Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year's Resolutions, Take 38, Action!

Actually, I never made New Year's Resolutions until sometime either in high school or college (so this should be about Take 16 rather than Take 38), and I'm not a list-oriented person by nature, so I really don't care to do them. However! My wife is TOTALLY a list person, and she strong-arms me every year to write them down in her notebook - then, and this is so, so much worse, she actually goes back to see how many of the drat-blasted to-do proclamations were accomplished. THE HORRAH!!! Of the about fifty resolutions she writes down, and some years it's more than that, I'm pretty sure she runs about a 75-85% success rate, while mine's closer to 20% (of about the fifteen I put on paper), and I'm probably finagling to reach that. It's totally depressing. So New Year's is not my favorite holiday -- but I do know a lot of people who look upon the day as a time of hope and renewal, and if they're truly "resolute," then I'm all for that.

And to do my due diligence, I'll just say this to all you kids out there: if you haven't started making New Years resolutions by now, don't start!!! Nah, I'm kidding. Different people function in different ways, and if lists rock your world, go for it.

That said, here are some of mine - the realistic ones:

1) Travis Merriweather and the Legend Hunters, our action/adventure novel, I want it finished by this year, revisions and all. As many times as Ken and I have started, restarted, re-plotted, remade, the story, we've got it working now, for the most part, and are starting to rock and roll. We can finish it by the end of this year, and it can be awesome. "Discipline in the ranks, Winfred, ol' girl," that's all we need, and I'm our biggest problem there.

2) Getting better about the business end of writing -- sending out queries, chapters, synopses, whatever houses, editors, or agents require, networking with other writers, people in the business, etc. -- I need to do it much better than I have. As writers, Ken and I love to focus on the creative end, and really that's all I've cared about. And while finishing novels, any novel, is quite an accomplishment for anyone, leaving the work in drawers does no good at all. Not to say that's what we've done, but we could sure be better at the business end. I could be better. By New Years, I'll probably quantify this resolution, but for now, this is good enough.

3) Get back to 200 lbs., for crying out loud, which means losing about 30 L-Bs. How to do this is a problem. Last year, I said I was retiring from my basketball exploits, but I need to get my metabolism working again. 'Course, I may have lost that talent. That is, both my ex-fine-working metabolism and my once-half-decent basketball skills. To that end:

4) I'm unretiring from basketball. Last year, I said I was going to take up running. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That worked all of about two weeks. No, unfortunately, I have to have something to drive me like competition and it needs to be something I enjoy, like basketball. Well, I enjoy winning while playing basketball. We'll have to see if I can still play at that level. At 38, and rusty as a metal wheelbarrow in a junkyard, that might be hard to pull off. But it won't be from a lack of trying. The one bad thing here is time for basketball takes time from writing. When I usually play, it doesn't take much from family, so I'm okay there, but writing (sigh) comes before winning.

5) This one's work-related, so it's not Realm type of fun, and I'll just leave it at that.

6) Family Bible Study or at least reading and discussing. I'm not great about my personal Bible study and prayer time, so trying to bite off the family one may be more than I can handle. But it's sooooo important, and you make time for what's important, right? We'll see. Carson's 7 now, and Davis is 4, and they have great questions, and even some cool insights that might have passed me, at times. And if I can accomplish this, maybe it will be a step in the right direction at actually being the spiritual leader of our family, which to this point has been...

7) Take the kids, or at least Carson who actually cares, to an Auburn game - football and or basketball. If the Dolphins come to Tennessee, that would be more than a good enough substitute, but other than that, I need to get us there.

8) Since I'm reading N.T. Wright's For Everyone books on every book in the New Testament, I'd like to get through those, or at least half of them, this year. In that way, I get at least half to all of the New Testament, a lot of history and knowledge, and some devotional time with God. I've finished Mark and am halfway through Luke. I've also got the first part of John and the first part of Romans on my shelf, so I'm off and running.

9) Read at least 15 children's books this year (fiction). Read at least 15 of Grimm's fairy tales. Read 5 myths.

10) Read at least 5 adult books this year (fiction) and at least 2 classics. Read at least one Shakespeare play. Read at least 10 works of poetry and analysis of them.

11) Discipline myself to reading no more than 15 minutes of Dolphin articles on the Net every other day -- except for Draft time and the Preseason, when it can be 15 a day.

12) Be disciplined about attending the worship service at church every Sunday. How hard can it be? Since I teach Sunday School, I'm there every week. I enjoy corporate worship myself-- but when it's just me and the boys (which it is right now) it's so much less about worship than it is about trying to keep Davis, and Carson to some extent, pacified for an hour. What my kids need is a good month of the Puritan days 5-hour sermons. After that, going to our service would be like a holiday. It's time, though, so this is one resolution I'm confident in.

13) Write at least 5-10 quality short stories.

Thirteen sounds like a perfect number for New Year's resolutions to end on. If my success rate remains at about 15-20%, I can expect three of these things to be accomplished. Hmm. Which three, I wonder. Hopefully, though, I've lived long enough with my wife that I can go 100% on these. They are RESOLUTIONS, after all.

Alright, you got mine, at least the ones I'll write. What are yours?

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lest I Forget, the Song Quote of the Week

This week's Bill Mallonee song quote:

Life is coming to grips with what you're worth,
when God says one thing
but your heart says another.

-- Crescent Moon, from the Fetal Position CD

Don't think this needs any analysis.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Narnia -- B+

I'm not going to give a full-blown review here. We've already linked to other reviews, and Ken posted his own, so that's been done. Furthermore, I'm a little late to the ballgame, and a review at this point seems pretty meaningless. However, I put a grade up in the title just so anyone who cared would have my opinion. Also, in case you haven't seen the movie OR somehow missed reading the book, spoilers are included below -- so stop reading now!!!

First off, let me say that I do think the movie will age well with me, and subsequent viewings might improve my impression (even though a B+, to me, is a really, really good movie). Certainly I'll be buying the DVD. Will I recommend it to anyone who asks? Youbetcha. I seriously liked the movie, and many parts of it were wonderful.

I went to see the movie with my sons, Carson (7) and Davis (4). When it was over but we were still in the theater, Davis, who probably liked the movie the most of all of us, was asking about playing his Lego Star Wars game on X-Box. As we were strolling back to our car, I asked Carson how he liked it. "Good," he said, which is a child's, at least our children's, token response to anything we ask about. "How about great, Carson?" He thought for a moment and then shook his head. "No, I liked it, but it wasn't great." And then, with me leading the conversation, we all discussed it the rest of the way home. In the end, I agree with Carson. While there was tons to love about the movie, I thought it was really good but never great.

Trying to place my finger on why, I think there were a couple reasons. One is just my own problem, I think, in trying to believe the talking creatures of Narnia were that country's version of human. For example, when the wolves have cornered the Pevensies and the Beavers at the waterfall, and one wolf has Mr. Beaver dead to rights, I wasn't nearly as torn as I needed to be to really care about his peril. Say the wolf had Lucy by the throat -- that scene would have been far more gripping to me. The scene worked for me, but not to the extent it probably should. Same goes for the fox when he was turned to stone -- but that scence posed the additional problem for me in that I really didn't feel Edmund's horror either. Like I said, it's my problem. The larger problem for me pertains to Aslan. When the three Pevensies first come into Aslan's camp, and Peter announces that they have come to see Aslan, all the creatures bow. At this point the kids aren't bowing yet, and neither am I as the viewer. Finally, Aslan appears, and the children bow, which seemed forced to me. And as a viewer -- and Aslan looked reasonably regal for a lion -- I never felt compelled to bow or anything near it, and I really wanted to feel that presence. This was Aslan. Boiling it down, it must be the CGI, and I probably need to suspend my disbelief a little better. Be more imaginative. Yet, I never needed to do that in the LOTR. When Gandalf fought the Balrog and both went down in Fellowship, I felt it. When Boromir died, I wanted to cry. Seeing Gandalf on the morning of the fifth day at Helm's deep, I rejoiced in my soul. Same when he rode out of Minas Tirith to save Faramir. I wanted to stand up in the theater and cheer. I never felt any emotional impact like those in this movie. The closest I came was when Edmund rejoined his brother and sisters after his repentance and seeing Aslan's reaction. Even the death of Aslan, and even more importantly, the risen Aslan didn't do it for me -- although having to take Davis to the bathroom at that crucial point in the movie didn't help matters. And I really expected Aslan's final pounce on the White Witch to be breathtaking, and even that fell flat for me.

I say all this, and I still liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe an awful lot. As has been iterated in other reviews, the adaptation is remarkably faithful to C.S. Lewis' wonderful story -- and let's face it, it is a wonderful story! And the film told it very well. I thought Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and James McAvoy as Tumnus had standout performances, and I enjoyed the Pevensies, although at times they seemed a bit flat. The voices of Rupert Everett for the fox, Ray Winstone and Dawn French as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and especially Michael Madsen for Maugrim worked very well, while I'm not so sure about Liam Neeson for Aslan. I don't know who better, though. James Earl Jones had already been used for Moufasa, so he was out. The realm of Narnia looked spectacular. Adam Adamson had some little effects that were downright cool, for instance the witch freezing the butterfly out of sheer evilness right after turning the fox to stone and chastising Edmund. And the battle scene, especially the onset -- awesome! Lastly, when Lucy first wanders through the wardrobe into Narnia, her expression fit perfectly. Apparently, Adamson hadn't let her see Narnia until then, and the look of wonder on her face was priceless -- well, at least very pricey.

Regarding more Narnia movies, I'm just not sure. Certainly, they'll have a fan base, and I'm sure I'd try The Horse and His Boy or whatever comes out next. However, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, at least to me, was probably the most accessible for movie-making, although The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some appeal as well. I'm not saying it can't be done successfully, but seven Narnia movies? Hmm.

So stone me now, I suppose, but remember I gave the film a B+. My expectation, fair or unfair probably due to LOTR's success, was very high, and that may have affected some of what I've written. It's probably not fair to compare the two, but I think it's an inevitable comparison. For what it's worth, however, even as a kid, I enjoyed the LOTR more than Narnia, so take that into account if you're taking any account at all.

Don't know what movie I'm really looking forward to next. Is it too early to get hyped for Spider-Man 3?

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Last Christmas Post Till Next Year

On the back of Bill Mallonee's Yonder Shines the Infant Light CD cover, I read this poem I thought I'd share. It captures the emotion and humanity of the Christmas story as close to the way I know and think about it as anything I've read. It's called Burden. (emphasis below I added)

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

There came in darkest moment known
the star of hope in cosmos deep
over a faltering donkey bearing
a girl, wide-eyed and undone,
asking why and what she had done wrong
that miracles should be given birth
in stable muck and straw.

And the man who had trusted dreams
to trust this girl
choked back desperation
at her clenched-jaw groans.
What had he done wrong? A lack of foresight?
His City of David with family and friends everywhere,
but no room for such dubious characters tonight.
Bastard babies should be born in barns.

His little voice was like a cat mewing,
His body tender and red with a black swirl
on His velvet scalp.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen,
she thought as tired tears ran down her cheeks.
She'd failed. Given a gift and already it had gone awry.
But then they came, the disheveled crew
in from the fields, smelling of wood smoke and dung.
Their eyes hungry and expectant,
their hunger age-old and deep,
they fell down in the straw,
tearful and praising.
And suddenly the truth of this perfect birth
dawned on her...
stables were where shepherd worshiped;
where the poor and outcast could approach their salvation.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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Friday, December 23, 2005

To Bethlehem

Last paper thrown and my evening route finished, I pedaled ‘cross the valley dirt road headed for town. The drought had crippled this land, but signs, like the scattered rows of golden wheat that glistened in the fields as the sun set, said change was a-comin’.

The sky darkened by the time I hit the first lights. At a corner store, a Salvation Army vet jingled his bell and crooned “Joy to the World.” I skidded my bike next to his hanging kettle and reached into my pocket. My last two dimes. They rattled the bottom after I tossed them, and the clang halted the singer.

“Tough times,” I commented, nodding at his near empty pot.

“Oh no, son. Best of times.” The old man attempted to stand from his bench, but he faltered and remained. “Go to Bethlehem and see for yourself. There’s a baby there. One that changes everything. Check the motel. You’ll find him if you go tonight.”

Later, midway home after I left the crazy coot, a feeling started nagging me about what he had said. Ma and Pa would be hellfire angry if I came home too late. For a second, I thought I’d try to bring them along. Nah, I knew better’n that. I’d be home for the night, and that’d be that. If I wanted to go, I had to go now, by myself.

Didn’t take long to get to Bethlehem. It never does once you just downright decide to get there. I biked to David’s City in less than a half hour. Stars in the clear country night lit the place up right fine, and they appeared brighter than the semi-lit “Bethlehem Inn” sign with half its bulbs out.

More a home than an inn, the noise from inside the place told me it was full. When I asked the manager about a baby, he said he didn’t know ‘bout any baby, but that a pregnant woman and a man with her accepted a room ‘round back because the place had filled up.

Only thing behind the motel was an old stable. A horse had been tied up outside, and it fed from a tray. Making my way to the stable gate, I knocked a couple hard times not really expecting anyone to answer.

Moments later, the gate cracked and candlelight shown out. As it opened, a haggard man appeared. Clothes drenched with sweat, his gaze met me with a look of obligation, more’n anything else, but to my surprise, he waved me inside. The stench of horse, cow, and dung met my nose, and the dirt and straw floor looked like no place for anyone to be spending a night. Then, I turned and saw a girl not much older than me sprawled on some straw. Exhausted, she barely lifted her head – she was spent.

A cry sounded from beside her, and she lowered an arm into a trough. More amazed was I that two other kids my age stood next to the manger. Staring down, they didn’t notice me. Gently, the man grasped my arm and led me beside the other guys.

“God is with us,” spoke the young lady lying on the straw.

I knelt. The babe lay in tattered rags, and below him remnants of horse oats lined the wood. Swollen eyes peered up at me, and even as the child cried, I knew that Salvation Army guy was right. This one would change everything. He had the world to pay, I could see that from the start, but he’d pay it. In a way, he already had.

I don’t know how long I leaned over the little boy, but I finally rose. The thought crossed my mind to ask the folks if they wanted to come to my house, but they were in no shape to move tonight and my parents might take a switch to me then and there, I come home with three strangers. Still, I’d have asked except…

…this was perfect. This beginning to this story - the one that matters.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Mallonee

Yonder Shines the Infant Light was at my doorway when I returned from my week-long vacation to San Diego. Awesome. Wonderful. Merry Christmas, Rich. I'd like to rave about the new songs and instrumentals, but either you're going to check it out for yourself, or you're not. Once again, you can read about the CD here or here. It really is a Christmas all year long type of CD; something you'd not want to store for eleven months and then retrieve with your Harry Connicks and Manheim Steamroller and Amy Grants and Mormon Tabarnacle Choir and Vienna Boys Choir Christmas CDs.

For the song quote of the week, I'll hit from an older tune, but it is on the Yonder CD.

Holy Mary, meek and mild, full of the Spirit, full with child.
You stumble around through the message each year,
so open these eyes open these ears.

I once knew a man who left town on the run,
he went looking for joy but joy didn't come.
So let Your name with praise be adorned,
sing angel choirs for Jesus is born.

-- Sing Angel Choirs, Bill Mallonee

And sing they did. I bet like never before. Merry Christmas.

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S'pose It's Time for Another Ridiculous Top Ten List

This time - Best Schoolhouse Rock song and video combo. For any of you Interplanet Janet-types out there, of which I'm sure there are few and far between, you may as well keep surfing because no Science Rock makes the list. In fact, none of them come close. That leaves American Rock, Grammar Rock, and Multiplication Rock to claim the list for themselves. Unlike the Christmas Special list I wrote earlier, this one I consider far more subjective. Certainly, my favorite will probably be a surprise, even to the people that know me, and narrowing my list to ten proved tough. Some that I would have considered favorites and sure top-tenners didn't make the list. I'm sure people may quibble with Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here, Elbow Room, The Great American Melting Pot, and Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla not making the list. Hopefully, everyone will thank me for not including the heavily overplayed (on Saturday mornings in my youth) Figure Eight with the skater girl carving circles into my TV screen. Continuing, here we go with number ten.

10) A Noun Is a Person, Place, or Thing: Including this one over Lolly really hurt. In fact, I'd like to weasel out and claim the ten spot was a tie, but if I have to go with one, it's this one. Let's all stroll down memory lane. This little jingle had the white-haired girl with the short skirt singing about our persons, places, and thing-a-ma-jigs. Mrs. Jones, her dog, Chubby Checker, and the Beatles all had cartoon cameos. And it ended with the chick and her beau taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty in the snowy summer of New York. The upbeat jingle-jangly tune could get stuck in your head very, very easily, and I've heard radio station morning shows use this tune very effectively. Good tune, good video. And score one for Grammar Rock.

9) Verb: That's What's Happening: That's right: I get my thing in action. Score two for Grammar rock - see a trend? Let me set the record straight about my rankings, if the videos showed sports in them, they probably made the list. That's just the kind of kid I was/am. And let me not forget my whole superhero fetish. So as the little boy's running around to do, to make, to hop, to skip, to jump, to run and the tune is getting stronger, and he's dreaming about himself as a stud-man superhero with a baseball bat in hand, as a kid, I was digging this video. And then the whole Casey at the Bat scene at the climax, but this time the superhero-boy-man comes through, I was having to cheer, to scream, to pump, my fist, to laugh, to go, rah rah with everyone else in the video. Then, as the video is closing the little boy goes home after the flick to his mother and gives her the big, fat hug as the words scream: TO LUUUUUUUUV!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too much -- not to be included on my list.

8) My Hero, Zero: Speaking of superheroes... it's not really fair for the other songs that didn't make the list, but I have a hard time getting Evan Dando and the Lemonheads version of this ditty out of my head. If you haven't heard it, well, hear it. It'll climb your list, too.

7) I'm Just a Bill: Now, this is where the whole list can be really subjective. I'd figure I'm Just a Bill could be a lot of people's favorites. Their numero uno on their personal lists. And I have to admit, this song, when it's actually being sung and not the talking parts of it, is one of the ones I sing the most in my head. The little rolled up "Bill" could easily be the logo for the whole SR collection. Plus, I always was pumped when the video came on early between The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour and the Shazam/Isis Hour. (Not to mention that Joanna Cameron made a fine, fine Isis - uh, I digress). As I was saying, this song and video was a classic, and it makes number seven on my list.

6) Conjunction Junction: Again, a could-be fav of many people. Just as "Bill" would make a fine logo for SR, so would have the old engine conductor, who moved around his "but" with the greatest of ease. And his soliloquy in the middle of the song starting with walking the lake and the duck and the drake and ending with "but I know that's a very absurd thought" was just priceless. Additionally, I've found the conductor's advice to be quite true: and, but, and or can get you pretty far. And let me just say, isn't Jack Sheldon's voice on these little songs the coolest? I mean, Bob Dorough, Lynn Ahrens, they had some great songs their voices fit as well, but nothing like Jack Sheldon's. Totally awesome. However, don't miss the Better Than Ezra version of the song, either. It's not too bad its own self.

5) The Shot Heard Round the World: As a kid, this one was my favorite. The whole American Revolution shown in less than three minutes. Paul Revere, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, France and Spain joining, and finally Yorktown! We won! Hurray!!! This video spawned more library trips for me than just about anything else. Soon, I was into Francis Marion, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, George Washington, and watching Disney's Johnny Tremain. All cool stuff. Aside from Battle at the Alamo, the Revolutionary War held my captivation as a child more than any other war story. This song and video did it all in three minutes.

4) Three Is a Magic Number: Speaking of three, although it hits as four on the list, is this fine number. Humongous football players breaking through the tunnel with numbers divisible by three on their chest... once again, the sports impact and this time, more importantly, football - the sports king. Much like My Hero Zero, this tune benefits enormously from Blind Melon's rendition in my mind. The lyrics were really cool, too: "Somewhere in that ancient, mystic trinity"; "Faith, hope and charity"; "A man and a woman had a little baby, yes they did, they had three in the family. That's a magic number."

3) No More Kings: Three is a magic number, and No More Kings gets that place on my list. The very first SR clip I ever saw was this one, and boy has it stuck with me. The King George III cartoon figure is still etched in my brain. So are the three colonists taking their tea cups and dumping them into the Boston Harbor. Also, on a bit deeper level, the colonists start the song pledging allegiance forever to the king, but that loyalty slips away by the end of it until they're promising they'll never have a monarch again. From pilgrims to patriots, basically. When I went and bought the video pack years and years ago, it was this song more than any other one that led me to take that plunge. It was also the first one I wanted my kids to see. For me, that's pretty high praise.

2) Unpack Your Adjectives: Might be the best song of them all, and certainly the most fun to croon along to. The lyrics jut roll smoothly, the rhymes seem unforced, and the bridge in the middle of the tune makes it great. Two visuals from the video that I'll never forget. One was the boy who gets smaller getting stepped on by the girl who gets taller - as a boy, that sort of made me mad, but in retrospect, the little guy, laughing at the awkward girl, deserved it. The other was the hairy bear. The scary bear. Which made me make a hasty retreat from his lair. One of the sayings from the lyrics I've incorporated into my vocbulary - I'll plead the fifth on when I necessarily use it - is that by the turtle describing the bear, "That was one big, ugly bear!" Love it! So as you can see from my list, Grammar Rock has ruled the day. Number one does nothing to change that.

1) Interjections!: Surprise!!! I just love this video. And the song. To me, there's nothing close. Little Reginald gets his shot in the derriere and comes out reeling off the interjections. "Hey! That's not fair, givin' a guy a shot down there!" What kid doesn't love that? Then, ol' Geraldo and Geraldine, with the guy turning into a frog, "Hey, your kinda cute." Just to let everyone know, interjections are "generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma if the feeling's not as strong." Then, the kicker. Franklin playing in the football game, throws the TD the wrong way, losing the game. The crowd is hollering mild oaths, and then the little nerd hops up, "Hurray! I'm for de udder team!" Those exclamations turn to commas quick when the angry mob turns on the fella. Best song and video combo period. It has pain, romance, football, and some of the heartfelt words to say in the English language because they're all based on emotion.

I know, I know. I'm a moron. My list stinks. Blah, blah. Blah blah blah blah, blah blah. Blahblah. But this is it. This is the list for which I'm now on record, so it stands. And lo to the man or woman or child who attempts to knock it down. As they say in my number one:

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah... YEA!

Darn! That's the end!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I hate conventional wisdom

Can’t stand it. The very idea that you should make a decision or form a belief based on the preponderance of what has supposedly worked for others in similar situations annoys the snot out of me. But I think what really chaps me most of all is the smugness associated with it.

Conventional wisdom just swaggers in not having to prove anything, dares you to step out on your own, and waits to sneer as soon as it looks like you might fail. (How’s that for over-personification?)

I love it when conventional wisdom falls on its cocky butt and cries like a baby (did it again). When something that isn’t supposed to happen… happens anyway. Or things that aren’t supposed to exist… do.

So, naturally, a recent headline touting the discovery of a giant waterfall that no one knew existed caught my attention. But the best part is that it wasn’t located in the deepest, darkest corner of Africa but in a National Park in Cali-forn-i-a.

My favorite line from one of the articles about the find is, “In the era of satellites and high-technology imaging systems, that such a spectacle should evade park officials for nearly all the park's 40 years is remarkable, said park Superintendent Jim Milestone.”

Take that conventional wisdom.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dear Santa

It's been a banner year at the Pearce household, and as usual, I'm expecting my regular boatload of presents. Now, the reason I'm actually writing this year is that I've heard more than just a few people questioning my behavior as less than somewhat stellar, so I wanted to set the record straight.

First, my family. Okay, Santa, we've had that deal ever since I got married, you know, that my wife and I became one. That means: all the insults, bites, and any cursing at her or of her is really like I'm saying it to or about myself. Obviously, none of that counts toward your naughty list. Getting to the kids, I know I put them off a lot, but it's always for a good reason, or at least for a reason, which is better'n most kids get. Not to mention I send them off to play in the nicest way I can. I'm good like that, Saint Nick. Oh, about the punishments I dish out before I cool down, you could say they're hasty, buuuuut you can't say I didn't have a reason. As a parent, administering justice is just part of the business. Then, there's my own parents, brother, and sister -- I may hardly ever write or call them, but they know I love them anyway, so there you go.

Second, the neighbors. I know I haven't been very friendly to them this year, but at the same time, I haven't been unfriendly, have I? Let's face it, though. Their kids are a pain, whenever you get too close they start asking for favors they never expect to repay, some of them don't meet up to the high Christian standards we've set --- therefore, as I learned from Bambi so long ago, "If you can't say something nice, avoid them like the plague as long as you can."

Oh yeah, the church. Almost forgot that one. I've skipped a lot this year, I know. And if I prepare at all for the Sunday Schoolers' lessons I read, well, then hey, I'll do your job this year. But at least they've got somebody, right? As for acting like Jesus to others, I think we all have to face the fact that nobody's perfect, but seriously, I still believe in Him, so I've got the important stuff down, don't I?

Now, how about we get to the important things like my accomplishments. Here's numero uno. Whether or not I've worked hard enough is beside the point, but I did get that promotion and raise this year, so apparently I'm doing something right, don't you agree, big fella? Score one for the Rich-man. Then, there's the increased active rooting interest in my sports teams. Heck, the organizations ought to be paying me with all the time I'm investing in them. I could make the decisions for every one of them at this point. Not to mention my fantasy football team is winning this year, so I should get some extra credit for that. Back to the kids, now that they're reading a bit, I've got them reading Bible stories all by themselves. Even if I don't have time to answer their questions, something good's got to be rubbing off there... and they've always got Mom to help them out, so I think they're spiritually covered. Tons of credit should be coming my way for that as the spiritual leader of the house. My novel writing may have slackened, but even though I'm short-changing Ken in that regard, I'm also sticking it to myself. Plus, we've started this blog, so now I can positively affect others with my exemplary life. Like I said, it's been a bang-up year.

Which means we need to be getting down to business. It's that time again for a new car, and whereas wifeypoo says our next one that we get down the road needs to fit our lifestyle with kids, carpools, etc. how 'bout we hold off on that one just yet and go ahead with the Porsche? I've sorta been wanting that for a while, Claus, and somehow I haven't found it under my tree any of the past three years. It's high time. Then, the XBox 360's out, and there's a gift I can share. My kids already spend too much time watching TV, so this way as long as they have to watch, at least they can be interactive. If nothing else, I'm a solutions man. Cool, huh? Along with those, throw in another couple of authentic Dolphin jerseys, autographed of course -- this year, Ronnie Brown and Chris Chambers will do, but if I have to settle with Jason Taylor, so be it. The regular bunch of movies, CDs, candy, and games to go along with that new XBox are all good. If I think of anymore stuff, I'll certainly let you know.

Remember, we Pearces, we believe.

With all due respect to a man that looks like a red marshmallow and consorts with talking game,
Your biggest and # 1 fan!!!


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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Legend of the Christmas Chicken

Letters are written, stockings are hung, fruitcakes are baked, and children have been as good as they could be nearly all year long. On Christmas Eve, they snuggle under their quilts, dreaming of quiet footsteps on their rooftops and brightly wrapped gifts at morning’s light -– all of them hoping that the Christmas Chicken will visit them again this year.

What’s that you say? You don’t know the story of the Christmas Chicken? Well, if you’ll spare a moment or two -– I realize it’s hard at this time of year. We’re all running around like chickens with our heads… OOPS!!! Best not to say that! Anyway, sit back and let me tell you all about The Legend of the Christmas Chicken.

Nearly a century ago on the twelfth day of Christmas, a small egg hatched in western Africa, and a yellow chick was born. His father, a Rhode Island Red, and his mother, a white French Hen, eventually settled on the name Chris: Chris Cluckle. His parents raised him in a small ramshackle pen on the Boumtje Nog Farm in Equatorial Guinea, where they pecked out a meager existence. The farm owners, Mr. and Mrs. Boumtje and their fourteen children, toiled long and hard, but their nog business had turned seasonal and was not thriving.

One day, as the children fed the chickens, little Yulé Boumtje began speaking to Chris, and lo and behold, Chris found that he could parrot Yulé’s speech. Small words… nothing fancy. Words and phrases like "hello" and "pretty chicken." However, as days went by, Chris’ vocabulary continued to grow. He even made up new words, just to hear himself talk. Chris quickly became the children’s pet and moved out of the pen and into the house.

With all the hoopla surrounding his unusual talent, Chris might well have become quite full of himself had he not developed a taste for Mrs. Boumtje’s special recipe fruitcake and become quite full of it instead. Chris loved the fruitcake, and he loved the children. The children loved Chris but did not love the fruitcake, and so a perfect match was made. However, the faster Chris ate the cakes, the faster Mrs. Boumtje baked them, flattered that her children loved her cooking so. Chris was the cock-of-the-walk, and he was extremely happy.

However, a new beverage called wassail was sweeping the Trans-Pan-Atlantic area, and its popularity caused the Boumtjes’ nog sales to suffer even further. In desperation, Mr. Boumtje formulated a plan to improve the family’s fortunes by capitalizing on Chris’ curious ability. He built a special pen for Chris, four times the size of the pen that the other chickens shared, and decorated it with strings of popped chicken corn and whatever shiny trinkets he could muster. Before Equatorial Guinea’s annual market held in the capital city of F’Gy Pdding, Mr. Boumtje tacked up signs touting, "Talking Chicken -- Boumtje Nog Farm -- 50 barnas." And his ploy worked! Rumor of a talking chicken soon became the talk of the market, and Mr. Boumtje was swamped with interested customers.

For his part, Chris grew anxious about his public debut. He had never spoken to anyone besides the Boumtjes, and Mr. Boumtje and the children whom he loved were counting on him. Not only that, but the other hens now cackled to his mother, "Look at Chris, perched up in that fancy coop talking like a person. He thinks he’s too good to be one of us chickens."

All this negative squawking worried Chris something fierce, and the more Chris worried, the more fruitcake he ate. Now, perhaps I’ve been remiss, but at this point, I should note that no one really knew what the secret ingredient in Mrs. Boumtje’s special recipe fruitcakes was. No one was sure because the cakes were usually buried instead of eaten. This fact is important, you see, because at this most unfortunate time, Mrs. Boumtje’s fruitcakes began to have a strange effect upon Chris.

On the very day that most of Equatorial Guinea filled the Boumtje farm brimming with curiosity about the famous talking chicken and buying nog to quench their thirst as they waited, Chris simply disappeared. No, he didn’t run away, he actually faded away… into invisibility. So when Mr. Boumtje collected everyone’s money, made a grand introduction, and threw open the door to the pen, the crowd rumbled, pushed, pummeled, and stumbled forward only to see nothing but an empty coop. There was no chicken to see at all, talking or otherwise.

"We’ve been robbed!" the mob roared. "Boumtje has only dragged us here to sell his nutmeggy nog!" they accused.

Chris stood on his tippy-toes and crowed, "I’m here, I’m here!" but no one heard him, and Mr. Boumtje was humiliated.

After refunding everyone’s money and making a thousand apologies, Mr. Boumtje sat down and wept. "We are ruined," he lamented. "No one will ever buy our nog again. How shall I provide for Mrs. Boumtje and the fourteen children?" Mr. Boumtje was a proud man, and unaware that Chris stood nearby, even threw in, "It is all the rooster’s fault. I swear, if he ever returns, we will feast on chicken pot pie."

Heartbroken, Chris took off and flew out of the pen (invisible chickens are far better fliers, you see) and soared away across land and sea until he reached a deserted island. "Here, I cannot harm those that I love," he thought. Only, he missed the children more than he ever thought that he would, and as it turned out, the island wasn’t completely deserted. It was actually inhabited by bucktoothed, invisible-chicken-seeing little rodents that looked like balls of brown and white fur.

Back at the Boumtje farm, the children missed Chris too, especially little Yulé. Roaming the villages of Equatorial Guinea, he called to his beloved pet as loudly as he could, but to no avail. He blamed himself for teaching Chris to talk and for feeding him fruitcake, and he refused to partake in any chicken pie dinners.

To make amends, Yulé decided to confess his naughty actions to Mr. Boumtje and promise to be as good as possible for a really long time (maybe a whole year). Maybe then, his father would forgive Chris, and the little rooster would come back. Yulé also made up his mind that instead of simply calling for the chicken every day, he would write letters to Chris explaining his plan (didn’t I mention that he had taught Chris to read, too) , put them into bottles, and throw them into the ocean in hopes that one would somehow reach Chris.

Fortunately, near Chris’ birthday, as he moped down the beach, one of the bottles did wash ashore onto his island, and after reading Yulé’s letter, he began laughing and crying at the same time.

He told his new furry friends about Yulé and all the other fourteen children who had loved him.
"We would like to play with children," they begged. "We are tired of only playing amongst ourselves, and no offense, but whiny, invisible chickens are no walk in the park, either. Please take us there."

Then, Chris had an idea. Perhaps there was a way that he could still see and interact with the children he loved without causing more problems for anyone. So, late at night on the day before his birthday, Chris scooped fourteen of the little furballs into a large leaf and flew back to Equatorial Guinea. Finding an open window at the Boumtje farmhouse, he placed the bundled, leaf gift with Yulé’s note attached under a small plant. And snatching up a fruitcake or two that lay nearby, he flapped back to his secret island home.

The next morn, the Boumtje children shouted ecstatically, each finding a pet for themselves. "They look like little furry piggies!" one exclaimed.

At Yulé’s urging, the children all started writing letters to the chicken and tossing them out to sea. And every year on his birthday, Chris returned like clockwork and left different gifts for them.

Word spread across Equatorial Guinea about the mysterious Christmas Chicken. And while some believed, others remained skeptical. "It’s just that Boumtje trying another of his schemes!" they supposed. Nevertheless, more children across the Trans-Pan-Atlantic and beyond began writing letters and throwing them into the ocean for Chris, and he always found gifts for each of them, because he loved the children so.

It is rumored that when Yulé grew up, he sailed off and found Chris and named the secret island, Christmas Island. I've even heard that Yulé’s children and his children’s children now help Chris carry out a nearly worldwide gift distribution system. But that’s a story for another day.

So now that you’ve heard, I hope all you boys and girls plan to be good this year. Send your letters to Christmas Island. And don’t forget to leave some fruitcake out for Chris.

Merry Christmas and may the Christmas Chicken visit you too this year!!!

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Monday, December 12, 2005

More Magic from Mallonee

It's force-feeding time, again. For any of you loyal Realm subjects that would like to bypass having their arm twisted until they scream, "I love Bill M!" five times straight, please either move to the next post or go back and reread The Legend of the Christmas Chicken yet one more time. Okay, here we go. Early in this tune, Bill figuratively sets out the way our curse is played out under the Fall:

Now everyone's a junkie, and since daylight's such a pain,
we're all looking for some darkness, to stick into our veins.

However, when the song climaxes, Christ's redemption is portrayed:

What if it's for a purpose? What if we used our battered faith?
They say God He doesn't make junk & Jesus never makes mistakes.
He has never given up, on anything that He has made.
He will chase you like a lover, right through heaven's gate.

-- I Will Never Be Normal (After This)
from the Dear Life CD

Bill has made a career of writing and singing songs about the Fall and Redemption, and I'm not sure there's a better one lyrically than this. Sin stains us all, and those skeletons we've hidden in our closets really only enjoy the darkness. No matter how well we hide our dirty, little (or big) secrets, though, they end up manifesting themselves in ugly ways. And they don't mind killing us from deep inside, either, sometimes to the point that we regret our lives or at least how we live them. But at the end, Bill illuminates the hope that is found in Jesus. In the verse before the climax, he writes, "you gotta wake up and believe, that love's the better way." Then, he treats us to this last verse. As we persevere through the battles in our lives, a hidden purpose is revealed. The King of the Universe hasn't given up on you and, in fact, is prodding you, chasing you straight toward Him. For those of us who know the fallen parts of our lives all too well, this ending paints a beautiful picture -- we know we don't deserve it, yet the Savior's love trumps all. Goose bump city.

Oh, and one last shameless plug for Bill's new Christmas album, Yonder Shines the Infant Light, which you can read about right here. I can certainly vouch for On to Bethlehem and Sing Angel Choirs, two great, great songs. The others are either brand-spankin' new or somehow I missed them. Go figure. So -- if you're still reading this post at this point, then 1) I can safely say you need to garner a copy of this soon-to-be-released holiday masterpiece, and 2) you probably need some kind of therapy - but go ahead and skip it... I do. Regardless, my CD's on order, and it'll make for an even merrier Christmas. No doubt, the "Comment" box following this post will be filled with "thank yous" to me once all of you receive the orders you've probably already started placing. Yessiree, I'm looking for those comments to start rolling in any time now.

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On a Sorrowful Note... of my co-workers lost his mother today. From what I know, she had been having some heart troubles, and he was keeping tabs on her. When he walked in today, he found his mom dead. Pretty traumatic.

I'd be thankful for any prayers offered up for him and his family. Much appreciated.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

What If I'm Paranoid and Right?

Meghan O'Rourke at Slate Magazine makes a great point in her article on C.S. Lewis. Speaking that despite the differences among critics pro and con of Lewis, "all essentially agree that Christianity must be at the heart of of any serious analysis" of his work. Here's what caught my eye:

It's easy to see why this is so, since Lewis is a famous proselytizer, and adults reading The Chronicles will find it impossible to miss the Christian overtones. But it is nonetheless unfortunate: Judging the Narnia books solely by their Christianity is an impoverished way of reading them. It is a reflection more of our polarized moment—in which a perceived cultural divide has alienated Christians from secular culture and secular readers from anything that smacks of religious leanings—than of the relative aesthetic merits and weaknesses of Lewis' books.

I may be wrong here to some extent, but more so than secular readers being outraged by works that may have some Christian element to them, my perception is that it is the decision-makers in publishing houses who more often than not are the ones offended. When I was researching the market for our (Pearce & Story) most recently completed novel, which features an eighth grade protagonist in a middle school environment, it interested me that in none of the similar books through which I read did any of the characters attend church, much less were any of them Christians. Really, I'm fine with the notion that other talented authors/writers have worlds or settings where nothing religious exists so long as their works merit being published. However, I have a real problem, and it's just that unfortunately: my problem, where similarly talented pieces of literature are dismissed out of hand because either church, Christian principles, or the word Jesus, if it's not used in some profane manner, is mentioned.

I mean, after going through over twenty juvenile fiction books that are supposed to mirror real life in some way, shouldn't you find at least one character that goes to church? Is it even sensible that not one book I read had even that? Maybe I'm insulated living here in the Bible Belt, but I find it hard to imagine that life in the United States other than in the South is devoid of any religious characterization at all.

Certainly, if editors review manuscripts where writers can't pull off subtle religious innuendo or where moral lessons are pounding readers over their respective heads, those stories ought to be tossed out with most of the slush that the houses receive. But Ms. O'Rourke has an excellent point regarding the cultural polarization of the moment. In writing groups and on blogs, I hear the question so many times: Would C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia see light of day in today's publishing atmosphere? The point of those questions is undoutedly that the work would not, and that would indeed be a tragedy.

But the real travesty is that there are most likely many talented Christian writers today seeking to be published and marketed by the mainstream industry, and the world is a lesser place for missing some of their works. In no way do I intend to demean editors (acquisition editors or otherwise) for the work they do - especially in those (dwindling) houses still receiving unsolicited manuscripts. Obviously, they have a difficult job where they are inundated with mostly junk, and they have to filter through stacks of chaff to find any diamond in the rough. However, it would truly be devastating if the mere mention of something "Christian" was used in weeding out the good from the bad works and the great from the good.

I'm no fan of most of the Christian fiction I peruse in Christian bookstores - especially the middle reader through young adult fiction that we write. Precious little aside from C.S. Lewis deserves much attention. However, I'm betting most of the best manuscripts written by Christians are sent not to Christian publishers but to mainstream ones. Or mainsteam agents. I certainly hope I'm wrong, and nothing is being weeded out by virtue of the hint of Christianity alone. As Ms. O'Rourke states and I can't put it any better: Judging the Narnia books (or any quality book/manuscript written by a Christian writer) solely by their Christianity is an impoverished way of reading them. Instead, judge them on their merits or failures; as writers, that's all that any of us are asking for.

Plus, I, for one, would hate to be deprived of the next Chronicles of Narnia... or Lord of the Rings for that matter. All the more if I was the one writing.

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The Wonderful Wizards of "As"

The Bible says, "As a man thinks within himself, so is he."

As this is the case, my blogging colleague and I are clearly the Masters of Simile as much as Bill Mallonee is the Master of Metaphor. Without using your browser's find feature, find as many uses of the word "as" as you can on The Realm's main page. With extra points given to those who pour through the comments as well.

Hint: Our goal (as we must have goals) is to always maintain at least as many as 50 at all times.

Hopefully, this does not develop into a blogger's drinking game (if there is such a thing), because as we've stated before, the Realm is a kid-friendly site. The loins of Narcissus notwithstanding.

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Narnian Reviews Redux

Here are Jared Wilson's review and Christianity Today's review to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And here is Ken's.

Let me just say right up front: I LOVED IT! And I will be seeing it again… soon! Overall rating, A+. But before I just spit out the rest of the review, let me give you some background on me as a reviewer.

I’ve been excited about this movie ever since I heard it was to be made. Then, I became more excited when I learned that Walden Media, who I’m a big supporter of was behind its production (I’ll do a separate post on them soon). Then, I became even more excited after I learned that WETA was doing the special effects, and filming was to take place in New Zealand. Both big successes in LOTR. (Too bad for this movie that LOTR has set a standard very difficult to match without copying it. And you’ll see my comparisons often. Though to be mentioned in the same breath is still high praise).

Unfortunately, when I get excited, I tend to build up expectations beyond all reason and wind up being disappointed. Which is one of the reasons for my learned cynicism (but that’s another post or counseling session as well).

I also tend to overanalyze nearly everything in life, and movies are no exception. But the two areas I’m more critical about than any others are plotting and casting. A tired old plot or one with inconsistencies or holes drives me nuts. I sit through the whole movie thinking, "I could do better, I could do better." However, in the case of the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis has taken care of this point admirably. I can only hope to nip at his shadow although I still prefer his non-fiction, but I digress again. So, in cases where the film is an adaptation of a book, my criterion becomes one of faithfulness to the book. And if I didn’t like the book, I’m not going to be in the theater anyway.

In the case of TLTWTW, I found that the movie was delightfully consistent with the book. As with LOTR, there were differences, but all my favorite scenes were there, all my favorite lines were there, and the discrepancies (either additions or subtractions) seemed natural and easily forgivable as natural in order to make the transition from page to screen. For those who have never read the book, firstly shame on you, but secondly you are in for an even bigger treat as the world of Narnia is opened to you. I give it an easy A.

To me, good casting is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it." I wouldn’t begin to know how to cast a movie, but I know when it’s right, and when it’s wrong. And in my opinion, bad casting is either casting a bad actor or casting a good actor in the wrong role.

In terms of casting, I typically hope that actors who are unknown to me fill the roles that I love. It takes a truly gifted actress performing at the top of her craft, or an awful lot of makeup, for me to buy a known celebrity as my character. Else, I’m continually jarred out of the story. My primary concern going into the movie, was Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan. I just had some trouble with Qui-Gon Jinn, Ducard, Schindler, Valjean, and especially Rob Roy (love the story, hate the movie) playing the magnificent lion. With the exception of Schindler when I didn’t really know Neeson, it always seemed like Neeson each time. However, I must say, while I would have preferred someone else, his voice only distracted me once, and I was quickly won over. Jim Broadbent is one of my favorite character actors, and my only negative here is his minimal screen time. Perhaps he’ll find more in the sequels. I loved all the Pevensies, especially Lucy and Susan, who as my favorites in the book are now also my favorites in the movie. They are just so very many light years better than the actresses in the BBC version. I could not be happier. Peter and Edmund were also very much Lewis’ and my Peter and Edmund. Tilda Swinton was excellent as the White Witch despite not quite meeting my vision or the book’s description of her. And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, James McAvoy’s portrayal of Mr. Tumnus was even broader than the book, and I believe rounded the character even more. The CGI characters and their voice actors, particularly the beavers and the wolves, were also spot on. I give it an A++. With Tumnus providing some extra credit.

So, with plotting and casting already earning good grades, I’m left to quibble with things that to my mind are of somewhat lesser importance.

My strongest beef is that at 140 minutes, the movie isn’t long enough. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the multiple movie, three-hour-plus epics that have come out in the last few years. But I felt like, while all the plot points were covered quite well (see above), character development suffered. Yes, I already knew these characters, but they didn’t know each other. And with the exception of the Pevensie siblings with one other, which was close to right, the short amount of time given to relationship building between the other characters sometimes made their reactions or motivations seem out of place or scripted. Lucy and Susan must have had seven crying scenes, and only the one with Edmund seemed truly justified especially for the older, stronger Susan. They were logical places for someone who knew the characters well to have an emotional reaction, but these characters just weren’t given time to get to that point. I also felt like the battle scene was shortchanged for the same reason. Unlike the Battle of Helm’s Deep, things just weren’t given enough time to get bad before Aslan makes his appearance. So, Gandalf still holds the emotional cavalry award in my book. I give this aspect a B-.

My other negative comments are real nitpickers, because the settings were amazing (I must visit New Zealand if it looks half as beautiful as what I’ve seen in the movies), and the music while not quite LOTR standards was quite good as well, particularly the hide-and-seek piece, and the way it comes to an abrupt close. Settings get an A+ and music a solid B.

The special effects and CGI met all my expectations and exceeded some. Surprisingly, when they failed, they seemed to fail on the comparatively easier things. Making me wonder if the difficult tasks ate up all the effects budget. One example, is the effect used to show the giants. Size discrepancy effects are relatively commonplace now. Jurassic Park, Big Fish, among others recently used them more effectively. And they seem to be stunning in their own new King Kong movie. Also, many of the extra creatures, good and bad were only seen in quick cutaways or at a distance. But again nits. Effects earn an A-/B+ in my mind.

As I have more time to ruminate on the movie, and more of you have a chance to see it, I’ll come back and edit my post. Then, maybe I won’t have to worry about providing spoilers, and we can really dissect the movie and look forward to where they go with The Horse and His Boy or Prince Caspian (I hope).

BTW, don’t leave the theater as the credits start to roll at the end, or you’ll miss some good epilogue stuff.

‘Til then, for Narnia and for Aslan!!

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Saturday, December 10, 2005


Perhaps to no one's interest besides my own, Carson, my oldest (7) son, and his basketball team chose their name Thursday night. Here in Alabama, seemingly everyone has a side on the Auburn/Bama collegiate sports rivalry, and Carson is no different. He was calling for his team's name to be the Tigers. A couple other whoopersnappers wanted the Tide - as in Crimson Tide - which would have worked out really well if we end up with shamrock-colored uniforms. In their infinite wisdom, the coaches disqualified both those names. The three other names tossed into the hat were the Chargers (University of Alabama in Huntsville's mascot), the Bulls (amazing that the name has any clout this long after Michael Jordan has retired), and the Blazers (University of Alabama in Birmingham mascot). Never having been a Jordan fan, my hope was anything but the Bulls. And the kids made a great choice: the Blazers.

Games don't start until after the holidays, so no one has to worry about any superficial updates for a little while. But since we link the bizarre and the ridiculous here - or at least plan to - last year, my son's team went 1-10-1, and I kid you not they lost on no less than four buzzer beaters and two other games by a basket or less. In kid's U-6 basketball, that's almost miraculous (not the close scores, but losing on MADE baskets at the buzzer) - and particularly painful with losses mounting game after game after game after game after game. Not that we parents cared that much other than you want your kid to feel good at least after one game in every four.

Anyhoo, each new season breeds new optimism, and ten loss seasons are now a thing of the past. I hope, anyway. And though I won't lay down a post after every Blazer game, I'll certainly hit the team milestones for all of our loyal, loyal readers out there. I realize everyone's waiting with bated breath on the edge of their seats for Blazer scores and Carson's contributions, and I aim to please. So everyone get out there and purchase your Blazer caps and t-shirts because we're getting at least two wins this year - I guarantee it.

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Narnian Reviews

Here are Jared Wilson's review and Christianity Today's review to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Return of the King Kong

When I was a mere tot o' five living in Fort Bayou Estates in Ocean Springs, MS (before it became a gambling mecca and now currently suffers from the after-effects of Katrina), the first real movies I ever got to see were Godzilla movies. Godzilla on Monster Island was my first movie at the cinema ever. I think it cost a buck and a quarter for adults to get in, and three quarters for me. I remember the theater sold hot dogs and big pickles as well as popcorn, candy, and sodas. In retrospect, the movie was really bad with a man plodding around in a giant lizard suit, but I LOVED it. Godzilla, being the first movie actor/monster/hero I had ever seen, instantly burned into my conscience as my favorite. As bad as the Godzilla movies are, a deep affection still remains for them. I used to stay up on Friday nights in my early teens to watch Shock Theater whenever a Godzilla flick showed. I loved seeing him take down Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (also called Monster Zero), Megalon, or Mechagodzilla any time I could.

Well, as I grew, I saw other monster flicks, but I always cheered for Godzilla. Later on, after we had moved to Colorado Springs when I was nine (1976), my family went to see Dino de Laurentis' version of King Kong, which starred a young Jessica Lange as the heroine along with Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin. The whole movie really fell flat for me, and as a nine year old, I carried a genuine dislike for Kong, especially relative to my favorite fire-laser-breathing lizard-man. The old black-and-white King Kong from the 1930s, the one Peter Jackson was so entranced by, didn't do much for me either.

It wasn't until after the de Laurentis Kong that I finally saw the 1962 movie King Kong Versus Godzilla, which actually had been released years before most of the movies I had seen. Now, as an American, I should have be rooting for Kong in this one, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. And I was so mad in the end when King Kong prevailed over my monster hero, especially as I was in the company of pals who had been telling me King Kong was tougher than Godzilla (which I would have bet all the money I had at the time, probably about two bucks, on Godzilla winning that fight), that I kicked out my friends and vowed never to watch that movie again. The fact that it was just a movie never dawned on any of us: only that they were right and I was wrong. Grrrrrrr.

Well, now I'm older, and as anyone who has read my posts on this blog can attest, I'm far, far more mature, light-years even. And over time, my zeal for Godzilla has waned some, and King Kong, by virtue of its story, actually has some appeal for me.

So what I'm looking for out of this movie - and if this review's (a tilt of my porkpie cap to Quaid at Thinklings for the link) is any indication, I'll get - is a King Kong I can root for over Godzilla. I'm still not sure, even though I have a TON of faith in Jackson after what he did with LOTR, probably because I'm not enthralled with the cast. Naomi Watts... Jack Black... I don't know. Not necessarily first line favorites for me. But that is what I'm hoping for, because once I get a King Kong I can cheer for over the ultra cool (to me - albeit cheesy to most) Godzilla, I plan to get a copy of that old 1962 film and see if my team wins this time.

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Books I've Started But...

Oh, to finish and not just to start. Let me rundown the number of partially read books scattered across my room at the moment:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Edge Chronicles: Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (reading to my kids)
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (also reading to my kids)
Luke for Everyone by N.T. Wright
The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright

and I just purchased

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Saving DaVinci by Annie Laura Smith (recently published)
as well as the Romans (Part One) for Everyone and the John (Part One) for Everyone by NTW, a four-in-one hardback of C.S. Lewis books, and a while back I purchased Desiring God by John Piper but have yet to open it...

...which is waaaaaaaay too many open (or potentially opened) books for me at one time. I need at least some focus. Finishing all these will take TIME and in combination with keeping our new blog current (not to mention a couple/three things called a wife, children, and career that take priority as well) could pose a potential risk for taking time away from writing our novel. I'm gonna have to watch it.

Thankfully, I do get some "finishing fulfillment" just from reading Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight Moon, Amazing Spider-Man # 522, and Sandra Boyton books to my kids. That's one good thing: at least when I pick up Curious George I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as soon as I start. Maybe I ought to stick with something like that for while.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Top Ten Christmas Specials

With apologies to the Muppets, Mr. Magoo, and Happy, the Baby New Year, I've listed my Top Ten Christmas TV Specials of All-time:

10) Mickey's Christmas Carol

This classic featured Mickey Mouse as the poor Bob Cratchit with appearances by most of the Disney gang including Goofy as Jacob Marley's ghost. But Scrooge McDuck played his part flawlessly, and Mickey edges Mr. Magoo to squeak onto the list.

9) Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

Of course the picked-on, beaten-down, timid, little donkey that carried the mother of the Christ child to Bethlehem is going to make my Top Ten list. Any mainstream special that at least touches on the true meaning of Christmas gets an extra point or two from me, and Nestor does more than that. Not to mention, my brother and I could always make my little sister cry by singing the theme song to Nestor (rendered by no less than Marty Robbins in the show). So, it really gets some freebies to place it above Mickey.

8) 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

As much as anything, this special benefits from a cool song at it's climax. "Christmas Bells are calling: Santa! Santa!" the chorus repeats and then states, "We need you today!" Really good song. And yepper, this special has the children of Junctionville, yes, you heard me correctly, Junctionville, in peril of receiving no presents because the scroogy Albert Mouse calls Christmas and Santa "a fraudulent myth." He intercepts children's letters, the works, so that Santa ain't coming. However, redemption for Albert is found in the end when he actually listens to stories from older, "wiser" mice and men. So don't worry. Santa comes. Junctionville is saved. Hurray for Albert!

7) The Little Drummer Boy

In case you missed it in the song - many probably skipped this verse - the Little Drummer Boy's name was Aaron, and he hated people because his family was killed by desert thieves. This special debuted in 1968, so we're talking an oldie but a goodie here. Once again, extra points for Baby Jesus being shown at the end as well as religious overtones (and undertones) throughout the show. Also some points for the Vienna Boys Choir adding to the ambience. And, in case you didn't know, a sequel, The Little Drummer Boy Book II, does exist, where Aaron and the three wisemen spread the word about the newborn Christ. It didn't make the list, however.

6) Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

We've hit the biggies now. Excellent performances throughout, and a true surprise with Topper, the penguin, who shows up at the North Pole. Tanta Kringle and the Kringle boys. The Winter Warlock. Miss Jessica (who later becomes Mrs. Claus, and is the winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Christmas Special Award). And hey, Burgermeister Meisterburger definitely is in the running for Best Bad Guy in a Christmas Special, although he doesn't win the award. And Mickey Rooney is delightful as Kris Kringle, or as he's later known, Santa Claus. The music isn't nearly as good as the claymation specials higher on this list, but the show puts a lot together about Santa Claus and his origins. And origin stories are good. (I'd certainly love to own a copy of Amazing Fantasy # 15 where Peter Parker is bitten by an irradiated spider -- but I digress).

5) A Charlie Brown Christmas

We got it all here, girls and boys. Pig-Pen's dirty snowman, Lucy bossin', the whole Peanuts gang rocking out to Vince Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy, Chuck being his loveable blockhead self, and climaxing with Linus quoting the Gospel of Luke, not to mention the epilogue of the gang dressing up the pitiful tree and caroling Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It doesn't get much better than that...

4) The Year Without a Santa Claus

...but it does get better, nonetheless. Who can top the campy Snow Miser and Heat Miser and their respective tunes? The theme song (same as the show's title) in the beginning and Here Comes Santa Claus at the end are far better than average holiday classics, and the awesome Blue Christmas brings tears to the eyes. There's only one claymation classic that surpasses the charm of this great, and that's:

3) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

"I want to be a dentist." That classic line followed by the Chief Elf's conniption fit has me in stitches every time I watch this show. And I can watch it a lot of times. And I have watched it a lot of times. And who can forget the Best Supporting Actor of All Christmas Specials, the incomparable Yukon Cornelius? The misfit song, the elves' song, and the unwanted toys' songs are all catchy numbers that lift the charm of this particular special, and I thought the romance, albeit brief, between Rudolph and Clarice surpassed the Kris Kringle/Jessica romance in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. We have the conflict between father and son here, a budding romance cut short, misfits wandering and being chased by the Abominable Snow Beast, heroic sacrifical actions on the part of our heroes, and the requisite happy ending. No claymation special is better than this one.

2) Frosty the Snowman

But a couple of cartoons are! The Best Bad Guy in a Christmas Special Award goes to the perfectly played (by Billy DeWolfe) evil magician, Professor Hinkle. "Got to think nasty. Think nasty!" "You silly little children. You believe everything you see!" "No fair! No Fair!" in DeWolfe's unique voice. And you've got to hand it to Jimmy Durante as well. Along with Burl Ives in Rudolph, he narrates the story better than anyone this side of Boris Karloff. But loveable characters like Frosty, Karen (who wins the Best Actress in a Christmas Special Award), and Hocus Pocus really make you pull for the snowman, and we cheer when "the fastest bellywhopper in the world" outraces the evil professor. Then, we cry when Frosty melts. And we're overjoyed when Santa's Christmas magic brings Frosty back to life. And now for number 1.

1) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch could win just about every award possible. He'd easily beat out Professor Hinkle for the Bad Guy Award if only he hadn't been redeemed for the last third of a twenty-six minute show. Instead, he's the Best Actor in a Christmas Special. There isn't a better song than You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch in any of the Christmas specials. And the Who's Christmas song isn't too bad either. Max, of course, gets runner up for the best supporting actor role, edging Hermey in Rudolph for that spot. Dr. Seuss gets all of our thanks for writing such a wonderful story, and "Grinch" like its predecessor "Scrooge" has become a part of our English vernacular.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Well, those are my choices and reasons for them. Tell me where I'm wrong and why. What should be higher? What should be lower on the list? What shouldn't be there at all, and what should be in its place? Like Happy, the Baby New Year in Rudolph's Shiny New Year, I'm all ears.

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Master of Metaphor

A quick time-out for the (because he such a master of lyrical verse and modern day troubadour which fits in just dandy on a somewhat literary blog where one likes to have fun and especially when one mentions "the legendary" in one's blog's welcoming statement, but mostly because he's my favorite musical artist ever) Bill Mallonee / Vigilantes of Love - Song Quote of the Week:

And all those summer sunsets, and autumn colors and smells,
and those proud Easter trumpets, and those Christmas bells;
if I could gather every nuance, the loose threads and the bits,
I'd paint them on your lips girl and drown in the kiss.

Oh, could we start with some brand new hearts?
Since the ones we wrecked were never gonna last...
Is that too much to ask?

-- Is That Too Much to Ask? from the Friendly Fire CD

Raise a glass. Here's to those who have heard the song, and those who haven't should (but then, couldn't I say that about almost every Mallonee tune?). Is there a reason we're not linking him on the side-bar? Can somebody with some knowledge here make that happen, thankuberryberrymuch?

Subjectivity, subschmectivity.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

And in the same region there were shepherds... (admittedly a rough, rough first draft)

A skyward resplendence flooded the darkness, and night changed to day around us. A silhouette of a man - no, not a man, but of someone or something - hung suspended in the radiance. The sudden change from the evening's black to brilliance petrified me. My knees buckled, and I dropped to the grass. Barely could I see others of our crew across the field similarly overcome. I lifted my crook to shield my eyes as best I could from the glare, though little did it aid. Wishing to run, I scooted myself upright to a knee. In the distance, bleatings from our nervous flocks rose.

Then, an exclamation thundered forth from the image amidst the light, "Fear not!"

For a moment, my stomach lurched into my throat. Despite the sentiment, beads of sweat dripped down my face, and my shaking continued worse than before. I tore my glance from the majestic speaker for the light burned my eyes.

"For behold, I bring you good tidings of a great joy that will be for all the people!"

Still trembling, my hopes arose as slow thoughts penetrated through my near-numb mind. Might this be the voice of the Lord? Could this be He of whom the patriarchs glimpsed?

Again, the announcement boomed, "For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!"

My propped knee gave way, and I tumbled flat onto the curve of my staff. Hardly, though, did it pain me. The urge swept through me to remove my sandals. Surely, I lay on holy ground. The savior, God's promised Messiah, had come - the one about whom the ancients foretold. The Lord had come this night!

"And this will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger!"

The omen registered briefly but disappeared in a flash. I wanted to bury my head deep in the ground but could not move. The sky no longer existed. If I had witnessed the awe-inspiring before, truly this was heaven opening itself to the earth. A myriad of beings surrounded by the glory of glories filled the heavens as far across the field as I could see. A beautiful refrain echoed over the valley, and the verse rang clear.

"Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace among those with whom he is pleased." Unforgettable words lilted over and over.

And suddenly, the host began retreating into the heavens, and the sweet music faded. The glory of the Lord drifted with the throng until all had gone. The starlit night returned as it had earlier appeared.

With some effort, I climbed to my feet. Hopeful that my robes remained unsoaked, I patted my clothing and whispered a thankful prayer.

"Samuel! Samuel!" my name was called, and then a third time.

My friend Jesiah, splashing through a shallow creek, stumbled towards me. His two brothers trailed him. I hurried to my friend, and we embraced.

"The Lord has shown us great things!" he cried. "Are we not to believe what we have beheld this night?"

"How could we presume otherwise?" Nodding, I clasped my friend's shoulders. "To Bethlehem, Jesiah, we must go there."

One of his brothers raced by us. "Come, let us do this now."

Leaving our responsibilities behind, we all agreed this thing we must see. We had already testified to the glory of the Lord once this night, and we would see an even greater glory later this eve, wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Echo and Narcissus

Myth summary: Cursed by Hera for her lies over an indiscretion with Zeus, the nymph Echo lost her voice, save for the ability to parrot someone else’s words. For a long time, she wanders the forests in misery – once spurning the forest god Pan during her roaming – unable to speak at all until one day the winsome Narcissus strolls by. The young man’s handsome appearance shoots Eros’ arrow through the heart of the nymph, and she is smitten. Unfortunately, when she attempts to call out, Echo’s voice catches due to Hera’s curse. Narcissus, meanwhile, stops at a stream to rest and drink. Before he cups the water, he leans over the stream and glimpses his reflection in the water. Never having witnessed such unmatched beauty, Narcissus stares at the image and not only cannot force himself away but has no desire to do so. “I love you,” he avows, and Echo repeats the sentiment to him. Nonetheless, Narcissus continues to be entranced by his own glory. Thirst and hunger eventually consume the man, and he dies. In his place, a flower by his name grows. Echo pines for the man, even after his death, and eventually falls to demise in her own grief. The earth-goddess Gaia preserved Echo’s voice, which, of course, we are still reminded of today.

Commentary: Figuratively, the Fall (of Man) has rendered so many of us much like Narcissus. The world moves around us, some of it to our benefit and some to our detriment, and we hurt others – as Narcissus did in rejecting Echo so dispassionately – when we continually love only ourselves. Retribution and revenge, like Hera’s reaction to Echo, we understand and even dish out similar vitriol from time to time. Come the night, we allow ourselves to sleep because we tell ourselves, “I love you,” over and over again. This myth points out many wrongs: Echo’s affair with Zeus, Hera’s overreaction which may seem justified to a point, Echo’s self pity, and Narcissus’ self-love – not to mention the biggest scoundrel of them all, the high god Zeus, who asks Echo to lie for him (not mentioned above) so he can escape Hera’s wrath unscathed and then never intercedes on Echo’s behalf either during Hera’s cursing or thereafter. No heroes emerge in this tale of woe, but certainly lessons can be learned. The most important one lies with Narcissus (and it could be said for Zeus as well), that being, look outside of yourself. Love others as much as you love yourself – for Christians, it’s the second greatest commandment. Loving yourself and only yourself will eventually eat away at a soul, and people that do this over time become almost a caricature of humanity. The one area of pseudo-redemption here lies with Gaia’s preservation of Echo’s voice for others to know and love. That small consolation resonates as a reminder for us all to take care with our actions lest we succumb to tragedy like the players in this myth.

On a lighter side: For all of Narcissus’ faults – and we may have expected a grungy swamp to develop where he died – the critter ended up with a gorgeous flower commemorating his beauty. Is that the lesson the ancient Greeks wanted to be teaching? Nice job, fellas. More than anyone else, Zeus deserved to be caught and spanked by Hera for his tomfoolery, and it would have been nice to see him rear his ugly head when Pan was trying to infringe on his old squeeze or anytime in poor, little Echo’s wanderings. For Echo, and maybe she was bitten by the “you-can’t-pick-a-man-to-save-your-life” bug, it sure would have helped if she would have fallen in love with someone besides an egomaniac. Who knows? Maybe Pan was her guy after all.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Welcome to the Realm of Possibility

"Whether perceived or real, in certain places, the sun shines a little brighter, grass grows a little greener, the air breathes a little more pure, and life lives a little more real. So it was in the Realm of Possibility." -- Crown of the Summerhavens

The Realm of Possibility is a fun place where many seemingly impossible ideas come to meet. The Realm is semi-serious, sometimes silly, often sarcastic, but never sacreligious.

The Realm is always friendly and welcoming to visitors who are young or young at heart and will tolerate those who are immature until they are no longer any fun.

We will discuss and link the bizarre, the legendary, the imaginary, the hypothetical, and the nostalgic.

The Realm will also from time to time host the unabashed self-promotion of the Pearce & Story writing team. This will include the publication of some of their best short stories, essays, ramblings, etc.

So, welcome. We hope that you will visit often!!

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