Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 54

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

Hello, friends! The semester is done, family celebrations are complete, and I have a couple of weeks to breathe and think about what to write about in 2012. (That's as close as I get to the bloggy version of New Year's resolutions.)

And today, we have a new 7 Quick Takes. Enjoy!


This week, my cousin Brian posted this video:


When we were kids, Brian once brought over some Legos. I'd never seen anything like them. I loved them immediately and wished I had some of my own. I had dolls, a tea set, and lots of arts and crafts supplies, but I really liked building stuff. My Lincoln Logs were favorites. I wanted to be an architect.

Lego ad from 1981, found at Sociological Images


I still like Legos.

So I think this photo series on Bryan Lopez's site is really cool:

The Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William
from 2011 Lego Year in Review


And speaking of Legos, my friend John made a time-lapse video of his assembly of the 3152-piece Star Wars "Executor" Lego set:

The "Executor" from Coastline Studios on Vimeo.


Have you been waiting for the annual List of Banished Words from Lake Superior State University? I know I have.


As always, Calvin College's January Series has an amazing lineup. I was pretty excited to learn the schedule includes Eric Metaxas, N.T. Wright, and several other great speakers.


So, Happy New Year, friends! Do you do anything special to mark the turning of the calendar? Resolutions, or a year-in-review, or something different?

Speak up in the comments!


Friday, December 02, 2011

The Spirit of Dickens Past, Present, and Yet to Come

For new friends and old, a repost from two years ago, with new ideas at the end.


I love the story of A Christmas Carol.

We own at least five versions of the movie, and have seen several more renditions of the story on stage and screen.

Each version emphasizes different points — some take a more humanistic approach (i.e. Scrooge had it in him the whole time), and others focus more closely on the story's supernatural aspects (i.e. it took a spiritual awakening to force Scrooge to give up his greed and think of someone other than himself).

Some versions do a better job than others at setting the stage for Scrooge's redemption, unshrinkingly depicting the poverty, filth and horrors of London during the mid-to-late 19th century.

Still, we stubbornly cling to an idyllic, Department 56-like vision of Victorian London.

The 1980 movie Ordinary People contains a line that captures this notion of idealized perfection. The scene shows Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) trying to convince her husband Cal (Donald Sutherland) that going away to England for the holiday is the right thing to do: “You know what I think? I think Christmas in London would be like something out of Dickens.”

I've seen that movie a few times, and every time I hear that line I think, "Huh?"

I mean, what part of his work, exactly, would make one want to vacation in Charles Dickens’ London? Is it the air filled with coal smoke and soot, or the streets full of starving orphans and excrement? Puzzling.

In an article entitled The Darker Side of A Christmas Carol, Lisa Toland points out that Dickens' London was "a world more brutal than we sometimes imagine," and that his work was actually a "social tirade" intended to "awaken Britain's collective conscience."

We're far removed from Victorian London. Content to see only the charms of Dickens' writing, we may miss the application in our own day.

Who is Tiny Tim in our time? Toland answers compellingly:
While poor children in developed nations are mostly those living in former industrial centers, worldwide poverty and exploitation have even more faces. These are the modern-day Tiny Tims....

The culture of workhouses still exists, though under a different guise. Exploitive child labor and abuse are alive and well. And human trafficking, which preys especially on children, is a reality. For these children, the workhouse may be a house of prostitution. All of these things make our society look much like Victorian London. Fortunately, many governments, relief organizations, and the church—through various ministries and local congregations—are actively combating these hidden injustices.

Between the horror of reality and the fanciful coloring of his characterization, Dickens's classic maintains the power to awaken our social conscience. Yes, we are drawn to the romance of the Victorian Christmas, but we are also gripped and moved by A Christmas Carol's dark portrayals of real life, then and now.

For Scrooge, the ultimate moment of self-examination comes on the third night of his haunting, when he is visited by a silent, grim spirit. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leads him to a forgotten graveyard and points to a plain slab of stone engraved with Ebenezer Scrooge. At that moment, sinking in his own grave, Scrooge experiences the desolation of death without the promise of redemption.

Then, having glimpsed the ultimate terror, the spirit returns Scrooge safely to his bedroom, where he bursts with joy, immediately calling out his window to arrange the delivery of an enormous turkey to Bob Cratchit's home—one tangible fruit of Scrooge's regeneration.

It's an ending filled with hope and implicit moral exhortation. Scrooge's newfound compassion pushes Dickens's readers of every age and culture to pursue their own courses of charity. For there will always be faces pressed against our windows.
If the Spirit of the One who is Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come is leading you to make a difference in the life of a Tiny Tim, here are a few organizations to consider:

Compassion International
Heifer International
Women At Risk, International
World Relief
World Vision

And check out Elizabeth's Merry & Bright series, where she highlights goods made by or in support of human trafficking survivors. Her latest post features items in every shade of green, and she's also featured red and orange.

May God bless us, every one.


Thursday, November 17, 2011


Although I'm a counselor, I don't use a couch like the one in the comic below (and I don't know anyone who does).

Even so, I still collect comics showing this style of therapy. I get a kick out of them, despite the unrealistically stereotypical counseling office.

This one's especially fun:

Comic by Dan Piraro.

But the more I look at it, the more conflicted I feel.

Do I:
a) love it because of the personal style statements the therapist is making?
b) cringe because of the misspelling in the speech balloon?
c) suddenly feel the need to equip my office with that chair?
d) all of the above?

If you guessed d), you win a prize — a free therapy session in the egg-shaped chair!

Now I'm off to the Men in Black online catalog to find one...


Saturday, November 05, 2011

The tipping point: part 2

If you read part 1, you know I feel strongly about the subject of tipping.

Writer and psychology prof Richard Beck seems to feel pretty strongly too:

If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.
— Richard Beck, The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity
What do you think — too strong?

Beck goes on to admit he's exaggerating. He knows he can tend to be over the top when he makes a point. (In the comments on a recent post, he wrote, "I have been asking a lot of categorical questions. And those tend to come across as provocative 'bombs'.... All told, however, the questions I'm asking come out of a soft space; thinking about how people are hurt and trying to ask questions about the things doing the hurting.... For the most part, my pique comes from my compassion. I want to make those who are not seen, seen.")

Modeling a balanced approach to tipping.
Beck may have been exaggerating, but I will tell you, it's a big thing for me. Last April, a well-known money columnist wrote on this topic, opposing the 20% tipping standard because, combined with increased restaurant pricing, this amounts to a raise for servers at a time when other professions aren't seeing raises. Yes, I left a comment. I tried to speak truth with grace. (I had to rewrite my comment a few times to make sure the grace was as evident as the truth.)

So yes, I tip well. I view it as a moral imperative. There's James 2:14-17, if you'd like a Bible passage to work from.

But I think there's more to this issue than money.

Our pastor at Mars Hill once interrupted his sermon to ask if there were any restaurant servers in the congregation. When a few hands went up, he asked if they'd be willing to come up and talk about their experience. Two women stepped up to the platform, and Rob asked them how they felt about waiting tables on Sundays. Both servers agreed Sunday was the least popular day to work, because the after-church crowd tended to be poor tippers.

I was glad he was addressing the issue, but for my part, Rob was preaching to the choir. I was already convinced that tipping was important, and I felt like I practiced it pretty well.

And even as proud as I've been of my tipping practices, a few years ago I realized (thanks to my son) that I still tended to treat servers like servants. I mean, I was polite, but not especially engaging — as if I was caught up in this big disparity of role or status. Or maybe I just allow my natural introversion to take over. Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same.

After my son came to faith in Christ, I noticed he would look servers in the eye and ask them how their day was going — and not just servers in restaurants, but cashiers in the grocery store and various other people he'd come across. It was amazing to see their response — they'd light up at the fact that someone asked about them — as if they were accustomed to taking off their humanity when they put on the apron.

But what does our faith in God have to do with our treatment of other people? In the same article, Richard Beck fires off some sardonic words to make the connection:

...behavior at lunch isn't considered to be "working on your relationship with God." Behavior at lunch isn't spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can't be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.
This topic came up yesterday in a different setting. I took a friend for a pedicure as a little thank-you for her help painting my living room. As we sat in the pedi chairs and chatted, the woman doing our pedicures joined in — and then immediately apologized for interrupting. I told her she was welcome to join our conversation, and the three of us chatted like old friends. But evidently this isn't always the case for her.

I know we like to pretend we're not class-conscious, but let's face it — we are.

Going back to James' letter:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
James 3:9-10
James is echoing the words of Jesus, who summed up the Hebrew law as two intertwined commandments: love God, and love your neighbor. He's asking, can we really claim we're loving God if we're vile to His image-bearers?

My faith is the result of God's lavish generosity. My understanding of that needs to work its way out in the way I treat strangers, outsiders, those who rank lower on the social ladder... people I view as beneath me.

And that, friends, is the point of this tip.


Friday, November 04, 2011

The tipping point: part 1

Years ago, I was at dinner with a friend. After a good meal and a great chat, we got ready to settle the bill.

I don't remember how it happened, but I saw how much my friend added for the tip.

I know. It's as rude to watch a person pay their restaurant bill as it is to watch them enter their PIN at the ATM. But evidently I was just that rude.

And not only was I rude enough to look, I was rude enough to comment on it.

The tip seemed low. That surprised me, because my friend was a very sweet and considerate Christian woman, the type of person known for her gracious spirit and gentle demeanor.

She was the type of person I wanted to emulate, because I'm... well, I'm the type of person to watch someone pay a restaurant bill and then comment on the size of the tip. You might say I have a few rough edges.

When I asked her about the size of the tip she'd left, she replied, "Why would I give the waitress 15%* when I only give God 10%?"

* This was quite a few years back — I think 20% is customary for tipping now.

I knew my friend to be a wonderful person. I was sure she had heard that rationale somewhere, and just hadn't thought it through. So (because I'm helpful like that) I pointed out the logical flaw in her argument, explaining that her church offering of 10% was calculated on her entire income, and 15% was only based on the dinner check.

And then I followed up with another question (again, helpful!), asking if she'd ever worked in the food service industry. She said she hadn't, so (because I have, and I'm helpful) I explained how hard servers work, and how little they make in hourly wages. (In a typical restaurant, tips are what a server lives on, because the check is laughably tiny.) And moreover, I went on, in a midprice restaurant such as that one, the difference between a 10% tip and a 15% tip would be less than a dollar, and that dollar would make a bigger difference to the server than it would to my friend.

Now, it might seem the moral of this tale is "Ask Pam to dinner and you'll get a lecture." But that's only a sub-point.

Earlier this year, I read an excellent devotional article by my friend Tim Gustafson, tackling a sticky issue: the after-church crowd's reputation as poor tippers. In the article, Tim quotes his pastor: “You are representing Jesus. If you go out to eat, tip generously.” Would that all pastors would preach the same.

To further define that, I'd say "generously" means 20%, at least. I typically calculate 20% and round up to the next dollar. Why so much? A server's tips depend mainly on their tabs and their turnover. Since I usually order water, and I drink a lot of it, the server makes lots of trips to my table to refill my glass, but my drink doesn't show up on the bill. And if I'm involved in a lengthy conversation — which I often am — the table doesn't "turn" as quickly. Since my dining habits cut into both the tab and the turnover, I try to compensate. (Also, if I'm using a coupon, I tip on the amount before the coupon was subtracted, because the tip is on what the server brought, not on what I'm paying for.)

So, maybe being able to tip generously while staying within your budget means ordering the chicken Caesar salad instead of the steak. Do it.

But there's a bigger point to this. For that tip, you'll want to come back tomorrow.


(I still haven't figured out the tipping etiquette for coffee places. So if you ever run into me at Starbucks and you see me pass the tip jar as if I hadn't seen it, that's why. Maybe one of my readers is or has been a barista and can help me out?)


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Knitting 101

I haven't been able to do anything handicrafty for a while. I'm not sure why, but I suspect the pile of schoolbooks has something to do with it.

If and when I ever get back to knitting, I may have forgotten a few things. So I'm glad I found this helpful video:

"We're not making mistakes, we're making experiences."

That has all kinds of therapeutic applications.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

...and Justice for all

Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
- Isaiah 1:17

Last weekend I attended a justice conference hosted by the church I attend.

The topics and actions discussed there seem to get at the heart of what believers are supposed to be doing. Too often, I think, we get caught up in the mentality of control-and-patrol (control the message and patrol the boundaries)... we forget that our salvation has a purpose beyond just our own eternal destiny.

That purpose, I believe, is to be God's hands in this world.

Guest speakers at the conference were Abraham George of International Justice Mission, and Carolyn Custis James, author of Half the Church.

I was very interested in hearing Carolyn Custis James speak, since her book has been on my to-read list since it first came out. Take a look at the promo video and you'll see why:

And she did not disappoint. She was eloquent, challenging, and gracious.

Abraham (Abey) George was also an inspiring speaker. In his sermon on Sunday, he made the point that justice is a divine mandate. The entire sermon may be heard here. It's well worth your time.


Friday, October 07, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 53

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


Hey! Winter's coming, and needleworkers know that means warm knitwear!

My friend Elizabeth of Things Bright found this awesome video entitled "How to Knit Like an Icelandic Man," in which an Icelandic man is... well, not exactly knitting.

We would call it Tunisian crochet, but it's really cool... er, warm.

How to knit like an Icelandic man from Iceland on Vimeo.

OK, I'm hooked!


A couple of weeks ago, someone found this blog using the search term "the princess bride holocaust cloak." I'm guessing they were directed to this post. I'm so proud...


Did you know the smiley is 25 years old? Thank you, Scott Fahlman — this calls for a party! <:-)


Last week was Banned Books Week! Check out this list of challenged classics. How many have you read?

Just days before Banned Books Week, announced the widespread availability of the Kindle lending library. I immediately went to my library's website and found they are participating — cool! (And even Kindle-free households like mine can participate, using the free Kindle for PC or Kindle for Android app.)


From the department of Extremely Helpful How-tos:

How to peel an entire head of garlic in 10 seconds.

How to combine various Lego sets to make other stuff: Rebrickable (from Ohdeedoh).


Go ahead — Draw a Stickman!


And a little video clip to end your week with a smile:

Happy Friday, friends!


Friday, September 23, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 52

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

If you partnered with this week's 7 Quick Takes for a game of Trivial Pursuit, your team would be the first to win the little brown wedge.


Shel Silverstein's family has published a book of his previously-unpublished poems. Here's the feature from NPR, which includes audio of some of the poems being read aloud. Fun.


Mondegreen alert!

Last night, I was driving home from class, and Aerosmith's Dream On came on the radio. It had been a while since I'd heard the song, so I cranked up the volume and started reflecting on how much more I can relate to the first verse than I could when the song came out. (I was in elementary school. What did I know about lines on my face?)

And then it got to the chorus, and I (uncharacteristically) stopped singing along... just in time to hear "Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away..."

Wait... what?

I always thought it was "Maybe tomorrow, the guitar will take you away..."

OK, it makes a lot more sense now.


Speaking of classic rock, here's some breaking news:

Posted on All Access Music Group's website yesterday:

Queen drummer Roger Taylor offered singers the chance to upload a video to QUEENEXTRAVAGANZA for "a chance to be a rock star" in celebration of the band's 40th anniversary, according to the website Hypervocal. 
Downhere vocalist Marc Martel took up the challenge. His video jumped from 127,000 views this morning (9/22) to over 277,000 this afternoon. Hypervocal is touting Martel as Freddie Mercury reincarnated: "It's safe to say that the contest is over."


Speaking of Freddie Mercury, did you happen to see the Google doodle tribute on his 65th birthday a few weeks ago? It was, like the man himself, pretty incredible.


Lately I'm spending a lot of time in the car. When I'm not listening to classic rock (and hearing lyrics as if for the first time), I'm working my way through Pimsleur language CDs. There's a lot of escuche y repita going on during that long, long drive to and from classes.

But evidently my mind isn't satisfied with the disconnected little snippets of conversación provided on the CDs, and I find myself making up stories about the relationships between the speakers to fill in the blanks. (The CDs are giving me some pretty great material to start with: "I don't like Carlos." "Why not?" "He has too much money.")

I'm thinking about occasionally watching a telenovela to build my comprehension. I wonder how it will compare to the drama, intrigue, and resentment on the CDs...


Did you know your Captcha keystrokes are helping to digitize books? (This video makes me happy on so many levels.)


One last thing: ArtPrize is back! And there's another mosaic by Tracy Van Duinen!

Metaphorest, by Tracy Van Duinen

Happy Friday, friends!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The outsider

As I've mentioned once or twice, or three or four times, I come from a mostly unchurched background.

It's been many years since I put my faith in Christ, but because I grew up outside the church, I still view things from the perspective of an outsider. Like a person who immigrates as an adult, even decades later I retain the original accent that marks me: "You're not from around here, are you?"


When I came to faith, I began attending a small, conservative church near my university's campus.

I want to highlight the word conservative in the sentence above.

I had spent my first 18 years in a very liberal home.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I came to Christian faith as a college sophomore, I was a sexually-active gay-affirming pro-choice feminist Democrat.

Every week, I went to church feeling like a party crasher. It was like going to a fancy dinner, with me stealing sidelong glances at the other diners to figure out which fork to use. I didn't know the rules.

And I didn't know much about the Bible, or about Christian teaching.

But I knew — I knew — God had drawn me to Him.


Over time, I learned a little about the Bible and about doctrine — some of it confusing. And by watching and listening, I picked up some of the unwritten rules. Some of those were confusing too.

I learned what it meant to be a Christian woman by watching women around me. They wore dresses and nylons to church, so I wore dresses and nylons to church. They were polite and genteel, so I tried to behave likewise. They didn't voice opinions or anger, and mostly stayed quiet in church settings, so I... well, I struggled with that one.

I took in these unwritten behavioral rules right along with the Bible lessons. Sometimes, it was easy to confuse the two, to feel like maybe I was going to hell for thinking it might be OK to wear jeans to church. (Oh, I kid. Mostly.)

Since then, I've watched many of the dominant thoughts change, and I've come to see some of the rules as traditions and preferences — there's nothing wrong with them, but preferences are not doctrine, and traditions are not scripture.

I've learned to look a little more closely, to question, to deconstruct... to distinguish faith from preference or politics or upbringing.

Maybe I find it easy to ask questions because I'm looking at things from the outside.

I understand how it can be threatening, though. When I question things people associate closely with their faith, it might seem like I'm questioning their faith itself. I get that — my decision to follow Christ came only after I questioned my own beliefs, traditions, relationships, and assumptions about the world, to the point of being willing to give them all up.

So I know firsthand how scary that is.

But maybe there are some things that need to be challenged, with a gracious tone, as one family member to another. We all have blind spots.


Here's what many of those challenges will probably center around:

As I've read and studied the Bible, I'm impressed with the message I keep seeing throughout its pages — God has a heart for the outcast. The poor. The immigrant. The prisoner. The prostitute. The mentally ill. The hurting, the bleeding, the lost. The single. The infertile. The griefstricken. The abused. The minority. The woman. The child. The eunuch.

The outsider.

And the more I trace this thread through scripture, the less sense it makes to me to distance myself from people who look different, speak different, vote different, love different, and believe different from the way I do.

They're outsiders too.

I get the feeling God wants me to welcome them. Not welcome them if they change their beliefs, sexual habits, or politics. Just welcome them, and let Him do the rest.


If at some point you visit this blog and you're tempted to write me off as an infidel because I express an opinion that differs from yours, keep in mind I'm not challenging your faith or your beliefs — though I may be asking you to examine the consistency of those beliefs and how they play out in the world.

And I welcome your challenge in return, but please remember we're family, in the best sense. Even though I am an outsider.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In the Image: Barbie, breasts, & butchery

This is the second of a series of posts on women, body image, and mental health.
You can read the first post here.


I would've loved to have had a daughter.

(In addition to, not instead of my son. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.)

But sometimes when friends tell me stories of shopping with their young daughters, trying to find clothes that are age-appropriate yet stylish, I’m kinda grateful I didn’t.

If I'd had a daughter, I think we might have butted heads on a few things related to wardrobe and image… beginning with my “no Barbies” rule.

(Yes, I had that rule. Way before I ever became a parent, I decided: no guns and no Barbies. Which is much easier when there's no Santa.)

Vintage Barbie: a whiter shade of fail
Years ago, I was shopping at Target, walking past the toy department — specifically, past that most pink of aisles — when I overheard an African American mom calmly explaining to her tiny daughter (who was three years old at the most) that they wouldn’t be purchasing the pale-skinned Barbies the little girl was requesting, “…because these don’t look like you.”

I wanted to stop and say, “Well, they don’t look like anyone, really… at least, not like anyone who hasn’t had some serious surgical alteration…”

Now, I respect and appreciate what that mother was telling her little girl by declining to buy her the pale, blonde dolls. She was saying that her daughter should have a doll that portrays a realistic image, that mirrors her own beauty, and that having a doll that does neither might set her up for self-image problems later, as she chases futilely after a standard of beauty she can never attain.



In Seeking Self-Esteem Through Surgery, the New York Times reports numbers published by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

The numbers are shocking.

Friday, September 16, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 51

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

This week, 7 Quick Takes is about education, with a little crazy thrown in. (Seems fitting, considering my week was filled with long drives to classes at a sprawling and baffling campus.) Enjoy the ride!


I sometimes get a little over-fascinated with my blog's statistics. (Really, Pam? I'd never have guessed!) Last weekend, I had a visitor from Cebu, in the Philippines. (And it's not the first time someone from there has visited this blog.)

I know nothing about Cebu, so I had to look it up. Beautiful place!

But all I could think of was this multimedia event:

My deepest apologies to the residents of Cebu for my ignorance, and to everyone else for putting that song in your head.

At least I didn't repeat the line where Larry confuses Philistines with Philippines...


From the Department of Good News/Bad News:

Alton Brown's Good Eats just reached the end of production (that's the bad news) and was featured on NPR (the good news).

Alton Brown. (photo: Gregory Smith, AP)

"I wrote down Julia Child, Monty Python, Mr. Wizard and thought if I could put those three things together, that would be fun."

And it was. The show made me laugh, made me learn, and made me a better cook — success on all three of Alton's goals.

I'll try to keep my mourning quiet. Maybe I'll try one of his wilder stunts, like turning a charcoal grill into a jet engine. Or maybe I'll start talking to a videocamera inside my oven.


Speaking of cooking and crazy... I've featured Jim's Pancakes on the blog (take #7 here, and here).

Great news! Jim Belosic, the mind behind the crazy pancake creations, has written a book:


A friend from seminary days (who's just returned to school for another graduate degree) recently posted this in his facebook status: "Pretty soon it'll look like an eye chart behind my name."

Yeah. I'm there. Right now I'm working on the degree that's the equivalent of the copyright line at the bottom of the chart.


Speaking of school...

We had Back to School night last night and I ended up leaving totally stressed out. Stressed out about third grade. And rumors that it will require making a model of the Solar System. I am from a generation that was led to believe that Pluto was a planet. In fact I’m still not sure that it’s not. Who decides what constitutes a planet and why do they get to just revoke that status all willy-nilly? Because they have “Doctor” in front of their name? I once watched a doctor dump an entire side salad from Olive Garden into his lasagna and eat it all mixed together in a large bowl. Doctors don’t know everything. - Melanie, aka Big Mama

It's so true. And it's nice to see people sticking up for Pluto's planetary status. I mean, I'm from the state where Pluto was discovered... and my alma mater is in the town where Pluto was discovered... I'm honor-bound to stick up for Pluto. (Lowell Observatory itself has been surprisingly quiet about Pluto's demotion.)

Even so, Melanie's interests in the issue may be mostly pragmatic: "And how am I supposed to help Caroline memorize the order of the planets if I don’t use “My Very Excellent Mother Just Ordered* Us Nine Pizzas”? It doesn’t make any sense if you leave off the pizzas."

* Yeah, "ordered" is actually supposed to be "served" — Melanie
corrected it the next day, in her inimitable style:
Y’all. I totally messed up on the “My Very Excellent Mother Served Us Nine Pizzas” thing yesterday because I wrote ORDERED instead of SERVED. Maybe some of you thought I did it on purpose to be funny.

I didn’t.

This doesn’t bode well for Caroline’s eventual assignment on the Solar System and also serves as a very good example of why I never need to homeschool. The world doesn’t need another child running around declaring, “THE EARTH IS TOTALLY FLAT, Y’ALL”.

So I found these on Lowell's website. Please note the children's solar system socks include Pluto.

If that's not convincing, I'm not sure what is.

Lowell Observatory souvenir socks. Click to enlarge and see Pluto at nearly full-size.


And finally, how about some moo-ving music to get your weekend started?

Happy Friday, friends! I'll be here studying if anyone needs me...


Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years later

"On September 10, 2001, many Americans had never pondered our nation's role in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. By the morning of September 12, few of us had not. And 10 years later, we recognize that it is better to embrace the challenges we face globally rather than retreat, build walls, and pretend that America can exist on its own."

— Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.
Christianity Today, "How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11"


Saturday, September 03, 2011

In the image: sex, shopping, & other drugs

This is the first of a series of posts on women, body image, and mental health. You can read the second post here.


But all of these sexual images aren't intended to sell us on sex.
They're intended to sell us on shopping.
— Jean Kilbourne

A couple of years ago, the short film Dove: Evolution made the rounds on the internet. Have you seen it?

I showed this film to a group of women a few weeks ago as a discussion-starter. Now, the women in the group are working to recover from addictions, so part of what they're going through might be hard for some readers to relate to.

But these women are also dealing with some very common problems like depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.

Like pick-up sticks, these issues are all connected — it's nearly impossible to move one without jostling others. And research shows women's substance abuse is often connected to one or more of these other issues that are so common among women in general.

Does it sound like I'm blaming advertising for addiction, eating disorders, depression, and other mental health problems? I'm not... well, not exactly.

Friday, September 02, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 50

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

This week, 7 Quick Takes is set on "extra-random." I'm working on a couple of posts that are kicking my tail, and...


What?! School starts next week??!!!

Melonhead. HT: Bryan Lopez


Yes, it's true. I had a little break from the books, during which I did a lot of reading. (In my world, that makes total sense.)

But now, break's over and it's back-to-school time. I'm not completely sure, but I think this year I'm in twenty-first grade...

"As I prepare to enter the twenty-first grade, I still have wildly idealized notions of what each coming school year will bring."
Back to School, by Grant Snider of Incidental Comics

---3--- I guess I probably should have used my break to work up a really great logo.

Instead, I hosted a wedding shower for my son and his fiancée. (Totally worth it.)

At one point, there were 20 people in my kitchen. I do not have a 20-person kitchen. Still, it somehow worked... we made paninis and everyone had a good time.

I made the decadent little morsels shown below, and my son's fiancée's mom* garnished each with a heart-shaped slice of strawberry. (Awwww...)

Truffle Brownie Cups. (photo: Culinary Collie Sue)

They disappeared fast. I should have made a double batch.

* If anyone knows of a better way to describe the relationship between two parents that bookend a marrying/married couple, please let me know. Maybe something in another language. English doesn't seem to have a word for it.


Sometimes, I wish I lived in Paris. (That wish is intensified when I watch movies like Julie & Julia.) But after reading about the Paris Post-It war, I really wish I lived there:

Hmmm... wonder what's happening on those monitors. (from

The only videogame I've ever been any good at. (from


In garden news, the eggplants are doing well this year... though they're not quite galloping in herds:

Eggplant Zebra. HT: Bryan Lopez


To honor Steve Jobs' recent retirement, we have this little film of Jobs introducing the Macintosh in 1984:


My friend Elizabeth recently wrote, "...the more you do that’s bloggable, the less time you have to blog."

She makes a good point. I'm not sure what that means for this blog, but if you check back here in a few days (or weeks) and find nothing but chirping crickets, it might be a sign I'm busy doing other stuff... like my homework.

Or it might mean I have nothing to write about. Though, by the looks of some of my posts, that hasn't stopped me yet.

Happy Friday, friends!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy 91st to the 19th

And then there was suffrage, which is a good thing, but it sounds horrible.
— Phoebe Buffay, Friends

Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31:31 (KJV)

Ninety-one years ago today, the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution gave American women the right to vote.

But this right reflects far more than the ability to cast a ballot. A vote represents the ability to participate more fully in society. A vote is a voice.

I recently watched the movie Iron Jawed Angels, which looks at the Women's Suffrage movement during the years just before the 19th amendment was passed. I was struck by how little I knew about this part of U.S. history.

And it made me think a little harder about what it means to have a voice — not only in the democratic process, but in the family, the church, the workplace, and society as a whole — and what it's like for those who still lack that voice.

Longtime mosaicsynapse readers may recall several posts on topics related to women in this and other countries whose voices have been silenced in various ways. And there are a few more posts still in the hopper.

This is not just a women's issue. What happens when half a population's voices are silenced? The whole population loses.

As I celebrate the 19th amendment's 91st birthday, I'm hoping that it doesn't take another 91 years for this whole thing to be seen, not as a women's issue, but as a human issue.


Friday, August 19, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 49

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

This week on 7 Quick Takes, I explore just how much mileage I can get from a bowl of soup while claiming this isn't a cooking blog. Join me, won't you?


Last weekend, I made jalapeño corn chowder with peppers from my garden and corn from a local farm. (And because one member of the family isn't so hot on the hot stuff, I used this recipe to allow each diner to personalize the heat level of their own bowl.)

This season, I've added serrano chilies to my usual pepper lineup. But after a few were harvested, I thought I'd better find out how hot they are before I put them in anything.

Enter the Scoville Heat Scale:


Hm. Turns out serranos are quite a bit hotter than jalapeños. I'll need to use those carefully.


And talk of chilies means it's time for Fun with Homonyms!

chili: refers to the stew that's so great on a chilly day, as well as the pepper (Capsicum annuum); plural chilies.
Chile: the country.

Even though the name of the website listed above encourages me to eat more chiles, I don't think I could possibly eat even one. Because, you know, it's huge.


Here's little story that begins with a free kitchen tip:

This is the easiest method I've found to remove corn from the cob:

One addition: I always put the Bundt pan inside a big bowl to catch the stray kernels that would otherwise go all over the counter, floor, etc.

As I was prepping the corn for the chowder, the knife handle kept hitting the side of the ginormous (16" across) bowl. It sounded like I was hitting a gong.

Because we had just watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the 1939 version), the continual clanging of the knife on the side of the bowl reminded me of the scene where Quasimodo introduces Esmeralda to the bells: "Look, look, here, up here! Friends! Up there: Babies! Jacqueline! Gabrielle! Guillaume! Big Marie!" (See this clip, beginning around the 6:00 mark. It's a great moment.)

So my largest stainless mixing bowl is now Big Marie.


And finally, a few items that have nothing to do with soup.

First, my friend Suzanne talks about the gift of presence:

The way Jesus communicated goes against my natural bent, on so many levels. If I am talking to a young woman battling addiction about Jesus, and her eyes glaze over, I am tempted to talk faster and louder to see if she gets it. If I am counseling someone on entering a vibrant relationship with Christ, I am tempted to rush to the sinner's prayer, instead of helping this person understand the enormity of Jesus' love for them and the cost of following him. This goes against the very teachings of Jesus and his way of loving and engaging people with truth. (read more)

Speaking of loving and engaging people with truth... Sarah Moon proposes a better way to do pro-life:

You've seen the hateful, bloody battle that both sides have been fighting. You've heard the ruthless attacks and the fear-mongering. And, while I'm not going to change my mind about my stance on this issue, I am going to come out and say, on behalf of my fellow Pro-Life supporters that I am sorry.

I am truly, remorsefully sorry, not for our beliefs, but for the way that we've expressed them. I am sorry for the hate and the ignorance. I am sorry for turning a blind eye to some of the reasons why people get abortions. I am sorry for the hurtful, accusing bumper stickers. I am sorry for calling people "The Mother of a Dead Baby," or "Murderer." I am sorry for not realizing that any woman who feels the need to give up her baby is probably struggling enough as it is without us adding shame and guilt. That isn't our place. I hope you'll forgive us, and I hope we will do a better job of supporting life. (read more)

Sarah Bessey reminds us of our true name:

There are a million people that like to give us names. But....

Our name is not Failure.
Our name is not Slut.
Our name is not Worthless or Ugly or Fat or Lazy or Rejected or Lonely or Bitter or Angry or Abandoned or Undeserving of Love.

Our name is Precious.
Our name is Beautiful.
Our name is Chosen, Cherished and Created.
Our name has been pronounced, my luv, and we, we have been named Beloved. (read more)

And just for fun, some amazing bike tricks:

Happy Friday, friends!


Friday, August 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 48

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


Tuesday I went out to snip some herbs for dinner and discovered the mosquitoes are back, and they've brought reinforcements.

I'm not sure whether send notes of apology to the neighbors, or to bill them for the impromptu dance concert.


For the record, I feel a little ashamed of complaining about mosquitoes in light of Jennifer Fulwiler's take #1 this week.


But speaking of the mosquito dance, I just happened across a writeup of this product on the blog of a local retailer. Have you tried it? I'm curious how well it works.


Last night, I had dinner with an old friend a friend I've known since the early 90s.

On the way home, I drove past a fenced-off parking lot, from which emanated the distinct sounds of 70s/80s metal. And then I remembered this event is going on, and this artist was onstage last night.

It sounded great from inside my car (and I could hear it for several blocks before and several blocks after, with all the windows rolled up), and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. But I couldn't help thinking I'd had a better time spending a few hours catching up with my friend than I would have had at a rock concert.

But after all the catching up, my vocal cords are just as raspy this morning as they would have been if I'd gone to the concert last night.


Speaking of rock music, here's something for the guitarists in the audience:

If you stand like a certain artist, do you play more like that artist?
Because if so, I'm going to stand like Bonnie Raitt... just give me a minute to find her...


This next take is a timely reminder for me, especially in light of Wednesday's post and others I'm working on:

Looking back we are frustrated, embarrassed, even angry that we once held certain beliefs or acted certain ways. So, when we see those same traits in others, we are the first to pounce.

We want to fix them, or rather we want to fix us, all at once. We want to pretend we’ve never been there. Our façade of perfection has no room for having once held that view.

And so, like the parent who resents seeing their own failings manifest in their children, we push our baggage on another and all too often make the situation worse.

Never mind that it doesn’t work like that, for anyone.
— Mason Slater, writing for A Deeper Story


To wrap up this week's assortment, here's a little jazz to help you enjoy the last bit of summertime:

Happy Friday, friends!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The other "S" word

Updated: please see the note at the bottom of the post.


Last week, Donald Miller published a two-parter on his blog.

In a stream-of-consciousness style, Miller advises women to hold out for the right man. (The second part was aimed at the guys.)

The article makes some good points. I especially appreciated the section advising women not to seek male validation through their sexuality.

Sadly, the tone of the article was less-than-gracious. Several commenters (and fellow bloggers) took issue with Miller's use of the word "slutty," and with his implication that such a woman is less desirable as a long-term partner.

And I have to admit, much as I want to like Don Miller, he lost me there.


In my work and in my personal life, I've met many women.

I've met women who dress and act in ways designed to attract male attention.

I've met women who have only one partner, but haven't married him.

I've met women who hop from bed to bed.

I've met women who dance at a "gentlemen's club."

I've met women who trade sexual favors for drugs or cash.

But I have never met a slut.


As a counselor, I work every day with women who have made decisions with their sexuality that would put them in Miller's "slutty" category. And for far too many of my clients and friends, their first sexual experience was in childhood, at the hands of a relative or close friend.

For such a woman, the word "decision" didn't even factor in.

And she begins to think of herself as unlovable... as damaged goods. And she begins to believe that lie, and act as if it were the truth. And over time, the damage can permeate more and more areas of her life, and the self-loathing comes out in every self-destructive way imaginable.

Using a word like "slut" is just piling on. It's not redemptive. It doesn't show Christ's love for her. It doesn't tell her she's worth far more than that.

That word just piles on the hate.

Let's excise it from our vocabulary.


Updated 8/12/2011: Donald Miller has deleted the two blog posts referred to early in this post, and has issued an apology. Thank you, Don.


Friday, August 05, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 47

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


New discovery — a website that combines the visual arts with the culinary arts, and lets you look up recipes by category or ingredient. The illustrations alone are a feast — They Draw and Cook:

Wheatberry Pilaf, by Nate Padavick


Bryan Lopez believes technology is the new smoking. What do you think?


My friend Suzanne Burden asks, do women have full access to God?


Speaking of access to God... and, er... smoking... have you seen the video of the pastor praying before the Nascar race?

I know, I throw movie references and quotes around all the time. But if your prayers start to resemble Ricky Bobby's pre-meal grace, maybe you've seen Talladega Nights one time too many.


After this, can we be done with referring to our spouses as "smokin' hot?" Please?


A friend once told me about an article she'd read in More magazine that advised women-of-a-certain-age that they'd look younger (and probably hotter) if they would stop wearing a watch and instead check the time on their cell phones. And, well... being me, I immediately got a visual in my head.

It's like Dan Piraro is reading my mind:

Bizarro by Dan Piraro, 7/31/2011

I honestly don't see how that's going to make me look younger.


Speaking of cell phones... remember Dot — the world's smallest stop-motion animation movie, shot on a Nokia N8 cell phone? (If not, check out take #5 here.)

Here's Gulp, the world's largest stop-motion animation movie, also shot on a Nokia N8, from Aardman Animations (the maker of Wallace & Gromit):

Happy Friday, friends!


Friday, July 29, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 46

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


Sorry for the late post. I wasn't going to do a 7 Quick Takes post this week, but my friend R. did one and pointed her readers back to me (and this has happened before — you'd think I'd learn).

So if you're here from Simply Urban Living, welcome! If not, take a minute and read R's 7 Quick Takes. And please make sure to read the article she links to at the end.


The Boston Globe ran a nice article on literally the most misused word in the English language.


From NPR's The Picture Show comes this feature on art and ads that can be seen from space.


A friend and classmate has been posting little videos on Jean Piaget's developmental stages. If you wonder what amuses people in the mental health field, well... take a look:


So, it's blueberry season here. Our local farmer's market is full of the wonderful little blue orbs. I like them on salad. (Yes, I said the same thing a few weeks ago about grilled asparagus. It's true about blueberries too — but probably not on the same salad.)

The funny and talented Farmer's City Wife posted what looks to be a great recipe for Sour Cream Lemon Blueberry Scones — maybe I'll try this with the next batch I buy.


While we're on the topic of food, today I'm making moussaka for my son's birthday celebration. (The recipe is somewhat of an amalgamation of this one that I used last year and this one. I have no idea which one is more authentic, but I figure what's "authentic" varies by region and even by household anyway. We'll see how this variation turns out.)

We're actually doing a Greek feast: Greek salad, hummus (made Greek-style with oregano and extra lemon), and stuffed grape leaves (dolmades).

And we'll be capping the evening off with this movie.


And finally, because culture is important:

Happy Friday, friends!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

There's always room for cello

photo: New Cello School
My friend Mandie passes along this gem from Craigslist:

So my sister gave me this cello a couple years ago. It's a nice cello. Actually, it's a great cello. It's probably the best cello, but I don't really know much about cellos. Also the neck snapped off. Of the cello. So it's really more like 3/4's of a cello, but the other 1/4's still there, it's just not attached. It's kind of like you're getting two cellos, only one of them doesn't have a body and the other doesn't have a neck. But if you stand them up next to each other it's like old times. You could probably fix it with like some music glue or something like that.

She also gave me a cello bag that I can give to you too, now that I won't have a cello. It's a really nice cello bag. You can fit everything in it. Actually, there might even be a bow in the bag, I'm not sure. I don't want you to think that there's 100% a bow in the bag. It's way over there, I can't check right now. But if it's in there it's yours.

If you're like me and you don't know how to play the cello then you could use it as a coin bank. It's hollow and there are two S's on the front that you could drop the coins through. Then when it's filled up you could drop it off of your roof or carry it around like a change purse. Ooh, in the cello bag. It'd be like a cello purse. I'd do it but I'm moving across the country and it won't fit in my car. What else could you do with it. You could saw the front off and use it as a sled. Or give the neck to a baby as like a wizard stick for Christmas. Totally give this cello to someone for Christmas. Or Hanukkah.

Please come get it. I'm in Echo Park. I'd actually go somewhere to meet you if wherever we're going is a cool place. Like the desert or something.

I'm 90% certain the bow's in there.


Friday, July 22, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 45

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


This is so cool:

And the rest of the story:


Great quote from a fellow book lover who moved around a lot as a kid:

"We could instantly judge the quality of life in any town by how many books you could check out of the library at a time." - John Grisham, Parade, 7/10/2011


A couple of years ago I heard that hummus is the new salsa.

If that's true, what's going to be the new hummus? I vote for baba ghannouj.


Possibly the coolest house ever:

Piano House in Huainan City, An Hui province, China.
More photos and info here.


Do you ever wonder what really happened to Stonehenge?


And speaking of England... did you hear about the Harry Potter-themed corn maze in York?


And in further Pottermania, how about this little gem:

Happy Friday, friends!