Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Patio Dresses: Hot Weather Fashion or Fashion No-No?

Let's start with the proposition that patio dresses should stay on the patio--or porch--and not out in the general public.

It's been so HOT (see the previous post) here in Houston that my brain has been baked sufficiently that I actually went out and bought a couple of patio dresses to wear around the house. What is nice about them is that they do not touch your body and hence are much cooler than shorts, capris or anything else.

SSSHHHHH! Don't tell Portia and Babs who will definitely NOT approve.

And if the general public visits me on my patio and finds me in my patio dress then that is the general public's problem.

What's your favorite hot weather fashion?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hotter Than Hades Haikus

We've been sweltering down here for a couple of weeks now in 100 degree plus temperatures. The local paper sponsored a haiku contest, and here's my favorite:

Forecast for Houston:

One hundred percent chance of

Cold margarita

The contest inspired me to write a few heat haiku of my own.

New grill is idle
No one will stand over it
Cold salad for dinner

Bea abandons her ball
Stop the presses y'all
Too hot to play fetch

Salvation is nigh
Houston hotter than Hades
Satan leaves town.

Share your heat-inspired haikus in the comments!

Friday, June 26, 2009

More Bad News: Sunday Schools Closing

They say bad news comes in threes. If the latest stats on the membership decline in the PCUSA is one, then number two must be the feature story in today's Wall Street Journal called "Why Sunday Schools Are Closing?"

What's next? The demise of covered dish suppers? (El Jefe would not be sorry to see the end of those...)

The WSJ article focuses on a dated report (2004) from the Barna Group that showed a gradual but steady decline in Sunday Schools. We're all aware that there has been a decline in church membership and hence attendance (see Bad News No. 1, above), so author Charlotte Hays examines other reasons for the decline. She identifies the secular culture , competition with athletic and other events that are now scheduled on Sundays and divorce which often means children are away visiting non-custodial parents on the weekends.

I agree with Hays that, with all its faults and shortcomings, Sunday School was a "civilizing experience that assured some level of religious literacy" for those of us who grew up with it. It's going to be difficult to find another way for the Protestant denominations to do this--most have not established parochial schools for this purpose as the Catholics did, although this too is changing. In Houston there are two Presbyterian churches with schools through 8th grade and one that has an elementary school.

The church we used to attend had the elementary school and one of the things we found was that members' children who attended the school often did not attend Sunday School because the parents (and the kids!) thought that the school provided enough religious instruction during the week. Truthfully, it is hard to provide a program with volunteers that competes with the trained teachers in a weekday curriculum.

One of the other problems with the lack of attendance in Sunday School in that context was that members' children who went to the school but not Sunday School did not develop relationships with the other children in the church who did. Then you'd hear the complaint "my child doesn't want to come to youth group because he doesn't know any of those kids." That's predictable.

My conclusion is that Sunday School isn't dead yet, but certainly suffers the same malaise as the rest of the church. In some churches (like the one we attend now) it is a vibrant and strong program still. But there's no doubt there are more changes ahead because the religious and spiritual education of our children and youth is critical to the survival of the faith.

Now where's my casserole dish?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on Membership Decline

This week brings news that the PCUSA had its greatest membership loss last year since the reunion between the UPCUSA and the PCUS. Although death and dismissal to other denominations were factors, most of the loss came from those who drifted away from their congregations without becoming affiliated elsewhere.

Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons tried to rally the troops to renewed evangelism efforts in response to this report, but I don't think we'll see that happen. This morning the Southern Baptists reported similar membership losses despite the traditional evangelical emphasis in that denomination which is much larger than the PCUSA. Clearly declining membership is not just a problem for the mainline churches. Blogger Reformed Pastor (an EPC minister) observed in his post about the latest PCUSA membership losses that "membership loss and ineffective evangelism is not just a mainline problem, but a Christian problem here in America."

Bloggers on the conservative (Curmudgeon's Progress) and the progressive (Sam at Crying in the Night) are alarmed by this news and what it may portend for the church. There are lots of folks --Presbymergents, PGF'ers, the Witherspoon Society, the Presbyterian Coalition and others--who have their own views of the reasons for the decline and try to address the problem accordingly.

But the problem IS bigger than one denomination. There's a changing culture out there that is flashier, more entertaining, more hip, more materialistic and ego-centric, more everything than the church which, at its foundation, is counter-every-culture. And there's the problem. As the culture moves farther away from the church, how much can the church change and remain faithful to the gospel?

The real question is not how can the church reverse membership losses, but how can the church tell the story of the Gospel so that future generations may come to faith. In every age the church is only one generation away from extinction. This age is no different from any other.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Iranian "Little Sis"

Whenever Iran is in the news, I remember Maryam T.

Maryam was my "little sister" in my college sorority (Tri Delta at Cornell University) way back in the late 1960's. She must have been one of the very first Iranian women educated in the U.S. I remember her telling me that her family did not understand why her father allowed her to come here for college--or to go to college at all.

Maryam was an attractive girl and spoke English fluently but with a bit of an English accent and used more British than American terms when I first knew her. She was the first Muslim I ever knew, although she was not particularly devout. I remember being struck by how similar her dietary restrictions were with those of the Orthodox Jewish girl in the sorority (also a good friend of mine) and being distressed that these two "sisters" went out of their way to avoid talking to or eating with each other if at all possible. Apparently the ancient antagonisms between their ancestors were not overcome by the shared experiences in college and the sorority. But there was never any overt unpleasantness between the two of them.

From Maryam I learned that Iranians are not Arabs, but Persians and this was a very important distinction to them, despite their shared religious faith. There were very few Muslims or Arabs or Persians at Cornell or anywhere else in the country in those days. Now I live near a couple of mosques and have a number of Muslim neighbors out here in the Texas suburbs.

The last I heard, Maryam lived on the east coast and was married--but I don't know anything about her husband, family or life after college. I heard that her family fled Iran after the fall of the Shah so I imagine that she became an American citizen and made her life here. I hope it has been a good life.

What does Maryam think when she sees what is happening in Iran today? That young woman who was killed while attending a protest was probably the same age as her daugher, if she has one. Does she still have family there? Are they among the protestors? If the regime changed, would she want to return to visit or to live? I would like to know, but long ago lost touch with her.

My prayers are with those seeking freedom and democracy in Iran. May God be with them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Diva In Training

Diva Catherine has been visiting with us the last few days. She drove to Houston to leave her car and most of her worldly goods with us while she is at "opera camp" in upstate New York at Chatauqua before returning in late August for her year with the Houston Grand Opera studio.

One of the things I'm learning from her visit is just how hard it is to be an opera diva.

She spends every evening memorizing and practicing the roles she has scheduled. Next fall she will be taking intensive instruction in Russian and Italian, plus continuing work in French and other random Scandinavian and eastern European languages. I am so language challenged that I'm awed by her ability to master so many.

It's just like any other profession--God may give you the intelligence and the talent, but you have to work hard to develop it if you want to succeed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gadget Heaven

I LOVE my IPhone, so I just finished downloading the latest and greatest upgrades to the software. It will take some time to learn all of them (especially voice recognition), but my favorite will doubtless be the landscape version of the keyboard which will make using the virtual buttons so much easier.

I did have trouble getting all my apps to show up after the upgrade, though. Be warned. I fiddled around with ITunes a few times and finally got them to sync up, but I'm not sure how I did it.

Here are my favorite apps:
Quordy (a word game similar to Boggle and just as addicting)
Word Warp (another word game)
Kindle app (you can read any book on your Kindle on the IPhone!!!)
Brushes (an art app--you can create pictures using virtual brushes or touch up photos and then export them to save or print--very addictive)
Around Me (shows you where to find gas, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, etc wherever you are --it interfaces with the IPhone's GPS)
All Recipes (just dial up the type of recipe you are looking for and the ingredients you have on hand and voila!)

I loved EasyWriter, which gave you a landscape virtual keyboard that you could use for emails, but with this upgrade I won't need it anymore.

What are your favorite apps?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Reading List

I've got a couple of "real" books on my nightstand and several in a queue on my Kindle. Here's my current summer reading list:

On the Nightstand:

John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey. I swore in public (on the PresbyBloggers blogsite) that I would read and review this by the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birthday (July 17). It's available on Kindle, but I thought I would want to keep a hard copy. Um. I'm on page 77 and finding it really tough slogging. The book is giving me a bad case of the MEGO's (my eyes glaze over). But I've got to pull it together and finish it. Somehow.

The Reckoning by Sharon Kay Penman. This last book in her trilogy about Wales in the 13th century was not available for the Kindle, but the other two were so I bought the hard copy. Penman is a fabulous historical novelist. I highly recommend her works. But its a very bloody and savage world she writes about so I try not to read it before bedtime. No MEGO here.

The Diva Wore Diamonds by Mark Schweizer. Ever have a book you put off reading because you know you will love it so much you will hate to finish it? That's how I feel about the books in the Liturgical Mystery series and thankfully Schweizer has produced a brand new book!

In the Kindle Queue:

The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber. This is a book about a knitting shop and is the first in a series. I read it very quickly and found it okay but very formulaic and predictable. I'm not going to read any more in the series. I think avid knitters would be disappointed because the knit shop is just a device to bring the characters together and there is very little about knitting in the novel.

Drop Shot by Harlan Coben. My SIL recommended these Myron Bolitar mysteries. This is the first one I read and its quite enjoyable--witty, unpredictable and the perfect read by the pool or at the beach. I'll get some more of these.

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. I like Picoult's novels, which usually involve medical-legal-ethical issues and have unexpected plot developments. I finished her novel Plain Truth (about the Amish and a suspected infanticide) recently and then ordered this one. Not great literature, but good reads.

What's on your nightstand and/or Kindle?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Furniture Shopping for the Tall

Although the new house is pretty well set up, I am now looking for a few chairs for a couple of rooms.

Since El Jefe and I are both very tall, I am visiting furniture stores and sitting in lots of chairs. Here's what I've discovered: it isn't easy to find chairs that are comfortable for us. Most of the new ones sit very low to the ground and even my altitude-challenged friends find them hard to get out of. Many others have seats or backs that are so short that they hit us in funny places causing numbness or pain. Even the upholstered ones. This leaves me with limited choices in most stores.

This may be a niche market that Portia could exploit someday if she decides to do some interior decorating on the side: Tall Furniture R Us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Taking the Little Black Dress to Its Logical Extreme

I just came across a fascinating little blog called The Uniform Project. (Hat tip: Beauty Tips for Ministers).

The blogger has 7 identical little black dresses and is wearing one every day for an entire year. She says it is an exercise in "sustainable fashion". She posts a photo each day of the outfit she puts together and notes where and to what events she has to go each day then asks her readers to rate her efforts.

She's really quite creative though some of them totally miss the mark, but it's all for a good cause as well. What's your favorite outfit? Which one is a true fashion disaster?

Something fun to browse through on a hot summer's day!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Too Eerie

When I heard the news about the shooting at the Holocaust Museum on the radio while running errands, it really gave me a start.

The announcer didn't say where the shootings happened, so I thought it was at the Holocaust Museum in Houston where El Jefe and some of his partners were taking a group of summer law clerks that day for a tour. I was relieved it didn't happen here and very sad it happened there.

El Jefe reported the museum guide asked the group of twenty-somethings if Hitler was German. They all nodded. Then El Jefe responded in German that they were wrong--he was Austrian. That surprised many of them. He said that it goes to show how little even well-educated members of that generation know about WWII. A sad thought in light of the 65th D-Day observance this last weekend.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Last Hymn Sing?

Here's the other experience from the weekend that left me pondering the passage of time and the previous generations: the choir concert/hymn sing that I participated in Sunday afternoon.

The premise of the concert was to present different styles of hymns in chronological order. Our director is a renowned choral conductor and professor at the University of Houston and he did a wonderful job of selecting hymns from medieval chants through modern hymns. We did old English hymns, gospel hymns, spirituals, ethnic hymns, you-name-it. And the concert was interactive--the congregation sang most of them with us.

As I looked out over the audience from the choir loft I saw mostly grey and white hair. Many were quite elderly, leaning on walkers or being assisted to their seats. But they sang out with great feeling and you could see the joy on their faces when they did. I'm sure many of them, like me, had fond memories of singing these hymns in other churches, with loved ones since departed for the church triumphant, a long time ago.

A feature of the concert was a section where we all sang together hymns selected by vote of the church congregation. Surprisingly, the most requested hymn was the Navy Hymn--Eternal Father Strong to Save. Were there a lot of former navy men in the congregation or did a couple of them stuff the ballot box? I don't know, but it certainly brought back memories of my father and uncles--especially my Uncle Wendell because we sang this hymn at his memorial service a few short years ago.

Here's what made me sad: the realization that in 20 years or so a concert/hymn sing like this will probably not fill the sanctuary again. Many in my own generation and certainly in the generations that follow me in the church do not identify and love these hymns because they don't sing them. So the fond memories I have that make them more meaningful to me would not be there for them.

As this concert demonstrated, hymn styles change and evolve over time. I'm not a fan of praise music but appreciate that it speaks to many people today. I wonder whether in 20 years a crowd will gather for a retrospective praise song fest and if so, will those in attendance fondly remember past times they sang "Awesome God" or "I Love You Lord" ? Or will the popular praise songs of today be wholly replaced by something completely different? What do you think?

Monday, June 08, 2009

D-Day Memories

Over the weekend there were two events that made me keenly aware of the passage of time and of the generation that preceded me.

El Jefe and I watched much of the 65th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy on Saturday. Seeing the veterans of that day receive the French Legion's Medal of Honor was very moving. There probably will not be another big anniversary of this critical battle of WWII that will include living veterans of the fight.

That evening over dinner, St. Betty and The Old Marine added their own memories of WWII to ours as we talked about D-Day over dinner. St. Betty and TOM were preschoolers during WWII. She remembers traveling on a train in east Texas with her mother and giving up her seat to a soldier.

"We always gave our seats up to men in uniform, " she recalled. "And sometimes soldiers would come to the door and you always fed them."

TOM mentioned that he had an uncle killed at Pearl Harbor. One of my uncles was critically injured in a training accident at a staging area for D-Day in England. The injuries kept him from action that day and probably saved his life because his unit was decimated in the landing. He spent a couple of years in veterans' hospitals but went on to marry, become a banker and raise a family. He limped to the end of his life which came in his eighties. Another one of my uncles was killed when his plane was shot down over Italy later in the war.

El Jefe's uncles were exempt from the service during this time because they had children, were older, and worked in a defense industry (oilfield trucking). But his father, the youngest ("Dutch"), served in the Army Air Force. He never saw action because, as El Jefe says, the army doctors nearly killed him trying to treat an ulcer. He was discharged from his unit for medical reasons. His unit was decimated flying mission the first bombing raids over Germanys, so his medical discharge probably saved his life, too.

With Dutch's passing almost a year ago, the last of our family's generation of WWII vets are now gone to glory. My dad, his brother Wendell and brother-in-law Doug all served in the navy. Daddy began as a navigator stationed in Key West, Florida but applied for a transfer to the Pacific theater where his ship dodged a couple of kamikaze raids and went up the Nanking river deep into China. Doug also served in the China theater. Wendell's ship patrolled the coast of South America--something you don't hear about much.

The commemoration Saturday made me think about the young men like the uncle I never knew and TOM's uncle who did not get to come home and continue their lives after the war. Who would they have married? What would their children become? What would they have done for a living? Their sacrifice for our freedom cut their lives short. But not our debt to them.

Tomorrow I'll write about the other event.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Five: Moving and Changing

I haven't played the RevGals Friday Five for a long time, but could not resist the one this week--Moving and Changing. Having just finished our move from a home of 22 years to a new house, here are my answers to this week's Friday Five meme:

1. A big move is looming, name one thing that you could not possibly part with, it must be packed ?

Two things: the family sampler and the family silver tea/coffee service.

2. Name one thing that you would gladly leave behind...

The "oh-so-eighties" bright brass fixtures!

3. How do you prepare for a move

a. practically?

Getting rid of everything I don't need to take with me.

b. spiritually/ emotionally?

My brother said it best: remember that your memories go with you to the new house, they won't be left behind at the old one.

4. What is the first thing you look for in a new place?

The kitchen.

5. Do you settle in easily, or does it take time for you to find your feet in a new location?

I settle in pretty easily, I think, although I haven't really changed locations since first moving to Houston in 1978.

The bonus for today; a new opportunity has come up for you to spend 5 years in a new area, where would you go and why?

I'm pretty happy where I am, but I guess my choice would be the Texas Hill Country around Fredricksburg.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Portia Recognized by Washington Post

Which blogger is bursting with parental pride over the recognition of her daughter's blog by the Washington Post?

Go here for the link.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New Home Limericks

There was once a blogger named Grace
Who had just moved to a new place
All was finally working fine
When lawnmen cut the phone/dsl line
Which made her quite red in the face.

Then the repair crew came very late
Of course that would be her fate
Now the yard has unburied wire
Sinking into the wet oozy mire
What a mess the crew did create!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hurricane Season Haiku

Hurricane season
Bringing angst to weathermen
Which Gulf breeze will bring
The next Ike, Gustav, Rita?

Newspapers, TV
Furnish lots of lists for us
Preparation is the key
You must help yourself

QG and El Jefe
Built a house of stone and brick
No trees around it
A generator behind.

Water in garage
Canned goods in the pantry
Hoping not to open
Any this hurricane season.