Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Are You Smart Enough?

From H:
Time magazine recently dedicated a huge amount of space to a special section on maximizing brain power. There were articles on keeping mental performance peaked through exercise and healthy eating. Articles on how to mentally exercise your brain. A piece on the controversial future of nootropes--so called "smart drugs"--that enhance mental performance.

Of course, I ate up every word. Doesn't everyone wish they were a little smarter, a little quicker with the poignant example or snappy retort?

As I flipped through page after page of advice on getting smarter, I noticed a one-page essay, "What's So Great About Acuity?" by Walter Kirn. I decided to read it last--if at all. How could editorial blather make me any smarter?

After I read it, I wished I'd read it first. It made me realize I put too much value on mental prowess (and the success--and worth--I often associate with it). Kirn observes:

"... people dream of aping their computers, which grow measurably more agile every six months. Not wiser or saner or more truthful, those immeasurable human qualities that are extolled by priests and poets, but just better at handling elaborate graphics, say, or performing multimillion-variable calculations."

His last line hit me between the eyes:

"... it's not what one can do that matters but what's worth doing."

And I realized, smart doesn't equal wise. Or trustworthy. Or compassionate. If all I'm doing is seeking to fill my head with facts and figures, am I missing out on God's purpose for
me--doing the things that are worth doing?

To ponder:
1) Consider these two definitions:

Smart: Characterized by sharp quick thought.
Wise: Having the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.

Which one do you think most people pursue? Why? Which one do you think is more important, or are they equal? Why?

2) What are some things you do every day that are truly "worth doing" (eg. caring for a child, spending time with a friend)? Is it easy or difficult for you to find the worth in these things?

3) Are there tasks you view as "worthy" when someone else does them, but you view them as "lowly" when you do them yourself? Why do you think your perceived worth is different?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Questioning Chinese Authority: Google, Ban Us!

From H:
I've always dreamed of getting myself banned from something. So I'm seizing the chance ... to get banned from an entire country.

Google announced yesterday that it will offer China a special version of its search engine, Google.cn, that excludes e-mail messaging and the ability to create blogs. Why? The Chinese government is concerned sensitive or illegal information may find its way into or out of the country. It has monitored Internet information for years, blocking sites it deems inappropriate for its citizens. Like Google.com.

Thus the reason for the creation of Google.cn. Google's new Chinese platform also will censor sites in accordance with Chinese law. These will likely include antigovernment news and opinion pieces from the Web, as well as sites and blogs that question governmental authority, all of which China has stringently policed in recent years.

As one who enjoys spewing my random thoughts into cyberspace, I gotta say:

"C'mon, China. Let your people post their digital photos of family picnics. Let them blog about what they did last weekend. Let Jia Li and Li Ming make plans via e-mail to catch a movie."

I don't understand why any government would keep such wonderful tools as blogs and e-mail out of the hands of its people. If saying that gets this blog banned from Google.cn, that's OK.

I just hope I don't need to travel to China anytime soon.

Version of Google in China Won't Offer E-Mail or Blogs

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Our Wallets, Our Selves

Greetings from T (Teerific!)

Today marks the beginning of
National Creative Frugality Week (January 22-28, 2006). Who knew?

Lately, I've been thinking about how to live well with my resources. Some of the wisest people I know are very skilled at this, and I'd like to learn from them. I have skills related to scrimping, pinching and doing without. But I'd like to live a bit more creatively--to not only cut costs, but to also be comfortable. I admire people I know (H, for example), who seem to do this well.

I thought about this recently when I discovered a black leather recliner for only $120. It would look really nice in the corner of the living room. When I went to pick it up, though, the store was out of stock. I've got a rain check now, and I'm trying to decide whether or not I should use it. I've put a lot of thought into this so far:

On the one hand, it would look great and felt really comfortable. Once I paint my living room coffee table and end tables black (frugal!), it would really tie the room together well. I picked up some inexpensive-yet-beautiful art over the Christmas holiday, and one of the paintings would look really nice next to a black recliner. A friend of mine is crocheting a beautiful afghan that would look wonderful draped over the chair.

On the other hand, I just spent $160 on an upcoming mini-vacation to a writer's conference, and maybe $120 would be a nice addition to my savings account instead.

A friend has a great chair that won't fit in her apartment, but it would look OK in that space. It's a very wrong color for my color scheme, though, and a nice cover for it (frugal!) might cost at least $120. And when she needs to borrow her chair back, I've got a cover for a chair I don't own (not frugal). Finally, I only have one bottom, and it's usually content in the corner of the couch. I'm hoping to entertain more, but does that mean I need a recliner right now?

Does anyone else go in circles about this kind of thing trying to save money (OK, spend wisely in this case)? H and I once had an adventure where we rescued a couch from the side of the road in Carlos, her aging car. We pulled out the old stuffing, washed the cushions, Febreezed, restuffed, and worked really hard to get the Doggy Smell out of the couch--with limited success. (Talk about a Whiff of Woof!) We were both relieved a few weeks later when another friend gave me The Couch of Provision, from which I'm blogging now. Although I'm grateful to have had a place to sit, at least in that case I don't think ultra-frugal was the way to go. I've had similar missteps at the grocery store doing things like buying large, cheap bags of dried beans (half a pound still in the cupboard!) and falling for buy-one-get-one-free produce. Can't tell you how much "free" food has spoiled in my refrigerator. Not Frugal.

In any case, I'd love to hear what you think about the chair. And here are a couple of promising resources I've found when it comes to my quest:

Creative Frugality: "The Creative Frugality Inspiration Station," this site's the difference between being frugal and being cheap, offers practical ways to cut back on expenses, and includes links to related resources.

The Grocery Game: This money-saving "game" combines sales lists and coupons to help you save money on groceries--without spending hours clipping coupons. It looks like it's worth a try.

What are your tips for living well on less? How do you live frugally without being stingy? Please share your comments and feel free to link to related websites.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What's Next? Marrying Your Dog?

A year ago, Canada legalized same-sex marriage. Now our neighbors to the North are considering recognizing unions with multiple spouses involved.

Canada Study Sparks Move to Legalize Polygamy
A new study for the federal justice department says Canada should get rid of its law banning polygamy.

U.S. Perspective: A Commentary on Same-sex Marriage, in Light of Canada's Polygamy Study
In these politically correct times, do-gooders expand definitions until words -- or institutions -- lose all meaning. Marriage can mean whatever you want.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Recognizing 'God Moments'

From H:
Ever experience a "God moment": an event which turned out so unexpectedly perfect, you knew there had to be divine direction?

I did today. But my "God moment" wasn't the instantaneous result of a heavenly whammy shooting down from the sky. Instead, it began taking shape months ago, when I received an easy writing assignment from a Christian publication.

I could have finished the story in a week. Instead, I got delayed by a peculiar string of problems. One of my wisdom teeth became badly infected, and I had to have two wisdom teeth removed. Afterward, one of the surgery sites became infected again. Then my car broke down, and I spent a week shuffling it between two mechanics. Then my stomach decided to hold a throw-up fest. In the meantime, my computer's hard drive died.

All to say, two months went by and I never worked on the story. Bizarrely enough, the editor never contacted me once during those months to give me a deadline.

Just today, the editor sent me an e-mail with new information that makes the story fresh and timely. Now it will get noticed in a big way when it's published, and hopefully will touch a lot more people than if I'd written it last fall.

Some people call that luck or coincidence. I admit, it's a lot harder to believe God is actually active in our lives. It's easy to feel alone, wondering where God is and why he isn't answering our prayers the way we want. It's easy to blame him when things are going wrong. It's easy to worry when we're not as emotionally moved by faith as we once were.

Thing is, when I'm expecting God to respond in a certain way, or I'm chasing after an emotional high, I often miss that God's working toward something greater: his plan.

You've probably heard people quote the first part of Romans 8:28 a million times: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,"

often stopping before they get to the second half of the verse:

"who have been called according to his purpose." (NIV, emphasis mine)

My prayer for this year is that I'll recognize God is always active in my life. When I'm sick and my car isn't running and my computer is broken, God still has control and is in command. During tough times, it's hard to remember God has a purpose and plan for us. And that's when the Master Architect is still hard at work, building our faith.

To ponder:
1) Do you know right away when you're experiencing a "God moment"? Or does it take you a while to figure it out? What are some indicators, for you personally, that let you know it's a "God moment"?

2) Share one of your "God moments," including how you knew God was leading the situation.

3) Think about the term "God moment" in light of Romans 8:28. Is "God moment" a misnomer? What are some ways we can acknowledge God is active every moment of our lives?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quick 'Daniel' Update

From H:
Seems The Book of Daniel has its days numbered. Several NBC affiliates have pulled the show (all in the South and Midwest, particularly Kansas). Viewership has plummeted in just two weeks. And advertisers aren't signing up for the time slot. Meanwhile, others have yanked their ads.

Of greater interest to me is the way people are responding to the TV show. If you'd like an earful from angry Christians, plus tons of comments from people who are angry with Christians, check out the message board on NBC:

To ponder:
1) Check out some of the comments from Christians and consider the language and tone used. Do you think these comments help or hurt Christians when talking about their faith?

2) What are some ways Christians can share their faith without causing those who don't believe to shut them out in anger?

Hot Topic: Best Soap Scents

From H:
I have nary a political or controversial thought in my head today. Rather, we'll move on to the blather side of H-n-T by discussing something even more pressing: What are the best hand soaps out there?

Let's define "best" by the following criteria: 1) scent-sational fragrance; 2) cost-effectivity; and 3) improvement of the skin's condition (or, at the very least, the product must leave the skin intact!).

And why is this such a hot topic for me? My husband washes his hands frequently enough to peak the interest of his co-workers. In other words, he washes his hands after using the restroom and before eating. Which, at his nearly all-male office, makes him a freak of nature. One co-worker laughingly suggested he may have obsessive compulsive disorder.

From my point of view, my husband's handwashing can mean only one thing: He has good personal hygiene. And his co-workers are a bunch of dirty-poos.

At home, he's always been content with a bar of Lever 2000 to clean up. But this Christmas, we received two bottles of Bath and Body Works hand soap, one antibacterial deep cleansing, one antibacterial moisturizing, both in Cucumber Melon scent. Now that my husband's experienced real hand soap, bar soap will never be adequate again.

Do tell:
1) List your favorite hand soaps. Where do you buy them, and how much do they cost?

2) Which scents do you like best? Of your favorites, which scents seem more masculine, which seem more feminine, and which seem unisex?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Desperate Christianity: NBC's 'The Book of Daniel'

From H:
The Book of Daniel, which airs Fridays on NBC, has drawn ire from Christian watchdog groups. After reading the premise and seeing the show's promo, I can understand why: It looks like a "Christian" Desperate Housewives.

But after reading an article in Time magazine about Daniel, I have a much bigger concern than the show itself. Time asserts that the American Family Association (AFA), a conservative Christian group which has vocally opposed Daniel, hasn't even seen the show:

<< ... [the AFA] charged that the show "mocks Christianity." (Or that at least the promos do; the group had not yet seen, or requested, a screener from NBC.)>>

Christians in positions of power, especially those who position themselves to speak with the media (and thus be voices for the entire church) must arm themselves with 1) biblical truth, and 2) knowledge about the subject they're discussing. If it's true that the AFA hasn't viewed the show, I hope their representatives will watch Daniel. It seems AFA's message about responsible viewing will be diluted if they aren't personally reviewing the material in question.

To ponder:
1) Do you think Christian reviewers and watchdog groups should view TV shows and movies firsthand--even if they already know the piece contains profanity, sexual situations, or violence--before offering their opinions on it?

2) Are Christian characters on TV and in movies true to life? What stereotypes of Christians are frequently used?

Parents Television Council
Offers TV and movie reviews with an eye for family-friendly viewing.

Christianity Today's List of Best and Worst portrayals of Christians on the Big Screen

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Pharmacists Suspended for Refusing to Dispense 'Morning-After Pill'

In Illinois, Walgreens suspended four pharmacists without pay after they refused to dispense the "morning-after pill," also know as Plan B, to patients with valid prescriptions.


More articles:

To ponder:
1) Should pharmacists be allowed to refuse to fill prescriptions? If so, under what circumstances, or for what reasons? Should these include moral/religious/ethical objections?

2) Do you consider Plan B to be:

  • a type of birth control, or
  • a pharmacological abortion?

3) Plan B is currently prescribed for use up to 120 hours (5 days) after sex. Does the time frame in which Plan B is prescribed--say, within the first 24 hours as opposed to day 5--affect your response to question #2?

4) How do you feel about the use of Plan B by rape victims?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Greetings from H

Baby H

A precocious little grouch, H attributes all early negativity to being in her B.J. stage of life ("Before Jesus" for the uninitiated, and that's pretty much anyone who's unfamiliar with H-speak.).

These days, H is rarely seen without her trademark smile--which actually is quite genuine.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

H & T hit the town!

Hi T,

So's I was thinking ... how can we stay in touch better this year? Sadly, you have a flaky friend in me. I never return your calls. I never send you letters or photos. But I do usually return your e-mails, and the conversations we get in to can result in high hilarity.

So what better way than to take our act live on the Internet?

Perhaps we will inspire other buddies to do the same.

Sincerely and dearly,