Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hedgehog with mushrooms

Lunch with old friends sure is pleasant, especially when they know rather more about what you're learning than you do. Today I had pizza with my entire high school accountability group--extraordinarily rare, since we are or have been scattered from Southeast Asia to California to Mexico to Texas to Cruces to Virginia and back--and all their mothers and various other female friends and relations came too.

I got to chat with Anna the Penpike about Russian. She actually speaks it, somewhat, and laughed very hard when I explained that you spell hedgehog with an e with two dots and a snowflake. She then shared that her favorite thing to order in Russian was "with mushrooms," "s'gharchmi" (?), just because it was so cool to say.

My Russian now consists of "hedgehog with mushrooms." Yozh s'gharchmi, anyone?

Merry Christmas!

So I have a sword now. And a dagger. And chapstick. And a book about Robin Hood and another about C.S. Lewis. And a teddy bear in a red-flowered hat. I could take over the world. Especially because of the chapstick.

We had a thoroughly traditional Christmas at my house, which is as much as to say, nothing worked quite like it was supposed to. Mom got sick, so Grandma and Granddad didn't come and the sister and I made Christmas dinner. Sort of.

I stayed up late Christmas Eve baking pies--a terrifying thought in itself, actually. But they turned out. We got up and cooked. I discovered that I'd forgotten to put celery on the shopping list for the stuffing, and somehow it didn't seem the done thing to substitute cabbage, so I just made it with onion alone.

The sister got the turkey all ready and put it in the oven--and sometime between midnight and nine am, the oven had died. Kaput. Dad took it apart and fiddled with it and it was just dead. So she put the turkey in one crock pot and I put the celery-less dressing in the other.

That left the rolls, which I've never heard of anyone putting in a crock pot. Ah--but we have a bread machine, sitting on the counter! I'd never actually used this bread machine; it was a replacement for the one that died, that I did know how to work; and also I couldn't find any bread flour. I rummaged through the freezer and found Hungarian High-Altitude Whole Wheat Flour. That looked promising. After unsuccessfully searching the entire recipe book shelf for the bread machine manual, I did what I ought to have done immediately and asked Mom. She, of course, found it for me. Water, between 80 and 100 degrees....butter...Hungarian High-Altitude Whole Wheat Flour...salt...honey...put the kneading bowl in the machine....choose all the settings...splendid.

We went and opened presents. My dagger was good for flinging tissue paper in the air and opening taped boxes, and I screamed quite a lot when I opened the sword.

Of course, crock pots take longer to cook than ovens, so we had macaroni and cheese for lunch, and had the turkey for dinner. The kneading bowl thing didn't catch in the bottom of the bread machine, so it came out a nasty unkneaded and inedible lump instead. But the turkey, dressing, cranberries, and whatnot were all very good.

It was a merry Christmas. Not so much because of the presents (even the sword and books), but because Jesus came to earth, and lived as a man, and died and was raised on the third day. And for that reason, Christmas is, and always will be, merry. :-)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gift tags, among other things

A very merry Christmas season to you all!

It has become obvious at my house that the birth of our Lord is coming very soon, and with it all those odd and traditional tasks that take over one's living room. Presently the area between the couch and fireplace and TV is overwhelmed with brilliant tissue-papers and red and silver papers and broad ribbons in tupperware bins, with a great many tea cups and CDs and movies in between. (Because, of course, we like to drink tea and watch movies while wrapping!) Dad expressed it rather well, the other night, by saying it looked like Christmas had struck.

Last night, all during X-Men II, I made a dozen or two gift tags. We hardly ever buy them; why bother, when all you need is a bit of cardstock and a stamp? I've got seven or eight colors of ink and a whole boxful of mouse-stamps, not to mention colored pencils to bring out the red of their peppermint swirls and Santa hats, and so I sent them dancing across the paper-scraps.

One series of tags featured a little one peeking out from an ornament, hat dangling. The next showed a mouse overcome by the glories of peppermint, trying to stuff the entire sweet in his mouth at once. Another had a mousely maestro, sheet music and stick in hand. The stamp didn't show his orchestra, so for each tag I got to invent one for him. One director got a flock of bluebirds (yesterday we had a brilliant bluebird sitting above our garage), and another a whole blizzard of snowflakes from my little snowflake punch, and a third got a snowstorm of little Celtic knots, and a fourth the stars of the sky, like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth. Another series had an artistic mouse, reaching up to paint. In the spring, I find that mouse usually paints flowers or butterflies, but last night he preferred ornaments and stars dangling from garlands.

This morning I thought perhaps what I needed for my next gift tags were quotes about wrapping things in brown paper. This naturally led to Chesterton's chalk essay. I pulled it up and read it (one should read Chesterton very often), and discovered what I ought to have known anyway, that while Chesterton is extremely quotable, it's hard to reduce him to quote-sized bits. He's sort of long-winded just for the fun of it.

I love the way Chesterton goes to draw, despite no particular artistic ability. That's kind of the way--most of us are, actually. Wrapping presents is an art that most of us have to do whether we can or not, and so, I would suggest, is making gift tags. It's a happy thing, especially if you have lots of colored chalks or pencils at your disposal. So, not at all pretending to be anything like complete, I will quote the first two paragraphs of Chesterton on chalk, and include the link, which you may consider a hint to go read it in its entirety. :-)

I remember one splendid morning, all blue and silver, in the summer holidays when I reluctantly tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in particular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a walking-stick, and put six very bright-coloured chalks in my pocket. I then went into the kitchen (which, along with the rest of the house, belonged to a very square and sensible old woman in a Sussex village), and asked the owner and occupant of the kitchen if she had any brown paper. She had a great deal; in fact, she had too much; and she mistook the purpose and the rationale of the existence of brown paper. She seemed to have an idea that if a person wanted brown paper he must be wanting to tie up parcels; which was the last thing I wanted to do; indeed, it is a thing which I have found to be beyond my mental capacity. Hence she dwelt very much on the varying qualities of toughness and endurance in the material. I explained to her that I only wanted to draw pictures on it, and that I did not want them to endure in the least; and that from my point of view, therefore, it was a question, not of tough consistency, but of responsive surface, a thing comparatively irrelevant in a parcel. When she understood that I wanted to draw she offered to overwhelm me with note-paper.

I then tried to explain the rather delicate logical shade, that I not only liked brown paper, but liked the quality of brownness in paper, just as I like the quality of brownness in October woods, or in beer. Brown paper represents the primal twilight of the first toil of creation, and with a bright-coloured chalk or two you can pick out points of fire in it, sparks of gold, and blood-red, and sea-green, like the first fierce stars that sprang out of divine darkness. All this I said (in an off-hand way) to the old woman; and I put the brown paper in my pocket along with the chalks, and possibly other things. I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one's pocket; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about things in my pockets. But I found it would be too
long; and the age of the great epics is past.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cookies and hedgehogs

Yesterday was the end of work for the year, and boy was it a day. People cancelled and failed and came late and came way early and had emergencies, and a patient brought us the most wonderful Hawaiian cookies (no sugar or butter, just condensed milk!), and UPS was most inconveniently 23 hours late with a delivery, and I got to go out to lunch with a friend.

AND, in the cracks (there were lots of cracks), I got to do language stuff. It appears I'm kind of accidentally learning Russian. I cleaned out the 2006 files and discovered there were also 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002 files in the cabinet--which explains why it was rather full. Then I made new 2007 folders, and labeled the monthly ones in English, Russian, and Farsi. :-D

The Russian for "hedgehog" is "yozh," and it's spelled with two letters, an e with two dots above and a zhe, which looks like a snowflake. We also discussed another letter, which is either a lambda on a lampstand or else a virus; office opinion varied. The hedgehog reminded me irresistibly of Pride and Prejudice quotes.

To Mr. Darcy: “Don’t just put her in the chair; be gentle. Do it kind of gingerly, like picking up a hedgehog.” Ben
“Girls are not hedgehogs. It makes us sound prickly.” Lisa
“Have you ever seen inside a hedgehog’s mouth?” Ben
We had not.
“Hedgehogs are really cute until they open their mouths and then they’re kind of scary. You remember the ROUSes? They don’t really have mouths like that, but hedgehogs do.” Ben
“You don’t tread on hedgehogs.” Hebda
“Granted, but..” Ben 3-2-06

Right before lunch, Lisa (not Thacia) and I amused ourselves with online translators. I found a whole lot, but it took three tries to find one that could translate "hedgehog" into Russian. There was one that tried to tell us "como esta" meant something very unlikely, I can't remember what. That, naturally, led to Latin and the immortal cookies of the previous post.

I came across one of my office-notes, covered with phone numbers and names and dates and Celtic knots and scraps of foreign characters, and found this word: "YE-sharitzeh." I can't remember what it means, why I wrote it down, or even what language it is. I thought it was probably Farsi, but then I was pretty sure it looked Russian. Being inconveniently American, I'd written it out phonetically in English letters, so the script doesn't even help identify the thing. Upon consideration, it might be Polish.

I think I'll go eat a cookie.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crustulum immortale

I don't know if you remember freshman year, when we were down in Town Hall practicing for our Latin final by declining immortal cookies.

Well, today Lisa remarked that immortal cookies would be the sort of thing a heavenly host would serve. ;-) She blames the coffee and too much Fox TV.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yesterday's quote of the day

"Your bamboo looks like it's going to take over the world."

--The sister (who is HOME!!!)

Quote of the day

"After Christmas I'm going to clean out my closets because they're starting to look like Dillard's."


I know how she feels!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Certus sum

Certus sum enim
quia neque mors
neque vita
neque angeli
neque principatus
neque instantia
neque futura
neque fortitudines
neque altitudo
neque profundum
neque creatura alia
poterit nos separare a caritate Dei quae est in Christo Iesu Domino nostro.

Romans 8:38-39, Vulgate

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Of scissors and paper

My December office project has been making paper snowflakes. We tape them up on the windows, door, cabinets--everywhere relevant. I even made icicles drip off the laundry sign. It's a beautiful thing.

Celtic knotwork and paper snowflakes, it seemed to me, would be particularly nice together. Therefore, for most of December, I've been trying to transfer the basic patterns. It's much harder than I supposed.

My first few attempts taught me the difference between paper and holes. It's not enough for the hole to be in the right place; in order for the paper to look like a thread, the hole has to have the right shape.

Then I discovered that the angles of the threads have to be continuous. They can and must curve, but if you have a "thread" heading down and at the fold it starts randomly angling back up like a mirrored beam of light, well, that sort of kills your design.

I made a few pretty and vaguely Celtic ones; or like a Gothic rose window, rather, one was. I also made one that looked like six aliens joined at the ears and holding hands.

My current problem is getting the pattern of threads to work out. I really thought I had it last night, and I was so excited. I even put these awesome hound-heads at the six points. But then I noticed that instead of having four intertwining threads, I actually had two pairs of parallel threads. Bummer, dude.

Today I've been working on straight pieces of paper, trying to get the pattern right. There was an odd one today that had two patterns going: the middles were like four exactly-offset sine waves, and the folds reverted to the pairs-of-parallel threads.

Geometry has never been one of my great skills. But I will make Celtic-knot snowflakes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More on cell phones

I found a blog by an associate professor of philosophy/psychology who discusses, in this post, a curious effect of cell phones. Given the more-or-less ongoing cell phone debate from Firinteinne's blog, I thought y'all'd be interested. So: what think you?

Song of the Day

We of the office declared today's song to be "Drill, Ye, Tarriers, Drill." Not, actually, because of the drilling, but because I wanted sugar in my tay.

Every morning about seven o'clock
There were twenty tarriers drilling at the rock
The boss comes along and he says, "Keep still
And bear down heavy on the cast iron drill."

And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Drill, ye tarriers, drill
For it's work all day for the sugar in your tay
Down beyond the railway
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
And blast, and fire.

The boss was a fine man down to the ground
And he married a lady six feet 'round
She baked good bread and she baked it well
But she baked it harder than the hobs of Hell.

The foreman's name was John McCann
He cert'ly was a blamed mean man.
Last week a premature blast went off
And a mile in the air went big Jim Goff.

And when next payday came around
Jim Goff a dollar short was found
When he asked, "What for?" came this reply
"You were docked for the time you were up in the sky."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why the moon?

Here's another article, asking why, exactly, we all want to go to the moon.

Because we can, and it's cool, I say. Countries have been funding exploration a long time. But I guess statesmen want more impressive answers.

Quote of the day

"I see you do not favor the gangly youth."

--the good doctor, observing my reaction to a visiting spider

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If one can understand, one should thank God

There is nothing like reading a medieval scholastic to remind yourself just how contemporary you really are. For instance, today our sermon was on the Incarnation. (An excellent sermon—really, really good—worked in Athanasius and the Nicaean Creed and the Council of Chalcedon—I highly recommend clicking on the Crossroads link to the right and downloading it ASAP, if you were not so fortunate as to have heard it live.:-) ) So I was motivated to come home, start a fire in the fireplace, and curl up with my cat and Anselm of Canterbury's On the Incarnation of the Word.

This work is a sort of open letter to Pope Urban II, refuting the claims of one Roscelin of Compeigne who thought that the Father and Spirit must have been incarnated too. He started out rather oddly, to my way of thinking.
“And I ask this lest anyone should think that I have been presumptuous, as if I should think that the strength of the Christian faith needs the help of my defense. Indeed, if I, a despicable little man, were to attempt to write anything to so many holy and wise persons existing everywhere in order to strengthen the foundation of the Christian faith, as if the faith should need my defense, I could of course be judged presumptuous and be perceived as someone to be laughed at.”
You know, perhaps it is rather arrogant of us, but I have yet to read in any modern work of apologetics an apology for writing it! Is it not cool to find someone who thinks of Christianity as so firm, so unshakeable, that intellectual defense is almost superfluous? We in the culture wars (or the edges of them, anyhow) tend to forget that not everyone has been in such an intellectual free-for-all as we are.
“And before I discuss the question, I shall make a prefatory comment. I do so to curb the presumption of those who, since they are unable to understand intellectually the things the Christian faith professes, and with foolish pride
think that there cannot in any way be things that they cannot understand, with unspeakable rashness dare to argue against such things rather than with humble wisdom admit their possibility....If one can understand, one should thank God; if one cannot, one should bow one's head in veneration rather than sound off trumpets.”

An energetic rebuke to ecclesiastical troublemakers, who in their self-confidence apparently always have and always will make nuisances of themselves. Understanding is a gift from God, as he rightly points out, and not the inviolable birthright of man, as per the high Modernists and Rationalists and Humanists.

“For some beginners, presuming to rise to the loftiest questions about faith, typically roduce trumpets, as it were, of knowledge trusting in itself. They do not know that ersons think they know something, they do not yet know, before they have spiritual wings through solidity of faith, how they should know it. ...'Unless you have believed, you will not understand,' [Isaiah 7:9]. “...And when [Paul] was instructing Timothy to serve 'as a good soldier' [I Tim 1:18], he added, 'having faith and a good conscience. But some, rejecting these things, have made a shipwreck of their faith' [I Tim 1: 19]. Therefore, no one should rashly plunge into the complex questions about God unless the person first have a solid faith with the precious weight of character and wisdom, unless a persistent falsity ensnare the person who runs with a careless levity through many little diverting sophisms.”

Ayup. Yup. Free will debate, right there. Somebody...maybe Augustine...or was it Socrates? or Cicero? Don't think it was Socrates, actually, since he was before Aristotelian logic...was concerned about the effects of teaching logic to students too immature to deal with it, who then use it like a lunatic with a sword, chopping up useful things with their new toy.

“And all should be warned to approach questions concerning the sacred text of Scripture carefully. Therefore, those contemporary logicians (rather, those heretical logicians) who consider universal essences to be merely vocal emanations, and who can understand colors only as material substances, and human wisdom only as the soul, should be altogether brushed aside from discussion of spiritual questions. Indeed, the power of reason in their souls, which ought to be the ruler and judge of everything in human beings, is so wrapped up in material fancies that they cannot extricate themselves from the fancies.”

Look! There's nothing new under the sun! I think that denial of universal essences might be an early form of postmodernism and the colors a version of materialism. :-) I'm not sure what he's talking about with the human wisdom only being the soul, but I'm getting a great mental image of medieval logicians getting hopelessly cocooned in sheer rainbow-embroidered cloth, kind of like Delenn in B5. :-)

More seriously, I really like Anselm's emphasis on approaching the Scriptures rightly and reverently. One should submit oneself to them and try to understand them rightly and humbly. They are, after all, true and sufficient for life and godliness. But he might go a bit far. If you think certain people are unfit to understand Scripture—there you have a problem. Some people indisputably are blinded and will use them wrongly, but are we then to judge who can and cannot access them? Do we deny learning to people because they don't have the faith, or do we give people as much truth as we can in the hopes it will increase their faith? The Spirit changes the heart; all we can do is be faithful to proclaim the truth. “How can they believe if they have not heard?”

I've got to go with the Reformers here. If you give the people the Bible, some of them will use it wrongly, and heresies will pop up. But isn't God willing to risk that? How can we do less? I'm modern enough to want learning to be available to anyone willing to chase it, but medieval enough to set up guidelines, normative ways to go about it. I consider this blog post a case in point. I, a mere receptionist in the mountains of New Mexico and a girl at that, am reading one of the greater thinkers to come out of Christendom—and arguing with him!

So how do we curb this arrogance leading to heresy, if not by declaring some people unfit to read Scripture? Are we doomed to endless freshmen classes ignorantly wrangling over foreknowledge, and a few veering into Open Theism? Anselm argued that dumping the hard questions on people without the faith to deal with them actually led them, the people, to shipwreck their faith. Is our way, then, a failure of love toward our weaker brothers?

Does, therefore, “Credo ut intellegam”-- “I believe so I might understand”--actually limit knowledge, or does it just set up one as ontologically prior to the other in the learning process? I think it's a true saying, but I don't think I want to take it where Anselm did.

“I believe, Lord; increase my faith!” If one can understand, one should thank God.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Nativity Story

Lewis, I think it was, distinguished between a story you follow to find out what happens and a story you follow so as to attend to the telling. And he considered the second the higher form-- “There is hope for a man who has not read Bosworth; but what about the man who 'has read' Bosworth, meaning he thinks he does not need to read him again?”

“The Nativity Story” tells a story we know the ending of. But I liked the telling. It was very Middle-Eastern. The characters mostly spoke English, but they had strong accents. (I kept hoping a Roman soldier would burst out into Latin. I don't think any ever did, but the soundtrack was partly in Latin. Christus natus est.) The accents helped a lot in making the lines more believable. No modern American (except a few lit majors) goes around saying “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” but Elizabeth did, and one could believe she really said it. Many of the lines were taken directly from the Christmas story. I appreciated that.

All the characters, really, fit with appearance and lines and personalities. Mary started out decently pretty but not supernaturally gorgeous, but she became more beautiful as the movie progressed. By the time they reached the stable, one admired her very deeply. Joseph, I think, is a tough one to characterize. This movie left me really liking him. Besides being a good and decent man, he even showed some sparks and remnants of wit at times. The wise men, too, made me laugh. They came, the traditional three, with their traditional names and nationalities. And (yay!) they rode camels and brought gifts.

How can it be that God used three pagan stargazers to worship at the coming of His Son? How is it that the heavens themselves told forth His advent and those who could read the signs understood? And what a mystery, a difficulty, to choose an unmarried girl for a mother! All things—a tax scheme, Zechariah's turn to sacrifice in the Holy of Holies, the rise of empires and paranoid rulers and the habits of shepherds—came together at that time, that place, and in the fullness of time God was born of a virgin.

This story brings peace and a sword. There is the sound of weeping in Ramah, of Rachel weeping for her children, and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more. Many died. The story starts with death; the soldiers slay the innocents and then we jump back in time to the coming of John the Baptist.

I'm not sure what was up with the angels. The Christmas story being what it is, and angels being a major plot element, the filmmakers chose to include them. They came; not Homeric or, worse still, Miltonic creatures in mail and walking around with the other characters as if they had a perfect right to be there, but they came. Whenever possible, they were elided and their messages told secondhand. A bird was the sign of their presence. When Gabriel himself did get screen time, it was usually during the daylight, which is kind of odd. But he was male and moderately awe-inspiring and, like the other characters, Middle-Eastern, and the hem of his robe melted into the background. We culturally don't quite know what to do with the supernatural in novels or films, and at least he was there, so I rather approved.

I'm not sure if it's actually a great movie. It was done well (it was not incompetent or dorky) and faithfully, and it proved that Sayers was right and “the dogma is the drama.” It avoided all those tiresome apocryphal subplots, like Peter's king-angst in the Narnia movie. It did a really good job getting you to admire Mary and Joseph. But I wonder if it's more of an aid to devotion than a great piece of art per se—like hymns. Maybe it is. Some of you who are better at actually analyzing movies will have to weigh in on this one.

But for all that, it made the Nativity story come alive. I cried in the first thirty seconds and earnestly sang carols all the way home and for a good hour thereafter. As someone once wrote in an entirely different context:

“It communicates truth, and does it effectively, if perhaps not brilliantly. ...When poetry that my instincts tell me is mediocre is most of the way towards provoking tears of joy, it’s just real tough to be very hard on it.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Okay, it's official.

I have the coolest office in the world. We got bored this evening about 4:50, waiting for our last two patients. So we pulled up Much Ado online (non-dial-up connections are beautiful things) and read the good bits aloud. I got to be Beatrice...and Verges...and Beatrice some more. And a little Leonato.

I also got to talk about Eden Troupe costumes. :-D Do you remember Dogberry and Verges' capes? The long one that belonged to Creon and the little short one from what's-his-name in Antigone? A glorious thing. And then there were those splendidly reused vests from Don John and Don Pedro/Macbeth/the poets and musicians. And the boots...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Word of wisdom of the day

"If you're fly fishing, and the lure bounces, it's too cold."

--the good doctor

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Identity crisis

A patient just walked in, looked at me, and said, "You're not C---." To which I immediately replied that I was.

So now who's having my identity crisis??

To quote Lord Emsworth: "What? What? What?"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Modernity in a nutshell

The great difference between astronomers and philosophers since Copernicus and Descartes is that they had precisely the opposite idea: the astronomer has cried in desperation, “I'm not the center of the universe!” while the philosopher has cried in desperation, “I am the center of the universe!” Perhaps the only thing these great Fathers of Modernity really have in common is despair.

--Steve Fuhry,

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Quote of the day

"I feel like a noodle-snagger." Mom

Me too!