Wednesday, February 27, 2013

how to use "Dalí" in a sentence

Here's a sample sentence that puts the word Dalí to good use:

After drinking a whole demitasse, Greta had a Dalí of hot chocolate on her face.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

while the band played on

To show how important a music soundtrack is, take a look at two identical dance montages, set to different music.

Monday, February 18, 2013

things i did in 12

Every year near Valentine's Day I send out a digest of the previous year. It's a good way to sift through all the stuff that life throws at you, and find what's worth commenting on.

Now comes the fun part, where friends old and new get back in touch and fill me in on all the stuff that somehow escapes the radar of Facebook.

Read it

Friday, February 15, 2013

five little words

Taking care of newborns is immensely easier for us these days because we now understand their language. From the very earliest days of life, there are five words that babies say, or, more accurately, five sounds that babies make. It transcends borders, ethnicities, and languages. Learn to recognize them, and you'll have a much better time figuring out what your baby needs and how to placate it.

I'm a little better at this than Catherine, but she's getting more and more discerning (and, two years ago, she got pretty good at it with Greta), and even 2-year-old Greta herself can hear a couple of those baby words clearly enough to proclaim that she knows what little Clara wants.

 Neh  - Hunger. Could it be that the instinctive motion of using the tongue for feeding is at the root of this sound?

 Heh  - Discomfort. Diaper full, or something itchy, or carseat maladjusted. This one often happens several times in a row and it often ends in a glottal stop, like "He*," where the * is a glottal stop. So it can sometimes sound like "ha, ah-ha, ah-ha..."

 Eh  - Gas. Burp me! Very distinctive glottal sound there.

In the above three sounds, the vowel isn't quite as important as that first consonant. In these next two, the vowel sound is more the key.

 Oh  - Sleepiness. Our kids haven't signalled this one that much because they just close their eyes and sleep. Whew! But even our blessedly easy kids sometimes get tired but can't find a way toward sleep without rocking or a pacifier.

 Errw  -  Poopiness. This one's a little hard to hear, but the facial expressions that often accompany it are a giveaway.

It's so nice to be able to hear what a kid is saying. Anyone who's ever frantically stuffed a pacifier in a baby's mouth when it's actually just uncomfortable, or tried to feed it when it needs burping, feels an overwhelming gratitude toward whoever figured this out and codified it. Many's the time Greta or Clara sounded like they were expressing some thing when I just knew it couldn't be right — " 'Eh?' Whadaya mean by saying 'eh?' I just burped you, you liar." — but when I obeyed what I heard them saying rather than what I thought I knew, the whole thing resolved instantly — "Awwwwwww, I love you, you double-burping trickster!"

Wonderful, isn't it? As far as I'm concerned, this is an incredible addition to the knowledge of humankind, a relief of the miseries of our race, and a lasting contribution from our civilization.

Just about every time I've shared it with someone, they've exclaimed that those sounds seem awfully alike. But our family has a Hannah, an Anna, and a Nana, and no one gets all that confused. Each baby will of course have its own accent for all these things, and it can be a bit tricky, but man oh man is it worth it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

fruit from scattered seeds

Catherine and I are fortunate to have traveled much. Often when we do we stay with friends or friends-of-friends. Of course we always try to be in good-houseguest mode, and we're both friendly folks, but sometimes a special connection gets made. In this case, it was made without our quite knowing how special.

Our friend M hung out with us, showed us around a bit, the usual. She and Catherine hit it off, with a couple of nice long boy talks. She and I hit it off, with a couple of nice long after-hours games and conversations when others had drifted off.

She knew we were religiously involved; she wasn't too religiously involved, although, like a lot of people, described herself as having spiritual interests. Certainly her lifestyle wasn't consistent with a traditional Christian faith — but, as ever, we had no desire to get into any debates or condemnations. Refreshingly, she didn't treat us like Goldilocks or Jerry Falwell, who seem to form the two usual choices for non-Christians when they meet people like Catherine and me. We didn't treat her like a heathen; ... actually, we did treat her just like a heathen or a Christian or any other human being should be treated: with friendliness and interest. Her sexual life was one that could be described as full buffet; she was fascinated that Catherine and I were each other's only one. We didn't really talk as much about sex or faith, though, as we did about beer and food and music and travel and books and movies. Just all the interesting stuff that people talk about when they hang out in the late-night-school-dorm atmosphere that you sometimes fall into when you travel.

After our trip we kept in touch a bit: a note here and there. We could tell she really liked us, and we really liked her. She disappeared from Facebook for a while. Then, just the other day, she reappeared, pictured next to a handsome guy, with a white veil on. Wow! Then we read the caption and realized she was wearing the veil as part of her baptism ceremony. Wow! I dropped a quick note asking how she was doing and expressing gladness to be back in touch. This is the response:
I think of you guys ALL the time! You two were a huge inspiration to me. When I moved I sought after God and wanted a Christian relationship like one you had. I saw how functional you two were and so badly wanted to turn my life around. I had never known a Christian couple before.

So... to make a long and exciting testimony short (for now) ... I met L at a restaurant and I loved him as soon as he smiled back at me. L's a God-fearing man, full of faith and gifted with evangelism, so it didn't take long before I found myself going to church every Sunday! It took some time and a miraculous healing over me at a Pentecostal church one evening to break me down and surrender myself to the Lord. The most incredible things started happening in my life... it'd take all day to tell you about them!

Then I was baptized and even more incredible things happened! I literally went into the water one person and came out another. I felt convictions I'd never felt before and true forgiveness for the first time.

I'm so thankful to have L understand the drastic changes that overcame me. Within a year of being baptized I started a new ministry at our church. We're in the process of starting it for the new school year in September. It's a community-based youth and creative arts program for 11-13 year olds that builds relationships through creative expression. Very exciting stuff! I could also go on about that for an entire day.

I can't even begin to explain how many different routes I've taken lately and all the things I've been doing through my faith!

Thanks so much for staying at our place when you were traveling. God works in the coolest ways, doesn't he!?
Short answer: Yes.

No doubt this whole situation owes much to Catherine. She has an effect on people. I've mentioned before that Catherine has always seemed to me one of the Pippas of the world: one of those living manifestations of the moral butterfly effect. I've often thought evangelism is the worst form of evangelism; but the corollary to that is even better: being yourself is the best sermon.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

it's tons of fun to have a friend like this

My good friend Jason Young just whipped this up. He saw it on my blog and thought he'd give me a surprise by etching it in wood. So, thank you Jason, for a thoughtful gift!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

mad men and abundance

The new season of Mad Men is only a couple of months away. Of course, back in the 1960s, a show whose next season was only a couple of months away would be still in its current season. But we're in a new era, and I don't complain at all, because Mad Men is way better than I Dream Of Jeannie.

As an artist, I have always told myself to use all the creative material I have, to spend it profligately, with no thought of saving it for some hypothetical better time down the road. That forces you to use your best ideas and therefore turn in your current best work right now. So what if you run out of ideas? Chances are, actually, that you won't, and that the juice will keep flowing for a nice long time. On the other hand, what if that's wrong, and this idea is the best you've ever had? Well then all the more reason to spend that idea right now. Is Paul McCartney really sad that all his best songs were already written 45 years ago? It couldn't have turned out better.

And yet artists still have a tendency to conserve great ideas for some reason, to let them wait. It's kind of a discipline to use those ideas now. I got to thinking about this in conjunction with Mad Men, when I read this interview with its creator.
I started this season, Season 6, with the idea, all that there is is Season 7 left. So there were certain things that I was talking about in terms of this season, and I was like I’m going to save that, I’m going to put that into Season 7, it’s not time for that yet. And at a certain point [the writers] said to me, "Why are you doing this differently than you did it before?" And they were right. I am incapable of really holding back on story. So despite my inclination and my terrors about it ending and having nothing left, I decided to use everything I have this season that I have right now. It’s worked for the show before. I never used to know if I had another season, so I would always put in everything that I had. There is an intricacy to the stories that we tell and they’re on a human scale, so the idea of having less is just … I think it would be boring.

I never used to know if I had another season, so I would always put in everything that I had. Is there a more concise way to state this powerful rule for artists?

And non-artists as well: you and I don't know if we'll have another season. Let's put in everything we have.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

modern milk

How do you picture milk? That is, what is it? When you read of a milkmaid delivering milk through the streets in the 1750s, say, what exactly are you picturing? What about the milk delivered by a milkman in the 1950s?

It's likely that you picture a white substance like the milk in your refrigerator except in a pail or a jar or bottle. If that's what you picture, you have the wrong picture.

Our milk, a refrigerated solid-white substance of some slightly watery creaminess — available as whole milk, or 2% or 1% or skim — imbibed as a delicious drink or measured into coffee or tea or recipes, is a rather new development. By new, I mean something that happened in the lifetime of many living people. Just about anyone you know who's 65ish or older remembers a very different milk experience. For them, milk was a two-part substance, very watery with a thick head on the top. That's the way cows' milk actually happens. It wasn't something stirred and heated and filtered by machines to be homogenized — that is, given a single makeup, with standard levels of cream — before being sold. It was delivered in its two-part form, watery milk topped with thick cream, and then you decided what to do with the cream and how much of it to stir in at the moment of consumption.

So, we in the twenty-first century have no experience of family squabbles that start when the little kid gets into the milk jar and stirs in all the cream so the milk is deliciously thick and creamy, thus ruining it all for the rest of the family, who might have preferred if the mama had gotten hold of it first and scooped a good bit of cream off the top to spread on bread or to put into coffee or to use in that evening's dinner recipe. We wonder why there's such a huge gap between 1 and 2 percent and whole, without realizing till someone tells us that "whole" means 3.25 percent. We don't flinch at the idea of children drinking prodigious amounts of "whole" milk in the early 21st century, when their skinny counterparts a century before probably drank something much closer to skim (at least the common ones).

Interesting, isn't it, how major changes in society are so invisible.