Tuesday, March 28, 2006

37 Flowers!!
Look at what my adorable husband gave me as an early birthday present--37 flowers!!

(And no, I'm not saying why there are 37 of them. That's top secret. It wouldn't have anything to do with how many years old I am, so don't even ask.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Pancake Day
This morning, I made pancakes again, and decided to be more intentional about making weirdly shaped pancakes. My son helped.

He made this one on the right, which he thought looked a lot like LeBron James playing basketball. Don't you think?

This one looks to me like a shamrock. I admit it's a tad too "blobby," but still... Is this a sign that I should continue working on my St. Patrick project???

And, alas, this one...well, I think it may properly be called blob. Just can't see anything else in it, except maybe a brain. Brainy-cake?

Unfortunately, the next two Saturdays I won't be able to make pancakes (unless I get up at the crack of dawn, which generally doesn't happen). But stay tuned for more pancake fun!

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Grammar Goddess?
My latest pet peeve is how often "LESS" and "FEWER" are messed up. You use "less" before a mass noun, like salt or water. So you'd say, "A little less salt, please." But you do not say (as I found in the book I'm reading) "...he sustained less injuries than I did." AARGH!!!! It's FEWER!! Use fewer when you are describing a plural noun. Thanks to Aardvark for this fun quiz. And to the Chicago Manual of Style too. I love that book.

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)

You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Congratulations! If your mission in life is not already to preserve the English tongue, it should be. You can smell a grammatical inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is revered by the underlings, though some may blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just jealous. Go out there and change the world.
Take this quiz!

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Signs of Spring
Even though it's snowing lightly outside, I am relishing in the signs that spring is coming. My daffodils are 6 inches high. No buds yet, but getting close. The crocuses are blooming. The robins are hopping around. Can't wait for my lilacs. But the waiting is good. It reminds me that better is coming, that this life is not all there is.

One of my favorite things all year is waiting for the scent of Easter lillies. When we go to church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, if I go in the back way to church, I get a whiff of the Easter lillies waiting in the stairwell, ready to adorn the altar. Not yet, but soon, they seem to trumpet.

I love this quote by Luther: "This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not healthy but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise; we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road; all does not yet gleam with glory, but all is being purified."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

So Stinkin' Excited, Part 2
When I was in college, one of my summer jobs was working on the custodial staff at Concordia College in Ann Arbor. This was not fun. The worst part was cleaning the bathrooms in the students dorms. The men's bathrooms especially were pretty darn gross. (This was actually not my worst job ever. That post will have to come another day.) What I wouldn have given then to have been able to use this fabulous new product in those nasty bathrooms!

Today, I went shopping with my friend. She said her mom had tried this product, Mr. Clean's magic eraser along with Scrubbing bubbles and that it cleaned her bathroom tub in a snap. So, my friend and I both got one.

All I have to say is that our tub has never looked so beautiful. Yes, beautiful. That is the word for it. Scrub brushes, comet, scary smelling bleachy type stuff--nothing worked like the bubbles and mr. clean. So. Totally. Awesome.

I know, you're thinking, "Julie, you really need to get out more." And that's probably true. But it's also true that nothing says "I love you" to your family more than a beautiful tub. Am I right or am I right??

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So Stinkin' Excited!!
We got the itinerary for our Israel/Egypt trip this November, and it looks so awesome!!! We are getting very excited. The first 8-9 days are going to be in Israel, going to all the traditional sites--Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Jericho...all cool stuff. Then, we can add on 3-4 more days and go into Egypt. We'll travel across the Sinai peninsula, spend a day at the pyramids/sphinx, do touristy stuff in Cairo, and then have a free day in Cairo. So awesome!

A Really Nice Pastor's Wife Post
So, I discovered Our Little House on the Prairie, another Lutheran pastor's wife's blog. There are more of us around than you think! She had a really nice post last week called "I Love My Man in Uniform"--and what a great title--about her husband preaching a sermon. Really well put!

In my husband's sermon last Wednesday, my meatloaf got a mention. He called it "divine." I must admit, it is a good meatloaf recipe (from my mom). And it was a great sermon too. It was actually an interesting evening because that was my very-cranky-don't-want-to-go-to-church-or-anywhere-else night. I think I crabbed at hubby a little, he probably dished it back, etc. But there he was, at the pulpit, telling me about God's grace, pointing me to my Savior. Just like always.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Is it a sign???
A friend of mine told me a few days ago that I should write a book about penguins. So, I've had that in mind lately.

Then, I decided to make pancakes on Saturday a.m. When I got to the last of the batter, I scraped out the bowl, and look at the shape it made!! Does this not look like a penguin, holding a baby penguin?? I mean, seriously. It must be a sign. And look at the way the picture is taken, with the sunlight falling across the plate in such a glowing manner. Doesn't that just confirm the fact that this penguin pancake was heaven-sent?

It couldn't be my imagination, could it??

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Saint Patrick's Day + One
I spent much of January reading about Saint Patrick. I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, which I loved because he is just so dang bold in his thesis. I mean, that's a topic sentence, eh? (And a catchy title.) Another great book was Philip Freeman's excellent biography of Patrick called St. Patrick of Ireland. The book I liked least was Stephen Lawhead's historical-ish/fictional account of Patrick called Patrick: Son of Ireland. In his story, he had Patrick become a druid during his years of slavery and then become a pseudo-Christian/druidic priest when he returned to Ireland. But...his lavish detail and characterization were a lot of fun to read.

Dispelling the myths:
- We have no idea if Patrick actually used a shamrock to teach the Trinity, although it's certainly possible. He never wrote about it. It's just one of those legends that's been around for eons.

- The "Lorica" or Breastplate of Patrick, which begins, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity..." was probably not written by Patrick as scholars date it back to around the 7th century (Patrick lived in the 4th). But it certainly captures the spirit of Patrick's teaching and confession.

-Of course, Patrick magically ridding the island of snakes is ridiculous.

-But the leprachauns...they're real! :)

The thing I love most about reading his letters is this: here is this Christian bishop and missionary who lived fifteen centuries ago, confessing the faith with urgency and orthodoxy. We are blessed to have his faithful witness speak across the ages to us.

Here is an excellent Trinitarian section from his Confessio. (From the translation of Patrick's letters by John Skinner, p. 77)

There is no other God—there never was and there never will be. God our father was not born nor did he have any beginning. God himself is the beginning of all things, the very one who holds all things together, as we have been taught.

And we proclaim that Jesus Christ is his son, who has been with God in spirit always, from the beginning of time and before the creation of the world—though in a way we cannot put into words. Through him everything in the universe was created, both what we can see and what is invisible. He was born as a human being and conquered death, rising into the heavens to be with God. And God gave to him power greater than any creature of the heavens or earth or under the earth, so that someday everyone will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. We believe in Him and we wait for him to return very soon. He will be the judge of the living and the dead, rewarding every person according to their actions.

And God has generously poured out on us his Holy Spirit as a gift and token of immortality. This Spirit makes all faithful believers into children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Here's a little summary of St. Patrick that I wrote up.

Saint Patrick: The Man Behind the Legends

St. Patrick lived in fourth-century Briton, and his home was probably on the west coast of modern-day England. His grandfather was a priest (in the days before priestly celibacy) and his father was a deacon in the church.

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by slave traders and sold to a slave owner in Ireland. There, for six long years, he labored in the woods and pastures of Foclut near the Western Sea where tended sheep. At first, Patrick, traumatized by his capture, sank into deep misery. But in time, his faith, which had been shallow as a child, grew and deepened. He prayed night and day, a hundred times a day and long into the night. Then he had a dream that a ship was ready to take him back to Briton. He likely escaped during the summer months, making his way through the forests and bogs of Ireland, trying to hide his slave torc, the gold ring around his neck, as well as his foreign accent. Indeed, when he made it to the coast, his ship was ready, and after a little convincing, he climbed aboard and headed back home.

Back in Briton, Patrick decided to study for the priesthood. But he had missed important years of his education. Late in life, he still regretted missing those formative years and lamented about how poor his Latin was.

But Patrick did not become bitter about his years of slavery. Instead, he had another dream. In this one, the Irish begged him to come back to them. Surprisingly, Patrick decided to do just that—return to the land of his captivity to bring the good news to Jesus to the Irish people.

Many years later, after becoming a priest and then finally a bishop, Patrick's dream to return to Ireland was realized. He returned to the land of druids who still performed human sacrifice. He returned to the land which was poor and uncivilized (unlike his Romanized Briton). He returned to the land which at that time was considered "the ends of the earth." He returned to the land where he was a slave.

Unlike the legends, he did not drive snakes from Ireland. He did not find pots of gold or leprechauns. But he did bring the message of salvation through Christ to a people lost in sin and darkness.

Did Patrick explain the concept of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with a shamrock? Perhaps. It's not known for certain. But what we do know by letters that Patrick himself penned is that he believed, confessed, and preached about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that that Irish people clung to this message of salvation.

In that time, when Roman civilization was crumbling, many people believed that the end of the world was near. So Patrick took the message of the Christian faith with urgency to Ireland, and God blessed his work.

In the years after Christianity spread in Ireland, the country was transformed. As Thomas Cahill writes, "Ireland became a Christian culture, where slavery and human sacrifice became unthinkable, and warfare, though impossible for humans to eradicate, diminished markedly." Slavery and human sacrifice was all but eradicated, women began to have more status in society, and monasteries became centers of learning.

That one man—a former slave—could have accomplished all this is remarkable. But it wasn't one man who had achieved so much. It was a gracious God who blessed the humble efforts of a man whose message of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and mercy of God transformed history.


· Patrick's own writings: Confessio and Letter to Coroticus (The Confession of Saint Patrick, translated by John Skinner, foreword by John O'Donohue; Image Books, Doubleday, 1998.)

· St. Patrick of Ireland by Philip Freeman, Simon and Schuster, 2005.

· How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, Doubleday, 1995.

A Slight Caveat
I mentioned a couple of days ago that I am reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I'm still reading it, although as I go along, I'm not liking it as much as the beginning. The book is not exactly G-rated, FYI. Still, it's an interesting read. Her writing is fresh, lively, conversational, witty, smart--everything a New York editor is dying to see.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Blessings of Sleep
So, I was cranky and tired last night, grouching at my family, etc. This is the kind of crankiness not even a bowl of ice cream will fix. Not a pretty picture. Then I got a good night's sleep. When I woke up, everything just seemed easier to tackle. You know what I mean? It's not so much that I couldn't manage to wash the dishes last night. It just seemed so LARGE of a project. Sleep is a blessing in that way: it gives us perspective.

Now, an interesting thought about sleep and breathing. Did you know that some animals are conscious breathers? This means that they have to consciously think about every breath they take. Dolphins and whales are conscious breathers. Wouldn't that stink?? I mean, I have enough to think about. Thankfully, my body breathes without me making the decision to do so.

So then the question becomes how do dolphins and whales sleep? See here, and here for more info. Scientists have found that half of the dolphin's brain is asleep, while the other half is sort of dozing. That way they can still come to the surface when they make the decision to breathe. Then, I guess, the other half snoozes at some point too. Isn't that wild?

So, that's how dolphins are able to sleep and still breathe consciously. I'm so glad I'm an unconscious breather. Aren't you? Now I'm thinking about all the things that I wish were unconscious too. Wouldn't it be great if meal preparation were unconscious? I would just show up in the kitchen, and then I'd just sort of unconsciously figure out what to make, how to make it, avoid burning it, etc. Then I'd show up at the table, and I'd think, "Cool, I hadn't really thought about having chili for dinner, but here it is!" That'd be awesome.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Warm Day
It was a mild weekend here in Pittsburgh. Yesterday was sort of a Seattle-ish day, pouring in the morning, and rain hung in the air all day. The kind of humidity that makes your skin stop itching constantly from being so dry. This morning, I took my dog on a long run in shorts and a t-shirt (I was in the shorts and t-shirt, not the dog).

If you don't believe me that the weather is worthy of conversation, check out Pr. Petersen's post for today.

I'm reading a slightly bizarre but intriguing book called Julie and Julia. It's interesting for us bloggers. The author, Julie Powell decided to--in the span of 365 days--try out every Julia Child recipe in her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Then Julie Powell blogged about how the recipes turned out. It's really smart and insightful and makes me want to try some of the recipes. It also shows how blogging can sometimes lead to bestselling books. The most humorous part so far is when her husband, brother, and friend track down a piece of a cow bone. Then Julie has to scrape the bone marrow out of the bone to cook down (with butter, of course) a sauce for the steak she's serving. (And, no, I absolutely will not be trying that recipe--although the steaks did taste good, she said.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Chirp! Chirp!
Ever wonder what birds you hear waking you up in the mornings? Check out this cool link to listen.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Today's the Day!
My newest book, Cheep! Cheep! is officially released today. Cheep! was illustrated by Carol Baicker-McKee, who is not only a wonderful friend, but also a fabulously talented artist and writer. We were very excited to be able to work on this project together. This is the first of at least three books we will be working on with Bloomsbury USA. The thing I love most about this book (in addition to the adorable illustrations) is that I wrote the whole story in 12 words or so, which all rhyme, of course! There aren't too many phonemes in the English language that can be used this way.

Here's one of the really nice reviews we got. We also saw write-ups in Parenting and Child magazine, which were very nice too.

Cover art copyright Carol Baicker-McKee

Publishers Weekly, February 13th (starred review)
"Take a family of adorable, three-dimensional chickens-constructed from velvety, cozily domestic terry cloth-add a text made up entirely of words with a giggle-inducing "eep" sound, and the result is this irresistible, inventive paper-over-board book. "Sleep" starts off the first spread, where a chicken family tries to get some shut-eye. A turn of the page shows a "Cheep" coming from the egg below their perch. Making a joint "Leap!" (the smallest chick uses its blankie as a parachute) the peeping protagonists land in a comic "Heap" and eagerly welcome their newest addition. Baicker-McKee (the FussBusters series) gives her absorbent cast minimalist facial features and highly streamlined appendages (the two-color backdrops are equally spare). But she comes up with an amazing array of expressions and comic poses; when the reconstituted family settles down on the perch for a group slumber party, the two smallest downy siblings share a priceless conspiratorial wink and hug. Young children will undoubtedly view the chick family as toys come to life and be thoroughly enchanted. Here's hoping another diphthong inspires a follow-up from this talented team."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Revisiting Old Projects
I've lately been reworking an story I wrote a few years ago about a Japanese girl whose family moved to the US. I wrote it while I was teaching ESL to international students several years ago. I brought into the story an element of Japanese culture which I love: origami. Origami is paper folding, and to see the perfect corners and folds of those who are good at origami is fun to watch.

Over the years, I've also come to love Japanese food, particularly the careful presentation of the food. My family and I ate at the home of a Japanese family several years ago, and I remember the cook's attention to detail in every aspect of the meal. I asked if I could help. She had me arrange seven different items for the appetizer. The carrots were cut just so, the cucumber sliced at an angle, etc. I started putting the seven items on the plate, but right away, she corrected me. The carrot was not aligned with the cucumber just right. That kind of attention we American cooks don't often have patience for. But I love it when a beautiful meal is laid before me at a sushi restaurant. Somehow, that's lost when we dish up tuna casserole!