Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Muppets and Messiah

Our recent entrtainment choices have ranged from

Sublime: "Joyful Noise," a play about George Frederick Handel writing "The Messiah"


Ridiculous: "The Muppets"

"Joyful Noise"
There was a lot of yelling in "Joyful Noise," about artistic choice, and shameful past choices, and which soprano stole whose parts, and whether stage actresses (*= gasp!) should sing in entertainment establishments * about the Savior.* My kids loved the frequent funny parts. Handel said the line that's sticking with me: "God belongs in the mud"—out where the people who need Him live. Each character—Handel, the warring sopranos, the indignant bishop, the King of England—made a journey from grief and resentment to redemption, beautifully depicted and sung. I wished they could have sung the whole "Messiah" at the end. But the point wasn't the music, it was the redemption.

(sensitivity caution: One character had a sordid past, rather vividly described.)
For Utah friends: "Joyful Noise" is playing at the Covey Center for the Arts in a vanishingly tiny theatre. If you can't get tickets this year, go next year!

"The Muppets"
 One day when I was very small, my mom said, "There's a new TV show you might like." It was "Sesame Street"—maybe not the pilot episode, but definitely close. I grew up on Sesame Street, and when "The Muppet Movie" came out, I loved that, too. (Howard Tayler said it better than I did here.)

When  saw the trailer for "The Muppets," I was appalled. I'm definitely the epicenter of the target audience of life-long Muppet-lovers. But, a Muppet re-make? "Re-make" usually means flatulence humor, bad words, double entendres, and drearily bad writing. Was nothing sacred?

But we read some surprisingly positive reviews, so we ventured and came out completely converted. Just like Muppet productions of former years, the movie was funny, off-beat, innocent, and full of feel-good heart. They also punched holes in the "fourth wall" whenever they felt like it. For instance, when it was taking too long to round up the old gang, someone suggested they finish the job "by montage." One three-minute montage later, the car was full of old friends.

This show was apparently Jason Segel's brainchild. I encourage you to send this man money. We will go see this picture, full price, lots of times, to thank him for getting the Muppets right, and to encourage him to do it again!

At least while swirling around in my mind, these two works ended up expressing similar themes.

"Joyful Noise" asks "Can fallen mortals hope for redemption and joy?"

"The Muppets" asks, "Is there hope in the world for innocence and laughter?"

The answer in both cases is a resounding "Yes" for hope!

Friday, October 28, 2011

An icky word for Halloween

Random Research led us this week into the realm of sleepy sand—that grainy stuff in your eyes when you wake up in the morning, whatever your family calls it. Its real name is

Gound (pronounced "gowned")

We also learned another of its nicknames: optiboogers. And we agreed that Optiboogers would be an excellent name for a rock band. Also Gingerbread Godzilla. And Giant Pez Dispenser. Stay tuned for gingerbread Godzilla, whom we all decided should make an appearance this Christmas.

Anyway, gound is composed of mucus, tears, and/or dust, and it forms because you're not blinking those things away when you're asleep.

What is your family's word for gound?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It took however long it took (long!), but we have finished reading the New Testament as a family. We generally celebrate scripture-reading milestones with a cake, and this one merited a big cake. Since the New Testament ends in the Book of Revelation, that was on everyone's mind when we started cake designing. And John's vision lends itself to expression in Legos and cake. So here we have...

The Cake of the Apocalypse!

 Note the 7-headed beast.

Also the Pearly Metal Detector (they might have taken some poetic license).

Everyone had a much better time designing hell than heaven. Much cake was had by all!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

He can fly!

We went to Washington, D.C. for the last few days, and saw all we could before our legs, feet, and brains gave out. Interesting study in gratitude: there is so very, very much to see and do there that even the concept of prioritization isn't much help. We could narrow our choices down to ten or so huge possibilities, but after that, we just had to do something, usually enjoy some but not all of it, and let the rest go, enjoying the memory of what we did manage to do and see. Buffy and I completely missed the "Mammals" exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, but we had a fabulous time designing and launching meteors on an interactive computer exhibit, and tossing paper clips at a huge lodestone.

Random Research day centers on the theme What We Learned in Washington, D.C.:

A good parking spot is not a constitutional right.

The pilot of an aircraft carrier is called the "flight boss." It had never quite occurred to me that someone pilots an aircraft carrier.

Lodestones are awesome. We missed the Hope Diamond, but they don't let you throw paper clips at that.

And, most importantly, the ostrich has a tiny South American relative called the tinamous, who can FLY short distances! His skeleton looks like a 6"-tall ostrich. I want one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Random Recipe: BOB

Actually, we do have a Random Research tidbit for today:
If exposed to hard vacuum (outer space, not malfunctioning Electrolux), do NOT hold your breath! You have about 14 seconds until you pass out; use them well.

I don't make up recipes very often, but the other day Buffy and I came up with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Banana Bread. It's fabulous, but it needed a shorter name. We settled on "Bob," though "Ed" was a close contender. Here it is, with optional *decadence upgrades.

4 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
4 bananas, mashed
1 cup peanut butter
6 tbsp. butter, melted, divided use
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
3 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk
*1 cup chocolate chips, optional
1/4 cup cocoa

Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease two 9" loaf pans. Mix flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat bananas, peanut butter, 4 tablespoons butter, and sugars until creamy—about 2 minutes; beat in eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour mixture and milk. *Decadence upgrade #1: stir in chocolate chips. Pour half the batter into the 2 pans. Stir cocoa into remaining batter. Pour over batter in pans. Swirl chocolate batter into plain batter. Bake 40 minutes, brush with remaining butter. Bake 5 more minutes. Bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center (try to avoid the optional choc. chips) comes out clean.
Decadence upgrade #2: Serve with Nutella. Be careful here. I'm not responsible if you die of bliss and/or sugar overload.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Random research: gossip

Before we start, look! This blog now has a "subscribe" button! If you like to stop in once in a while, please join this blog's three intrepid followers. I'd also love your comments.

Now, the Random Research Word of the Day:

The word "gossip" comes the late Old English godsibb, from god 'God' + sibb 'a relative', or "a person related to one in God."* 

When a woman had a baby, her husband fetched the midwife ("with the woman"), who helped deliver the baby,  and the gossips—female neighbors who cooked, cleaned, took care of the other children...and sat around knitting, waiting, and talking. And old usage of the word "gossip" is a friend or confidant.

Seems like there ought to be a moral to this etymology beyond, wow, words sure change over time.

Possibly even beyond, careful about what you speak about, who you speak about, and how you speak about them, even with your close friends.

OK, how about this:
The word "gossip" originally referred to women as sisters, related to us in God. The word as presently constituted implies conversations that draw boundaries between "us" and "them," often in a malicious way. But, who isn't a brother or sister, from God's point of view? If we relate to each person as a brother or sister in God, we won't ever feel inclined to indulge in conversations that hurt others or that cast anyone as an outsider.

Or something! Happy Random Research day!

* Dictionary v. 2.1.3, Apple, Inc.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New! Random Research Day

I'm forever running into little oddments of information during writing research, usually on the way to something else. The opportunity to share them in conversation just never comes up, so I've decided to make Wednesday on this blog Random Research Day (you may not want to set your clock by that).

Words that mean "green"*:

Through the Middle Ages, men wrote books about childbirth (or inscribed them on papyri), but it was considered improper for them to watch babies be born. "In 1522, Dr. Wert, a  German doctor, was sentenced to death when he was caught dressing like a woman and sneaking into a delivery room."**

* Dictionary v. 2.1.3, Apple Inc.
** Randi Hutter Epstein, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth (2010), p. 5.
    A lively and interesting, if not always fastidiously documented, account of birth through the ages. Makes one very glad to be bearing children in the 20th-21st century!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I am grateful for...

Between the front door and the mailbox, here's what I found to be grateful for this morning:
Four-o'clocks, still "awake" at 8 a.m.
A bumper crop of basil, enough for pesto once a week!

Desert four-o'clocks, a little drowsy at 8 a.m.
Morning-glory* covered mailbox

*NOT to be confused with field bindweed, sometimes referred to as "morning glory." Lyrics to field-bindweed-hating song available upon request.

Bumper crop of elderberries, to become jam within the next 48 hours.

Bluebeard bottlebrush

Butterfly bush

Wild sunflowers 

Coming attractions: sedum blooming in the next couple of weeks. It likes to prolong the anticipation.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pitch contest for YA writers

I hadn't heard of the YAtopia blog until my friend Luisa linked this contest.

What's a "huge micro-synopsis" contest? (The opposite of a "micro huge-synopsis" contest?) The challenge is to condense your young adult or middle grade book synopsis down to a three-sentence agent pitch. Agent John Cusick will award one full manuscript request and two partial requests to the pitches that best catch his attention.

Deadline is midnight tonight (8/11)...but, hey, it's only three sentences. How hard could it be? ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Alternate Uses for a Troublesome Pie-hole

The other day, I listened in shock as the most ill-considered gossip tripped off my tongue. Seriously, if I took up chewing tobacco, my mouth would still be using its time better than that.

Why don’t I just zip my lip? It occurred to me that being a writer is part of the problem. I love stories, especially ones with a beginning, middle, and end. Especially ones with compelling characters, interesting plots, and a great twist at the end. A part of me threatens to pop, if I know a fantastic story, but I can’t tell it.

Please don’t stop talking to me once you’ve read this! I have a plan. Copenhagen may be the answer. Or maybe Bubblicious.

This blog brought to you by a cat that wanted out at 4:43 a.m.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Okay, be honest. Before March 11, did you know there was a Japanese city called Sendai?

Me neither, up until 23 years ago, when I received an invitation from my church to learn Japanese, then live and work as a missionary in that area for 18 months.

I spent two weeks after the disaster shouting at the computer: “Which city? Which town? Where, where, where?” On the theory that you might might not know any more than the news media do about the area, here’s a random Sendai intro.

You know about Tokyo, the Japanese equivalent of L.A., D.C., and N.Y.C., rolled into one. You’ve probably heard of Sapporo, which might fill the roles of Alaska (snow and cold), Wisconsin (dairy product capital of the country), and San Francisco (cosmopolitan and chic). Osaka is more or less the gritty and hip Chicago of Japan. Okinawa is a Hawaii-like place, tropical and laid-back. So what’s Sendai?

Sendai is the largest city in Tohoku, or northeastern Japan. Traditionally, it produced most of the country’s rice, and it’s recently become a center for manufacturing.

Tohoku is the flyover Midwest of Japan: maybe Detroit in industrialization, and Des Moines in attitude: countrified, conservative, and not so cool. The Tohoku dialect (“zu-zu-speak”) is also not cool. While I was there, an executive for the Asahi beer company made insulting remarks about the way people in Tohoku talk. The entire area boycotted his product until he apologized. Wikipedia asserts that young people are leaving Tohoku in droves, presumably for more happening spots.

They grow wonderful apples in Tohoku, with typical Japanese care: each growing apple is first encased in a protective wrapping. Then, I don’t know how, they affix the sign of the apple-grower somehow so that the skin doesn’t change color in that spot, like spelling a sunscreen message on yourself before tanning.

Everyone got the day off on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. We spent one autumnal equinox in the park, where police officers were giving away free pumpkins, with skins scarred to spell anti-drunk-driving slogans.

Sendai is on approximately the same line of latitude as Montreal, Canada. Farther north, on Hokkaido, they have adopted central heating. But bitterly cold Tohoku has not. Instead, they are experts at space heating. Space heaters for the bedrooms, covered, heated tables for the dining room, electric toilet seats for the bathroom, hot ramen for the stomach, hand warmers for pockets, sock warmers for feet.

Twenty-three years ago, many, many people on the street felt compelled to comment on my blonde hair—sometimes at the tops of their lungs, across the street. Maybe the reaction would have been the same on the streets of Tokyo. But I kind of think that was the Tohoku view of life—not too many jet-set cosmopolitans up there.

Toward the end of my time in Tohoku, I looked in the mirror. And stared: "Wow. That chick has blonde hair."

I've never been quite the same since Tohoku.

So. They're cold right now. You've seen the snow. They're sharing vegetables and blankets, and doing radiation checks, and wondering what happens next. And I stare, and yell, and cheer, and pray.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Limerick attack!

So, on the way to helping my 12-year-old prepare for the spelling bee, I learned the word "crepuscular" from the 9th-grade word list: of or pertaining to twilight.

My stream of consciousness skipped easily from twilight to "Twilight."
Then the limericks hit.

When caught in a tale that's crepuscular,
Just go with the werewolf who's muscular.
While Ed may requite you,
He just wants to bite you:
His interest is merely corpuscular.

My husband has to claim partial credit for this work.
Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.