Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Olivia Blogs: Fun With Fences


Olivia here.

QG may have mentioned the fact that there is a new house being built on the lot next door.

That means that field mice, bunnies and frogs are trying to move into her back yard.

HAH! Not while I'm on duty over there!!

This morning I chased a mouse through QG's fence and into the construction next door. QG was NOT amused, tho' I don't know why because I KNOW she is not a fan of mice.

There I was, in hot pursuit of said rodent, leaping merrily through the high grass, nails, broken glass, mud and construction debris. And there was QG trying vainly to get me out of there, almost falling in the muck.

I felt sorry for her so I let her catch me, but we had a hard time getting around all the c*&p in the yard and home again.

Then for some reason she wouldn't let me go outside again unless I was on a leash. HMPH. Some gratitude, that's what I say.

Time for a nap now.

Yours for a rodent-free yard,

(NOTE from QG: When Olivia returns tomorrow she will find chicken wire affixed to the aforementioned iron fence so that she can't get through the posts anymore.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reverend in the Sky?

Yesterday evening while El Jefe and I were taking Bea for her evening walk we saw this cloud that looked like a Founding Father to us.

Maybe it's the Rev. John Witherspoon, PresbyPastor and Declaration of Independence signer, come to watch over the doin's at the GA over the Fourth of July weekend in Minneapolis.

We certainly hope so!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Five: Hot Fun in the Summertime?

Reverend Songbird of RevGals invites you to share five things you love or don't love about the summertime. So here is my contribution to Friday Five:

1. My favorite summer song--Summertime, Summertime by the Jamies.

2. Favorite summer fruit: Tuscan Cantalopes!!! (sorry, Pecos)

3. Favorite summer cocktail: Prosecco.

4. Favorite Summer Locale: Curancahua Bay.

5. And finally, the one thing I hate about summer: HURRICANE SEASON! Especially this year with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still uncapped. Double trouble....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A New Liturgical Mystery--Yippee!

Many of QG's Gentle Readers are also big fans of Mark Schweizer's Liturgical Mysteries series.

So here's a big head's up, people: a new one has just been published!

It's called The Organist Wore Pumps.

I'd been speculating about the title of the next one, since the others seem to have used about all possible voices (The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Alto Wore Tweed, The Bass Wore Scales, etc). Except for the Countertenor. I was rooting for "The Countertenor Wore a Collar"!

And yes, it's available in a Kindle edition, fellow techno-geeks. Which is how I plan to read it.

I can't wait to see if Schweizer inserts some of the satires that had me roaring with laughter before--like the Feng Shui Altar Guild, The Moldy Cheese Madrigal and who could forget the Pirate Eucharist and the Weasel Cantata?

Stand by for a review, but not too soon. I have to pace myself because I hate it when I finish one of the Liturgical Mysteries and don't have a new one to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: Nomad: From Islam to America

Reading Aayan Hirsi Ali is always a challenging, thought-provoking experience. And that is exactly the reaction she is hopes to arouse in her readers. Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations is the sequel to her memoir Infidel and it follows Ali's transition from member of the Dutch Parliament to fellow in an American think-tank in Washington DC.

If you aren't familiar with Ali, check out my review of Infidel which will give you the background information on her life This book has also stirred a lot of controversy, so much so in fact that she lives with the protection of private body-guards because of her criticism of many aspects of Islam.

Nomad is divided into four parts.

The first part (A Problem Family) recounts the stress and tragedies that beset the author and her family members as they were forced to transition away from the tribal Islamic culture of Somalia to modern day Saudi Arabia and then to Western Europe.

Ali's thesis is that there are three main barriers to the integration of people like herself and her family into the modern democratic societies of the West: Islam's treatment of women; the difficulty many immigrants from Muslim countries have dealing with money (which she attributes to the Islamic view of credit and debt and the lack of education of Muslim women about financial matters); and the "socialization of the Islamic mind" which she believes makes Muslims more vulnerable to indoctrination.

The second part of the book, subtitled Nomad Again, relates her move to the United States and her thoughts on that experience and Islam in America.

The third section (Sex, Money and Violence) expands and repeats the points she made in the first section.

And the final section, entitled Remedies, offers her ideas of how these issues may best be addressed. She urges the Western democracies to uphold the ideals of the Enlightenment and not be reluctant to insist upon their superiority in the name of cultural relativism and religious tolerance:
Here is something I have learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting: All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not....The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better. In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn't translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaing a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance and abuse.
(Italics in the original.)
When I finished Ali's first book, Infidel, I wrote in my review that it seemed to me that "for all of her rejection of Islam and professed atheism, Ali still seems God-haunted." Ali continues to say she is an atheist, but she also seems to have a very positive view of Christianity although she says she will not convert. One of her often-repeated ideas is that Islam needs a reformation similar to the Christian Reformation of the sixteenth century in Europe.

For example, one of the repeated themes of Nomad is the failure of the European democracies to assimilate Islamic immigrants into the general community of citizens, as illustrated by the passage I quoted above. In one incident she recounts, she met with a Dutch Roman Catholic priest in Rome and begged him to get the church to go into the immigrant Muslim communities in Europe and teach them "a more modern way of life and more modern beliefs" and "compete with Islam outside Europe and vigorously assimilate Muslims within it."

Is God working on her heart or does she just believe that Christianity can be a useful tool in the assimilation process and wants to see it supported and put to use rather than discarded? She would definitely say the latter is true, and I'd like to think that there is some hope for the former.

Nomad is a disturbing book. (The chapter about the honor killings of two young Muslim women by their father in a Dallas suburb literally gave me nightmares, especially since I remember reading the news stories in our local paper about them.) It challenges many of our assumptions and accuses those of us in the West of abandoning the good things about our civilization to our peril.

The criticism of Ali is that she experienced an extreme form of Islam in her girlhood and that the conclusions she draws from it are not a fair representation of that religion. It certainly was extreme, but it was her experience. I have nothing to compare it with, but I am impressed with her intelligence, logic, and her life's story to date. We must take her message seriously.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Entry Post

I appreciate the advice and comments from my Gentle Readers which has helped me to choose the posts for my entry in the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards Contest. After further consideration I decided to enter in the Best Spiritual Book Blog (instead of the Best Eclectic Book Blog) and the Best Written Book Blog categories.

I am nominating the following book reviews from Quotidian Grace for the Best Spiritual Book Blog:

1. Days of Fire and Glory by Julia Duin
2. Life in Year One by Scott Korb
3. Revelation, A Matthew Shardlake Mystery by C. J. Sansom
4. The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz
5. Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

I am nominating the following book reviews from Quotidian Grace for the Best Written Book blog:

1. Days of Fire and Glory by Julia Duin
2. Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini
3. Son of Hamas by Mosab Hasan Yousef
4. Revelation, A Matthew Shardlake Mystery by C. J. Sansom
5. The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz

Wish me luck! The awards will be announced during Book Blogger Appreciation Week September 13-17.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Watercolors: A Trio

Today's watercolors are a trio! Here they are, in the order in which I painted them.

This one is called "Porlock Weir" and is one of the exercises from the online course I have been doing. The purpose of the exercise was to practice doing water and reflections in the water.

This one I painted from a photograph of one of the bridges over the San Antonio riverwalk that I have. I thought it would be a good chance to do another water painting.

The last one is a painting exercise we did in the watercolor class I took at WASH ("watercolor artists' society). It is in a very different style--much more "painterly" as the instructor said. Which was great because one of my goals is to develop my own style along with learning some skills. It was fun because I learned some different techniques.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Entry

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up in September, and I have decided to enter QG in the Awards competition. All entries are by self-nomination and you can enter in one niche and one general category. I am going to enter QG in the Best Eclectic Book Blog and Best Written Book Blog categories.

Gentle Readers--especially those of you who have been kind enough to encourage my book reviews--I need your advice! Entries must include 5 reviews in each category. Please use the poll below to vote for up to 5 of the reviews I selected for Best Eclectic Book Blog. I can nominate the same reviews (or different ones) for the Best Written Book Blog entry so I would also love your advice in the comments about which ones to choose.

Muchas gracias!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

They Would Be Coming Around the Mountain If We Had a Mountain

We live in Fort Bend County which continues to grow its population unabated. We're always asking ourselves: "Where are these people coming from?"

Now, thanks to an interactive map at, we have the answer! At least the answer for the year 2008. The black lines indicate movement into the county and the red lines show movement away from the county. Looks like a whole lotta Yankees, Mid-Westerners and Californians are moving to southeast Texas.

Hat tip to Mike Kruse at the Kruse Kronicle for the link. If you'd like to see the information for your county, go here: Where Americans Are Moving.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Looking to the Week Ahead

Happy birthday to my Precious Portia! It's hard to believe she is 29 today. What a fabulous daughter!! It's also Flag Day, which reminds me that I need to get a new flag for the new house.

Busily planning this coming weekend's family reunion at our bayhouse. This time it's MY side of the family. I'm making my shopping lists, but also gave out assignments so each family group is responsible for one meal while we're there. I'm thinking disposable plates need to be at the top of the list!

Tomorrow I've got my second watercolor class (woo-hoo!) and the showing of the pictures from Babs' wedding. Can't wait to see them all!

Wednesday is a church double-header. The last of our "Take 6 and Go" studies of the parables of Jesus is that evening. I hope we get a good turnout so the group can also discuss our mission project that we did last Wednesday at Memorial Area Ministries. Earlier in the day I'm attending a seminar on Planned Giving by the Presbyterian Foundation at MDPC. My question is going to be how much the precipitous decline in membership is affecting that issue. It seems to me it could be a significant problem.

Thursday will be shopping day in preparation for Friday's travel day!

And today? Usual Monday chores and a chance to start a couple of new watercolors.

What's up with you this week?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Watercolor: Port Lavaca Lighthouse

I don't know why this looks so pink on the computer! It's not in real life.

This is the top of the old lighthouse at Port Lavaca, Texas. It was removed when the lighthouse was abandoned and set up at the edge of town where it now serves as a historical marker and visitor's center.

I started a class in beginning watercolors at the Watercolor Artists Society of Houston (a/k/a WASH, don't you love it?) this week and decided to use the "Classic" paint palette recommended by our instructor who said it was the most forgiving. Its a little bit different than the palette used by my online class, but it certainly suits this subject well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From Church To Home To Museum

This building was built in 1910 as the First Baptist Church of Canadian, Texas. In 1955 the Baptists sold it to the Church of Christ which occupied it until the late 1970's. When plans were made to demolish the building to make way for something new, it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Malouf Abraham who remodeled the structure into their unique dream home. They raised their 3 sons there and assembled an outstanding personal art collection.

A couple of years ago, they decided to establish a foundation and give the Mansion to the public in order to share their collection and their home. We visited the Citadelle last Sunday with El Jefe's cousins, Robin and Mary.

The Mansion tour was just as unique as the building and grounds. Malouf and Theresa had recorded the tour personally and gave many interesting family anecdotes.

My favorite one involves the 14 paintings of the Stations of The Cross. Malouf was in an antique shop in Salt Lake City and spotted two of the paintings. Being a devout Catholic, he asked the proprietor if he had the other 12 paintings that should go with it. The guy rummaged around in back and produced them. He said the paintings had been brought back from Germany after WWII by an American GI.

Malouf then hired a French cabinetmaker to design something to display them with around the wall of the old choir balcony. The cabinetmaker came back to him saying that it was too difficult to work out something for 14 paintings and why not just display 12 in that location, putting the other 2 elsewhere.

Malouf says he told him: "You lapsed Catholic! Atheist! They must all go together." And go together they did. I don't know about you, but I think I would have found it difficult to enjoy my living room with the 14 stations of the cross looking down on me from the balcony! But the Abrahams loved it.

The website I linked to above is really outstanding and includes pages with pictures of the art collection and the beautiful gardens. The new gallery that has been built is where the Mary Cassat exhibit is and it will house future traveling art exhibits.

Truly the Citadelle is the jewel of the Texas Panhandle. The Abraham family immigrated from Lebanon to Texas. Malouf's grandparents ran a general store and bought land in the area. Oil and gas finds on that land provided the family's fortune. Malouf and Theresa's sons and grandchildren still live in Canadian, while they have retired to NYC and Florida after donating the Mansion and grounds to the Citadelle.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Antelope Are Still Playing

This is a photo of the old trestle suspension bridge at Canadian, Texas. It is the longest bridge of its kind still standing west of the Mississippi.

El Jefe and I spent the Sunday after his high school reunion with his cousins exploring Canadian, which also has a beautiful little art museum with a good collection and a traveling exhibit of Mary Cassat pastels. (More about The Citadelle tomorrow.)

The QG Award for Most Honest Civic Motto goes to Canadian for its motto: Where the wheat grows, the oil flows and the wind blows!

You know you are back in West Texas when you turn on the radio in your rent car as you leave the Amarillo airport and immediately are treated to the farm commodities report. There's muchmore interest in pig, wheat and gas futures up here than in the stock market, I guess.

We really did see antelopes running by the side of the highway as we drove north. No tumbleweeds this time though! I think the ground wasn't yet dry enough for them.

And here are two words that I never thought I would see put together:

Finally, the best quip of the reunion came from one of El Jefe's friends who is a professor at Abilene Christian University:

Old age is responsible for most of what
Christianity gets the credit for.

Discuss among yourselves.

Checking In

We're back from a long weekend in West Texas, attending El Jefe's high school reunion. I've got a very busy day but will post about it tomorrow.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Book Review: I Am Hutterite

Having enjoyed the memoir, Mennonite In A Little Black Dress, I was intrigued when suggested I would also like I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby, so I ordered it for my Kindle.

The subtitle of the book, "the fascinating true story of a young woman's journey to reclaim her heritage", defines the difference between Rhoda Janzen's book and this one. Janzen had no need to reclaim her Mennonite roots because her entire upbringing was in that community while Kirkby's parents left the Hutterites when she was 10 years old.

The Hutterites have many similarities with the Mennonites and the Amish, but unlike those two groups believe in communal living.

Kirkby's first 10 years were spent on a Hutterite farm in Manitoba, Canada, where the community shared responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and producing crops and animals for sale to support the group. There was no private property to speak of--the land, tools, farm vehicles and buildings were community property. Each family had its own home but all meals were prepared in the community kitchen and only one meal a day was "taken out" to be eaten privately in the home.

Community power rested mostly in the minister. In Kirkby's case, this minister was also her uncle and he and her father never got along. Finally this conflict pushed her parents into leaving the community with nothing to show for their many years of work there, and starting over with seven children to support.

Life in the Hutterite community is described in great detail by the author. She is very positive about her memories of life there. The contrast between that cloistered and predictable existence and the shock of transitioning to the "English" world of public school where she and her siblings were still marked as outsiders was quite traumatic. The entire family suffered from grief and depression over this rupture with their past for many years as they struggled to find their place in a very different culture.

I think the author unduly romanticizes this lifestyle. Her younger brother died of a ruptured appendix because her uncle refused her father permission to drive a community vehicle to the hospital in order to sign permission for surgery. Finally he rebelled and took it anyway but the delay cost his son's life. This was the incident that caused her parents to leave.

The memoir is a fascinating look into a little-known and often misunderstood sect. It is well-written and reads like a novel. There are a lot of characters in it, because Hutterites have very large families, so I was glad there was a family tree at the end. There is also a helpful glossary of Hutterish (a medieval dialect that they still speak) words in the back of the book.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Church Road Trips

Beyond the Ordinary, a PCUSA denominational blog, posted a very interesting survey that analyzes travel time to church versus level of church involvement.

The topic piques my interest because our former church was a 12 minute drive from home while our new church is 25 minutes away on a Sunday morning (longer during peak traffic times!). While we would not have joined a church that far away when our children were growing up, it is well worth the drive to us now. Our level of involvement is almost as high as it was at the other church and I would say that the difference is accounted for more by a desire to focus our efforts than by distance, although there is no doubt distance is a factor.

Interestingly, the survey says that there is little difference in participation among those who travel 30 minutes or less to church, which would be the group we fall into. That surprised me. I would have guessed that a difference in participation showed up at 15 or 20 minutes. According to the survey, only 3% of church-goers travel more than 30 minutes to their church and their participation rates are sharply down.

I think that one of the things this survey shows is that more churches can reach out farther geographically into the community than they think they can to attract members.

How far do you travel to attend church? What difference has distance made in choosing your church home?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

For Your Summer Viewing: Other People's Parties

The daughter of one of our friends at church is one of the writers and producers of a film that won 1st place at the 2008 Napa Valley Film Festival and was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. She also stars in the film playing the role of Sasha.

It is a cute comedy called Other People's Parties about two friends who start a party planning company but get a bit sidetracked on the way to success.

Best of all, you can watch it for free here on your computer:

The movie is about an hour and a half in length, so set aside some time to enjoy it!