Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bishop Sheen on What's My Line?

I saw this at The Curt Jester-- it's Archbishop Fulton Sheen on What's My Line! There's a hilarious line or two in the middle of the video.

I need to watch more Sheen; the little I've seen of him is great. He was the first famous televangelist (before that word took on negative connotations!) It's funny to hear him answering in French and refusing to say he's well-known, making the host say it for him. Check out Dorothy Kilgallen genuflecting and kissing his hand at the end. I wouldn't try that on my own bishop but it used to be customary. :)

Here's something strange and completely tacky, yet amusing-- would go well with holy toast. :)

The Scarlet Pimpernel

When I was eleven I read Gone With the Wind because my friend Suzanne already had. Good stuff, especially every scene with Rhett Butler. I also read A Tale of Two Cities, but found it boring because so much of it was over my head. I slogged through that one solely for the bragging rights. And on the easier side I read Hang Tough, Paul Mather, about a boy who just wants to play baseball but is forbidden to do so because he has leukemia. That got me started on sports books; the next year I began collecting everything John R. Tunis ever wrote.

But the book I discovered that year that I really really loved, the book I reread so perseveringly that its cover wore clean off, was The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. The title character is a mysterious English nobleman who daringly rescues doomed French aristocrats from the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. The main character is Marguerite, a clever and beautiful woman who's married to an inane fop of a man, admires the Scarlet Pimpernel from afar, and gets blackmailed by the French agent Chauvelin. It's a very romantic book, in several senses of the word. Full of fun new vocabulary, too. I read it with a dictionary open on my lap because I was so engrossed by the story that I didn't want to miss any details. One sentence alone had three words I needed to look up: "...Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, who, in the guise of her lackey, was carrying a number of impedimenta...." (After some minutes I was able to ascertain that this means he was disguised as her servant and carrying the luggage.)

This reminiscing post was precipitated by the Errol Flynn movies I watched last week. They got me in a swashbuckling mood and reminded me that I own two movie versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel. One's from 1934 and stars Leslie Howard, and if you only know him as the ineffectual Ashley Wilkes, you need to see him in this part. He's so good, and very funny. "How I ever came up with it, I don't know, because it was the busiest moment of the day, damn me-- I was tying my cravat!" The problem with that movie is that Merle Oberon as Marguerite is severe and unfriendly-looking. Her eyebrows arch up and her mouth turns down so much that I can't feel sorry for her troubles. Well, I did pity her in one scene, when she went to Lord Grenville's ball dressed in nothing but an unsupportive bikini on top. Seriously, look at that thing! It might have fit well enough in 1934, but how embarrassing to show up in 1794 so underdressed! I don't hesitate to call it the worst costume design I've ever seen in a movie. And don't tell me that's not important; Sir Percy does not agree with you.

Then there's the 1982 TV movie, which was perfectly cast: Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy, Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellan as a deliciously insecure Chauvelin. Beautiful people wearing gorgeous clothes and having seriously fun adventures. I love watching Andrews switch between his silly affected manner and his more earnest tone, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence. And the love scenes... ah.... All three principal actors make you interested and make you care, something that only Leslie Howard achieved in the 1934 version.

Oh, the 1999 TV series with Richard Grant? I've seen bits of it on YouTube, and what I saw I disliked so much that I'm not especially tempted to watch more. Every now and then comes an adaptation of a book that completely violates the spirit of its source material, and this one looks like a fine example of that. In the book even the villain is gallantly courteous; in the TV show I see nothing but mean-spirited, humorless insults. It looks like there's a lot more brawn and much less brain involved in the rescues. Sir Percy isn't even handsome (let the full horror of those words sink in) and as for Marguerite, she's been severely let down by the costume and makeup department. For a character who's supposed to be the most beautiful woman in France, that's a real problem.

So forget that. Go rent the one with Anthony Andrews; it's fun right down to the curl on his forehead. :)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Theology 911 exam

Right here!

Also, this post on bishop fashion makes me want to bow to the blogger who wrote it, chanting, "I'm not worthy!"

7 Quick Takes Friday

Here's Jen's post. As an exercise, I'm going to see if I can write seven quick takes that are actually quick.

1) You know how it can be a bit scary to be alone in a house at night? Why is it that the simple presence of a cat takes away most of the fear? It's not logical, but knowing I'm not the only mammal around makes a big difference.

2) I'm feeding the cat at my parents' house while they're vacationing in Tucson. On Wednesday night I left her outside because I didn't want her to have any accidents inside. But I felt so bad about leaving her in the cold. The next day (yesterday) I arrived at the house at 6 pm and let her in. I gave her more food, but she ignored it and went right upstairs, where she curled up on a bed. I couldn't bear to put her out for another night, so I left her there and went home. This morning around 10:00 am I came by again. Food still untouched. Cat still on bed, right where I left her sixteen hours ago! She got up to greet me. I picked her up and carried her downstairs, petting her while she purred. As soon as I put her down she went right back up to bed! I guess she's making up for a sleepless night out in the cold?

3) I love food, always have. I was never a finicky eater and neither stress nor emotional upset can make me lose my appetite. But as much as I love eating, I think I love sleep more. I can tolerate with some equanimity the suggestions that we ought to fast from food during Lent, but the suggestions that we ought not to sleep too much are hard to bear.

So anyway, I approve the cat's decision to prioritize sleep over food.

(I don't sleep much, really. Not enough, in fact. But I like to keep open the theoretical possibility of sleeping eight hours a night...)

4) I really like that cheerleading Catholic video Jen embeds in her first quick take. None of the reasons it gives are reasons I decided to become Catholic, except for #2-- becoming convinced of the Catholic Church's nature and authority. But all of them are reasons I'm very glad I am Catholic.

5) Because I've completely finished every project and there's nothing else I ought to be doing (extreme irony alert), I've thought of recording a book for libravox.org. People are requesting Cardinal Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is a sort of spiritual autobiography. I think I won't get to it for a while, if ever, but I would so enjoy reading prose like this:

He means by a man who is "silly" not a man who is to be pitied, but a man who is to be abhorred... His simpleton is not a born fool, but a self-made idiot, one who has drugged and abused himself into a shameless depravity; one, who, without any misgiving or remorse, is guilty of drivelling superstition, of reckless violation of sacred things, of fanatical excesses, of passionate inanities, of unmanly audacious tyranny over the weak, meriting the wrath of fathers and brothers.

You could get a whole vocabulary test from that one last sentence. :)

6) I think it's a weakness of G.K. Chesterton's detective stories that he so frequently uses the device of having one character disguise himself as another, so perfectly that nobody suspects and there are no clues of the deception offered to the reader. It's too deus ex machina to keep the reader saying, "Well, the killer can't be the vicar because the vicar wasn't on the boat," only to find out that the killer killed the vicar and has been impersonating him for days without any parishioners noticing.

But I don't read any of Chesterton's fiction for plot; I read it because in it he conveys his philosophical observations and sketches character types and other interesting stuff.

7) I just stayed home sick from work and took the opportunity to watch Captian Blood (1935) and Robin Hood (1938), both starring Errol Flynn with Olivia de Havilland as the heroine and Basil Rathbone as the villain. Really enjoyable movies. I love how Flynn is always striking flamboyant poses and laughing a manly laugh and grinning maniacally as he duels. I love how Olivia in both movies is fiesty and makes Errol work for it. I love that both movies use lots of background extras and don't try to cut costs by limiting the number of actors. I'm too lazy to find out if the movies had the same director-- I know they had the same operatic composer doing the scores-- but both movies show a lot of close-ups with extras blurred in the background, which is more realistic and lively than close-ups normally are. Oh, and I LOVE Olivia's costumes in Robin Hood. Look at this one. They rarely let a heroine cover up that much skin these days, but see how powerful and mysterious and interesting it makes her look? Of course she's also just amazingly beautiful.

Have you seen the first Pirates of the Carribbean movie? Then see Captain Blood and you'll realize how much plot and inspiration the former took from the latter.

Oh, and what's this I hear about Russell Crowe being cast as Robin Hood in a new movie version? BAD casting choice! Very, very bad! Let Crowe play Captain Aubrey; he was perfect for that, but he's way too ponderous for Robin! But then, so was Kevin Costner. You know what, I think we're incapable of producing a proper Robin Hood these days because heroes have become too cool to enjoy themselves. Erroll's Robin went bounding up castle stairs and flying through treetops because he took himself lightly. He had real humor, and humility; he laughed uproariously when he was beaten by Little John at quarterstaffs and Friar Tuck at swordfighting. He wasn't a haunted man. He was more like a medieval hero; he was mischievous and he had fun. Costner didn't, and Crowe won't either; that's not the kind of character they play.

Perhaps this maxim will work: if you can't see him wearing green tights, he's not a good choice for Robin Hood.

All right, the last take wasn't all that quick, but I'm getting better!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Minor illness, LibriVox, and stuff I love in San Diego

A minor sore throat yesterday got worse and worse until I couldn't deny the cold coming on. So I decided I'd take a sick day today and wrote a list of chores I wanted to get done. I then slept for nine hours, got up slowly with a nasty sore throat at nine this morning, ate and went to the noon Mass (I tried not to breathe on anybody...), came back home and slept for three more hours, got up slowly and ate, and surfed the internet for a while. So, not so productive. But I needed the sleep and my throat's better now. :)

I'm really loving librivox.org . In the last two weeks I've heard three books by G.K. Chesterton in their entirety: Heretics, Orthodoxy, and The Man Who Was Thursday. I kept noticing elements that were familiar because I'd run across them in C.S. Lewis' writings. Speaking of Lewis (oooh, nice segue) he wrote in his autobiography that he was a sickly child and learned to make minor illness one of the pleasures of life. "A bed and a book were 'very Heaven'."

Last Sunday I went down to San Diego to St. Anne's, attended Mass for Latarae Sunday, and then drove to my sister's house. We ate her delicious lentil soup and quesadillas and took a walk together (she really has a beautiful neighborhood, but then it would be hard to mess up any place with the perfect climate of San Diego.) I was so happy that we got to talk for a good while; we don't normally see each other much.

After a few hours I left again for St. Anne's, where the San Diego Oratorians were singing Vespers. I enjoy the Liturgy of the Hours chanted well, and as far as I know nobody attempts it in LA County, except probably some monasteries I don't know about. One nice thing about the Oratorians in particular was that they entered singing Lead, Kindly Light and processed out to Praise to the Holiest in the Height-- both hymns I love by Cardinal Newman! He founded the Oratory in England in the 1800's and all the San Diego Oratorians have gone there for formation.

There's a picture of the Vespers here, and after looking at it for a bit I realized that the diehard in the lower left corner is me. (There were a few other people there, but none who sat that close. I actually have a piece of flair on Facebook that says "Good Catholics sit in the back," but I do not approve this attitude except when I share it.) Those who like the traditional Latin Mass will smile to learn that the altar rail in the picture is brand new; probably the first that church has had since the old one got ripped out in the 70's. The diocese of San Diego handed the parish over to the FSSP six months ago and they've been busy with it. I spoke personally with a priest who had assisted in jackhammering out the cement platform in the middle of the sanctuary where the altar had stood, and moving the very heavy marble altar against the eastern wall where it belongs.

My sister had offered me avocados and given me a big bouquet of flowers (she really makes me feel welcome!), but fortunately I had forgotten both in my haste to leave for Vespers. So once it was over I had to go back to her house and fetch them, and that required that she serve me a giganormical mug of tea and sit and talk with me for another hour. Clearly we weren't done hashing through our lives and plans and so on. I love my sister. :)

I last visited her on Palm Sunday 2008, and driving back home I was thinking about that and what life was like at the time and what it's like now and how swiftly some things change and on the other hand, how swiftly time flies while other things don't change nearly as much as they should. More and more I'm anxious not to waste my life.

Oh, but I can waste today at least. I'm fuzzy-headed and legitimately sick!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A game night

On Saturday some friends of mine hosted a game night. The time flew by with conversation, Taboo (I managed to score a 0 in one turn-- go me!), and Catholic Scattergories (can you name a king or queen crowned by the Pope whose name begins with a B? Can you name any monarch crowned by the Pope? Some of those categories were tough!)

We also began designing a Catholic Monopoly. Boardwalk and Park Place might be the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica-- what do ya'll think? Should an apparition site like Lourdes or Tepeyac rank above a fabulous church like St. Mark's in Venice? But then came the much more interesting question of what church properties could stand in for the cheap monopoly of Baltic and Mediterranean. I immediately suggested our own church, St. Peter Chanel in Hawaiian Gardens, which is an awesome parish housed in a very humble building with walls of plastic sheeting. It's been in that half-deconstructed state since before I came two years ago.

Then someone else suggested the L.A. Cathedral for the low-rent district, and we had a winner! Unless we use the Cathedral for the jail? It does have high forbidding concrete walls...

One of the girls spoke up and said she'd once attended Mass at the L.A. Cathedral. Like me, she popped in while on jury duty, since the Cathedral's in downtown L.A. right near the courthouses. It was Cardinal Mahony himself celebrating the Mass. Now, some of you know that the Eucharistic prayers mention the pope and the local bishop by name, as in prayer one (the Roman Canon):

We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church; watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world. We offer them for {name of the current pope} our pope, for {name of bishop in your diocese} our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles....

It occurred to my friend to wonder what Cardinal Mahony would say at that part, since he himself is the local bishop in L.A. At our church it's always "We offer them for Benedict our pope, for Roger our bishop..." So she listened and he prayed something like, "for Benedict our pope, for me, your unworthy servant, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith..."

Which is very nice and appropriate. But my friend, trying to report to us what he'd said, accidentally put it this way: "for Benedict our pope, for me, your unfaithful servant, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith...." Ooops!

Someone brought Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit, and I'm not ashamed to say I wanted to play it. But many people in the room didn't know it well, so it wouldn't have been fun for all. Not that I know it as well as some do-- I know the characters and the story, but I haven't memorized the hobbit family trees in the appendices, nor brushed up on the The Silmarillion, nor watched all the extras on the special edition DVDs (there are questions about those extras, I'm told).

There was a Korean couple at the game night that I hadn't met before. They're young, graduates of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and expecting their first child very soon. I liked them and was glad to get to know them a little. Someone asked them if it was hard being minorities at the very white Franciscan U. They said yes, that they were a real oddity in Ohio, especially to children. The wife said when she was a student teacher, the kids thought she must be Mulan. As for the husband, he was taken for Jackie Chan by one little boy who wanted an autograph. He obligingly signed himself "Jackie Chan" and even did a few martial arts moves! But less funny was what they said about being denied service: they'd go into a cafeteria-style restaurant and never get approached by a waiter, even though they noticed everyone else getting served. I was really shocked to hear that. I knew there were racists, but I didn't realize anyone would still be that blatant about it. What ignorance (at best)! If they'd grown up in Southern California they might have been different; it's so diverse here that you can hardly avoid getting to know other races. Normally I'm inclined to be very critical of modern Western culture-- it seems to me that a hundred years ago we were more virtuous in nearly every way, not that there weren't plenty of problems back then, too-- but there's one obvious example of serious improvement one can be grateful for. Anyway, I was glad to hear the couple say that they didn't have experiences like that on the campus itself; just out in the town.

Increase in vocation inquiries

Here's some nice news:

Chicago, March 17, 2009-- Nearly 70 percent of Catholic religious communities have seen a jump in vocation inquiries in the past year, according to a survey conducted by VocationMatch.com, the leading online religious vocation discernment website. Sixty-nine percent of the communities responding to the website’s annual “Survey on Trends in Religious Vocations” reported increased inquiries into religious life.

And a good news story about the Dominicans in Nashville who have no shortage of women wanting to join:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Joseph's Day feast

The St. Patrick's Day feast at my parents' house had two days to settle before my friends and I all got together again on the 19th for St. Joseph's Day at our apartment.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of Italy, so we had mostly Italian food: pizza, lasagna, artichoke dip, garlic bread, olives, a bruschetta-type thing, and for dessert, tiramisu and cake soaked in Italian cream liqueur.

Here's Carolini's Italian Cream. So good!

No, it's not left over from St. Patrick's Day. What could make you think that?

We prayed Vespers together (it was for St. Joseph that day, of course) and my mom, who likes the Liturgy of the Hours, brought her breviary and joined us. She was the lone Protestant there and listened bemused to our talk of relaxing our Lenten fasts for the feast day. "So that's how it works," said she, "you Catholics are pretty sneaky!" As she left she called out, "I'll see you on the next feast day, which will be what, two days from now?" We were all glad she'd come; it was one of the few occasions we get together when she wasn't cooking a big meal for us all. :)

Our friends Chris and Karen honored us by bringing over their new baby, who was celebrating his first name day! I tried to slip little Joseph in my pocket, but the selfish couple insisted on taking him home with them.

So after they left we consoled ourselves with the Carolani's Italian Cream. I don't know much about alcohol but I was advised to try it on the rocks (yummy!) and to blend it with ice and vanilla ice cream (even better!). We all enjoyed the Carolani's shakes. "This is much better than studying an encyclical," remarked one of our number, shocking us all. Let us draw the curtain of charity over her name.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day desserts

Even as I type, my roommate and a friend are preparing Italian food for a party we're having tonight in honor of St. Joseph's feast day. He's the patron saint of Italy-- so that's why so many Italians are named Giuseppe! So I figure I'd better hurry and finish off St. Patrick's Day by blogging my obsessive little pictures of the making of the desserts.

The flower pots were cute and not too hard to do. Mom and I bought eight of the smallest they stocked at Home Depot; they're called the three-inch size. I bought a pound cake and used a round cookie cutter to make circles of cake to sit in the bottom of the pots and block the holes. Then we spooned in half-melted green ice cream, burying a gummi worm in each pot, and covered that with crushed Oreos. Oh, and we had a straw stuck in the middle for the flower to be added just before serving. There are very detailed instructions here at Pioneer Woman's place. Some of our guests remembered this dessert from the 70's, which is about when she first made it too. (I shouldn't have told you that; it might prejudice you...)

Here's the pot before the dirt is added.

A bunch of pots chilling in the freezer.

All made up.

And half eaten. :)

For the truffles, I adapted Bakerella's cupcake bites and her Oreo truffles. (The bites have also been made by Pioneer Woman.) I'd had the following inspiration: what if I mixed the Oreos, not with cream cheese or even creme fraiche, but with Bailey's Irish Cream?

Oh, yes. Double Stuff (what's with the lame spelling on the package?) Oreos with minty green frosting, and Irish cream liqueur. Normally I don't like alcohol, but one taste of the Irish cream and I made an exception. It's mostly cream and caramel; what's not to like?

But would the flavors blend well? I crushed a few Oreos in a mixer with a tiny bit of Irish cream, then took a spoonful out to try.

Oh my. It was really, really good.

So into the blender all the cookies went!

I felt like Vermeer's milkmaid, pouring slowly enough to get this shot:

I added Irish cream until the dough was sticking together well...

...and could be easily rolled into balls.

I froze the balls for a few minutes, then poured melted chocolate into molds, set the balls in, and chilled in the fridge for a few minutes.

With this result.

Then I dipped each ball into melted green chocolate.

And slapped on an M&M.

Also green sprinkles.

They were yummy. :)

Here's a whole plate of them.

My mom and I both thought that the filling was the best part-- in fact, Mom was in favor of just serving the Oreo balls without any chocolate coating. But I was afraid they'd fall apart or stick to each other or get mushed if I didn't encase them in chocolate, and besides, they look so darn cute! I later made more and left off the M&M's so the truffles would look like grassy Irish hillsides.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Irish food extravaganza

Every year at this time, to my delight, my mom gets the urge to make an Irish dinner. This year's St. Patrick's feast happened last night with my parents, some friends of my parents, me, and three of my friends. Here follows documentation of various dishes we were pleased to call Irish.

Since I knew I'd be feasting later, my breakfast was a simple meal of plain Irish style steel cut oatmeal.

Guests arrived and we sat on the front patio for appetizers, among which was green split pea soup topped with mint and Parmesan. (We also had goat cheese from France with cherry preserves in the French style, but I did not choose to photograph that bit of delicious inappropriateness.)

It was corned beef and cabbage and potatoes for dinner, in savory peppercorn gravy. The corned beef was reallly tasty and tender.

It was accompanied by a salad of various greens. Mom grows her own Swiss chard.

Also, Irish soda bread.

I'd inhaled half my plate of food before I got a picture of it.

For dessert we served flowers potted in lovely rich soil (a few worms had taken up residence.)

And truffles that evoked the green hills of Ireland and were flavored with Irish cream liqueur

I made the desserts and shall blog more details later-- oh my goodness, I enjoyed those truffles.

Thanks to my darling mother for putting on the feast and inviting everyone!

Funniest line of the night was when one of my friends explained to George, a friend of my parents', that there used to be a singles group at our church, but that it dissolved when the members all married each other. "Well, that was a failure!" exclaimed George. "Don't try that again!"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Saturday

Jennifer's post is here.

1) A few months ago Jen asked for book recommendations on her blog. A commenter recommended The Red Tent, which is a retelling of the story of Jacob's family. I read it a few years ago, not knowing it was a New York Times bestseller, and thought it amateurish. It began with a section of description of each main character's appearance, personality and background, and then almost none of that information was put to use or even mentioned in the subsequent story. It reminded me of my own teenage writing, how I'd always have a lingering description of my heroine's good looks on the first page, and then I'd just write all plot (often stolen plot, too) without really engaging my heroine's character, or anyone else's. I was surprised that the book had managed to get published. Its setup-- one man, four wives, twelve sons, one daughter (the narrator), the idols of a fertility cult, and the one true God intervening one wild and windy night-- seemed so darn interesting that I read most of it, thinking it would surely get good in spite of its author. But it never did, and once Dinah left her Big Love family and the Genesis plot to go seek her fortune as a liberated woman, I lost interest entirely.

So I felt like responding and disagreeing with the recommendation, but decided not to be negative in someone else's combox. But then a second person chimed in and said she loved The Red Tent. And then a third. It was too much; I posted to say briefly why I thought it was a bad story badly written. One of the book's fans replied back to me. And what do you suppose she said?

Thank you, Rachel Gray----I read it several years ago, but based on your comments, I'm going to check it out again, and see what it looks like to me now....

I always appreciate critical thinking about books I like...

What a gracious response! Sometimes I'm really happily surprised by people.

2) Here's the other thing I'm taking from Jen's blog: a quote she posted about writing, from the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it.

It's true that this kind of writing is interesting. Nevertheless I stay well away from the soul-baring myself. I'm fascinated by people who are so different from me that they want to share their innermost thoughts and desires with everyone. How can they live like that?

Lamott's advice to "risk being unliked" is no mere rhetoric. That is a real risk. The writers who write "straight into the emotional center of things" hold my attention, but eventually some of them also repel me when they publish rants I don't happen to agree with, spewed without qualification or apology. I even got mad at C.S. Lewis once, when he was venting about God in A Grief Observed (which was the private diary he kept after his wife's death and never intended for publication.)

It took me a while to understand that others write for a completely different purpose than I. I'm normally most interested in information and ideas, and I read asking, "Is this true? Is it just?" No wonder I get irritated when I apply that standard to someone who's just trying to express his feelings. I do enjoy such writing-- when, as I've said, I agree with it. It's like mental junk food, reinforcing my beliefs, giving me an emotional high. But in my own blogging I tend to envision someone who disagrees reading over my shoulder, and that makes me careful to write nothing I can't defend. I don't try to envision this worthy opponent; it's automatic. I even think that way, which is annoying on occasion-- like when I feel like having a good cry and my brain tells me "You've got no right to be upset with anyone; now stop being petulant!"

3) My mom just came back from a week in France, loaded with French pottery. It's all decorated with silly animals, which is very much the sort of thing my mom likes, and I like because it reminds me of her. She told me to pick out a bowl and mug for myself. I went straight for the cows. The little calf is just like me at a young age (or any age), her eyes fixed on the food in happy anticipation. And the mother cow generously providing a yummy meal-- now that's always been my mom.

I try not to be offended that my friends accept an invitation to dinner at my parents' house with greater alacrity than they accept any other invitations from me... :)

4) Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! A bunch of G.K. Chesterton audio books to download for free, right here! Yet more free goodness here!

I commute an hour each way to work, so I am loving this. I've heard the first two parts of Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse so far and it's making me cry.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

5) Ever seen pictures of the abandoned town around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor? It's been quietly decaying for twenty years, untouched. Except for tourists. On guided tours. And crazy European artists who paint huge people on the sides of the buildings. And looters, lots of looters. It's a shame about the looters, because I'd like to see what rooms look like twenty years after sudden abandonment in the middle of everyday life, but I'm not so interested in what rooms look like after being violently looted. Still, some of the pictures are most interesting. Here's a set. And here.

6) My car had three problems. a) The back bumper was in bad shape after I was rear-ended a few weeks ago. b) The front bumper was scraped and bent in one corner from a fender-bender some time ago. c) The paint was oxidizing and peeling in several places.

My dad accompanied me to the busiest auto body shop around to get a fast estimate for all three problems. The back bumper I didn't worry about; it was covered by insurance. But they wanted to replace the front bumper for $800 and repaint the whole car for $2200.

Dad and I then went to a smaller operation, owned by the man who's fixed our cars for years, and told him insurance would reimburse $1500 for the back bumper. He agreed to reattach and repaint the front bumper, and repaint just the panels on the car that needed it, and replace the back bumper, all for $1900. This he did, and my car looks all shiny and nice now for the first time in years. And it cost $400 out of pocket, not $3000. Yay. :) I'm sort of glad I was rear-ended; it finally led me to get those other problems fixed.

7) This is a detail from the cover of Memling's Last Judgment triptych, painted in the 1400's. You can click for a closer view. Guess why I like it?

Oh, I'm too impatient to wait for guesses. It's because the woman is wearing a veil somewhat similar to the ones some Catholic women wear in church almost 600 years later. I'm totally embracing my cultural heritage! It's all about roots, baby! :)

Others go even further-- I just stumbled upon some pictures of a woman who made herself a replica of the red dress.

8) We have a number eight because I believe that if you stumble upon a New York Times article that begins with the sentence, "There is scarcely anything thought of at present but evening toilets", you need to share it.

9) You know what, those first two takes weren't quick at all. I don't do much planning before blogging, so that's what happens.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

For my fellow SPCers

I thought I'd post this article that just ran in The Tidings about our new priest. Very cool! I love vocation stories. By the way, I hear that in Spanish a newly-ordained priest is called a padresito-- whether to his face or not, I don't know. :) Thanks to Christie for loaning us the paper.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cheap technology

So my printer broke down recently, and after going through every troubleshooting step I could find in the manual and online, I concluded that it needed to be serviced. I wondered if the time and trouble and money that would cost me was worth it. I determined not, and bought a new photo printer, pictured here. I got it on sale at Caltech's bookstore. It's pretty simple, on the cheap end of things, and yet it's also a scanner and copier, and hey, if you use this site and copy your scans to a Word file you could have yourself a fax machine as well. So what do you suppose I paid?

I'll tell you: $21.49 including tax. Not kidding. I bought myself a printer for twenty bucks. The replacement ink for this thing is going to cost more than that! In fact, it would therefore make sense for me to buy five more cheap printers, just for the ink cartridges they come with, but I cannot bring myself to do something so wasteful.

Oh, and as long as I'm bragging, I bought my cell phone three and a half years ago for $20 and it's still working well.

The cheap and ready availability of technology I would have thought incredible twenty years ago puts me in mind of this YouTube clip that's been making the rounds: Everything's amazing, nobody's happy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Science Rap!

Saw this video today, which I liked not just because it's nerdy but because it's related to what my own lab does:

It reminded me of the Large Hadron Rap, which has nothing to do with my job but is skillfully rapped and taught me many things I didn't know:

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life

Monday, March 09, 2009

Either very appropriate, or very inappropriate, for Lent

While my car's been in the shop I've been driving my mom's car around (she headed for France the day after the accident-- nice timing.) Mom's car doesn't have a tape deck, so no iPod for me. Instead I spent all week listening to a CD I found between the seats. It was a collection of "Sacred Classics", and I loved track #4. I didn't know the composer or the title of the work; the CD didn't say. And it began with a strangely somber introduction. But then it became a romantic, dramatic, beautiful piece. I couldn't quite say what language it was in-- Latin? Italian? Spanish, even?-- but it made me picture two young lovers triumphing at the end of an opera, having defeated all adversity. I drove around for days listening to this ravishing song and imagining myself flouncing around on the stage in crinolines while the rich-voiced tenor belted it out.

Eventually I dug out the CD case and learned what the song was. Here's a performance of it on YouTube (dark handsome Italian singer for additional viewing pleasure):

Yup. It's an arrangement of Stabat Mater, a famous chant in Latin from the 1200's about the suffering of the Virgin Mary as she stood at the foot of her Son's Cross. Here are the three stanzas in this particular movement, followed by a literal translation:

Cuius animam gementem
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta
mater Unigeniti!

Quae maerebat et dolebat
et tremebat cum videbat
nati poenas incliti.

Through her weeping soul,
compassionate and grieving,
a sword passed.

O how sad and afflicted
was that blessed
Mother of the Only-begotten!

Who mourned and grieved
and trembled with seeing
the torment of her glorious Son.

So, not so much flouncing around stage, then. I freely admit I know very little about classical music, but someone please tell me I'm not crazy for thinking that Rossini was crazy to compose that kind of music for those words!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sacerdotal tyranny

Since all the folks who might be prone to tease me about this have already had their hearty laugh at my expense, I think I'll go ahead and share with my whole blog readership why I have been missing from the Web for lo, these many days. It was a member of the clergy who made you all suffer the sucking vacuum of my absence. I was grounded from the Internet, from Tuesday until today, by a priest who looked very kindly but proved to be remorseless. Just because I'd confessed to wasting time web-surfing! All right, the web-surfing had caused me to neglect other things. All right, I had also resolved to cut down on the Internet during Lent. But still! "For a penance, let me try to help you keep that resolution," Father told me with pleasant demeanor, and then hit me with: "No internet at all until Sunday." I begged for the use of email, at least, since that's how I make plans with friends, and he allowed it-- for fifteen minutes a day, no more. "That should be plenty of time to make your plans." "Wow," I squeaked, rapidly trying to think of all the things I wouldn't be able to do, "that's hardcore." He didn't budge, but absolved me and sent me on my way with a cheerful, "I know you can do it!"

It was a curious thing: I walked out to my car feeling unusually peaceful. "Thank goodness I won't waste any time on the stupid web today," I was thinking. Till then I hadn't been aware of how much the unsuccessful struggle was wearing on me. Now my weak will was braced with an iron penance, and I felt relieved. I later remembered that right before confession I had actually been praying hard to God for help in that area, so thanks be to Him and be careful what you pray for!

I went on to have a lovely week: got all kinds of chores done, including a few things I'd been putting off for months, and talked more with people and felt more recollected. Also wasted too much time watching TV, as my internet habit sought a substitute-- but at least my screen time was reduced. And except for my friends' blogs I didn't miss the net at all. That probably just goes to show something, but I'm trying not to learn what. :)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Spectacular car crash on the freeway!

Well, actually, it was as boring as a crash can be, and that's good because I was in it. :) Last Friday I needed to visit my parents' house. I'd meant to leave earlier, but it was almost 4 pm when I finally set out north on the 605 and got caught in that rush hour traffic that can move along at a fast pace and then suddenly stop dead.

I was waiting at such a stop when the car ahead of me began to move. I was just about to start moving myself when WHAM!-- my car lurched forward. It took a few seconds for my head to clear enough for me to realize I'd been rear-ended. Fortunately I wasn't hurt; the airbag didn't even go off. I looked behind me-- a girl about my own age was the culprit. I quickly tried to memorize her license plate, but fortunately she was not inclined to run and we both made our way across four lanes of traffic to the side where we got out of our cars.

"I am so sorry," were her first words. "That's okay," I said. I wasn't angry; it was tricky traffic and I'd much rather be the one hit than the one feeling guilty about causing an accident.

"I didn't see you," she went on, "my boyfriend just said, 'You're going to hit!' and I tried to stop...."

The boyfriend was sitting motionless in the passenger seat, where he remained the entire time. I felt sorry for the girl that he didn't get out and stand by her and say, "Sorry about that," to me. He wasn't at fault, but he could have taken responsibility anyway, just to be supportive and draw some heat away from his girlfriend. Maybe give her a comforting squeeze on the arm at that rotten moment of her life. Would have been a chivalrous thing to do.

My bumper had certainly seen better days; it was bent and detached from the car. :-\ The girl and I traded insurance info. A policewoman arrived and started a report on the incident and had us wait in our cars for safety while she called stuff in.

So I sat in my driver's seat and caught my breath and wondered if my neck would be stiff in the morning, and felt very thankful that nothing worse had happened. I've been rear-ended once before, and once an SUV backed into me and crumpled my front bumper (he didn't see me and I was too surprised and paralyzed to honk my horn), so I'd like to think I've fulfilled my lifetime quota of fender-benders and will never have another. :)

Then something occurred to me. Normally when I drive anywhere on the freeway, I pray a Rosary as soon as I start. It's usually the only time I get around to it all day. A friend at church gave me a Rosary bracelet a year ago, and although at the time I almost resented her suggestion that I ought to cram yet more prayer into my life, now I use it nearly ever day.

But this time I was hyped up when I got in my car, thinking about my fun evening plans, and I decided, "No... I'm too excited to pray right now. Let's just listen to some good music." So the Kyrie of Mozart's Requiem Mass was playing when the girl crashed into me. Make of that what you will.

Obviously I am NOT saying that God decided to whack me because I wasn't praying. But I do believe I'm likely to be a bit more motivated now to pray the Rosary on car journeys. That is all. :)