Thursday, November 29, 2007

Trendwatch: Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties

While some of my more seriously theologically minded blogging pals are pondering The Big Questions of Advent QG is turning her attention to an aspect of current popular culture: the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.

I learned about this a couple of weeks ago because Portia and Babs are going to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party and were looking for appropriate garb. I didn't have any (because they threw my beloved -80's Christmas sweatshirt with light up twinkly lights out a few years ago), so they went over to their aunt's and ransacked her closet. They concluded that none of her sweaters were really ugly ENOUGH, so now a trip to TJ Maxx and Steinmart is planned for the weekend.

Apparently Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties are all the rage. You can get information about how to have one here. And here's a blog with a plethora of examples for you--but if you're like me you'll be thinking: "some of those aren't THAT ugly." But some of them are. If you live in Texas you've seen plenty of cowboy Santa themed sweaters like the one shown above.

Finally, here's a great timewaster for you. Click on this link and you can make your own virtual ugly Christmas sweater, stick your photo on it and email it to your friends! That's 30 minutes I won't be getting back.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Candy Cane Monday on Wednesday

Presbyterian Gal tagged me for this little meme, which asks what are your five favorite presents, either gotten or given? Sorry it took me a couple of days to get to it, but as you see below, I've had "issues."

1. As a child, I got a new book in the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" series every Christmas for several years. How I loved opening those books and reading them on Christmas afternoon. And re-reading them the next day!

2. As a teenager I got a portable record/tape player that pleased me as much as an IPOD delights my daughters today.

3. It was a great thrill to give my father a mult-record set of the Brahams Requiem when I was a teen. It took me several months to save the money out of my allowance and he was very surprised!

4. El Jefe surprised me a few years ago with a beautiful set of black pearls. So elegant!

5. Last Christmas as we were preparing to buy a recreational home with my in-laws, my brother-in-law gave me a wooden name plaque our future bay house inscribed with the name of my family's original Gulf cottage by the sea. It's in my closet now waiting to adorn the finished product later this spring!

I'll tag Classical Presbyterian, Spooky Rach, Mindy and Denis Hancock (the Reformed Angler).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blue Screen of Death Tuesday

ARRRGGGH! and Razzlefrackzit.

This morning the laptop only displayed the grey Apple logo screen and would go no further. After following the Help directions, using Bab's computer, I managed to progress to the Blue Screen of Death. Swell.

In a panic, I trotted over to the nearby (thankfully) Apple Store to consult the resident Genius. Genius, bedecked in several earrings, became frustrated with the laptop. Not a good sign. Laptop is admitted to Apple Hospital. A couple of hours later, they call me to pick it up.

Good news: it's working again and didn't cost anything to fix thanks to the Apple plan. Bad news: All Data Lost. Silver lining: Gmail archives should have all documents I will need to reconstruct because they all got emailed to somebody. Groan. Yes, I had some backup. But not enough. There's never enough, is there?

And of course today is the day Beatrice got "fixed" and "microchipped" at the Vet clinic. At least she's asleep now. I'm going to put the laptop to sleep for a while because I've had enough for today.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: The Ghost Map

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Stephen Johnson is the story of a pivotal incident in the history of science which made the safe habitation of large urban areas possible, thereby paving the way for modern urban civilization around the world.

I picked the book up because of my interest in British history. The epidemic referenced in the title of the book is a cholera epidemic in London in August of 1854. The "ghost map" of the title was developed by Dr. John Snow by tracing the deaths in the area most affected as he sought to discover the source of the epidemic. Although the prevailing scientific wisdom of the day held that cholera (and other diseases) were transmitted from foul air ( the "miasma" theory), Snow believed that cholera was waterborne.

One of the fascinating themes of the book is the clash between respected scientists of the day who believed the deeply held "miasma" theory, which had ancient origins, and Dr. Snow's empirical findings. The author does a good job of describing why it was so hard for believers in the "miasma" theory to admit it was wrong.

Interestingly, it was the collaboration of Dr. Snow with Rev. Henry Whitehead, the young minister of the parish where the epidemic raged that summer, which produced enough evidence to convince the authorities that the epidemic was being spread by tainted water from a particular well rather than from polluted air. Rev. Whitehead, devastated by the loss of life among his congregation, assisted Snow's investigations using the good relationships he had built with people in the area to contribute the missing data Snow needed to make his theory incontrovertible.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is at the end when Johnson traces the development of modern cities to the investigations and methods used by Snow and Whitehead back in 1854. Certainly the rise of today's highly urbanized culture in many parts of the world would not be possible without the sanitation and public health measures that we take for granted.

The book is written like a novel and so is easy for the non-scientific types like yours truly to follow. I was hooked on it within the first few pages as the working class mom tosses the contents of her sick infant's diaper into the well in her neighborhood. After finishing it, I find myself wondering if there is a generally accepted scientific theory today that may be shown to be as false as the miasma theory in the future. Since Stephen Johnson also wrote Everything Bad is Good for You, I think he probably intended the reader of this book to ask that question!

Babs is reading The Ghost Map now, so we'll be able to talk about that question, and others, when she's finished.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Friday Five

Here's the post-Thanksgiving Friday Five meme from the RevGals. Think I'll play today.

1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?

We had 13 for dinner chez QG, including one toddler and two puppies. It was great! DK and Babs made apple cake, apple streusel bars, pecan pie with chocolate chips and Heath bar chips, pumpkin pie and chocolate brownie pie. Can you say sugar overload?

2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?

We had TWO kinds of turkey: roast turkey slathered with butter and herbs d'provance and a heavenly-scented smoked turkey from Tyler, Texas. We also had TWO kinds of dressing: cornbread and traditional bread stuffing, and TWO kinds of potatoes: mashed with cheese and sweet potato casserole with coconut and pecans. Guess our Thanksgiving theme is TWO of everything!

3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?

Most importantly, we invite someone who might be alone to join us. This year our neighbors brought their nephew who is new in town. I also always use my great-grandmother's gold-rimmed plates that she brought over from Scotland on Thanksgiving.

4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?

QG refuses to shop on Black Friday. In fact, QG is a dedicated online shopper who eagerly anticipates Cyber Monday. However, I've already done some online shopping in advance and am feeling very smug.

5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?

Not until December. Give me a break!!! It's not even Advent yet. Stuffing my fingers in my ears now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beatrice Blogs

Woof! Woof!

Mom said I could blog today and tell you that Portia and DK adopted my sister, Olivia, over the weekend. Here's her picture!

Portia says the neighbors asked her if she were a gerbil. NOT! She has the same parents I do--she's just a baby.

Portia brought her over this weekend to meet me. I was very excited. But Olivia can't play very well with me yet. She keeps rolling over. She's a roly-poly. Mom says give her a few weeks.

Olivia is coming to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with me. I'll let her sleep in my crate with me. Unless she insists on her own crate. Mom says I have to let her drink from my bowl, too. And I have to be a good example. (Psst, Olivia, here's a tip: if you poop on a rug with a lot of designs they won't find it until wa-a-a-y after the fact. Then you don't get punished!)

Huh. My days as the princess may be numbered.

But I'm lots more fun than Olivia. I can walk on a leash and come when I'm called and now I really look like a dachsie. Mom says I'll be even cuter next week when I go to the vet's to get fixed up. Or did she say fixed?

Beatrice, her mark

Monday, November 19, 2007

Weekend TSA Follies

El Jefe and I are back from a little weekend jaunt that involved air travel. Along the way, we observed some Transportation Safety Administration practices that seem, well, just plain foolish, mean, insensitive or inhumane.

Herewith a summary:

1. We were directed to go through what I assume is an experiemental detector at one airport. It's not like a metal detector. Instead of walking through it, you stop while jets of air puff around you. Then you wait for about 30 seconds before the door opens and you can move through it. This takes a significantly longer time to clear than the ordinary metal detector so it will doubtless increase waiting time to get through security if everyone has to go through it. There was no explanation offered, so I don't know what advantage it presumably offers over your ordinary metal detector.

2. While waiting to board, we got into a conversation with an attractive woman toting some pecan pies from a Houston restaurant to take home for Thanksgiving. She was still irate over her treatment by the TSA that morning. It seems that she called the agency in advance and asked if (or how) she could carry a couple of quarts of bourbon sauce that goes with the pies onboard. She said she was assured that would be ok if they were in marked containers from the restaurant. At the security checkpoint, however, the TSA agents confiscated them and teased her saying, "we're sure going to enjoy this!" El Jefe suggested that she should have poured it out rather than give it up to them. But hindsight is always 20/20.

3. We saw an elderly woman, head and spine bent almost double with arthritis, struggling to maintain her balance on a cane while undergoing a body search before being allowed to resume her seat in the wheelchair. The poor thing couldn't raise her head at all. Come on, people, this is stu-pid and seems inhumane.

4. Our flight was delayed for takeoff at one airport for about half an hour after we boarded. Finally the flight attendants announced that the TSA notified them that a passenger who had already boarded the plane must return to security for additional procedures. What? His wife and daughter and luggage were already on the plane. Time passed. The flight attendants, obviously frustrated, told us that the TSA refused to send an official to the gate (which was at the end of the terminal) and insisted that the passenger come all the way back to them. More time passed. Then a young Asian woman (Filipino or Malayasian would be my guess) and her toddler daughter came down the aisle with their luggage. Tears were streaming silently down her face. The flight attendants apologized for the delay and we took off. El Jefe and I assumed that because of other passengers' connecting flights, the young family was either given the choice of continuing without dad or getting off the plane.

Really, y'all, our country can do better than this! Another job for the Mom of Congress.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beatrice's Great Adventure

During yesterday's presbytery meeting, Beatrice somehow escaped again from the back yard.

El Jefe, who came to the meeting for my installation, beat me home. I found him worriedly pacing the front yard calling for her to no avail. He had already driven around the neighborhood once looking for her.

I went inside to check the phone in case someone had called to say they found her. (She has our phone number on a tag on her collar.) Eureka! The neighbor down the street had picked her up and kept her at her home. She said Beatrice was shaking with fright in front of her yard because of the noise made by the garbage truck going by.

Of course I thanked her profusely for calling us and keeping her for several hours. "I'd like to keep her for good," she said. "She's so cute!"

Cute. Yeah. Clever. Yeah. ~sigh~

We checked the fence again and can't figure how she did it this time. When we have time we'll do a little experiment: put her in the yard, pretend to leave and then lurk around to find out how she does it. Then see if we can do anything about it. El Jefe is very reluctant to use one of those electric shock gadgets on her.

But until then, it's back to the crate or the utility room for the adventurous puppy. And the score will remain: Beatrice 3, QG 1.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Musings of the Mom-derator

(I figure if the PCUSA's Stated Clerk can issue "Musings", then I can too!)

At today's presbytery meeting I was formally installed as Moderator (or as we say in blogland, the "MOM-derator" for 2008). The meeting was held at Korean Central Presbyterian Church, which is one of our larger congregations. It is a beautiful, modern facility and we were served the most delicious lunch by the members of the congregation.

The picture here shows the official Presbytery of New Covenant moderatorial stole, the gavel, and the cross. The cross has an interesting story: back before reunion of the PCUS and the UPCUSA, each denomination had a presbytery in the Houston area. Each presbytery's moderator wore a different cross. After reunion the crosses were fused together and the stone in the middle is a stone from Mars Hill given by a local member for the purpose. The round green stone marked "HOPE" was given to me by the outgoing moderator.

Our GP gave his annual State of the Presbytery report and caused me to reflect on the many unexpected things that have come my way in the past year.

I didn't expect...

The Million Dollar Problem

The churches in the presbytery to increase their giving to presbytery in response to the Million Dollar problem

PNC to lead the denomination in new church developments (18) that we support

One of our churches to set a meeting date for a congregational vote on withdrawing from the PCUSA

One of our churches to "tithe" the proceeds of the sale of their property (to the tune of $40K) to PNC in support of presbytery

The pastor of my church always closes the service with a benediction that includes the words "expect the unexpected." I'm learning to take those words to heart.

I'm also making taking these verses from Hebrews 12:1-2 my guide for the coming year:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Unexpectedly and prayerfully yours,


P.S. Updated score: Beatrice 3, QG 1.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beatrice 2, QG 1

El Jefe and I have been spending the last couple of weeks trying to secure the back fence so Beatrice ( a/k/a "Houdini Puppy") couldn't get out. Our previous dog, the sainted Gretel, loved being in the back yard and we thought Beatrice would be better off there than being left in a locked crate or in the small utility room when we leave the house.

We finally quit trying to repair the fence ourselves and sprang for an all-new back fence with puppy gates all around the back yard enclosure.

When the workmen left, I put Beatrice in the yard and went inside. Not five minutes later she was scratching at the front door. "Lookee Mom! I got out! I'm so smart!"

Back to the drawing board. The fence guy came back and he and El Jefe looked for places she could have escaped. Sure enough, they found a little hole she dug under the back gate in the loose dirt there. We put some sod down so she couldn't dig.

The next evening we were going to meet St. Betty and the Old Marine for dinner nearby, so we decided to test the fence again by leaving Beatrice in the back yard. When we returned, she was nowhere to be found! After much calling and clapping, she finally ran up the driveway.

Beatrice 2, QG O !

Ahem. Surely we can outsmart the little dog, we thought. So we went to Home Depot and bought some additional little fences that we put wherever we thought she could squeeze through around the gate. Then just to be really secure, I added some bricks to block up the area between the gate and the hinges.

Today I tested the fence again and left her in the yard while running some errands. I was holding my breath when I returned and went to open the back door...and there she was!

Ha-Hah! Beatrice 2, QG 1.

Friday, November 09, 2007

BSD Re-Enacts Balaam's Ass

Yesterday and this morning I joined 30+ other leaders of Bible Study Discussion groups at my church for a leaders' retreat at Camp Allen.

I always come away from my time with these ladies inspired and impressed by their dedication, consistency and totally awesome organizational abilities. This year's retreat was led by the now retired founder of the program, and it was fascinating to meet her and her husband and hear their story about the beginnings of BSD. She was amazed to see how it has grown today, and now includes several co-ed groups as well as the traditional women's groups that meet mid-week.

This group really knows how to par-tay, by the way. Yours truly played the dual role of God/Narrator in a never-to-be-forgotten original skit in which my group re-enacted the story of Balaam's Ass. (See Numbers 22). Balaam used stalks of celery to beat the ass with, and the ass wore a bicycle helmet to protect herself. Guess you had to be there!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It must be some kind of sign unto me.

My notebook with all my various presbytery files burst asunder yesterday as I tried to add yet more papers to it.

It's not repairable.

I need a much bigger one to fit all these papers in. And yes, I do have digital files of most of it on my computer--but I still need hard copies for many meetings.

Yours worriedly,


Monday, November 05, 2007

Movie Review: Elizabeth The Golden Age

I bet this will be the only review of this movie you read that references Dallas Willard. Hang with me here and I'll explain in a bit.
Yesterday Babs, our good friend Jane Long (her blogname because she is a Texas history teacher and Jane Long is known as the mother of Texas) and I went to see Elizabeth The Golden Age. We almost missed it because it hasn't been very popular. And we basically agreed that this is because it takes dedicated Tudor history nerds like us to sit through it.

First let me say that Cate Blanchett is an excellent Elizabeth I. I've seen a lot of them, and think she equals Glenda Jackson in the role. She's definitely the best part of the movie. That, and the photography. And the costumes and scenery. The movie is more about artistic style, which it has aplenty, than dialogue and action, which it lacks. As the Spanish Armada approaches the director depicts Elizabeth as some kind of cross between the mythical Bodaceia and Joan of Arc on a big white horse leading the troops to battle. There were seemingly endless dizzying shots of scenes in circular motion that made me dizzy enough to have to look away. Enough with the fancy effects!

There were historical inaccuracies that we spotted. For example, Mary Queen of Scots would not have had a Scots accent because she was raised in France and actually spoke little Scots or English when she returned to her throne after the death of her husband the King of France. Another example is that although there were plots against Elizabeth's life, she was never confronted by an assassin with a gun while at prayer as depicted in the movie. I could pick a few more nits, but it's a movie and not a history book.

Back to Dallas Willard. El Jefe and I have been reading his Renovation of the Heart in our Sunday School class. This morning we were discussing Willard's thesis that to change ourselves spiritually we must change our thinking and not focus on our feelings. If you change your thinking, he says, your feelings will follow. Focusing on trying to change your feelings just won't work. My experiences in life tell me that this is true.

As I watched this movie about Elizabeth, it struck me that Elizabeth I mastered her feelings and emotions by concentrating on controlling her thinking over the course of her life. I've read many biographies of Elizabeth. Her duty as sovereign of the people of England was her paramount consideration. Many times, she refused to compromise that duty in the interest of her personal feelings. Whenever she was torn between duty and emotion, as was shown in this movie when she was reluctant to condemn Mary Queen of Scots to death for treason, she ultimately chose duty.

Some movies made about the Virgin Queen make the mistake of focusing on her emotional life, which is something that history shows she did not do. Elizabeth The Golden Age did not. For that, I give it two thumbs up.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blog Reading Level Thing

cash advance

I saw this at Jan's place, and couldn't resist trying it. Wonder if this will convince Portia and Babs that Mom knows whereof she speaks. Probably not!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Premature Tannenbaum Blues

~cue harmonica riff~

Well you know I went down to the Barnes and Noble
Killin' time before a meeting
When what to my wondering eyes
Should I find that I am seeing?
Christmas tinsel and banners and mistletoe
Were mixed with witches and jack o'lanterns
Cause don't ya know Halloween was only yesterday
And the clerks haven't time to put them away

Its too early for Noel and Jingle Bells too
Givin' me them dirty ol' premature tannenbaum blues.

~guitar riff~

Well it seems they just can't wait to start the Holiday season
I won't say "Christmas" cause they are ignoring the real reason
Its enough to try the patience of a saint
Which you all know I ain't

Cause its too doggone bad when merchants want to confuse
You and rush you and push stuff that no one can use
Guess they just want to cut out the one holiday
When families gather together to give thanks and pray
Thanksgiving may be a day we 'll loose
If we don't fight those premature tannenbaum blues.

~wailing harmonica~

Woman's Best Friend

Found in the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, CT.
Harriet and her beloved dog, Albert, together for eternity.
(With apologies to Spooky Rach for tagging along with Friday Cemetery Blogging.)