Seven Quick Takes, Drumming out the old edition

— 1 —

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’m sorry I haven’t been posting that much, but the fact is that I’m going to leave this all behind and hit the road. That’s right, my total and complete OWNAGE of the drum solo on “Free Fallin’ – LEGO Rock Band Version” has made it so, so clear to me that my entire life has been leading up to a rock career.

I made my husband promise that if I can get 100% on every drum part on every song on LEGO Rock Band and Beatles Rock Band, we will buy a real live drum set. Oh, sure, he’s said all along that no child of his would play the drums, but there’s that little codicil at the end that says “I never dreamed my WIFE would want a drum set.”

So I need some other band members. I figure if famous authors can perform as the Rock Bottom Remainders, the time has come for a bloggers’ equivalent. No, I am not going to Google to find out if there is already a blogger equivalent. What I’m saying is that we need someone on the bass, a guitarist, at least one lead singer (I could maybe do backup) and keyboards, too. Oh, sure, I already own and can sort of play piano, but what fun is it to run away from it all if you have to actually practice a real instrument?

We’ll be moms (edited to accomodate non-mom people with actual talent who have signed on in the comments), we’ll be rockin’, we’ll be called SPRAWL or some such because we’re from the suburbs, dig it. And our children will have no way to rebel except to take up classical music. It’s a flawless plan.

ONE! TWO! THREE! HIT IT!

— 2 —

We can make our debut in the lounge outside the 2012 Catholic New Media Celebration next summer. It’s going to be in Dallas/Fort Worth at the end of August, so it will include the penitential component of Texas in August. That has to be worth an indulgence. I am planning to go and I hope you will, too!

— 3 —

I’m going to take issue with our hostess’ admittedly sound argument in favor of the basic Kindle. Granted, she is correct that

What’s wonderful about the basic-model Kindle (and presumably the basic models of other e-readers as well) is that there’s no temptation to do anything other than read a book.

although I would have to add “or buy a book,” as that is an ever-present temptation. Oh, but look! I can check out books from the library for free! Whee!

My in-laws gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and it is definitely my favorite gadget. I’ve installed a few apps and I honestly can’t speak authoritatively on the merits of various Kindle versions. But if I’m right that the Fire has apps and the basic models don’t, I will say that I think it’s worth the increase in price. I’m able to read and annotate PDF’s with the ezPDF Reader Pro app – wait, that might not depend on having a Kindle Fire – well, anyway, it’s cool. I really love being able to highlight and make notes inside of the text, particularly since I have a couple of books in draft form that I’m reading for people and this is far, far easier than reading on a computer screen.

Um, I’m not rebutting Jennifer’s point when I say that I really like being able to watch Hulu Plus on my Kindle, I guess. I’m not planning to install Facebook or Twitter because I do want this to remain primarily for reading.

I guess my point is: I love this present.

Oh, and also: EVERNOTE.

— 4 —

My father-in-law wanted to show me how easy it is for him to give me books via the Amazon store. “What’s a book you’ve been wanting to read?” he asked. “CATCHING FIRE PLEASE!” I whispered with the feverish anticipation that can only come from slamming through the first book of the Hunger Games series. Have you read it? I kept hearing people talk about it and decided to check it out for free (you can check out one book a month if you have an Amazon Prime membership.) I knew I’d never be able to wait to get the books via the library.

The first two books are terrific but I wasn’t crazy about Mockingjay. The series has an Ender’s Game feel about it in its treatment of violence and the manipulation of children for propaganda purposes. The third book is bleak and more explicit both in its violence and its treatment of sexuality. I was thinking I would let my son read the series in a year or so but I think I may hold off for a while. I try to not introduce a series to my kids unless I know it’s not going to escalate to addressing topics that aren’t mentioned in the earlier books.

— 5 —

Gingerbread structures are my thing at Christmastime, and this year I attempted a neighborhood (well, two families) get-together to construct a gingerbread train. We had six train cars in all, with the idea that each family could decorate a car or two and then take them home to their own houses. Although the evening was enjoyable, the decorating took a turn for the worse when one car, overloaded with marshmallow Peep trees, decided to explode. It was eventually determined that the best course of action was to continue the “gone off the rails” theme and turn that car into a testament against distracted train driving.

No pictorial evidence exists, as the train eventually ran so far off the rails it ended up in the trash.

We took three of the better cars to San Antonio with us for Christmas day with family, and I think the kids thought this would be the year: the year when the gingerbread structure actually gets eaten.  Usually, we leave it up for a couple of weeks, during which time the children beg to be allowed to snack on it and I stubbornly forbid doing so. Then it gets forgotten for another week or so, at which point the gingerbread has turned to stone and the entire enterprise ends up in the garbage. Kind of a depressing end to the season, really. But that’s how I see it panning out yet again, as the train was used for a centerpiece but then passed over in favor of other, fresher, more flavorful, less-touched-by-small-children desserts.

I can respect that.

— 6 —

Want to capture the Christmas joy all the way up to whatever date you consider to be the end of the Christmas season? (EPIPHANY) Tune into Korrektiv Radio on Pandora.

Based on reader-submitted favorites, we created two stations:

Korrektiv – Sacred Christmas Radio

Korrektiv – Secular Christmas radio

And, in honor of our New Orleans pilgrimageDixieland Christmas radio.

(I really am going to write up a travelogue of that weekend at the Walker Percy conference, even if the only one who still wants to read it is Melanie with her fancy new blog.)

— 7 —

I am going to try valiantly to eschew New Year’s Resolutions, even though I like making Grand Promises of Reform so much that I do so every 5.3 days (approximately). But I do want to come up with a better system of budgeting for our groceries. We have a Kroger here and I remembered the halcyon days of double coupons and hoped to get back in that habit, but alas, they have discontinued the practice. Still, I think my best bet is going to be to pick one grocery store chain to start with and get to know when their specials are, rather than try to make 3-4 trips a week to different groceries. With the children.

Anyone have good tips? Are there cool apps out there that help with grocery shopping? You know, for my Kindle. (Just kidding – actually for my phone.) (I said I wasn’t a gadget person but I lied.)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Seven Quick Takes – Oh! Christmas Tree?

— 1 —

We still haven’t found the Advent wreath, probably because I haven’t started looking. I mean, I have to work my way up to it. The garage is…not for the faint of heart. Plus, I threw out my back while bouncing down the stairs with my three-year-old, a short-term solution to the Cycle of Endless NO, but a long-term hazard to my health. So I’m forced – forced – to take long breaks, reading my book and sitting up with the heating pad.

I’m almost finished with Ellen Finnigan’s The Me Years , which I bought on Betty Duffy’s recommendation and am really enjoying so far. More on that later. Along with about ten other book reviews that I have in my mental queue.

— 2 —

Christmas card photo

We are, however, going to get our Christmas tree this weekend.

Now, I grew up with a proper understanding of the Christmas tree pilgrimage. We don’t just go to some store. NO. We make an afternoon – or perhaps a day – of it. Every year meant a trip out to Jack’s Creek Christmas Tree Farm to tromp all over the hillside looking for just the right tree. It’s funny how the first tree is usually perfectly fine but must be rejected out of hand, because it wouldn’t be a true adventure if it didn’t involve at least one argument about the tree.

Last year, my dear husband searched for a local Christmas tree farm and happened upon Cat Spring Farms, a perfectly lovely family-owned farm in Sealy (about an hour and a half from Houston). I rarely do smart things when it comes to planning ahead, but I did have the foresight last year to take a photo of the sign at the entrance, which is the only reason I was able to track it down again this year. They have hayrides, a fire pit for making S’mores, and horseshoes. It may not be the most efficient approach to spend an entire Saturday getting a Christmas tree, but it’s worth it.

Plus, while I’m at the Christmas tree farm, I’m not at my house, which means there is no way I could possibly be dealing with the garage.

— 3 —

Catholic parish website design

In website  news, I finished up my first Catholic parish website design a couple of weeks ago for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Plain City, OH. Sarah Reinhard was kind enough to contact me about working with their parish and I can honestly, non-snarkily say that I learned a lot. I’d love for you to take a look, and if your parish is in need of a website, please contact me!

— 4 —

I had vague hopes of doing Christmas cards this year, as I actually sat down and compiled a list of addresses last year, but alas – I accidentally bent the flash drive on which I’d saved a backup of the address list after our server went kaput. So I would have to start from scratch. And my “smartphone” has somehow decided that every single person I am connected to on Google Plus should be added to my Contacts as “unknown,” but my best friend from first grade should apparently be deleted altogether. Technology has conspired against me because it wants me to just start sending e-cards.

— 5 —

My kids won tickets to the Houston Aeros hockey game tonight via an art contest through the Texas Renaissance Festival. I was talking to my mom about it. “Oh! That’s nice…so, is it going to be at…where’s it going to be?”

“You were going to ask if the hockey game is going to be at the Renaissance Festival, weren’t you.”

“Yes. Yes, I was.”

Sadly, it’s not. Wouldn’t that be the best, though? I’m sure hockey in 85-degree weather, played by men in authentic Renaissance period wear, would be a far more exciting spectator sport, don’t you think? I bet there would be far fewer penalties, for one thing. It could be sort of like jousting…on ice.

— 6 —

Our parish hosts Catholic Date Night once a month, and last weekend was our first chance to go. This is a FABULOUS program. For $10/person, you get a gourmet dinner with wine, free babysitting (if you register in advance), camaraderie with other couples, and then a screening of an episode from Fr. Robert Barron’s CATHOLICISM video series. There’s a core team of couples who coordinate the cooking and I think my husband would have gladly spent the night in the kitchen. He loves to cook and enjoys making elaborate dinners – and it’s an easy way to make friends, pitching in with the dinner prep. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I would very much recommend this format for other parishes. (Especially the babysitting!) (We actually decided to go at the last minute after friends offered to babysit, but seriously – babysitting is key to getting parents of small children to come to parish activities.)

— 7 —

My husband’s office had a Christmas party last weekend, and that meant another night of going somewhere without the children. This marked a 200% increase in the number of times we’d gone out without the children this year. Yes, that means we’d only gotten a babysitter one other time the whole year. This is how pitiful we are.

Anyway, it was another great evening, even when I accidentally dumped my plate full of food onto the feet of his coworkers huddled around the fire pit. I like to make a vivid first impression.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Novelty and Tradition

“I hope SAINT NICHOLAS doesn’t forget to give us chocolate,” the seven-year-old said, staring fixedly at me.

She needn’t have worried: despite my generally lackluster performance this year as Advent Family Craft coordinator, I would come through with chocolate. This much, I can handle.

I married a cradle Catholic, both of us of Irishy semi-German American mixed nuts descent. We were each raised in the faith by parents who appreciated the beauty of the liturgy and our rich heritage of – you know, all that Catholic good stuff. Fish on Fridays, the blessing before meals, rosaries in the house, assorted religious artwork.

And while I do remember having an Advent wreath on our table, and a vague sense of the Jesse Tree being A Thing, my mom never felt it incumbent upon her to live out the season as liturgically as possible through special books, crafts, and rituals. There just weren’t that many liturgical traditions in our family – or in my husband’s. Cue Grumpy Old Man: “and we LIKED it that way!”

I’m feeling a bit of holiday overwhelm already, and I haven’t even started the Christmas shopping. While it’s been a few months since we relocated to our new city, there is still much unpacking to be done, and the Advent wreath is somewhere in a green Rubbermaid tub marked “Christmas/Advent/misc.” It’s the “misc” that will do you in. “Misc.” describes about 98% of my consciousness right now – floating, uncategorized, in stasis.

So we’re laming out on Advent. I feel bad, because there are so many lovely books out there (speaking of which, have you entered the fantastic Ten Amazing Days of Advent book giveaway at Amazing Catechists?) I do have a Magnificat Advent Companion, and I even know where it is. There’s that. And, of course, the celebration of St. Nicholas Day, an ancient tradition we’ve appropriated despite never having celebrated it as children.

I feel like an overenthusiastic graduate student could write a searing commentary on the significance of seeking out liturgical traditions from a patchwork of cultures to create some ideal home environment for passing down the faith. (I live my life in fear of the commentaries of grad students.) There is something very artificial about the entire enterprise, and yet – it does make our life the richer to measure the seasons by remembering our ancestors in faith. That, of course, is our true heritage, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if we’re not really sure how to pronounce oplatki if it allows us to appreciate the tradition and make memories of our own.

Another thing I’m missing this year is musical preparation for Christmas, in that I’m not singing in a choir for the first time in many years. I’ve always enjoyed emerging from a choir rehearsal into the cold darkness of the parking lot, the melody line echoing in my ears and knowing that it’s almost here. Christmas is coming. The Advent seasons during which I myself was pregnant were particularly moving, not only because of hormones but also because of a deeper kinship with Mary, a deeper understanding of joyful expectation.

The kids are in choir, though, and I mean a real fancy choir, not just deck them halls and all that stuff.

In some ways, my minimalist approach to Advent this year may be a good thing, since I am sparing us all the usual manic coordination of Advent-themed family time. (The dumbest year of all was when I decorated the tree…but with purple ribbons. A pre-decoration, to signify the coming actual decoration of the tree. Purple ribbon was on sale that year.)

We’ll get there anyway, to Christmas. And somewhere among all of the “Giftmas” frenzy, we’ll find a bit of silence.

Mozarts, We Ain’t

Mozart

Mozart is not amused

After months of good intentions, I finally got around to restarting piano lessons with the kids this week. I really would prefer they take from an actual piano teacher, but since we moved here during the summer I had neither the time nor the “connections” to suss out a good teacher. I figure they’ll survive a year or so of my ineptitude.

Tonight we decided to show off the first week’s progress by playing some duets for Daddy when he came home.

First up, the 7-year-old and I played a rousing chorus of “Scenic Train Ride,” emphasizing the bluesy undertones and plaintive sound of the train whistle passing by. I think we hit a nice dynamic balance between the crashing forte of the incoming train and the fading mezzopiano of its departure.

Next, the 10-year-old agreed under duress to a round of “Rustic Dance,” despite the fact that he doesn’t have it down perfect yet. He really hit the staccato chords in the left hand, creating an almost Copeland-esque air of conviviality.

Last, the three-year-old decided to solo.

“FART! FART! FART FART FART! YOU FART! HEEE HEE HEE FART FART!”

You know, you can mold those first two children fairly well, emphasizing the importance of pleasant manners when in mixed company, but once they’ve learned the really fun, embarrassing words, there’s no keeping them away from the baby of the family.