Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This Is Your Brain on C. S. Lewis

I am completely obsessed with C. S. Lewis.  (I unapologetically maintain that Mere Christianity should be required reading for professing Christians of any flavor.)  For many reasons, Lewis has really shaped a lot of how I see Christianity, and even of how I see and perceive God.  Now, that may sound kinda scary to some of you, but it's really helpful to have smart people around to think aloud about difficult concepts like the Trinity and of Time.  Is the guy infallible?  Certainly not.  But it helps me tremendously to hear, er, read him as he reasons stuff out. 

Anyway, in one of the happy coincidences of the internet, I stumbled across a little email signup earlier this year that will send you daily musings by The Man himself.  I give you the reading from December 5th.

As I told Majesty (I forward her the really good ones), "This will blow your mind apart and pour ketchup on it."
When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided—in a sense it was decided ‘before all worlds’. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.) The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sorts of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, ‘Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, ‘Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity or ‘before all worlds’; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time-series.
From Miracles
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Big Queasy

Out of town wedding.  New Orleans.  Everybody in the family sick.  One hotel room that I'll refer to hereafter as "The Leper Colony."  Hot beignets.  A close personal relationship with the Canal Street Walgreens pharmacist.  Enough cough drop wrappers to line the interior of the Sistine Chapel twice over.  Stuffed animals on benders.

And you have not lived if you haven't ended up sharing a bed in an urgent care with your spouse.

Friday, November 1, 2013


The trickrtreetin' went pretty well this year.  We're the bell cow for the neighborhood and generally hit the road just after six.  Yes, we are those people.

So we had HM King Peter the Magnificent (High King of Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion, etc. etc.) and THE Princess and THE Frog.  Playing the part of Peter was Jack, Caroline was of course the princess, and we talked our own beloved Fernando, whom most of you know as Bobo (don't ask), into going as the frog.  We had to give him a bigger 401(k) match, but it seemed a small price to pay.

Majesty and I went as Mildly Amused Middle Class Suburbanites.

BUT FIRST we had to get some work done down at the office.  Gotta keep the lights on at Cair Paravel, y'know.

Happa Howeeween, everybody.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Marshmallow Ignition as Sport and Art

Including shameless posing, including comically gapped, do-it-yourself hair, including dinner with Soul Brother #1, in lieu of any actual writing, in lieu of any actual effort.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Liemb Freel and His Roach Killer Boots

This is a post not about my kids, but for them.  And for you.

I remember the boots first.

Yes, I know the title is gibberish to most of you.  But Liemb Freel is an interesting name for an interesting man, now long gone.  But he’s somebody I actually think of often, even now.  There are people beyond family that are intertwined in our raising.  They are as much a part of our upbringing as our own kin or the settings themselves.

When I was growing up, our neighbors to the south were Liemb Freel Crawford (pronounced LIMfreel or LIMfrill depending on drawl and your ability to really nail the East Texan) and his wife Marguerite (marGREET).  On the biggest hill around, which maybe isn't saying a lot, he had built this enormous (or what I thought to be enormous) ranch style house with a low roof and huge porches.  It was rectangular and entirely surrounded by oaks, the only shade in the middle of two large pastures kept apart by County Road 1903.  The road number is probably more impressive than the road itself.  It was a squashy track of blacktop resurfaced so many times as to have distinctive layers, like a buttermilk biscuit.

The place was almost literally a museum, with ancient farm implements on the outside, not piled or junked, but displayed. Inside, the house reminded me of an old country store, frozen in time.  A real one, not the facsimile that places like Cracker Barrel try to put over as genuine.  Crossing their threshold was walking over a line, and directly into 1950.  There was a large riding corral at the back of the house, complete with lights.

Such places are absolutely magical to children.  Heck, to some adults.  The house smelled good, and had an air of severe oldness, but wasn’t in any way decrepit or decaying.  In fact, the home was relatively young; it was the content and the smell of it that struck you.

An aged man by that time, Liemb Freel’s house was always hot because of the raging fire in the massive fireplace.  He asked my dad to cut his wood in a certain way, not too heavy to lift or to tend.  He burned a mountain of it each year.  He preferred oak, and would start his fires with seasoned wood, but thereafter would burn green (that's freshly cut), which is smoky and quite dangerous to burn over time because of the flammable residue that builds up in the chimney.  (I mean, the stuff you can learn from a dad's blog, right?)
I think he was of Norwegian or Swedish extraction, hence the unusual name.  I'm probably just making that up, but that's the synapse that lights up right this second.

He owned unbelievable amounts of what we called The Bottom.  It was land mostly in a low floodplain cut through by Mill Creek, a tributary of the Sabine.  The Sabine, you'll remember, is what gives Texas its distinctive Eastern bulge that really helps sell Louisiana's boot-shape.  Liemb Freel and his family had lived down there in a tiny house, which to my knowledge is still in use to this day.

It was good land to run his cattle on.  And there's usually decent hunting in any bottomland, although we really never did hunt much.  He always let my dad cut as much wood as we needed down there, and everyone used as much of The Bottom as they wanted, for whatever you wanted, be it excavating huge iron ore rocks for your yard, or kidnapping unusual native plants for home use (I dubbed my mom's and Marguerite's practice “weed watching”) or poking around for arrowheads or possumberries or a good straight ash tree suitable for a bow.  It was all yours for the taking.  Liemb Freel was never greedy in any sense I could measure.

There was no visible pretension in him.  He loved children, even the little awkward, oddball idiots like yours truly.  He was always kind to me.  I spent a lot of time on his land, and frittered away cold, wet Saturdays on long walks there.  Even now, whenever I hear a crow call out, I think of walking those wet pastures on sullen, raw days.

He drove a distinctive gray shortbed Chevy truck, and drove it more slowly than I thought possible.  But there was no hurry.  Ever.  And nobody owned a truck like this.  It was relatively spartan.  No big tires.  No tinting.  No hayboards.  No winches.  No trim color.  No wrought iron embellishment.  I'm not even sure it had a radio.  It was the Jaguar E-Type of cowboy trucks.

I remember him almost as a silhouette.  The 1950s-style smallbrimmed gray Stetson - I'm assuming it was a Stetson, because, I mean, why on earth wouldn't it be - the dark, creased bluejeans, the pearl-snapped, paper-thin cotton shirts.  Even in torturously hot weather the long-sleeves were always rolled down, cuffs snapped.  Liemb Freel was as thin as you can possibly imagine.  No, way thinner than that.  More.  Okay, you’ve got it now.

Liemb Freel laughed often and easily, and showed a barely-there set of teeth.  His skin was tanned hard by the sun, and was stretched tight over his face.  He had a lantern jaw, and an almost wooden appearance,  not unlike a cigar store Indian.  There were quick, happy, almost black eyes.  His hair had been black in his youth, and he kept it oiled and combed back so severely that it didn't move whether his hat was affixed or not.

But I remember the boots first.

For Texans, there is a certain fascination with cowboy boots.  We don't know where it comes from, but it's there.  It's the reason that notable bootmakers here work tirelessly to present garish pairs to visiting heads-of-state.  Really, this happens all the time.  The most capable and famous bootmaker near our old house in Houston had a pair of his boots presented to the Queen of England.  I’m completely serious.

Liemb Freel's boots were distinctive, even in a culture completely submerged in stitched leather footwear.  They were black, which was fairly unusual, and were already many decades old by the time I appeared.  Small and narrow, almost delicate, they had tall riding heels, and were always coated in a haze of dust.  This particular pair ended in rather sharp points, with a small amount of squaring in the sole.  Some folks call these “roach killers” and that works just fine if you need a colorful term.  You can certainly imagine a bug in a tight corner having little chance.

Again, going up to see Liemb Freel and Marguerite was a huge treat for me.  I loved it.  I never touched anything.  I just opened my eyes and ears as wide as they would go and turned on the tape recorder in my head.

Nothing in the adult conversation ever demanded my attention, but the talk was so ancient and mannerly and circuitous that I couldn't do a darn thing but listen intently about hay curing and down-home (and probably bogus) ways to repel snakes or about the perfect time to pick a tomato in the summer and whether it was entirely proper to put salt on a fresh peach.  They spoke of, and did, old things in old ways.  I was completely fascinated.

Liemb Freel's voice was raspy and wonderfully accented.  He would always describe some object or place being, "you know, off down yonder a piece."  The language he used was slow and almost foreign, but wholly intelligible.  It was like he spoke the Mother Tongue.  As with a lot of rural dialects, if you're really talking, you feel someone’s meaning by tone well before the actual words convey it.  (This drives Majesty absolutely insane, as we discussed a while back.)

He made his own hominy.  Now, most of you won't really be struck with how insane that is and maybe are not familiar with the stuff.  But he made corn hominy by hand in the late fall with lye (lye dissolves the husks) just as people had done in the many centuries before him.  Liemb Freel had somewhat modernized the job by constructing his own wire mesh tumbler, complete with a holder for the garden hose.  He would spin the mesh cylinder, slowly washing the caustic lye off the kernels.  I ate bowls full of the stuff, with only salt and bacon drippings to flavor it.  It is like nothing you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Like with the mesh contraption, he was hilariously inventive.  He married an old French knife to a small wooden cutting board one time and presented it to my mother.  It sort of took out the middleman.  Why in the world would you not want the two tools together permanently?  They were always used together.  He would regularly repurpose old jugs as table lamps, drilling them out and wiring them by hand.  They still work.

Early on, I remember him smoking cigarettes a lot, though I'm sure he either mostly kept it to himself or maybe cut down as he aged (and I grew).  He ended up developing some really vicious emphysema because of it.  There was an ever-present oxygen tank beside his chair, right by the hearth.  And the fire.

I think about the man sitting in that oxblood leather chair in front of his fire, thin sticks of green oak crackling and popping, and I reckon that is exactly how I'd like to spend some time when - if - I get on that far.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Birthday Party Doubleheader

The endurance race that is September is in full swing.  Everyone on the darn color teevee tells you it's fall and that summer's finally over and that it's going to be getting chilly soon and then you walk out your front door and the sun and steam and heat drop on you like a Looney Tunes anvil.

We've mostly been hibernating inside with our dear friend the A/C, but did manage to saunter out for two (two!) birthday parties last Saturday.

Party number one (happy birthday, Norah!) went just fine until some of the female-type, so-called adults figured it would be fun to take allegedly funny pictures of people you profess to care for.  So I'm just minding my business, in the middle of my 34th chicken mini, and well, you can see what happened in the pictures below.

Jack and Hudson fought with swords, which was evidently thematic, since swords were also painted on their cheeks.  Whatever, man.

We hit a small snag trying to get back from Houstonistan, but let me give you some really great advice.  This is a home run, okay, so listen up.  If say, the battery on your truck were to suddenly pull up and die of a massive heart attack, then sitting in the middle of an old-timey, Mayberryesque neighborhood service station is about the best place in the galaxy to do that.  There you go.  No charge.

The next birthday party (many happy returns, Ella!) in the birthday party doubleheader was scheduled with just enough time for me and Jack to roll over to Sears and pick up a new battery and get it hooked up without zapping either of us.

Jack and Ethan spent most of the party on top of a play structure doing incredibly un-careful things while yelling that yes, they were indeed being tremendously careful.  Ella did unspeakable things to a little fondant cake, and I even got to play cameraman.  I really, REALLY hope I pushed "record."

Lastly, and very late, I include a terrible picture of my Labor Day setup for hickory smoking some birds, just to give this post a nice, smoky flavor.  Enjoy.

Heard on the Street
Upon hearing Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song as I dropped him off for school:
JMW:  "This band is a little scary, but I like it."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Summary

This is going to be an awful summary because I'm going to leave out all sorts of important things just because I don't have the will to describe them.  My bad.

I can't seem to get my stuff together long enough to sit down and write something.  And expecting it to be coherent may be even more of a stretch.

I'm really tempted to just link over to a friend's blog and let her give you the boildown on Jack's 5th birthday party and have done with it.

There were live snakes (5 of them if memory serves) in my living room during the party.  Really.  There were tortoises.  Turtles.  A pirate captain named Drew.  It seemed to really float a lot of little people's boats.  Sure, it gave some of the parents the jimjams, but y'know, you can't suit everybody.

I left all the photographic evidence of this in my other pants, so you can see a bit of the Reptile Regatta here.  (Thanks, Julie.  You're more of a responsible parent to my children than I am.  *Hangs head in shame*)

Jack started school.  I'm told that's a pretty big deal.  He even has classes in a BIG.  REHD.  BAHWN.  This makes a lot of sense as he's spent a good portion of his life either imitating animals or acting like one.  Back home, Jack's absence really bums The Ittybitty out in a major way.

I can't remember if this was before or after the whole start-of-formalized-education thing and/or the critter carnival, but we took Jack to ride the ferry down in Galveston on his actual birthday.  There's a lighthouse down there that I know absolutely nothing about.  At least that was the idea before it started raining buckets and we sat through two or three wrecks on the interstate.  Houston, baby!

But I thought Plan B turned out pretty good, as spur of the moment burfday trips go.  We wound around to the Natural Science History Science Natural Museum.  I think that was the name.  I would suggest that they rename it to the way more memorable and descriptive THE DINOSAUR AND MUMMY MUSEUM OF HOUSTON.

So The Dude got to see real, huge, old, fossilized, dead animals and shriveled, old, real, dead people.  And their gold and alabaster and basalt stuff.  Yeah, I know.  It may have been a bit too intense for little kids, but Jack seemed to dig it.  Whatever, man.  It was raining.  We would have counted tree rings for fun.  Caroline got to the hall with the massive dinoskeletauruses hanging everywhere and pulled her own card.  Nothing would help, and it was time to bolt.

Nerding out, if you didn't know, really gives you a killer appetite, and we were in the right part of town for El Tiempo.  We sat out under the damp patio and had brisket tacos and conchas and watched Jack malevolently abuse a Shirley Temple.  (Unfortunately I'll have to save the Shirley Temple story for another day.)

There's been even more nerding out around here.  Star Wars fanaticism has taken hold.  Jack scored a Lego X-Wing set, and got to watch the movie with Caroline.  They both sat there, transfixed.

At least they were quiet. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Electronic Zombie Apocalypse

Photo courtesy: Spikenzie on Flickr
People think it's cute when they first experience it.  And I suppose it is. Or at least was.  Jack will race up to some stranger (of varying perfection) and ask them all about phones and earphones and iPads and iPods and what sort of video equipment they've rigged their house with and if they know what a microphone does.  Or maybe they'll chat about amplifiers.  And you can bet your last square of TP that the wondrous technology behind the electric guitar will be discussed.  If he knew who Les Paul was, I'm sure he'd name drop.

Think about it.  Here's this little guy, just talking you up like some fool twentysomething hawking pricey plastic at Best Buy.  (Jack claims to be twenty, himself, but that's a separate issue.)  Is it fun to watch?  Sure.  They think, now there's a sharp little dude.  I'll be he makes his old man proud.

No.  Well, yeah, I mean of course he makes me proud, of course of course of course, but specifically, in this instance, mostly he just makes me - makes us - crazy with this whole electronics fetish.  Fixation.  Thing.

No powercord in the darn house is safe.  USBs will be unnaturally wedded to HDMIs.  DC power plugs link up with firewire and CAT5.  Or CAT6, s'help me.  Old phone headsets have impromptu cords made out of notebook paper.  Copper speaker twist will hook in PAPER microphones (guitar stands - some stolen, some not - hold the mike in place).  Helium balloons that may have been stolen from your sister are pressed into service as guitar amps.  Stretchy hair bands - I haven't the foggiest as to the actual word for these - become little green heart monior straps for running, a'la my Garmin.

Old bottle stopper thingys are tweeters.  My ancient Casio keyboard is his soundboard.  Still works.  This is the one that no one learned to play but everyone simply HAD to have back in grade school, the one with my parents' home phone written in permanent marker across the front of it (no area code).  An old PC keyboard that I (wisely) trimmed the cord from is set at 90 degrees to the Casio in my old 1980's cubby of a bar.  It's no longer a bar, man.

It's a sound booth.  You heard me.

His idols surround him there in vinyl:  Petty.  Charles.  Mr. Mojo Risin'.  Cash.  Mick and Keef.  Mr. Bono.  Mr. Edge.  Page.  Plant.  They're all there, cheering on the madness.  Toy ukuleles are electric guitars, CDs are coasters, DVDs are CDs, up is down, down is up, minivans are cool, cats and dogs living together, total chaos.

The only purpose for which an object is never, ever used is... well, its intended purpose.  That would be predictable and boring.  Jack is unfamiliar with either concept.

The scary part of all this is that at some point, real-deal, thunderzap-delivering electrical outlets get involved.  You see where this is going.  So, in the worst move since Chamberlain's oopsie at Munich, I brought Jack some (hopefully) non-lethal cords to pie him off.  Don't use my phone cord, use this USB cord that doesn't fit in any electrical outlet.  I thought.  Don't use this videocam link, use this A/V pair I found.  That doesn't do anything dangerous whatsoever.  I thought.  The peace offerings didn't make it 24 hours before confiscation.  We still find squirreled away contraband daily.  (Think a shakedown at Alcatraz.)

Putting Jack back into the stone age (about 1994, by our reckoning) didn't even leave a dent.  He now runs a second-world sweatshop out of his room, cranking out iPhones, iPods, iPads, universal remotes, Bluetooth headsets, you name it... in construction paper.  Each day, each item is lost, thrown away or torn apart by a small sibling, only to be reborn the next.  It's like our own electronic zombie apocalypse.  They'll never stop coming, man.

Yeah, yeah, I'm sure we'll all be quite happy (and rich) when he's invented his generation's version of the iPhone.  WIRED and Time will breathlessly schedule interviews.  "What was it like to raise THE Jack de Frisco de Souza du Monde d'Arriste de Fernando de Leon de Franco Comodoro?"  I'll give the interview in sunglasses and a bespoke velvet smoking jacket that will make The Most Interesting Man in the World go pale.

Who am I kidding?  They'll be mailing my check to the looney bin.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tim Challies and Maslow's Hammer

"Do not allow yourself to ruin a beautiful moment by seeing it primarily as an opportunity to share it with strangers."
If you're not reading Tim Challies, you're the poorer for it.

Regular readers of my (irregular) posts will know about the complex relationship I have with social media.  So it's not a surprise that I'm reluctant to freely share blogs I read, websites I haunt, or columnists I never miss.  It's an easy way to try to elevate yourself, cobbling together this imaginary person that we all create for public display.

I read blindingly smart/funny/supercool people, and so I must be pretty darn smart/funny/way cool myself.  That's what we're saying, right?  You'll find no 375 link blogrolls on our sidebar.  NTTAWWT.

But I'll make an exception about sharing Challies.  Years and years ago, he started a little website to easily share family pictures and whatnot.  He then took to the idea of trying to blog every single day, for an entire year.  And he never really stopped.

I guess it helps a little when you're unbelievably gifted, though.  That little family blog became one of the most influential websites in the Christian world.

I have many theological quibbles and differences with him (he's deeply Calvinist, and I'm deeply, uh, not), but this dude is the best I've read at reconciling technology/modern living with Christianity since Gene Veith.  Probably better.

His writing is also incredibly focused on living out faith in every area - and I mean every area - of life.  Your money, who you invite for dinner, how you view sex, what you say online,  what you choose to wear.  And that's not only refreshing, it's challenging.  And sometimes just plain scary.  That's why I keep reading.

Link below.  Enjoy.

Challies.com - When You Are A Hammer

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

And The Livin's Easy

It pays to be lazy around here.  And I'm talking a purposeful, directed laziness, here.  A scheduled, rigorous kind of lazy.  Which isn't easy to pull off.  So we've zeroed out any long road trips and making anything resembling big plans in lieu of hanging at the house.

Our schedule is as enjoyable as it is ridiculously simple:  You sit around until you get hot, doing whatever strikes your fool mind to do.  Then you dip in the pool.  Then you get back out until you get uncomfortably hot.  Then you slide back in the pool.

Every three rounds of surf 'n turf or so, you get a snack.  Naturally, you then hop back in the pool at least in part to wash all the banana smoothie gunk, graham cracker gravel, or black ice cream sandwich mortar off.

IF and I mean IF you decide to do something as harrowing and difficult as driving 125 yards down to your fishing spot, or jaunting over to the library, you immediately follow the trip with a... well, a splash or two in the pool.  (And a snack.)

This schedule solves at least two pesky issues, and probably many, many more:  (1) breaking up the whole submersion-in-liquid dimension of poolgoing (man, I hate getting pruney) and (2) making it appear as if you're not voluntarily spending 6 solid hours in the cee-ment pond every single day.  Which some people frown on.  Nobody I can name, mind you, but y'know, theoretically.

And an idyllic summer continues.  Like so: 



Tuesday, July 2, 2013