Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

I love the start of a new year. I love the optimism, the clean slate, the fresh start. I love the ridiculously vain hopes that the new year engenders—hopes for healthier choices, healed relationships, new or renewed hobbies, personal improvements, spiritual growth, new adventures and expanded horizons—hopes for an Extreme E. Peevie Makeover!

I always feel a little sad when people say they don’t make resolutions. I wonder: is it because they don’t want to fail? Is it because they have had their hopes dashed one too many times? Are they content with themselves and their lives so much that they don’t feel the need to resolve to grow or improve? Are they tired, or cynical, or maybe just disinterested?

I realize that not everyone is like me, but I cannot understand why some people don’t feel inspired by the blank page of a brand new year. Maybe it’s the word “resolution” that puts them off. Perhaps that word is too demanding, official, or even cliché. How about hopes, goals, dreams, or plans? C’mon. Give it a try.

What will you do different in 2008?

In the past I have resolved to
  • Learn to juggle. (I did.)
  • Read all the Pulitzer prize novels. (I’m about 1/3 done.)
  • Read through the entire Bible. (Gave up several times.)
  • Run a marathon. (I did.)
  • Finish a triathlon. (I did.)
  • Become a better pray-er. (Still working on it.)
  • Learn to knit. (Got bored and quit.)

So here we are at the dawn of a new year. What huge emotional, physical, and spiritual goals will I set before myself in 2008?

Ah, fuggedaboudit. I’m too tired. And what’s a resolution going to change, anyway? It’s just a word. It’s not like it’s got power or anything.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Five People In Tiny Spaces

I love my children and all, but there is such a thing as too much togetherness. It's what I imagine living in Tokyo feels like--never more than 10 feet between you and another person, and much of the time, less.

I had packed all sorts of goodies into the kids' backpacks to keep them out of each other's hair (and ours) during the two seven hour road trips--art supplies, movies, books, toys--but this only worked for about 300 of the 400 miles. You can guess the kinds of observations/complaints/ questions we covered along the way:

"How many more hours til we get there?" This was approximately 15 minutes after we vacated our parking space in front of the house. After hearing this four or five times, Mr. Peevie and I took to pointing to the trip timer, after telling the kids not to ask again until the timer displayed seven dot dot zero zero.

We also had iterations of the following:

"I spilled ______ on my pants!"

"I have to go to the bathroom!"

"He won't let me have a turn with the neck pillow!"

'Her I-pod is too loud!"

"The movie is too loud!"

"Ewww! Somebody farted!"

"He keeps putting his feet on my armrest!"

"Turn it back on!" "I don't want to see the scary part!!"

"His feet stink!"

"What's a 'Cratchet'?" Some of the vocabulary from Charles Dickens' The Christmas Carol, that we were listening to on CD, was unfamiliar to the short people.

Finally we reached our intermediate destination. We had requested adjoining rooms; they gave us adjacent rooms. I envisioned kids sneaking out and heading down to the lounge for a late-night Shirley Temple. We moved to adjoining rooms. This was the most separation we'd have the entire trip. I treasured it.

Day two: We drove through constant rain and thick fog, which made our close mini-van quarters seem even closer. More than six hours later, we arrived at our hotel home for the next four days, and discovered that our suite was an excellent size...for two people.

I do not parent well in tiny spaces. Too much proximity shortens my frustration fuse and diminishes my tolerance for noise, especially the bickering variety. My vocabulary withers to terse commands, primarily "Stop!" and "Don't!"

We tried to moderate our loud family dynamic to fit the various cubicles we found ourselves confined to--cars, hotel rooms, restaurants, and my parents' small-for-10-people living room, but in the end we just annoyed our family members and frustrated each other. We're like a herd of wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti: we need our space to roam and run and roar.

Thank the little baby Jesus--we finally made it home. I practically wept. I do love my kids, I swear--but any more togetherness, and I'd be posting this from Crazyville.

I hope your holiday travels and family times brought you great quantities of joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What I Read in 2007

The 34 titles on my 2007 book list have the following characteristics:

I enjoyed most of my reading this year, awarding four or five (out of five) stars to nearly 60 percent (20 books). Only one was a complete dud; I reviewed it here.

Nineteen are non-fiction, 15 are fiction.

Eleven are faith-related, and of those, five were commentaries or sermons specifically related to the Sermon on the Mount.

Nine books I had read at least one time before this year.

Nine have been made (or are being made) into movies. One--Candide--is also an opera by Leonard Bernstein. Nicole Kidman played Isabel Archer in the 1996 adaptation of Portrait of a Lady.

Seven are memoirs, or at least memoir-ish.

Four were gifts; 10 I bought for myself. The others I borrowed, stole, or already had in my library from long ago.

Four are classics, including the Christian classic A Short and Easy Method of Prayer by Madame Jeanne Guyon.

Three are novels by Jodi Picoult.

Three were book club selections: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (actually, I’m still working on this one); Candide by Voltaire; and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Three were written particularly for a younger audience: Bridge to Terabithia, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Golden Compass.

Two are by Barack Obama.

One is a self-help book on organizing and decluttering. Not that I'm making any promises.

My award for number one new read of the year goes to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This memoir was so good that I read it again about a month after I finished it the first time. The author relates the horrifying, mystifying, confounding, and unpredictable events of her life story with a sort of non-judgmental detachment, with a voice that is neutral and yet engaging at the same time. Any story that begins with the sentence, “I was on fire” has a lot to live up to—and this memoir did not let me down.

My 2007 book list does not include the dozens of little books I read with my kids, like the tales of Pippi Longstocking and Junie B. Jones, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (which makes me cry every single time I read it, and then that little stinker A. Peevie laughs—laughs!—at me.)

Being a LibraryThing-er has really enhanced my ability to track and categorize my annual reading lists and my library as a whole. If you’re a reader, or a book-lover, or a book collector, check it out if you haven't already.

here to view my online catalog; and click on the tag "2007" to list only the books I read this year.

What did you read this year? What are you recommending?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Meditation

In the spirit of Christmas, here is a beautiful yet little known and infrequently sung Christmas carol that depicts the vast humility of the incarnation:
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who are God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man;
Stopping so low, but sinners raising
Heav’nward by Thine eternal plan.
Thou who are God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest Man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Savior and King, we worship Thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling
Make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love, beyond all telling,
Savior and King, we worship Thee.

(I tried to find an audio link, but I only found one not-very-good rendition on YouTube. Sorry about that.)*

This hymn comes from II Corinthians 8:9, where Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

At this time of year, we sing about a baby born in a stable, laid in a manger, on a silent, holy night. Our view of this baby, of Jesus, is what makes us Christian. Do we understand this incarnation of the only begotten Son of God? Do we often consider what the incarnation meant to Jesus—and what it means to us? What does it mean when we sing about the birth of a baby in the little town of Bethlehem?

It means that Jesus chose to cloak his glorious deity in the humbleness of humanity. Jesus, the exalted one, the king above all kings, the Lord of all Lords—shed his majesty to become a man. Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means “God is with us,” willfully limited his limitless power and glory to come to the earth as a human child. This is the incarnation. This is humility. This is love.

Another not-very-well-know Christmas hymn reminds us that

Empty he came as a man to our race
Equal with God, yet forsaking his place.
Humbly he served in our world.
Humbly he served in our world.

This hymn is based on Philippians 2:5-8:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made himself nothing,
Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death—
Even death on a cross.

Jesus, who had every reason not to be humble, in humility took the form of a man. Not an emperor, or a king, or a president—but a poor and uneducated carpenter, a member of an oppressed minority.

Jesus, who is almighty God, gave up the prerogatives of his Godhead, and said, “I can do nothing of myself.”

Jesus dwelled in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and yet he chose to come to earth as a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.”

Jesus, who had every right to feel and act superior, in his interactions with other people never did so. In humility Jesus respected all people, never claiming his divine rights, but always living in dependence on God the Father.”

This Christmas, join me in focusing on the humility of the incarnation—on what that meant to Jesus, and what it means to us. Let’s say with John the Baptist, “He must become greater, and I must become less.”

[*Updated: I found an a capella performance of the French version of the hymn here.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz

I did not have high expectations of this movie. Can you blame me? With a name like Hot Fuzz, I expected lots of sight gags and adolescent humor: cops wearing short shorts and bad guys careening around on motorcycles and flipping over car doors in slow motion.

But this guy Simon Pegg, who co-wrote (with Edgar Wright) and starred in Hot Fuzz, has won me over with his talent as a writer, comedian, and actor. Watching this movie made me realize why I don’t generally enjoy watching comedies: they’re just not that funny. They patronize with the obvious gags, and the writers and actors rely on easy laughs. Hot Fuzz brings exactly the opposite: it’s a smart, hilarious, and well-acted parody of the action genre.

Speaking of action, this picture (from Rogue Films) says it all:

I need to watch it again to get all the subtle and not-so-subtle allusions. I know there was some Eastwood, some Lethal Weapon, some Star Wars—oh, there were tons more, but they went by so quickly it was like an episode of Arrested Development, only British, and with bullet-proof vests.

Here’s the story: Nick Angel is an over-performing London cop who gets shipped off to a drowsy village with a crime rate near zero but a suspiciously high rate of fatal accidents. He gets teamed up with an easy-going, oblivious partner, Danny, a Jerry Bruckheimer fan and the son of the police chief. Sergeant Angel drinks cranberry juice and brings his type-A law enforcement personality to bear even when the only misdemeanant is an irascible, AWOL swan.

Props to Mr. Peevie, who selected this flick and talked me into giving it a chance. Usually Mr. Peevie and I have wildly divergent taste in film. He loves “Breakfast at Tiffany's” and I love “Die Hard.” He loves those wacky Austin Powers movies, and I…don’t. But this movie made us both happy.

Because of my innate insecurity, I always feel a tiny bit validated when the Rotten Tomato Meter agrees with me about a movie that I love or hate. Hot Fuzz gets a very respectable
89 percent.

OK, enough reading. Get out there and rent Hot Fuzz! Then check back in and tell me if you loved it, or if you’re canceling your subscription to The Green Room.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Top Ten Miscellany of 2007

Do you love top ten lists? Here’s a Top Ten buffet that will keep you mouse-clicking contentedly for days. Time Magazine online offers the year’s best in news; arts and entertainment; science; business, tech and sports; and pop culture.

I haven’t made it through all 500 items yet, but here are my Top Ten Top Ten List Items From’s 50 Top Ten Lists of 2007:

10. Under the heading Top Ten Man-Made Disasters, the Minneapolis bridge collapse came in as number 5. I include this because we received a letter from an acquaintance that said he had been walking on that bridge half an hour before the collapse; and we were grateful he was spared.

9. From pop culture, #7 on the list of Fashion Must-Haves: a fedora. No lie.

8. “Put your big-girl panties on.” U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling encouraged deputy press secretary Dana Perino with this pithy proverb as Perino prepared to step in for exiting PS Tony Snow. #4 on the list of Top Ten T-Shirt Worthy Slogans.

7. In the science category, coming up #4 in the list of Top Ten Scientific Discoveries: Scientists announced that they had discovered 700 new species of organisms, including a new leopard, monkey, and sea cucumber. Honestly, this just blows my mind. 700 new species. I don’t know what it means, or even how to get my mind around it; only that describing the complexity of life on planet Earth keeps staying out of reach.

6. “I want to be like Gandhi and Martin Luther King and John Lennon, but I want to stay alive.” Quotable Madonna, #10 in the Top Ten T-Shirt Worthy Slogans. Me too, girl; me, too.

5. Another science category item, and also listed in the Too Good to be True category, #6 on the list of Top Ten Medical Breakthroughs: No more periods, thanks to Lybrel, the first continuous-use birth control pill that eliminates monthly menstruation.

4. From Top Ten Sports Moments, the truth-is-better-than-fiction 15-lateral winning touchdown scored by Trinity University against Millsaps College. Even non-football fans can appreciate the cosmic combination of goofy good luck and heads-up footballing that made all the pieces fall into place on this play.

3. Mother Teresa shocks the world but testifies to the real struggle that people of faith endure when her letters disclose that she often did not feel the presence of God. This took the #1 spot in the list of Top Ten Religion Stories of the year.

2. “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s turns up as #7 in the list of Top Ten Songs of 2007. I was captivated by it and didn’t know why when I first heard it on the radio this year; but now I’d say it’s the simple sincerity of the lyrics and the sweet raspiness of Tom Higgenson’s voice.

1. My Number One Top Ten List Item of 2007, from the pop culture category, #9 on the list of Top Ten Buzzwords: Vajayjay. I know the feminists don’t like this one, but I can’t help myself. Call me immature, but I think it’s funny, and it has some kind of strange hold on me.

What are your top ten whatevers from 2007?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More Thoughts on The Golden Compass

I still haven’t read The Golden Compass, but I’ve been reading a lot about it because of the religion controversy. I found a couple of interesting and helpful links to help us think about the books as literature, and that might help to inform a Christian's response to the anti-God theme.

Pullman’s trilogy is a retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which means it is a retelling of the Genesis story of creation and the fall of man. Everyone seems to agree that he is an amazing storyteller, gifted with the ability to create imaginary worlds with lively and engaging detail.

Alan Jacobs, a literature professor at Wheaton College, described reading Pullman’s trilogy as “an enormously seductive experience. As you come to trust in the author’s ability to make a compelling and fascinating world, it becomes harder and harder to mistrust that author’s leadership and direction in moral matters.” He suggested, “Readers who love to enter the imaginary secondary worlds are tempted to turn off their moral and spiritual discernment so that you’re not disturbed in your immersion in this world.”

As the trilogy progresses, Jacobs said, the storytelling becomes increasingly polemical, as though it’s more important to the author to make his argument against God, faith, and all things spiritual than it is to let his characters live and breathe. “If you begin to suspect the moral tendency or direction that the book is taking,” Jacobs said, “the imaginative wholeness of the vision becomes less compelling to you as well.”

There’s tons more interesting material in the interview with Jacobs on Mars Hill Audio, in case you want to check it out.
I love the fact that he quotes a song by The Who when he’s discussing Pullman’s apparent belief that the way to human freedom is the abolition of authority: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” from Won’t Get Fooled Again. “That’s the lesson of the disappointed revolutionary,” Jacobs asserts. Anarchy always ends in tyranny.

Another helpful source is this post
on Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog, The Looking Closer Journal. Overstreet wears, among other hats, the Christianity Today movie critic beret.

P.S. Props to my friend gveach
on LibraryThing who pointed me to the Alan Jacobs interview.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Snapshots of Retirement Living: The Food Kind of Sucks

Mom’s cooking spoiled all of us, Dad included, for the dried out, over-cooked, over-salted, quick-cook menu items that for many people pass as normal fare. Nearly every night she’d whip up a delicious, under-appreciated, nutritionally balanced gourmet delight, including at least one green or orange vegetable, warm dinner rolls and a homemade dessert. I don’t honestly know how she did it with five kids.

I remember not sufficiently appreciating breaded veal parmesan, tender swiss steak, roast chicken, homemade potatoes au gratin, always perfect homemade gravy, pristinely fluffy white mashed potatoes, and the absolute best macaroni and cheese in the hemisphere. Mom didn’t bring home the bacon (except literally), but she made sure dad’s paychecks stretched as far as possible by dressing up the leftovers so nothing went to waste. A chicken one night would be chicken a la king the next night and chicken vegetable soup on the third night.

I don’t think she ever cheated with Kraft macaroni and cheese, or Hamburger Helper, or even—to my deepest distress—Rice-A-Roni. I had to go to my best friend Jane’s house to get me some of that San Francisco treat.

(Mom did cheat with Minute Rice, though, which to this day I do not understand. Why would a person who obviously cared about real, fresh, delicious food use that nasty not-rice, when real rice is simpler and more delicious? But that was her worst culinary faux pas, and I’m a big enough person to overlook it.)

OK, so my point about all this is, dad and I are spoiled. We know what roast pork with a spicy garlic rub should taste like—moist, tender, flavorful; but here, it tastes a little like boot leather. The BBQ chicken was dry and tough, and the baby snap peas had had their snap boiled right out of them until they laid there, limp and sad, like soggy strips of faded green construction paper.

There’s nothing like crisp, bright green asparagus, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and perfectly roasted, right? After my first dinner at Chez Telford, I vetted the asparagus before ordering it—and the server warned me that it had been steamed to soggitude. Shepherd’s pie came sans crust; it was more like shepherd’s stew on a plate. The white rice that came with my so-called pepper steak reminded me of lumpy grade-school paste—which some kids did actually eat, even though Miss Rudasill frowned upon it.

The price of mom and dad’s apartment includes one meal every day, either lunch or dinner (same menu). I’ve been trying to convince dad that just because it’s paid for doesn’t mean he has to eat it, if he’d rather go out to dinner, or eat dinner in the apartment. Since the money’s already spent, I tell him, take it out of the equation. Now the decision, in economic terms (props to my first husband) is, from which option will you derive the most utils?

It doesn’t sink in. Dad feels compelled to eat the meal that’s paid for, and they’ll be eating that meal every day, like it or not, until mom decides that she will derive more utils from making one of her own truly gourmet delights. I predict that this will happen sometime in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, avoid the asparagus.