Andy Osenga In Space?

My friend Andy Osenga (formerly of Caedmon’s Call) has a story he’s been wanting to tell about a man named Leonard Belle. Here’s a quick summary in Andy’s words:

[Leonard] lives 300 years from now and loses his wife in a sudden accident while their divorce is being finalized. In his rage and grief he takes a gig driving a long-distance space freighter for a year. (Due to relativity, by the time he returns to Earth everyone he knows will be old or dead.) He decides to bring along some antique instruments and recording equipment (just like the stuff I have!) and will make a record.

That record–Leonard the Lonely Astronaut’s record–will be Andy’s next solo project. But here’s the crazy thing: Andy’s going to build a spaceship, which will also be a recording studio. He’ll make the record in the spaceship, wearing an astronaut uniform. In September there’s going to be a workday in which people come to Nashville and help build the spaceship. Yes. Probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard tell of. As they used to say on television, it’s so crazy it just might work.

Fans and well-wishers are helping fund Andy’s project over at Kickstarter. Have a look, and consider helping out. Quite apart from the astronaut suit, Andy Osenga is an exceedingly gifted musician. This record is going to be good.

C.S. Lewis and Lent

I’m mostly off this week–whooping it up at Disneyworld. I’ll be back Friday for Audience Participation Friday. Meanwhile, check out this article in Christianity Today from my friend Devin Brown, English professor at Asbury and author of several books about Narnia. The article is titled “Lent in Narnia,” and it quotes my book, The World According to Narnia, a couple of times. Here are the first couple of paragraphs…

In his short essay “Some Thoughts,” C. S. Lewis examines the paradoxical fact that the Christian calendar is as full of feasts as it is fasts, as full of fasts as it is feasts.

How did the Christian faith come to have this unique “two-edged” character, a stance which is both world-affirming and world-denying? Lewis explains that on one hand “because God created the Natural—invented it out of His love and artistry—it demands our reverence.” But at the same time, “because Nature, and especially human nature is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified.”

But make no mistake, Lewis writes, its essence is good, and correction is “something quite different” from repudiation or Stoic superiority. And hence, Lewis argues, all true Christian asceticism will have “respect for the thing rejected” at its center. “Feasts are good,” Lewis concludes, “though today we fast.”

Read the rest of Devin’s excellent article here.

Audience Participation Friday: Mean Teachers

Sally Apokedak suggested this topic. Blame her.

The great majority of teachers (including both of my sisters) are angels who care very deeply for their students and don’t get paid nearly enough. Today we aren’t talking about those teachers. Today we’re going to talk about the meanest, most awful teachers we’ve ever known. (Teacher Appreciation Week is in early May; we’ll get this out of our systems now, then circle back that week to talk about teachers who changed our lives for the better).

My third-grade teacher was named Mrs. Crawley, and she almost deserved it. It was her custom to put a mark by your name on the chalkboard anytime you talked or wiggled or otherwise caused a distraction. She did it with neither fanfare nor recrimination, rarely even pausing her lecture or math problem, just tick, another mark by your name, and every mark represented a recess spent inside. One mistimed anecdote could easily cost you three ticks–more than half a week’s recess–if you couldn’t stop yourself. And not everybody can stop himself in the middle of a good anecdote. There were boys in Mrs. Crawley’s class–and I was one of them–who found themselves in October with more ticks by their names than there were days in the term. You could only work off one tick per day (two, once she started making us stay in from PE too), but on any given day there was no limit to how many ticks you could get. Mrs. Crawley quickly ended up with a handful of boys with nothing left to lose, third-grade desperadoes who were liable to do anything.

Mrs. Crawley specialized in public humiliation. Just before the Christmas report card came out, she went around the room and made everybody stand beside his desk to say what grade he thought he deserved in conduct. When it was my turn I stood and said, with wavering confidence, “S-minus.” Mrs. Crawley threw back her head and howled like a werewolf. Or laughed. It was hard to tell which sometimes. “Pshaw!” she said. “Jonathan thinks he should get an S-minus in conduct. What do you all think?” And everybody laughed, even Mark the Veterinary Calvinist. They were afraid not to. I laughed my own self.

But my humiliation was nothing to poor Clifford’s. We had a pair of restrooms between our room and another third-grade room. Clifford asked permission to go to the restroom, and Mrs. Crawley granted it. Then, out of the corner of her gimlet eye she noticed that Clifford had gone into the girls’ restroom. I don’t suppose he meant anything by it. It was empty, and I imagine he was curious to know the difference between the two rooms. We all were. But Mrs. Crawley stormed back there like a hurricane and dragged Clifford out by the ear, yelling, “You want to be a girl, Clifford? Is that what you want? Well we can fix that Clifford. We can fix that right up. I’ll bring in a dress tomorrow and you can put it on and wear it for the whole class.” And would you believe she did? It was the only time I remember her ever going to any extra trouble for one of her students. She brought a dress the next day, and Clifford put it on, and he slouched shame-faced around the room while we looked down at our desks.

One last Mrs. Crawley story…A near neighbor of ours was involved in a deadly shooting (not on our street, thankfully), and when I heard about it the next day I was pretty upset, as you might imagine. I was sitting at my desk crying about it when Mrs. Crawley called out from the front of the room, “Jonathan, what are you crying about?” “Well, Mrs. Crawley, my neighbor got shot and killed last night.” Mrs. Crawley thought on that for a second, and I thought maybe she didn’t know what to say. But Mrs. Crawley always knew what to say. “I don’t see why you’re crying,” she said. “No bullet hit you, did it?” Strange to say, that made me feel a little better.

I’m sure you had some terrible teachers of your own. Why don’t you tell us about them?

Audience Participation Friday: Let’s Talk About Disney

I went to Disneyworld once. I was eight or nine, and if I remember correctly, we just popped over for one afternoon of a vacation spent at Daytona Beach. I vaguely recall riding Space Mountain, but that is literally the only thing I remember about being inside the park. Here’s what I do remember about the day. My sisters were both teenagers and far too cool and surly to be going to Disneyworld. There was all kinds of eye-rolling and murmuring in the back seat as we drove from Daytona. They were missing a day at the beach (they were very into their tans at the time), and there was an unmistakeable subtext that this little outing was all about what the baby brother wanted and nobody ever gave a thought to what they wanted.
We stopped at a roadside rest area for a picnic. Sandwiches all around. Only I didn’t want a sandwich. I wanted sardines and saltine crackers. More eye-rolling from the sisters. Why they cared what I ate for lunch, I don’t know. I suppose it looked to them like I was getting some kind of special treatment, though I’m sure if they had asked, Mama would have cracked out another tin of sardines for them too. Or they could have had some of mine. I wasn’t greedy about such things.

But we sat there around the concrete table, and there was huffing and sighing but not a lot of talking until a sharp breeze snuck up on us and caught my napkin and flipped my open tin of sardines (packed in oil) onto the white shorts of my sister. Shrieking and recriminations followed, and my mother and both sisters retired to the bathroom where they stayed rather a long time trying to clean the shorts. They didn’t make much headway. My sister went on to Disneyworld wearing oil-blotched shorts that stunk so bad I could hardly stand to sit beside her.

That’s about as magical as my memories of Disneyworld get. I could use some better ones, especially since I’m taking the family there in a couple of weeks. You reckon you could help me out? For Audience Participation Friday, let’s talk about Disney. Triumphs, disasters, amusing anecdotes, opinions supported and unsupported. We welcome them all.

CLARIFICATION: My mother called and asked that I clarify a couple of things about this story. First, the sardines had been left in the car from a fishing trip my father and I had taken. My mother didn’t keep sardines on hand, and certainly did not bring them to picnics. And second, we had fried chicken, not sandwiches. She wanted you to know.

What’s Your Favorite Seuss?

It’s Dr. Seuss’s 107th birthday. One of my kids went off to school today wearing a tall red and white striped hat.

As you may know already, The Cat in the Hat came about when a publisher challenged Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s real name) to write a book that six- and seven-year-olds couldn’t put down and that used no more than 225 different words. The Cat in the Hat came in at 236 words, 223 of which came from a list provided beforehand by the publisher. Which is to say, Dr. Seuss managed to use rather strict forms and guidelines to tell a story of freedom and adventure and even out-of-control exuberance. A nice little metaphor for much children’s writing.

So I’d be interested to know, what is your favorite Seuss story, and why? I’m partial to The Grinch myself.

The Slingshot Man

Rufus Hussey lived near Asheboro, North Carolina, and could do things with a slingshot that nobody else could do. This video must be from the eighties, from the looks of the Pepsi cans. A television host once asked, “Rufus, I understand you can knock a quarter out of the air with that thing! Is that right?” Rufus answered, “I can hit a penny…. but when it gets that cheap, it’s time to quit!”
Here he is:

Audience Participation Friday: Valentine’s Day Disasters



When I was in college, I worked one Valentine’s Day at a florist’s shop. The florist, a favorite among students at my school, hired several students to deliver flowers on that very busy day. On my first delivery, the recipient met me on the stoop before I had even rung the doorbell. She blinked in wonder, and it appeared that she might hyperventilate. I thought to myself, This is going to be a good day.
I looked at the tag tied around the vase. “You must be Melissa,” I said.

The woman stopped mid-gasp and slumped against the doorjamb. The joy drained out of her face; she suddenly looked very plain. “I knew those weren’t for me,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“It’s all right,” she said, before I could even say I was sorry. And I was sorry indeed for getting the street number wrong and winding up on this stoop, raising hopes that Valentine’s Day could never fulfill.

That’s the problem, really, with Valentine’s Day. People load the day with hopes and expectations that it is insufficient to bear. The poor day collapses under their weight, and we are left with Valentine’s Day disasters, the stuff of anecdote.

After my blunder, I went back to the florist and and, like a football player who asks to be taken out of the game after getting his bell rung, I asked for a job inside the shop. I was assigned the task of sorting the orders and tying the cards to the vases. It seemed safer back there where I wouldn’t be face-to-face with the human drama of the day.

But as I paged through the orders and saw who was sending flowers to whom–many of them students I knew–the heartache from a breakup months earlier began to stir itself like a dragon awakened by the celebrations of nearby villagers.

And then, in the “Deliver To” line of an order form, I saw the name of my old girlfriend.

The smart thing, I suppose, would have been to give the order to somebody else to fill. But it’s not like I was trying to snoop. I was being paid to read the order forms and tie the cards to the vases. So read the order form. The person sending flowers to my old girlfriend was one of my current roommates.

So, there’s my Valentine’s Day disaster. I bet you have one of your own–either one you experienced first hand or one you know about. If you can bear to commit it to writing, today’s Audience Participation Friday topic is Valentine’s Day disasters. Here’s hoping your anecdotes are more amusing than mine.

Feechie of the Week Returns! Python Hunters

It was my intention in this Feechie of the Week to highlight the brave python hunters of the Florida Everglades. As you may know, huge non-native pythons abound in the Everglades; many of them apparently got there in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a python breeder’s facility and released untold numbers of snakes into the wild. Burmese pythons, as it turns out, love Florida as much as retirees love it. They have thrived there, multiplying and growing to fifteen feet and more. And like so many non-native species (including retirees), they’ve been wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. I’ve seen articles about a few of the fish and wildlife guys whose job is to hunt and kill the pythons in the Everglades. They’re interesting people, and they may be featured yet. But then I remembered something I had seen on Abraham Piper’s website, and the Florida python hunters, with their trucks and guns, paled by comparison.
Picture this: an African rock python has been carrying off your livestock by night and slithering back down its hole. What are you going to do about it? You might get hold of these old boys:

Notice there’s no truck or gun in this picture. These guys are old-school.Read More

Audience Participation Friday: Poetry Challenge

We saw some great poems yesterday using the word splanchnoptosis. It made me wonder what would happen if you had a real challenge. So here’s your challenge for APF: write a poem in which you use at least one of the following words…or prose (no longer than 2 sentences) in which you use all of them.
Boustrophedonic (of or relating to text written from right to left)
Hornswoggle (cheat or swindle; bamboozle)
Palimpsest (a parchment that has been erased and rewritten)
Sesquipedalian (related to long words; characterized by the use of long words)
Xerostomia (dryness of the mouth)

Good luck, friends. I think you’re going to need it.

Audience Participation Friday: Food Favorites

Patrick had a great suggestion for Audience Participation Friday: Give us a story about a meal you’ve eaten. Or write about your favorite food (and why it’s your favorite). Recipes are welcomed, though not required.
I’ll kick things off by telling about a recipe that I invented. If you’ve ever enjoyed a plate of chicken pot pancakes, you’ve got me to thank. I invented that. There was extra chicken pot pie filling in the refrigerator. There were hungry kids in the kitchen. I wasn’t up for making pie crust, but pancakes seemed manageable. So we made pancakes (leaving out sugar), ladeled pot pie filling on top, and ate it. Reviews were mixed (everybody thinks he’s a food critic). Mama, you may not be surprised to learn, wasn’t home at the time.

The floor is now open. Talk about food.

P.S. Patrick also contributed the APF logo you see above. But it’s too creepy by half and probably violates a number of copyright laws. Here’s hoping we can round up another one soon.

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