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Fantastic Beasts November 27, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 2:22 pm

Tonight* I want to post my reactions to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Lately I’ve mostly used Facebook for this, but I know even putting the spoilers in comments isn’t a sure way to protect my friends from them, since FB sometimes puts ‘Your friend posted this comment on her own post’ on people’s timelines. So here I come to my blog, because I’m not the sort of friend to spoil others! (Unless they want to be spoiled. I totally spoiled “Cursed Child” for a boy at work and “Arrival” for my brother this weekend. But¬†they were both happy to be spoiled.)

So… Spoilers ahead, and please share your own spoiler-y reflections in comments here!

During movie thoughts:

  • When Mary Lou started speaking at the beginning, I was so jarred to hear an American accent in a Harry Potter movie, lol! (The customs official didn’t count somehow.) Took me a minute or so to adjust my expectations and not feel like she was doing it wrong.
  • This movie is so amazingly amazing! But they need to slow down on the amazingness and not just keep on throwing more amazing effects shots in our faces. Have your fun, effects-filled sequence and then settle into telling the story, please. You wave all these things you can do in my face but leave me no time to appreciate them, or even get a good look at many of them. It’s like spraying rich dark chocolate at me through a hose – I may enjoy what gets in my mouth, but most of it is wasted and I’m kinda grumpy in the end for the missed opportunities. At least I don’t walk out of the movie with chocolate all over my clothes. ūüėČ
  • “What caused Dumbledore to have such a high opinion of you?” Jealous, Grindelwald? *smirk* –I tend to doubt myself, so I can’t claim to have been totally certain all the way to the end, but I was pretty sure it was him at that point, and honestly suspicious from the beginning. People who look that good and have that much power, and have enough cred to get their mug in the trailer, but are not the protagonist, often turn out to be the hidden antagonist.
  • Speaking of, Graves was SUPER good at the “honest, concerned” looks, like the one he threw Tina when she was shut out of the Auror department in the beginning. Loved ’em. But does that make Grindelwald¬†a good actor, make Colin Farrell a good actor, make Colin Farrell an actor who didn’t add enough nuance to throw in that bit of doubt, or make Yates a director who insisted on intentionally-misleading shots? (Well, Yates is definitely that, with those shots of Modesty that clearly marked her as the obscurial. But is it ONLY that?)
  • The day they filmed at the zoo must have been a great one to be on set. “Hey, come watch Eddie make a total fool of himself in an empty pen, everybody!” The guy behind us in the theater eventually commented, “Better him than me.” No kidding!
  • Why did the invisible dark force suddenly become totally visible? How about those eyes the guy mentioned seeing in it at the beginning, where’d those eyes go? It certainly didn’t look the same at Shaw’s rally as it did in the subway. Maybe it changes a bit each time?
  • THIS is how they kill condemned people magically? What happened to a good ol’ AK? If they aren’t prepared to kill them with those wands at the neck, why don’t more people fight to escape? Or why don’t the guards at least knock them out and then just throw them in the acid rather than having them sink in slowly? And please tell me the IMDb member who said it’s a reference to witch ducking is wrong! That would be SO twisted!
  • I absolutely love that¬†the American magical community’s president is a woman of color. And we didn’t see it but I was imagining a fresh look of horror on that newspaper guy’s face if he realized that when he was at the scene demanding justice for his son. Not that he didn’t also have a right to some answers regarding Shaw Jr’s death, and I may be reading more into his character and into the all-white attendance at the political event than I ought… but yep that was my reaction.
  • I also love that snake-bird thing that fits its space like a giant magical goldfish, and the Aladdin-like trick to get it into a¬†teapot! Brilliant writing/directing! And what a team the four of them make!
  • Does Tina and Queenie’s¬†seemingly-effortless magical cooking outdo Kowalski’s generational recipes and mountains of effort? I’m glad he’s too besotted to notice, ’cause that would be crushing if I were in his shoes. But maybe they practiced a ton just like him – certainly Hogwarts kids struggled at first with the simplest hover charm, never mind choreographing flying plates or¬†baking a dish as you assemble it in mid-air!
  • Durn right he gave him the eggshells! Took him long enough too – did no one else think of that when they were first mentioned? Though it just occurred to me to wonder how on earth one egg got out in the bank. Is he always shedding creatures and such?¬†I’m not sure what I think the answer to that is… he’s inept with people for the most part (not that he gets the chance to interact much on even footing in this story), but he seems so good with the creatures, and that case is super well-made. Apart from the latches, anyway. That seems like a pretty serious glitch.

After movie thoughts:

  • If there are 4 more movies with Newt, I hope he gets better at looking people in the eye. Do you think he could be somewhere on the autism spectrum? It’s certainly different watching this character than most. I appreciate Eddie’s versatility – loved him in “Theory of Everything,” and while I haven’t seen “The Danish Girl,” it’s yet another different sort of role from the usual leading-man jobs.
  • This memory wipe thing stinks. Why not stick him in the case till Newt leaves the US? And what’s the deal with people inside their homes being effected by the rain? Too easy. What, it’s in the air humidity? In that case, Kowalski would have been wiped a lot sooner. Picky points aside, I file this under “Situations in sci-fi and fantasy I am thankful I will never have to face in the real world.” (such as what happens to Bean & Petra’s family at the end of the Ender’s Shadow series)
  • As Jenn whispered to me when they first climbed into Newt’s suitcase, “And I thought Hermione was good!” (Referring to her magical bag.) I so agree! It’s amazing to see magic used by lots of competent adult wizards. Totally amazing. I suppose there’s a lot of apprentice or vocational-technical training or something, because I¬†can’t imagine most Hogwarts grads doing what the folk here were doing with a flick of the wrist (not even muttering the spells most of the time – hm, that was inconsistent, they seem to only speak them when they’re spells fans will recognize). This fits with the real-world fact that trained adults can do a lot more than school children, magic or no magic, though there are certainly some teens who accomplish a lot. (Ever read “Do Hard Things”?)
  • But if the professional wizards are this good at putting a city back together with a wave of their wands, why on earth do they live in Muggle cities instead of their own? Why not, say, make a whole country underground, entered through a magic door like Newt’s¬†case or the Ministry’s various entrances? Or perhaps wave your wand to fashion a huge, fully-provisioned spaceship and go colonize Mars? Or maybe just load up some steamers and colonize a few islands? Be ambitious,¬†take over Australia and make it Un-Plottable? C’mon, basic rule for writing fantasy, you have to have clear LIMITS to the power. You have to know what it CAN’T do, or you have no story. It seemed pretty limitless – yet also somewhat arbitrary – in this movie, which makes other aspects of the story hard to believe. For instance, Hogwarts knows who’s got magic, but the US magical government doesn’t know about Credence or notice that all the attacks start at one point on the map?
  • Did no one die in that last attack? ‘Cause you can put THINGS back like they were, but corpses, not so much. Same problem with “Jupiter Ascending” – that really bugged me. (Boy, speaking of effect-show movies…)
  • So do the sentient-but-non-human magical folk have to live in hiding all the freakin’ time?! Well, I suppose there are Hogsmeade-like communities in the US too. But man, it would stink to be one of those in the city, never showing your face on the street. I guess that applies in London just as much, I just never thought about it before. Hagrid managed to get around anyway.
  • After all the excitement over the thunderbird pre-release, did he ever even mention its species? And how close to sentient are these beasts? “You know what to do”??
  • Jenn had a super idea that maybe the dying girl Newt helped with an obscurus was Dumbledore’s sister. There are problems – wrong time-frame (before Dumbledore was Newt’s teacher, and judging from Depp’s white hair it was quite a few years ago), wrong location¬†(I think Newt mentioned Sudan), and as the vlogger over at Super Carlin Brothers points out, Newt was obviously unaware of her since he claims the age of ten as the max and according to Aberforth she was 14 when she accidentally killed their mother and then died later that year. But it was a neat idea, and there certainly is a connection between her and this film. The connection is through Grindelwald looking for someone like his former friend’s late sister to use, rather than through Newt being someone who previously helped his teacher’s sister. Certainly this part of the plot adds something to the previous cannon explaining what she was dealing with. Cool? If such a terrible thing can be described with that word.
  • The podcasters over at “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” point out how nice it is to see a female lead who is strong, and who makes genuine (huge) mistakes and miscalculations but out of good intentions not just funny clumsiness. I’ll second that. Go, Tina! And I appreciate her somewhat awkward interactions with Newt, her non-standard way of holding herself (not the “gorgeous female lead” or “powerful police/agent” or whatever other roles we often see). I guess I should check out some of Katherine Waterson’s other movies and see if she’s as versatile as Eddie – and/or give Yates cred for good directing.
  • I love that Jacob has some memories left after the storm – the creatures, possibly some connection with Queenie. The “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” hosts pointed out that the exact description Newt gives of how he would use the venom is to help people forget BAD memories. Since Jacob’s¬†experiences have largely been positive, why wouldn’t he retain some while the rest of the city forgets its dark nightmare with magic?
  • I don’t get why Queenie falls for Jacob though. Other than the convention of “the sidekick deserves the reward of a pretty girl” – is there just a lot that goes on in his mind that we aren’t privy to but that attracts her? It’s not like they had a lot of time together, as far as we saw. Single supporting characters¬†of the opposite sex don’t always have to end up romantically attached. I don’t necessarily object to them being together, and it’s nice that she’s willing to push a bit on the laws that separate them, but it isn’t given enough support to make it believable for me.
  • How does Credence not know he is the Obscurial? He seems to retain his identity when he is in that form, since he targets people who have hurt him or those he cares about (I’m guessing the neighbor of his adopted sister was targeted for her sake), and he seems perhaps to respond to his name in the subway. He knows then that he needs help. Yet when help is being continually offered if only he will find the child, he doesn’t grasp it by revealing himself?
  • They walk a fine line with the Second Salem group here, which is where the books and now the movie make me most uncomfortable. Remember Harry’s textbook talking about witches just being gently tickled by the flames but giving out pretend screams? (Why didn’t they do a memory charm and then move away instead?) I do believe that there is real witchcraft that involves evil spirits in the world we inhabit. God is infinitely more powerful than any demon, so those who believe in Jesus do not need to live in fear of witchcraft, but God has also said in both Old and New Testaments that it is a sin to be involved with witchcraft. The actual Salem witch trials were not at all Scriptural, and never do we see Jesus going on a witchhunt as he models how to live out God’s kingdom. Those and similar events in history make me sad and ashamed for how the church acted, when I believe the true church is called to stand up for the marginalized and attract people to the Gospel by living it out rather than enforcing it like sharia law. But then pulling these terrible real-world mis-applications of truth, into a fantasy world in which magic is to some extent simply inborn power rather than a meddling with the spiritual realm¬†to gain power, muddles it even more. “Your mother was a wicked, unnatural woman” – the filmmakers manage to stop short of “sinful, evil witch” and thankfully they don’t give her a cross to hold as she crusades (they obviously know better than to blatantly alienate the church and its ticket-buying money given the headaches the books went through a couple decades ago) but yeah the whole Salem reference just makes me uncomfortable. It’s hard to suspend disbelief and enter willingly into an alternative reality for a story when it keeps yanking on bad memories from the real world. I hope they’ve finished with that plot element with this movie and¬†Grindelwald will find other pressure points to exploit in the following installments.
  • The memory of Tina rolling under that lowering dome made me reflect on how the president and aurors continually try to shut her out, and then at the inquest the president very unfairly blames her for withholding information when it was she who refused to listen to Tina telling her the exact same information just the day before. They continue to not listen to her when they kill Credence, and yet if only they had, he could probably have been saved. It’s not like he KNEW he was breaking the law, and though I realize ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse to break it, shouldn’t he at least get a trial and possibly a chance to (learn how to) change his ways before being blasted to smithereens?? I am also reflecting on a conversation with a Native American minister on the topic of¬†redeeming the story of the first Thanksgiving, over on Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast. He talks about how the Native American culture has qualities to offer the broader American church, one of which is consensus. Quick review if you don’t know, “compromise” means each side giving up something to get something, while “consensus” means finding a win-win path, coming to agreement rather than just saying “fine, I’ll do without this thing I want, can we move on now?”¬†A Native American church he pastored did away with committees and simply met to discuss and decide things. He said (I paraphrase), “You know that person who keeps bringing up objections and you wish he would just stop? In a democracy you can just overrule him. But I found that as we were forced to listen, that often that person had seen something the rest of us had missed.” The fictional American magical president (perhaps the non-fiction current and upcoming muggle ones as well) could really stand to listen a lot more rather than pushing law and majority rule and steamrolling over dissenting voices.

Other thoughts? I’m sure I had a couple more while driving home, but now it’s late and I’m for bed. SO glad they made it, SO glad I saw it on the big screen, all nitpicks and plot holes aside. VERY fun to have a new series to look forward to continuing!

*I added several points a couple days after watching, as you may guess from the references to various other spoiler-y media. I certainly did not watch or listen to such media before seeing the film!

 

Life is an adventure June 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 11:17 am

Facebook’s “memories” function is reminding me that 7 years ago this weekend, I took an overnight train from Zhengzhou to Beijing on a Thursday¬†night (6/4) to make a quick run to the US Embassy for more passport pages, so that my new job could get a new visa pasted in it for my new city – Qingdao! Then I zipped back to Zhengzhou again to finish out my¬†last week of teaching. I love how I can follow my trip in all those old posts, but of course they’ll disappear for another year at midnight (or forever, if FB gets rid of this function in future changes), so I’m pasting them here in memorial of my international life. The texting abbreviations make me wince, but apparently that’s how I posted back then – back when one COULD post to FB indirectly from a non-smartphone. Come to think of it, the abbreviations are probably because I actually tweeted them, by texting them to a number in the UK that would post them to twitter for me.¬†An old FB function would copy them in as statuses. Believe me, I was quite¬†sad when China blocked the international Twitter phone number! *Note: These all show up on today’s memories since of course I’m in the US now but I was then in China – the times are 12 hours off, so an evening and the following morning there line up with one full day here. Going from the mundane to the zipping-around-China, here we go!

2:36pm¬†playing ‘i have a dream’ (song) during break, getting excited about watching ‘fredom writers’ w my class next wk!

6:19pm just spent 10min fishing a piece of corn from the printer. so much for multi-tasking saving me time!

10:17pm¬†note to self: in the evening, the lites r timed for leaving th city. if u need to get to th train stn, leave earlier! (made train… just.)

5:54am¬†i am SO cold! not so cold that i wish i’d gotten an un-AC’ed train, mind u, just cold enuf to be glad we r almost to BJ.

8:06am¬†in shock at seeing so many on subway reading newspaper. i don’t take pub transport at rush hr in zz, but still… (2016 note: I saw plenty of newsstands in Zhengzhou and Qingdao, but almost never saw someone actually reading a newspaper there, certainly not en masse like on the trains in Tokyo – and, apparently, Beijing.)

9:02am ptl, got to the embassy just on time. bus + subway + walk = 1:45 from train station. yikes! out now, w new passport pgs firmly attatched!

10:50am just said goodbye to the C fam. happy surprise to c kev & mandy, and hannah just started walking! now walking to western rest 4 take-out.

11:01am my dogs are barking. i am SO getting a taxi to the train station after this!

11:35am mmm, cheese steak, smells heavenly. saving it for the train. just got taxi 2 min ago to cross city, driver says 12.40 train no prob. woohoo!

11:44am¬†JUST SAW THE BIRDS NEST AND WATER CUBE! from the hiway. wow!!!! (am i a dork? i don’t care)

Now I’m curious to see what else, if anything, I posted the rest of June 5 – obviously after 12 noon in China it will register as June 5 here as well. I’ll have to log on tomorrow and find out! ūüėÄ

 

Teaching Materials Sale January 20, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 2:05 am

You may know I am a teacher. Did you know I also sell materials that I’ve produced on TeacherPayTeachers.com? My store there is known as Jubilant Learning. I’m just getting started, but I really love the activities I’ve posted so far, and I think they’re useful to anyone learning English, whether it’s a native-speaking elementary student, someone catching up on literacy in middle or high school, or a speaker of another language who is learning¬†English at any age. Looking to the future,¬†I’m working on¬†units about economics (for intermediate grade¬†students), about a memoir (for high schoolers¬†or for adult ESL), and about a couple of middle-grade novels, so be sure to “follow” my store to hear when those are ready!

There’s a big start-of-year sale going on there this week on January 20-21. All my items are 20% off – except the ones that are already free, of course! If you’re a teacher too, why not stop by and grab something for your ESL or elementary classroom?

740 √ó 400

 

Chai Milk Cake January 15, 2016

Filed under: Cooking,Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 12:13 pm

This is what happens when I melded my grandmother’s “hot milk cake” with my love of spiced, sweetened milk tea!

I made this first for a friend’s birthday party two or three years ago and thought I’d blogged the recipe then, but when I made a video about how to bake it this past week, I¬†couldn’t find the¬†recipe here!¬†Well, that problem can’t stand, so here it is.

Notes: “Double for birthdays” says the original, so if you want a 9″x13″ cake, do. Otherwise it fits nicely in a 9″ or 8″ square, or perhaps a dozen cupcakes (haven’t tried that but bet it would work).
Grease your pan, and preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Sift or whisk together:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 sleeves of milk tea powder, if available
  • 1 tsp chai tea spices

Heat:

 

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • about two¬†servings of tea and spices (or double this if you’re not putting milk tea powder in with the flour)

 

Strain/remove the solid bits from the milk once it’s brewed nicely, then mix in:

 

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

 

Separate:

 

  • 2 eggs

 

Beat the whites till soft peaks form, then beat the yolks separately for about half as long, then beat them both together. Add:

 

  • 1 cup sugar

 

Beat the eggs and sugar till thick and smooth, about 5 minutes by hand or perhaps a couple minutes with an electric mixer.

Add the other two mixes in turns: 1/3 of the flour mix, 1/2 of the milk mix, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour. Once everything is combined, pour it into the cake pan and bake for 25-35 min (depending how deep the batter is in the pan). Test with a toothpick poked in the middle to see if it comes out clean.

To me, this cake is perfectly sweet and spicy, but if you have more American tastes, you may want to whip up some cream with a bit more spice and sugar in it to put on top!

 

Carrot Soup January 10, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 1:30 pm

carrot soup in bread bowl

I posted my first cooking video in umpteen years today! It’s a carrot soup I made at the end of December and finally finished editing into something share-able today.

Carrot Soup on YouTube

In preparing it, I took into account a couple¬†things I’ve learned about video-making in the past semester:

  1. You will learn as you go. Don’t expect perfection or you’ll never post a single video. Set reasonable expectations and then just do it; each video will be better than the last.
  2. Your first few videos will be painfully bad. Embrace the suck. (direct quote though I forget the source – generally I don’t use the word “suck” that way, but here somehow “stink” just didn’t sound the same!)

So, the video actually did turn out better than I feared it would, but it also took many hours to complete. In the end I accepted that not all the on-screen text¬†was in the same font size, that there were spots that could have used music, that one segment where I’m talking is audio-less and several spots where my voice kind of tapers off (I know Mom, as you always tell me, stop mumbling), that my 3 different video sources produced 2 different screen ratios and 3 different video quality levels, and that as always I look a little funny to myself on camera (oh my gracious, please tell me I don’t look exactly like that when I’m teaching in-person!)… And I learned (decided) that next time, I’m going to make a shot list/storyboard ahead of time and at least a little bit of a script, so that I don’t have to wade through so much footage after filming. Also that if¬†I can find a way to borrow an actual video camera instead of having to switch out between my phone’s two angles and my laptop’s camera, I will totally take it, though that’ll mean some planning ahead as well.

Also I need to pick a purpose for my videos, if indeed I keep making them, other than “share what I love” and “eventually make some money on YouTube.” At the moment I’m hoping I speak¬†more slowly than some YouTubers, who are often way to fast for my ESL students to follow, but do I want to make that more intentional? Put more words on-screen? Add CC’s even? Or am I going more for the mainstream American cooking show audience? Or perhaps focus on alternative recipes that are vegetarian or gluten-free or something? For now it’s just “recipes I like and feel like making on the day I also feel like dealing with video recording it,” which isn’t really a plan at all!

Got any words of wisdom or encouragement?

 

Happy New Year (2016) January 1, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 12:35 pm

IMG_5807
Dawn on New Year’s Day

I didn’t plan it this way, but I woke a little after 7am and enjoyed the early morning light, the glimpse of the clear sky between horizon and cloud cover. Quiet, peaceful, with a Psalm of Ascent to start the day and the year.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

1¬†I lift up my eyes to the mountains‚ÄĒ
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

3¬†He will not let your foot slip‚ÄĒ
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

5¬†The Lord watches over you‚ÄĒ
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

7¬†The Lord will keep you from all harm‚ÄĒ
    he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Thank you, Lord. As I start this year, unsure where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing to buy my daily bread, I start off the year with a view of light over the mountains and this reminder that you are, above and beyond that, my unshakable one. I feel so loved. Amen.

IMG_5805

Note: A Psalm in the morning has been a usual part of my morning routine for years, but whereas I’ve been somewhat lax in the past about doing it daily, I have actually kept up with one a day the whole way through this time, starting with Psalm 1 on Sept 1, Psalm 31 on Oct 1, etc, and¬†spreading¬†Psalm 119 over 3 days at the end of December so I could start the New Year with¬†Psalm 121 on Jan 1 (making the 1’s digit match again – I have a mathematical mind). I love this book more every time I read it! It’s amazing how God’s word is fresh every morning.

 

New Media Finds of 2015 December 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 1:05 pm

This seems to be the time of year for lists, and I wanted to mention some of the media creators I’ve discovered this year, so here is my year-end contribution to the list-making season. These are the podcasts and YouTube channels that I’ve started following in the last 12-18 months (I’m not sure on a few of them!) What media sources have your discovered in 2015?

Podcasts:

  • The Church at Brook Hills – I found this church because David Platt, the author of “Radical,” was the pastor, but then he moved to another position and I’m still listening! The website has a great archive of past sermons, but mostly I listen to the new¬†messages as they are posted, often¬†by Matt Mason, the new pastor. It’s great Biblical teaching from a reformed, evangelical perspective. (I’m not great with those “Christian labels” but I think those are the best two to give you an idea of the flavor!) Recent favorites: the two or three on Daniel in October,¬†right when I was studying the book.
  • Imaginary Worlds – “A podcast about¬†how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief.” I pick and choose in this stream since I’m¬†not a full-blown sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan, but those I do listen to are¬†well-thought-out. I also appreciate that he looks at the roles women play, and don’t play, in these genres. Right now he’s in the middle of¬†a five-podcast series about Star Wars that’s included a look at the cultural climate into which the original movie was released, the way the term “evil empire” is used and a defense of it as not necessarily evil, and the strong opposing opinions on the “slave Leia” look.¬†I’ve already put a hold on the book he discussed in the last episode I listened to, “The Golem and the Jinni.” Favorite episode so far: When Human Met Creature
  • 99% Invisible – A podcast about the design of everyday objects and experiences, I came across this after Roman Mars, the host, did a TED talk in the format of a live podcast production. It’s fascinating to me to learn what’s behind things that, 99% of the time, I don’t even notice. The hidden danger of autopilot, the pursuit of an unpickable lock, bootleg records engraved on discarded X-ray prints in the USSR,… Always something new, usually something fascinating, and very well produced.¬†Favorite episode so far: 192, Pagodas and Dragon Gates, about anti-Chinese sentiment in American history and why Chinatowns look¬†the way they do. If you love China and American-Chinese as much as I do, check out episode 182 as well.
  • Vinyl Cafe – A friend from Edmonton¬†recommended this show filled with music and stories earlier this month, and it seems to me something like a Canadian “Prairie Home Companion.” So far I’ve just dipped my toe in the water with a couple of Christmas episodes for the drive home, but I will be back to¬†listen more and see if this program is as good as it seems. Favorite episode so far:¬†“Christmas at the Store.”
  • Theology Refresh – A podcast for pastors from Desiring God, featuring 7-15-min. interviews on topics from church planting¬†to depression to youth athletics, each episode ends with a prayer. You don’t have to be in formal ministry to find the recordings helpful. Sadly this podcast¬†was already finished when I discovered it, the last episode was posted in November 2014, but since the topics are applicable at any time, I was able to mine it for old episodes for a while. While I don’t struggle with depression, that was probably my favorite episode so far, very enlightening.

 

YouTube Channels:
You can see many of¬†my favorite channels¬†by going to my own YouTube channel,¬†but be warned, I don’t necessarily encourage you to watch my own years-old videos – somehow I always seemed to be winding down at the end of a long day when I made them! One of these days I’d like to reboot my channel and post more professionally-produced videos.

 

  • The Nerdwriter (NerdWriter1) – Like the Vlog Brothers and Idea Channel, both of which I’ve enjoyed since before this year, Nerdwriter Evan looks at things from modern culture and goes deeper, applying psychology, sociology, art criticism, etc. His video on “It’s a Wonderful Life” made me blink and feel like “I knew that, but never put it into words,” while his video on “Children of Men” made me want to re-watch it to see all that I missed the first time. Admittedly¬†I do not always agree with worldview he is cultivating, but his videos generally make me think about my own in a way I enjoy.
  • College Info Geek (electrickeye91) – While I’m not in college anymore, I have been¬†teaching college, and I love all the very practical life- and study-skills videos Thomas Frank presents with clear closed captions! It’s a pity that he talks too quickly for my ESL students to easily follow (like many YouTubers), but at least they can pause to catch up on the CC’s, and/or go read the associated blog posts for each episode.
  • ¬†–That’s about it for the ones I’m really excited to share and didn’t already follow before this year, but here are some honorable mentions that I have found this year.–
  • Today I Found Out – In-depth trivia for when you’re curious or just want to waste some time learning things you really don’t need to know
  • The Financial Diet – Kind of like “How to Adult” but with a more focused scope. I think I need me some side-hustles ūüôā
  • Fouch-o-matic Off Grid – For some reason this homesteading channel and the tiny home videos YouTube shows me are fascinating to me. I don’t really want to be tied to a place right now myself, but a part of me does still dream of making a home, possibly in a more hands-on, raw way than the average American dream (but probably not hauling my own water and living in a yurt!)
  • VideoFromSpace & NASA Johnson (ReelNASA) – While I can’t say these are thrilling videos, there is some great material here if you love space like I do!

 

I’m not reading blogs as much anymore, though there are several I still enjoy that I’ve followed for two or more years. I think the only one I’ve enjoyed discovering and seeing each new post of this year is Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. I don’t always eat healthfully, but I do generally try to eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, to eat less sugar, wheat, and meat, and if possible to eat fewer carbs overall,¬†compared to what I ate growing up and definitely compared to¬†what I see on menus of the major restaurant chains and Pinterest boards around America.

 

Daniel, Jeremiah, and Christ November 4, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 12:10 pm

So I’ve been going back through Beth Moore’s “Daniel” workbook with my almost-weekly Bible study group.¬†(I’m super grateful for this group, it’s like my little bit of culturally familiar territory even though they all seem to know each other and a bunch of other people better than they know me – yet.) The Church at Brook Hills, which I follow via¬†iTunes podcasts, has also¬†just read through Daniel, so there were sermons on Daniel 3 and Daniel 4 the past couple weeks. This week I taught Sunday School so I went hunting for the new sermon earlier than usual – Sunday afternoon – when of course it wasn’t up yet, so I settled for a sermon on Daniel 3 from 1988 off the Desiring God archive. This evening I finally heard the latest from Brook Hills, on Daniel 6.

Man, the sovereignty of God is a strong recurring theme in Daniel! I don’t know that there’s ever a bad time to hear about that topic, but this is certainly a good time, as one possible door for my future was just shut with no fanfare or warning and I ponder what my¬†next step should be. Piper’s point that no matter whether Bush or Dukakis won in 1988, it was God’s will, and no matter who¬†won, that did not mean God approved of all their policies, is a great little summary of the mystery that is God’s will. Also amazing is that God invites us to be involved in his will in myriad ways, just one of which is voting. As some preacher (I forget who) said recently, “Yes, we are to be like Christ before Pilate under persecution, but as¬†American citizens we are also each in a¬†way in Pilate’s seat too, responsible for the policies of this government.”

voted
Yes, I voted today.

As I consider my next step, I’m also recovering from¬†some of the re-entry negativity about American culture. My first step was recognizing that some of the negativity WAS reverse culture shock – somehow I’d missed that connection even as I dealt with other aspects of re-entry. I still have a lot of gripes about this land that issues my passport and supplies much of my culture, of course, a lot of weak spots and hypocrisy and defiant sins that irk the heck out of me. And then about 19 minutes into today’s message, I hear “Let’s not be perplexed if people in our city don’t want to hear our message if half the time we talk about this place we sound like we hate it. Or half the time we talk about the people in this place, we sound like we can barely tolerate being around them.” And then he quoted Jeremiah 29:7: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.‚ÄĚ BAM.¬†In case I missed the point in the Daniel 4 sermon, where Daniel responds with anguish rather than gloating or self-righteousness satisfaction¬†to the meaning of the king’s dream of judgement, here it is again. Daniel is so totally seeking the peace and prosperity of Babylon and its king that the ONLY way his enemies can pin anything on him is by setting up a direct, inescapable conflict between his faith and his service of the city. He’s EIGHTY and he’s still taking on responsibility so faithfully¬†that the king is creating a special post just for him, overseeing the managers of the whole empire!

There was a side point too about how Daniel neither hid nor flaunted his prayer after the king’s edict but simply continued what had been his habit for, presumably, all 66 years of his exile prior to this, praying for God’s forgiveness and restoration of his people as Solomon prescribed, worshiping towards his true home while he lived and worked in Babylon.

Major revelation TWO (even one feels really special, and now I get two in one sermon?): Who does this describe? He grows up in a sinful, broken land far from his true home, growing in wisdom and finding favor with both God and man. He genuinely loves the world in which he lives and the people among whom he lives, serves, and leads, but ultimately loves his God and remembers where his true home is. He fully trusts in his divine deliverer even when faced with a conspiracy of jealous leaders and led before a trapped ruler¬†to be unfairly condemned to death. He is placed behind a stone never to live again, but instead rises from the hole, vindicated and bringing glory to God by his return to life. ??!?!!?!!!!¬†I KNOW that there are images of Christ throughout the Old Testament, so how did I never see Him in Daniel 6 before?!? WOW. Beautiful, indescribably precious, that God wove a foretaste of redemption and glory through Daniel’s story ~ and Christ showed up the fire in Daniel 3 ~ as well as the overwhelming, eternal Rock in the dream of a pagan king in Daniel 2 ~ and then we get the name Jesus used so much, Son of Man, later in Daniel ~ wow, God sure was moving and speaking to¬†His people while they were living in pagan, sometimes-hostile Babylon!

So, I guess I need to stop complaining so much, online or even just in my head, about this Babylon I am living in. Keep on “opening the window and praying towards Jerusalem,” not losing sight of my real home, but stop being so cynical about China’s new 2-child policy or¬†Sweden’s abolition of gender or Japan’s attitude towards other races¬†or American politics in total, and get busy seeking the peace and prosperity of this world, truly loving my neighbors, especially those closest to me, not just whichever ones in the world seem easiest to love. The other note I wrote from today’s sermon is this: “Daniel was missionally flexible but devotionally immovable.” I may not know the next step in my mission for some time, but I know how I want to be¬†found¬†living today,¬†between now and that step, during that step, and on after that step until, unlike Daniel, I am able to leave Babylon and return to my true home, an exile and alien no longer.

Amen.

 

Fall’s Arrival September 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 4:12 am

There’s a deep contentment in my heart this weekend, that springs from many things, many¬†of them linked to the season. The rains have come and washed away the heat for good. There may be an Indian summer left, but the middle of September is here and in this blessed¬†mountain climate¬†fall really is¬†truly under way. And at the end, I’m including a recipe¬†for a very fall-flavored treat.

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I had a 3-umbrella day on Thursday! (Car, desk, & home umbrellas all got used)

The biggest reason for joy is¬†actually not tied to fall. I was blessed to attend a 4-day workshop¬†this summer that included teaching on blessing people’s spirits. I have been more aware of my spiritual life since then, sometimes remembering to look outward to God rather than to the world in moments of rest, and – it’s hard to describe in words – but to sort of unfurl my spirit, unclench from trying to have things under control or come out “right” and instead open up to God pouring his love and life into my spirit.

I’ve also been blessed to have some times of intense prayer for my students. Have you seen “War Room” yet? It’s a movie about the power of prayer and seeing it just before the school year started was perfect. I no longer lamented the empty hour between my 9am and 11am classes 3 days a week – instead I dedicated half of it to God! (The other half is for grading so I don’t have to carry as many papers home with me to stare accusingly at me after dinner when I just want to put my feet up and turn off my brain before bed.) So yeah, having that time set aside to pray for students, current or past, as well as family and friends and missionaries near and far, in addition to my regular times with the Word, has been excellent.

Having students means school is in session! While there are certainly things to enjoy about the empty weeks of summer, I was more than ready to get back to structured time and to using some¬†of the gifts God gave me. I’m so alive when I’m teaching! And while I’ve never had a truly horrible¬†class, I do have one extraordinary class this semester that has blown my socks off. They are diverse in age and background, they are enthusiastic and prepared, they participate in all the activities to the point that I finally have to interrupt their group/partner English-language discussions so we can move on. And we are each other’s last class of the day, 5:10-6pm – that amazes and blesses me even more, that they have so much energy left and I can reflect it back to them¬†rather than wilt in my 10th-11th hour of the work day!

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New clothes & shoes for the school year are another bright facet of the season!

In addition to school, the farmer’s market has started carrying fresh, local, wax-free apples, the joy of my daily snacking! It’s sad to see the variety of produce¬†decrease now that summer has waned, but I’ll enjoy the squashes and other fall fruits for now and then I can look forward to next spring again. I cooked the first small “sugar pumpkin” that I grew and it was good, first baked stuffed with rice, bacon, green pepper, onion, garlic, and a little liquid, and then thinly sliced and¬†reheated with all that stuffing in a small pan¬†with a little chicken¬†powder and water.

Mom and Dad visited yesterday as rugby season started up for the fall. I made a Chicken & Mushroom Cobbler with a mix of gluten-free flours and almond milk subbed in, cheese/tomato/basil crackers/nut thins for hors d’oeuvres, and a GF carrot cake for dessert. A friend and her husband joined us for dinner¬†(she brought a salad to balance the meal!) and it was very nice.

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Most of the cobbler is already gone – going back for seconds!

Plus I cleaned the apartment after 2 weeks of school plus 1 week of preparing for school – it’s silly but that’s one more reason I love having guests, it gets me to deal with the piles of papers and incomplete tasks that tend to accumulate around the house. That means I got the herb garden back to full health as well (replacing parsley that was chucked out when I discovered it crawling with ants and rosemary that plain ol’ died) and I transplanted the little lemon tree I started from seed last fall into a bigger pot. And it means Dad now has the 2 pear trees I bought him from the nursery here for a combined Father’s Day & birthday gift! I hope they grow well in the¬†yard at home.

This is getting long, so I’ll just list the other blessings of the recent past like so:

  • Worship in two churches this morning (Grace Covenant & Freedom Fellowship)
  • Sermons from both my pastor and the Church at Brook Hills podcast
  • Cream cheese frosting made with just a little milk and some maple syrup mixed into the cheese
  • The now-grown-up family of cardinals – 5 males!!! and several females – plus many other birds that have come to my feeders all summer
  • My $150 deposit for power being refunded to my account after 12 months of faithful bill payment – that should cover my electric bills through Thanksgiving at least!
  • I’ve gotten to know a group of Ethiopian immigrants a little recently, a culture I didn’t have any experience with until this year
  • I’ve¬†found a group of¬†people in a similar phase of life (working or in grad school and single) who meet for conversation, worship, and prayer – we’re starting a Bible study tonight
  • The sound of geese honking for the first time this fall, an hour ago
  • A friend here is interested in moving to the same country I’m thinking of moving to next year

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Summer ends – peaches and some quickly-made brown-sugar-cinnamon almonds.

I’m just drinking all this fall glory in knowing that I may be in a different climate both physically and spiritually next year. It’s such a gift.

OK, now for the promised recipe! This goes together in about 10 minutes, from getting out the ingredients to washing the dishes. It is¬†SUPER fast! Then you just have to wait for it to cool ūüôā

Pumpkin Pie Pudding
adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Health.com

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  • 2 cups full-fat milk + 1/2 cup full-fat milk*
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree

Put 2 cups of the milk in a medium saucepan¬†over medium or medium-high heat. While it’s coming to a boil, mix the dry ingredients, then slowly pour in the other 1/2 cup milk while whisking steadily. When it’s smooth, whisk in the eggs.

Once the milk is at a boil, take it off the heat and slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking all the time to prevent the eggs from curdling (turning into scrambled eggs in your pudding). Once the hot milk is mixed in, pour it all back into the saucepan and put back on medium heat. Keep whisking gently while it comes back to a simmer and then for 1 minute longer to fully cook the cornstarch and egg. It should be starting to thicken during this last minute.

Remove it from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and pumpkin, then pour it into a serving bowl or several smaller bowls. (I estimate it would make 8 nice servings or 6 very large ones.) If you don’t want it to develop a “skin” on top as it cools, place a piece of waxed or parchment paper or plastic wrap directly¬†on the pudding’s surface. Refrigerate once it’s reached room temperature.

*If you tend to buy skim milk like me, mix in a little heavy whipping cream in place of a few tablespoons of the milk you’re heating. Then go ahead and whip up the rest of the carton to serve on top with freshly-grated nutmeg, since you’ve got it in the fridge now anyway!

 

Fighting Racism in Me June 22, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 11:37 am

Culture is full of man’s sinfulness – sins against God, sins against man. Figuring out where sinful trends come from and pointing out the causes is definitely satisfying (at least for me) and helpful to understanding them. But more important is to ask what do we DO, today, next week, day by day, to change a sinful trend. How do I change the racist heart in ME? And how do I work towards¬†a community and nation without racism? So here I’m going to trace out my path on these questions since moving back to the US last summer, which brings me to ask those questions, and then my brief reflections on what I can do.

I’ve been processing the racial issues¬†in our country a lot this year.¬†At first I asked “Why do we have these problems? I thought we were all equal, and Martin Luther King Jr. and the others of his era ended all this!” It’s still boggling my mind that there is so much left of that hatred and distrust. There were people of many backgrounds in my public school and we seemed to get along OK, though I suppose I only knew one or two black people personally (perhaps a few more Asians, and not sure I knew any other minority students).

When there were unfortunate deaths, I found myself annoyed and dismayed that “they” would riot and destroy things instead of using peaceful methods like Dr. King. (Look out for the label “they” cropping up in your thoughts – that’s one thing I learned from living overseas.) I figured out that my simple idea from childhood, that all Americans are more or less¬†the same, was overlooking lots of differences. It seems like the white Europeans started up this culture, made the rules about what it takes to get ahead, and then when people from other backgrounds were allowed into society, they had to learn to fit in, but without the support that many of the white kids had growing up in families that already knew the ins and outs, and with plenty of things deliberately holding them back.¬†It started to make sense to me that there were and have continued to be cultural differences between people with different family histories. (I don’t know why that was so hard to figure out given that I’d already realized that it’s true on a small scale between ANY two people from two different families, even if they’re of the same color and from the same neighborhood. Perhaps because that realization was initially related to¬†marriage rather than racism!)

I started to realize how people, white people, still come to think of others, black people, as “less” and then treat them accordingly – less likely to be honest, less worthy of care and respect, less responsible, less human.¬†If only¬†the empathy gun from the Hitchhiker’s movie was real. Why do some parents have to teach their children¬†to behave super-carefully around police? Why is one race over-represented in prison and under-represented in many positive areas? Lots of causes, but a lot of them come back to pure sinful racism.

It’s like our country has made steps, but each stopped short of a solution – from Civil War to¬†Reconstruction to the¬†Civil Rights era, but it still wasn’t enough, many hearts and minds still hadn’t changed despite new laws and practices, society was not integrated and people’s hearts were closed to it. (As a side note, I cannot understand how ANYONE can fly a rebel flag in the South, both from a legal standpoint – seriously, I’m sure it was illegal right after the war, when did it transition back? why don’t¬†federal troops remove it from southern government buildings? – and also from the association that it has with a way of life that accepted and depended on slavery. Surely there is more to be proud of in your state’s, city’s, family’s heritage than the flag of a country like that!¬†But again I am slipping into a “they” state of mind. Darn, life is complex.)

Where was I? Oh yes, realizing that there is still a major problem. Which brings me to this latest atrocity. A terrorist attack by one American against others because of their race. Not, as a priest who spoke at this evening’s memorial pointed out, a “tragedy.” It was not the accidental result of something morally neutral or initially minor. It was terrorism, hatred poured out on purpose, even in the face of¬†the victims being “so nice.” At this point just saying “Go in peace, be warm and well-fed,” is not enough. Saying¬†“Our prayers are with you, Charleston,” is not enough. Prayer, said the Father who spoke, should have an effect on us too when we get off our knees.

The first thing that needs to change is inside of me. I’ve been wandering here and there with this post but I’m finally getting to my¬†big point: There is a root of racism in our culture and in our hearts, and we – I – must do something about it. I’m going to quote directly from¬†Austin Channing¬†though she’s not the only one to say it this weekend:

Every time I write about race, someone white says ‚Äújust know it isn‚Äôt all of us,‚ÄĚ believing this will bring me comfort. It is offered as balm, but fails miserably. I would much rather people say, ‚ÄúI see this sin in my own heart, my own life, my own church and I am working to uproot it. I don‚Äôt want to be this way, and I will do the work to submit this ugliness before Christ.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs what I want to hear. Creating distance from it doesn‚Äôt serve me, doesn‚Äôt bring me comfort. Because it is in all of us. White supremacy has infected all of us who know America. If I have to deal with the white supremacist notions within myself, than I don‚Äôt want to hear about how ‚Äúit’s not all of us‚ÄĚ. It is. It is all of us who must learn to love blackness as an equal and authentic image of God.

Some of us are doing that work. Naming that work. Wrestling through that work.

And others are content to let it grow. And I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.

There is this pervasive belief that Christians can simply choose to be tolerant, or polite, or even kind. There is this sense that as long as certain lines aren’t crossed, that you’re okay. As long as you don’t tell the racist joke, as long as you had a really good reason for moving into an all white community, as long as you never say nigger, as long as you do charity work, as long as you go on the mission trip, as long as you never do anything mean- then you’re alright. Not so.

I have indeed been proud of not telling racial jokes and of thinking everyone’s equal (at least everyone who knows how to act like me), but I caught myself this fall reacting differently to people on my street who are of different colors. The danger sense I developed growing up here in the States to be more aware of my surroundings would kick in when I saw one of the young black men on my street coming past me. There were other factors – I have also been adjusting to living among people of a lower income level than where I grew up, which really just adds a layer of shame over social-status snobbery rather than excuse the first issue –¬†but in any case¬†those young men seem to fit¬†with the other various-colored people on my street in regard to their income level, so it was pretty clearly racism that was triggering my¬†reaction to them. Oh, what shame I felt to see that flower of the root of racism in my heart! Still feel, really, since every time I chop off the flower it seems another grows when I’m not looking. Perhaps they’re getting a little smaller, but I’ve also had time to adjust to being here, so I’m not sure there’s been any meaningful¬†progress.

So I need to change. I need to pray, and reflect, and search for ways to dig out and replace this root of racism. Maybe introduce myself to the neighbors from a few houses down the block, though my mind boggles a little trying to imagine how. But why should I fear looking like a fool if I get it wrong? Surely that’s the only thing I actually have to be afraid of. As a friend told me today, “Sometimes you’ll make mistakes and do something stupid, and [your black friends] will let you know.” Somewhat encouraging! I was telling him¬†how at least when I went to China, if I chose to step out of the “foreigners bubble,” I could have a teacher to help with the culture, but here in America I feel equally unprepared by my upbringing to interact with many of the people. So I can put myself out more, meet people, that’s one thing. Reading is another thing I can work at, putting aside the fiction I enjoy and pushing through one book at a time on this topic, getting to see another side of life in America. What else? I suppose God will show me as I keep asking and take the steps he’s shown me.

Silence is violence. It is silence that kills the world. Speak as if you had a million voices.” (Catherine of Sienna). This blog post is me speaking. It will take more than an act of God to bring racial harmony in America – it will take millions and millions of them, changing hearts and minds. But whether or not we expect to reach that goal this side of heaven, we must – I must – make that a part of what we pray for and work towards day by day.