Monthly Archives: December 2010

My Year in Review (Everything Except Movies)

Thoughts on a year of books, TV, music and sundries

All the detritus of my life (not a metaphor)

Well, that was my intention, anyway.  I find myself in the middle of debris cleanup, and it’s left me too exhausted for clever remarks about the things I enjoyed this year.  Thank goodness I wrote about movies before the weariness hit.  On Monday we’ll be returning to homeschooling after our Christmas break, so I’m feeling a certain pressure to be ready, organized, to at least know where the school books are.  Do other people’s homes slide into chaos as easily as mine does?  Oh, it makes me crazy.  But a New Year is coming tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll get it all under control in 2011.  Baseless optimism is my drug of choice.  That and caffeine.

So you get the ragged scraps of my favorites from 2011, and a couple of observations about the coming year.  Firstly, let’s talk about books. I read all of the time – although I will confess that browsing in my Google Reader has put a dent into how many actual, old-timey books I’ve read this past year.  Still, I’ve finished a lot of books.  But most of them were from the library and because I don’t have a system to keep track of what I’ve read, I’ve already forgotten about them.  I’ve got a few recommendations, but only a very few.  I don’t have the energy to describe them right now, but trust me, they’re good.

1)  Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

2)  After You Believe:  Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright

3)  My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJJesuit's Guide cover photo courtesy of

4)  The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything:  A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ

* You’ll notice that I’m on a bit of a James Martin kick.  If you’ve read anything by him you’ll understand why.

5)  Why Jesus? by William Willimon

I Am Now a Whovian

Dr. Who photo courtesy mentalfloss.comYep, Baph convinced me to watch “Dr. Who” with him and got me hooked.    We are in the David Tennant (and Donna) portion of the series, and I refuse to think about the changes that are coming.

The Student Becomes the Master

It seems like only yesterday that I was sharing my music with our oldest son:  Queen, REM, the Talking Heads.  These days he’s influencing the music I listen to by reintroducing me to bands I’ve ignored for too long:  the Pixies, the Cure, the Smiths, and above all, Radiohead.  It’s a weird transition we’re going through, but I’m impressed with my son’s taste in music.

And now it’s New Year’s Eve.

I suspect 2011 is going to be another year of transitions for me.  I’m trying to navigate new professional and educational goals while not shortchanging my absolute commitments to my family.  The path of least resistance is to keep everything basically the same, remodel my rut slightly, make it a bit more livable.  But I think that God may be calling me to get out of it all together.  My friend Pamela introduced me to term “discernment process” and I’ve been clinging to it for the past few months.  I’m looking for signs of what Tielhard de Chardin called “the slow work of God” (though I won’t complain if He wants to work quickly, as well!).  I pray that I see and respond to those signs in the coming year – and I pray the same for you.

Happy New Year!

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My Year in Review (Film Edition)

Despicable Me

Critics and commentators are posting their end of the year “best of” and “worst of” lists in various fields, so I’ll be joining the fray today.  I have more to say about movies than anything else (big surprise), so I’ll deal with everything else in a separate post.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Despicable Me I went expecting that my kids would be entertained, and I would enjoy the popcorn.  But this turned out to be a genuinely funny, charming story.  And we are all still saying “What????” just like the minions.

Biggest Letdown:   Dinner for Schmucks I went into this one with modest expectations, too, and they turned out to be far too high.  I saw “Dinner for Schmucks” with a friend, and I felt guilty for inviting her.

Best Laugh:   The Other Guys I saw this not long after “Dinner for Schmucks” and laughed more in the first 10 minutes of “The Other Guys” than I did in all of “Dinner for Schmucks”.

Best Cry:   Toy Story 3 I cried during the movie.  I cried after the movie.  I cried the next day when I thought about the movie.  And I cried the entire time I wrote this blog post about the movie.

Best Scare:   TIE –   The House of the Devil Saw this at Cornerstone and even in a crowded tent the suspense almost killed me.  There was also a moment when the entire crowd reacted in shock at the same moment.  I love poster courtesy

The Crazies I thought this was a good horror movie all the way around, but it ties for “best scare” for one reason:  the car wash.

Best Worst Movie:   Troll 2 Yes, I finally saw it, and it was just as bad as advertised.

Best Documentary:   Best Worst Movie The documentary about “Troll 2”, which we saw at Cornerstone, turned out to be as hysterical as expected, but also thought-provoking and touching.

Riki-Oh, He's so fine

Best Shared Movie-Watching ExperienceRiki-Oh:  The Story of Ricky Saw this one at Cornerstone, too, and the experience of watching perhaps the most bizarre martial arts movie ever made with that particular group of people was priceless.

Best Date Movie for Married Couples:   Date Night Not a masterpiece, but Steve Carrell and Tina Fey were consistently funny and the movie leaves you feeling good about being married.  Also, between his roles in this movie and “The Other Guys”, Mark Wahlberg earned my respect this year.  He’s a solid comic actor.

Best Movie That Never Came to Our TheaterIn the Loop It came out in 2009, but never hit the Showplace 12.  I finallyin the loop poster courtesy saw it on Netflix this past spring and enjoyed it immensely.  The inside view of political machinations is almost as dark and absurd as “Dr. Strangelove”.  And yet it all seems so plausible….

Movies That Were as Good as Their Buzz: The Kids Are Alright The performances were amazingly good and the speech that Julianne Moore’s character gives about marriage is as true as anything in film this year.

The Social Network By the time we saw  it I’d heard the arguments about the film’s historical inaccuracies.   Consequently, I didn’t go in thinking I’d see what really happened or what Mark Zuckerberg is really like.  As a piece of fiction, I thought it was a great movie and I stand by the comparisons that I made on Facebook  between “The Social Network” and “Citizen Kane” and “Othello”.  I’m not talking about film technique, people.  I’m talking about character arcs.

Best Overall, Numero Uno, Favorite Movie of the Year: Toy Story 3 How can you top a sequel which lives up to parts one and two, is faithful to the characters we’ve grown to love, is enchanting from beginning to end – for both children and adults, and grapples with the heaviest questions that weigh on the human heart.  It’s going to be a classic.

A Partial List of 2010 Releases I’m Still Hoping to See

1) The Secret of Kells

2) Winter’s Bone

3) Greenberg

4) Get Low

5) Never Let Me Go

6) Megamind

7) Mother and Child

8 ) True Grit

9) Catfish

10) The Fighter


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A Difficult Year Makes for a Powerful Advent

advent candles courtesy of missiodei-thejourney.comThis has been a difficult year for me.  Not in external ways, mind you.  I’ve been blessed with new opportunities, good health and wonderful friends.  God has provided for us financially, and the church has been graced with a hardworking, gifted pastor after a long period of instability.  But in some deeper places of my life, places I won’t necessarily dig into at a blog called “only slightly unhinged”, things have been difficult.  I was a little ambivalent about the approach of the holidays for that very reason.  So often at Christmas time we reflect on and celebrate what a wonderful year it’s been.  As we passed Thanksgiving I worried that my Advent/Christmas season would be ruined by….well, the distinct absence of jolliness in my spirit.

But can I tell you something strange?  This has been the most meaningful Advent season I’ve experienced in years.  Somehow the emotional achiness of recent months has been transformed into a sweet, lovely longing for the Messiah.  The prayers I might have rushed through in another year – prayers for His deliverance, His aid, His light – has been prayed with real urgency.  Today, as I prayed the last of the “O Antiphons” prayers to “Emmanuel, Desire of the Nations”, I truly knew that desire in my own heart.

In some Advent seasons I’ve been very intentional about fighting the consumerist trappings of the holidays.  You can ask the friends and family who’ve been harangued by me over how much the average family spends at Christmas.  In other years I’ve been agitated about the proper stance to take on Santa Claus when talking to our children.  This year I haven’t really had the emotional energy for either of those fights.  And yet, in my depleted state, the Messiah has come close.  Jesus often seems to draw up alongside the poor in spirit.  When we’re at the end of our campaigns, when we’re too tired to go change the world for Him, when we’re feeling disappointed in ourselves yet again – suddenly we find that God is with us.  And I wouldn’t trade that realization for anything, even though it comes in my weakness.

O Emmanuel, Desire of the Nations, Savior of all peoples.  Come and live with your people, Lord our God.  Amen.

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On the (Re)naming of my children

might have found some good ideas in here....

I’ve noticed a trend amongst certain bloggers of using pseudonyms for family members.  The pseudonyms often communicate something charming about those to whom they are applied:  Little Camper, Sweet Mama, the Farmer, etc.  Cute, right?  Now, I don’t have any privacy concerns motivating me to use online nicknames.  We’re already out there at various places on the internet.  If someone wants to know the names of my children they’re not exactly going to need security clearance from the FBI to find them.  The idea of using pseudonyms sounded like fun, though – and all the more so if I let the kids choose the names for themselves.  It would be a little shared whimsy between the children and myself.  Well, that may not have been my best idea ever.  Someone always has to be a wise guy, and this time it was the firstborn.   But I’m stubborn and sticking to my plan, so my children are newly renamed.

The problem with the firstborn, age 19, is that he immediately chose as his name “Baphomet, Lord of the Underrealms”.  It wouldn’t have been my selection, but I try to pick my parenting battles carefully.  I told him he could be Baphomet if  I could immediately diminutize it into “Baph”.  That seemed an acceptable compromise and we shook on it.

Baph and his minion, B.Lake

After Baph, it was on to our 15-year-old daughter who opted for Striker.  It’s a reference to her mad soccer skilz, although I think it makes her sound like a a character from a bad action movie.  Our younger son became B.Lake for reasons that make sense to us but that won’t mean a thing to anyone else.   That left the two little girls.  The nine-year-old was easy.  She went with a nickname she’d already been given by friends:  Cheesy.  This is not a critique of her character, but an acknowledgment of her unhealthy obsession with cheese.  Example:  she asked for a lifetime supply of cheese for Christmas, and no one finds that surprising (she’s not getting it, by the way).  Our youngest, at six, has the most straightforward and the sweetest nickname (and, not coincidentally, the only one I lovingly selected).  She is Bee, because she is my little Busy Bee, the child you want at your side when the laundry needs to be folded or the kitchen needs to be cleaned.

Cheesy, Striker and Bee

That’s it; that’s all the kids I have.  It was enjoyable going through the naming process with them, even if my firstborn chose the name of a goat-headed demon.  The upside is that he doesn’t behave like one.

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Last Week My Child Did Something Bad

My son called another boy  on the school bus a name.  I heard about this from my child – let’s call him “Bob” – when he came home from school one day.  “Mom, this kid was calling me ___________.  So I said, ‘Oh, yeah?  Well, you’re _________ because ______________.”

“Oh, no, Bob,” I said (or would have, if his name was really Bob).  “You shouldn’t have done that.  Even if someone calls you a name or makes fun of you, don’t respond in kind.  You can choose to ignore what he is saying to you, and if you just can’t stand it, talk to an adult.  If you call other kids names, you will wind up in trouble and it won’t matter who started it.”

Sure enough, the next morning I received a call from the school principal.  Bob had received a bus referral for calling another child on the bus a name.  “That’s true,” I told the principal “He did it.”  Bob was guilty as charged.  And so, end of story.  Until yesterday when we received our official letter from the school, notifying us in writing of the bus referral.  This is the letter copied to a long list of people and placed in the student’s permanent record.  And this is the exact wording from the letter, explaining Bob’s offense:

“(Bob) was calling other students ________ which caused another student to call him a name.”

Wait.  What?  He caused another student to call him a name?  Is this an example of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy?  Or perhaps we’re not free moral agents and I’ve been lying to my children for all these years?  Every time that I’ve told them that they have the power to walk away from a bully, to not strike back (either verbally or physically) – maybe my entire moral philosophy was built on sand?

Goodness.  How am I supposed to teach my son that his name-calling was not, under any provocation, justified, if the school justifies the behavior of someone calling Bob a name?   Am I nitpicking to have called the school about this?  Possibly, but words matter.  Clearly words matter, since words are what got Bob into trouble in the first place.

Try harder, public school administrators.  Try harder.


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Giving Myself a Christmas Present

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.  Yes, it’s a privilege to be one of the bloggers at Civil Religion and have a (small) established readership that I can tap into at that site.  But where do I go if I want to wax on about that which is not religious in scope?  What if I want to write about the movie I’ve just seen and can’t come up with a good spiritual subtext or Christ-figure to pass it off at C.R.?  What if I want to make fun of share the latest cute story about my children, or rant about politics, or post a video of someone’s pet porcupine?  Don’t knock the pet porcupine video if you never saw it.

I realize I risk creating a sacred/secular divide which goes against everything I hold dear.  All of life is sacred, even if I can’t spot the subtext, and the porcupine is evidence of the glory of God. As are my children.  But it’s tiring sometimes to have to tie it all together.  So I’ll only do that here when it seems organic, to use a horribly overused word.

And speaking of things I hold dear, grammar is not one of them.  I have a degree in English.  It didn’t stick.  I prefer to write the way that I speak, for good and ill, and that sentence fragment in the previous paragraph (“As are my children”) is an example of the disregard I have for rules.  My issues with authority are not limited to grammar, but I’m laying it out there to avoid complaints from those of you who would never abandon a sentence fragment in it’s nakedness, or leave a participle twisting in the wind.  I’m sorry.  Please take me as I am or leave me in peace.

And so I’m giving myself this blog for Christmas.  I’ve been thinking that I’m too busy to do it, that it’s too self-indulgent, that I really need to buckle down and devote myself to, oh, I don’t know – the laundry, maybe?  But what the heck.  Life is short and I want to do this.  I’m slow and clumsy with the technical side of blogging, but I’ll learn as I go.  Onward and upward!



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