Friday, February 29, 2008

JAMBOG - Phase One

No, really, it's not a plot to take over the world!

Some dear friends host a scavenger hunt (an online version, of course) every now and again. Since this is the first time I've had a blog, this is the first time I've played. So here goes nothing! And of course, it's a narrative. Would you expect anything less from an English-major-turned-librarian?

Here are their objects:
a Book
a Tool
a Chair
a Light
a Food
a Drink
a Toy
a Picture
a Mode of Transportation
Something Yellow
Something Old
Something Electronic
Something Cold

And here is my contribution!

Space, the final frontier....

From the algid reaches of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Enterprise makes its way back to earth, having suffered only minor damage during its five year mission. Lieutenant Scott, ever the miracle worker, has managed to hold the ship together yet once again, MacGyver-like, using nothing but a router and a box of Legos. As Scotty arrives on the bridge for the ubiquitous urgent crisis, the disgruntled look on Kirk’s face is readily apparent. “I have this strange urge for hot cup of Earl Grey tea, but all the replicator can seem to manage is this steaming plate of fajitas!” Quickly, Scott opens the service panel to reveal the inner workings of the machine and discovers the problem posthaste.

“Ah, sir, it seems the system has been reprogrammed for bad 80s music. I dinna think we ken make repairs until we reach earth!” Muttering under his breath about the use of the drachma as a conductive element in the warp core as it relates to replicator repair, he whips out his phaser and blasts the entire panel to smithereens. "Aye, that’ll solve your 80s problem, sir, but now ye kenna hae naught but plomeek soup until I can overhaul the entire system!"

As a disappointed but resigned Kirk retires to his quarters, we see him in a rare moment of solitude, relaxing in his rocker, reading his favorite book. The lamp beside him casts an opaque glow over his prized possession, acquired off-world from an irreputable antiques dealer. The curtains over his porthole are pulled back, revealing the citron glow of the Antares Nebula, which mingled with the lamplight creates a pall of murky light on the floor. The panorama is enhanced by the picture near the door, bringing the vastness of space into sharp relief.

Breathing a quiet sigh, he started his personal log, "Stardate 0803.03, after five years we have returned...." be continued

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Revenge of the Refrigerator

Behold the bane of every office breakroom! The focus and receptacle of so many science experiments gone bad... the scourge of clean-freaks everywhere... it lurks in the corner daring some brave soul to explore its hidden depths and peer beyond the front row of leftover lunches. Indeed, I am starkly reminded of Douglas Adam's fine literary masterpiece The Long, Dark Tea-time of the Soul , in which the hero finds himself battling with his cleaning lady about who will open the refrigerator first for fear of what could be growing within.

What? You haven't read it? You should! The first book in that series is Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency , and if you've never read anything at all by Douglas Adams, here's a bit of his most popular book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and here's a bit about Adams himself (written in Adam's own style).

But I digress. I was talking about staffroom refrigerators. Now why, you may be asking, why on earth would this subject be the focus of my (rather boring and often literary) blog? Well... let's put it this way. Tonight I removed my tidy lunch bag from the staffroom refrigerator, and was happily eating my grilled chicken and salad. A colleague comes in, searching for a packet of dressing for a salad of her own. (May I interject here that we're not all such healthy eaters? More often than not the favorite lunch spot is the Jacks burger joint across the street. But I digress again.)

There are many packets of dressing, and bits of other - quite unidentifiable - things in the crisper. Alas, however, my colleague discovered that nothing within had an expiration date later than... June 2007. So what did two librarians - committed to archiving and preserving all things of value - do? We chunked 'em in the closest trash recptacle! But that is not the end of the saga. Upon a more careful but still determinedly cursory inspection, I discovered a half-gallon of orange juice tucked far away in the back corner. It looked ... odd ... upon closer review. Lumpy, one might even venture to say. Most decidedly NOT the way vitamin-rich, healthy orange juice should appear. I hooked a finger around the handle and carefully slid it toward me. The date, there in bold, black, ink-stamped numbers, proudly stated "Expires 1/28/07". No, friends, that is not a typo. This OJ was more than a year out of date, and slopped slugglishly within its plastic prison, as though seeking a means of escape in order to release deadly and hithertofore undiscovered toxins into the air.

Tomorrow I may catch holy terror from other members of the staff for daring to remove one precious (yesss, my precioussss) item from the holy of holies. But I feared for my life tonight, and that takes precedence over the verbal drubbing I may receive tomorrow.

In closing I implore you, gentle readers all, during this season of Lent to examine your lives, and discern whether or not you may unknowingly be contributing to the culture of lawlessness in your own staffroom 'fridge. And if you are, with deep regret and penitence for your misdeeds, remove the offending material from behind your colleague's left-over pizza.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Bulbs popping up out of the ground. Fresh organic soil for the new flower beds in the front yard. Dozens of starter pots with tiny seeds growing in the garage. Bed layouts and the thrill of looking at perennials, shrubs and annuals and imagining them in the garden. Spring is nigh unto north Alabama, and we will be ready when it gets here! According to the official "Alabama Gardening Guide", the last frost date is between March 1 and March 15. What an odd contrast to where we were last year, when it was suggested to wait until nearly May to plant!

So, what are we planting? In our patio garden, we're planting Sweet 100 tomatoes and Roma tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, strawberries and bunches - that's BUNCHES - of herbs. We're also hoping to find a couple of blueberry bushes, but so far most of the gardening centers near us don't have any. As far as flowers go, in the large circular beds (in the middle of the yard) we're spreading wildflower seeds just to see what happens. Until we do that, tho, we're enjoying the volunteer bulbs that sprouted up last week. We think there are some daffodils and some irises, so we'll see!

Meanwhile, in the foundation bed at the front of the house we're planting butterfly bushes, spiraea, verbena, nasturtiums and butterfly weed, all in shades of red, white and purple. Finally, in the bed that gets no sun at all we're planting aucuba, hellebore (which has the wonderful common name of Lenten Rose), japanese painted ferns and begonias. At the end of this long bed is an ancient climbing rose. We've pruned it back a bit and it looks to be sprouting new growth (tho it's still 5 feet high!), so I may get a couple of clematis plants to let them wind their way up the woody canes of the rose. Everything I've read about that says roses and clematis make a perfect pairing, and I really want to give it a go.

But - before we can plant -we absolutely have to finish repairing and prepping the exterior siding for painting. The old mahogany siding is buckling in places, and we are just going to have to buy a bucket of nails and a case of caulk! Fortunately, since the house is half stone/half siding, there's less work than there might be.

And wildlife is starting to stir in the woods behind our house. The creek is overflowing with little tree frogs, making the night quite noisy when it's warm. And the deer, bunnies and birds are starting to re-appear as well. We'll see how the gardening meshes with the wildlife. Fortunately, the veggies are all inside a fence, and most of the flowering plants are theoretically critter un-friendly. When we get things in the ground, I promise I'll add photos!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Of Prunes, Pumpkin Juice and Stewed Rabbit

This is one of my favorite quotes from Lewis, as he talks about how the author of children's stories needs to connect to his audience, not as a teacher or a parent, but beyond those types of relationships. He writes:
"Once in a hotel dining-room, I said, rather too loudly, "I loathe prunes." "So do I" came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities. ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children")
Which leads me into my main argument - that Good Stories have a universal appeal. And part of that is because the authors don't try to act like a teacher or parent to the reader. The reader is an equal, regardless of his age, and that must certainly makes any story more accessible and attractive! But I think there's something more to it, and that's where I'm headed...

I've been reading C. S. Lewis's collection of essays called Of Other Worlds, which is about writing and fiction and fantasy and fairy tales. I was having a discussion with someone here in the library about Harry Potter, and we were debating about whether or not Rowling's work should be considered in the same breath with Tolkien (and Lewis, and Le Guin, and all those others that seem to come up as comparisons). The ultimate question then, is "What makes a fantasy novel 'good'?" (Philosophers, feel free to chime in!) Lewis makes the comment:
If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort [the marvelous and fantastic] (which are much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience. ("On Science Fiction")
Which reminds me of a quote by Frederick Buechner:
... faith is like the dream in which the clouds open to show such riches ready to drop upon us that when we wake into the reality of nothing more than common sense, we cry to dream again because dreaming seems truer than the waking does to the fullness of reality not as we have seen it, to be sure, but as by faith we trust it to be without seeing. (Sacred Journey)
So according to Lewis, a good fantasy story "expands our horizons", and I would say it also gives us a longing to return to that world. Admit it, you Tolkien and Potter fans, how many times have you read the books??!? Yes, I know Buechner is talking about Christian faith in this passage, but I might argue that our faith in the Story (to borrow from Tolkien again) has the same effect. Good novels and good stories open doors for the reader, and we are free to wander in and take up residence for as long as the story lasts. Indeed, once there we can take what we learn within the story and apply it to our own Story when we return to the world of the mundane.

And you know what's really interesting to me? (I touched on this in my Pooh Lessons post) Many of the best stories are stories for children. Pooh. Wind in the Willows. Narnia. Grimms' and Anderson's and Aesop's fables and fairy tales. And (in my humble opinion) the best of these stories are not the "mundane", but the fantastic - those that take us out of our everyday world and plop us down in the middle of Someplace Else. I enjoy children's stories much more as an adult than I did as a child, and that's a good thing, according to Lewis. "... a children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children")

Maybe as adults we are attracted to these stories, not only because we better understand the deeper narrative, but because they connect us to an age of innocence amd remind us how to "do nothing". In the final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner ("In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There") Christopher Robin tells Pooh that he won't be able to "do nothing" anymore.

"I like that too," said Christopher Robin, "but what I like doing best is Nothing."
"How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going of to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh nothing, and then you go and do it."
"Oh, I see," said Pooh. "This is the sort of thing that we're doing right now."
...Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, "Pooh!"
"Yes?" said Pooh.
"When I'm --- when --- Pooh!"
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Never again?"
"Well, not much. They won't let you."
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
"Yes, Christopher Robin?" said Pooh helpfully.
"Pooh, when I'm --- you know --- when I'm not doing Nothing, will you be here sometimes?"
"Just me?"
"Yes, Pooh."
"Will you be here too?"
"Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."

Sitting down and getting drawn into a good book, for me, is the best and most beloved time of "doing nothing." Good novels, good Stories (whether they're about pumpkin juice or stewed rabbit) will always be there, and we readers won't forget about them. And that's the thing, I think, about children's stories. We read them as kids and they stick. We re-read them as adults and return to them, even if we're a hundred. Our childhood and our adulthood are made better because of them.

Union University - Tornado Damage

The philosopher and I have a dear friend who teaches at Union (his office was in Jennings Hall). He and his family are all safe but the university, which was also hit by tornadoes back in 2002, sustained significant damage. Please keep that community in your prayers!

More info

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Request for Prayer

My mother (briefly mentioned in an aformentioned post) underwent surgery just after Thanksgiving to remove a cancer tumor. She started chemotherapy yesterday to eradicate the last, recently discovered bits. It's a challenging situation for all concerned, so please, if you feel called to do so, pray for healing and a speedy recovery for her and patience and understanding for those who give her care.