Thursday, February 26, 2009

High School Drama: The final chapter

Saturday morning the phone started ringing with calls from C. Peevie's 8th grade buddies.

"Did you get your letter yet?" his friends asked. "Where are you going?" Many of them had gotten perfect scores on their entrance exams, and had garnered the full 1000 points in the selective enrollment horse race. C. Peevie did not have a perfect score, but he's a bright boy and he had worked hard. We were optimistic that he had a good chance of getting accepted at several of the schools where he had applied.

We waited...and waited...and waited. The phone kept ringing with more happy news from classmates. The mailman kept not showing up. We waited some more. It was like giving birth, only without the agonizing abdominal cramps.

Mr. Peevie and I had plans that night, and we were hoping to be out of the house by 5:30...but still no mailman. Some days our mail doesn't come at all, and we started to figure that this would be one of those days, on the worst possible day.

Fiiiiiiinally, at 6:10 we saw the U.S. Mail truck on the street. We hovered by the front door, waiting as he slooooowwwwly delivered catalogs, bills and other extremely unimportant mail three doors down...two doors down...next door. AHA! We met the letter carrier at the front door, hands outstretched. He probably only gets that kind of reception from fat guys in wife-beaters waiting for the new Victoria's Secret catalog*.

I was ready to rip into the letter the moment we identified it in the packet of third class junk-- but Mr. Peevie rightly held me back. "Let C. Peevie open it," he said. "He's been working hard, and he deserves to be the one to open it." Oh, fine. Be mature.

One letter, four high school choices--three acceptances. I am proud and happy to report that C. Peevie was invited to attend his first choice selective enrollment high school, Jones College Prep.

It's challenging (read: nearly impossible) to find real stats on the number of kids applying for the selective enrollment high schools, the number of slots available, and especially the number of applicants for each slot in a particular school. One blogger and parent of a successful selective enrollment applicant (who also happens to be NY Times best-selling author James Finn Garner) suggests that "CPS keeps a lid on [the real numbers] because the system would look even more ridiculous and unfair than it already does."

This Chicago-based "elite educational coach" reports that only 7% of the 5730 students who tested for 214 slots at Jones were invited to attend. This compares to 6% at Northside, 4% at Walter Payton, and 8% at Whitney Young. The Coach sources her information from Chicago Board of Education, but I could not find a primary source online. Here's another really interesting post about the selective enrollment admission process last year, including a transparent discussion of the role of race and other preference statuses (scroll down to the February 29 entry).

C. Peevie was also accepted at Lincoln Park IB and Lane Tech. Now he just has to decide if his first choice is still his first choice. I asked him about this the other day, and he said that one reason he was leaning toward Jones was that he'd get to ride the train with his dad every day. Since he can't make a bad choice here, I'm thinking that that's a pretty sweet reason to choose a school.

Anyway, we're breathing again, now that the high school drama is over. When you see my boy, give him a high-five.

In three years, we'll be doing it all over again.

*Did you really think I would link to that? Gotcha!

You can read the first two chapters of High School Drama here and here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Butterfly Poop and Other Inquiries

Conversations with my kids cover an amazing variety of topics.

When I was getting into the car one morning last week, some water from the tree above my head dripped down on me, and M. Peevie said happily, "Mommy, a bird pooped on you!"

I wiped my hair and looked at my hand--but it was only water. Nevertheless, it gave me the opportunity to tell a story about a hapless mommy getting bird-shat-upon.

M. Peevie was a babe-in-arms, and I had taken her with me to the zoo on a field trip with C. Peevie's kindergarten class. We were walking through the tropical bird sanctuary, where colorful birds fly free above your head and monkeys jabber in the trees. I was holding M. Peevie in my arms and just as I looked up, a really rude bird took a dump right onto my face.

I was wearing glasses instead of contacts, and the glasses were completely covered in white, gluey birdshit. I was holding M. Peevie, and I couldn't see a thing. It was oh, so amusing. I handed M. Peevie off to another kindergarten mom so I could hose down my face and wipe off my glasses. M.P. was oblivious back then--but today, she enjoyed the story.

When I was telling her about the bird sanctuary where the birds fly free, she said, "Oh! Like the butterfly garden!" which Brookfield Zoo opens during the warm months. Yes, I told her, like that, only the birds don't fly down and light on your hand if you hold still, like the butterflies do.

"I wonder if butterflies poop," M. Peevie segued. "And what does butterfly poop look like? I wonder if it smells bad." We enjoyed an entire car ride's worth of speculation about butterfly poop.

Another excellent conversational moment took place just this morning. A. Peevie had crawled into bed in between Mr. Peevie and me. He was cuddling close to his daddy, cheek-to-cheek, enjoying some tender daddy-cuddling. He lifted up his head from Mr. Peevie's shoulder and looked with gentle love and trust at the man who donated his DNA to make this moment possible.

A. Peevie looked into his daddy's eyes, smiled his sweet, curvy smile, and said, "Dad, is there such a thing as an eyebrow barbershop?" Not that he was suggesting anything, of course.

And finally, sometimes our sweet short-people interactions take a turn to the dark side. I went in to give M. Peevie her first wake-up call. I'm like a snooze alarm: I shake her gently, and pat her round bottom until she grunts or otherwise sleepily acknowledges my existence. She inevitably asks for five more minutes, which I generously grant.

But this morning, I peeked into a little gap in the covers and whispered baby-girl's name. Out came a chubby, waggling finger, inch-worming its way toward my face. I guided it to my nose, pressed it, and said, "Beep!" The finger waggled some more, so this time, being a friendly and playful mommy, I guided it into my mouth and gave it a gentle nip with my teeth.

M. Peevie threw off her covers and sat up in bed, screaming with gigglicious laughter. "Mommy!" she said with huge delight, "I just poked my finger up my butt!"

I was not amused, but Mr. Peevie doubled over laughing while I scraped a layer of tastebuds off my tongue with a grill brush.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Portrait of Unmitigated Wedded Bliss

A trivial meme about my marriage:

What are your middle names?
Brian and Christine. Guess which is which.

How long have you been together?
Married 25 years in May. I know, right? It's like we were twelve when we hooked up.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
We met in September(ish) of 1982 and hung out for maybe six or seven months before we started dating. At least, that's how I remember it. Mr. Peevie is more clear about these things.

Who asked whom out?
Mr. Peevie asked me out. Our first date was at Redwood West, the most expensive restaurant in town. Dinner cost $30, including tip.

When the waiter seated us, I chose the seat with my back to the wall, facing the restaurant, because I like to observe people. Mr. Peevie sat across from me. I apologized for taking the best seat, and said, "I took the seat with the best view," and he said, looking into my eyes, "I think I have the seat with the best view." Awww!

How old are each of you?
I'm 47, he's 48. But he's way older, maturity-wise, and way younger, fitness-wise.

Whose siblings do you see the most?
We see Mr. Peevie's one brother more than we see any of my four siblings, because we take a vacation every summer with his family. My four sibs and I are spread out in three time zones, four states, two countries, and two continents; and we only see each other when we all visit my parents in Pennsylvania.

Which situation is the hardest on you as a couple?
Sometimes money, sometimes kids. If we had more money and fewer kids, we'd never argue.

Did you go to the same school?
Undergrad, no. Mr. Peevie got a good education from a liberal arts college (DePauw), and I got an adequate education from a state school (Oklahoma State). But grad school, yes: we both got master's degrees from OSU.

Are you from the same home town?
No. Mr. Peevie grew up in Peoria and Pekin, Illinois. I spent my formative years in Warminster, PA before being dragged, kicking and screaming, to Broken Arrow, OK for my last two years of high school, where I promptly developed a prejudice against southern accents.

Who is smarter?
Probably Mr. Peevie, who retains information like a person on Prednisone retains water. He can also figure things out and solve problems way better than I can. I can think on my feet and talk circles around him, though, which sometimes makes it seem like I'm smarter--but really, I just do great PR for myself.

Who is the most sensitive?
Mr. Peevie and I are both very sensitive about my feelings.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Vaughn's Pub, on Northwest Highway, with half-price email coupons, almost once a week.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
London, for our 20th anniversary.

Who has the craziest exes?
Me. Mr. P. doesn't have any. And after 25 years, really, neither do I.

Who has the worst temper?
Me. We like to say, when Mommy's happy, everybody's happy, and when Mommy's not happy, nobody's happy.

Who does the cooking?
Mostly me, although Mr. Peevie has been known to make a mean grilled cheese sandwich from time to time, and can be counted on to prepare a bubbly roux for the making of gravy.

Who is the neat-freak?
You're kidding, right? Neither of us, but Mr. Peevie usually gets disgusted first.

Who is more stubborn?
Me.

Who hogs the bed?
Me, but it's by mutual agreement. Mr. P. gets one-third, I get two-thirds. It works for us.

Who wakes up earlier?
Mr. P. gets up at the crack of dawn, and I sleep until well after I should be up and getting the kids ready for school.

Where was your first date?
Redwood West; see above.

Who is more jealous?
Neither of us feels the need to be jealous.

How long did it take to get serious?
Me or him? It took Mr. P about six days, and it took me about six months. I know that sounds creepy and arrogant, but I think it's close to the truth.

Who eats more?
Definitely me.

Who does the laundry?
It turns out that I have some, let's say, firm preferences (some might say neuroses) about how our laundry gets done, and I don't like other people putting bras in the dryer, forgetting when sweaters need to be laid flat instead of tumbled, not pre-treating stains, etc. etc.

Who's better with the computer?
Mr. Peevie is a tech-whisperer. He talks to computers gently and gets them to do what he wants. I just get pissed when something goes wrong, and start swearing.

Who drives when you are together?
Me. Always me, which is fine with both of us. Well, 99 percent of the time, unless we're driving on country roads, in which case Mr. P likes to take a turn.

Anyone else want to play the marriage meme?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

24: Kissing, Moral Ambiguity, and Free Will

I haven't posted about 24 in a few weeks, but after seeing the previews for next week's show, I just have to make a prognostication: There will be kissing. Here's the back-story:

Little Agent Freckles started off the day with her professional ethics intact. She and her buddy, Boss Moss, were on the same page when it came to interrogation torture: it's wrong, don't do it.

But five minutes after hooking up with Jack "We don't have a choice!" Bauer, her integrity crumbled, and she told Jack to "do whatever it takes" to get an answer from a suspect. Later she backpedaled a bit, telling him that she didn't really mean whatever it took--it was just, you know, a figure of speech. I think he rolled his eyes at her.

But by the next episode, she was fully engaged, threatening to pinch a child if mommy wouldn't dish, and defending Jack's killing of a suspect to a disgusted and disbelieving Boss Moss. "We're supposed bring suspects in, not murder them!" he said. He obviously has not spent enough time in the company of Our Morally Ambiguous Hero.

So back to my point: there will be kissing. In the preview, Agent Freckles is upset about all the questionable interrogation practices. "Tell me it bothers you!" she yells at Jack. "Tell me you feel it!" Then she slaps him in the face. "Do you feel it?" She slaps him again. "Do you feel anything?"

And here's where the fan fic writers will get all moist and fire up their keyboards. Everyone knows that where there's sexual tension and slapping, there is kissing. The previews teased us and didn't show this, but I am willing to lay odds that Jack grabs her tiny wrist and tells her in a voice like gravel in a velvet bag tied with a silk ribbon, "Come here." She'll resist, of course, but he'll pull her close, put his hand on the back of her head, and kiss her--and then all moral ambiguity will melt away, and two lost souls will comfort each other in the knowledge that everyone else just doesn't get it. They didn't have a choice.

Free will means you do have a choice, Jack. You always have a choice.

But I still love you, even though you are a hot mess.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gas Man Scam : Update, Part Two

In November 2007 and again in February 2008 this blog warned you about U. S. Energy Savings Corporation and their somewhat shady methods of getting people to sign long-term contracts for natural gas. I noted that the price-per-therm that U.S. Energy was offering was significantly higher than our current and historical average price-per-therm. The company justified this by claiming that natural gas prices were going up, and by locking in the slightly higher cost now, we'd be protected against major increases later.

So now, a year and a half later, it's time to revisit the issue. Were they telling the truth? Would gas prices rise so much that locking in a rate 25 percent higher than the going rate would actually make sense?

My gas price-per-therm (PPT) over the past twelve months ranged from a low of $.76 for February '09 to a high of $1.49 in August 08, with an average PPT of $1.07. The price that U.S. Energy had offered me was $1.09. I don't have access to my older bills, but I suspect that the story they would tell would reduce the overall average PPT by another five or ten cents.

The gas price is only part of the story, however. The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has tracked thousands of complaints against the company for sales pitches comparing the price of a therm of natural gas to the price of a gallon of gasoline, for charging a contract-exit fee of hundreds of dollars, and for promising customers that they would be protected from upcoming price increases.

Apparently, U.S. Energy is still pulling the same old tricks, only in other states. Even though the New York Attorney General announced a settlement with the company back in July '08, the Canadian bastards are still door-to-dooring their way through the state, signing up unwitting clients for five-year contracts.

The same article quotes a senior VP of U.S. Energy who claims that 90 percent of their customers who stick with the five-year contract end up saving money; but CUB begs to differ--at least in Illinois:

Indeed, data compiled by the Citizens Utility Board show that some Illinois customers who signed contracts with U.S. Energy Savings in 2004 saved money compared with utility rates. But the CUB data also show that every U.S. Energy contract signed since 2005 has been a loser for the consumer.

Overall, 98 percent of Illinois consumers who have signed up with U.S. Energy Savings have lost money, with an average loss of $780 to date, CUB concludes.


I wonder if the company can document how much, on average, their customers have saved? The five-year contract seems to be a gamble that's going to cost you more up front, and might save you a couple of hundred dollars five years down the road. Is it worth it?

Not so much. We're staying on message here in The Green Room: read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line, especially when it comes to a company whose middle name says SAVINGS but whose contracts read NOT GUARANTEED.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Top Ten Simple Foods

This post is dedicated to the joy of simple and delicious eating. Back when I listed my ten things I love (no, eleven!), I totally forgot to include food, which is crazy, because I love food. I eat it all the time.

So, here are my Top Ten Simple Foods. These are foods that are good any time of day, any time of year. They are simple, delicious, satisfying, and easy to come by.

10. Toast. Simple, right? And yet so warm and comforting, crunchy and delicious--especially when you spread butter (real butter) on it, and it melts down into the crevices. Toast is simple, and yet versatile. Dress it up with grape jam! Cut it into triangles! Eat it plain when you're recovering from an intestinal virus and your poor tummy can't handle anything else.

9. Fresh corn and tomato salsa (with chips, of course). This is my Survivor island food--meaning, if I'm dropped on a deserted island and I get to bring one kind of food with me, this is what I'd bring. (I know it's actually more than one kind of food, but it's my list and my rules here in The Green Room, so have a glass of wine and lighten up.)

8. Speaking of wine: Wine. Mr. Peevie is a budding oenophile, and I am reaping the benefits. We frequently stock up on the reds and the whites now that we're not shy about opening a bottle for dinner several nights a week. It makes me feel like a grown-up.

7. Peanut butter. I feel sorry for people who are allergic to nuts and cannot enjoy the nutty comfort of peanut butter. I practically survived on it during more than one of my pregnancies. In a pinch, I'll eat it with a spoon straight from the jar.

6. Sourdough bread. Good sourdough bread, with a chewy crust and slightly tangy middle, must be the kind of bread they serve in heaven. It doesn't even need butter--although butter does make everything better.

5. Chocolate milk. In my advancing age, I like milk better than milk likes me. But I'm willing to pay the malodorous price for the occasional glass of ice-cold, chocolatey chocolate milk. In pregnancy I would combine a cold glass of chocolate milk with No. 7 (above) for the perfect breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before-bed snack. Maybe it shouldn't count as a food, but who's blog is it, anyway?

4. White rice. I know I'm supposed to be eating foods with nutritional content, like brown rice and whole-grain cereal. But sometimes, and not just when I have GI problems, a big bowl of white rice with butter, salt and pepper just hits the spot. I could eat it for breakfast.

I think it's because I grew up eating that faux-grain, MinuteRice. Yuk. Seriously. My mom is a great cook, and put delicious gourmet meals in front of five kids every night, completely color and nutrition balanced--but when she served rice, it was always MinuteRice. I just do not get it.

3. Cheese and crackers. When I was a kid, this was our dinner sometimes on Sunday nights: a big chunk of sharp cheddar cheese and a big chunk of Swiss cheese, that we'd slice up and put on Ritz crackers. Sometimes we'd smear a little peanut butter on the cracker first, which acted as a kind of glue to hold the cheese in place.

2. Popcorn. With the advent of microwave popcorn--and now with my discovery of DIYMP--this simple food has become a major source of deliciousness and fiber for our household.

1. The number one top ten simple food in the universe EVER is BACON.

I should not admit this, but I buy bacon in bulk at Costco. That's how much we love bacon. In soup, sandwiches, and salads. In quiche, with green beans, and with scrambled eggs on toast. We even put it on our homemade pizza sometimes.

What are your top ten simple foods?

Friday, February 6, 2009

High School Application Primer

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have been traveling the road to high school with our oldest spawn, C. Peevie. It's a stressful and time-consuming process--and at the end of the road, our child either receives an offer to attend one of Chicago's top tier public high schools, or I will end up selling my own flesh by the pound down on Rush Street in order to pay for private high school. You can guess which option we--and, let's be honest, all of Chicago's residents--prefer.

CPS reports that every year they receive applications for selective enrollment high schools from more than 12,000 students--but they have only 2,500 slots available. The pressure is on!

Here's where our process has taken us to date:
  • Researched the selective high school options. Some we eliminated as possibilities because of location, others because of the extreme unlikelihood that C. Peevie (I just typed C. Poovie by accident--hee!) would gain admittance based upon the thousand-point scale.
  • Researched and discussed how to rank the selective high school options for the application form. If you aren't careful, you might rank yourself right out of a selective enrollment option because you aimed too high or too low. Many of the selectives, we heard, would not put a student at the top of their admit list if they listed the school as anything but their first choice.
  • Completed and submitted the selective enrollment application, indicating Jones, Whitney Young, and Lane as the top three choices.
  • Meanwhile, C.P. also completed a separate application for the International Baccalaureate program at Lincoln Park High School (LPHS), which is "designed for students who are highly motivated and desire a rigorous academic program." This highly regarded program received silver medal status from U.S. News and World Report in its Best High Schools report in December 2008. The only question is, is C. Peevie highly motivated. Motivated to play? Yes. Motivated to watch Frasier and Angel on DVD? Yes. Motivated to study for four hours a day? Not so much.
  • Nevertheless, we still decided to continue in the LPHS/IB application process. The next step was a three hour test on a Saturday morning.
  • The application process for the three selective enrollment schools also included a three-hour test.
  • Then we went to open houses for each of the four high schools he was interested in.
  • In addition, C.P. attended a half-day shadow day at Whitney Young.
  • Also, C.P. and I attended a three-hour IB tour at LPHS, where we learned about the IB curriculum in great detail. We were really impressed with the fact that the teachers were excited to be teaching at LPHS, and very proud of the IB program there.
LPHS has one of only three Arabic programs for high school students in all of CPS. The Arabic teacher walked into the classroom and said, "Salaam 'Alaykum!" There was silence, and then one brave and brilliant mom replied, "'Alaykum As-Salaam!" It was me, of course. C. Peevie and I were both impressed with and interested in the Arabic program.
  • Unfortunately, this good experience was followed up with a bad one. C. Peevie was invited to do a personal interview at LPHS; here's how it went:
Interviewer, handing CP a list of activities: What extra-curricular activities do you like?
CP: Baseball, basketball, football...
Interviewer, interrupting: Good, good. What kind of books do you like to read?
CP: Fiction, and...
Interviewer, interrupting: Good, good. Keep reading fiction. What is your favorite subject?
CP: I'd choose two, social studies and literature.
Interviewer: Literature, huh? Well, you didn't do well on the essay part of the exam.
CP: Um...
Me: Grrrrr...
Interviewer, oblivious: Do you have any questions?
Me: Where do your students go to college?
Interviewer: Everywhere.
Me: Oh. That's helpful.
Interviewer: Well, thanks for coming in.

I'm not sure what the purpose of the interview was, except perhaps to see if C. Peevie would even show up--because the interviewer, who I believe is the primary decision-maker, did not learn anything about C. Peevie that would inform her decision one way or another. In what possible way was it constructive for her to tell us that he didn't do well on the essay? Like I said: oblivious. Which is not a really great characteristic for a dean of admissions.

So now we wait. Letters go out on February 20 to let students know where they've been accepted. After that, I think we have two weeks to make a decision.

This whole crazy process is more complicated and stressful than the college admission and application process, and I cannot wait until it's over.

Salaam Alaykum!

Update: We're in!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My New Favorite Mexican Delicacy

I had lots of leftovers in the 'fridge, and an inexplicable, urgent craving for sopes. You may not even know what sopes are, but if you did, you'd crave them, too.

One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago is Salpic├│n, down in Old Town on Wells Street, that my friend Zzilda introduced me to. It was voted Best Mexican Restaurant in 2005 by CitySearch. I've eaten there maybe half a dozen times, and every time I leave happy. The menu item that makes me happiest is the one called sopes rusticos--fat country tortillas topped with a bit of tomatillo sauce, queso fresco, onions and avocado.

So anyway, this afternoon I started tasting those delicious fat tortillas in my mind, and I couldn't help myself. I unloaded several shelves worth of leftovers onto the kitchen counter: pork roast, cooked shrimp, a zip-lock baggie of sauteed onions, a chunk of crumbly Mexican cheese, an almost-overripe avocado, some refried beans. Now we were talking!

I made sopes from masa harina (finely ground corn flour), water, and a little salt. To make the tortillas, you mix the dough, form little balls, and then squish the balls down into 1/4" thick wafers with a little bit of a raised edge. You can make them with as big or small a circumference as you like. My preference was to make the tortillas about 1.5 to 2.5 inches across. Fry those puppies up in hot oil using a cast-iron skillet, and drain them on a paper towel.

Now you're ready to create some fabulous toppings from the leftovers in the 'fridge. For the first batch, I diced the leftover pork roast into 1/4" bits and mixed it with chopped sauteed onions. I topped each sope with a couple teaspoons of the mixture, and then a bit of Mexican cheese, and broiled until the edges were starting to brown. Plop a bit of mashed up avocado on the top, and decorate with a tiny tomato chunk, and you've got a sope appetizer worthy of a great Mexican restaurant, made in your own kitchen!

For the second topping I peeled and chopped my leftover shrimp and mixed it with some chopped green onions and a tiny bit of cocktail sauce. I plopped a spoonful of this yummy mixture on several sopes, but this time I topped it with grated mozzarella cheese before broiling. Yummy!

And for the final batch, I used up my leftover refried beans. Each sope received a medium coating of beans, followed by some chopped up tomatoes and onions, and topped off with whichever cheese sounded great at the moment. After broiling, I again garnished with a bit of mashed avocado, because in my world, you cannot go wrong with avocado.

I was going to post photos, but I can't find them when I back up my phone data onto the computer, so you'll just have to use your imagination. But still, aren't you hungry?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Review: The Cross

I'm not really sure what to think of The Cross, by Arthur Blessitt.

On the one hand, the story is compelling: A guy carries a 12-foot cross for 38 years over more than 38,000 miles because, he says, God told him to. The book recounts the vicissitudes of his travels and travails, from the first opposition he encounters within the first few minutes of carrying the cross in Hollywood, California; to meeting Yasser Arafat in West Beirut; to climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.

On the other hand, the book raises theological, doctrinal, and practical questions and problems that are kind of hard to avoid. Like does God talk to us the way Arthur Blessitt believes He does? And isn't there the hint of an inherent problem when a believer's God-calling causes so much stress that his marriage breaks up?

Finally--and I know I'm out of hands, here, but please allow me to put up a third one--there's also the matter of the actual quality of the writing itself.

Arthur Blessitt's story is compelling. There is no doubt (in my mind, at least) that he loves Jesus, and that he is willing to put everything on the line in order to follow him. He endured heat and cold, persecution and arrest; he even faced a firing squad in Nicaragua. His devotion and sacrifice has resulted in literally millions of people hearing the Gospel as Blessitt dragged his 45-pound cross. Whether you are a Jesus-follower or not, don't you have to admire this kind of single-minded commitment?

Does God talk to people today the way Arthur Blessitt believes he does? I have a super hard time believing and understanding this, which could totally be a function of my own immature faith. I want to know how a person can objectively verify that what they are "hearing" is God's voice, and not their own imagination or their own desires.

But Blessitt has no such problem. Early in the book he describes getting specific guidance from God as a seven-year-old. He was carrying water across his father's field to migrant workers picking cotton, when, he said, "I felt Jesus speaking to me...I was to walk forward thirteen steps, then turn right and go another twenty steps, and then turn to the left four more steps." This random "guidance" continued for days, until one day his dad spotted him and furiously reprimanded him.

For the rest of the summer, Blessitt said, he "went straight to the workers whenever my father was nearby. But when he was in town...I would listen for God's prompting and go where he told me to go." This whole anecdote strikes me as a very clear example of someone who wants very much to hear the voice of God, and who ascribes his own thoughts to God. "It is difficult to explain exactly how I knew [it was Jesus speaking to me]," Blessitt said, "but I felt within my spirit and my mind that Jesus was telling me to follow him."

Blessitt does not tell tales about his first marriage; he only says that he and his wife mutually agreed to officially end their marriage, and that their divorce was the result of their own failure. It's hard for me not to believe that this failure could be directly linked to a mistaken understanding of divine guidance. Would God direct a man to pursue a path that would result in the breaking of the solemn vows of marriage?

I cannot find any information on the web about whether Blessitt submits to any kind of financial accountability, which is unfortunate. I'd like to just trust that he's using the funds he raises in a responsible way, but I don't roll that way. In fact, I think any organization that accepts individual contributions--and even moreso those who do so in the name of Jesus--should be completely transparent about their finances. I did send an email inquiring if Blessitt makes his ministry finances public, or if he has any kind of financial accountability with an independent group such as Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, but I haven't heard back.

Nevertheless, I believe the guy. I believe he does what he does because he loves Jesus, and not for fame or financial gain. I would find it more difficult to believe that he'd spend his entire life carrying a cross around the world if he were not internally, spiritually motivated.

Each chapter of the book relates a particular story about Blessitt carrying the cross, encountering obstacles, meeting world leaders and/or local residents, and telling people about Jesus. As part of his chapter formula, Blessitt includes a pastoral message of faith and discipleship, and occasionally an altar call for those who do not yet follow Jesus. Though formulaic, the tone is sincere and the style is never stiff. But the formula necessarily results in repetition and redundancy, and the preaching gets old. The Cross is not a book that will win awards for literary style--but then again, that is clearly not the author's priority.

My review is based upon an early galley copy of the book, which was scheduled to be published in January 2009. The Cross has already been made into a movie which opens on March 27; here's a link to the trailer.

So, there you have it. I'm ambivalent and conflicted about The Cross. I know I'm supposed to find it inspiring, but I don't. I believe, however, that many, many people will find it to be moving and inspiring. I'd love to know what you think about it.