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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fountain Pen Review: Noodler's Ink Ahab Pen

Before I talk about the Noodler's Ink fountain pen known as the Ahab, I want to give a shout out to a couple of companies which I discovered recently:  The Goulet Pen Company, and Noodler's Ink.

The Goulet Pen Company is run by a young couple; I believe they are both recent graduates from Virginia Tech.  Brian and Rachel Goulet are small business owners, and their product and passion are pens.  Anyone can sell pens; these folks have made a name for themselves by not only selling fountain pens, inks, and writing material.  They have also produced a large number of videos on the practical aspects of writing with fountain pens.  I have found them to be informative videos which also showcase their many products.  It is nice to be able to watch a video of the pen you want to buy before you put down money for it.

Here is one of the first videos produced by the Goulet Pen Company.  Here Brian Goulet explains why he is starting this video channel:


This video is two years old; in the interim, their company has expanded, his family has grown, and he has lost a bit of weight.  They are living the life of the small business owner; I wish them continued success.


On to Noodler's Ink.  Noodler's Ink makes a huge line of inks which come in a variety of colors.  In addition, the inks have different characteristics which you can research on the website.  The first ink I ever selected from Noodler's was one which dried fast; I tend to write in haste, and smudging could result if the ink is wet for a while on the page.  The ink I bought was called Bernanke Blue, after Ben Bernanke, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  As the label says, one needs a quick-drying ink when one is printing so much money.....



Oh look!  It even has his picture on the side of it:


I like this ink.  It dries quickly, and it is a beautiful blue.  I can use it at work because all medical records are scanned into the electronic chart in a uniform black color.  While I was at it, I bought one of the Noodler's fountain pens.  This one is called the Ahab, and it is very reasonably priced.  It came with this drawing, which shows Captain Ahab from Melville's book Moby Dick holding a harpoon.  It is hard to see with the pen in the way, but this Captain Ahab has a fountain pen rather than a wooden leg for his missing leg.




By the way, years ago I wrote a review for a book which described the incident that apparently inspired Herman Melville's book, Moby Dick.  The book is titled, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick.  My review can be found here.

The Ahab is a large fountain pen.  It is one of the largest in my collection, and has the potential to hold a lot of ink.  There is a simple piston mechanism for drawing up ink shown in the picture below.  Note that the nib is missing; at this moment it is on another pen.  More on that subject later.



     
The nib is present in this picture.  It is what is called a flexible nib, meaning that the width of the line can be modified by adjusting the amount of pressure applied to paper while writing.  It writes a fine line when pressure is minimal; that is my preference.  The nib looks good in stainless steel, and has been working well for more than a year.



Here is another view of the nib.  The color of this pen is blue, but it is translucent so one can see the amount of ink still in the pen.  Some pens are made of clear material so the mechanism can be seen; these types of pens are generally known as 'demonstrator' pens.



Here one can see the variable thickness of lines.  I am pressing more than usual at this point.


When I flipped the paper over I could see where the ink had bled through; this is more a characteristic of the paper than the ink.  That knife included in the picture is a little tractor.  I had to keep that from my youngest children who wanted to play with it.....


One of the first times I used the pen was writing something while lying in bed.  I fell asleep, and woke to find this ink stain on the bed cover.  Oops.  Thankfully it washed out.




So what do I like and dislike about this pen?  First off, I like how it writes.  It makes a fine line for those who prefer that.  It feels good in my hand, but I prefer pens that are a little thinner.  Occasionally the ink won't run, but I can get it to flow by just pressing the nib on paper to make the tines of the nib separate a little bit.  I can watch the ink start to flow, filling the gap between the tines, and then I am good to go.

My biggest reservation about this pen is actually one of the things I like about it.  This is not a 'beginner's' fountain pen.  This pen sometimes requires a bit of tweaking, and Nathan Tardiff, the owner of Noodler's Ink, even encourages people to fiddle around with this pen.  As noted in one of the pictures above, I have taken the nib off this pen and placed it in another pen to see if it works (it does).  Nathan even has videos on his website where he shows how to modify his pens even further.  

On another occasion, I dropped my Ahab pen off my desk.  It landed right on the nib, bending it.  At first I thought how I would replace the nib, but then I decided to just bend it back into shape.  That sufficed, and I have not had any problem with it since.

If you like to take apart pens and experiment with them, the Noodler's Ahab pen is for you.

Here is a writing sample from more than a year ago; note that a good pen does not automatically make for good penmanship:




Here are three reviews for the Ahab.  First is the one from the Goulet Pen Company:




Next is one from this doctoral student from the Netherlands.  He has a lot of good reviews:





And last, the review of the pen by its designer, Nathan Tardiff:







Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When the Wheels on the Bus Come Off







Warning: This is a post about vulgar language.  It contains vulgar language.

Recently an AsianAir Passenger Airliner crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport,  This tragedy was compounded by an additional insult when the NTSB released the names of the pilots of the aircraft.  In an incredible demonstration of poor taste, the names were read on the local evening news.  If you read them fast enough, you will notice that they begin to sound like something other than their names:




It was done so subtly (or maybe I am such an airhead) that I did not even realize what it meant until this  morning, when I read that the NTSB apologized and blamed it on a Summer intern who released that information.  I doubt that.  I doubt that such a large agency dealing with such a sensitive issue would allow someone with no authority to contact the local news with such sensitive information.  What probably really happened is that some administrator with the NTSB went ahead and released the names as a joke, and now is throwing one unnamed intern under the bus.

All of this does not surprise me when you consider the Obama administration.  Recall that Vice President Joe Biden was overheard saying 'this is a big f-----g deal' to President Obama when he signed the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into law:



That tells a lot about the example set by the head of our country, when he allows such tasteless comments by his subordinates in his presence.  He doesn't seem to care that others could possibly hear such inappropriate words.  I would guess the the tone at the top has trickled throughout his administration down to the level of the NTSB.  Now we see obscenities and vulgar language promulgated on national television at the behest of the administration.  I haven't even mentioned the racist angle.

I base these assumptions on my own experiences as the head of a family.  I have learned (to my regret) that any allowance of vulgar language is noticed immediately by my children.   These slips may be initiated by me, or when I fail to correct my children at the moment I hear them using any inappropriate language.  Either way, it is my example which is followed.  The children certainly did not hear vulgar or inappropriate language from their mother; either the world or myself are to blame.

So I have to work on keeping my language - and that of my children - clean.  Unfortunately, it looks as if only the next president can change the tone of the United States government.




Saturday, July 06, 2013

Missing a Carrier Pigeon?

Is this your pigeon?


This pigeon showed up at our house on Friday. We are providing food and water for it. It has a green band on its right leg and when we try to get close, it flies off very fast. It looks too good to be a city pigeon. 

The chickens don't like it. 


Perhaps the owner is googling for a found pigeon. We live south of Dallas, and would like to return this creature to its owner. I think it is a carrier pigeon raised for the sport. 

If this critter looks like yours, leave a comment. 

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Doctor as Patient




I recently had a procedure done, which gave me the opportunity to put myself into the role of patient rather than physician.  I tried really hard to not let on that I was a doctor, but eventually I let something slip which made one of the nurses realize that I was in the medical field.  It was illuminating to be the man on the gurney; I hope it doesn’t have to happen again for a long time.

I arrived at the appointed time, and after filling out some mandatory paperwork, I sat around for a while waiting to be called back.  I scheduled my procedure for first thing in the morning so I could reduce the likelihood of delays.  Carolyn kept my mind occupied with small talk, and I tried to respond appropriately, but all I could think of was what was to come.  As an anesthesiologist, I have seen all sorts of misadventures occur even with the most benign and least invasive procedures.  All of those incidents came rolling through my memory as I sat there.  As I handed my valuables over to Carolyn, I prayed an act of contrition and tried to resolve to accept whatever came to me this day.

When they called me back I jumped right out of my seat and was almost through the door before I realized I had not kissed Carolyn good bye.  I turned back, kissed her and told her ‘I love you’ and then I was alone with the medical team.  I was led into a typical pre-op bay with walls on three sides and just a curtain on the fourth side.  I sat on a gurney, where there was a hospital gown and a bag for my clothing.  After a brief interview the nurse gave me an overview of the risks of the procedure and the sedation I was about to receive.  She talked about how I might experience some discomfort from gas pain afterwards, and that the best way to deal with it was to let it out rather than holding it in.  She used an expression which I thought was priceless; one which I shall adopt in my own practice.  She told me to act like a ‘Linebacker in a Locker Room’ when it comes to letting the gas out.  I laughed.  Next, I was told to change into a hospital gown (“Open in the back, untied.”) after removing the rest of my clothes.  The nurse pulled the curtain closed as she stepped out.  

I had never thought about how to change into a gown before.  First of all, I was very self-conscious, knowing that there was only a curtain between me and the world outside.  Second, I was cold to begin with.  I had worn shorts and a shirt and a pair of Crocs so that I did not have a lot of clothes to deal with, but the day was abnormally cold for July in Texas.  I wanted to change and get under the blanket on the bed as soon as possible.  It suddenly occurred to me that the best thing to do was to remove my shirt, put on the gown (open in back), and remove everything else under the cover of the gown.  I thought I was pretty smart.  

Around this time the nurse called in to see if I were ready.  I said I was, and both sides of the curtain were pulled back as a nurse approached me from both sides.  In a matter of moments I had a set of electrocardiogram (ECG) leads placed on me and my blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation taken.  While the nurse on the left was checking my vital signs, the one on the right applied a tourniquet to my right arm and started looking for a vein on the back of my hand.  I asked what my blood pressure was; it was high.  I figured it was because I was scared.  Both nurses laughed, saying that my blood pressure was high because I had given Carolyn ‘some sugar’ before coming back for the procedure.

About this time, the nurse on the right told me to open and close my fist and then relax.  She placed an IV  catheter in the back of my hand and I barely felt it.  I asked her what size it was while I glanced at my hand.  Before she could answer, I said, ‘oh, it’s a twenty-two,’ meaning a 22 gauge catheter.  At this point she asked me if I was medical, and when I told her she laughed about how I just sat there and let her tell me all about the procedure.  I told her that I appreciated that she treated me like any other patient, and I also told her that I would use her line about the linebacker in a locker room when I talk to my patients.  After placing the IV, I was left alone in my little bay.  The fluorescent lights above seemed a little harsh.  I prayed, and wondered how much time had passed since I had come back there.  

My next visitor identified herself as a nurse, and that she would be giving the sedation.  I asked her if she were a CRNA (nurse anesthetist), and she said yes.  She also went over my history.  I was a little surprised that no one had listened to my heart or lungs yet.  One of my surgical colleagues told me that when one of his children had surgery, four people listened to the child’s chest - but only one documented what they heard.

The circulating room nurse came by next, and along with asking some of the same questions, she verified my NPO  times - NPO meaning nil per os in Latin, which means ‘nothing by mouth.’  With the procedure I was having, I had to abstain from solid food for more than 24 hours beforehand, so I told the nurse about how I had gone shopping at Costco the day before.  I told her how they had samples of stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon(!) so the whole store smelled of bacon.  She laughed.

Shortly thereafter the doctor came by to talk to me.  He said he wanted to see me about a month after the procedure, and that he would talk to Carolyn and me afterwards.  He said I would probably not remember it.  

A minute later the circulator started rolling me back to the procedure room.  It was rather strange to be riding in a gurney.  It reminded me of a roller coaster ride, where one has no control, and it appears as if the ride is going to hit walls or other obstacles.  I kept waiting for the gurney to strike a wall, but it never did.  As we entered the room, the CRNA I saw before started putting on monitors and took off my glasses.  When she saw my scapular, she said that I must have been praying before I came into the room.  I told her I still was.  After the monitors were in place, I was told to lie on my side.  I was aware that the CRNA was hooking up an infusion of propofol into my intravenous line.  I looked at my blood pressure which I could see on the monitor near my face, and it looked good.  The last thing I remember doing was asking how long the procedure would take.

The next thing I remember was waking up, back in a bay similar to the one where I had started.  A nurse I had never seen before told me that everything was done and that I could get dressed.  Carolyn was suddenly there, and she helped me get dressed.  The doctor stopped by and told me everything looked good and to see me in a month.  As soon as I was dressed, I was escorted out to the car which Carolyn had pulled up front.  I was surprised that I was not required to drink something before discharge; maybe I did drink something and just can’t remember.  Either way, this is different from the pediatric world, where our patients get general anesthesia for this procedure.  Also, children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults.  

I recall going home and resting intermittently for the rest of the day.  I felt funny and didn’t complete any of the desk work I had planned to tackle that day.  

In the 1946 edition of Medical Ethics for Nurses, by Charles J. McFadden, OSA, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote,

“Every good nurse ought to have two things: A sense of humor, and an incision.  A sense of humor in order that she might spread joy and gladness; an incision in order that she might have an experimental understanding and appreciation of pain.”

This applies to doctors as well.  For me, this experience did not involve any painful incisions, and Carolyn teased me how it was really nice for me to be able to recover so quickly after my procedure instead of suffering a lot of pain afterwards.  But it still was instructive for me to experience the fear and humiliation which comes with being a patient.  I tried to imagine what the experience must be like for those who are not in the medical field.  I knew what was happening to me the whole time; I anticipated all the actions of those who cared for me.  All of the folks at the surgery center acted professionally and empathetically at all times.  But I was still scared.  I hope that this experience will help me treat my patients with a bit more respect and sympathy.    

So what was my procedure?  If you haven't guessed what it was, just watch this song about it:



Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book Review: Pro-Life Poetry, by Father Edward Mathias Robinson, O.P.





Pro-Life Poetry, by Father Edward Mathias Robinson, O.P.

2013
St. Albert the Great Priory
Irving, Texas


Fourteen pages of poems written by Fr. Edward Robinson, a Dominican priest.  Fr. Robinson served as the Pro-Life coordinator for the Diocese from 1974 to 1993.  After that he was a tremendous supporter of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas until his death in 2012.  

His poems explore the sin of abortion, from the decision of those who abort their children, to those of us who silently approve of it by our inactivity.  No one is spared accusation in this little book of poems.  Father wanted abortion to end, but more by changing the hearts of man than by outlawing a procedure.  His poems touch the hearts of all who would read them:  abortionists, women who chose abortion, and a society which looks the other way.

The poetry style is simple, with most stanzas consisting of rhyming lines.  I found the simplicity of his writing to be appealing.  One of them could almost fit on a bumper sticker - if the reader tailgated:

ABORTION*

THE CRUELEST PART IS NOT THE PAIN,
OR THAT THE BLOOD IS SHED,
BUT THAT THE MEASURE OF ONE'S GAIN
IS THAT A MAN IS DEAD......

We received this booklet of poetry at the 2013 Catholic Pro-Life Committee Banquet.  Please pray for the repose of the soul of this good priest.  Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon him.  May his soul, and all the souls of the Faithful Departed, rest in peace.




* This poem, and even more poems by Fr. Robinson, can be found at this website:  http://unbornperson.org/Poetry.html

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Book Review: Irish Pub Cooking




Book Review: Irish Pub Cooking

How should I write a book review for this cookbook?  Should I comment on the writing style, or the editorial remarks which invariably accompany each recipe?  Of course not.  I - or rather, we - grabbed the book and headed into the kitchen to try out some of the recipes.  The food will tell if this book deserves a spot in our library of cookbooks.  

I bought Irish Pub Cooking a couple of years ago, thinking it would be neat to try some Irish cooking, and then promptly forgot about it.  This past January I saw it on the bookshelf and started looking for alternatives to corned beef and cabbage for dinner on St. Patrick's Day.    

The subtitle for Irish Pub Cooking urges the reader to "Pull up a stool, sup a pint, and tuck into some delicious pub food."  What follows is a collection of real food rather than the snacks offered at the typical American bar and grill franchise.  There are no hot wings, sliders or quesadillas featured in this book.

The book has four chapters: one on appetizers, then entrées, followed by a chapter covering vegetables and sides, and the last on desserts and drinks.  We did not try any appetizer recipes for a couple of reasons.  One is that a lot of them contain seafood, and shellfish allergies run in our family.  Another reason is that these recipes would not have been sufficient for feeding the whole family.  Still, a lot of these recipes look very good.  There are recipes for soups, sandwiches, and things called 'tartlets' which look like they should be filled with fruit rather than fish or meat.  At some point I shall revisit this book to try their split pea soup.  The last time I made split pea soup for the family, they swore I just threw a bunch of baby food into a pot and heated it up.  

The Entrées chapter is where I found my alternative to corned beef and cabbage.  Of course, they include a recipe for that traditional dish, and it looks quite good.  But I found something which looked even more intriguing: Beef in Stout with Herb Dumplings.  

Beef.  

Beer.

Dumplings.  

Somewhere Homer Simpson is drooling.

This recipe consists of beef dusted with flour and seasonings, and then stewed with stout and vegetables.  We bought some Guinness Stout for this.  The dumplings were made with something which I had never used before: suet.  Suet is fat from beef; in particular, the fat which is found near the kidneys.  It has a high melting point, which means that it will melt out of the dumplings after the flour has started to set up.  The result is that the dumplings will have little air pockets in them after the suet melts and runs out.  I called around to a few specialty stores trying to locate suet, and even searched the internet for alternatives.  I ended up  calling some friends who moved here from England to see if they could help me find some suet.  Finally, as a last try, I called the butcher counter at the local Albertsons.  

"How many pounds do you want?" he said.  Pounds.  

So we got suet.  In retrospect, we probably got beef fat from some other part of the cow, but it still worked as well.  One of the hardest things to do was shred it.

Did I mention that I was scheduled to be on call on St. Patrick's Day?  All of the work of preparing the meal fell on the shoulders of Carolyn.  God bless her.  Of course, the children helped a lot as well.  

Here is the picture of the 'Beef in Stout with Herb Dumplings' from the book:


Here is our picture.  We made a lot more to feed our family and guests.  Carolyn would use less parsley in the future; that is what gave the dumplings - and everything else - the greenish color:


This dish was very filling.

The next chapter covered vegetables and sides. We only tried a couple of the bread recipes rather than the vegetables.  We like to eat bread, especially homemade bread.

Here is a picture from the book of the Irish Soda Bread:


I like this recipe for its simplicity. We could mix the ingredients in a few minutes in a bowl, roll it out on a floured surface, and stick it in the oven right away.  This was a good one for our youngest children to make.

The other bread featured was Oatmeal and Potato Bread.  That was awesome. I made it with some baked potatoes which I mashed up with a fork. Carolyn made it another time where she used leftover mashed potatoes. Like everything touched by her, Carolyn's oatmeal and potato bread was a lot better than mine. 

Here is a picture of Oatmeal and Potato Bread from the book:


All of these bread recipes were served with genuine Irish butter. Yum. There is another recipe for something called 'Barm Brack,' which looked a lot like the Scone my mother - and her grandmother - would make.  This is one I would like to try sometime soon:


The final chapter had a recipe for apple cake and one for cheesecake.  Carolyn made the Apple Cake because she loves me and knows how much I like apple anything. Besides, she already makes an excellent cheesecake. I don't particularly care for cheesecake, but I do love hers....

Apple Cake.  Here is a picture of my almost-finished piece of cake. It tasted so good, I bent the fork!


Here is a picture of the intact cake along with the page from the cookbook.  For those of you who are wondering what is in the bowl next to the cake, I believe it is fajita chicken that I was warming up. It just shows that no matter what our heritage is, we cannot escape the influence of our new home, Northern Mexico Texas.



I thought this was a picture of the oatmeal potato bread,but now I think it is actually one of our many wheat bread recipes. Whatever. We like bread. 



The book includes recipes for Irish Coffee and 'Black Velvet,' something made with Stout and white wine.  Since I recently won a HUGE bottle of Crown Royal whiskey, I shall have to try making Irish coffee with it.

So this book review degenerated into more of a photo fest than an essay.  That is fine, considering that the subject is food.  There were a lot of things I like about this book.  One is that the recipes are simple enough for an amateur like me.  Two is that every recipe produced something good to eat.  Third, it was another opportunity for my children and I to get into the kitchen and make something.  There is nothing better than tasting bread baked in your own oven, or a meal put together by our children.  This book is just another way to help our children learn about one of the most important life skills, cooking. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton






Last Thursday I took a couple of our cars to a local garage to get their oil changed. I figured it was about time, as they were both 5,000 miles past the recommended service point.  It was shortly before lunchtime, and I drove one car to the garage while one of my sons followed a few minutes behind. He had to go on to his college classes which start in the afternoon.  I couldn't stand that kind of schedule. I like getting up early in the morning and getting my work done sooner rather than later. I am sure that influenced my selection of anesthesiology as a specialty. I also think that I am responding to my own father's habit of sleeping in.  While he was teaching as a college professor, he avoided early morning classes. I suspect that my children inherited the 'sleep in late' gene from my side of the family. It must skip a generation. 

I brought along a book called In Defense of Sanity, which is a compilation of essays by G.K. Chesterton.  The essays were selected by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, and Aidan Mackey.  I have met Ahlquist and Pearce at home schooling conferences.  Ahlquist inspired me to look into reading more of Chesterton's works, and I joined the American Chesterton Society to immerse myself more into this writer's work.  Both Pearce and Ahlquist signed copies of their books which I had bought.  I am reminded that one should never say something flippant when an author asks what he should write when he autographs a book.  One of the books in my library is signed with the message to 'keep in touch,' while another states that I am a poor example of manhood.  Even serious writers have a sense of humor. 

I didn't think it would take long to change the oil in two cars, so I scanned the list of Chesterton's essays for one which would be short.  I like short essays, because I often don't get back to a book for a while, and by then I need to start from the beginning again.  This is especially true with Chesterton, because his writing seems to amble all over the place, and it requires a lot of concentration to follow his train of thought.  Add to this that there was a television blaring away in the waiting room.  

The television show was 'Family Feud,' where two families are pitted against each other.  They have to guess the results of survey questions posed to some nebulous cross sectional group of Americans.  All of the questions are loaded with innuendo, and today's question was no different.  How can one best humiliate a man?  By talking about his ....?  I wondered if there were children watching this show right now, and thought about how these competing families never seem to have minor children.  I also realized I was alone in the waiting room, so I hunted for the power switch on the television and shut it off.

Silence reigned.  It reminded me of a time, back when I was in the Air Force, and I took our dog to the base veterinary clinic.  I did not realize that we were not supposed to bring children - apparently a dog had mauled some child there in the past - so I showed up with several of my little creations in tow.  The television in that waiting room was broadcasting the Jerry Springer Show where nearly every word spoken by the guests had to be blanked out.  It was obvious that the persons were slinging around obscenities.  Everyone in the waiting room was watching this demonstration of bad manners; everyone, including my children and I.  I walked over and shut off the television, and then turned to the people staring at me in astonishment, announcing that I don't want my children watching that kind of garbage.  Our dog was suddenly the next animal called back for a checkup.

As I reached for my book, my gaze fell upon the magazines covering the coffee table in front of me.  There were automotive and news magazines, a conservative journal which blamed every problem in the world on the Catholic Church, and a collection of gossip magazines.  Right in the middle of the pile was a gossip magazine with a topless woman on the cover.  Her arm was strategically placed across her chest.  As I tossed it in the garbage, I thought about how one day this woman might have teenage daughters of her own, and how she will have to explain her behavior to them.  More likely she will be trying to keep them from making the same mistakes she made when she was young and attractive.  I thought about something mentioned in one of the few lectures on geriatric medicine which we had in medical school.  This was back in the 1980’s, and we were reminded that some of the elderly women we would be treating probably participated in the ‘flapper’ generation of the 1920’s.  We were advised that we might encounter diseases which seemed out of place in senior citizens.  But for now there I sat, in a room with all manner of temptation spread before me like a smorgasbord: cars I can’t afford, women I don’t want, and news I don’t care about.  I turned back to Chesterton.

First, I became aware of men talking in the garage.  I heard the workers calling out to one another as they went through their procedures on my cars.  I heard the manager talking to someone on the phone about a worker who must be chronically late.  I heard him mention that they will charge the employee ten dollars per day that he comes in late.  Ouch.  And lastly, I heard two workers discussing where they would buy lunch that day.  There was nothing glamorous or dramatic about these conversations, but it was a welcome respite after the noise coming out of the television.  It was refreshing to hear the ordinary speech of men going about the very honorable job of car care.

Finally I opened the book.  Three essays caught my interest at once.  One was on the Book of Job, another on the contents of Chesterton’s pockets, and the last was simply titled ‘A Piece of Chalk.’  I had heard about his essay on his pockets, and I wanted to read about Job because I recently experienced a new type of suffering, but decided to read about chalk instead.  I had read somewhere that Chesterton and a friend were once looking through the window of a store, and GKC had declared that of all the things on display,  a piece of lowly chalk was the most powerful thing of all there present.  I thought this was the essay; I was wrong.  

Chesterton begins his essay by procuring some chalk, after which he asked his landlady if she had any brown paper he could borrow.  Now, I don’t know how big Chesterton was at the time he wrote this essay (1909), but he was a large man, and must have been very intimidating to those who did not know him well.  I can only assume that the landlady fell into this category, as she eagerly supplied him with what he wanted.  He then went out into the countryside to draw pictures on the paper.  It struck me that Chesterton knew something about leisure which our present society has forgotten.  I don’t know of any person who just walked out one day to go drawing pictures on brown paper.  Certainly no adults would do this; we have too much other things to do.  Only my children would possibly go and do something as fun as walk around outside and draw pictures.  Even though our society is more advanced in so many ways, it appears as if we adults have forgotten how to take the time to play.  St. Augustine once said that “without work is is impossible to have fun.”  Perhaps too much of our work is just idling rather than pursuing a legitimate goal, and therefore we have burned up our free time - time we could spend coloring on brown paper.  We need to recapture that childlike innocence, that aspect of fun.

Anyway, Chesterton suddenly realizes that he forgot to bring along a piece of white chalk.  This would not be a problem if he were coloring on white paper, but it is a disaster when one’s canvas is brown.  He makes a good point about the color ‘white:’

“And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour.  Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell.  Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.  Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.  In a word, God paints in many colours, but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.”

I agree with him, up to a point.  Certainly virtue is not solely the absence of evil, but is the presence of good.  I doubt anyone is going to get to Heaven simply because he avoided sin.  But when an evil is avoided, or removed, other good things can appear.  In my own case, shutting off the television - and tossing a magazine in the garbage - made it  possible to listen to the sounds of men at work, and to read an essay uninterrupted, and to recall how white chalk is often all around us.  We might even be sitting on it.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Stations of the Cross

There is a beautiful Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio right along the Riverwalk. For several years, we were parishioners there.  It was founded by German immigrants, and it is known as St. Joseph Catholic Church.  We had an opportunity to visit San Antonio last Fall, and we stopped in to make a brief visit with Our Lord.  I took the opportunity to take some pictures as well.

Here is a view from the back of the sanctuary.  The painting had been redone in the late 1990's, and it still looked wonderful.


Here is another view:


The Stations of the Cross are also beautiful.  My photographs here don't do them justice.  But poor photography or writing never kept me from blogging, so here we go.  I offer these for your meditation during Lent.

I like how the Stations are in German as well as English.

The First Station:

Jesus is condemned to death:


The Second Station:

Jesus carries His Cross:


The Third Station:

Jesus falls the first time:



The Fourth Station:

Jesus meets His afflicted Mother:


The Fifth Station:

Simon helps Jesus carry the Cross:


The Sixth Station:

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus:


The Seventh Station:

Jesus falls the second time:


The Eighth Station:

Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem:


The Ninth Station:

Jesus falls the third time:


The Tenth Station:

Jesus is stripped of His garments:


The Eleventh Station:

Jesus is nailed to the Cross:


The Twelfth Station:

Jesus dies upon the Cross:


The Thirteenth Station:

Jesus is taken from the Cross:


The Fourteenth Station:

Jesus is laid in the sepulchre:






The altar is truly one of the most beautiful parts of the church.



Long after its founding, a department store called Joski's bought the land around the church.  They tried to buy the church land as well, but they were rebuffed.  So they built the store around the church and rectory, leaving a small parking lot for parishioners.  You can see the church in the center of the picture below:


Here is a zoomed in picture of the church.  


After this Joski's opened, folks started to refer to the church as 'St. Joski's' rather than St. Joseph.  Now Joski's is gone, and another store owns the buildings which surround our former parish.  I hope that St. Joseph remains for many years to come, for visitors of San Antonio and for the people who have attended the church for their whole lives.  Hopefully St. Joseph will never experience 'wreckovation' either.

Aerial photographs were actually taken from the Tower of the Americas.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Poetry Moment

I was reminded of this poem as I sampled a bit of Bohemian Black Lager made at Shiner Brewery if Shiner, Texas:


High and Low, by James H. Cousins


He stumbled home from Clifden fair
With drunken song, and cheeks aglow.
Yet there was something in his air
That told of kingship long ago.
I sighed -- and inly cried
With grief that one so high should fall so low.

But he snatched a flower and sniffed its scent,
And waved it toward the sunset sky.
Some old sweet rapture through him went
And kindled in his bloodshot eye.
I turned -- and inly burned
With joy that one so low should rise so high.



-- James H. Cousins

Prost! Für meine Freunden!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Was I Thinking Here?

I was looking for a bit of misplaced writing when I searched through the 'Draft' list of the blog and came across this unnamed entry.  It consists of four pictures.  One is of the Albino character from the movie 'The Princess Bride.'  The next is of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, followed by two copies of the same picture of President Obama watching basketball.

What was I thinking about when I started this blog entry?

I wish I knew.




...but then again, maybe I do know.
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Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."
Amen.

I am An Amateur Catholic Blogger!

Amateur Catholic B-Team Member