resolutions.

Evans is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. She's the author of Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.

For her second book, she's committed to a theme of a year of biblical womanhood. And, if her blog entries on the process are any indication, it will probably be different from anything that phrase brings to mind.

She's written some incredibly gutsy articles. Here's her list of her blog's most read/retweeted/shared posts of the year.

---5---

Yes, I've added Rachel Held Evans's first book to my ever-growing reading list.

You might recall that at the beginning of December, I committed to reading and reviewing three books this month. And reading back through the month's posts, you'll count exactly zero book reviews. Yay me.

However... I have one review that's nearly ready to post, and will be up on the blog the first week of the year. And two more will follow later in January.

---6---

Speaking of reading... a few weeks ago, I ordered a pair of glasses. Reading glasses.

I've known this day was coming. Despite having close to 20/20 vision for nearly nine years, my vision continues to change, albeit slightly, every year. And preparing to tackle serious amounts of studying in the fall means, among other things, making sure my eyes can handle long periods of reading.

But it's been many years since I was a glasses-wearer. Before the LASIK, I wore contacts. Glasses were relegated to first-thing-in-the-morning and last-thing-at-night, and occasional giving-my-eyes-a-break days. Since the LASIK, it's been no glasses (and no contacts) ever. Other than sunglasses. And even sunglasses with a slight prescription didn't make me feel like I was wearing, you know, glasses.

But now, before settling in for a long read, I get out the glasses. And I feel really weird and extra-dorky. And not in a good way.

I'm trying to embrace my inner Ingrid Michaelson.

---7---

But enough about me. What about you? What are you doing New Year's Eve?



~~~~~

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The beauty of math

I recently discovered the work of Vi Hart.

Vi was featured on the NPR science blog Krulwich Wonders... in a post called I Hate Math! (Not After This, You Won't).

Vi Hart's six squares balloon tangle
She calls herself a "recreational mathemusician," and a quick browse of her website shows she clearly has talent as both a musician and a mathematician, and injects fun into whatever she does.

For example, she makes instruments out of paper, and makes videos of them being played while alight. (The instruments, not the musicians.)

And she's a genius at explaining things in a fun and approachable way.

Here's a fun video from her blog:



~~~~~

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Insights while under the influence of nitrous oxide

A couple of weeks ago, I had some dental work done.

Before I go any further, you should know I am a big wimp about pain, and I get nervous and tense about any medical procedure. (But when they're over, they become fodder for endless jokes. Most of which I will spare you.)

photo: Caleb Kimbrough, lostandtaken.com

Knowing that, I opted for the nitrous oxide in addition to the novocaine.

If you've ever had nitrous, you know it doesn't put you to sleep — it just decreases your awareness.

As I was beginning to feel the medicine's effects, I was contemplating the idea of awareness — how we seek it in some settings, and avoid it in others.

For example:

Sleep — near-total lack of conscious awareness.
Pain — sharp awareness of a specific area.

In social settings, being self-conscious is a bad thing.
In a counseling setting, being self-aware is a good thing.

Certain drugs heighten awareness; others depress it. What is it that makes people seek one effect over the other?

In yoga and Pilates, you're encouraged to become aware of your breathing — something we normally take for granted. When the dentist's assistant placed the nitrous mask over my face, I became very aware of my breathing, even as awareness of other things gradually decreased.

Awareness. Consciousness. Focus.

Empathy is another kind of awareness — one where we are aware of another's suffering. That awareness is what prompts us to reach outside ourselves to help someone else. It's the basis of all the helping professions; it's even the basis of the work the dentist was doing for me that day.

And I think that awareness, that empathy, that compassion for humanity, is the basis for the incarnation and the atonement, and it's the model for our relationships as a result, if I'm understanding this passage right.

Or maybe that's just the nitrous talking.

~~~~~

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buon Natale!


Duccio, Nativity Panel (1308-1311). National Gallery of Art, Washington

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him
.
John 3:17



The Wexford Carol (traditional Irish carol)
recorded by Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss, and Natalie MacMaster
from Songs of Joy & Peace


Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God's angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Prepare and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you'll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went this babe to find
And as God's angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife

~~~~~

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It is what it is

A couple of years ago, in the story Steroids Hearing Turns to Discussion of Linguistics, NPR's Mike Pesca reported on the phrase it is what it is.

Verbal Tofu.
In the report, Pesca quotes writer Barbara Wallraff, who calls it is what it is "the tofu of phrases" because it's a little mushy and it takes on the flavor of what's around it. (The report's audio is well worth listening to.)

The same year, the annual List of Banished Words contained the phrase, calling it avoidant, meaningless, pointless, and pervasive. (Since then, it is what it is seems to have fallen from favor somewhat, but it may or may not have been replaced by other commitment-phobic phrases.)

The phrase was not always used in such a mushy way. I was surprised to see it is what it is in Mere Christianity, which was published more than 60 years before the phrase made it onto The List.

C.S. Lewis uses the phrase twice in that book. Both times, he is speaking about the pointlessness of asking if something could have been or should have been some way other than how it is.

Lewis uses it is what it is to mean something solid, rather than something indistinct; to clarify, rather than to obscure; to make a point, rather than to avoid one.

And speaking of points, I have one here... somewhere.

Changing times require changing language. But it's one thing if our tentative speaking style comes out of a sincere consideration of others.

It's something else entirely if we're just protecting ourselves.

~~~~~

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Thousand Candles

Growing up in the southwest, I never fully appreciated the importance of candles and light to the Christmas season.

Closer to the equator, though nights do grow longer during the summer and fall, it's far less dramatic than it is further north.

In the upper Midwest where I live now, the longest night of the year is about 15 hours. Living here, I find I'm far more grateful for the winter solstice. It marks the end of the lengthening night, and the beginning of lengthening daylight.

There's a Swedish carol that celebrates candles, light, and warmth. How appropriate that it comes from a country in the far north part of the globe, where candles would be especially important.

Note: This video is from the late 1970s, when Evie was a big thing in Christian music. It retains all the charm of the era. (Plus, subtitles in... Dutch? Swedish? Someone help me out here...)



A Thousand Candles
Swedish carol, tr. Evie Tornquist Karlsson, tr. © 1977 Word Music

We light a thousand candles bright
around the earth today,
and all the beams will shine across
the heavens' grand display.

Yes over land and sea tonight
the joyful message brings
the birth of Him, our Lord and Christ,
our Savior and our King.

Dear brightest star o'er Bethlehem,
oh let your precious light
shine in with hope and peace toward men
in every home tonight.

In all our houses cold and dark
please send your warmth sublime,
the warmth that comes from Jesus' love
this blessed Christmas time.

~~~~~

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Steve Saint's flying car


The Maverick flying with I-Tec's Cessna 172 filming in the background.
photo: ITEC

Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint, one of the people whose story was told in the movie End of the Spear.



Recent articles on Steve Saint and the Maverick include:

More information about the Maverick (including videos, photos, links, and information about the vehicle's intended purpose) here.

~~~~~

Friday, December 17, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 22



The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


During this final week of Christmas preparations, today's 7 quick takes are all about gifts of one sort or another. Make yourself a nice cup of cocoa (with lots of mini-marshmallows) and enjoy!


---1---

All I want for Christmas:

from Kate Spade, via Elizabeth at Things Bright

---2---

If you're bored with your board games, you need the Boardgame Remix Kit, available in book and ebook forms, as well as a deck of cards and a mobile app.

A triple-word score on Park Place with a candlestick?

---3---

As I was leaving the Y the other night, the facility's Christmas tree caught my eye. It was artfully draped with donated scarves and hats; a sign on the tree explained the cold-weather gear would be given to those who were in need.

Underneath the tree were several sweatshirts, neatly folded. As I looked at the sweatshirts, I noticed the tree skirt they sat on was decorated with a nativity scene made of felt.

It was a beautiful and heartwarming display.

Except... well... maybe it's petty, but I just wish the fabric used for the faces of the Holy Family was a little more middle-Eastern, and a little less sunburned-Norwegian. But that's probably just me.

---4---

Speaking of nativity scenes, my friend Katrina writes about her kids' mischievous rearrangements of her favorite nativity set... and she documents their mischief with pictures.

---5---

Last weekend, we attended a Christmas party — the kind where everyone brings an appetizer and a white elephant gift.

I was responsible for the appetizer (pesto-stuffed mushrooms, just like I made for Thanksgiving).

My husband took charge of the gift:


The mushrooms were a big hit. (Though not quite as big as Gloria Gaither's hair.)

---6---

If Santa's delivering a bike to someone in your household this year, you'll want a helmet to go with it. (That should be the next in the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series. "If you give a kid a bicycle, s/he's going to want a helmet...")

Here's a What You Ought to Know about the difference between cheap helmets and expensive ones. (Those Brothers Winn are just like Consumer Reports, except... not.)




---7---

And finally, a Christmas gift from me to you — The Princess Bride meets Star Wars:



Womp rats of unusual size? I don't think they exist.


Happy Friday, friends! And happy final-week-of-Advent!

~~~~~

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Merry Christmas, George Orwell

For a book lover, there's a certain appeal to electronic readers like the Kindle.

Every time I look up a book on Amazon, it shows me how quickly and inexpensively I could have that book if I only had a Kindle. Many textbooks are being released in e-reader format, which is somewhat appealing as I get ready for a new season of serious study. But for various reasons, I haven't invested in one of the devices, though I've been curious about them.

However.

Today, NPR ran a story on All Things Considered about the potential of e-readers to send information about the user's habits — what they're reading, where they're reading, even how long they're spending on each page. So the antenna is not only receiving data; it's sending.

Bringing a whole new meaning to the word Whispernet.

The radio version of the story ends with a sound bite from Stephen King, who confesses he's frightened by the technology. Reporter Martin Kaste caps the story with this:

When contemplating the fact that books now come with antennas, even the master of creepy admits to being a little creeped out.
If I ever do get a Kindle, maybe my first download should be 1984.

~~~~~

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Psychiatric Help 5¢

Charlie Brown: I feel depressed. I know I should be happy, but I’m not.

Lucy Van Pelt: Well, as they say on TV, the mere fact that you realize that you need help indicates that you are not too far gone. I think we’d better pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.... Maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?

CB: What's pantophobia?

LVP: The fear of everything!

CB: THAT'S IT!
~~~~~

This year, A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its 45th anniversary. The holiday special is airing Thursday on ABC.

Last Thursday, The Washington Post ran a feature article on the making of the animated classic.
Christmastime is here... happiness and cheer...

In an interview with producer-director Lee Mendelson, author Michael Cavna reveals Mendelson's original intent was not to make an animated special, but a documentary. Mendelson tells how he got the idea, and about the turning points along the way, including the inspired pairing of Schulz's artwork with Vince Guaraldi's music (of which, as I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan).

He also talks about Schulz's insistence

...on one core purpose: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" had to be about something. Namely, the true meaning of Christmas. Otherwise, Schulz said, "Why bother doing it?"

Mendelson and Melendez asked Schulz whether he was sure he wanted to include biblical text in the special. The cartoonist's response, Mendelson recalls: "If we don't do it, who will?"

To Coca-Cola's credit, Mendelson says, the corporate sponsor never balked at the idea of including New Testament passages. The result — Linus's reading from the Book of Luke about the meaning of the season — became "the most magical two minutes in all of TV animation," the producer says.

In Why It Will Always Be Impossible to Top A Charlie Brown Christmas, Louis Virtel recounts how the story follows Charlie Brown's search for meaning through all the holiday contradictions, but refuses to leave him — and by extension, us — alone in cynicism and depression:

What other Christmas special has dared to be this smart and unflinching while leveling still with every viewer, young and old? For kids and blockheads from 1 to 92, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a skittishly drawn, poorly dubbed slice of very real life, and an eternal cure for pantophobia. Let’s watch it again.
~~~~~

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Warm wishes for a pleasantly enjoyable wintertime celebration

Correcting someone’s holiday phrase is a fairly ironic way to show your Christmas spirit.
Jon Acuff
Every year, I see articles (as well as blog posts, Facebook statuses, etc.) where a person or group expresses irritation at generic winter holiday greetings — anything other than "Merry Christmas" — and threatens a boycott. (Here's a recent example: Happy holidays, Merry Christmas or festive feuds? One way or another, retail greetings rankle some U.S. shoppers)

Upset that their holiday is being overrun by the secular and neutralized by the politically correct, people can feel pushed out by a culture that wants a happy winter holiday, but doesn't want it to be their winter holiday.

All the assumptions have changed.

I get that. I really do. I grew up with the same assumptions.

Like them, I've sat in the audience at a public school concert, watching my kindergartener sing from a program that included everyone's holiday except for mine. (And Up on the Housetop doesn't count.)

Like them, I've been saddened by city governments' refusal to allow nativity scenes in the public square.

Like them, every December 25, I celebrate the birth of my savior. And I wish people a "Merry Christmas."

But let's be honest. The consumer-driven spending frenzy that characterizes a contemporary American Christmas bears very little resemblance to the event it's supposed to be celebrating.

And if I find myself getting annoyed because a cashier or waiter wishes me "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," I'm probably neither happy nor merry.

More importantly, if I insist on my way, I'm probably forgetting the real reason for the season: God's mercy and grace in the form of a human infant, wrapped in rags and lying in a manger.

If God is humble enough to sleep in an animal's feeding trough, maybe His followers can respond to even the most generic seasonal greeting with grace.

It's not really our holiday anyway. It's His.

~~~~~

Let’s celebrate the holidays, of course, but let’s live the incarnation. Let’s advocate for the poor, the forgotten, the lonely, and the lost. Let’s wage war against hunger and oppression and modern-day slavery. Let’s be the kind of people who get worked up on behalf of others rather than ourselves.
Rachel Held Evans
~~~~~

Friday, December 10, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 21



The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


---1---

Yesterday, I wrote about World Vision's holiday gift catalog. Compassion International has a similar catalog of gifts to benefit people in developing countries, which I learned about from Big Mama's holiday gift guide post. (She's got a bunch of great gift ideas, including clothbound classic kids' books... whose siren song I'm successfully ignoring... so far).

Also: she's hilarious. She can even make light of household mishaps involving the microwave — and she includes pictures. (Wait... something about this is sounding very familiar...)

---2---

If we could understand cat-speak:



---3---

And if we could understand the language of cats, what would this one be saying?

---4---

Continuing on the animal theme, here's a tiny chameleon in Madagascar. (Doesn't this make you wonder how they ever found it? I mean, sometimes I can't even find my keys, and they're not tiny or camouflaged...)

---5---

It may be because I'm preparing for the GRE, or it may be because I'm just that much of a geek already, but I got a big kick out of the nerds' elevator.

---6---

Jason Boyett debunks a few Christmas myths.

---7---

And how about a trip back to third grade, digital-style? Make your own snowflake.

Here's mine:


Happy Friday, friends!

~~~~~

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gift ideas for the person who has everything

Everything was just ducky... until Goatzilla arrived.
photo: World Vision
Looking for the perfect gift?

How about a goat? Or even better, four ducks and a goat?

We sponsor a little girl in Rwanda through World Vision. This year, the organization sent out a gift catalog that's different from any other catalog I've ever seen.

You can purchase various animals (or education, or clean water, or medical assistance, or vocational training...) for families in developing countries, and World Vision will send your loved one a gift card telling them what your gift provided.

What struck me about the catalog was the imaginative animal combinations. Something tickled me about the idea of ordering a goat and two chickens or five ducks and two chickens — as if I were ordering a combination plate from a Mexican restaurant — and as I read the items (out loud), I kept coming back to four ducks and a goat and making my husband laugh at the repetition. (It may have been courtesy laughter — or possibly "I can't believe I married such a weirdo" laughter — but I'm not picky. I take the laughs where I find them.)

And then I got to the page with a share of a sheep, and the alliteration got to me: "How about a share of a sheep? A sheep share? And a share of the shearing when it's time for the sheep to be shorn?" (My husband is a very patient man.)

But when I reached this page, all my joking around stopped.

I'm pretty good at whistling past the graveyard (obviously), but not even I could whistle that ghost down.

And I apologize, dear reader, for ending a seemingly light-hearted post with a giant thud. I'm not sure how to fix it.

Eggnog, anyone?

~~~~~

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tuba Christmas

For all you low brass players (and fans), how about a little Tuba Christmas?



This event is nationwide. Look up Tuba Christmas on YouTube and you'll find groups large and small getting together all over the country to play seasonal favorites on their tubas, Sousaphones, baritone horns and euphoniums (euphonia?).

Our local Tuba Christmas is this weekend. I'm hoping they do Carol of the Bells.

~~~~~

Monday, December 06, 2010

Jolly old St. Nicholas

Today is St. Nicholas' Day. And I don't mean Santa Claus.

In many parts of the world, December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas visits children and leaves them little presents.

photo: IUPUI School of Liberal Arts
When I was a kid, my family spent several months in Austria, and we had a chance to see this custom. On this day, Austrian children are visited by a white-bearded man in a long robe and a bishop's miter.*

It's easy to see the similarities between the St. Nicholas of European countries and Santa Claus of the U.S., but what's really interesting are the differences.

Obviously, there's the outfit. I'd imagine it's pretty hard to get down chimneys in a robe and miter, and there's probably no room for the bishop's staff in the sleigh.

Then there's the date: December 6 was the date of Nicholas' death in AD 343, so the feast day set aside to honor him uses that date.

And even though the celebration of that day involves gifts, it's not a Christmas thing. Our Austrian neighbors waited until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree. (And the fresher the tree the better, when you're lighting it with real candles.)

I'd guess that the date's proximity to Christmas caused an eventual melding of the two holidays.

But I think Americans are poorer for the loss of St. Nicholas' Day.

*In Austria, Nicholas is accompanied by a creepy devil-like figure named Krampus who doles out punishments to the naughty. And now you know where the coal and switches come from.

~~~~~

Sunday, December 05, 2010

God with us

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1:23



~~~~~

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Give twice

This year, I'm really liking the idea of Christmas shopping with a purpose.

Elizabeth of Things Bright is running a series titled Merry and Bright. Each post highlights beautiful gift items from organizations working to end human trafficking.

Kaveri River capri, from Punjammies.com
So far, she's featured jewelry, coin purses, holiday cards, and these great pajama-style pants from India called Punjammies.

If you're shopping for a gift for a loved one, check out these groups and their wares.

It's a great way to give two gifts for the price of one.

~~~~~

Friday, December 03, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 20



The idea of 7 Quick Takes Friday comes from blogger Jennifer Fulwiler, who hosts it weekly at her site, Conversion Diary.


Happy Friday, friends! It's a winter wonderland in my part of the world, and the blog has a snowy new look to celebrate. Heads up — a snowball is headed your way!


---1---

After seeing yesterday's Hanukkah post, my son sent me this video, which tells the Hanukkah story in reggae/rap form. With skating.

It's like Maccabees on Ice, rasta-style:



---2---

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I finished up my fifth addictions course. If you're new to this blog, I've written about this pursuit here (and here, and here, and here... and a few other places... evidently it's been a big part of my life). One more class and a practicum, and I'll finish this certificate and can move on... to another degree. (Yes, it's occurred to me I may have somewhat of a slight addiction myself. Sadly, learning more about it just exacerbates the condition.)

But in order to get to that phase, I need to study for (and take) the GRE. I'll be doing that in the next few weeks. And now you know why the GRE prep manuals show up in my "now reading" list in the sidebar.

---3---

Published a couple of weeks ago on The Atlantic's Tumblr:

The Periodic Table of Rejected Elements
[Michael Gerber and Jonathan Schwarz, The Atlantic, August 1999]
 
---4---

On a more serious note, Wednesday marked the 55th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks took a stand by keeping her seat. The linked article includes audio from an interview with Mrs. Parks. For me, listening to her tell her story put a human face on what can sometimes seem like a distant event.

---5---

It turns out our efforts to "raise awareness of breast cancer" do not need to be limited to wearing and buying pink things during October. Who knew?

(In all seriousness, there are some really great ideas here.)

---6---

For those who enjoy the satirical blog Catalog Living, here's a look at how it got its start and an exclusive holiday post on the parenting site Babble.

That Gary and Elaine really know how to deck the halls.

---7---

And finally, an awesome Time Warp video:



A water balloon is what a snowball wants to be when it grows up.

~~~~~

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Festival of Light

As I write this, the first snow of the season is gently falling. The world looks like something right off of a Christmas card.

photo: AllJewishLinks.com
And I'm writing about Hanukkah.

(I don't need to go looking for irony. It finds me.)

Last year, I wrote a short piece about Hanukkah's place in the Christian tradition. After that, I made a mental note to learn more about Hanukkah and celebrate it next year.

(Which is now this year.)

And then I promptly forgot about it.

This year, Hanukkah is Dec. 1-9. The first candle of the menorah was to have been lit at sundown last night.

Sigh.

I have to admit, this tends to be the way I approach the Jewish feasts. I want to celebrate, to incorporate the richness of this part of my heritage into the rhythm of my family's year... but I'm stymied by a perfectionistic need to completely understand the festivals and get things just right.

And sometimes I just need to take a step.

So, no time like the present. (And I'm not talking about the gift-wrapped kind.)

My knowledge of the story of Hanukkah (or Chanukah) has been pretty limited. Aside from potato pancakes and that Adam Sandler song, I knew it had to do with:
  • a hostile Gentile occupation of Israel, including the Temple in Jerusalem
  • a series of battles and an eventual Jewish victory
  • a subsequent need to cleanse/rededicate the Temple
  • only enough oil for one day's fire for rededication
  • a miracle where God caused that tiny bit of oil to last for eight days

Through this site, I learned much more about Hanukkah's history, including the stories of Mattityahu the priest and Chanah and her seven sons.

(Side note: It seems Hanukkah was named for a woman. I never would've guessed.)

But here's another interesting and often-missed fact about Hanukkah:

Jesus observed it. And it was during that festival that He revealed Himself as the Messiah and spoke openly of His unity with the Father. I'm not sure if He was making a connection by making that statement during that particular feast, but it's worth pondering.

Maybe I'll ponder it while lighting a candle.

~~~~~

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Reading and writing

My old journalism professor once told our class the secret to being a good writer: read voraciously and write prolifically.

photo: treehugger.com
Write prolifically:
What with posting every day last month, my writing has been much more prolific than before.

Though I have gone through seasons where I wrote far more content in a month than thirty blog posts, that was academic writing, which isn't quite the same thing as blogging.

One major difference between academic writing and blogging is that nobody wants to read other people's academic writing.

(At least, I hope that's a difference.)

Read voraciously:
I've always been a voracious reader (though I frequently wish I were able to read faster, especially when reading things like this). But my interests are all over the place, so unless I'm working on a class project, my reading habits tend to be somewhat... random.

So this month, I'll be tackling three books on my reading list, and posting a quick review of each one. (Did I actually just commit to reading and reviewing three books... in December? Am I crazy??)

Reading and writing, in a single package — I think my old journalism professor would be pleased.

~~~~~

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo review

On November 1, I committed to blog daily all month.

Here's how the month went:

Facts:
  • I posted every day in November.
  • At the beginning of the month, the Drafts view showed 48 posts in various stages of development.
  • I finished several of those posts and published them.
  • I also drafted a few new post ideas.
  • Today, there are 45 posts in draft form.
  • I made less progress than I hoped.
  • Still, progress is progress, and worth celebrating! Mario cookies for everybody!

Stats:
  • On 11/8, November's pageviews surpassed August's.
  • On 11/15, they surpassed September's.
  • On 11/19, they surpassed October's.
  • On 11/28, November's pageviews hit four digits... for the first time ever. Woohoo! Have another Mario cookie!

Discoveries:
  • I discovered there is a National Blog Writer's Month (October), or NaBloWriMo, and that knitters have National Knit a Sweater Month (November), or NaKniSweMo.
  • I discovered I'm much more likely to take note of bloggable thoughts and goings-on and whatnot when I know I have a daily post to write.
  • I discovered it's sometimes better to walk away and focus on something else than to try to force an idea.

Lessons learned:
  • Contrary to my tendency, not every post needs to be edited to death before it goes live. (Ironic, no?)
  • Some posts deserve the extra time, but some can be written quickly.
  • I will probably need to continue to learn and re-learn that second lesson.

One friend asked if I'd continue the daily blogging after November is over. I had to answer honestly, with a solid "I'm not sure."

So what do you think?

What did you like this month? What would you like to see more of?

Whether you're a longtime reader or you're new to this blog, I'm interested in hearing from you. I've opened up the comments to anonymous contributors, but would appreciate a first name if you go that route.

Looking forward to your comments!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Thankful we didn't require the services of the local fire department

Today's tale is a long one. You may want to grab a beverage. And possibly a snack.

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I'm not a huge traditionalist.

So when we decided to postpone our Thanksgiving meal to Friday to accommodate family members (who would be dining with other family on Thursday), we also decided to switch up the regular menu so that nobody would have to eat the same food two days in a row.

To me, this meant one thing: a chance to experiment! (Those who know me well know that I put the "mental" in "experimental." And those who don't are about to find out.)

Hence, a deconstructed Thanksgiving, reconstructed on a Mediterranean theme. The menu included pesto-stuffed mushrooms, polenta with parmesan, Italian bread with garlic-infused olive oil, and pomegranate lemonade (plus a couple of other side dishes that were nudged toward the Mediterranean region with olive oil and lemon juice, because I can't let go of a theme).

And herb-marinated turkey breast overlaid with bacon, because a true Italian meal must have a pork product. (It would have been prosciutto except for the expense. Plus, by the time I thought of it, our local prosciutto vendor was closed for the holiday. And that's the first time I've ever said "our local prosciutto vendor" — it makes us sound far more sophisticated than we actually are.)

Pomegranates, lemons and grapes say "ciào!" (Corn says "chow.")

And since it wasn't too cold out, and there was no snow on the deck, it seemed like it might be fun to cook the turkey on the gas grill.

Now, my grilling experiments usually turn out well. For example, one of those experiments yielded such happy results that it's forever changed the way I do homemade pizza. (Yes, pizza. On the grill. It's amazing.)

But here's where a sensible person would rethink the bacon thing.

I was planning to use the grill like an oven, heating only half the burners and cooking the turkey over indirect heat like I'd seen Alton Brown do.

Everything was going pretty smoothly until about an hour in, when I checked on the bacon-enrobed bird and thought, well, how is that bacon going to get crispy? So I took the tongs and rolled the turkey onto the heated grates.

And then this happened:

"Those flames were really big, Dad..." (name that movie)

I can't say that what I did next would have made Alton happy. After all, he's the guy who hates all "unitaskers" (his word for any kitchen tool that has only a single purpose), except for one:


I stood there looking at the flaming bird, and started laughing. And as I contemplated what to do next, my husband ran back into the house and grabbed... not the fire extinguisher, but the camera.

Because what's more important — having a nice, safe holiday meal, or documenting a pork-and-poultry conflagration?

Holding flaming turkey aloft for a portrait, while bacon continues to burn on the grill

Flaming turkey relocated to the unheated side, while bacon still continues to burn

Turkey flames extinguished, and charred bacon still continues to burn

Once all the excitement (and flames) had died down, and the turkey had finally finished cooking (which required time in both the oven and the microwave, because the propane ran out partway through the cooking process), we sat down to dinner about two hours later than I'd intended.

So, how was the meal?

It actually turned out pretty well. And I've learned some important lessons about grilling turkey:
  1. If you're going to drape the bird with bacon, put it in a foil roasting pan... and keep it away from direct flame.
  2. Make sure your propane tank is full.
  3. When you grill, always, always remember to keep the most important piece of equipment close at hand:


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does anybody hear her?

photo credit: Ian Britton, FreeFoto.com
Yesterday, I wrote about an organization based in my area that's working to end human trafficking.

Today's post might be a little more challenging.

Another organization based in my area, Eve's Angels, reaches out to women in the adult entertainment industry.

I learned about the organization and its founder Anny Donewald from Margot Starbuck's article A New Message at the Strip Club-Church Showdown.

As I see it, the groups these two organizations work with are more alike than different.

Some might take issue with that statement, objecting that trafficked women are enslaved by someone in a position of power, and forced to perform against their will. They would say that women in the adult entertainment industry aren't imprisoned, but are there of their own volition.

Maybe.

When I think about women in either situation, I can't help thinking about Jesus' story about the shepherd who looks high and low for a single lost sheep. The shepherd loves and values that sheep, regardless of how she got lost.

On the Casting Crowns website, just before the lyrics to Does Anybody Hear Her, the group issues a strong statement:

"They are all around us. To become numb to their pain is to become numb to the very heart of God and the suffering of His only Son."



Does Anybody Hear Her
Written by Mark Hall

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction
She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

She is yearning
For shelter and affection
That she never found at home
She is searching
For a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day
And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say
Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can't see past her scarlet letter
And we've never even met her

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can't see past her scarlet letter
And we've never even met her

Never even met her

Does anybody hear her? Does anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me

Does anybody hear her? Does anybody see?
Does anybody even know she's going down today?
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Does anybody see?

He is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

2005 Club Zoo Music (BMI) / SWECS Music (BMI) (adm. by EMI CMG Publishing)

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shine like justice

My mother's generation invented the "product party."

Freshwater pearl and bead necklace from WAR International
What started with Tupperware became a phenomenon in the last half of the twentieth century, and it's still going strong today. My kitchen, filled as it is with Pampered Chef products, is a testimony to the appeal of the product party.

But earlier this year, I went to a different kind of product party, put on by Women at Risk International.

(The organization is headquartered in my area, but they do have an online store. It's a great place to find holiday gifts that are beautiful, affordable, and beneficial. And you don't even need to brave the mall.)

At the party I attended, most of the items for sale were accessories — jewelry, scarves, purses, etc. — made by women rescued from slavery.

Slavery? In the 21st century?

I know. It doesn't seem to make sense.

But a quick Google search on the word "trafficking" turned up these quotes:

"Today, there are more slaves in the world than we have ever had in history," said Dr. Amy Branam during a recent presentation... about human trafficking in the United States. "It happens everywhere in the world." Many people are shocked to learn that not only does slavery still exist today, but it is considered the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
(source: Human Trafficking Search)
"Estimates have placed human trafficking and illicit migration as a $28 billion enterprise, steadily catching up with drug and arms trafficking."
(source: Interpol)
"Human trade, slave markets, the buying and selling of people — these are words and phrases that, to many people, echo a brutal and distant time in our past. But to the countless women, men, and children trafficked every year, these words coldly define the horror of their lives. Trafficking is a global phenomenon where victims are sexually exploited, forced into labor and subjected to abuse."
(source: Amnesty International)
At the event I attended, Women at Risk's founder spoke on her organization's efforts to combat the evil of human trafficking by offering women shelter, safety, and job skill training.

And she told us that human trafficking isn't limited to other countries — it happens in the United States. In the suburbs. In nice Christian families.

A few days later, a story about the arrest of a Minnesota man who prostituted his wife via Craigslist appeared on Christianity Today's website.*

Maybe reading a story like that brings the issue home, especially for parents of young daughters. But even if slavery didn't exist in the U.S., it should be an issue of concern to Christians worldwide, just as it was in earlier centuries.

Shining like justice is a big part of our call.

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*(Note: In the months since that story posted, Craigslist shut down its "Adult Services" section.)

The post's title is borrowed from the Cake song Short Skirt, Long Jacket.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Sparky

7 Quick Takes Friday has been pre-empted due to a special birthday celebration (and because 7QTF's regular host, Jennifer Fulwiler, wisely decided to take a few days off).

I'll be back with another seven bite-sized morsels of bloggy goodness next Friday.


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Today is Charles Schulz's birthday. He would have been 88 years old.

There's something about this comic that's so perfect on Black Friday...

When I was a kid, although the newspaper my family subscribed to didn't carry Peanuts, I was a huge fan thanks to Peanuts books from the library and the holiday specials we watched every year.

A few weeks ago, Parade ran an article about Schulz, Lessons from The Great Pumpkin. Author Eric Konigsberg points out that over the years, people have read Linus's unflagging commitment to "the mythical squash" as everything from a defense of unwavering faith to a satire of religion:

As a child, I felt for Linus, whose faith in something unprovable was stingily rewarded, if at all, with the knowledge that he'd maintained his belief in the face of ever-increasing doubt. "If the Great Pumpkin comes, I'll still put in a good word for you," he calls out to Sally as she leaves him. "Good grief, I said, ‘If.' I meant ‘When he comes,'" Linus wails. "I'm doomed. One little slip like that can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by. Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?"

John Waters, the director behind such bizarro films as Cry-Baby, Hairspray, and Serial Mom, also grew up on a diet of Peanuts. As a kid in Baltimore, he was particularly fond of the Great Pumpkin TV special. "I always identified with Linus," he says. "He was not one bit embarrassed by what the others saw as foolishness. It gave me faith as a kid — faith to believe in strange things."

Still, the lessons learned from the Great Pumpkin depend on the viewer: The story can also be seen as an allegory of the irrationality of belief or as a satire of religion. "On some level," [Schulz biographer David] Michaelis says, "Schulz was showing us how some people would so much rather live with this craziness of false belief instead of just being quiet and resolute in their faith. He was saying, 'Be careful what you believe.'"
Here, I could probably go into great and detailed description of how Schulz captured the zeitgeist of several decades. Or I could write about how Peanuts affected me during my childhood, and which characters I most strongly identified with.

But I'd rather leave you with the wisdom Linus demonstrated on another holiday:



Happy Birthday, Charles Schulz.

~~~~~

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quotefest

Today's post is a mini-collection of quotes and a completely unrelated cartoon for your pre-Thanksgiving amusement and/or or distraction. Enjoy.

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"What if I want mushroom soup for my soul?"

— overheard from a librarian while checking books in

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"If you want to work here, you’re gonna have to dress the toothbrush."

— Deb B., quoting her former employer in a story of her days as a dental assistant, referring to the six-foot-tall thematically-dressed toothbrush outside the office

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"Stop buying hunting licenses! Get out there and shoot the bear!"

— Jeremy G., referring to some people's ongoing pursuit of academic degrees

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

File this thought under "signs I don't live in a third-world country"

When it's late and I don't want to bother turning on the kitchen light to put a glass in the dishwasher, I sometimes wish the appliance had a light inside that would go on when I open the door.

Jessica Hagy, Indexed

Oh yeah.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Out of the Shadowlands

I'm not in the least the religious type. I want to be let alone to feel I'm my own master; but since the facts seemed to be just the opposite, I had to give in.
C.S. Lewis, quoted in Time Magazine, Dec. 6, 1963
Clive Staples "Jack" Lewis, 1898-1963
On November 22, 1963, the world lost a great man, a public figure whose words inspired many generations during his lifetime and in the 47 years since his death.

I've written a few times about C.S. Lewis, but my words don't capture the impact his writing has had on my life. Probably the best I can do by way of explanation is to say he told me about Aslan:
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.

"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

— from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Because I fell early and hard for The Chronicles of Narnia, my reading of Lewis's work has been mostly limited to his fiction. I began with that series in fifth grade (and have read it many times since), then read the Space Trilogy, The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters during my senior year in college, and Till We Have Faces just a few years ago. (His nonfiction titles, including Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, and A Grief Observed, have been on my reading list for quite a while.)

Lewis was an interesting person with an unusual personal story. He was single until his late 50s, when he married an American divorcée. That story is captured in Shadowlands, a movie I'd highly recommend. (Have a box of Kleenex nearby.)

Maybe I'll watch it again on his birthday, a week from today. And maybe between now and then, I'll finally read one of his nonfiction works.

Which one would you choose?

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Illumination

Contemporary meets traditional: modern artist Makoto Fujimura paints abstract art for a project celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in Illumination — The Crossway Fujimura Bible Project:


Fujimura - 4 Holy Gospels from Crossway on Vimeo.

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