Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - DVD Review

We didn't go to see this movie in the theater because we had been to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and so I accidentally ran over every pair of pants that I owned several times with the mower, drove nails into the tires of the car, and stole a backhoe to dig up the ends of the street so that no one could leave home for the duration of the film's exposure at the theater.

Still not good enough. My son-in-law rented it on Netflix, and invited the family to watch it as a group, because he had enjoyed it. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, get a big glass of wine and a bowl of chips, and have a note taped to your wrist not to shout things at the screen -- yes, this was one of those times.

If you loved the first Hobbit movie, you might find room in your heart for this one. If you didn't like the first one, you'll hate this one even worse. For in this one, if there is a fight scene, there will be more beheading and stabbing and chopping than in 300. And if there is one fight scene, there will be so many you will not be able to count them. If there is a weapon of honor being packed by a dwarf, in this movie, there will be ten to fifteen, and even if they lose them -- in battle or incarceration -- they will reappear later with no explanation or diminishing in numbers. And elves will have the hots for elves, the hots for dwarves, and they will all be hot to insist they are not the least bit hot for anything in Middle Earth but being left alone to comb their hair and practice their archery.

As to the story ... if you've read Tolkien's The Hobbit, you'll wonder what the hell this movie is based on. And if you haven't, don't bother trying to make sense of this muddled mash by reading it. Bernie pointed out to me the next day that The Desolation of Smaug was just Hobbit fanfic. You know, I think he's right.

Martin Freeman is still cute as a bug as Bilbo, however, and he must have had a wonderful clause in his contract, to not appear in any completely stupid and disjointed scenes. Him I liked, and I wish that the producers had made a better film for him to star in.

Two thumbs down, as they say.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hail of a Thing

"HAIL!" shouted Lillian, charging through the house to the front door. "IT'S HAILING!!!"

I dropped the meat fork I was messing with and scurried after her. We stepped out onto the front porch to see hail bouncing along the sidewalk to the tune of thunder peals. "Look how big they are!" She cried in high glee. "I'm going to get some!"

We don't often see hail here; we can go years at a time without thunderstorms, and few of them have hail in them. This was a doozy, however -- those hailstones were bigger than fat peas, and they were coming down hard. When they began pinging off us and the front of the house, we retreated, and simply ran from window to window, laughing and marveling at the miracle of ice flying down out of the sky.

The weather service had forecast a possible thundershower for Friday afternoon, and they got it right in that regard. It did rain, and it did thunder, but they neglected to point out that it would come down so hard that in a matter of minutes, we had two inches of water standing on the back patio, and a veritable river streaming down the south side of the house, and piles of hailstones four inches deep against the fence.

Lil ran outside to glory in the elements for about five seconds -- hailstones hurt when they hit. And the temperature had dropped from a balmy 68 degrees to 48 in about ten minutes.

The little chair is on the front porch, which was sheltered, mostly. By that point, the hail and downpour had stopped, and I had returned to the kitchen and the pot roast I had been browning (it was a little dark, but not burnt), glad of the heat from the stove.

Bernie and I went for a walk later, just to peer at the piles of hail still melting in peoples' gardens and lawns. The air was scrubbed about as clean as it ever gets here in the Central Valley; in addition, if there were any leaves waiting to drop in this area, they were now done.

The geraniums in the background took a bit of a beating, and we lost some tiny oranges that had just set, but the blueberries, the tomato blossoms, and the cherry tree were fine.

The only thing I should have done was shovel up some of that hail and put it in the freezer, so that I can look at it on Wednesday, when the temps are supposed to soar into the 90s.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Today is the last Wednesday of Lent. Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, and the beginning of the Triduum. I began Lent with a fever, and am trying not to be annoyed that I'm ending Lent with another one, after years of not getting sick. 2014: The Fever Lent.

I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. It's making me remember this Lent, which could be good; the last Lent I actually remember was one during which I walked every day, praying the Rosary as I strode along with Howie on his leash. Before that, I don't really remember Lents, except for 2001, when I slept on the floor and kept a dream journal -- which proved fruitful for me. But I will remember this Fever Lent.

Focusing on the Ignatian Examen as much as my fevered brain can, I've tried to let myself get away from thinking that this world is the reality of mankind. It isn't. It's a construct, much like the world of The Matrix. (At least the first one in the trilogy -- the other two were just stupid.) We move through it, but it isn't what's real.

Or better said, it isn't what is ultimately real.

Anyway, the Examen begins with this sentence: "Recall you are in the presence of God." Now somehow, that calls to mind being in the presence of the King, or maybe being called before the presence of the judge, as though we stand before God. God over there, us over here. We are in front of God. We are in God's room. God sits on his throne and smacks his head over the idiot standing with hat in hand bawling, "Please, Massa, don' beat on this poor old sinner!"

Phraseology can be tricky. What if the word in that sentence -- "in" -- was the focus?

God is not over there or apart from us. God is All in All. There is no "place" that God goes away to when he's tired of hearing us whine; indeed, God doesn't get tired.

The presence of God is what is real. I need to recall daily that I am in that presence. Embedded, carried, held, -- inside, not apart. Not standing in front of, not down on Earth looking up at clouds wondering if God is reclining up there, not on the other side of some impenetrable wall. This creation is God, held in being by God, and I am in that.

For me, this is a good thought to carry away from this Lent. 2014, the Lent of Fever and In.

Monday, April 14, 2014

After Seder

The night before this picture was taken, when our haverim (sometimes spelled chaverim) guests have left, I change into pajama pants and my softest, comfiest shirt.

We prepare for Seder (a Passover celebration) all week before participating in the ritual and dinner on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and that Saturday is a flurry of work and adrenaline-pumping anticipation from about 6:30 in the morning: waking up, showering, setting out our nice clothes, picking up the rental chairs, dishes, stemware, and flatware; running the vacuum everywhere (Howie sheds heavily in the spring), mopping, wiping dirty little fingermarks off all the appliances, picking up flowers at the florist (and arranging them), cooking lamb and lasagna casserole, getting ice and whatever else we forgot at the store, moving furniture out of the front rooms ... crazy! Then the guests arrive around six, and everyone is eager to break into the wine and hear about all the "family news." Wine bottles are opened, the guests forget that we rent stemware and drag out the old mismatched wine glasses from the top dusty shelf, the kids descend on the noshes like locusts, and suddenly the kitchen is trashed in every empty space and counters are full of potluck offerings.

By 10:30, most everyone has left. Bernie was exhausted (he does all the heavy lifting) and I encouraged him to hit the sack. Looking around the kitchen at the mess and chaos, I remembered Cheryl Haimann's poem, "Keeping House," poured myself a big glass of wine over ice, and began doing dishes.

Wash five dishes, have a sip of wine. Remember how many Seders we've celebrated with these table friends: twenty-four. Dry some dishes, wash some more. Another sip, another memory, of how much the children have grown. Gather up the tablecloths (including the one the kids have spilled grape juice all over) and put them in the washer on Pre-Wash. Another sip, and now the pitcher and bowl used for the ritual hand-washing that begins Seder.

But don't put it away. Put it back on the table, beside the candles and the centerpiece, and the matzot, still wrapped in their white muslin cloth, Elijah's cup, and Bernie's yarmulka. Now to finish the dishes -- not so many after all, look around the counters and remember the fine friends who were there a bare hour or so ago, closer than family.

Peek out into the darkened front room and see the symbols of Seder there, listening again to the guests singing "Shalom, Haverim" in a perfect round to finish Seder, beautiful and haunting in our echoey room. (Nice recording; we sing it at a slightly faster tempo.)

In the morning, when I wake, I go out to the room again, and there are the symbols of a beautiful Seder, and I look forward to next year once again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Search for Meaning in Lent

Ah, Lent.

Kicked off by Sebastian's death, Ash Wednesday found me running a fever and sick with some annoying flu, with its attendant malais, coughing, and having to sleep sitting up. For a full two weeks I had the energy level of a salted slug.

During that time, the family tried to adopt a new pup, but sadly, the breeder lied about the little tyke's mental and physical fitness, and he was returned to the breeder's ownership so that she can be responsible when he seriously bites someone, which he will undoubtedly do.

Howie turned 13. That's old, and my dear little dog is definitely showing his age. He falls down if he doesn't focus on how he moves, and sometimes he panics when he can't get his feet back under him. Fortunately he doesn't roam around the house when I'm not here, and when I am here, he's with me, so I can get to him and calm him down until he can regain his feet. But I've noticed him bumping into things, and getting confused if he wanders into an unusual part of the yard; I have raise my voice to get his attention instead of the whisper or snap of my fingers I used before.

And Dink, my horse, is now 24 years old. That's old, too. He lost weight again this winter, so I have to supplement his feed with five pounds of senior horse feed each day. His energy level has tapered off and he's having trouble chewing his food properly.

A couple days ago, in a mood of purgation, I cleaned out my bedroom closet. It was disgusting; I don't think I'd cleaned in there for five years, maybe more. I ended up throwing out two huge garbage bags of clothes that were so junky (and unworn anymore) they weren't eligible to donate to charity, getting rid of ancient electronic equipment coated with San Joaquin Valley dust, and packing two more bags of clothes that were donatable that I just didn't want to wear anymore.

What does this mean for a Lenten message to me? Loss, impending loss, paring down the things I hold... I keep going back to this paragraph in St. Ignatius of Loyola's "First Principle and Foundation:"
... as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I love my life, the world I live in, the people and creatures around me. But I do not own them. I must learn simply to honor them all, and rejoice in the Creation that has held them.

The photo is of blossoms on my cherry tree.