December 29, 2009

Review: Avatar

Well, the hype is true. You really should see this movie, and you should see it in 3D as the director intended. It is a visceral, visual feast that should not be missed.

James Cameron has made his reputation on movies that overwhelm visually. He knows how he wants his scenes to look, and if the technology doesn’t exist to give him exactly what he wants, he invents it. He owns patents from technology he created each time in order to make “The Abyss,” “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and now “Avatar.”

The one caveat I have is the same complaint I had for “Titanic:” Cameron really needs to let someone else do the writing. In the disaster flick, I found young Rose an irritating shrew and the romance a side plot to the real story. I can say, though, that I agree with a critic’s assertion that Cameron’s greatest achievement in “Titanic” was making us sorry to see Leo DiCaprio die.

“Terminator” appeared to be his greatest writing achievement until a lawsuit revealed that Cameron borrowed heavily from Harlan Ellison’s writing on episodes of “Outer Limits.” In “Avatar,” my husband said he recognized plot elements from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Even though I haven’t read them, the plot remains predictable. There are no surprises in the story line; but like in all the movies mentioned, it’s a forgivable weakness that is compensated by visual splendor. Cameron’s ability to make real the images of his mind’s eye combined with another writer’s fine, complex characterization and plot would make the masterpiece he has yet to create.

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas morning and I'm the only one up. It's a peaceful moment before the bedlam of gifts, food, packing, and travel. (We're headed to my brother's house in St. Louis for a few days.)

I'd like to take this quiet moment to wish everyone here a Merry Christmas. Of the gifts that I will open today, the best ones are the ones I already have: my loved ones and my friends. I count each of you among them. Have a wonderful day, however you choose to spend it. Take care of yourselves and take care of just one more person in some small way this holiday season. Let's show everyone what it really means to have a happy holiday.

Image courtesy of

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

I’m in my office and the building is quiet, the down time after the children’s service and before the youth candlelight service. With help from volunteers and staff, the costumes have been put away for another year and the detritus of supplies and papers have been sorted and filed.

This year’s attendance by young families was the highest ever: about a thousand filled the sanctuary and choir loft. As usual, behind the scenes was happy chaos as we wrangled a cast of seventy children, most of whom were under the age of six. This event has the highest preparation to presentation ratio of all we do the rest of the year: eight weeks of prep, employing at least thirty adult volunteers, for twenty minutes of worship.

But you should see the faces on the children. The ones in the cast are excited to be a part, whether sheep, shepherd, angel or one of the “big” roles. The children in the pews have interactive baggies stuffed with items to use as instructed through the service, and they are awestruck as other children in fleece, togas, smocks and robes take their places in forming a tableau on the stage. This is the stuff of memories for all the little ones, cast and congregation. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

At one point our new pastor had her young son, decked out in fleece and topped with two little white ears, tugging on her sweater as she read scripture. The shepherds and sheep wandered about restlessly as the story unfolded. Anxious parents fruitlessly struggled to herd everyone back to their places. Joseph got tired of standing and decided to kneel for a while. It was glorious childhood in full bloom.

On the eve of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I am renewed in my hope that these children will grow up in this church knowing that God loves them exactly as they are. It is inevitable as the dawn: God’s love will prevail.

December 20, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Here's this week's batch of random tunes from my iPod:

1. Court Of The Crimson King / King Crimson
2. Barber: Andromache’s Farewell, Op. 39 / Martina Arroyo; Thomas Schippers
3. Brighter Than Sunshine / Aqualung
4. Oh Lamour / Erasure
5. Benoit Dutras / Brian Eno & David Byrne
6. To The Wild Country / John Denver
7. The Name Of The Game / ABBA

December 17, 2009

Quiet Desperation

Yesterday I was having a quiet lunch at a favorite pub amid the constant chaotic activity that December brings. The restaurant was almost empty in the mid-afternoon, and it was lovely. I go there every Wednesday to have respite, and the staff is always welcoming. I ordered “the usual” and sat to read.

A little while into my meal, a middle-aged gay couple entered the dining room. The smaller man moved very slowly, using a cane. The larger man was scolding him at length for applying for a job that might—might—lead to too many hours away from home. The smaller man said nothing, looking down at the floor.

They sat down at the booth in front of me. I tried to continue my reading, but the one-sided conversation was sent my direction in a tone that was difficult to ignore. As my eyes glazed for lack of concentration, I heard Large engage in a nonstop barrage, berating Small for inferred slights, insulting his intelligence and appearance, scolding him for perceived inadequacies, and even criticizing him for acts that Large only anticipated might happen. Small’s responses were brief, timid and only on demand.

Witnessing this emotional cruelty was too much for me. I think Small might want that job to get away from Large. He sat and took it as the abuse rained down on him nonstop. I couldn’t stay. If I did, I’d have given Large an earful and told Small to get out as soon as he could. It took everything I had to keep my mouth shut.

I’ve seen two others in past weeks bearing bruises that were clearly the result of violence. (One had the sense to call the police and have the offender arrested; he told me all about it. The other raised his hand to try to cover his black eye, but there were too many bruises to hide.) I am shocked and outraged whenever I see this, and yet I know the solution lies in getting the victim of abuse to believe it is not acceptable. Abuse is a deal-breaker, whether physical or emotional.

These men are living lives of quiet desperation. Do they have somewhere to turn, as do women? Is there a network of help for male victims of abuse? Is there a heightened sense of shame because of cultural expectations? If there isn’t someone telling them how to escape the cycle of violence, they might never know freedom from fear.

December 16, 2009

Pit Stop

Just checking in briefly, as I have to take the classroom final for scuba diving in 90 minutes. But I wanted to put a plug in to those who actually have time to watch TV this month. Tonight on NBC at 8:00 Eastern, "The Sing Off" will offer an a capella group that has ties to the blogdom. Fellow blogger David's cousin Daniel is the lead singer for the group from southern California, appropriately dubbed The SoCals. If you're home tonight, check it out. And if you think that The SoCals should stick around for the next round of competition, please vote for them. David is so proud of his cousin, and I'd love to see Daniel go to the top.

Verbatim: Travel Advice

Ben is about to join Abe in California for a few days. It's his first flight alone, but he's pretty blasé about the whole thing. Abe has some advice.

Dec. 15, 2009 11:37 PM
Better set two alarms. Need to be at airport at 10:15 to be able to park and get Ben taken care of. Remember to give him cash. Tell him it is for the trip.

Dec. 15, 2009 11:38 PM
Love, Abe

Dec. 15, 2009 11:41 PM
He wants to be awakened at 7 so he can lie in bed for at least a half hour. Wait 'til you see his suitcase; nothing is folded. :)
Good night. Mwah

Dec. 15, 2009 11:49 PM
No need to leave that early, is there? Better check flight. Maybe it is 11:30 departure. Cannot remember. If so arrive at airport by 10. No later. Leave house by 9. Drop off

Dec. 15, 2009 11:51 PM
Drop off car. Leave auto repair by 9:15. He could be awakened at 8. Set two alarms for you in case.
Thx. Love, Abe

Dec. 15, 2009 11:54 PM
We're fine. Thank you. Go to bed. :)

Dec. 15, 2009 11:55 PM

December 13, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

So busy! 'Tis the season. I've hardly had time to think. But I do have time for some random music from my iPod. And none of it is Christmas music.

1. Neon Bible / The Arcade Fire
2. True Colors / Cyndi Lauper
3. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman / Aretha Franklin
4. Walk Away Renee / The Four Tops
5. A Well Respected Man / The Kinks
6. What You Whispered / David Wilcox
7. The Worst Day Since Yesterday / Flogging Molly

December 8, 2009

Blue Christmas

I had to back up all of my data on my MacBook Pro and reinstall my old operating system, Leopard. Why? Because I broke my own rule against installing any program that ends in .0. I fell under the spell of Snow Leopard.

The result? It refused to recognize my printer driver. The rogue driver I found would only print text and only in color. Not good for someone who relies on graphics in her job. Also, the cursor took on a life of its own, zooming randomly all over the screen. The desktop got poltergeists, which arbitrarily shrank my icons and moved them around to wherever they liked. Commands in Appleworks—a native Apple program!—did not work. Working on my laptop was like dealing with a recalcitrant teenager. Enough.

Okay. I finally found everything I needed to execute the backup (another long story). Done. Reinstall Leopard: done—wait. The "save personal settings" box was ghosted. It wouldn't let me click it. So now I'm spending hours resetting preferences and  reinstalling all of my bookmarks, which I copied and pasted one by one into a Word doc in November. (I'm learning.)

I suggest to Mac owners that you avoid the Snow until spring at least. Let them work the bugs out.


On Sunday afternoon, when the work day was over, my colleague Alice and I were winding down and I decided to open up iTunes and play a little music.

"I have a playlist of Christmas music. Let me—OH. MY. GOSH. There are FIVE FILES* in here. WHERE ARE THE OTHER TWO THOUSAND?!"

I turned to see Alice quietly climbing under her desk.

"What are you doing?"

"I want to avoid any flying missiles," she called out from under.

After reassurances from me, she climbed back out. She has been the greatest source of laughter for me, and that is important. If you can't have fun, what's the point? She agrees.

It seems that the joy has gone out of the job for her (coordinator of church school volunteers), and she has turned in her resignation. She will finish out the year on Sunday mornings and then I will be alone in the office until we find a replacement. It is a stressful job, making sure that all volunteer posts are filled each Sunday. We need over 30 people every Sunday on hand for the children.

Alice will still be here, as the workroom assistant. She's good, she's fast, she's smart. But she's going to be sorely missed on Sunday mornings, for her laughter and wit and ability to think on her feet when something goes wrong. (And that happens on more Sunday mornings than not. Nature of the beast.)

I know she'll be happier and less stressed. But I miss her already.


Oh yeah. The computer. I have the songs backed up too. It won't accept them from my iPod. I'm hoping I can drag them from the backup hard drive and sneak them in the back door. I will have to steel myself for the job. But the cursor works! I can print graphics! Appleworks is cooperating! My teenage computer is back to happy compliance. For now.

*The five files it saw fit to save? Three Veggietales tunes (for the children) and two sermons, one of which was arbitrarily assigned a genre: "Blues." I sent a screen shot to my pastor.

December 5, 2009

Just Another Day In Alaska

My younger sister lives in Haines, Alaska, at the northern end of the Inside Passage. Cruise ships stop in their harbor during the summer. Everywhere you turn, there are mountains and glaciers. It's the home of whales, moose, ravens, grizzly bears (that are properly called "brown bears" in southern Alaska), and thousands of bald eagles. Oh, and about 2000 people.

She posted these pictures last week.

Haines harbor

Moose calf running after mother

December 1, 2009

Red Ribbon

Today is World AIDS Day. I have been looking for something special to say about this day, but I don’t have the words. Just about every day is AIDS Day for me. I have friends who are living with HIV and I see them almost every Wednesday at the Damien Center. Once in a while they’re too sick to do their volunteer work. But most often they arrive with big grins and tight hugs, chatting about this and that as they zip past my desk.

I take the calls. Most are asking for someone, and usually I can connect them. Some want information and an appointment for a test. I am careful to make it easy to come in, because just picking up that phone to call could have taken them weeks.

Last week, someone called to talk. He sounded anxious and confessed to me that he was “new to all this” and had just “become active” a couple of months ago.

“Sweetheart, do you need to be tested?”

“Are you someone I can talk to?” he asked. He sounded near tears.

Oh God. “Yes, I am, but I’m just the receptionist. Let me find you someone better qualified.”

I turned to a nearby employee quietly to ask where to refer the call, and he took the phone. But the caller had hung up.

The torrent of “what ifs” and “should haves” is beginning to subside. I pray for the man who called, that he found someone to talk to. I am well aware of what this season brings to those vulnerable people who feel they have no one.

“Awareness” calls for so many things. On this day, I would ask you to be aware of those living with HIV. Bring it up in conversation so that our culture is no longer one of shame. I believe awareness can bring about a culture of compassion, so that picking up the phone is not nearly so hard.