Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Outdoor Decor: Before and After

I've been inspired by daughter Portia's blog to do a Home Decor Before and After. We're trying to spiff up the house before Babs' upcoming wedding because we will have out of town friends and relatives stopping by. So above you see the "Before" picture of the courtyard just outside our front door. Nice "bones", but boring. Too brownish-grey don't you think?

"After" I made a trip to Pottery Barn and sprang for some colorful pillows I think it looks much more inviting! Olivia likes it, too.

Beatrice hopped up on this chair and demanded a close-up so you can see how pretty she looks in front of the new red floral pillow.

And lastly--isn't this the cutest? I found it in Dolores Hidalgo when we were visiting Mexico last month. I couldn't believe some artisan had put the seal of the State of Texas on a fabulously decorated big vase. Obviously these guys knew their market.

But what makes my courtyard and patio so gorgeous today isn't anything I bought--its the fabulous spring weather God sent to us. What a great start to Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Preaching Beards

Nik over at A Pilgrim's Process has had another one of her reverend smarty-pants brainstorms and is now offering Foxy Knoxy's Preaching Beards ("reforming ministry since 1560)--guaranteed to convey instant authority and gravitas. Available in many unisex styles and two bold colors.

Check it out just in time for Holy Week!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Of "Christian Seders"

This morning's Houston Chronicle had a lengthy article about some controversy surrounding local Christians celebrating the Passover seder.

The article reminded me of the seders I have participated in over the years. Back when I was in college my home church in San Antonio celebrated the Passover seder under the direction of one of the local rabbis. That was my first introduction to this tradition, and I found it powerful and compelling.

Many years later I organized a seder for the church we were attending. My next door neighbors were Jewish and their daughter was a very good friend of my two daughters. They invited us to their home for the seder that year and I was surprised that they didn't realize that the Christian sacrament of communion was derived from it. My neighbor offered to help me plan the seder at church. She and her daughter attended and she brought an heirloom plate for the bitter herbs that had been handed down in her family.

Our pastor insisted that we close that seder with communion--clearly an adaptation that some interviewed in the Chronicle article would see as offensive. I remember being uncomfortable with that at the time because I worried it would make my neighbor uncomfortable. However if it did, she never let on and to me was enthusiastic about the experience, even joining in the communion herself.

Has your church celebrated a Passover seder? Did you incorporate Christian interpretations to the event or did you replicate a purely Jewish seder?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Real Spring

Growing up in south Texas, I seldom experienced a real spring. Coolish winter weather morphed unnoticeably into summer heat and humidity. By the time we were celebrating Easter, early spring blooms had faded and the a/c was running full blast everywhere.

This year we've had one of the coldest and longest spells of real winter weather on record and our reward is a glimpse of real springtime! Seeing the new green shoots peek out of frost-damaged bedding plants and grow quickly into nice fluffy borders is a welcome reminder of the new life in Christ that we will be celebrating next week as Holy Week begins. Here's a photo of one of my favorites, in the appropriate liturgical color for Lent.

What a treat!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Olivia Blogs: My Portrait

Woof! Olivia here. QG decided to try painting my portrait. after doing some of the drawing exercises in her painting course. I didn't have to pose because she took my picture first and used it for her go-by.

SHHHH. Don't tell Beatrice, she'll be jealous. Don't know why, it's hardly great art.

But I'm thinking that maybe I have a career as a model, dah-lings. Ta-ta for now.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Son of Hamas

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef (in collaboration with Ron Brakin) is aptly subtitled " A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices." The author is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and a very popular and influential member of that group.

I was intrigued by a review I read about this book which highlighted the fact that Mosab Yousef had converted to Christianity and is now living in the United States in political asylum. That was definitely one of the "unthinkable choices" the author made in his life, but it is not the focal point of this memoir.

Yousef was the right-hand man to his father, and spent much time in Israeli prisons. He was recruited in his first imprisonment by the Israeli internal intelligence service, Shin Bet, and became a double agent--rising to a powerful position within Hamas while at the same time relaying vital intelligence to the Israelis. This role provided protection for his father from the retaliation for the terrorist operations of Hamas which otherwise would surely have come his way.

One of the results of the multiple imprisonments was that Yousef saw not only Israeli brutality but also the brutality visited on his fellow Hamas members by the Hamas gang leaders in the prison. He has great admiration and love for his father, whom he describes as a true servant-leader of his people, but was dismayed by his father's increasing tolerance of the use of violence and terror by Hamas and the unreasonable and corrupt leadership that developed.

Yousef recounts a number of hair-raising assignments that he undertook for the Israelis as a double agent over a number of years and these stories rival anything you've seen on 24. He became a successful businessman in between stints in prison, which were arranged by the Shin Bet in order to protect his "cover".

But the recounting of his spiritual journey is much less sensational. The more violence and treachery he was exposed to, the more he began to question the beliefs he grew up with. When some friends invite him to a Christian Bible study, he takes them up on it. (There's that relational aspect to evangelism again!) Yousef becomes attracted to the teachings of Jesus long before he comes to accept him as Lord. His final conversion was not a "Damascus" moment, but a gradual acceptance of the truth of the Gospel message about the nature of Christ. If this were a novel rather than a memoir, I would characterize the story of his religious conversion as a minor sub-plot and not part of the major theme of the book.

The conversion, together with the mounting emotional toll of many years of living a double deception, prompt Yousef to quit his association with Shin Bet and finally negotiate their assistance in his departure from the area and arrival in the US where he received political asylum.

He writes that he retains a relationship with his father and his family, despite the conversion and departure, because of their strong ties of love. His former associates in Hamas of course see him as a traitor to them and to Islam. Publishing this memoir is certainly an act of great courage which exposes the author to the risk of retribution, even as a resident of the US.

In an afterword, Yousef describes himself as a new believer with a long way to travel on his new spiritual journey as a Christian and disavows any role as a spokesman or leader. Fair enough.

Still, there is something unsettling about this book and author that I cannot quite put my finger on. Maybe it's an uneasiness with the ethical and moral problems inherent in the role of a double agent, although I recognize the need for them in the current international situation. Maybe it's because I expected the faith journey to be more integral to the story than I think it is and was disappointed. Maybe it's a profound feeling of despair about the possibility of a truce in the Israeli-Palestinan conflict that descended on me after finishing the book. Maybe it's all of these things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Misty Watercolors....

I've been feeling the need to find a new hobby so I can escape from the wedding preparations and my anxiety over the state of the nation, which is all I've vowed to say about the subject on this blog.

For years I have thought about taking up watercolor painting--something my mother also did-and decided that there is no time like the present.

I found a watercolor painting course online (Watercolor Secrets) and decided to sign up. Here's my first effort, which is a monochrome study of a lake in Italy. The idea was to learn how to do a wash for the sky and some dry-brush techniques for the hills. This is my second try at the exercise. In the first attempt I had too much water on the paper so my mountains didn't have any white patches on them which adds some interest and texture. I also improved the gradations of color in this attempt.

So just for fun, I will post some future efforts as I work my way through the course, learning the techniques.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is There An Evangelism App for That? Follow Up

Thanks to Tony Whittaker for his comment on my previous post. I read his links here and here and find the ways in which evangelism is being spread through phone apps fascinating.

Would you see implementing any of these at your church?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is There An Evangelism App for That?

I'm working on a feature for Presbyterians Today about digital evangelism, and found some very thought-provoking ideas on various blogs and websites.

For example, several bloggers noted the rapid increase in the use of "smart phones" and urged pastors and churches to develop mobile internet strategies. Church IPhone apps? Why not? There probably are some already. And lots of churches use Facebook as a communications tool, which is probably accessed most frequently through cell phones.

Another idea was prompted by the fact that last Christmas Amazon's Kindle sales of e-books were greater than its sales of "hard" copy books. Looking at the growing popularity of e-books and the phone apps that allow users to access them as well, some suggested that churches should cut down on their paper bulletins and seasonal publications and publish them as pdf's or html's on Kindle instead.

That makes some sense to me. I have several translations of the Bible on my IPhone and use it in worship to follow the sermon scripture--and I see others in the congregation doing the same thing.

What kinds of apps would be helpful in evangelism? I'd like to see an apologetics app that had FAQ's so you could quickly find good answers to common questions about the Christian faith.

What would you suggest? Or maybe you have seen some good ones. If so, please share!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beatrice Blogs: St. Patrick Inspires Our New Business


Beatrice here.

Olivia and I have decided to start a new business--snake sniffing out. We're announcing it today in honor of St. Patrick who drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

Sunday evening we made our cornered a snake for QG and El Jefe. The viper had the affrontery to be lolling around in the flowerbeds.

We snarled and barked and snarled and growled and barked until El Jefe came out to investigate.

"Its no mere garden snake!" he exclaimed and picked it up with a broomhandle and tossed it over the back fence.

The snake in question was about a foot long and a couple of inches thick with lots of grayish markings. QG wondered if it was a young rattlesnake, it being springtime and all. But we don't know.

We're very proud of ourselves.

And we're cheap. We'll sniff out your snakes for a peanut butter flavored dog treat. Call us at 1-800-SNAKEAWAY and ask for the 2 Dachsies. Don't call the house. QG doesn't approve.

Just remember:

Saint Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland
Here's a drinkee to his health!
But not too many drinkees
Lest we lose ourselves and then...
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see them snakes again!
~Author unknown

Looking forward to helping you NOT see the snakes again,


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

QG is 5 Today!

For some reason I was browsing through some of my posts from a couple of years ago when it dawned on me: today is QG's Fifth Blogversary!

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for five years. When I first started blogging I wasn't sure if I would keep it up or not.

But I did, and met many wonderful friends along the way as we have shared laughter and tears, faith and doubt, good books and bad, good weather and hurricanes through the magic of the internet.

Facebook and Twitter have become more popular than blogging for many in the last couple of years. But I still love this medium because it encourages thoughtful composition and the interchange of ideas between the writer and the reader.

I'm so grateful for the friendship and encouragement of my Gentle Readers. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with each one of you!

Book Review: Revelation, A Matthew Shardlake Mystery

Did you ever purposely delay reading a book because you just knew that you were going to enjoy it so much that you would miss it when you finished it? Or deliberately pace yourself through your reading so you wouldn't finish it too soon?

That's what I did with the latest Matthew Shardlake mystery from C. J. Sansom, Revelation. Revelation is the perfect antidote to the boring bestseller from Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol. I was eager to read it since I loved the previous three books in this series which features a hunchback lawyer who solves murders during the turbulent reign of Henry VIII. I couldn't wait for the Kindle version, so I even ordered the hardback version!

And it sure did not disappoint. This book is set in the last years of Henry's reign as he is courting the widowed Catherine Parr. A serial killer is using Revelation 16, the pouring out of the vial judgments, as his template for vicious and sadistic murders. When Shardlake's dear friend is one of the early victims, he becomes enmeshed in the effort to catch the killer.

One of the compelling aspects of these mysteries is the skillful character development of not only our hero Shardlake, but also of the continuing characters and those who appear only in this novel. Sansom is a master at portraying the changes in English society throughout the reign of Henry VIII, particularly the religious struggles between the reformers and the traditionalists that waxed and waned with the mercurial attitude of the king. A major theme of Revelation is the cost of religious extremism on both sides.

Another theme is the treatment of the mentally ill in Tudor England. Shardlake takes on the representation of a young inmate of Bedlam, whose illness (pathological obsession with his fear of not being among the "elect" because of his sins) threatens to bring charges of heresy upon him and with it the dreadful punishment of being burned at the stake. Sansom explores the medieval understanding of mental illness and ties it to the main murder mystery plot involving the serial killer.

Two thumbs up!

Sansom will have another Shardlake mystery, Heartstone, out in a couple of months. Yippee!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Watching The Pacific

Last night El Jefe and I made a point of watching the first episode of the new HBO mini-series The Pacific. We don't watch much TV together, actually we aren't really big TV watchers except for the sports he enjoys which would be everything played with a ball, basically.

But The Pacific interested us because (1) we are history buffs and (2) all the men in my father's generation in his family were in the Navy in the Pacific theater in WWII.

My dad was the navigator of a sub-chaser in the Pacific which dodged a couple of kamikaze planes. Towards the end of the war he was stationed in China. His brother-in-law was also in China while El Jefe's uncle was in the Navy in Australia.

The mini-series has some interviews with surviving vets of the era, who must have been teenagers at that time. That generation is quickly fading away so I think it is great that this was included here. With our nephew now in active service in the Navy as a surgeon, preparing for deployment later this year to Afghanistan accompanying a group of Marines, the series is not only historic but timely.

We thought the first installment was very well done and look forward to the rest of them. If you caught it, what did you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Almost, Not Quite, A Book Review

Dear St. Betty,

Thanks for giving me your copy of Dan Brown's newest book, The Lost Symbol, and asking me to read it and give you my opinion.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I got half-way through the thing and just can't bring myself to finish it. Life is short and time is fleeting, you know, is my Almost Not Quite Book Review.

Brown's protagonist Robert Langdon (of course you'll see Tom Hanks in this role again) is once again called to use his expertise as a "symbologist" in the book. Substitute the Freemasons for the Catholic Church and Washington DC for Rome and the formulaic plot quickly becomes very familiar.

I decided to quit reading it when I found myself skimming quickly over pages and pages of tedious lectures about lost "ancient wisdom" (oh please!), Masonic lore and Greek legends that could have been cut and pasted from wikipedia. And Brown wants the reader to believe this is all true. Of. Course. It. Is.

The story is not suspenseful because the all-seeing, all-knowing narrator gives away the motivations and plans of the evil Tattoed One--at least I didn't find it suspenseful to the point in which I stopped reading. Which reminds me that about 5 pages into the book it struck me that the Tattoed One seemed to be taken straight from the pages of a comic book about superheroes. And frankly, so does the rest of the plot!

So, St. Betty, please forgive me for not finishing it. This was the best I could do!

With appreciation,

Monday, March 08, 2010

MOB Redux Update: A Busy Week!

I'm back again with a Mother of the Bride update. Last week was a very busy week in our Wonderful World of Wedding. Here's what was accomplished:
  • Invitations printed
  • Invitations addressed
  • Shower guest list sent to hostesses (thanks, friends!)
  • Wedding music chosen and outline for service made
  • Soloist confirmed--Yay! Valerie O.
  • Tuxedos for groom, best man and groomsman chosen
  • Meeting with caterer for reception scheduled
  • Bridesmaids luncheon confirmed at restaurant
  • Limo for bride and groom reserved
  • MOB found dresses for the rehearsal dinner and bridesmaid's luncheon
Whew! Looks like a very busy--but very happy--March and April coming up.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Best of the Blogs: From Blog to Book

The March online edition of Presbyterians Today is now available. Click here to read my article : From Blog to Book, featuring an interview with Presbyterian Blogger and author Rev. Adam S. McHugh.

McHugh used materials from his blog Introverted Church in his recently published book, Introverts in the Church. He is continuing the conversation on this topic in his blog. Check it out!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Spring is Springing!

Finally there is evidence of springtime in my garden! It's been the coldest winter for many years down here and we've been whining a lot about it since winter is usually our best weather.

I'm hoping we'll see lots of bluebonnets in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Book Review: Keeping the Feast

A vacation on the beach means lots of time to read to the music of the waves gently lapping on the beach. I ripped through several books while in Playa del Carmen, but the one that I think would be of most interest to my Gentle Readers is Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini (available on Kindle, which is how I read it.)

This is a memoir that combines the author's love of food, family and her husband in the midst of personal tragedies and the daunting toll that drug-resistant depression takes on the one affected by it and by those who love them.

Paula Butturini and her husband John Tagliabue were both reporters when they met in Italy. At one time Paula was assigned to the religion beat, but was transferred to international affairs and sent to Europe. Her husband had spent several years in a Carthusian monastery as a young man, where his first real bout of depression began.

Within a month of their marriage, she was severely beaten and he was shot and nearly died while covering an uprising in Romania. Although he recovered from his wounds after a tough year, his depression became severe and resistant to drug therapy. This lasted for several years during which Paula lost the man she loved to his illness and struggled with finding her own best response to it.

What she discovered was that the celebration of the mundane tasks of marketing, preparing, cooking and eating meals together brought a grace ( may I call it a quotidian grace?) to an otherwise tragic situation.

The suicide of her own mother from depression and the denial of her family to that situation at first kept her from finding her best response but later enabled her to take the wisdom she learned from that to talk to her own daughter about her father's illness. She also found that an inexhaustible patience was not always helpful and that anger and rage sometimes could be.

The role of the Paula and John's faith in the situation are not major themes of this book, but are only subtly suggested. I wish she had written more explicitly about it.

It would be hard to find someone who had not been touched by depression in some way. Portia and Babs lost a dear friend over Christmas to this illness and are still grieving him. My mother and other members of my family have suffered from depression in various degrees but the older generation refused to acknowledge it or seek any help in dealing with it.

Kudos to Paula Butturini for writing about about her experiences, sharing the wisdom she gained, and inspiring me to return with joy to my kitchen and the daily tasks of life.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olivia Blogs: Beatrice, Scourge of Kitties

Woof! Olivia here.

I'm checking in because it is my duty to give a report on Beatrice's deportment while El Jefe and QG were on vacation. And it wasn't quite as stellar as the pet sitter reported. Oh no.

All the pet sitter saw was Beatrice on best behavior. But at the end of the day when we were at Portia's house for the night, Beatrice turned into the Scourge of Kitties. (Portia and DK have two cats.)

WOOF! WOOF! Beatrice here--move over Olivia! I'm not the only one who likes to chase kitties.


Olivia back again. Sorry Bea, this is my post. Get your own.

Well, the fracas escalated on Thursday to the point that Subi (a/k/a the Fraidy Cat) got so freaked that she lost all control of her...ahem...bodily functions all over Portia. That did it. Now Portia thinks it is a bad idea for Beatrice to sleep over more than a couple of nights.

Phooey. Anybody got any tips for training Beatrice to be sweet to Subi and Cleo? Anybody want to bet this can be done?

Your practically perfect in every way pet correspondent,

Don't hate me cause I'm gorgeous

Monday, March 01, 2010

Things We Learned on Vacation

View from our hotel balcony at Playa del Carmen. Sweet!

We had a fabulous time in Playa del Carmen. This once sleepy fishing village is now a resort town about an hour south of Cancun. It is quieter than Cancun--not so much about nightclubs and partying and more about enjoying the weather and beautiful white beaches.

Here is what we learned on vacation:

  • My knees and I got to fly first class on the way down thanks to a paid upgrade offer from Continental! For the first time ever my knees were not jammed up against the seat in front of me for the entire flight. No such offer appeared for the return flight--dagnabit.
  • Another upgrade appeared at the hotel when the room we requested wasn't available so they gave us the next grade up--free!
  • Wine and tonic water are more to our taste than fruity tropical drinks.
  • On touring Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba, we learned the Mayans didn't disappear--they just abandoned these ceremonial centers for reasons unknown before the arrival of the Spaniards.
  • We met several Mayans who spoke Mayan which sounds like an Oriental language.
  • El Jefe likes rye bread! Will wonders never cease! I didn't know he had given up his obsession for West Texas White Bread. The things you learn about your spouse on vacation....
  • Will there be massages and facials in heaven? The facial I had smelled divine--like a very fruity smoothie. Wonder what it would have tasted like?
  • NOT climbing the stairs at the Mayan temple at Coba (taller than the one at Chichen Itza) is definitely the better part of valour!
  • The average income of an area is probably inversely proportional to the number of people who process your admission to the national park.
  • It takes four days to really relax. That's why long weekends are fun, but not so relaxing.
  • Meeting a couple of Chilean families on Friday's tour made us so much more aware of the terrible earthquake that happened the next day. They all lived in Santiago--I pray their homes were spared.
  • I need to brush up on my Spanish, because we'll definitely be going back!!
And last but not least, a kiss of peace goes out to David from Dixie who left a flattering comment on my last post!