Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Horses in a Meadow


Edgar Degas, Horses in a Meadow, 1871
via Arts Everyday Living
Not ballerinas? What is up with that?

Well Said: Dickens, A Friend

No one thinks first of Mr. Dickens as a writer. He is at once, through his books, a friend.
George Orwell
I like to think of George Orwell feeling that way about Charles Dickens. Orwell wrote a long essay about Dickens which I just discovered. I haven't read it yet, but feel that with a quote like that above, I will like it.

Julie wishes Hicks would pass her the cornbread. Scott spent hours creating elevator buttons that even aliens can read.

Julie wishes Hicks would pass her the cornbread. Scott spent hours creating elevator buttons that even aliens can read. Non-synthetic guests Hannah and Rose think that might have been a mistake. They all survived Episode 134 of A Good Story is Hard to Find, so expect a sequel...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day


I can only offer my whole-hearted thanks and gratitude to those who gave their lives for their country. All the freedoms we enjoy today would not be ours if it were not for these sacrificial souls.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Pope Francis
via Texas Catholic
SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
This Solemnity goes back to the thirteenth century. It was first established in the diocese of Liége, and Pope Urban IV instituted it in 1264 for the whole Church. The meaning of this feast is the consideration of and devotion to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The center of the feast was to be, as Pope Urban IV described it, a popular devotion reflected in hymns and joy. In the same year Saint Thomas Aquinas, at the Pope's request, composed for this day two Offices which have nourished the piety of many Christians throughout the centuries. In many different places the procession with the Monstrance through specially bedecked streets gives testimony of the Christian people's faith and love for Christ, who once again passes through our cities and towns. The procession began in the same way as the feast itself.
For many years God fed manna to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. This was an image and symbol of the pilgrim church and of each individual who journeys towards his or her definitive homeland -- Heaven. That food given in the desert of Sinai is a figure of the true food, the Holy Eucharist. This is the sacrament of the human pilgrimage ... Precisely because of this, the annual feast of the Eucharist that the Church celebrates today contains within its liturgy so many references to the pilgrimage of the people of the Covenant in their wanderings through the wilderness (John Paul II)....

Today is a day of thanksgiving and of joy because God has wanted to remain with us in order to feed us and to strengthen us, so that we many never feel alone. The Holy Eucharist is the viaticum, the food for the long journey of our days on Earth towards the goal of true Life. Jesus accompanies us and strengthens us here in this world, where our life is like a shadow compared to the reality that awaits us. Earthly food is a pale image of the food we receive in Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist opens up our hearts to a completely new reality.
In Conversation With God Vol 6
Daily Meditations, Special Feasts: January - June
The Feast of Corpus Christi is a moveable feast, which means that it depends on the date of Easter Sunday. Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which falls one week after Pentecost Sunday. Although as is often the case, many U.S. bishops have moved it to Sunday in their dioceses.

Some excellent historical information can be found at The Way of the Father about this feast and about the reality for the Church from the beginning.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Blogging Around: Vans and Voices

The Lady in the Van

While she struggles with her own demons, her presence forces the whole neighborhood to examine just how much they're willing to help their fellow man, especially when their fellow man is so cantankerous and ungrateful.
Ah yes, it's one thing to give. Quite another to be charitable face-to-face. I was already interested in the movie but Rose's Double Exposure's review made me REALLY want to see it.

VocaliD

Worst logo spelling ever if you haven't heard of the company or concept. Think "Vocal ID" as you read over their worthy goal.
Over ten million people live with voicelessness. Much like Stephen Hawking, they rely on text-to-speech devices to express themselves. Yet, young or old, male or female, shy or outgoing — they all speak with similar voices.

Add to that the hundreds of millions who use generic sounding virtual assistants, GPS navigation, and screen readers, it becomes increasingly clear that digital voices must evolve.

VocaliD is the voice company that is bringing speaking machines to life. We leverage our voicebank and proprietary voice blending technology to create unique vocal persona for any device that turns text into speech.
You don't need special equipment and you can do it from your home in your spare time. Find out more at VocaliD.

Well Said: Joseph Waits for God and God Waits for Joseph

This is part of a commentary about Matthew 2:13 and the way that God communicates with Joseph in dreams.
Why is it that God cannot reveal his designs once and for all? Why must Joseph be continually dependent on God's next word, wherever and whenever it might come? ... Marvel of marvels, God conforms himself to the requirements of human psychology and history. God patiently shapes the fibers of a man's heart, that human love for God might be all the more genuine and lasting. The salvation Christ brings is for man, tailored to man's measure. It is no mere exhibition of what God can do. His sole purpose is the raising up of man from death to life, where man is and as he is. Therefore, Joseph ceaselessly waits for God and God for Joseph, and their ongoing dialogue is punctuated by the events going on in the world around God's Son and his Mother.

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis,

Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, Down Beat, William P. Gottlieb photographer
Forms part of: William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)
Caption from Down Beat: A cliché worth repeating is that Ella is the greatest natural singer in the world. It's a thought that hits you anew every time you hear the gal rock. Believe me, that diamond studded queen's crown she wears on her bosom is no uncalled-for affectation.
Agreed!

Genesis Notes: Intimidation

GENESIS 3:1-3
To me a serpent is a serpent is a snake. But that is not the case in Genesis. I knew the serpent had a way with words but I never considered that part of his power of persuasion might have been a fearsome appearance or the fact that he directly bypassed the chain of command to strike at a weak link.

A 17th-century carved depiction of the serpent in the Book of Genesis,
Stokesay Castle, taken by Nick Hubbard
The serpent is "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." He is described as a great red dragon, with seven crowned heads and ten horns. In the heavenly vision from Revelation, the crowns and horns represent his tremendous power-he is a creature that strikes fear and dread into the souls of mere men. There are several treacherous or intimidating elements in this scene. To begin with, the serpent’s appearance is frightening. Even if he did not appear as the dragon of Revelation, it was certainly not as a common snake. In Hebrew the same word is used for serpent and dragon. It was a frightening figure in Hebrew thought. If you can’t imagine a dragon, picture a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.

Apart from his appearance, the serpent’s presence is intimidating: where did this creature come from? He also is treacherous in his words: he contradicts the only source of knowledge Adam and Eve have, the Creator they know as Father who has been nothing but good to them. And he is intimidating in his method: the snake, as one of the beasts, is presumably under Adam’s dominion. Yet here he is presenting himself as a creature with superior knowledge and information. Not only that, he completely by-passes Adam, who was in charge of the garden, speaking instead to Eve. He appears to be no respecter of authority-a usurper, in fact. Suddenly, things are not as they had seemed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Look What Mom Made Me!


A good mother knows what her child loves. In this case favorite books and my beloved podcast. And I've got a good mother! Of course!

Well Said: God's Perfect Vision of the Heart of a Man

God does not choose the way of open confrontation or aggressive polemics: his ultimate triumph springs from his wisdom, from his intimate knowledge of what lies at the bottom of things, from his perfect vision of what is contained in the heart of a man, which is what will determine the end of that man. And we ourselves, who are that man, will be saved only insofar as we begin to participate little by little, thanks to grace, in the vision of love and justice that God has of things. This is the only way of making our heart, sinful like Herod's, and our existence, destined for death like Herod's, migrate to that dimension where the life of God becomes our own sanctity and where the eternity of God becomes our own immortality.

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of the Artist's Mother

Portrait of the Artist's Mother (Rose Paxton), 1902, William McGregor Paxton

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Well Said: What Am I in Search Of?

What am I in search of? The only worthwhile search is one that opens us out to realities not produced by the self. Why search at all if all one seeks is a confirmation of age-old internal prejudices? If one searches for Christ—the Truth, the Light, the Beauty—in the world or in heaven "in order to destroy him", not to adore him and love him, but manipulate and conform him to our desires, it would have been better to have remained at the level of an idiocy that does not search at all. Not every search is laudable.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis,
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Supine Bull

A supine bull, one of the Nimrud ivories found by Sir Max Mallowan
taken by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)
What fascinated me about this, aside from the actual artwork which I find charming, is that Max Mallowan was Agatha Christie's second husband. I love thinking about her cleaning this piece as she described in her book Come Tell Me How You Live, which was about going on digs with Mallowan. You can see more of them at Wikipedia:
Mallowan's wife was the famous British crime novelist, Agatha Christie (1890–1976), who was fascinated with archaeology, and who accompanied her husband on the Nimrud excavations. Christie helped photograph and preserve many of the ivories found during the excavations, explaining in her autobiography that she cleaned the ivories using a fine knitting needle, an orange stick and a pot of face cream.

The Third Most Important Day of the Year! My Birthday!


I say this every year, but that's just because it is always true. First is Easter, then is Christmas, then is ... my birthday!

Some people ignore their birthdays or don't want much fuss made. Not me. Everyone in the household knows it too. (To be fair, they all regard their birthdays to be the third most important day of the year.)

You notice that only Jesus trumps this day for me ... so then imagine the place He holds to overcome a lifetime of "most important day of the year" before I became Christian.

Hannah showed the proper spirit years ago when she was filling out a job application on Sunday and asked me what the date was. Then she answered her own question with, "Oh, wait. It must be the 22nd because I know Wednesday is the 25th." Yep, just like Christmas. All other dates are figured around this one.

Tom and I tried a French bistro last week for our anniversary. I liked it so much that we're going back again for this celebration. No birthday cake this year. I'd been thinking of making a Chocolate Mint Cake but there it would be just too heavy after French food. So we'll enjoy the restaurant's offerings which are, of course, perfect followups to French cuisine. Dark Chocolate Mousse, Profiteroles, Creme Brulee... mmmmm.

======

It is also the Venerable Bede's saint day which is also very cool. What better connection than someone who is always linked with books, reading, and writing?

Also, just last week I picked up a tip from him which has proven invaluable to get me to follow through on the Daily Examen every night. "Prayer is a discipline." Oh, yeah. I always feel as if it should just flow naturally and if I'm not in the mood, well, you know ... God will forgive me. No — this is like exercise. Do it whether you feel like it or not.

You will never read a better death than that of the Venerable Bede.
On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he was decidedly worse : a swelling appeared in his feet. Nevertheless he continued to dictate cheerfully, begging his scribe to write quickly, for he did not know how long he might last, or when it might please his Maker to take him. That night he lay awake, giving thanks alway. The next morning he urged the brethren to finish writing what they had begun, and when that was done, at nine o'clock, they walked in procession with the relics of the Saints the origin of our "perambulation day," according to the custom of the time. One stayed with him while the others were thus engaged, and after a time reminded him that there was still a chapter to finish, would it weary him to be consulted about it?" Get out your pen and ink," was Bede's reply, " and write fast, it is no trouble to me."

[...]

Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth," Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.
======

Also I love the fact that this is also St. (Padre) Pio's birthday. I still remember the sense of joy and light-heartedness that I received while reading a biography of him. It was a photo of him with his head thrown back laughing that first made me notice him. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to..."



While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Well Said: Making Progress by Love

Faith is love that believes. Hope is love that expects. Adoration is love that worships. Prayer is love that petitions. Mercy is love that pardons. Charity is love that sacrifices itself. Mortification is love that immolates self. We can make more progress in one year by love than we could in ten through fear.
Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
via A Year with Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi

Worth a Thousand Words: Crystal Cherries

Crystal Cherries, James Neil Hollingsworth

Genesis Notes: The Creation of the Garden

Marie Beloux-Hodieux, Still Life with Basket of Flowers
via French Painters
GENESIS 2:8-17
Again, reading the information imparted by details makes me understand that I have not slowed down or given enough thought in the past to exactly what was being communicated. Did I notice that Adam was to till the land? Yes. Did I ever think about the implications of that statement? Of course not but perhaps this is my wake-up call to do a little more thinking when reading the Bible. There is a connection between this ancient story and the details of our every day lives that is undeniable. Except where noted otherwise, all excerpts come from Genesis Part 1: God and His Creation.

SENSUOUS BEAUTY
The garden was full of trees pleasing to the sight and taste. In other words, not only was man provided with what he needed, but he was also surrounded by sensuous beauty. The presence of unutterable beauty in the place where God meets man continued in the worship of Israel. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold and heavenly sculptures (see Ex. 25:10-22). The vestments of the High Priest were studded with gems so that when he went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, he was arrayed in "beauty and glory" (see Ex. 28:40). The Church's tradition of exquisite beauty in her architecture and art continue what we see here in Genesis. God intends for man to experience beauty in His presence. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, man's senses are ordered to beauty.

TREE OF LIFE
The "tree of life" grew fruit that imparted life. Something man ate would enable him to live forever (see Gen. 3:22). It is the first occasion of a natural element signifying and making present a grace from God, immortality. We call these "sacraments." Understanding this scene prepares us to understand what Jesus said to His disciples in John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever."

The Complete Bible Handbook gives a fascinating overview of the symbolism of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life, or the Cosmic Tree, is a symbol common in many ancient religions. In Judaism it is associated with the almond tree; the almond was used as the pattern for the cups, capitals, and flowers of the menorah. In the Bible it appears not only in the Adam and Eve story, but in the New Testament. The cross is associated with the tree of Life, mentioned again in Revelation (22:2). The Tree of Life stood at the center of the world (the Garden of Eden), and Christ's Crucifixion is said to have happened at the center of the world. The two trees of Eden (Life and Knowledge) are also reflected in ancient Babylonian religion -- the Tree of Truth and the Tree of Life, which stood at the eastern entry to the Babylonian heaven.

WORK
Mankind was not created simply to enjoy creation but to take care of it and work it, to make it productive. In the Garden, work was not a curse before the Fall. Sharing in God's work is one way in which we live in His image. At this point in Genesis, according to the Catechism, "work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration [co-labor-ation] of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation." (378)

FORESHADOWING
The need to keep or "guard" the garden makes one ask, "against what?" After all, this is Paradise, is it not? And haven't we just seen that God called all creation "very good?" This is a detail that should leave us on alert.

LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCE
Adam's not finding a suitable helper among the animals is for his own benefit. He will know from his own experience that while he is like the beasts of the field in many ways, he is different and set apart from them. What he needs in his helper is one equal to himself. Notice here that this kind of knowledge is something Adam reaches through his own experience. It is different from the knowledge that is revealed to him by God. God told him what to eat and what not to eat in the garden. It wasn't left up to him. Man's knowledge in the Garden was of two types: one was revealed knowledge and the other was knowledge obtained through experience and reason.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler 


by Mark Riebling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When the pope arose the next morning, he had made up his mind. He would engage the German military resistance and encourage a conservative counterrevolution. He would serve as secret foreign agent for the resistance—presenting and guaranteeing its plans to the British. He would partner with the generals not just to stop the war, but to eliminate Nazism by removing Hitler.
Right after WWII, the Soviets began a misinformation campaign claiming Pope Pius XII supported the Nazi regime. Jewish praise and testimony squashed that early effort, but it has been popping up ever since, from various anti-Catholic sources. Many historians have defended the pope but somehow what grabs the headlines is always the sensational anti-Catholicism which keeps rearing its head.

Church of Spies ably defends Pope Pius with an action-packed story and over 100 pages of footnotes and sources from recently uncovered documents.  Let's say right up front that author Mark Riebling is not a Catholic, in fact is a fallen-away Catholic, so he's speaking from a purely historical standpoint which I appreciate. He's got no axe to grind other than reporting history properly.

We learn that Pope Pius provided an incomparable network for passing information from deep within the German government to Britain and America. Simultaneously, the information gatherers became conspirators who vowed to take action themselves. With the pope's approval.

As a reader, the best part is that this reads like a spy thriller, from the beginning where the pope has the Papal Library wired with the best surveillance technology of the time to the end where we see conspirators stage a daring prison break in the Alps. In between, there were Jesuits with guns, double agents, incriminating notes swallowed,  escapes across rooftops, notes passed through prison laundries, and much more. This is all intercut with Hitler's real time actions which lends context and immediacy to the story.

I also found it very uplifting. Whether Catholic or not (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among their number), these men were willing to sacrifice themselves to save others and stop evil. Some of the examples in the personal stories have inspired me since I read them. Church of Spies is a story that resonates in our own time as well as providing us with heroes for WWII.
They had found many compromising documents in the army safe at Zossen. Müller might as well consider himself a dead man.

Müller said evenly that he could accept that. Death meant "just a passage from this life to the next," Sonderegger later quoted him as saying. Sonderegger asked Müller whether he prayed. Müller said he did. Did he pray for the SS, too? Sonderegger asked. Müller said yes, he prayed for his enemies most of all.

Sonderegger fell quiet for a moment. Then, saying he would return "in three minutes," he put a sheet of paper on the table. ...
This book should lay to rest any questions of Pius XXII being "Hitler's Pope." Hitler knew to fear the Church's opposition. Now the story has been thoroughly and thrillingly told. The record is finally set straight.

It would make an exhilarating mini-series! C'mon Amazon ... Netflix ... HBO ... even regular network TV!

Well Said: Always and Instinctively Turning to God

Here [Robert Bellarmine] inspires readers with a reflection on verse one of Psalm 91, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High":

Notice that what is said is not "he who trusts" ... but "he who dwells." This is to convince us that we are not to fly to the divine protection as men do to a tree or a doorway when it rains, but rather as little boys who run to their father's arms when anything frightens them. They know that they have mother and father there who would gladly give their hearts' blood to protect them.

But people who seek refuge from rain under a tree, have a good look round first. It is only when no better shelter is available that they run willy-nilly to the tree. Why is it that some men implore divine assistance without receiving it, and seem to put their trust in God without being protected by him? The reason is that they do not really dwell in the aid of the Most High, or take shelter under the providence of God as in their Father's house. They rather make sporadic dashes to it in time of trouble, as they do to a tree when there is a sudden shower. It is therefore very necessary for us to get into the way of always and instinctively turning to God.
Saint Robert Bellarmine
via Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi

Worth a Thousand Words: A Princess of Mars

Frank E. Schoonover, A Princess of Mars

Friday, May 20, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Sumerian Book

Sumerian language cuneiform script clay tablet, 2400–2200 BC

Genesis Notes: Covenant and Being Human

The Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole (c. 1828)
GENESIS 2:1-7
The second chapter of Genesis focuses on humans. We get to see that they are not simply another kind of animal but have a special relationship with God. Catholic Scripture Study shows how economically this is revealed to those who know the "code".
His intention for His creation was always that it would exist with Him as His family. How do we know this? One clue appears right away in Genesis 2, but in order to recognize it, we have to understand a feature of a Hebrew word. The word translated as "seven" in our English text is the Hebrew word (sheba) for "oath-sharing." When men in ancient times came together to form a relationship in which they would treat each other as family, they swore an oath to seal the agreement. In Hebrew, "to swear an oath" means literally "to seven oneself." This kind of agreement is called a "covenant." In contrast to a contract, in which there is an exchange of property, in a covenant there is an exchange of persons: "I am yours, you are mine." ...

In Hebrew, ... would almost sound like God finished His work and rested on the "oath" day, and blessed the "oath" day and hallowed it. Perhaps a play on words, perhaps coincidence. But it is probable that to the ancient Hebrews who read this, the number seven would suggest God forming a covenant, or swearing an oath that established a family relationship with all the elements of creation. In blessing and hallowing it, He is setting apart or sanctifying creation. This bestows a kind of animation on what is inanimate. For example, in Gen. 2:4, the text reads, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created." The word "generations" usually refers to living things. Likewise, this idea should prepare us for passages like Ps. 148, in which the heavens and the deep, sun and stars, snow and hills, sea monsters and cattle-ALL creation sings out in praise to the Lord Who created them. All creation is filled with God's life and is part of His household.

Well Said: Public Silence and Secret Action

Though Pius acted discreetly, he did not hide Hitler's attack plan under the proverbial bushel basket. During the second week of January 1940, a general fear gripped Western diplomats in rome as the pope's aides warned them of the German offensive, which Hitler had just rescheduled for the 14th. On the 10th, a Vatican prelate warned the Belgian ambassador at the Holy See, Adrien Nieuwenhuys, that the Germans would soon attack in the West. ...

Pius had in fact already shared the warning, while shielding the source. On 9 January, Cardinal Maglione directed the papal agent in Brussels, Monsignor Clemente Micara, to warn the Belgians about a coming German attack. Six days later, Maglione sent a similar message to his agent in The Hague, Monsignor Paolo Giobbe, asking him to warn the Dutch.

That same month, Pius made a veiled feint toward public protest. He wrote new details on Polish atrocities into Radio Vatican bulletins. But when Polish clergy protested that the broadcasts worsened the persecutions, Pius recommitted to public silence and secret action.
Mark Riebling, Church of Spies
This isn't making great bedtime reading because it is complex enough to require more attention than I can give in a sleepy state. However, it is endlessly fascinating watching the interwoven strands of this previously unknown story of attempts to stop Hitler.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Well Said: Moved by the Seasons, Moved by the Inklings

Humans change when they reflect upon the same truths year after year. Given the unique experiences of the year and their prior experiences with those truths, the ideas morph and take on new significance. Just as repeated activity allows someone to master an action; so also repeated reflection forms a person’s thought processes and heart. Via habituation, people are transformed. The church calendar’s intention is to help Christians meditate on Christ’s life, enabling them to consciously put on virtue and put off vice as they move through the cycle year by year. Its intention is transformation. …

Like the church calendar, I too am moved through the seasons, but they are seasons directed by the thoughts of the Inklings. I move from wrestling with doctrinal conundrums to wondering at the beauty contained within Christianity. Repeated consideration of the Inkling’s curriculum changed me. I found myself understanding my problems and successes through their ideas and stories.
Leilani Mueller, Arriving Where We Started, The Curator
Of course, I know intellectually that I am formed by what I read repeatedly. And what I reread has changed over the years. So who am I formed by now? Years ago I'd have laughed at the idea I'd love and reread Tolkien, Dickens, C.S. Lewis ... and certainly never Dante's Divine Comedy. Yet here I am being formed by them.

It's when the realization moves from intellectual to slapping me in the face that I wake up for an instant to the extent that reading transforms me.

Just the other day I was dealing with a particularly humbling realization and Jack Aubrey from Patrick O'Brian's seafaring series popped into my head. The insights I gained were grounding and, now that I think of it in this context, formational. I am seven books into the 20-book series. Though I am not rereading ... yet ... my slow listening to Patrick Tull's narration is slowly and surely sinking in and helping change me.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Jetty at Feste near Moss

Hans Gude (1825-1903), The Jetty at Feste near Moss
via Arts Everyday Living
This is another one which can be better appreciated by clicking on it to see the details in a larger format.

Double the Number of Books You Read — Without Speed Reading


Anyone who drops by here regularly knows that I am a book nut.

So I'm always surprised to hear that some people read a book a month or, even worse, one or two books a year. I've been blessed to be a naturally fast reader who loves books. But even I have found myself fighting in the last year to shove away distractions that cut into my reading time.

All that is to say that I was thrilled to see Brandon Vogt has developed video course for doubling the number of books you read, without speed reading.

I know he loves reading and I trust him to teach well. Find out more at Read More Books Now, which has a nice summary of all his points. The free offer is open for a week.

32 Years of Wedded Bliss

Is it terrible to repeat the same sentiments this year, that I did last year? But I feel the same, only moreso. I tweaked it a little, but only a very little.

On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it. — Jules Renard

It's our wedding anniversary today and although our lives have their fair share of challenge at the moment, it has done nothing to our marriage but draw us closer together.

That makes all the years of working out how to best love and serve each other worth it. I'm sure we'll look back on this time and find it has done nothing but add to our deep love and respect for each other.

Dear, even-tempered Tom is truly my soul mate. I'm so very lucky that he loves me as much as I love him. He has taught me so much over the years about music, about thinking, about humor, about originality, about kindness and consideration. Not because he actively taught me but just by being around him. That in itself tells you a lot about the sort of person Tom is.

I'd be remiss not to mention that we are also very indebted to our parish's Beyond Cana program. It's the sort of thing we wished for when we hadn't been married very long and ran up against problems in learning to live together. Which is simply to say that in these days, often without the wisdom of our elders easily available, we need good advice. Beyond Cana offers that for us. As have books like For Better, For Worse, For God and Just Married. Just as in practicing your faith, when you are in a long-term relationship you have to keep paddling or you'll get swept downstream. No one in a good, long marriage makes it without work and advice.

It's wonderful having spent 32 years with someone. You know each other's references (jokes become real one-liners), you understand each other's moods, and it is a deep, restful relationship that is not without delightful times of surprise and passion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What We've Been Watching: Flower Girls, Trains, and ... Zombies

The Station Agent

★★★½

A sweet and quirky film about a dwarf, a refreshment stand operator, and a reclusive artist connecting with one another at an abandoned train station in rural New Jersey.

We watched this highly acclaimed film fairly soon after it originally was released and were not impressed. So slow, so obvious, nothing happens.

However, we were very different movie viewers then than we are now. So we took another run at it and liked it much better. The themes of community, loneliness, and normalcy are nicely interwoven and the acting is quite good. I especially liked the fact that the most outgoing, talkative, friendly person also was very lonely. And that is what makes the ending scene so perfect.

Rose wrote a review of this at Double Exposure which I recommend reading.


Pontypool 

★★★★★

When disc jockey Grant Mazzy reports to his basement radio station in the Canadian town of Pontypool, he thinks it's just another day at work. But when he hears reports of a virus that turns people into zombies, Mazzy barricades himself in the radio booth and tries to figure out a way to warn his listeners about the virus and its unlikely mode of transmission.

Genius. Sheer genius. This has been called the thinking man's zombie movie and I can't argue with that. Not that there isn't blood. Because of all those zombies.  But any violence was well telegraphed so I could look away. There are a couple of problems with the third act, but nothing that I couldn't live with. (haha)


3:10 to Yuma (1957) 

★★★★

Dave Evans (Van Heflin), a small time farmer, is hired to escort Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), a dangerous outlaw, to Yuma. As Evans and Wade wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma, Wade's gang is racing to free him.


Glenn Ford, you wicked devil, you! I didn't know you had such a subtle, serpent-like performance in you. Well done!

This was a fascinating encounter between two men who have chosen the opposite ways to approach life. Both have regrets, both wrestle with how to live — all in the context of this lean Western.

I know Roger Ebert said that the 2007 remake was better but I'm hard put to see how.

UPDATE: Having seen someone here say this ending is happy and the new one is not was a worrying sign. So I went to Wikipedia for a more indepth "new Yuma" plot summary. Holy moly, I suppose the skeleton of this movie is there but, in typical modern style, it looks as if it gained about 50 pounds and dyed its hair. No thanks. I'll stick with this one.


My Fair Lady

★★★★

A misogynistic and snobbish phonetics professor agrees to a wager that he can take a flower girl and make her presentable in high society.

As with many older films, I thought I remembered everything. Rewatching it for a movie discussion group I realized I'd forgotten just how wonderful Hepburn's acting is, how much Harrison makes us love someone who is horribly selfish, and the sharp, sparkling satire of the whole piece.

I certainly hadn't recalled that Eliza is the one who begins the experiment by asking the professor for lessons. Her will is just as strong as his, though it isn't exhibited in as many ways. I did remember the songs and costumes and basic plot, all of which were as wonderful as I recalled.

Worth a Thousand Words: Reading of the 1861 Manifesto

Grigoriy Myasoyedov, Reading of the 1861 Manifesto
Click through to appreciate the details in a larger format. I discovered this artist at Lines and Colors.

Well Said: What Pius XII Did Not Say and What Choices He Made

Judging Pius by what he did not say, one could only damn him. With images of piles of skeletal corpses before his eyes; with women and young children compelled, by torture, to kill each other; with millions of innocents caged like criminals, butchered like cattle, and burned like trash—he should have spoken out. He had this duty, not only as pontiff, but as a person. After his first encyclical, he did reissue general distinctions between race-hatred and Christian love. Yet with the ethical coin of the Church, Pius proved frugal; toward what he privately termed “Satanic forces,” he showed public moderation; where no conscience could stay neutral, the Church seemed to be. During the world’s greatest moral crisis, its greatest moral leader seemed at a loss for words.

But the Vatican did not work by words alone. By 20 October, when Pius put his name to Summi Pontficatus, he was enmeshed in a war behind the war. Those who later explored the maze of his policies, without a clue to his secret actions, wondered why he seemed so hostile toward Nazism, and then fell so silent. But when his secret acts are mapped, and made to overlay his public words, a stark correlation emerges. The last day during the war when Pius publicly said the word “Jew” is also, in fact, the first day history can document his choice to help kill Adolf Hitler.
Mark Riebling, Church of Spies
This book is fascinating.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Well Said and Worth a Thousand Words: One of the most terrifying religious paintings in the world

 Imagine a truly wicked person who is also very smart, very talented and very enterprising. Now raise that person to a far higher pitch of ontological perfection, and you will have some idea of what a devil is like. Very rarely, devils intervene in human affairs in vividly frightening and dramatic ways. But typically, devils act more indirectly and clandestinely, through temptation, influence and suggestion. One of the most terrifying religious paintings in the world is in the Cathedral of Orvieto in Italy. It is a depiction of the Antichrist by the great early renaissance painter Luca Signorelli. The artist shows the devil whispering into the ear of the Antichrist, and also working his arm through the vesture of his victim in such a way that it appears to be the Antichrist’s own arm, thereby beautifully symbolizing how the dark power acts precisely with us and through us.
Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes
I'd never have come across today's art if not for Bishop Barron's essay. Click on the painting to see it enlarged and make sure you can see the two people on the pedestal.

Fresco of the Deeds of the Antichrist (c. 1501) in Orvieto Cathedral.
Luca Signorelli

Genesis Notes: Revelation About the Universe and Man

GENESIS 1:1-31
I am in awe of the amazing amount of information revealed through details, and of the scholars knowledgeable enough to tease this info out and convey it in an understandable way. Here are a few of the "aha" moments; things I never "got" until going studying Genesis. Well, ok, I already knew the "male and female" thing but thought it was cool so I threw it in.
THE SUN AND MOON
In vs. 16, God makes "the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night." Note that the sun and moon are not named. In the ancient world, the very words "sun" and "moon" were synonymous with the names of deities. In contrast, Genesis teaches that the sun and moon are not powers to be feared but created things with a God-given purpose in the universe. They are put in dominion over day and night - but have no jurisdiction over man or the earth. Psalm 19 tells us of another function: to tell the glory of God. When we gaze at them, we should recognize the power and beauty of God in them. The text says these lights (sun, moon, stars) are for "signs" and to mark out time and seasons. What might they be signs of? Think of the star that the magi followed to find the newborn King. Think also of the eclipse of the sun on Good Friday. They are elements used by God to communicate with His creation.

MALE AND FEMALE
God, who is Spirit and thus neither male nor female, is nonetheless reflected in mankind only by male and female together. Man and woman are created "equal as persons -- and complementary as masculine and feminine" (CCC 372). Each has the inherent dignity of being created in God's image. In communion together, and particularly in the context of the family, they fully reflect the image of the Divine Family, which is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

SHARING IN GOD'S WORK
In asking man to reproduce and fill the earth, God is asking man to help complete that which He began to do in the beginning. In giving man the responsibility to be fruitful, He allows him to participate in the creation of human life. In giving him charge over the earth, God is vesting man with some of His own authority, in effect asking man to share in His work of ruling. Man's two-part vocation is thus a reflection of God Himself. It enables him to be what he was created to be: a creature made in God's image. And it is in fulfilling this vocation that he gives praise and glory to God.

Julie wonders what color her gobstopper will turn next. Scott wishes someone would invent a cell phone.

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1)

They both need some more practice with the bells and ... oh no, here comes Mrs. Gaddson! Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is the subject of Episode 133 at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Well Said: The Kingdoms of the World

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find the account of Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in the desert. After tempting Christ with sensual pleasure (“turn these stones into bread”) and with glory (“throw yourself down and the angels will hold you up”), the devil entices him with the allurement of power: “all these kingdoms, I will give you if you but fall down and worship me.” What is most interesting about this final temptation is that the devil couldn’t offer all of the kingdoms of the world to Jesus unless he, the devil, owned them. Indeed, in Luke’s account, this is made explicit. Satan says, “I shall give to you all this power…for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.” I don’t know a passage in any of the literature of the world that is as critical of political power as that one! All the kingdoms of the world belong to a fallen spiritual force.
Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes
I added that italic emphasis. This socked me between the eyes when I read it. Of course, I know Jesus said that Satan is the prince of the world, but somehow this application of that idea completely escaped me. As well as the fact that, for it to be a temptation, Satan would have to be able to deliver. Because he owns them.

Once again, I see how paramount it is to carefully pick my way through current politics while keeping my eye on God's kingdom. No wonder there is no one party or plan that fully handles this world's problems well. I mean to say, I knew that already. But this reminds me of one of the root causes of the problem.

Worth a Thousand Words: Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)


[show]Vincent van Gogh, Bridge in the rain (after Hiroshige), 1887
via Lines and Colors

Friday, May 13, 2016

Amoris Laetitia: Apostolic Exhortation on the Family by Pope Francis

Amoris Laetitia: Apostolic Exhortation on the FamilyAmoris Laetitia: Apostolic Exhortation on the Family by Pope Francis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


For those who feel this is too long to face, take heart. I didn't actually read the 264 page book formatted by the Vatican and released as a pdf. I was able to copy and paste it into my own document which came down to 50 pages. The pdf's tiny pages, large type, and big margins are what made it so long in published form.

I read it a little each day, finding it a complex, thoughtful, and rich work. It was especially interesting to consider that the Pope kept mentioning the other contributing bishops from the synods on the family. This is not just one person's vision. It is that of many of those who serve families around the world.

I especially liked, as John Allen remarked, that we are seeing some of the inner workings of pastoral care recommended in it.
For Mediterranean cultures, which still shape the thought-world of the Vatican to a significant degree, law is instead more akin to an ideal. It describes a moral aspiration, but realistically it’s understood that many people much of the time will fall short. (If you don’t believe it, come to Italy sometime and watch how the locals approach traffic laws!)

A frustration I’ve long experienced as an American journalist covering the Vatican is that when the pope or some Vatican department issues a new law, it often comes off as terribly draconian and harsh in media coverage and public discussion. It’s difficult to explain that always encoded into the legislation is the common-sense expectation that bishops and pastors will use good judgment in applying it in ways that reflect their local circumstances.

It’s difficult, that is, primarily because the Vatican never says that second part explicitly – perhaps out of fear that it will come off as encouraging hypocrisy, rather than presuming a good-faith effort to live up to the value the law expresses.

They don’t usually say it, that is, until now.

One striking point about Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ sweeping new apostolic exhortation on the family, which was released in a Vatican news conference on Friday, is that it lifts up this long-standing Catholic capacity for flexibility and nuance in pastoral practice, and sets it squarely alongside the law in full public view.
Allen's whole piece is well worth reading but you get the important points.

It is that, perhaps, which makes Amoris Laetitia feel so timeless and also so relevant. It weaves high spiritual points with the basics of real human families. In fact, I was surprised to see that, in preparation for discussion love in marriage, Pope Francis discusses each line of St. Paul's famous "love is patient, love is kind" passage (1 Cor 13:4-7). I was delighted with Pope Francis's thoughtful and down-to-earth reflections.

I highly recommend it. It's just terrific.

Well Said: "I Believe in One God" is a Subversive Statement

Joseph Ratzinger commented that the opening line of the Nicene Creed, Credo in unum Deum (I believe in one God), is a subversive statement because it automatically rules out any rival claimant to ultimate concern. To say that one accepts only the God of Israel and Jesus Christ is to say that one rejects as ultimate any human being, any culture, any political party, any artistic form, or any set of ideas.”
Bishop Robert Barron, Catholicism
Well, I knew that was true. But I hadn't remembered it lately. Now seems like a good time to keep this in mind, especially the way the political scene is shaking out.

Worth a Thousand Words: Slaking Thirst

Slaking Thirst
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar
Good heavens, I have no idea how Remo gets such amazing photos. Do check out his site, including this photo which is even more incredible.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar

Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a BarJesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar by Paul Rock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So Jesus, the pope, and a Protestant walk into a bar. The bartender asks, "What will it be today?" As the pope reaches for his wallet, Jesus winks at his companions and say to the bartender, "Just three glasses—and keep the pitchers of water coming."
Presbyterian Paul Rock is a Pope Francis fanboy and consistently uses examples of papal humility, poverty, and Christlike love as a springboard for promoting Christian dialogue and ecumenism. This author's heart is in the right place but that isn't enough to make this book appeal across denominational lines.

These chapters began life as a sermon series … and it shows both in good and bad ways. The author's enthusiasm and ability to promote religious harmony is evident. It can be very inspiring.

However, Rock's drive to make a point is so rapid that it often only skims the surface, occasionally in a way that may leave various Christians (and certainly this Catholic) confused or indignant. In some cases this is a good opportunity to strive to ignore what divides us, but surely a better way would have been to educate both sides about each other's reasons.

A better way would be the example set by How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-Button Issues. They are careful to examine what the thinking is on the "opponent's" side before laying out the explanations and reasoning that inform Catholic teachings. The result is that both sides may agree to disagree, but they understand why each thinks what they do and can respect those opinions.

Paul Rock's drive to unity feels forced precisely because he overlooks the many valid reasons people may have for not agreeing with another denomination's teachings. It is fine to promote ecumenism and, indeed, praiseworthy. This effort feels somewhat slapdash and is as likely to raise hackles as to smooth them.

This was a NetGalley review copy which obviously didn't influence my opinion.

Well Said: A Forgotten Fact About the Holocaust

That the Holocaust was initiated by a mostly Protestant nation is sometimes forgotten; that the Catholic Church, by virtue of its stronger institutional identity, did much more than the Protestants did to resist Hitler was revealed to the White House in many secret reports to Roosevelt.
Mark Riebling (Church of Spies author),
interview with Sam Harris, Rethinking Hitler's Pope
This never occurred to me, actually. It was surprising. I've begun Church of Spies, which read like a great spy novel at times, and had gone looking around to see if Riebling is Catholic. Turns out he was raised Catholic, left the Church, and doesn't actually seem like a fan of religion in general. Or perhaps it is fairer to say he seems wary of religion. That, at least is what I gleaned from a quick take on his interview.

It's refreshing to read the book which seems to be doing much to redeem Pius XXII's reputation during WWII and know there seems to be no authorial bias other than a desire to find the truth.

Worth a Thousand Words: Princess Praskovya Yusupova Before Becoming a Nun

Princess Praskovya Yusupova Before Becoming a Nun (1886), Nikolai Vasilyevich Nevrev

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Happy Birthday Rose!

Croquembouche
This is what I'd make if you were here with us. (Luckily I know you're going to make your own — can't wait to know how that works out!)

And we'd go to dinner. Maybe Mariano's since you don't have any decent TexMex in L.A.

Most of all, we'd give you many birthday hugs and kisses, since I know a 26 year old is never too old for those!

Happy Birthday! We love you!

Well Said: Our Principles

Our principles are engraved in the history and the law of this land. If the free world is not faithful to its own moral code, there remains no society for which others may hunger.
James B. Donovan, defending Rudolph Abel
(Donovan's story is told in the film Bridge of Spies)

Worth a Thousand Words: Self-Portrait (with a squirrel!)


Arkady Rylov (1870–1939), Self-Portrait

Early Happy Birthday to Me! Vibrant Paradoxes by Robert Barron

Many thanks to Ellen P. for giving me the newest book by Bishop Robert Barron. (Could Ellen tell I'd been repeatedly downloading and reading the Kindle sample ... while determinedly holding myself to my monthly book budget with much agony?)
G.K. Chesterton once said that Catholicism keeps its beliefs "side by side like two strong colors, red and white...It has always had a healthy hatred of pink."

Catholicism is both/and, not either/or. It celebrates the union of contraries--grace and nature, faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, body and soul in a way that the full energy of each opposing element remains in place.

In Vibrant Paradoxes, bestselling author Bishop Robert Barron brings together themes and motifs that many would consider mutually exclusive or, at best, awkward in their juxtaposition. But seen through the Incarnation, these opposites crash together and reflect new light in every direction. This book will train you to see.
The collections of Bishop Barron's essays strike me very much like those which people experienced when G.K. Chesterton was writing during his heyday. They bounce around fascinatingly from topic to topic but always have an underlying anchor of solid Catholicism and truth.

I will be digging into these right away! What a treat!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Well Said: Time Enough for Everything

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.
Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son, 1747

Worth a Thousand Words: In the Forest

In the Forest, 1905, Arkady Rylov

Monday, May 9, 2016

Blogging Around: Dracula, Fiats, Amoris Laetitia and Bathrooms

Dracula Blogged

Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means the entire text is made up of letters and journal entries. Jonathan Harker's journal begins the story on May 3 and the book ends in November.

Dracula Blogged posts the entries as they happen throughout the year, along with interesting maps and other tidbits of information that may interest the reader. It began again last week so if you've ever wanted to read Dracula this would be a fun way to do it!

Our Franciscan Fiat

Sister Christina wrote to let me know about her community's blog, Our Franciscan Fiat. You can also find out more about their fiat there, which is not ... a car.
The blog began​​ ​last February. Here, we discuss issues connected with our catholic faith (and religious life) and give a glimpse into how religious life is lived in our community on a day-to-day basis. We cover a variety of related topics.

Amoris Laetitia and the Trans-Bathroom Can of Worms

No one wants surprise or horror when they go to the bathroom. No one wants social awkwardness. We just want to go to the bathroom. Quickly, if it can be helped.

Catholics being both/and people can assert with confidence that (a) you can’t change your gender, you get what God gave you and (b) you can’t wait until you get your moral life in order before you run to the restroom.

When Amoris Laetitia talks about pastoral accompaniment, the bathroom problem is right up there. What do you do with someone during the long stretch between “I’d like to be Catholic maybe?” and “Hey, look, I’ve finally got my life together!”

The answer is that you do your best to help the person grow closer to the faith. The only way to do that work is one soul at a time. You have to know the person, be in a relationship with the person, and be working together on this path towards holiness.

This is how, until the recent public drama began, we as a culture have handled the bathroom problem.
Good observations and advice, as always, from Jennifer Fitz at Sticking the Corners. Go read it all.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Joyous Festival

The Joyous Festival, Gaston de La Touche
via Lines and Colors

Well Said: War Makes Death Real to Us

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
It's not a popular attitude, of course, but as time goes by I begin to agree more and more. We are so prone to forget our ultimate end, to get settled and complacent and to think that we can get on with that spiritual stuff tomorrow. At least, that is what happens to me. The unsettled and chaotic times of something like ISIS rampaging through the world are a sharp reminder of the ultimate reality.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Lagniappe: Left-handed Hops

During their growing season, hops are astonishingly vigorous, rising six inches in a single day. The vines stretch away from the central stalk during the day; at night, they wrap themselves around wires or other supports. "You walk through the fields in the late afternoon, and you'll see all these vines reaching out at forty-five degree angles," said Oregon hop farmer Gayle Goschie. "Then you come out the next morning and they're wrapped tightly around the trellis again." They spiral around the trellis in a clockwise direction, which has inspired a couple of botanical urban legends: one is that they grow counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, and the other is that they grow clockwise to follow the sun from east to west. Neither is true. Like left-handedness, they are simply born with a genetic predisposition to grow clockwise, no matter where they are relative to the sun or the equator. (Botanists who study "twining handedness" have discovered that hops are unusual in their proclivity to twine in a clockwise direction; 90 percent of all climbing plants prefer to go counterclockwise.)
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist
Wouldn't it be fascinating to be in a hopfield and see all those vines at 45° angles? It must be like something from a science fiction movie. I really love how diverse nature is, even in when it shares so many similarities for something like twining up a stick.

Worth a Thousand Words: Peasants Enjoying Beer

François Jaques, Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg (Switz.), 1923

Ascension Thursday Was Yesterday

I kept seeing it mentioned but never remembering when I was blogging.

So if you'd like to read about it, especially since most of the U.S. will celebrate the Ascension on Sunday, here's the post.

If nothing else, there are some fantastic paintings featured there. I could look at them all day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What We've Been Watching: Baking, Driving, Immigrating, and Building

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW

Each week, amateur bakers tackle a different specialty (bread, cookies, etc.), the difficulty of which increases as the competition unfolds. Mary Berry, a leading cookbook writer, and Paul Hollywood, a top artisan baker, search for the country’s best amateur baker by testing the competitors’ skills on cakes, breads, pastries and desserts, crowning a winner after 10 weeks of competition.
I'd been told by four separate people how great this show is, including our daughter Rose who is absorbing all their baking wisdom. She is now making her own croissants since getting interested in puff pastry after one episode.

All it took was one episode and I was hooked, watching at least one every evening.

I like that the bakers are all amateurs. In fact, we get to see shots of them in real life with their families, on the job, and baking in their own kitchens. Because each episode is filmed on the weekend and they get to practice the week before at home.

I like that everyone is so nice (that's why the only American cooking competition I watch is MasterChef Junior — even Gordon Ramsay won't be mean to kids). I like that it is, as one newspaper article said, so "aggressively quaint." In fact, I hear that at the end the winner gets ... flowers. Isn't that nice?

I like how there are still national differences between the British and Americans, even in something so small as a cookie. If this show is any guide, British cookies are never to be less than gingersnap crisp while Americans have a wider range of tolerance, depending on the cookie. (Want to start a fight? Ask in a crowded room which is the best chocolate chip cookie, soft or crisp.)

Most of all, I have realized just how much I know about baking. I can tell when the doughs are too wet or dry or not rolled properly, when something is going to rise too much or little, when a glaze is too thick or thin, and so forth. I try not to comment too much and Tom, the most patient of men, has been watching them all with me.

One season is on Netflix and you can also watch it at PBS online. I also hear that you can find it on YouTube. If this raving isn't enough, here's an article that says all I didn't take the time to articulate.


LEARNING TO DRIVE (2014)

As her marriage dissolves, a Manhattan writer takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor with marriage troubles of his own. In each other's company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel.
This film is a small gem of quiet "indie-ness" with just enough quietness and just enough content and ... most importantly ... just enough contrast between the two main characters to give us context.

Is it about living in the moment, as Patricia Clarkson said in an interview?

Is it about the woman being sent an unknown but definitely male teacher just when she has sworn "I loathe all men,", as Ben Kingsley said in an interview?

The answer is both and much more as we found when talking it over afterward. You have to be patient and let the story unwind, but it is worth it.


BROOKLYN (2015)

An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
This was a wonderful film, evoking what it must really feel like to be an immigrant to America. One of my daughter's roommates has an aunt from the Ukraine who saw this and told her that this was exactly what it felt like to immigrate. Coupled with that theme is Eilis's personal growth to maturity, which also captures the idea that often one has arrived (at being an American, at being grown) before one recognizes it.

Overall this is a lovely, quiet story where the people act like real people without having to face manufactured crises to reveal the truths beneath. It was refreshing and we loved it.

LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963)

An unemployed construction worker (Homer Smith) heading out west stops at a remote farm in the desert to get water when his car overheats. The farm is being worked by a group of East European Catholic nuns, headed by the strict mother superior (Mother Maria), who believes that Homer has been sent by God to build a much needed church in the desert...
I'd never seen this classic and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story behind the movie is as much of a miracle as that the movie depicts. The film was made with the passion and shoestring budget which Mother Superior had for her chapel. Ralph Nelson put up his house to provide half the budget, Sidney Poitier took a small salary with the promise of a percentage of earnings (for which he earned his Academy Award), and the production designer did yeoman work in begging and borrowing props, building the chapel, and organizing the schedule so they could shoot it in 12 days.

The result was a classic which still speaks to us today over 50 years later.