A (Very Nearly) Happy New Year

A moment of truth had arrived, and it was a bit disappointing. According to Spotify, that bastion of free music (for the price of a few adds), my number one played song of 2014 was a little ditty called “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, from the animated feature film Despicable Me 2.

I would be lying if I said that this revelation was not a blow to my sometimes snobbish musical tastes. I immediately scrambled to create rationalizations and justifications. “Well, I mostly use Spotify the listen to all that pop music that I don’t like enough to actually buy. Look at my iTunes top 25. That much more accurately represents my true musical loves. Almost every item on it falls under the category of folk and/or Celtic. That is as it should be.”

But who am I kidding? Certainly not myself, or my roommates, who will attest to the many times I’ve replied to a question by warbling: “’Cause I’m happy! Clap along…” For good or ill, this song just makes me, well, happy (clap along if you feel like a room without a roof).

Really, if you look at the lyrics to this song, it is about being unabashedly, dizzyingly happy, although I can’t tell you how many friends have quibbled: “Like a room without a roof? What does that even mean?” I don’t really have much of an explanation. Maybe it’s so you can look at the stars, or some poetic nonsense like that. But still, I love this song, this overplayed pop construction.

Spotify, that dear technology, is right. I play music a lot, and, like many people, have certain songs that I play at certain times, and “Happy” has been with me through a lot in the last year.   It’s played at 12 o’clock at night, driving home under the stars after a ditzy night out with my friends. Love is too happy to bring me down. It’s played in the muddy morning before going to school, to remind me that it was beautiful day and beautiful world. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. It’s played in the confidence or fear before tests, and in the resilience or despair after tests. Can’t nothing bring me down.

In fact, just two weeks ago I played “Happy” while cleaning up in the kitchen. As usually happens when I listen to that melody, I started doing some sort of awkward modern dancing while putting up the dishes and singing along. But I didn’t care, because I was happy. I certainly know in this instance what happiness is to me, and hopefully that’ll be worth something going into the brand new year.

Excuse me while I go listen to that song just one more time.

Because I’m happy…

Donuts

This is a story I wrote several years ago–2011 to be precise.

While other families undoubtedly have healthier traditions than my family, few are as delicious as eating donuts. Twice a year, when Grandma and Grandpa come to visit, we go with Grandpa to get donuts.

On a cool Monday morning in the middle of March, Grandpa, Joseph, and I stepped outside the house. The air was already coming alive with the chirp of songbirds, but it was still dark. We climbed in Grandpa’s long camper-top truck and Grandpa started the engine.

Fox News immediately came blaring over the speakers, reporting the latest on the nuclear reactors in Japan which had been making headlines for the past three days. I tried to tune out my ears to the useless rumors, but all three of us ended up listening intently to the radio all the way to the donut store.

The world around us on the way seemed altogether different: lights which normally went red, green, yellow instead flashed orange light on the pavement. Traffic was minimal, and we arrived at Shipley’s Do-nuts very quickly.

Bright lights, white walls, and the subtle smell of donuts provided quite a contrast with the dark exterior. We walked in the door around 6:15—early, for me—but many donut eaters must have arrived earlier since most of the shelves were empty.

“Just a minute,” the cheerful cashier said with a noticeable Asian accent. While we waited, Grandpa, Joseph, and I conferred about our options. Then the donut cashier came and asked us what we wanted to get.

“I’d like… eight Bavarian creams,” Grandpa said. The cashier, walking into the back, packed up eight creams for us. The rest was equally straightforward: 2 lemon-filled, 6 glazed, 2 chocolate iced, 4 sprinkles, and 2 bags of donut holes (for my youngest sister: another tradition). The server generously gave us 30 instead of 24 do-nut holes, and we left the store very pleased with the purchase.

As we drove back to our house, a doctor was on the radio explaining the use of iodine pills in preventing radiation sickness. This had something to do with thyroid cancer, which I didn’t completely understand. But I couldn’t help wondering if the chipper Asian lady who served us do-nuts that morning was Japanese, and if so, if she had any family in Japan. And if so, if she was still uncertain whether her family was safe.

We got home and ate the donuts. They were warm, sticky, sweet, and light—everything a donut should be. We finished the extra donut holes that afternoon after Grandma and Grandpa left, and so the tradition was over for a season.

Celebrate Christmas

The sun shone brightly outside as my grandmother and I browsed the shelves of a little downtown shop.  Suddenly, Grandmama stopped and plucked a paperback book from the top of a shelf.  I leaned over her shoulder and glimpsed an image of a dog and the title – Poor Jack – just as Grandmama opened the book.  The story was a Christmas one.  Much to my surprise, Poor Jack was set in a small town in Louisiana, and was written by a local author, and illustrated by a local artist.  In a minute, we had finished reading the book.  Grandmama and I smiled, and as she set the book back onto the shelf, I tucked it away in my mind for the future.  Seven months later, I was again shopping downtown, this time with Mama, Grandmama, and my sister.  I spied a copy of Poor Jack in an antique shop and showed it to Mama, saying, “See, this is the book I told you about.”  After flipping through the book, Mama decided it would be a good addition to our family’s ever-growing collection of Christmas books.

Collecting Christmas books is an endless task.  There are so many rich or fun or special stories involving this holiday. Here is a list of some of my favorite Christmas books.  For more Christmas literature recommendations, click here.

Devotionals for Christmastime

A Classic Nativity Devotional / compiled by James Stuart Bell

As its subtitle explains, this book is “a collection of timeless Christmas readings.” It includes poems, hymns, and adaptations of sermons by Augustine, Martin Luther, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, and others.

A Classic Nativity Devotional

 

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent / John Piper

An excellent book to read during advent.  With each short chapter, John Piper reminds readers of what Christmas truly means to the world and to the Church.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

A Graphic Novel

Herobear and the Kid / Mike Kunkel

Herobear and the Kid

Picture Books

The Story of Christmas / from the King James Bible (illustrated by Pamela Dalton)

This book melds the two Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke into one continuous narrative.  Pamela Dalton’s cut-paper artwork creates a beautiful accompaniment to the story of Christ’s birth.

The Story of Christmas

Christmas Is Here / from the King James Bible (illustrated by Lauren Castillo)

A fun book perfect for children with large, cheery illustrations.  It includes a portion of the Matthew Nativity narrative, but uses more pictures than words to tell the story.

Christmas Is Here

Christmas in the Country / Cynthia Rylant (illustrated by Diane Goode)

The story of a little girl’s Christmas with her grandparents in the country.

Christmas in the Country

The Twelve Days of Christmas / illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Gennady Spirin combines the well-known words of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with rich illustrations.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Poor Jack / George Rhymes (illustrated by Ellen G. Howell)

Meet Jack, a dog who hates fireworks, and who lives in a city that loves them. With humorous illustrations and a story in poem form, this is a great book for children.

Poor Jack

The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler’s Sons / Ruth Sawyer (illustrated by Barbara Cooney)

A delightful story involving a legendary but mischievous goblin king who visits the three sons of a poor cobbler one Christmas Eve.

The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler's Sons

The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween / Ruth Sawyer (illustrated by Max Grafe)

This magical tale, set in Ireland around the time of the Irish Potato Famine, tells the story of Oona Hegarty, a woman whose lifelong dream is to have a home of her own.

The Wee Christmas Cabin

A Short Story

The Gift of the Magi / O. Henry (illustrated by P. J. Lynch)

Combine beautiful illustrations with a beautiful story, and this is what results.  P. J. Lynch’s artwork brings O. Henry’s spectacular story to life.

The Gift of the Magi

Arrow: A Straight Shot

Arrow_header_imageOliver Queen is a billionaire playboy…and not much else, at least until after he is stranded on an island for 5 years and endures unimaginable horrors. While this premise sounds overtly cliche given the recent gamut of hero movies, Arrow is a superhero show that goes far beyond it’s cliche origin story to take a deep look at the lives of heroes and bystanders alike and how they live out their lives. This review will mainly focus on the story and character aspects of the show since these areas are the predominate draw, although the special effects are well done as well.

The story of Arrow addresses many of the issues that I have had with the superhero genre over the past several years. What is the difference between a cold blooded murderer and a vigilante who is, under the pretext of justice, also killing? Isn’t it odd that within weeks of the return of a lost billionaire a masked crusader is on the streets with hi-tech gear? The screenwriters raise issues like these throughout the entire first season, and the fact that the writers address these inherent problems with the superhero genre makes the show all the more compelling. Also, the plot is not a predictable story progression-the writers have a very definite plan that is apparent after having watched the show.

Arrow2Another aspect of the show that is engaging are the various characters. Many of them are aggravating and annoying-just like real people can be sometimes, but in the end the good guys pull together to stop evil. Many of the characters are realistically portrayed with problems such as addiction, workaholism, willingness to kill, selfishness, etc. etc. Far from being a negative to the show, each character becomes more relatable as the seasons (there are now 3) progress. The show is about broken, messed-up people trying to help each other and those around them. While the message of the show is inherently man-centered given its genre, the realism of the characters and their struggle, given how accurately it mirrors the struggle of many people today, is a telling reminder of man’s need for a real Savior.

If you are looking for a show where you can watch and come away with a warm, fuzzy feeling, this is probably not for you, but if you enjoy watching people mature and change, if you like seeing people who you may hate at times trying to do right, then this show can be very engaging and intriguing. The writers of Arrow understood one very important principle: superhero stories are not about the hero, but about people and their everyday lives – people who need to be saved not only from outside threats, but also from themselves. Arrow offers a gritty and engaging alternative storyline and cast of characters for those seeking entertainment that goes beyond the big explosions and eye candy that Hollywood has put out in recent years.

Adventures in Paranoia: A Self-built Computer Story.

As I’m sure I’ve already well established, I’m a bit of a nerd. Admittedly, though, I haven’t been as thorough a one as I’ve wanted to be for a while. Since I was about 16, I wanted to build my own computer. Recently, I had a week with a little extra time and a little extra money.

So I decided I was going to do it, with a little help from DIY Tryin‘, a fun little YouTube channel that has inspired me to try more hands-on projects.

The list of components is there. I won’t bore you with the technical specifications. I’d rather entertain you with a view into the mind of a paranoid first-time computer builder.

I was paranoid because while I heard that putting a computer together was much like playing with LEGOs (and who doesn’t love that?) you can’t fry a LEGO with static electricity.

So I went out and bought a little PC tool kit, and plucked up the courage to start taking things apart and *gasp* touching the components.
It all started off by taking the panels off of my case. Left and right weren’t bad, but the front panel was a PAIN to remove. Anyway, after that was done (9:42 am) I proceeded to install the powersupply (9:50). So far so good.
Step one: realize how far you actually have to go once you take the sides off the case…
And then I got to the mother board. Installing the back shield was a breeze, but actually making the board line up with it was frustrating. I finally decided to bend a few of the little tabs on the back of the shield, and it slid in perfectly. Great. That only took me 20 minutes of thinking I had probably fried the card or scratched something. (10:10 am)
So now that I’m wondering if the first real piece of circuitry will even work, I take out the processor. My fingers are shaking slightly — this thing is fragile. I manage to place it correctly, but the holder doesn’t close easily. I had read that if you have to force it, you’ll probably ruin it. Great. So I tried placing it again — 3 times — and it was still as hard as the first time to secure. Drat. Oh well, here goes nothing…
*Click* Great. It slid down like it was supposed to, but I still have no idea whether or not I’ve ruined it yet. Determined, I installed the heat sink. (10:20)
Please don’t let this be a brick…
The RAM, Hard drive, and DVD drives were a breeze. (10:36) Graphics card, not quite so much, but that’s because I didn’t see the little rubber stopper at first. (10:45) Keep in mind, that I’ve been standing this whole time over my kitchen table, and am getting a little light headed.
THEN THE CORDS. GOOD GRIEF THE CORDS. SO MANY OF THEM. After 40 minutes, I had finally gotten them all in where they went. I learned a valuable lesson though — when dealing with a small motherboard, plug in all of your cords as you go, and leave the GPU for last. There were so many little ports that were directly next to the graphics card, and the angle was tough. (11:25)
But it sure looks pretty in there. And I still have plenty of wiggle room. Hmmm…

Hungry, tired of standing, and a tad light headed, I zip tied the cords out of the way of the air flow at 11:35 and put the case back together. Now it’s time to test it.

Remember how I said earlier I wasn’t sure if everything would work? Now I’m dreading that it won’t. I calmly put the tower down next to my TV and plug in the HDMI cable. Saying a quick prayer, I hit the power switch, and…

Please insert boot disk or choose different destination.

IT WORKED! HAHAHAHA!

So, now you know the story of the computer I just typed this article on. I hope you found it amusing. I feel incredibly smug, and my wife can attest that I still can’t shut up about it. 🙂 Pictures to come in a future update.

Edit: The pictures are here. Just in case you skipped down to this part of the post. Now go back up and read!