Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lenten Prayers

Tonight's Vesper Prayers from Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us: Preserve me from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from me the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that I, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of public worship, and grant as well that my Sabbath upon the earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
.

I'll be back on Monday as for Lent I am staying off the computer on Sundays in order to develop more of a Sabbath rest in my body, mind, and heart. See you then!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thoughts on Uncle Tom's Cabin


Our reading and book discussion group at Lake Murray Community Church, Logos, is meeting on Sunday afternoon, and this month's book is Uncle Tom's Cabin. This is my second time through it in about five years, and I'm liking it even more this time than last. Tom himself is an admirable character, and Little Eva (Evangeline -- how perfectly named!) is intriguing to say the least. The two stories that stemmed from the original home in Kentucky are interesting: Eliza and George's flight to Canada with their child to avoid the breakup of their family and Tom's trip down river, meeting little Eva and being purchased by her indulgent and careless father, Augustine (again, well named after the 6th century saint who lived an indulgent, even debauched life until turning his life over to God).

But when the idea of propaganda came up during the writing workshop last Saturday, I mentioned Uncle Tom's Cabin as a prime example. Although Harriet Beecher Stowe's plot is interesting, it was obviously written to inflame the sympathy of the abolitionists and to condemn slaveholders. Stowe doesn't necessarily showcase the "good" masters who treated their people truly as people because writing about truly good slaveholders wouldn't serve her purpose. I am not in the slightest supporting slavery; I am just pointing out the weakness of the book: it truly is propaganda. It contains much truth but was written from the most biased point of view that I have ever read in literature.

While we realize that the book is indeed a piece of propaganda, we can still find much to admire in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe shows the disgusting underside of slavery with clarity: the families being torn apart even by "good" masters who must sell them to settle debts; the slave traders who treat their "property" with extreme callousness; the "bad" masters who breed children only to sell them away from their mothers, treating the Africans just like thoroughbreds or prize heifers; the idea that Africans do not feel with the same intensity as whites do and Stowe certainly shows us how wrong that inhumane treatment is; Africans being hunted down by whites, even little children and old women; and the death of Africans as a business expense, as in the death of Old Prue who told her sad tale to Uncle Tom just before her masters killed her by locking her in their basement and refusing to feed her. The novel represents an extremely sad time in American history, yet we must also keep in mind the danger of propaganda and how it can warp and twist the facts by appealing to emotion rather than logic.

As I am only half done with a mere day remaining to finish the book, I shall go curl up on my sofa, perhaps have T build a lovely fire in the woodburning stove, and pick up Uncle Tom's Cabin once again. It's a heart-breaking novel, filled with three-dimensional people who are suffering physically, mentally, and spiritually from this evil.

Today as the boys and I studied the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the southern slaves but not the slaves in the neutral border states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, I found myself thinking often of the characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The people are so memorable, so striking, that they, and hence the book, are not easily forgotten.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Lenten Rule

I always look forward to Lent with great anticipation. I look forward to the spiritual spring cleaning. And the practice of the spiritual disciplines ... even fasting. And the focus on God via extra prayer, extra Scripture readings, and the reading of devotional books I wouldn't usually have time for. Worship -- and the chance to unburden myself completely through the sacrament of confession.

So for this Lent I am fasting from certain foods (would rather keep the list private) and I am practicing these disciplines of prayer and devotional life: Morning and Evening Prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Morning and Evening Prayer John Baillie's classic Diary of Private Prayer, and Morning, Midday, Vespers (evening), and Compline (bedtime) Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle. I also hope to add several times per week the Anglican "Rosary," consisting of Scripture that is prayed meditatively.

Each Lent I also read a devotional book, preferably a Christian classic. I've read Richard Foster's Devotional Classics a few times in past years as it contains excerpts of many Christian writers through the centuries, and I've also perused books by Eastern Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green. Last spring I studied C.S. Lewis' classic The Screwtape Letters with the Anglicans at their Wednesday Lenten Study. So this Lent I was unsure what to read up until the very last evening, late on Shrove Tuesday night to be exact. I happened to be reading through the Alpine Anglican blog and saw that for their Wednesday Lenten study they will be studying The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a`Kempis. Hooray -- medieval literature! I've had a copy of Imitation sitting on my desk for months, having wanted to read it for a long time since perusing a few excerpts over the years but never the book as a whole. Any book that was published in the early 1400's is okay by me. {grin}

I plan to attend Alpine Anglican's Healing Mass each Friday and Lake Murray each Sunday, so I'll be in church twice weekly, and with Eucharist each week with the Anglicans and weekly Communion at Lake Murray, I'll be receiving the Lord's Supper twice each week. If I can get away, I hope to attend the Wednesday Lenten Study, but if I can't, I'm happy to be reading The Imitation of Christ on my own. I'm also hoping to have at least one day set aside for silent prayer as Father Acker is trying to set up a day at the Prince of Peace Benedictine Abbey in Oceanside. I may have at least one other day of silent prayer and meditation on my own as well.

Traditionally, the 40 days of Lent does not include Sundays; they are considered days "off" from fasting. But I would also like to include a different kind of fast on Sundays: I plan to "fast" from electronics on Sundays for a couple of reasons. I would like to more strongly establish Sunday as a Sabbath day for our family -- set apart, different from the other six days of the week. I would like also to be able to focus more on board games with my family and take time to read other books, do some writing, etc., on Sundays. So that's my plan for now: no computer or TV on Sundays unless we decide to watch a movie together as a family.

So these are my Lenten plans, my Lenten Rule for 2009. I am asking for God's help in establishing better habits in my physical life (by fasting from foods that I tend to overconsume) and spiritual habits (by spending more time in the Word, in prayer, and in reading the second most popular book of all time, The Imitation of Christ) as well as making Sunday more of a Sabbath Day than it has been in the past. Thus begins the spiritual spring cleaning that I look forward to each February for the simple reason that although I may not totally enjoy the process, the results bring me much closer to my Lord and Saviour.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

This morning I arrived at Victoria House at 9:15 AM for Morning Prayer and Ash Wednesday Mass with Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days as Lent begins. I've always compared Lent with Spring Cleaning: both are a lot of work but are SO rewarding at the end. Things are all neat and tidy, much more the way they should be, after each one ends. Both are very satisfying, too.



So today I joined Father Acker, his wife Alice, and Dru and Jack for the morning Ash Wednesday service; there will be another tonight as well. After Morning Prayer, Father Acker prepared the ashes -- ashes of last year's fronds from Palm Sunday -- mixing them with holy water so that they would stick. Bowing my head while ashes are imposed on my forehead in the form of a cross while Father spoke: "Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return" is reassuring as I am marked as Christ's own.



Praying Psalm 51 on my knees with other Christians is a worshipful and humbling experience, one that I highly recommend to all believers. Then we continued praying from the Penitential Office of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
O most mighty God, and merciful Father, who hast compassion upon all men, and who wouldest not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his sin, and be saved; Mercifully forgive us our trespasses; receive , and comfort us who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sins. Thy property is always to have mercy; to thee only it appertaineth to forgive sins. Spare us therefore, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed; enter not into judgment with thy servants; but so turn thy anger from us, who meekly acknowledge our transgressions, and truly repent us of our faults, and so make haste to help us in this world, that we may ever live with thee in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.




We also prayed the Lenten Collect which is to be prayed each of the forty days of Lent:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A few years ago, Pastor Stephen and I wrote up this little thing on Ash Wednesday that we put in the Lake Murray Sunday bulletin before Lent began. It's a wonderful little explanation for those of you who may not be familiar with liturgical practice:

What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday has been observed in the church since the late 500s and marks the onset of Lent, the forty days (not including Sundays) preceding Easter. The forty days of Lent parallel the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying, before starting His earthly ministry. If we back up forty days from Easter, skipping Sundays as they are always days of celebrating the Resurrection, we land on a Wednesday. It's called "Ash Wednesday" because ashes have been traditionally used to mark the foreheads or hands of those who attend church on that day.

In the Old Testament, ashes are a sign of humility and repentance of sin. (See 2 Sam. 13:19 and 15:2; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6, Jer. 6:26 ). Jesus mentions repenting in sackcloth and ashes in Matthew 11:21. A mark is a sign of ownership; in Ezekiel 9:4-6, a mark on the foreheads of the people provided protection to those who served God. Therefore, a mark of ashes shows that we repent of our sins and belong completely to God, submitting our lives to Him as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to Him (Rom. 12:1). Ashes marked in the form of a cross are a fitting and visual reminder that we belong not to ourselves, but to Christ, and that we are adopting an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility.

So how do we celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent? Look on this time as an opportunity for spiritual housecleaning. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, take this occasion to come quietly and reverently before the Lord, offering your life to Him to examine. Ask Him where He wants to work. Ask Him what He wants to change. Then take this Lenten time, these forty days, to work on those areas with His help, being devoted to prayer and perhaps asking another Christian for accountability. Replace the "junk" in your life with new spiritual habits that can take hold during these forty days. Perhaps too much time with the computer or TV can be turned into more time in the Word, prayer, or in discipling family members. Perhaps an over-dependence on food can become more disciplined through fasting from certain foods and increased time in prayer. Whatever the Lord convicts you of, set aside this time give up whatever is displeasing to Him and develop new habits that delight Him as we repent of what is old and put on what is New.

We could each do our repenting in the privacy of our own homes, but the unity of the Body of Christ will be strengthened and the Enemy weakened if we hold each other up in prayer and accountability during this time of Lent. Christians all over the world will be uniting in prayer, fasting, and repentance during Lent; joining them can only reinforce the Gospel of Christ throughout the lands and defeat the power of sin and darkness in the lives of Christians everywhere.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday

Bosco Peters of the wonderful [Anglican] Liturgy New Zealand website has posted a great little tidbit on Shrove Tuesday. You can read it by clicking here: Shrove Tuesday.

I doubt that I'll be flipping pancakes tonight, but I may make some special biscuits to go along with our soup tonight. But tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent -- which I will definitely write more about tomorrow. I am planning to hop down to Victoria House for the morning Ash Wednesday service at 9:30 AM. Tonight I will devote myself to prayer regarding what God would like me to do for Lent, for my spiritual spring cleaning. I think I know one thing: I was thinking about which book to read for Lent and I just found out that Alpine Anglican is reading and discussing Imitation of Christ by Thomas a`Kempis which happens to be sitting right here on my desk within easy reach right this very moment. I've been feeling led to pick it up but haven't had the time. I think God has just bonked me on the head about what He wants me to read this Lent. Last year I really enjoyed going through CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters with the Anglicans, so if my husband okays it, I'll join them on Wednesday nights during this Lent as well for their meatless soup nights down in Alpine (about a 20-minute drive for me -- much easier than going all the way into the San Diego suburbs).

Although I will enjoy this last day before Lent begins, I will enjoy Lent even more. Perhaps "enjoy" is the wrong word; "appreciate" is a little better. I love the season of Lent because everything points right to Jesus. I read more Scripture and more Christian classics. I pray more. I desire Him more. I know -- why not be like this all year long? Because it's hard to be this focused all of the time. But each Lent brings me that much closer. I develop habits that bring me into His presence more frequently, more deeply. And I encourage the kids to do the same, especially in developing their own personal devotional time outside of the family devotions we have each school morning. I think I know what I will be "giving up" for Lent as well, but I need to confirm it with the Lord.

So enjoy today and start drawing ever closer to our Lord tomorrow when we are marked by a cross of ashes that symbolize our repentance and our being marked as His Own.

Saturday's Writers' Workshop

Saturday's Writers' Workshop with Dean Nelson of PLNU was simply incredible. Splendid. Deeply satisfying and quite encouraging. I took twelve pages of notes, not counting two pages of original writing. I also wrote an extensive synopsis of the workshop on our writing group's blog which you can read by clicking here: MECAC Writers' Workshop.

My hope and prayer is that our monthly group will grow to a solid half dozen or so dedicated writers (more would be terrific!) who will help each other improve our work. Lately it's just been two to three of us, and I would love the group to double at least. Building trust with one another is key so that everyone can feel safe sharing his or her work and offer helpful comments to other writers as well.

Near the end of the workshop, Dean mentioned something in passing that made me think deeply. He stressed the difference between people who claim, "I want to be a writer" and those who say, "I want to write." The wording may be close enough that you or I may not see a marked difference, but Dean does. Those who desire to be writers tend to be entranced with the idea of writing and possess a romanticized, idealized view of the writer's life. Dean doesn't take these "writers" seriously. But those who "want to write" are a different story. They have an inner compulsion to put words to paper or computer screen because writing is something they'd be doing whether or not they are ever published or successful. Something within these writers has to be expressed in written form, and they're not afraid of hard work and rejection slips.

I think I can safely say that I have been in the former group of "wanting to be a writer" for most of my life. But within the last two to three years since Kitty and Judith encouraged me to pick up my pen again and I also started blogging (August of '06), I've slowly crossed the line into the latter, serious category of "wanting to write." Actually, I would phrase it more strongly as needing to write. Once I get started on a blog post or on a poem, I completely lose track of time as I attempt to shape words and phrases to fit the idea or image in my mind. Writing, as Dean told us and as I tell my writing students often, is hard work. It takes someone dedicated to spending countless hours in front of a keyboard or with a pen in hand, pursuing this dance between thought and written expression. It's a challenge that I accept -- even if I am never published again. For the "real" writer, it's all about the process. Yes, being published is the goal and it's absolutely wonderful when it happens, but the process of writing, the lows and highs inherent in artistic expression, has to be what keeps us at our keyboards far more strongly than the desire of being published.

And Saturday's workshop showed me that I am indeed truly one who needs to write. I know that a lot of what I am writing will be crap. But some of it may rise above crap and will contain some slight insight in it that needs to be cajoled into poetry or prose. And I'm willing to keep persevering simply because I love writing more than I hate it.

So thanks, Dean for a tremendously helpful workshop and for encouraging me in recognizing where I am in the writerly process. We hope to plan another writing workshop in the early fall with MECAC, and I hope to learn even more then as well.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Simplicity

Keith shared some thoughts with T last night regarding the danger of curiosity (which can be a good thing in some ways and a dangerous thing in other ways) written by Rob Chaffart. The main gist was that curiosity can entrap us, whether it is curiosity about porn, drugs, sex, etc. At the close of his thoughts, Chaffart shared some ideas about simplicity that I think are very important for us to teach our children as they grow up in an age of consumerism:

Here are his ten ways to order our world so that we can create simplicity in our life.

First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
Third, develop a habit of giving things away.
Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all "buy now, pay later" schemes.
Eighth, obey Jesus' instructions about plain, honest speech.
Ninth, reject anything that will breed the oppression of others.
Tenth, shun whatever would distract you from your main goal: "Seek first the kingdom of God.


Last weekend we were discussing the book of Hebrews in Sunday School, and Nathan shared a game that a friend of his "played" with his children called "Name That Lie." As they watched television commericials together, he asks his kids to name the lie in a particular advertisement. The lie could be that "you deserve this item" or "everyone has this item, so you need it, too" or "if you truly want to be beautiful, then you need this item," etc. They discuss worldly beauty versus beauty of character and spirit, what consumerism and materialism really are, etc. This is a "game" that my kids are partially aware of from comments Keith and I have made while watching commercials and television shows, but I would like to be more deliberate about it.

When I think of simplicity, I can't help but think of U2's song "Walk On" from the CD All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000). The song is about perseverance despite pain (which encourages me in my illness), but the closing words speak strongly about simplicity, about all that we have to learn to leave behind us:

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind

All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break

All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind

All that you reason
All that you care

It's only time
And I'll never fill up all my mind

All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
And all that you scheme

All you create
All that you wreck
All that you hate


I'm a long way from living the kind of simple life that I desire, but I've joined the journey. I'm on the path. And it's a good path to be on at any time, but especially in our current economic climate where not only "less is more" but less is gonna be the key to survival, not only for each of us but also for our country as a whole.

81st Academy Awards...

The 2009 Academy Awards -- the 81st annual -- was truly spectacular. Now perhaps I am a bit overzealous after not watching the Oscars for the past five years as our early March family trips somehow coincided every single time with the Academy Awards. But I adored this Academy Awards. Adored. Almost everything.

The fashions are always one of my favorite parts. I loved Kate Winslet's gorgeous steel-grey and black, Anne Hathaway's glimmering elegance, Penelope Cruz's gorgeous vintage, Natalie Portman pretty in pink, Jennifer Anniston classy in white, Tina Fey almost classy in white as well. I wasn't so sure about Amy Adams (not that stunning red dress and huge multi-colored necklace together), Sarah Jessica Parker (all that "barely mint" poofiness and chest hanging out), Marisa Tomei (a little too structured and weird), Meryl Streep (dull color), Heidi Klum (needed Tim's advice - such an unflattering silhouette!), Tilda Swindon (baaaaaaad! ugh!!!!!!!!), and Angelina Jolie (yuck, black with weirdly not matching emerald earrings). The fashion is always the most fun part of the evening.

Hugh Jackman's opening number was wonderful, especially his schtick with Anne Hathaway doing the Frost/Nixon thingy. Great singing! I really, really loved Hugh's hosting of the evening: he joked, he sang, he danced. He was relaxed without being forced. Definitely the best host ever compared to Ellen, Billy, Letterman, and especially Whoopi. Especially. And Hugh Jackman was hilarious. Definitely a highlight all the way. Loved having an actor rather than a comedian host -- much classier and less artificial than any Oscars in my memory anyway.

My very favorite thing was the way the acting awards were presented, with twenty previous winners each lauding a nominee, addressing them personally rather than having the winner from the year before present the nominees of the opposite sex. But I especially loved the Actress awards, with each nominee tearing up (I think Angelina did -- she was the only "maybe."). But seeing Anne Hathaway tear up when Shirley Maclaine spoke to her and Kate Winslet get teary when Marion Cotillard introduced her was touching and wonderful. What a superb idea of having a group of former winners lauding the nominees. Wow.

The only sour note of the evening was what could have been a lovely section: the In Memoriam portion with Queen Latifah. If the camera had backed off her and gone directly to the images of those who had died during the past year, it would have been fine. Touching. But the camera kept panning back to Queen Latifah and viewing the screen at weird angles, making it extremely difficult to read the names of the deceased. Frustrating and totally stupid.

But I loved the rest of it: the musical section with Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, and Amanda Seyfried was terrific as was the other portions of the program. And the presenters were well-chosen: Jack Black and Jennifer Anniston, Tina Fey and Steve Martin (hilarious!), etc. The only bad match was Robert Pattinson and Amanda Seyfried, mostly because the guy could barely get his lines out and wouldn't look at the camera.

Now although Moviephone and a bunch of places have panned the entire 81st Academy Awards, I thought it was brilliant and lovely -- from the crystal curtains and classic "Big Band" look to Hugh Jackman to the previous winners presenting the acting nominees to the look at how films are made. So, just like with most movie reviews, one can't listen to the "experts"... because they never get it right.

For a link to some great Oscar photos, see this link: 2009 Oscars.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Writing Workshop This Saturday!


This is how we often write in our little mountain town ... or at least it's how I often write up here. Yes, San Diego is known for its beautiful harbor, white sandy beaches, and 72-degree weather year round. But up here at nearly 4,000 feet elevation we live quite differently from the people "down the hill." We use wood to heat our home. We get snow several times each winter. Our low temps drop into the mid-teens. And with my extremely arthritic hands, I often write and type with fingerless gloves on, a wonderful Christmas gift from Keith. Yes, I wear them even inside the house.

But I am particularly excited about a writing event up here in our little mountain village. On Saturday, Dr. Dean Nelson, founder of the Journalism department at Point Loma Nazarene University, will be leading a writing workshop at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center just two miles from my home. Judith and I invited him up, and despite still being in recovery mode after the recent Writers' Symposium by the Sea which he puts on each February, Dean agreed to drive up the mountain and impart his writerly wisdom to us.

I've been quite consumed this week with the registration process, and it looks as though we will have nearly thirty writers in attendance on Saturday. That's an impressive number of local mountain dwellers and flatlanders willing to drive up the mountain to learn of Dean. Judith has worked with Dean in the past, and Dean was my creative writing professor when I was an undergrad at PLNU and he also kindly offered me the use of his office for a couple of semesters when I was an adjunct instructor (and at the university much earlier than he). E also has PLNU quite high on her list of colleges, and she's coming along to the workshop as well as English/journalism is her major of choice.

We'll be at the lovely Pine Valley Bible Conference Center from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, ducking over to the Dining Hall for lunch. The grounds are so beautiful; I hope that we'll have nice weather. Although we need rain so very badly, sunny days have lately been in short supply up here, and I'd love to be able to spread out across the camp to compose a poem or essay. This year, more than any other, I would love to take my writing to the next level and develop a group of writers who can truly trust one another with our writing. A group that will be consistent in meeting monthly and who are serious about improving our technique, style, voice, expression. I am praying that such a group will develop from this Saturday's workshop.

Information regarding our writing workshop on Saturday and our writing group in general can be obtained at this blog site: MECAC Writers' Workshop.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fra Angelico




I have always loved medieval stuff. The majority of my grad school work was with medieval writers, mostly Chaucer. I love medieval music and medieval art as well. And my favorite artist? Fra Angelico, who was born the same year Chaucer died: 1400. But I never knew much about his life until I started receiving the Saint of the Day e-mails from AmericanCatholic.org which informed me that Fra Angelico is actually a saint recognized by the Catholic Church, and is also the patron saint of artists. Here's today's e-mail:

Blessed John of Fiesole
(c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.


Fra Angelico's work simply fascinates me. The depth of color. The three-dimensional people, more Renaissance than medieval. The amazing composition of his paintings. I really could look at his work all day. Truly. There's a transcendence to his art -- something that takes his work beyond art and into worship, which was his intent, I'm sure. Prayer in color.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Writerly Courage


My new e-friend, Kathy of the 10 Minute Writer blog will be "recording a radio seminar for Cindy Rushton’s Ultimate Writer’s Expo. [Her] topic is Picking Up Your Courage: How To Answer The Call To Be A Writer When You’re Scared Out Of Your Wits." She asked her regular readers to contribute a story of "writerly courage." As I read her post, I immediately thought of when I first started attending the writing workshop in our small town a couple of years ago (the group that I now facilitate), and my paralyzing fear of sharing my work with a room full of strangers. So here's the story I wrote for Kathy in the comments section of her blog. She wrote me this morning saying that she'd like to use it as it is, word-for-word. (JOY!)

I saw the notice tacked to the post office bulletin board — where all important items in our small town are advertised. Among the pleas for the return of a cocker spaniel that answers to “Blackie,” a photo of adorable tabby kittens “free to a good home,” and a new Bible study starting at the community church was a folded white page with black hand-printed words, all capitals: “WRITERS MEETING. 6:30PM TUESDAY AT THE LIBRARY. EVERYONE WELCOME. DAVE 473-XXXX”

I stared at that notice, reading it over three, perhaps four times. When I realized that I was holding my breath, I let it out in a rushing sigh. Did I even qualify as a writer? I went into the post office, unlocked my box and retrieved the collection of advertisements and bills, passing back by the sign as I walked down the sidewalk and back home.

The idea stayed in my mind all week. I finally called up Judith, my older friend who really IS a writer (of some note, may I add) and mentioned the notice to her. She enthusiastically agreed to attend the meeting as well. I felt the fear begin to slip from my shoulders as I sighed, glad of company on this venture.

One week later Judith came by in her little hybrid and picked me up. We chatted on the short trip to our town’s library, entering the small community room together. My eyes widened as I mentally counted the group present. Ten. That was a HUGE number of people to appear in a small town. I settled into a seat next to Judith, content to hide, both literally and figuratively, in her shadow. Dave, an English teacher from the high school, asked us to introduce ourselves and state what kind of writing we did. Unlike Judith’s warm, confident introduction, I stammered and spoke far too quickly, as I do when nervous. But it was an auspicious beginning and most of the attendees seemed ready to return the next month. We set a date for our next meeting, and chatted a bit in groups of two or three as we walked out to our cars.

The next month the nervousness, even fear, returned. As asked, I had brought along a short poem I had been working on, knowing that I would have to share my work with the group. Knowing only Judith well, I wasn’t sure how the group dynamics would work. Would they be positive yet unhelpful, with “good’s” and “I like it’s,” or would they tear my poem (and my shaky confidence) to shreds littering the floor around my feet?

Well, the group seemed kind enough, and several people were extremely perceptive in their comments to the other writers who read their work. They were affirming yet pointed out what one of them, a retired junior high teacher called “speed bumps,” issues that could be improved in the piece. Yet, my stomach still tumbled and I couldn’t speak much in response to the work presented to the group. Judith read hers, a short scene from her novel set in the plains, pithy and insightful regarding human nature and the inability of her characters to hear or see each other. And I was to be next after her. Great.

I took several deep breaths, willing myself to not speed through the poem as I knew I probably would, simply from knee-knocking terror. When the comments regarding Judith’s novel excerpt stilled, I distributed my copies to the group with shaking hands. I didn’t look up at the group as I read my few halting lines, my trembling hands squeezed between my knees to still them. I tried to read the words slowly and achieved a not-quite-as-fast-as-I could-have-read-it semi-victory.

I finished reading and forced myself to look up. Here it was: the first feedback I have received on my writing since I graduated from grad school. The comments were kind, helpful, pointing out what worked and what could use more effort to improve the imagery, the emotional forcefulness. As the comments petered out and the next writer passed around his copies and began to read his story, I felt the terror that had been building in me since the very first day I read that sign on the post office bulletin board whoosh away from me. And I realized that I was smiling.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Saint Valentine's Day


I found a very interesting history of Saint Valentine's Day at the History Channel site. Following are excerpts from that history:

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine's Day — should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages (written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400), and the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum. The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap."


And from a website called Women for Faith and Family comes additional information about Saint Valentine's Day and a call to "re-Christianize" this holy day:

The popular customs connected with Saint Valentine's Day's probably originated in medieval Europe. At that time, when "courtly love" was in flower, there was a common belief in England and France that on February 14th, precisely half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.

Thus, we read in the 14th century English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer's "Parliament of Foules":

For this was on Seynt Valentynes' day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
(Chaucer's original spelling).

This belief about "love-birds" is probably the reason Saint Valentine's feast day came to be seen as specially consecrated to lovers, and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lover's tokens. The literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century in both France and England contain allusions to this practice.

This association with romantic love, along with the medieval revival of interest in classic literature, no doubt led to the "paganizing" of this martyr's feast, so that the Roman god, Cupid (the counterpart of Eros in Greek mythology), supplanted the saint in the celebration of the feast. In Roman mythology, Cupid, the son of Venus, was a winged immortal who had the mischievous habit of shooting invisible arrows into the hearts of mortals, which inflamed them with blind and helpless passion -- for the next person they might see.

The Golden Legend, a medieval book of stories about saints, says that Valentine, a priest, was imprisioned by the emperor Claudius II for leading people to Christ. While Valentine was being interrogated by a Roman officer, the priest preached Christ as the "one and only Light". The officer, who had a blind daughter, challenged Valentine to pray to Christ for her cure. The girl was cured, and the entire family were converted to Christianity. According to legend, while awaiting execution, he wrote notes of instruction, affection and encouragement to the Christian community in Rome, which were secretly delivered by a boy who visited him in prison.

It is ironic that a Roman Christian who died defending the faith is now chiefly associated with a pagan god, Cupid!


I would like to close with a prayer for Saint Valentine's Day:

Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You gave Saint Valentine the courage to witness to the gospel of Christ, even to the point of giving his life for it. Help us to endure all suffering for love of you, and to seek you with all our hearts; for you alone are the source of life and love. Grant that we may have the courage and love to be strong witnesses of your truth to our friends and family and to the whole world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Keith's Stained Glass Presentation....

Keith was our Guest Artist for Friday night's meeting of the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council (MECAC). He presented a Power Point show detailing his inspiration and his creation of the 1,532-piece stained glass window he installed in the home of our doctor and his wife, Dr. Donald and Marcia Adema last September. Keith also brought along the carousel horse window he's been working on lately (that he started when I was pregnant with E 17 years ago) that he couldn't finish because of lack of a dedicated stained glass workshop. The presentation and the fellowship time among artists afterward made the evening quite a success.

A full account with photos can be seen on the MECAC blog: The Art of Stained Glass with Keith Barrett

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Little Weasel

This week T received a special treat: a Weasel Robot to put together and operate from Hobby Engineering, one of the many wonderful resources I've found through Click Schooling. Click Schooling supplies homeschooling families with websites each day according to subject matter: Math, History, Science, Language Arts, and Art/Music. Plus Dianne also provides links to great home school curricula and deals (like the $25 coupon to Hobby Engineering). It's a wonderful addition to any home school.

Anyway, back to T's Weasel Robot:


T starts putting together the robot.


Following the directions carefully, he gets more put together.


Getting closer to having the Weasel working....


T tries to start it but runs into a slight problem: two wires were switched, but once he reswitched them ...


... Weasel was on its way!

All together, it took T about three hours to put it together which involved assembling both gearboxes, setting the infrared and wall-hug sensors in the base of the robot, attaching the two motors to the gearboxes, then attaching those to the robot base, screwing on the "brain" circuit board (no soldering needed on this robot), attaching the sensors and motors into the circuit board, placing the battery holder into the outer shell of the robot, attaching the two power wires into the main circuit board, and finally screwing the shell onto the base and adding stickers. And ta-da! A three-speed Weasel Robot.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yet Another Talented Friend


(Judith, at Ad Lib)


(Judith being artsy, taking photos at Cabrillo Point last Friday, taken by moi)

My friend at church, Kitty, (another extremely talented friend, now working on her MFA in poetry, but that's another post) told me again and again about meeting her friend Judith who also lived in my small town. We apparently had a great deal in common: writing poetry, loving art, having autoimmune issues (hers is Lupus, mine Rheumatoid Arthritis), and Kitty drove all the way up the mountain to pick me up from my house and physically dragged me to Judith's home. Once Judith and I started chatting, however, Kitty barely got in the proverbial word edgewise while the two of us discussed the different writing conferences we had attended, the books we read, the magazines we like, and etc., and etc.

Not long after this first meeting, Judith presented an idea to me: she wanted to start an arts council in the backcountry, a council that would provide a place for artists to rub shoulders, network, learn from each other, plus would provide a creative outlet for our small-town young people who often get bored and thus in trouble. When she asked me to be her sidekick in this artistic venture, I immediately agreed. We put up flyers around town to advertise our first meeting and gathered with a few artsies at Major's Diner, the 1950's restaurant where both locals and tourists hang out in our little village. Soon we heard of a similar arts group starting up in nearby Campo, and we merged our two groups into a single arts council which then worked together with the Southern California Center for Youth, Nature, & the Arts in Alpine which added us to their 501 (c) 3 non-profit status.

The resulting arts council, now known as the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council (MECAC) is still going strong more than three years later; in fact, Keith will be doing a stained glass presentation tomorrow night for the whole town. We've now hosted two series of art classes for kids in the summers, one full-on musical production, dozens of monthly artist presentations, plus a Needlework group and a Writers' group, both of which meet monthly. We have a readers' theatre (of one of Judith's works) coming up this summer, plus our third annual summer program for kids. Our budget doesn't allow for a website, so we have a blog now that provides all of the artistic information for our region: MECAC Blog.

A few years ago when I first attended the PLNU Writers Symposium by the Sea with Judith, I discovered that she knew quite a few writers and poets: Calvin Miller, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, and many others. Plus she also knows many important people in the San Diego Christian writing scene as well. In addition to writing poetry, Judith co-edits our town's monthly newspaper, The Valley Views, for which she also writes a wonderful column, "Coming Together," that expresses the sense of community in our small town.

For the past twelve years or more, Judith has been a founding director of Ad Lib, an annual retreat for Christian artists in Colorado, set at different retreat centers that focus on "Sabbath Rests" for ministering artists. In 2006, she kindly allowed me and her daughter to lead the kids' program at the AdLib, an experiment in allowing young people the opportunity to learn the arts in several dimensions such as photography, watercolors, writing, and pottery. Photography also interests Judith, and she has recently shown her work in the County Building in downtown San Diego. In past years, she has been more involved in the visual arts of sketching and painting and has shown me some remarkable pencil/charcoal sketches. In addition, Judith is also a speaker, having spoken at many gatherings and retreats (including our women's retreat for Lake Murray a couple of years ago) besides teaching Sunday School classes from time to time in her Presbyterian Church.

And Judith has published three books, most notably a wonderful collection of poetry called Living with What Remains in 2004. She has allowed me to use a poem from this collection to teach poetry to my writing students from time to time, and I handed out her poem today to my Advanced Writing students along with fourteen poems by writers from Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney. Her wonderful poem, "The Way the Soul Arcs" is an examination of the way in which simple things in life can raise our soul to new heights.

And here's a poem from the Excerpts page of Quiddity Press where Living with What Remains can be purchased:

And He Turns

God looks over His shoulder,
and He sees us in our waiting,
sees us hem-and-hawing, standing there,
needing Him, not wanting to disturb Him.

Then He turns — so slow and simple,
like a rainbow at its bending,
like a great, brown river curving,
like the reaching of the eagle in the majesty
of gliding.

He turns, like the warp and stretch of seasons
in their cycle — February melting into April,
March slow-greening into May.

He turns, the way He taught the earth
to balance on its axis;
He turns like the eager flex of sun come forth
to cover us each morning.

He turns, and all things stop their spinning,
stop their churning; all passing things created
cease their racing and their fretting.

He turns, and all things wait for Him,
and wait with Him, and yearn with Him.
He gathers up our wanting in His voice.


And besides being a visionary writer and artist with a heart of a missionary who serves God and others through the abundant talents He has bestowed upon her, Judith is simply a generous, wonderful person. She seems to always have a little something for me every time we meet: some trail mix, a bag of cherries, a bunch of tangerines, a jacket. When our funds were really low last year, she asked me to help her clean out her pantry and to take whatever I thought we'd use. Judith also pays the boys to do odd jobs and gardening around her house, and she took E out for ice cream at the nearby outlet center for her birthday, just to get to know her better. Judith knows everyone in our town so well, meeting many for coffee to check up with them, see what's going on in their lives, encouraging them in their talents and endeavors. In a way, because of her investment into so many other artistic lives, Judith has created more than artwork: she has helped to mold living people. She's one of the most unselfish and giving people I know.

Besides being an enormously talented writer and artist herself, Judith helps others become the artists they can be: the mark of a true artist.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Another Talented Friend

(photo courtesy of Facebook)

I discovered Kathy's 10 Minute Writer blog somehow -- I think from Jen's Conversion Diary blog. As I followed the link, (yes, I'll admit it), I scoffed: "How can anyone get any real writing accomplished in only ten minutes a day. But after reading through several posts, I popped the address into my Google Reader, thinking I might come back to it once in a while.

A few weeks later I read that Kathy was going to attempt NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, spending the 30 days of November furiously writing, with the goal of committing 50,000 words to paper (or PC). Several friends had attempted NaNoWriMo
in the past, and as I read Kathy's post, I felt a conviction in my heart that I, who had not attempted fiction since my junior year of college in Dean Nelson's Creative Writing course, should join Kathy in writing 50,000 words during November. Nevermind that this day was November 4 and I was starting out with a four-day deficit. Nevermind that I considered myself a poet and a non-fiction writer. Nevermind that every single dialogue I had ever composed was stilted and trite beyond measure. Nevermind that I had no plot, no character, no idea. I simply knew I was gonna do it.

So I sat down with fountain pen in hand and a yellow writing pad and scribbled down a character who is a composite of me and about six other people I know. I wrote a little about her background, worked out her teaching schedule at the college, and armed with a single page of ideas, started writing. Yes, a lot of it was complete and utter crap, but some of it was not half bad. Perhaps even insightful. Possibly even good. I just kept writing those 2,000 words a day -- no matter that my laptop was writing its last will and testament before succumbing to old age. No matter that I was getting sick - I made my character sick, too because I was going to share my misery one way or another. No matter that I had papers to grade, a major holiday to prepare for, Christmas shopping to be done, kids who caught my icky illness and spread it happily around the house.

During these dark days of concentrated writing, Kathy and I encouraged each other online. When we finished our 50,000 words within a day of each other (both a few days early, mind you!), we promised to send them to each other after we had revised a bit. And all the while I continued to read Kathy's blog and continued at least blogging -- writing every day on everything from House MD to saints' stories.

And today Kathy made an announcement of great importance: her e-book, Listening Lunch, will be available for sale Thursday, February 12. In Kathy's own words, "Listening Lunch is available tomorrow at 1 p.m. at a reduced rate at this site: www.yesyoucanpublications.com/listeninglunch.html Over $100 of free stuff is included with purchase (but only for a limited time)."

I stole Kathy's "sales pitch" for Listening Lunch from her Facebook note:

1. Listening Lunch explains how toddlers can strengthen their pre-reading skills by sitting and listening to a book/CD combination. This also helps broaden their attention span, and ALL toddlers need help in that department.
2. Listening Lunch explains how listening to audio resources is good for every type of learner. Even visual and kinesthetic learners can benefit.
3. Listening Lunch explains the benefits of literary works on CD-- so the mom who likes to read aloud to her kids can take a break once in a while.
4. Listening Lunch describes how our brains work when it comes to memorizing facts AND Listening Lunch lists excellent audio resources to help students memorize science, math and grammar facts.
5. Listening Lunch features insight from Jim Weiss, Susan Wise Bauer, Jim Trelease and other educational experts on why they encourage the use of audio in a homeschool.
6. Listening Lunch features interviews from 4 experienced homeschooling mothers (who have a total of 28 children!) on how they incorporate audio in their homeschool.
7. Listening Lunch explains the appeal to learning history and biography through audio AND gives links to specific popular titles, like Story of The World.
8. Listening Lunch gives practical ideas to the discouraged, the burned-out and the confused about how to present concepts of faith while using audio.
9. Listening Lunch has dozens (maybe even hundreds) of links to websites, e-stores and resources in which you can find audio resources for any subject matter, for any age student. (Some are even free!)

Pretty cool, huh? I'm so proud of my talented friends! I have another one I'll post about tomorrow, too. And perhaps another one after that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Talented Friend

Although I first met Nikki online, living within a few hours of each other meant that we've met several times in real life (IRL). On our first major cross-country, she helped me to drag my nursing toddler from San Diego to Cincinnati. At other times we took our kids to Sea World, attended art museums in San Diego, and have attended retreats across the country together. When Becky was able to come out from Louisiana, Nikki came down and we enjoyed walking along the beach and talk, talk, talking.

Three years ago, several women in our online community started 365 blogs -- posting photos each day for a year. Several of the women, Nikki included, have shown real talent in photography and have taken classes, going far further into this art form than any of us thought possible when we first started this project.

Here's one of her photos below (posted with her permission, of course):


Nikki told us some wonderful news lately ... she won a national photography contest! Here's the article from her local paper, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA - Photographer Nicole Rae was one of four winners among more than 10,000 entries in a national photography contest.

Rae, owner of Nicole Rae Studio in Rancho Cucamonga, was selected as a winner in the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop contest.

The contest was sponsored in part by Apple, maker of the professional photo-editing application, Aperture.

As a winner she was invited to attend a workshop at Yosemite National Park to take scenic images and learn to edit the final products with the guidance of Aperture experts.

In addition to the instruction, she received photography and editing equipment, books and other photography-related materials.

Rae got into photography only two years ago through a year-long daily photo project she called Project 365. This inspired her to take it up as career, attending classes at a local photography school.

She focuses primarily on landscape and nature photography, as well as one-of-a-kind art pieces.

Views of her work are available at www.nicoleraestudio.com or through her blog at www.nicoleraestudio.com/blog
I am a devoted follower of Nikki's work and if I could afford it, I would buy several of her pieces. Her work is for sale through her website, and it's simply amazing stuff. I'm hoping she can come down to our area and do a presentation for our arts council. Anyway, she does incredible work, won a terrific prize for said incredible work, and she deserves every bit of it!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Septuagesima Sunday

It's hard to believe that we're into the pre-Lenten season, but with the third Sunday before Lent begins, we're there. Whew ... it's hard enough to just believe that we're already into February....

But what is Septuagesima? I'll let the Beadle of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity fill us in from his blog:

Septuagesima Sunday is the name given to the third Sunday before Lent. The term is sometimes applied to the period of the liturgical year which begins on this day and lasts through Shrove Tuesday (with the following day being Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins). This period is also known as the Pre-Lenten season or Shrovetide. The next two Sundays are labelled Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, the latter sometimes also called Shrove Sunday.

The earliest Septuagesima Sunday can occur is January 18 (Easter falling on March 22 in nonleap year) and the latest is February 22 (Easter falling on April 25 in leap year.) Septuagesima comes from the Latin word for "seventieth," with Sexagesima and Quinquagesima equalling "sixtieth" and "fiftieth" respectively. They are patterned after the Latin word for the season of Lent, Quadragesima, which means "fortieth" because Lent is forty days long (not counting the Sundays, which are all considered little Easters).

Because a week is only seven days long, not ten, and since even then only six of those days might be counted if the pattern of Quadragesima is followed, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, don't literally correspond to the periods of time they imply. It is interesting, however, that just about 70 days (68 actually) is the minimum number of days between the octave day of the Epiphany on January 14 and Easter, implying that a season just about 70 days long can always fit between the two.

The 17-day period beginning on Septuagesima Sunday was intended to be observed as a preparation for the season of Lent, which is itself a period of spiritual preparation (for Easter). In many countries, however, Septuagesima Sunday still marks the start of the carnival season, culminating on Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known as Mardi Gras. The Gospel reading for Septuagesima week is the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).


Fr. Bosco Peters in New Zealand also wrote about Septuagesima on his blog, and you can read about it by clicking here: Liturgy

So Lent is peeking around the corner at us, a mere three Sundays away. And Lent brings so many things into play: penitence, fasting, prayer, focus, confession. Yep, Lent is just around the bend....

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Rare and Welcome

(Our front yard, looking to the northwest, about 6:45 this morning)

To all of you back east who are sick to death of cold and snowy winter weather, you may not wish to read this post. Snow here, only twenty miles north of the Mexican border, is a rare and welcome occurrence, one dreamed of and sometimes even prayed for.

San Diego is known for its beautiful weather which is perhaps why it's one of the most expensive places to live in the US. The joke is that San Diegans consider 75 degrees a heat wave and 65 degrees a cold snap. Then there's also that wonderful poem about the lack of seasonal change in San Diego, penned by the late Bob Dale, a former weatherman in San Diego for nearly fifty years:

Spring comes in summer,
Summer comes in fall.
Autumn comes in winter,
And winter not at all.
The coastal dwellers of San Diego truly experience only two seasons, spring and fall. Summer weather rarely gets above 80 and a cold day is in the mid-50's. Why our gas and electric bills are among the highest in the nation, I'll never understand.

Further inland, in the mesas and valleys, the temperature spread increases so that "frost advisories" occasionally occur in winter and summer highs easily surpass 100 degrees.

But we live in the mountains 50 miles east of downtown San Diego, at nearly 4000 feet above sea level, so our temperature range is even more pronounced. We get more than double the rainfall up here (21 inches verses under 10 inches for the coast), and we usually receive light snowfalls 3-4 times each winter. And by "light" I mean around an inch, maybe two, but often less. To compensate, our summertime highs can rocket to 110 quite easily. But we are talking snow here.

Our town sits at the base of Mount Laguna which tops at just over 6000 feet in elevation. Now, they get much, much more snow up there than we do down here at 4000 feet. My parents have a little cabin on government land up there, about a quarter mile off of Sunrise Highway. Now, up on the mountain they can easily pile up two feet of snow from storms that bring us only rain at the base of the range. As soon as the storms are gone and the roads are plowed, half of San Diego heads up the mountain to "play in the snow." They go up without snow tires (duh! This is San Diego) and without chains (which the grocery stores sell for twice their usual retail price), thinking their four-wheel-drive will keep them out of trouble. NOT. And then they sled quite often on private property, most likely leaving behind their trash for the owners to clean up after the snow melts.

The lodge/general store atop Mount Laguna loves snow because their cabins fill quickly and they do a brisk business in gloves, sleds, and hot cocoa. The businesses in our town don't mind either, especially the mom-and-pop grocery stores who also stock mittens, hats, scarves, and sleds of various types. Plus the Java place and the 50's Diner are overflowing with families wanting to warm up after a couple of hours in the cold, wet, white stuff by buying hot chocolate, coffee, chili, and soup. Snow is good for our little mountain businesses; that's for certain.

The thing about San Diego is that one can be atop Mt. Laguna, sledding on a foot of snow, and only an hour later can be dragging surf boards and wetsuits out of SUV's at the beach. Yes, it's one hour from snow to surf.

And I haven't even started describing the desert activities of water skiing and offroading that go on in the Anza-Borrego Desert on the eastern side of our mountains. Yes, one must travel another hour or so from the west-facing mountains, but the desert, complete with those tall, barrel-bodied Saguaro cacti, is only two hours or so from the Pacific Ocean.

Beach. Mountains. Desert. All within two hours. Although the weather forecasters seem to have life fairly easy in San Diego ("Today will be sunny with a high in the 70's along the coast" 350 days out of the year), they do have to forecast weather for four temperate zones: Coastal, Inland, Mountain, and Desert. So the job isn't quite as easy as it seems.

Most of our snow was gone by the time we left for church as the constantly-falling sprinkles of rain was quickly melting the powdery white stuff away. By the time we returned home by 1:00 PM, going from 62 degrees at church in La Mesa to 39 in our front yard a mere forty minutes later, the snow had completely disappeared except for a few traces where it had slidden down the hoods of our car and van. We may get a little more tonight, but we'll certainly light a cosy fire in the woodburning stove tonight and enjoy buttered popcorn while we play board games and perhaps watch the Grammys. Well, at least the part with U2 playing a song from their new album due out in less than a month....

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Writers and Writing at the Point

The 14th Annual Writers' Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University has been going on all week, and Judith and her friend Carolyn made it out to the Point to see Luis Urrera Tuesday night. I was able to join them on Friday for two seminars, Brian McLaren at 2 PM and Christopher Buckley at 7:30 PM.



Brian McLaren was amazing. I took two full pages of notes while he spoke and was impressed greatly by his most recent book: Finding Our Way which explores how the return to ancient Christian practice can help to revitalize the postmodern church. It was enjoyable to learn more about him: he was an English major, not a religion student, in college, and then a university writing professor. So we went into seminary with a background in literature which influences how he sees the world and how he views the Bible. After 24 years as a pastor, he began writing and loves to write, claiming that his personal discipline in composing weekly sermons helped him to become a very disciplined (and quite prolific) writer. As a writer, he says that he has discovered success in "what is most personal to me [the writer] is most personal to you [the reader]."


McLaren was first published ten years ago and has only been writing full-time for three years. He is committed to the idea of needing to create something new using ancient ways. Our continuity, McLaren says, is in faith and practices rather than in doctrine. The practices that come from before modern times are the ones that can lead the postmodern church to renewal.

When asked about giving advice to beginning writers, McLaren replied that there are many great writers who say a lot of great things, and that the Internet creates great writers. Through blogs, writers can receive instant feedback on their work and don't have to wait to be published before they consider themselves writers.





Between seminars, Judith, Carolyn and I drove out to Cabrillo Point at the very end of Point Loma to take photos of the lighthouse (see my 365 photo blog and Facebook album) and the ocean between storms. Judith enjoys photography even more than I do, so we both were snapping away at the beautiful scenery.



After a lovely fish dinner at Red Sails Inn on Shelter Island (excellent calamari!) and a browse through Bookstar (a Barnes and Noble store in the converted Loma movie theatre), we drove back to the PLNU campus for Christopher Buckley's session. Buckley, the son of William F. Buckley, was a speechwriter for George HW Bush and is now a political satirist and writer. This last session of the Symposium was co-sponsored by the San Diego City Club, a political organization. As we settled in and waited for the session to begin, I noticed a man near the front chatting with several other men, and he looked quite familiar: The salt-and-pepper hair. The hooked nose. The hunched posture and motion of the hands close to the body. I leaned over to Judith and asked her if she thought he was Dukakis. Sure enough, shortly he was introduced bya gentleman from the City Club as the former Governor of Massachusetts and former Democratric Presidential Nominee in 1988 when he ran against ... George HW Bush.


Christopher Buckley was rather untameable. At one point, Buckley quipped, "I spent four years [in school] with monks. Not a single one laid a hand on me, except to beat me senseless. {pause} Was I *that* unattractive?" He also mentioned rather carelessly, "Writing satire in America today is pointless. You're competing against USA Today." Dr. Dean Nelson, the founder of the Journalism Department and the interviewer of the session that was being filmed by UCSD-TV for showing in April, quickly lost control and just let Buckley roll, only reigning him in after Buckley let the f-bomb drop. On a Christian campus. With PLNU President Brower present.


On the way out, Judith introduced me to the people who run the San Diego Christian Writers' Guild. I very much enjoyed meeting them, and Jennie was very encouraging about our writers' group here in our small town which I facilitate and assured me that she and her husband may come up later this month for our all-day Writers' Workshop with Dean Nelson. All together, it was a very satisfying and encouraging day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Writers Symposium by the Sea


I'm off -- to the annual Writers Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University. Judith and I are going to be seeing Brian McLaren and Christopher Buckley this afternoon and this evening. I can't wait -- I have my fountain pen filled and my note pad ready. Will report back tomorrow. Because of the rainy weather here in San Diego, we may have to stay down the hill at Kitty's house tonight, but otherwise, I'll be home around 11 PM. It should be a wonderful day of at least pretending to be a writer. :)

Her Morning Elegance



You've gotta, GOTTA watch this amazing stop-motion video. A thing of beauty and utterly wonderful creativity. And the music is nice, too. Keith sent it to me after watching it on the Kim Kommando site.

In order to listen to this music and not MY blog's music, scroll down along the sidebar to the black box with my music selections and click on the small box in the upper left corner which will pause my music so you can hear the music from the video.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Prayer for Today... and the Importance of Church History


This morning I was praying from one of my favorite prayer book, John Baillie's little gem A Diary of Private Prayer. The second half of the prayer for the morning of the fifth day is a prayer I would never have considered praying before I started learning about the liturgical church. Now it's an idea that encourages me more than I can possibly express:

"O Thou who wast, and art, and art to come, I thanks Thee that this Christian way whereon I walk is no untried or uncharted road, but a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs. I thank Thee for the finger-posts and danger-signals with which it is marked at every turning and which may be known to me through the study of the Bible, and all history, and of all the great literature of the world. Beyond all, I give Thee devout and humble thanks for the great gift of Jesus Christ, the Pioneer of our faith. I praise Thee that Thou hast caused me to be born in an age and in a land which have known His Name, and that I am not called upon to face any temptation or trial which He did not first endure.

"Forbid it, Lord, that I should fail to profit by these great memories of the ages that are gone by, or to enter into the glorious inheritance which Thou hast prepared for me; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen."

I was talking to the kids today after our morning Scripture reading and prayer that one of the weaknesses of evangelical "tradition" (for lack of a better word) is that it seems to divorce itself from the church history and Biblical tradition. How can we move forward without knowing where the church has been? As an evangelical, I knew *nothing* about the church from the end of the New Testament to Martin Luther posting the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. Nothing. I appreciate the church history review we had in Lake Murray's adult Sunday School class a few years ago, but I basically had to learn about church history on my own. But the overall ignorance of evangelicals regarding church history is lamentable.

Most evangelicals would state that our main focus needs to be the Bible, God's Word, and our personal relationship with God. And they are right. But church history is rather like a map of our Christian walk, allowing us to see and avoid pitfalls and detours as well as the traps set by our immortal enemy along the way.

So where do we find this road map? For beginners, I recommend Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language. It reads delightfully like a novel and is very fair-minded in not "taking sides" in the many issues that cropped up over two millennia. For those who want a more in-depth resource, The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales (in two volumes or both volumes bound together; the link takes you to volume one only) is a great read.

If you appreciate beautifully-illustrated books, The Story of Christianity by Collins and Price is both informative and gorgeous. This is the volume that Sonlight, our main homeschool curriculum, uses as the "spine" of their high school church history course. One author is Protestant and one is Catholic so an excellent balance is maintained. E and I will be using this book as we study Sonlight's church history in-depth together neat year.

Knowing the "Pilgrim Pathway" is of the utmost importance to our Christian walk. The French writer, poet, and politician Lamartine stated, "History teaches everything including the future." I think the same case can be made for church history. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way in, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Which Austen Heroine Are You?

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Thanks to Kathy at 10 Minute Writer for posting this quiz. Glad you're Lizzie -- someone has to be. :)

Dead Men Walking....

One of my favorite bloggers is Jennifer at Conversion Diary. She's a powerful writer with an even more powerful story of converting from atheism to Roman Catholicism. I always enjoy her posts, but a recent story is one that I will ponder for a long, long time to come as she compares her life before Christianity to being on death row waiting for execution. Simply unforgettable writing.

Read her post here: Life on Death Row

And consider adding Jennifer's blog to your RSS or Google Reader. Conversion Diary is a keeper.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Delight of Quotations


Since fourth grade, I've been collecting quotations. The practice started with my elementary obsession with the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In one of the later books, Laura and her friends sign each others' "autograph books" with little sayings and snippets of poetry. I don't remember where I got it, but one of my precious possessions was a little red-covered autograph book with blank pages in varying pastel colors. I asked my friends, teachers, and family members to write a little something in the beautiful little book with the word "Autographs" scrolled across the lower right corner of the cover in gold embossed letters.

The little book is upstairs in my Memory box; I hope it is, anyway. But right now the only quotation I remember was inscribed by my grandmother in her pretty penmanship that she took such pride in ... along with etiquette and other gracious aspects of life. She was an artist, and she took my request quite seriously, as lovely grandmothers do. She took a long time in deciding which words would be perfect for the occasion before writing the verses from memory and handing the little oblong book back to me. I remember rifling through the pages excitedly to see what she had inscribed for me. Written in blue ballpoint pen across a pale green page was a short excerpt from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" translated by Edward Fitzgerald:

"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a book of Verse, and Thou."

I didn't know the poet or the poem until much later in life, although my grandmother's masterpiece in oils was a portrait of an Indian sheik or maharajah, turban on his head and pearls cascading over his hands. His name? Omar.

Many writers I know collect words. I love words as much as any writer, but I find myself jotting down quotations instead. I love the way words bump up against each other, rubbing shoulders in their "come hither" way. The "Quote of the Week" in the sidebar of this blog is filled with quotations I've already collected into a little spiral notebook that I keep on the shelf above my desk where I can pull it easily down and copy yet another quotation, another example of words doing their "ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom."

Quotations send shivers up my spine. I prefer quotations from books I've read or from writers I am familiar with, but really, any quotation with a spark of genius, a promise of romance-among-words will do. I reach above my head, grasp onto the tightly spiraled wire along the spine of the journal, and splay the lilac-covered book open on my desk. I rifle through the ink-stained pages to find the next clean lines, pick up either my fountain pen or, if I really, really have fallen in love with the phrase, my rosewood dip pen and corked bottle of sepia ink, and copy the quotation in my best hand. As I let letter after letter and word after word flow through my fingers onto the page, the words somehow grip me, extending little clawed paws into my woolly brain.

And then magic happens: the words are now mine. I own them. I didn't originate them; I didn't print them. But they are mine in a mysterious, otherworldly way. Attempting to explain it removes the delicious mystery of the words-within-me. but once I have captured the phrase, the sentence, the paragraph, it becomes part of me in a truly mystic, consubstantiationist way.

And the quotations in my little yellow book with a spray of lilacs on the cover are from so many sources. The Bible. Shakespeare. Signature lines from e-mails and forums. Quote Garden (online quotation source -- quite addicting, may I add). Books. Movies. TV shows. Articles. Blogs. Magazines (especially Victoria). But they all had that immediate connection with me ... exactly like love-at-first-sight, only slightly less dangerous.

As each Monday rolls around, I pull down my little spiral-edged book and thumb through the pages, looking for "just the right" quote that expresses my mood for the upcoming week. My fingers tingle in heady anticipation when I blank out the little box on my blog and peruse my collection, selecting a quotation that "sings" to me at the precisely opportune moment. Often they are about writing. Or poetry. Or faith. Or reading. Or gardening. You know ... the stuff I am made of and made for, choosing yet another gem of a thought or phrase.

Please allow me to share just a very few of my favorites, most of which have already appeared on this blog at one time or another:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" -- Henry Ward Beecher

"When I get a little money, I buy books, and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." -- Erasmus

"I do not read a book; I hold a conversation with the author." -- Elbert Hubbard

"Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry." -- W.B. Yeats

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned." -- Paul Valery

"Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary." -- Kahlil Gibran


I could keep quoting all night, but it is well after midnight and if I indeed wish to function tomorrow, I need to draw this post to a close. Words are indeed beautiful things in isolation, but I find I get to know them best in a crowd of other words, each working together perfectly, bravely holding up its part of the quotation. Getting involved with each other. Making friends. Making out.

That's when my love affair with words becomes a liaison dangereuse.

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