Saturday, December 31, 2005

Too Much Internet

The Berenstain Bears (whose creator, Stan, married to co-creator Jan, died just this past year) have a book called "Too Much Birthday." It details the events of Sister Bear's thorough indulgence on a day devoted to her... which lands her with a tummy ache and a desire to go to bed.

I am having a similar reaction to time online. Too many yahoo groups, too many forums, too much made of little ideas and too little made of the big ones.

So I'll be handling business and watching college football until Monday night.

Hope you have a wonderful New Year's Eve (drive smart) and see you in 2006.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sharpen Your Pencils

It's nearly the first of the year which means serious writers are busy planning how to improve their writing disciplines to crank out new and better words. Here is a list of essentials for developing a writing lifestyle:



I question your sincerity in this task of becoming a writer without these essentials. Let the Apple people know I sent you. I get a commission... I have an iBook G4 but I tell you, the new iMac G5 is pretty damned tempting for this year's writing adventure, if you ask me. So if you prefer the G5 to the iBook, I give you permission, just this once.


Still a fan of Writing with Power (by my guru Peter Elbow)
The Pocket Muse (by Monica Wood) This book is full of great "read and go" writing prompts
Writing Alone and with Others (by Pat Schneider) She'll make you want to start a writing group in the inner city, promise!

Do stuff this year, such as (following examples work for me - your mileage may vary):
Meet someone you know from the Internet
Go to a foreign country
Learn a foreign language (Yes, you have time. Languages such as ASL - sign language - and Greek with a totally different alphabet work great!)
Spend quality time with a person under 10
Hang out with someone over 60
Go to several concerts by your favorite rock stars (or jazz musicians, or orchestras...)
Paint one room a bright color (we have lime green and mango in our house)
Become a regular at an art museum
Go skiing in winter
Have better sex
Light candles and pray or meditate or make strong wishes

Ah, now it gets hard. This is the "and write every day or else" pep talk right? Nope!

Falkner says to read everything! Hemingway and comics, ad copy and editorials, screenplays and magazines, billboards and emails, short stories and non-fiction, poetry and E. M. Forster, classics and trash. Find a muse - one author whose writing wakes you up and leaves you a better person. Find someone to hate - whose style drives you crazy and makes you rant.

Write when you have something to say—don't wait. Write it right then, on a napkin, in the bathroom on Time magazine, next to the balance in your checkbook. Get it down when you're thinking it.

Find out what you have to say by reading lots of blogs, online e-groups, and forums, and then contribute. The Internet is the best place for figuring out what you have to say and whether or not anyone cares about hearing it. Write until they care. Figure out why they don't.

Write at least once a week when you have nothing to say—face down the blank page or screen and fill it with nonsense, crap or wingdings. I don't care, but learn how to write without fear. Print at least one of these and save it as a reminder that you can kill the beast.

Pick one high stress writing venue and go for it. (Get published, write a paper for college or grad school, write for an audience that is larger than your immediate circle - in a blog, or on behalf of a group or a letter to the editor.) Challenge yourself to write so that you must get it right - perfect punctuation, opening hook, great use of language and so on. Then risk sending it off to be read.

Take breaks from writing. That's right. Sometimes an entire day of no words is just the ticket to more words. Get in a bathtub and soak, take a walk with your neighbor's dog if you don't have one, go on a silent retreat, take a plane to another city and talk to no one. Be quiet and let life wash over you. Wait for the words to come. They will.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Snatches of conversations

Teen in South America for Christmas:

"My Spanish sucks. I mean, I don't know how to say "crush" or "dating." How can you carry on a decent conversation without vocabulary?"

Walgreen's cashier after she was asked what it meant that the "homemade cookie" for sale had a sticker that said: "Sell by 12/07." (Remember, today is the 27th of December)

"Oh, that's not the day's date. It's the year."

Okay, so they are saying it has to be sold before two more years go by?


Uh, I'll see you then!

Seven year old niece on the phone last night right after "hello":

"Hi Auntie Julie! Guess what I got?"


"A skateboard. And a stomp rocket." (Author's note: said rocket of the stomp was the gift our family sent.)

That's great!

"Did you know it can go over the clouds? My daddy stomped it and it flew over one cloud and came out on the other side!"

Ah. Who needs a thank you note?

Of gifts and gifts

My sixteen year old daughter gave up receiving "under the tree gifts" from us so that she could donate her Christmas money to Pediatric AIDS in Africa.

"Mom, I can't think of anything I need. Can you give my money to those who really do need it?"

Can't think of anything she needs? What sixteen year old girl says that!?

So we did make that donation for her.

And then, last week, I stumbled upon a skirt she had wanted but was never able to purchase for herself. I decided that we could give back to her. So I bought it, wrapped it, saved it to the end of the morning of gifts.

When she opened the little box holding the donation receipt, she smiled. I could tell that the morning of Christmas, her generosity became a real sacrifice. She sat in the middle of iPod insanity - all manner of accessories to go with old and new iPods for the boys, CDs, iTunes gift cards and more. She gave that up for Christmas.

After nearly all the gifts were opened, I brought out the box that held her skirt. She tore off the paper, dug through the styrofoam peanuts and burst into tears. So unexpected, so exactly what she wanted. She threw her arms around me saying, "Thank you, thank you so much. I really wanted this skirt." All that pent up emotion of sacrifice released on this very small gift. One skirt in relief against Apple-mania.

That's one of those moments I'll never forget. That small gift meant more to her when she had given something of value away.

Later that night she told me that a little conversation we had, had sparked the idea. I have a professor who met Bono when Bono traveled through the midwest a couple years ago. On that trip, Bono met with local leaders to drum up support for the campaign to end AIDS in Africa. My professor is one of the big wigs who works internationally on those very kinds of issues. In sharing about his meeting with Bono, my professor said that while he admired Bono's efforts and breadth of knowledge in this field, he didn't think Bono could have much impact on every day Americans. Sure, Bono could get them to sign petitions, but would we middle class Americans sustain our attention on an issue so important, yet so remote from us? Can fans be turned to activists?

My daughter, hearing that conversation, said she realized right then that she was one who was moved by Bono's commitment yet had done nothing herself. She wanted to prove my professor wrong. So she decided to give up Christmas.

I admire her. I want to be like her. What a gift she was to me on Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Some thoughts about Christmas

Tonight we visited our old church: the Vineyard. We like to go on Christmas Eve because they have a tradition we enjoy. They ask the church members to give out boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts to all the workers who stay up all night on Christmas Eve. We go to fire houses, police stations, fast food restaurants, hospitals and more.

We have gone to the fire house in the past but this time were assigned to a United Dairy Farmers - UDF - (sort of like a 7 Eleven crossed with Thrifty ice cream, for you west coast readers). We entered the little store with full hands and "Merry Christmases" only to find out that the company doesn't allow gifts of food to be given to its workers. We'd been assured that each place had been contacted by the church, but apparently this one slipped through the cracks. No matter. We hustled over to the "Waffle House" where the waitress gratefully accepted the overly sweet confections on behalf of her staff.

It's a nice tradition. I like that we are other centered on Christmas Eve. However, I prefer the trip to the fire house. There's something so earnest about fire fighters.

It was odd being at our old church facility. The worship leaders led some carols with a couple of guitars. We lit the little white candles with doilies around them. My nine year old daughter sure loves that! The huge auditorium holding 2000 people lit up as well and soft light suffused the massive theater style arena. (Not unlike the cell phone tribute at the U2 concert, come to think of it, but on a smaller scale.)

I got a special kick out of the way the moment the candles were lit, muffled cries and screams could be heard beneath the chorus of Silent Night. Dozens of toddlers were being carted out of the room as their parents wrestled them away from candles they would not be permitted to hold! Oh the torture of seeing the light yet not being old enough to possess it. [g]

The pastor talked about how one little light can ignite the whole world. It's a trite idea (one we've heard all our lives), but I liked it tonight. I liked it better than the carols, the prayers, the reminders to look for "divine appointments to share the love of Jesus."

There's something about light when winter is just getting started, that light can do good in the dark, that we can be a tiny bit of help in a complex world - this idea comforts me.

What about the star in that Bethlemehm sky that led the wise men to Jesus (such a sharp image)? It points to more than the story of Christmas, but rather suggests that a little bit of light can guide us in the dark; we are groping, hoping to find something worth the journey by the end, moved by the power of hope that comes from seeing a baby and imagining that this one will make a difference this time...

"Our hopes and fears through all the years are met in thee tonight" could be sung about every baby... don't we all feel that way when we hold our own children as newborn babes?

The squawking toddlers reminded me of how overly neat and symbolic the original Christmas story really is. Somewhere between the idealized version of Jesus's birth in Matthew and Luke and the reality that was Jesus's birth is something even more important than facts or myths. The Christmas story is a story of hope.

Each of us dares to hope in the face of odds that tell us nothing will change. Jesus's birth says to us: why not this generation? Why not this time?

Rather than camping at the feet of a religious myth attempting to verify it through historical research, it seems that we can establish (or reject) the fact and miss the message. Whatever you think of Jesus, the message of Christmas speaks to anyone who wants to hear it. Peace through hope, for all of us... why not this time? Why not this generation? Why not these children in our arms?

Why not dare to believe as Jesus did in his time that we can join in the reign of God to bring hope and peace to everyone?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Two Blog Entries Worth Reading

I happened upon two blog entries (from my little blogroll in the sidebar) that have exceptional blog value.

The first addresses itself to the Target Merry Christmas scandal (or not!). I love the questions asked by Grateful Bear at the end.

Where Would Jesus Shop?

The second is my first brush with how the Winter Solstice might be celebrated. By the end of this post, I wanted to join up! Such a delightful winter celebration!

Shimmer Glimpse's Winter Solstice


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Time Persons of the Year: Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates

That peripatetic guy - Bono - joined the Gateses as Times's Persons of the Year. He has gotten a heck of a lot done in his short 45 years.

Read about it here.

What struck me about Bono's life is that he has navigated some political and theological waters without whipping up an opposition. Who can be opposed to Bono? What follow are a few lessons I think we can glean from his example.

Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Bono has done this in two ways. He has continued to be a rock star. He never "gave up" music in service of doing a greater good. He used his muscial prowess to do good.

Additionally, when working to relieve African debt or getting medicines to AIDS victims, he stuck to those issues. He is interested in Africa and that's where his myriad creative energies are going.

He cares more about his project than being cool.
Some rock stars and actors have made it clear that they need to relate to their ilk in congress in order to achieve whatever goals they have. Bono doesn't care about his cool or what others believe. He has successfully engaged people from every side of every aisle - political, theological, geo-political... his gift is in understanding his audience and then singing his song in their language. He doesn't compromise his message or alter it. He simply finds out how the person he wants to act would best understand his message. And it's working.

He uses language to his advantage.
Bono is the master of the soundbite. He squeezes more insight and meaning into a few words that he then repeats for a year at a time, than most politicians can milk out of an hour long speech.

He keeps his mouth shut when he needs to.
It is difficult to pin Bono down on his Christian beliefs, his politics or his opinions on popular culture. This has to be either by intuition or design. A guy who can fly into Wheaton and speak to the student body during chapel about Africa and AIDS after having been written up in Rolling Stone for lap dances and passing out drunk in a bathroom because of a red wine allergy is a genius!

It's never too late to do something.
I like that as a forty-something myself, Bono reminds me that I can still do things that matter. It's not too late to do what I can in my world.

Bono has made eradicating poverty cool.
Wow! He is walking on 21st century water with that one.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned from Bono is that my faith is nothing if it isn't interested in the well-being of others. My theology might be an interesting topic for online discussions, but it is largely irrelevant if it doesn't act.

Thanks Bono. We believe.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Narnia: Disturbing Magic

We returned from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" a little over two hours ago. What a beautifully executed film.

The opening sequence is worth the whole movie. I can't recall a single film that shows us the terror of being on the ground under a bombing raid while trying to protect one's children. This opening device is the only part of the movie that truly moved me, and I think it is in part because it was unexpected and so well done. I really appreciated that effort.

The rest of the story is well-known in the circles I run in. No surprises.

What was surprising is how my understanding of the story and the gospel has changed in the last several years. I couldn't believe how dichotomistic Lewis is in his narrative. There is good. There is evil. The good is all good. The evil is all evil. Good must win and will. The good that must win will do so by killing, destroying, wiping out all evil. No forgiveness. No opportunity to change. End of story.

For my postmodern soul, this kind of eschatalogical conflict left me anxious. Is this even a possible way to view war any more in this world? What does this kind of narrative do to our imaginations? Do we frame our current conflicts in such a zero sum game?

When terrorists attack us, they represent themselves, yet are embedded in countries of people who are not out to harm us. Is it right to fight wars where those who are not evil are victims and can't be so easily sorted out from the "bad guys"?

The scene that upset me the most in the movie: Aslan standing by while Peter had to kill the wolf. My goodness! Peter was commanded to kill by the God figure without any intervention or help - yet the expression on his face was one of absolute repulsion (as it should be!) at the prospect of doing so. I did not like that at all! What about justice or punishment that doesn't include immediate execution at the hands of a boy!? Is that even how they did it in WWII? Did Nazi officers get shot point blank by the good guys while their compatriots stood by?

If the "deeper" magic is that the betrayer can be redeemed if one who is pure takes his place in judgment, then why wouldn't Aslan have done so on behalf of the wolf or on behalf of the evil, enslaved creatures working for the White Witch? In fact, isn't that the message most Christians equate with Christianity - that Jesus can to redeem the whole world? Yet in Lewis's world, the evil creatures are not to be redeemed at all. They are to be destroyed. Aslan dies only for one, not for everyone.

And all on Aslan's side are frozen by the White Witch, not killed, while those that the "good guys" kill are truly dead.

The underpinings of religion married to empire couldn't have been clearer. And the idea that we become more honorable through the murder of those we oppose ran as a theme throughout the story.

I no longer see Christianity in these terms. Perhaps it worked when Hitler was taking over Europe. But today? Do we honestly believe the route to a peaceful world is slaughtering our enemies? Hmmm. That sounds a bit like the Nazi vision of justice, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

U2 Set List

Main Set:
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo - She Loves You
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - In a Little While
Beautiful Day
Original of the Species - Norwegian Wood
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday - Rock the Casbah
Bullet the Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Where the Streets Have No Name
One - Help

Until the End of the World
Mysterious Ways
With or Without You
Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Instant Karma

Monday, December 12, 2005

U2 Photos...

The first two are the correct distance from our seats. The third one is cropped for a closer view. It looks incredible on my desktop. I can see Bono's face!

The rest are all of us being goofy in our seats and finally me showing off my new T-shirt.

Did she really go to see U2 AGAIN?

She did!!!!!

Jon and I took Jacob and Johannah to Cleveland this past Saturday night to see U2 at the end of the third leg of their world-crushing tour. It's the event we've looked forward to all year, except that I didn't have to look forward to it in March like they did since I had May in Chicago to look forward to, U2 slut that I am. :)

In any event, it snowed as in storm on Thursday which made me a tad nervous about the drive Sat. But the gods love Bono and apparently they like me too and we had an uneventful drive up to Cleveland. What a nice city! I don't say that lightly and I really mean it.

We stayed at "a scary" Embassy Suites (how Jon described it). Weirdly we parked in a parking garage that made you take an elevator down to the street level, exit through a maze, out the front of a building and back into the building through a door next door. Then you take the elevator to floor five to find the reception. Yes, it was that weird.

There was supposed to be a jcauzzi (on the blink) and a manager's reception of snacks and free drinks. No one, I mean NO ONE, knew what the snacks were yet they work there every day.

"Snacks, ma'am. I mean the chef could put out anything."

"Yes, I know. But like, what has he put out in the past? I mean, you must have seen some of those platters at some point."

"Oh you know, snacks and stuff. Just like snack food. You know, snacks."

I gave up.

And apparently they were dead right. Drinks were flowing to the point of middle-aged embarassment (my kids were witness to what parents of teens do when their teens aren't around - they get smashed, bombed, totally drunk and idiotic). Then snacks emerged—Chex Mix. That's right. No wonder no one could describe it. Pathetic.

No matter. We were going to hear U2... after that embarassing elevator ride with six drunk forty-somethings where a guy entered the elevator and said to his cohorts: "Hey, this is a place called Vertigo!" and then put his nose in between where the doors closed. Got peels of laughter from the blondes in tight t-shirts and then one of the big guys yelled "Hola!" and they all fell apart laughing again. Adults are idiots.

We took a taxi to the Gund auditorium. "Institute" opened for U2. They sucked. Sorry. Someone has to say it. My teens did, so I feel justified.

I bought a t-shirt. Woo-hoo!

I won't bore you with the "Excuse me, but I think you're in my seats" story where I had to yell over the bad band to get the woman's attention and yet she accused me of being rude after she wouldn't even check her tickets.... or the drunk guy that crossed in front of us twenty times to pee and buy beer throughout the concert (okay, not 20, but you get the hyperbolic idea).

We did sit in front of the most clean cut cute seniors in high school boys ever. Johannah managed to charm them up one side and down the other. :) They loved U2 - I tried to get their IMs to arrange marriages.

But onto the concert....

Cleveland was ready. They were much more openly affectionate to U2 than Chicago had been. Bono was in total generosity form - open, happy (smiled a lot) and dancing. The crowd cheered constantly and with real spontaneity. Love that.

We had the "greatest hits" set and I'll try to find it online and post tomorrow. They opened with "City of Blinding Lights" and Jacob went wild. We were just elated.

Instead of taking it song by song, I thought I'd highlight my favorite of the night. Bono sang "Miss Sarajevo" (a favorite of mine anyway) which is recorded with Pavrotti singing this gorgeous opera in Italian in the middle of the song. On Saturday night, they played it during the "Declaration of Human Rights" section of the concert (which scrolls on the jumbotron) and Bono chose to sing Pavrotti's part. He stunned me. He sang it to perfection. I'm talking he hit every high note and held it for the full length with vibratto. It was spectacular. I had no idea he had it in him. I kept thinking of Bono's belief that his father left him his father's tenor voice when he died. Saturday night, I believed. The crowd cheered every note that Bono went higher. Gorgeous—brought tears to my eyes.

I heard "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" for the first time in concert which Bono ended with a clip of "In a Little While." "Original of the Species" was also superb with this clever use of the stage lights. They chased each other around the elipse... "Baby slow down, the end is not as fun as the start..."

I so enjoyed being up high after my near disaster of being crushed in the general assembly floor seats last time. I like being high. It was good to find that out.

I'll post the set list and more thoughts later. Jon took a bazillion digital photos that I want to post too, so stay tuned.

What a night! Magic, transported me.

(Oh and the next day we went to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Sigh.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lose one, win one

You probably wouldn't guess that I watch football (I have confessed to a golf obsession with Tiger Woods...). But I do.

And yesterday, I held my breath as the Bruins met the Trojans. Finally, here in the east, we were deemed worthy of a game that featured only teams from the west.

But by the half, I wanted to avert my eyes.

By the end, let's just say I was a fan of the red and gold. What a team!

But today redeemed yesterday's bleak outcome. The Cincinnati Bengals (led by Carson Palmer - I know, a Trojan) have continued to astound the NFL with their come back season. 9 and 3. Not bad, boys. Not bad.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Imagination and Faith

Got to thinking about how theology works as I write my paper on Hinduism and Islam.

It occurred to me that much of theology (and science and economics and, and, and) relies on what I'd call "imagination." By this I don't mean "imaginary" as in "not real." Rather, I mean the ability to fire up images in one's mind that give life and breath to the ideas or insights or assertions made by any of these areas.

In the case of theology, the raw idea of heaven and hell for instance is not that powerful in the lives of those who don't vividly imagine those places as real. I am always amazed, for instance, that there are evangelical Christians who can sleep at night knowing that so many people are destined for an eternity of torment. It is because this is not the part of their theology that they have spent much time cultivating in their imaginations. They may be more imaginative with their ability to experience the love of God or "God's presence in prayer" or the wonder of Christian community.

As I thought about how we each make decisions about how we relate to our beliefs, it also occurred to me that even science depends on a vital imagination. For instance, my husband (who is a naturalist) has cultivated the imagination of how reality works - he sees the biological process in his head and he becomes amazed by the power of the genes, the way our brains control so much of what we experience, the power of our need to reproduce to motivate so many behaviors and so on.

Carl Sagan used to do something similar when he would awaken our imaginations to how he understood the cosmos.

It occurred to me that even capitalism depends on awakening the imagination - imagining what free markets can do, and how money can grow, and what benefits are derived.

It seems to me, then, that so much of theological interpretation depends on opening the imagination of the listener. Those who do it successfully gain followers who give support to those underlying ideas. And it also occurred to me that theology must be an exercise in re-imagining. That is, we receive the theology and the images it conjures from those before us, but we subject them to our modern or post-modern condition and re-imagine what they are to awaken insight or attachment or interest.

My question, then, is:

Why does it matter which "imagined" image gets the most votes? Iow, (without including science for a minute), does it matter whether one person is moved by the picture painted by the liberals versus the one painted by the patristic fathers or the one offered by the reformers? I agree that it matters if any one of these conjures up images that lead to oppression, violence or cruelty. But leaving those aside, assuming outcomes are equal as far as how we treat our neighbor, does it matter which theology we adopt, if one catalyzes the imagination in a way that another does not... and not everyone agrees?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Californians Arrive

My family and Jon's come for Thanksgiving starting late tonight and bleeding into tomorrow. The house has had a thorough Flylady once over and is sparkling. We painted both the family room and my bedroom and dejunked literally every room in the house. This is no easy task as my daughters' room hadn't seen the floor in so long we forgot the color of the carpet.

When it was all finished, my 11 year old son said, "I think a clean house is really nice."

Made me laugh.

My other kids chimed in that though it looks nice clean, it doesn't feel as homey.

Anyway, I will be scarce over the next several days of celebrating.

In addition to meals and desserts, I need to study. I have a paper due that compares the role of women in Hinduism and Islam. So far, Hinduism wins the prize for most abusive religion to women in history. Makes you want to tie men up in brightly colored saris and hurl them onto funeral pyres!

A steady gaze at women in history is enough to make any woman turn lesbian, I tell you. I am grateful to be born this side of suffrage and the third wave of feminsim.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Left, Right and Center

I've been scarce here lately. Just too much going on in my life. We're cleaning carpets, painting walls, dusting the "tall people places" (the tops of things I never see from down here), stocking good chocolate and buying coordinated "things" from Target (like tablecloths and other needless, first world, energy consuming decor) for our big Thanksgiving get-together which happens next week.

My mother, her husband, my brother, Jon's sister and my mom's husband's brother and sister-in-law (yes, we are an American family) are all coming to our house for the big Turkey meal. Jon will cook the bird in his Weber cooker while it snows, I imagine. :)

Grad school continues to mess with my mind...

The right wing radio types have been warning me about higher education for fifteen years. They warned that Marx was a hero and that the left would emerge as elitist, against business and out to control the lives of ordinary well-meaning SUV drivers.

They were completely right, btw.

In fact, my professors proudly identify with labels like "liberal" and "progressive" (what's up with that?) and wince when anyone mentions Rush Limbaugh or the so-called "war on terror." I think they experience physical pain.

But if you soak long enough in a perspective and give it time, it's amazing how undermining that long look can be to what you thought you knew.

Did you know, for instance, that if every Chinese drank just one more beer next year, all of Scandanavia's grain production would have to go to supplying that demand?

Okay, so what? We live in America. The Scandanvians can slave for the Chinese.

Here's another one...

Did you know that per capita, Americans consume 180 eggs per year? Did you know that each Chinese consumes ten? (10!?) The goal of their government is that each Chinese would consume 100 eggs per year. Yet if they were to consume only 50 per year, there wouldn't be enough hens in the world to lay eggs 24/7 year round to supply that need. We would literally be unable to produce enough eggs.

What the cluck?

They finally got through to me last night (in a way that the limits to growth folks never have succeeded before)—making tangible what the problems are in concrete, visual terms.

China and India want to consume energy at the rate that we do. Period.

The way we've set up the game, at this point, is that we want to consume at the rate we currently do without having to give any of it up and we believe we can continue to do so while other countries come up to our level without hitting shortages.

I am now considering the possibility that we are wrong. (So what else is new under the sun in my life?)

Actually, I think I'll skip eggs this morning. Might just drink some tea.

Look at me! "She's all grown up and savin' China." (Quick, trivia question: What Disney movie is that from?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Springsteen on Fresh Air

If you get Fresh Air in your market, today's interview with the Boss is wonderful. The audio will be posted on the website after 3 p.m. eastern.

Check it out.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Perks of Being a Graduate Student

After years of being a stay-at-home mom

  • New books, new clothes, and the necessary application of make-up on class night.

  • A sexy vocabulary - "post-foundationalist deconstruction" and "ideological hegemonic criteria" Hot, hot, hot! When those professors start going on like that, I swear it's all I can do to sit there and take notes... Makes me hurry home to my husband's big vocab, if you know what I mean. ;-)

  • More writing opportunities than you can shake a stick at... or at which one may shake one's stick.

  • A library with really old books in German by Goethe. It doesn't matter that I will never read them. It matters that they transfer immortality to me each time I stroke the spines.

  • Adults who dare to question everything they know, leave the ministry and wind up in food service (Dominoes pizza and Starbucks come to mind). Who says an MA in theology doesn't prepare one for the workforce?

  • Subversive ancient texts. Word up! There's a conspiracy out there to disarm these texts. We theology students know better and are sneaking into your water cooler conversations and online bulletin board chats. Postmodern malatov cocktail anyone?

  • Standing in front of school buildings and forgetting my age for just a minute.

  • Feeling smart.

  • Having new thoughts about old topics.

  • Reading.

  • Getting sane without spending a penny on therapy.

So what are you waiting for?

Oh and I have no idea what in the world I'll do with a theology degree... except try to finagle a way to keep taking classes.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hubby leaves town and car goes on the blink

I got a new van a few weeks ago. It's a new "used" van but the newest vehicle we've ever bought. It has only 60,000 miles on it! And I bought it like the grown-up I am - with my own hard earned money. First time ever.

I love it.

And now I hate it.

Why did it have to give up while Jon is in Seattle?

Praying to the mechanical gods: Please would you heal my vehicle, ASAP-hicle.


(We all believe in God when our cars break down...)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A little rosary therapy...

Joe Biden comes unglued...

"If I'm the nominee, Republicans will be sorry," said Biden, a Roman Catholic, who previously ran for president in 1988. "The next Republican that tells me I'm not religious I'm going to shove my rosary beads down their throat."

Poor grammar and bad theology. Thus maketh a politician!

As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported this a.m.:

"...[S]omehow, vowing to 'donate' rosary beads past someone's epiglottis doesn't quite fit our definition of Christian charity."

Pat Robertson's plea to send the CIA to Venezuela to assassinate Chavez must have led to Chavez expelling all missionaries from his country.

So Biden is right! He and Robertson are cut of the same Christian cloth, apparently.

Sometimes it's hard to remember what the hell Christianity is supposed to be about anyway...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Apple Store

Have you ever been to one?

What a place. It's clean, every Apple computer screen is lit up with gorgeous color, and there is space to think and look without being overwhelmed by technology. I wanted to move in.

Yesterday, we made the pilgrimage. Jon went with us (who can resist a chance to see the G5 with the 30" screen? Makes me all shivery just remembering it). Jon and I love Apple. I have my cute little iBook ever ready on my little table that I call my work station. But being in that store made me want the new G5 that has no big computer box - just a big flat screen and keyboard. Just gorgeous. I mentioned this idle interest to Jon who immediately started calculating how we could pay for it. (You see why I love this man? We would never go into that kind of conversation over couches or kitchen appliances... but a new Apple computer? We must need one and by golly, we can afford it!)

Anyway, back to the main and plain of this story. We entered the Apple store neatly tucked between Pottery Barn and some other inane mall shop.

Our mission? Adding to Steve Job's pockets with more of our hard earned cash.

Jacob bought the new iPod with video. I was skeptical. He already has an iPod (he's bought them both with his own money by selling cookies to neighbors... seriously - makes us question the origin of his genes, but we're not complaining!).

He upgraded to the new (and blacker) iPod. (He opted for badass black over lily white.)

Let's just say it totally rocks. Totally. Like, now I want one and I don't even watch music videos. But he seduced me by hooking me up with Sting's "Desert Rose." The sound quality, first of all, blew my doors off. As my mom's husband said to me once about the Sony walkman they gave me in 1984 "It's a musical orgasm." I don't know if the pictures helped... but hey! It was Sting on the screen. Uber cool.

The little screen is clearer than our TV. The Pixar short "The Birds" popped with life and color.

But aside from movies and videos, what really got me is that Jacob has all 1000 photos from Italy on his iPod now and has created slide shows to music that he can pull out at any time to share with other people. I can't believe how totally cool that is.

Creative Memories? Sayonara! I am going Apple. (You can do the same thing on your Apple computers and if you get the big screens, you can even use their little universal remote that looks like the shuffle to control music, photos, and desktop from a distance. Conceivably, you could set up your screen, click on slide show of your last hay ride and let it play in the background while entertaining guests!)

See, we do need that bigger screen. Wonder how many cookies I'd have to sell...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thrashed by life

Just got off the phone with grad school friends. One of my buddies is spending the night in the hospital. Her father and mother were in a horrible car accident over the weekend. Her mother was killed instantly and her father is in the SICU. My friend's parents had come to town to see her new home and to visit her baby. They were driving back to Indianapolis when a crazy driver flew over the median and forever changed the lives of everyone in that family.

This is not the opening to an epsiode in Six Feet Under.

I feel like throwing up.

Jon said, "I'd much rather think that chance combined with stupidity is responsible for this tragedy than a divine plan."

I'll spend tomorrow afternoon with Stephanie and our other good friend.

Hug the ones you're with tonight.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Twice the (grief) Greek for half the price

Well, I'm halfway through my New Testament Greek class which means that I have now had the equivalent of a full semester, because our professor told us we are going twice as fast as a normal class, which would take a year. He was so pleased that Xavier would even offer a Greek class that he made the comment we are getting twice the Greek! I said, "Twice the grief, half the price."

Great language... if you plan on lasic surgery in the future. I can hardly look at the letters any more without going cross-eyed.

But it's way cool to read the original writings in the original language. It's like becoming a Muslim! I finally get why Muslims are maniachal about "God's" language.

Couple of tid bits to consider:

ophthe which means "see" in Greek refers to seeing dreams and daytime visions. It is not the same as the usual word for "to see" which is blepo. This is the word used in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Read it. Then think about "what they are seeing" and how that impacts what you read.

was raised: same chapter. This word is better translated to indicate that the raising is still occurring today. This is not aorist tense. It is in the perfect which means it happened in the past with a continuing effect, namely that Jesus "was raised" but that even as Paul wrote the words, Jesus continued to be raised. Hmmmm. What could that mean?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bono- ubersexual

Like we needed a poll to tell us...

Bono, Clooney Named Top Ubersexuals
October 12, 2005

LOS ANGELES ( - Metrosexuals are like, so 2003. Make way for the ubersexuals.

U2 frontman/Nobel Prize nominee Bono has been named the ultimate ubersexual, according to advertising agency JWT.

An ubersexual is defined as a manly man who displays all the good qualities -- "M-ness" -- associated with the gender without giving into the negative stereotypes such as chauvinism, emotional unavailability and a brain only filled with sports stats, beer and burgers.

"The descriptor 'uber' was chosen because it means the best, the greatest," says Marian Salzman, JWT's executive VP. "Ubersexuals are the most attractive [not just physically], most dynamic, and most compelling men of their generations. They are confident, masculine, stylish, and committed to uncompromising quality in all areas of life."

Following Bono is actor/director George Clooney, former President Bill Clinton ("a born charmer ... who is not afraid to cry), real estate mogul Donald Trump and the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Rounding out the Top 10 are: Senator Barack Obama, Ewan McGregor, former 007 Pierce Brosnan, Guy Ritchie and "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart.

To help differentiate between metrosexuals and ubersexuals, JWT provided the following guide:

# UBERSEXUAL - passionate about causes and principles; METROSEXUAL - passionate about himself
# UBERSEXUAL - grooms his mind; METROSEXUAL - grooms his hair
# UBERSEXUAL - men are his best friends; METROSEXUAL - are BFF with women
# UBERSEXUAL - sexy, but not self-conscious; METROSEXUAL - narcissistic
# UBERSEXUAL - consults art and culture; METROSEXUAL - gets tips from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" Fab Five
# UBERSEXUAL - knows right from wrong; METROSEXUAL - knows difference between toner and exfoliant
from zap2it

Friday, October 14, 2005

Second Adolescence

I was driving home from grad school last Wednesday realizing that in many ways my life reminds me of college but with a lot more responsibility. Remember how college felt huge and life beyond it scary and unknown, even though exciting and open to possibilities? For me, this huge world of ideas (much bigger than my crumbling family or my little town of Calabasas) blew open the doors of life and I couldn't wait to figure out my place in it, even while the thought terrified me.

The biggest idea was of cosmic proportions! My faith became real in college and helped me to sort out the whys and wherefores of my future: who I'd marry, how I'd serve others, what I imagined my entire life to be like at the other end, how I'd make decisions about values and ethics and work and child-rearing, how I understood who I was and what I was supposed to become...

So here I am at forty-three and suddenly many of those topics are re-opened... except now instead of them looming in the unknown future, they're mixed up with gratitude and regret about the past, while making course corrections for the future. And I'm more than knee-deep in faith and theology again, fine tuning what I thought would have been immovable positions back when I took them.

The future still looks big and looming... but suddenly I'm aware that I will not always be in it. That is probably the weirdest part of all. And all the cosmological issues are right here, not as theories for old people but as important touchstones for the future of our planet and humanity, not just my little life.

I remember looking forward to the day when my opinions would finally count, be heard... Well that day has arrived and instead, I offer uncertainty and flexibility and a profound awareness of my limitations to ever really know anything well enough, to be smart enough or educated enough or insightful enough or committed enough or competent enough... (Doesn't that sound like adolescence of another sort?) to really know. It would be so much easier (and less interesting) to bluster or cling to what I thought I knew.

But, I love learning about all of this stuff at this stage of life. In college the first time, it was all "for the first time." I "got it" in a general, "Whoa! That's big stuff" kind of way. This time around (and twenty-five years later), my appreciation for and understanding of the issues/ideas is deeper. I "make connections" and they blow my doors off. I love learning now in the same way I was boy crazy as a teen. There isn't an idea I don't want to fondle or molest in some dark corner!

Remember these feelings?

--Studying your body in the mirror for flaws. I was always so worried about being small, undeveloped, not pretty enough, not sexy. Today, I am conscious of my body shape, metabolism, hormonal changes, facial lines, greying hair... and can get down about it. I deliberately celebrate when I strike a look that makes me feel sexy. I stop now, look full in the mirror and say, "Hey Julie, you look hot!" because if I don't notice now, it will never happen. (I am lucky to have a husband who always notices me... what would I do without him?)

--Being run by hormones. I'm totally hormonal, with all the attendant fluctuations of sexual appetite and being really pissed off... Really mad. Did I mention I suddenly got a temper? When I was thirteen, I'd come home from school and slam all the shutters on the windows as hard as I could. I sort of feel like that every ten days or so, but we have no shutters.

--Wondering what you'd do when you grow up. I would never have put myself in a business context in college. I was opposed to the aims of business. So here I am running one. What does that mean?!?

--Having to join "the system." I remember distinctly freaking out about having to pay taxes, wondering about health insurance and salaries... Ha! Here I am again, only this time taxes are three times as complicated with a business and I have to think about scary stuff like retirement.

--Doing new stuff with passion. I have a sudden influx of wanting to do silly, wild things. I would love to go kayaking. That's a long standing dream of mine. I even have an article from the newspaper that is ten years old of kayaking in Alaska. I would love to travel more, to take a class in watercolor and beat back my fear of painting.

--Being a culture vulture. I admit that I like pop music and eating junk food when I want to and watching stupid sit coms and movies. I want to be able to stomp my feet, giggle, be cool or uncool, picky and smart ass when I want to.

--Being sick of school. Today, I am sick of cooking in the same way.

--Wanting life to be one big party. I want to have fun... and am old enough and baby-free enough to make it happen! That's one of the good things about the forties.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Post it Notes to the Internet

Blogging is taking a back seat to life these days.

Here's why:

Murderous Maths have taken over our homeschool. Entertaining, hilarious, practical guides to math for literary math-phobics (written by the witty British), these books have made me interested in math, maybe for the first time.

Did you know that in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, they say "maths" instead of math?

I started a new blog about my homeschool not for public consumption but to give me a better record of what the heck we do all day so that at the end of the year I don't have to have the memory of an elephant to track down all the cool stuff we did. (You know, like how many episodes of Seinfeld we've memorized and stuff...)

We have our first big Greek test next Tuesday and have I mentioned that New Testament Greek is kicking my academic butt? Found out our course covers in one semester what most seminary Greek classes cover in a year. I feel better... and worse.

Last week we celebrated the first night of Ramadan (in my comparative religious ethics class) with five Malian Imams. They came in full regalia (bright green and copper colored robes with skull caps). One of them might have also had a career with the NBA - that dude was over 7 feet tall, I'm convinced. When he prayed, it took him twice as long to bend his body in half as the rest of them. Wondered if he was in for b-ball recruitment after touring the US colleges on behalf of Islam...

The whole class fasted and we broke the fast midway through class eating an incredible meal from Mejana's - Middle Eastern Restaurant from downtown. Kebabs, chicken and rice, hummus, lemon and olive oil salad with peppers, lettuce, onions and tomatoes, kefta... it was amazing.

There's lots to discuss about that class but I don't have time to craft it! Suffice to say that I have lost hope that we can solve any global problems. Back to planting daisies in my own yard. (Reading Strong Religion right now and hope to post some quotes some day.

Took the kids to the zoo and joined. Liam is destined to work for the zoo. He comes to life there.

Well, that's the big round up. Not so interesting but it's all I've got at the moment.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hard Rock Fruits of Home Education

And some people wonder how home educators can stand being home with their kids all day...

Caitrin is studying the history of music in our homeschool co-op. Today, they covered rock 'n roll.

The tunes of choice? She recognized 'em... the only one in the class to ID them both: the Boss and U2! My work with her is done. Diploma forthcoming.

I did nearly jump out the car window as I turned the facts over in my head. I epiphanied: "You mean there is an adult female home educating U2 and Springsteen fan lurking right there in our 110 family co-op and this astute woman of culture and I have yet to form an airband?" How did this vital statistic get by me?

Note to self: Wear Springteen T and sport U2 iPod next week in attempt to scope out clandestine fan.

In this same class, this very hip teacher will require each kid to do a music report featuring a specific type of music. Caitrin chirped the instructions happily as I came back to earth and tuned in.

"So you'll do rock 'n roll, right?" I mused absently.

"No way Mom. That's old music."

I squinted at her in the rear view mirror. Apparently we need a refresher in "Music 101".

"I'm doing rap."


My nine year old white girl whose goal in life is to visit the American Girl Tower in Chicago wants to do her music report on rap.

Jacob scoffed. "You don't even know any rappers!'

C: "Do so. I know seven."

J: "You do not. Name them. I'm gonna count." He poised his fingers in the air.

I quickly ran through the number I knew in my head and never got to seven.

C: "Tupac Shakur,
Fifty Cent,
Missy Elliot,
Eve, oh and
Little Romeo... he's got a dad called Big Romeo but he got shot."

Did I mention she just turned nine? Should I be scared?

Imagine the following scenario next spring as students present reports...

Caitrin brings "Kit" (her AG doll) to the front of class and uses the doll's hand to push "play." Out comes "Thug Life" by Tupac...

Better start looking for a new co-op now.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Urban Gymnast

Or Insane Eighteen Year Old? You decide

Remember the old Par Cours that we all did in the 70s and 80s? Runners would go into the woods jogging and then every tenth of a mile or so, they'd stop to do pull ups or push ups or to trot on top of wooden stumps, etc. Well, there is a new urban version of this sport called ParKour (the best athlete in this field is French). Noah has joined the local chapter... and is now seen around town flinging himself (and pony tail) at cement buildings.

The basic idea is to hurl your body off of rooftops and fire escapes in abandoned parts of the city while doing gymnastics moves like kips, dive rolls (yes, right onto concrete), and flips. The action of this sport looks a lot like Trinity in the opening scene of the Matrix... and surprisingly, just as graceful.

Noah, my rock climber, my "challenge death from age 12 months and forward" child took to this new life threatening time killer like an oil slick to Alaskan waters. ::shudder::

One of the little movies demonstrating the sport was set in Russia. Talk about an urban gymnast's dream! All those abandoned buildings and dangerously decaying stairwells? I saw the world through new eyes... Made me wish for my youth.

Here are a few pics:

Monday, September 26, 2005

Getting the chemistry right

Johannah signed up for torture this year, aka chemistry. Since I escaped high school without chemistry and deftly avoided taking it in college, I know nothing. The closest I get to chemical knowledge is mixing baking soda and vinegar in various containers and calling it lava!

So the other night, she called from the computer to ask me for help. I put on a brave face and marched over as a dutiful parent would.

"Mom, I'm trying to put in absolute numbers. How do I do it?"

"Absolute numbers! Like, those are numbers, not vowels? Johannah, I'm sorry, but I'm worthless with any heiroglyph used in counting."

"No Mom, I know what absolute numbers are. I already did the problems. I just can't figure out where the right key for vertical brackets is on the keyboard."

Aha! I'm a genius! "Right there, honey. It's the upper case of the backward slant key."

And that's how I help with chemistry homework. The computer and I—we've got chemistry.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fundamentally shocked

Wednesday night my Comparative Religious Ethics class met.

And Rush Limbaugh turns out to be right. The liberal intellectuals do, after all, bash their conservative brethren while boasting of being tolerant and interested in dialog. (Not defending ol' Rush, here, but the thought did cross my mind.)

My buddy in class (who comes from conservative Christianity, too) said, "I feel like a pinata." That's how it felt to listen to Catholics describe Christian fundamentalists. Their "insight" was about as sharp as the thick end of a baseball bat and just about as subtle.

Assertion: One of my favorite attempts at explaining fundamentalists (who all support Bush, of course) was that they must be used to following whatever their church leaders say. They don't think for themselves individually because they only follow leaders... unlike Catholics who are trained to obey their personal consciences in matters of faith and practice.

Uh yeah... their consciences and... the POPE... who I thought was The Church leader...

Rebuttal: What worth-his-salt conservative Protestant puts a church leader ahead of his own ideas of what is true or from God? Haven't met one yet. We leave a church when we don't agree... isn't that the usual accusation?

Assertion: Fundamentalists only read the Bible literally. Catholics read it on many levels (metaphorical, analogical, literal, historical, theological...)... Amazing. I didn't know that Catholics read the Bible. Many in this very program have admitted to me that they had never even cracked the covers of a Bible until grad school.

Rebuttal: I felt constrained to point out that fundamentalists do read the Bible on lots of levels and in fact, do read it, a lot. They just take it so seriously that they don't want to read it in ways that undermine their orthodox beliefs. So they don't. Kind of like Catholics, who read the Bible so that it supports Church teachings.

Someone else asked: "Can fundamentalists be spiritual people?" Whoa! I thought all that daily prayer, Bible study, fasting, devotion to moral living and character growth were spiritual disciplines. But rats, apparently they are not since fundamentalists are convinced of their salvation.

Assurance of salvation was proof that a fundie was not in fact spiritual (which just happens to be the Catholic view of salvation. A fundie would say that the Catholic is not spiritual if she can't point to the date, time and locale of her conversion).

No response necessary.

6 day creationism was seen as absurd and the fact that a fundamentalist wouldn't lie about hiding Jews in WWII seen as "unreasonable" (as not promoting the use of reason). One astute Catholic student pointed out that perhaps for the fundamentalist, he believed in God with much more faith than the Catholic, in trusting that God's will would be done without the believer having to compromise his values that God had commanded him to live.

It was rough.

I take issue with most of the fundamentalist tenets of faith. But what I will never forget is that my life, in conservative evangelical circles, was full of conviction, study, sincerity, commitment to ideals and morals, intellectual stimulation (yes, it was!) and daily spiritual disciplines that caused me to be a better person, yes, a more decent, honest, hard-working, kind and caring/interested person. I figure Catholicism works the same way for Catholics.

Today, since I can't bear what I see as the superstitious side of faith, I have left evangelicalism. But not because fundamentalists were dumb or not spiritual or mere followers of men.

We all need to listen a lot more attentively to each other and stop one-upping our particular brand of faith. It's just not Christian.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A little family bid-niz

Brave Writer is the business I started almost six years ago. It began as an email list that taught an online writing class for eight weeks and... $25.00 per family. :) I had no website, no book published, no staff. Just me, a computer and my conviction that native speakers are more than qualified to teach their kids to write.

Since then, I've changed the name (we used to be The Writing Compass), added a website, written two writing manuals, have developed multiple products to help with language arts practices, created a slew of online courses in addition to the original one, started a free subscription program that helps to organize a writing lifestyle, run a daily blog, offer writing contests and have a staff of six, besides myself.

When I began the first class, I was writing a manual for a well known homeschooling curricula. I wanted them to hire me so that I could run my online courses through them. I thought I needed greater access to the homeschooling community. That project fell through (for mysterious reasons, though I did at least get that first book written) and initially, I was devastated. That company owner told me that today, no one can start a business and expect the old maxim to hold true: "Build a better mousetrap, and the customers will beat a path to your door." He suggested that if I was serious about starting my own business, I'd also have to become expert in marketing, the world of Internet advertizing, that I'd have to promote myself by attending conferences at my own expense and so on. Behind his words were predictions of failure.

I ignored him. (Good thing)

My company has grown solely due to word of mouth advertizing. I have not taken out a single ad, I haven't even had to pay my way to conferences (having been invited to the ones at which I've spoken). I still don't know much about Internet marketing, though the little I've learned has come from my savvy husband and brother.

What's happened instead is that I created a company that helps mothers. This is an important point. I'm pretty certain that what sets Brave Writer apart from other home school curricula is that I am a homeschooling mother and writer, not a dad, not a business man, not an educator.

Homeschool moms have specific experiences that go unaddressed by the standard curricula.

When a writing manual says: "Write a four sentence paragraph about autumn that includes a topic sentence" - it is only telling the child what to do, not how to do it. Moms will read the instructions and watch the otherwise exuberant little boy sit blankly, not moving. How do you get a kid who stares out the window to write?

So my materials all start from this question: What catalyzes the writer to emerge from behind blue eyes? (A "Who" reference for my rock 'n roll readers )

I answer: A mother who understands the natural stages of growth in a writer, and who fosters an environment where the writer may emerge at his own pace.

So that's what Brave Writer is in a nutshell. I've doubled my business this year (truly astounding!) and am nearly drowning. I may be at my first tipping point. It's exciting and scary.

Incidentally, the curricula that turned me down originally, has now asked to carry my manual in their catalog. Hmmmm.

My answer?

So far, I've decided that I don't need the extra work more money and customers would mean. We're on the "grow as we can support the growth" model, which is counterintuitive if money is the goal, but more reasonable if having a family life is the goal (which it is for us).

Apparently, the maxim still holds true: If you do build a better mousetrap, they do come after all.

Thanks Dave, for asking about my business. My website (linked at the top) is the easiest way to see what I'm up to.

Now off to do all that data entry that I loathe...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and other traumas

My time in California with my college friend and roommate surpassed expectations as we roamed through memories and shared our last twenty years with each other in new and insightful ways. UCLA is gorgeous and we enjoyed walking all over the campus remembering favorite study haunts and food spots.

Then Jon arrived and we went to Riverside to see my entire family celebrate my uncle's birthday. He turned 80 in the company of all who love him (he had 115 people at a luncheon including the mayor who honored him with a city award), which moved me and motivated me to be of such a giving nature.

I returned home to the chaos that is Katrina raging from our TV screens. The incompetence of this administration in the face of true tragedy defies response. I'm speechless.

Then I found this article online that practically predicts the hurricane damage a full year ago (read the opening set of paragraphs and shiver). There was no excuse not to be prepared.

And barely two days into being home, I found out that a local girl we know has left home and needs a place to stay... but is still a minor. For safety reasons, I won't share why she left but use your fertile imaginations... No one leaves her family home without money or a place to go without good reason. Worse, she comes from a homeschooled "Christian" (I use that term loosely) environment. We are trying to help her find a place to live.

What's wrong with people?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

U-C-L-A, fight, fight, fight

I'm heading out west for the weekend for my uncle's eightieth birthday. On this side of forty, eighty is sounding really impressive! He's just a gem of a guy and our entire family is gathering to celebrate the incredible man he is.

Before I head out to Riverside, land of hot weather and smog in September, one of my best friends from college and I are going on a little nostalgia trip together back to UCLA. I haven't been there in years and have heard it has changed dramatically. Of course, some things never change: like Royce Hall (above).

I used to walk to the quad as an undergrad and when Royce Hall broke into view against the blue sky (it was blue every day of the year), I'd think "I'm the luckiest person on earth to be a student at this university." I knew it then. I still know it.

So I'll see you next week and hope to have a few Bruin photos to share.

We'll also drop by the sorority house (Kappa Kappa Gamma) and see how the 21st century decorates the old place. Can it really have been twenty one years already?

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I can't tell you how nice it is to have THE END at the end of that novel. Total number of words: 51,172. 180 pages.

Let's pause and light some incense shall we?

I noticed as I approached "the end" (while cranking out words wildly) that I forgot to tie up the loose ends of several sub plots. Oh yeah! What about that mysterious book? And what did Mitch know? Why did I think he knew it again?

Fortunately, my main character had been in a coma so I could conveniently fix the problems of plot "while she was sleeping." And that, my friends, is exactly the quickest way to send your novel straight to the round file.

All good novels (not mine) have the protagonist triumph over her problems without help. I, on the other hand, have this sick need to have everyone else rescue the damsel. Why? Why? This is my plotting nightmare. I love stirring up a hornet's nest, but then I call in the exterminators. I don't want to beat those bugs back all by myself, do I? Can't I just sleep through it?

Anyway, I sat down and fixed the lost plots and resolved the primary crisis and ended with a line I liked. Fortunately, the two main characters get together (phew) but the baby didn't make it (awwww). The seemingly not so good guy turns out to be more than decent.

Life is harder than expected, but richer too. (Deep)

Anyway, had to share. It was fun, fun, fun.

Pop! There's goes the cork. Cheers.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Blogging takes backseat to noveling

My novel is over 48,000 words and I have three days left to write. Hencequently, I am not blogging but writing. Eeeee. Highly recommended. Very fun. Ridiculous, ludicrous, bad writing. But so entertaining!

See you again when I surface.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Sweetest Thing

Johannah hopped in the car after her first day back to school. She goes part time and does the rest at home.

Me: How was your day?

J: Okay. I really like one of my teachers: Mr. Black. He's just like Dad!

High praise indeed.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Not Extinct!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology (These are the guys who sponsor the backyard bird watch every year.)

The ivory-billed woodpecker was spotted in Arkansas!

Pretty exciting stuff for birders everywhere.

Monday, August 22, 2005

When the NML talks, I listen

You know the NML (Non-Material Layer) is working overtime when Kim Possible and Six Feet Under have the same message a day apart.

Kim Possible's nemesis Shego said to the bad guy: "What's the point of taking over the world if you don't stop to smell the roses?"

From Six Feet Under. Dead father talking to discouraged son who is still alive.

Nathaniel: "You're alive, you can do anything you want."

David: "It can't be that simple."

Nathaniel: "What if it is?"

What indeed?

Good stuff

Tiger won the NEC in Ohio. I love to watch him get out of trouble.

Six Feet Under passed gracefully from HBO. I loved that Claire lived to 102 and that she married un-hip Ted. Thought all the story lines developed beautifully and logically. Cried so many times. Think Brenda is a model of courage to overcome family demons.

Made sugar cookies with Caitrin after swimming at the YMCA. Cookies taste great with tea. Caitrin sang the whole time we cookie cut stars and boots and trees.

I added another 5000 words to my novel of the month this weekend. This is the final stretch. What will happen to my heroine Sami?

The weather is cooler (low nineties now) and I got a new used Dodge Caravan 2001.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Book Writing 101

Start with an idea: a short organized method for writing essays.

Add teaching the essay for five years.

Mix in a healthy dose of university composition as explained and discussed with husband who teaches freshman composition. Substitute teach and learn much.

Read and reread the freshman college text and realize that you have a lot to learn about essay writing and so work on learning it for five years.

Test ideas on real human beings. Modify ideas.

Plagiarize the best ideas and then realize you are plagiarizing and have to start from scratch.

Scrap project and eat chocolate for three years.

Return to project when fans and clients start hounding your inbox with requests for promised high school book that is only overdue by three years... what's the big deal? Oh your kids are heading off to college without it? Oops.

Start grad school to avoid writing book.

Write long papers.

Learn critical personal experience observations about academic writing while in grad school (iow, write papers while crying... very helpful insights into the pain of academic writing).

Finally face the truth: essay book is long overdue and must be written.






Lay out. (hubby's job)



Lay out again (first version wrong).



Enter copyedits (copy editors deserve a special place in paradise - they are saints)

Publish into PDF format.


It's done. All 176 pages of it. My second full length book. I have the scars and dementia to prove it.

Incidentally, I did all this revising and rewriting this month while I'm working on that NaNoWriMo novel of the month. I'm at 33,330 words right now. Think I'm sick of typing WORDS?

Okay, off to celebrate. Have some chocolate on me.

P.S. I was asked recently to explain my business on this blog. I'll do that in the next few days. I'm too tired to think straight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mommy Guilt

My iBook came with this strange feature. It's got this six foot chain with locking handcuffs that erupts clangingly from under the keypad every time I boot up. It locks me to my chair in Harry Potter fashion when I sit down to work on my high school book for Brave Writer (knowing that I'd bolt otherwise and go skip through the sprinklers with my cutie-pie daughter).

Even now, the restless clanking of the chains distracts me from the most riveting aspect of book writing (entering the copy editor's OCD edits... this woman needs a life!). I know it's important to get rid of widows and orphans (bet you don't even know what those are in the editing world... we send their sorry asses back to the projects), but does it really matter if the first three words on the left side of the page all have apostrophes? Do I have to realign the whole frickin' paragraph?

I digress.

So with ball and chain and computer, my eight-year-old daughter, who makes me laugh every day by quoting Seinfeld verbatim (you see how much I'm working lately?), is understandly an orphan herself.

Can you spell G-U-I-L-T???

Last night at her usual 11:45 p.m. Mom-neglects-me-so-I-stay-up-late bedtime, she asked me, "Mommy, how do you spell 'appreciate'?"

I rattled it off.

"That's a long word! I like it."

This morning, I woke up to find a sheet of paper slid under my bedroom door:

I love you Momy
I love you Momy
I appreciate you Momy
I love you mr thn ennything

Each letter "i" was topped by a heart and the whole group of lines curved in an arc like a rainbow until it crashed into a pool of overlapping hearts. My own heart crashed into a pool of guilt.

Then the most mysterious thing happened. This epistle of love gummed up the iBook's masochistic chain and cuff program and I'm free! Today I'm taking my girl to the pool for some swimming and Seinfeld quoting.

She's the best little orphan around. I love hr mr thn ennything.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What the devil?

So we went to the bigtime West Chester Bash where Smash Mouth entertained the masses of midwestern kiddos and their parents. You have to live in West Chester to appreciate how far the mighty have fallen that this top forty hit band would come here for a gig. Sure, we have a respectable upper middle class crowd who can swill the Warsteiner with the best of them. But honestly, these folk are mostly country-western fans or devotees of Fox classic rock.

The "bash" boasted an unattractive platform stage bordered by huge speakers that couldn't be heard on the other side of the festival. So much for big sound. Above the performers hung a tacky plastic banner promoting PNC Bank, of all things. Not exactly rock band material.

No matter. When Smash Mouth got to the stage and began with the soundtrack from Shrek 1, everyone got jiggy with it.

Then the mid concert slump hit in song two. These guys look older and more tired than they probably are, their five albums are lack luster and for stage presence, they offered a strange mix of rasta hair on the bassist and an oversized black shirt on the lead singer.

We endured a bunch of songs we couldn't hear well or understand to get to "Walkin' on the Sun" where little girls and women who should have stayed on the ground got up on stage to dance. I'm now at the uncomfortable age where my peer group embarrasses me. I mean do we really need forty-something women shakin' what their mamas gave them oh so long ago for everyone to see? Yikes. I wanted to yell "Family hold back!"

Then the show picked up as the bassist entoned the distinctive riffs of none other than rock gods Van Halen. Unfortuantely, that's when the whole experience just got flat out weird.

Lead singer Steve Harwell shouted "Are there any parents in the house?"

::Cheers and beers::

"This one, I said, THIS ONE is for the parents!"

And suddenly we were into a ripped off version of "Runnin with the Devil." That's right, for all those terrific parents out there who 'run with the devil' every day so that their kids can grow up to 'run with the devil', this song's for you. The wild child in each forty-something male broke free and lifted his beer in honor of all those days of devil runnin'. It was, sniff, sniff, beautiful.

Then a misguided blonde in her forties and bouncing halter top scaled her husband's shoulders and flashed devil horns to the beat for the whole song! (Amazing how she balanced that beer and didn't spill a drop on her kids, either.)

Yes, we run with the devil - this one's for us!

In case we hadn't gotten in touch with our inner devils (those of us who grew up in the decade to forget—the 70s), Smash Mouth played a little VH encore: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" because, hey, these songs are for the parents and who are we kiddin'? Were we talkin' 'bout love with our kids? Hell no! We're runnin' with the devil. We ain't talkin' bout love, no way, no how! We're talkin' 'bout beer! Woo-hoo... devil horns, devil horns.

Now honestly, I would be a bit less hard on the guys if the lead guitarist had even held a candle to my old home town guitar hero, Eddie Van Halen. But let's be clear about this. No face-melting guitar solo to be had! No gut bustin' drum solos either. And no one even attempted a David Lee Roth scream that sets your spine on fire.

Weirder still, in spite of their not living up to VH's fine reputation, these two songs were better than the rest of their own repertoire combined except for their encore hit "All Star." We did enjoy singing that one, every single word.

So we ended the night shouting to our kids: "Even shooting stars break the mold..." not really knowing what the heck that means, but hoping our kids wouldn't go home and start running with devils or stop talking 'bout love.

Six Feet Under and Smash Mouth

This brilliant masterpiece of television is nearing the end of its fifth and final season. Only two episodes to go.

They will air a two-part memorium before the finale:
SFU schedule details

If you've missed years of the show, it is available on DVD except for this most recent season. I dreamed about Nate two weeks ago, so potent was that episode. Thank you HBO. Thank you Alan Ball (my favorite writer/producer since "American Beauty").

For all who ponder life, death, relationships, values and the intersection of flesh and spirit, SFU is the artistic and performatist vision bar none that peers unflinchingly into matters of the soul.

On a lighter note, Smash Mouth will be performing at our local West Chester City Center Bash tonight! We, of the "Ratrace" fan club (having watched that movie so many times, our little family has it memorized and can recite entire sequences for hours on long car rides) will be there singing "I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed..."

Good times.

Friday, August 12, 2005

How Bilbo Made Me Homesick

One of my buddy bloggers just got back from a camping trip on the west coast (also known as "My Coast," or "Julie's Coast," or "The Best Coast," or "The Coast is Clear" because it is not in Ohio).

His Internet name is Bilbo and he is a friend to nature. He got the "cautionary tale message" of the LOTR series and thusly, spends time in natural settings, then photographing them and then torturing displaced Californians with photos to drool over.

So go take a look.

Stunning! Might make good desktop wallpaper.

Bilbo's West Coast Camping Trip

You have to scroll down a bit to get to the photos... but reading his recounting of his trip is worthwhile too!

Enjoy. (My favorite photo is the one of the seagulls in flight, being the backyard birder that I am...)

Monday, August 08, 2005


Novel writing for procrastinators

Have you heard of the book No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty? It's the maniac's approach to novel writing. Perfect for me.

I've been batting around novel ideas for as long as I could hold a pencil. I have reams of scenes, descriptions (I'm a sucker for a good description), character sketches, waiting for that quiet period of life where I could focus on writing a novel and not writing about writing (you know, like after I'm dead).

Chris Baty got this absurd idea that people could write 50,000 words in a month and check the "I will write a novel some day" objective off their "before I die" lists if they did it together and set the objective of clicking out 1667 words per day. So he gathered some friends and they embarked on a freewheeling, coffee-sustained adventure of noveling (in San Francisco, that crazy city where sane people live) in 1999.

Their success emboldened Chris, as all successes do. He became the Jesus Christ figure for knocking out novels - the one with the special key to the kingdom of prose. His book and website have become a veritable movement, verging on religious devotion.

And my son and I are hooked. Noah and I met for coffee this a.m. to discuss week one and offer each other moral support... and the all important hints for better story development. It was a blast! I've got through the first week with over 12,000 words. I dream about my book, it's that intoxicating.

Don't get me wrong. The writing is crap. Honestly. No one can write anything brilliant when smacking the key pad so hard the letter engravings all fly off (one endearing feature of the Apple iBook). But it's a heck of a lot of fun! I feel like I'm playing tennis, batting around words to see if I can lob them, smack them, serve them up or volley them to the unsuspecting character lurking in the alley.

Try it; you'll like it.

National Novel Writing Month is typically in November. You can sign up and join the literally thousands of brave freewriting novelists by visiting the website:

We are writing ours in August before fall term papers are due. :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Am I glowing? (The Aftermath of Spruce)

I need to make a confession. I love Bruce Springsteen, but I have not been a loyal fan. I spent fifteen years away from rock 'n roll due to a misguided notion that I ought to only ever listen to worship music: "Call the elders of the church!" (Kevin Prosch, anyone?)

During those years, the Boss created albums like "Born in the USA" and "Tunnel of Love." I never owned either. I was an early fan, who learned about Bruce from a friend who'd heard about him from another friend who had been to a concert. And that's how it was in the old days. You didn't know Bruce from the radio. Nah. He was waaaay too good for that (so we said). You heard about him because his concerts rocked!

So I remember the first time I heard "Born to Run" and almost lost consciousness. It was just so incredibly tight and right and a song I knew I had to learn by heart right away...

And then I stumbled on "Thunder Road" and wept. I sang that song at the top of my lungs so many times—in the window frames of dorm rooms and old youth hostiles in Europe and as I went jogging or while I washed dishes in my little college apartment. That song became the theme from my college soundtrack—the one that called to me that there was a chance worth taking, that it wasn't too late.

If there were credits for my life story, this would be the song you'd leave to.

Once I had been bit by the Bruce bug, I went backwards and bought all the rest of his albums (we called them albums back then, for those of you who were still in diapers—you know how you are). I saw Bruce for the first time on the River Tour right before I left for France as an exchange student. Right before, like two days before.

My boyfriend bought seats on the floor. We were spitting distance from the stage. I prayed for that spray to hit me in the forehead. It nearly did during "Rosalita!" Bruce jumped and sweated and screamed... and threw his sweatrag into the audience. One of my girlfriends actually caught it! We cherished that thing all year in France. And then...

Only God knows why: between 1985 and 2000, I fasted from rock 'n roll as unto the Lord.

My return to the fold occurred about the time my faith unraveled. Probably no coincidence.

And since that return, I'm amazed in a whole new way at what a talented poet our Bruce is. "The Rising" stands apart, in my mind, as a generous gift to America, a gift of grief that we can share so that we might heal. My husband and I went to that concert in Cinci two years ago and I felt like I'd come all the way home.

This most recent CD is stunning. "Devils and Dust" has many stories to tell. English professors of America would understandably drool over the quantity of material Bruce offers. I'm in awe... still full from just listening to him sing the lives of people I'll never know save through his songs.

Last night, we got to attend the performance of many of those songs...

I'm still processing the whole thing. Right at the end, a man grabbed my husband and me by the arm to say, "Now there's talent. I mean, the E Street Band is great, don't get me wrong. But that there is talent. He was AMAZING! THAT THERE, my friend, is TALENT!"

Jon whispered to me as we walked away, "He just had to tell someone, didn't he?"

And that's how I feel today.

Suffice to say that the acoustic solo performance by Bruce Springsteen last night might be the most memorable concert I've ever been to. (U2 fans, don't throw tomatoes...) As Jon said, Bruce sang more words in one night than some artists write over the course of ten albums. Bruce is a poet story-teller. He casts a spell.

I was deeply soothed and refreshed this morning, like, to the bottom of my soul.

Bruce sang about parents and their kids, about the sounds we make when we breathe in our sleep, about the struggle of Mexican migrant workers and how some of them die in their attempts to get to America and leave behind the loves of their lives. He sang about dreams and Mary's love for Jesus and her desire to protect him, he sang about what happened after Thunder Road and Rosalita, he sang about lost love on the Amatitlian Plain and a dreary hotel room, he reminded us of the empty sky after 9/11 and the confusing fight for our soldiers in the Middle East where faith and trust meet doubt and fear...

He stomped his foot for percussion on "Reason to Believe" and wheezed into a distorted mike. Chilling. He smacked his guitar and thumped it on "The Promise." He strummed or picked or slid his hand up the neck. He changed guitars for every song and even played the hammond organ, the piano and some other cute little piano who's name I didn't quite catch (electric, apparently). He gave us "Janey, Don't Lose Heart" on that little one and chuckled at his struggle to play it well. And there were the rich tones of the ever-present harmonica. A master at that like no other.

There were no big rocking tunes like he plays with the E Street Band. Instead, the audience was subdued into quiet while we watched a master at work. But we didn't just watch. It was a fully participatory experience. Chills and tears, smiles and hope.

All around me couples were snuggled close to each other. A surprising number of little kids were in attendance and really engaged. He played a couple of his older songs: "Racin' in the Streets" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (one of my favorites).

A few times, I just started crying. "Jesus Was an Only Son" absolutely split me open. He contributed commentary between verses that put his writing into context. I hope to blog about that at another time.

"Matamoros Banks" broke my heart it was so beautiful.

He closed the night with a song that repeated in a meditation "Dream Baby Dream, I just wanna see you smile." No big flashy finish. Just this mantra over and over again with crescendos and dimuendos... as he shook hands and handed out his characteristic guitar picks. One cute little girl rode her daddy's shoulders and Bruce made a special effort to say hello to her.

Bruce is the real deal: raw, honest and true to his calling and his message...

His message? Hope, dreams, faith, proof, promise and above all - struggling to reach each other through love, especially that one love.

That's enough church for me for awhile.