The Joys of Great TV

No, that is not an oxymoron. There is some great TV out there and I’ve been watching it, thanks to Netflix. A couple of weeks ago I watched the last disk of the last season of Frasier, so now I’ve watched the entire series from the beginning. When it was on originally, we didn’t have cable and couldn’t pick up an NBC station with the antenna, so had only seen occasional episodes of the series. But I always liked it and wished I could start at the beginning. Now that I’ve finished the series, I’m glad I got to watch it. (And in case you’re interested, I started in February 2008.) It really is excellent situation comedy. I think Frasier ranks right up there with my other favorite sitcom, The Dick VanDyke Show. In both shows, the humor is timeless because it’s based on the characters and their interaction with each other. In both, the writing was good and the cast was perfect. And both shows are really, really funny. Frasier was on longer than Dick VanDyke, and some seasons were better than others, but it finished strong.

I’ve also been watching Lost. Yes, I know, the last season is about to start so I’m coming very late the Lost party. But, boy, is it good. I’m almost through the second season (fortunately it’s available to watch instantly on Netflix, so no waiting for disks to arrive). I’ve also watched some summary episodes so I kind of know what’s been happening in the other seasons, but I’m still going to watch it all. A summary can hit the high spots, but it doesn’t give you those “a-ha!” moments when you see another connection between characters or another mystery is revealed. Lost is another good example of well-drawn characters and good writing. I’ve noticed that the second season has slowed down some in the middle, sort of treading water, but it’s picking up again toward the end. It’s hard to sustain that kind of show over 20 plus episodes. But I think the other seasons are shorter, which will probably mean they’re a little tighter. Even at it’s worst, though, Lost is very good and I’m enjoying it a lot.

I think, at least for me, Frasier and Lost have something in common. They’re both shows that revolve around well-written characters. They’re complex, layered, and they grow and change. Frasier Crane, though he seems pompous and arrogant, is also insecure and just wants to love and be loved. At the start of the series he and his dad barely tolerate each other, but as the years pass, they learn to appreciate each other and value their differences. On Lost, the characters are developing as well, though the time frame is shorter. On the face of it, Jack and Sawyer seem to be opposites. And in some ways they are. But both are more complex than the sterotypical good guy and bad guy. They are each driven by their own personal demons. While I’ve liked Jack from the start, I’m starting to appreciate Sawyer more, too. And Locke is an enigma. Sometimes I like him, and sometimes I don’t think anyone should trust him. So it’s fun to see how the story has developed and how the characters respond to their circumstances. Lost involves more of a time investment and not everyone likes this kind of complicated, long-term story. But my favorite novel is The Lord of the Rings, so I think I’m up for it.

New Year’s Thoughts

Well hello, 2010. Nice to see you. I’m really not sure where 2009 went, but it’s still nice to greet a new year.

Actually, 2009 was fairly eventful and 2010 promises more of the same. We’ll be getting ready for two weddings: Tim is getting married in August and John is getting married early next January. And then there will be other, unexpected, things I’m sure. Some will be good and some will not be so good, but I know that God will be with us through all of it.

Once again I’m starting the new year with a resolution to be more faithful about Bible study or at least some kind of quiet time. I’ve started using the Daily Texts from the Moravian Church (frequently recommended by Brad Boydston). They’re short, but they also allow you to go deeper if you want.

I may or may not blog more regularly. I do have several months of newsletter columns to post, so maybe I’ll at least get caught up on that. I’m sure I’ll find some books and music worth writing about, too.

I think as I get older I realize how hard it is to really plan for the year to come. Things can change so quickly and yet God is at work through all of it. I think it’s better to have a general idea of what you hope to accomplish and be flexible about the details.

So welcome, 2010.

15 books … (more or less)

I’m a sucker for memes and facebook quizzes. So when Chris tagged me in a note called 15 Books That Have Shaped You (for better or worse), I had to make my list. It’s on facebook, but I’ll post it here, too, with a little commentary. (And these are probably not in any particular order, other than roughly chronological.)

1. Black Beauty
2. King of the Wind
I read these two horse stories more times than I can count and I loved them every time.

3. Little Women — I think I related to bookish Jo, always the outsider, the most. The four March girls old friends I like to visit now and again.
4. Jane Eyre — I first read this when I was about 13 and I think this is the book that really awakened me to literature. (up until then I read a lot, but I don’t think I’d tackeled anything very challenging) Sure, it’s gothic romance, but it’s gothic romance at its best, with rich characters and thrilling conflict. I was enthralled.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (both by Robert Heinlein)  — I should probably also mention a book by Andre Norton, but I don’t remember what it was called. But it was one of the first science fiction books I ever read. I was probably about 15 or 16. Then it was on to Isaac Asimov and  Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. I was hooked on science fiction.
6. The Left Hand of Darkness (by Ursula K. LeGuin) — I first read this one weekend while I was in college and it was one of those books that so completely sucked me in that when I would come up for air, it was a bit of a shock to find myself in a college dorm room and not on the planet Gethen. LeGuin is a master storyteller and in this book she was at her best. I still love it.
7. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings — I discovered The Hobbit in high school and had never read anything like it. So then I tackled the Lord of the Rings. It took me a couple of tries to read it all the way through, but I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth ever since.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia — I didn’t discover these until I was in college. We were fond, at my little Christian college, of using passages as devotions. But I think even if you never knew anything about C.S. Lewis or about Christianity, the beauty of the stories would speak to you. They’re all good, but my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird — I actually read this in high school and I’ve returned to it many times since. I love the voice and the way Harper Lee wove the story. It’s as if someone were sitting on the front porch and telling it to me.
10. Mysteries by Agatha Christie — My mom is a mystery lover, so I suppose it was only natural that I’d start delving into her collection. I’ve read most of her books and enjoyed them a lot, though I have found that they aren’t the kind of books that hold up to rereading. But she was very good at writing mysteries and I don’t think I ever figured out who did it very much  before the end.
11. Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh — I discovered Ngaio Marsh after I was grown and found her stories to be a little meatier, at least in some ways. Her characters seemed deeper than Christie’s. I think I liked her later books better (especially the ones where Inspecter Allyn’s wife appears).
12. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers (as well as her others, but this one’s my favorite) — and then I discovered Dorothy Sayers and most English mystery writers have paled in comparison ever since. I can reread some of Sayers’ books, especially Gaudy Night. I realized that a mystery story could be good literature, too, and I just loved the way she told the stories. Some of them are a little rambling and seem dated, but the characters and scenes are still vivid.
13. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger — it’s beautiful and what else is there to say. Enger has a way with words and with characters.
14. On Writing, by Stephen King — I’ve read a lot of books about writing, but this is my favorite. And I’m not even a big Stephen King fan. But I liked his approach — telling his story and then telling about writing. It all fits together somehow and it’s entertaining as well as instructive.
15. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden — I think I first read this in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book and loved the story of nuns in Britain. I’m not Catholic, but Godden brought that faith tradition alive. But it’s also full of very human characters and it’s a good story.

I could go on and on (and have sometimes). But I would say that these are some of the books that have had the most lasting affect on me. What about you?

Where have I been?

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

My daughter, grandson and dad, with me, as we celebrate Dad's 80th birthday.

As you can probably guess from the picture above, we had a great time celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday in May. Most of my immediate family (siblings, kids, etc.) were able to come and we had a lot of fun. It was chaos at times, but my parents were so glad we all came and I know we were all glad to be there, too. Dad got lots of nice cards from people, too, and he still enjoys them, I think.  It’s a memory we’ll all treasure.

Earlier this month, I got to spend a week in beautiful downtown Des Moines, Iowa (and that’s only a tiny bit of sarcasm you here). I was at a conference for work and it went well, other me forgetting my poster and having to recreate it. Fortunately, the FedEx/Kinko’s downtown was very helpful and I was able to do an acceptable job. I completed the ACE Leadership Institute, too, and I think it will help me in a lot of areas, as well as my job.

Now I think I’m home for the forseeable future. So maybe I’ll do a little more blogging. I know I’m going to do a couple of blog tours this summer for Robin Parrish’s new book, Off World. It sounds good, so stay tuned.

I’m finishing up the layout for Relief 3.1, and I can tell you it’s a good issue. A little edgy, but that’s OK. And I’m working on a time-travel story of my own, so maybe I’ll be able to finish that. But in the meantime, I’m trying to stay cool.

Good news and basketball

A couple things.

First, I’m excited about a volunteer opportunity that has come my way. As Coach Culbertson announced last week, I’m the new layout editor for Relief Journal. This is very cool. (And, apparently, I’m continuing a tradition of Coach’s Midnight Diner authors who like to volunteer to work for Relief.) I’ve worked in journalism for nearly 20 years and a good bit of my experience involves page design and layout. So I think I have some skills that could be useful to a publication like Relief. Sure, I do this in my day job, but I’ve been praying about and keeping my eyes open for opportunities to use these talents for God in some way. So when Coach put out a call for a layout editor a few weeks ago, I fired off an e-mail before I could lose my nerve. Now I get to layout something like 170 pages between now and early May. A little scary and but I’m looking forward to it. And I’m helping a good cause.

I’ve also been putting together an annual report for the Midwest Covenant Conference Women Ministries (I’m on the board) and that’s been fun, too. It’s short and it’s almost done and I think it looks pretty good. A few more tweaks and it’ll be ready for printing.

Now on to basketball. Yes, the time has come for me to give myself over to the madness that is the NCAA tournament. I’ve made my bracket picks, knowing full well that my bracket will be shot to pieces before the first round is over. But it’s fun anyway. For once, I have not picked KU to win it all this year — they’re good, but I’m not confident they can do it this year. K-State’s men’s team is in the NIT and K-State’s women’s team is in the NCAA tournament, so I’ll have multiple teams to cheer for.

And one more thing — it is definitely feeling more like spring outside and that’s a very good thing.