Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day Tuna Salad

Here's a yummy recipe my stepmom made up to go with charcoal-grilled hamburgers and hotdogs (which, by the way, were served with onions, tomatoes, and pickles lovingly sliced by hand, pretzel-bread buns, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and ranch-flavored potato chips). As often happens with comfort-food recipes, it's missing all the measurements and proportions. It's the kind of music-to-your-mouth that every Mom has to learn to play by ear.

Whole Wheat Rotini (cooked and rinsed with cold water)
chopped onions
chopped celery
sliced green olives with pimentos
dill weed
garlic powder
50/50 blend of mayo and white salad dressing
tuna, drained

Mix the ingredients together. Add 1 can of drained canned peas and mix gently.

Seems simple, doesn't it? And yet it holds its own against the best burgers your Dad knows how to grill. Did you miss your parents' cookout on Memorial Day? Oh, ye bachelors! Weep for shame!

Some Helpful Word Macros

Step 1. Be a user of Windows XP and Microsoft Word 2003. This is not open for debate.

Step 2. From the menus at the top of the MS Word window, pull down "Tools," then select "Macro," then "Record New Macro." Type a distinctive name for a macro; then, under "Assign Macro To," press the "Keyboard" button. Type an unassigned keyboard shortcut (examples will be given later), then click "Assign" and "Close." Then immediately press the "Stop" button on the floating Macro Recorder control. Repeat, substituting different macro names and keyboard shortcuts, until you have created a blank "placeholder" macro for each of the macros below.

Step 3. Pull down the "Tools" menu, then select "Macro," then "Macros," then click the "Edit" button to open up the Microsoft Visual Basic editor, in which you can edit the code for all the macros in your Normal template. Copy the following paragraphs of code and paste each section of code under the appropriate macro name, after the lines "Sub [MACRO NAME]," "[MACRO NAME] Macro," and "Macro recorded [DATE] by [USER]," but before the line that says "End Sub."

And now some macros that I think you may find useful. I give first the name I suggest assigning to each macro, then a nice eligible keyboard shortcut, and finally the code to paste into Virtual Basic.

HEADER: To put the filename, path, and page number in a hairline box at the top of each page of a Word document:
Macro Name: Header
Hot Key: ctrl+. (Hold "ctrl" key and type a period.)
If ActiveWindow.View.SplitSpecial <> wdPaneNone Then
End If
If ActiveWindow.ActivePane.View.Type = wdNormalView Or ActiveWindow. _
ActivePane.View.Type = wdOutlineView Then
ActiveWindow.ActivePane.View.Type = wdPrintView
End If
ActiveWindow.ActivePane.View.SeekView = wdSeekCurrentPageHeader
Selection.ParagraphFormat.Alignment = wdAlignParagraphRight
Application.DisplayAutoCompleteTips = True
NormalTemplate.AutoTextEntries("Filename and path").Insert Where:= _
Selection.Range, RichText:=True
Selection.TypeText Text:="Page "
Selection.Fields.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Type:=wdFieldPage
With Selection.Borders(wdBorderTop)
.LineStyle = Options.DefaultBorderLineStyle
.LineWidth = Options.DefaultBorderLineWidth
.Color = Options.DefaultBorderColor
End With
With Selection.Borders(wdBorderLeft)
.LineStyle = Options.DefaultBorderLineStyle
.LineWidth = Options.DefaultBorderLineWidth
.Color = Options.DefaultBorderColor
End With
With Selection.Borders(wdBorderBottom)
.LineStyle = Options.DefaultBorderLineStyle
.LineWidth = Options.DefaultBorderLineWidth
.Color = Options.DefaultBorderColor
End With
With Selection.Borders(wdBorderRight)
.LineStyle = Options.DefaultBorderLineStyle
.LineWidth = Options.DefaultBorderLineWidth
.Color = Options.DefaultBorderColor
End With
ActiveWindow.ActivePane.View.SeekView = wdSeekMainDocument
ROUGH: To add the effect of a rubber stamp saying "ROUGH #1" to the top of the page (which can be edited after being inserted to show whatever Rough Number you want):
Macro Name: Rough
Hot Key: ctrl+;
ActiveDocument.Shapes.AddTextEffect(msoTextEffect2, "ROUGH #1" & Chr(13) & "" & Chr(10) & "__ Approved by KS", _
"Arial Black", 24#, msoFalse, msoFalse, 232.1, 107.25).Select
Selection.ShapeRange.TextEffect.PresetShape = msoTextEffectShapeSlantDown
Selection.ShapeRange.WrapFormat.Type = wdWrapTight
Selection.ShapeRange.ScaleWidth 0.62, msoFalse, msoScaleFromBottomRight
Selection.ShapeRange.ScaleHeight 0.75, msoFalse, msoScaleFromTopLeft
PASTE NO FORMAT: To paste from the clipboard without keeping the format of the document it was copied from (i.e., without changing the format of the insertion point):
Macro Name: PasteNoFormat
Hot Key: alt+v
Selection.PasteSpecial Link:=False, DataType:=wdPasteText, Placement:=wdInLine, DisplayAsIcon:=False
FLIP QUOTE MARKS: When, after pasting a section of text copied from another document, you need to change all the double-quotes into single and all the single-quotes into double:
Macro Name: ReverseQuotes
Hot Key: alt+' (apostrophe)
With Selection.Find
.Text = "'"
.Replacement.Text = "@@"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindAsk
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchByte = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
With Selection.Find
.Text = """"
.Replacement.Text = "'"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindAsk
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchByte = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
With Selection.Find
.Text = "@@"
.Replacement.Text = """"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindAsk
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchByte = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
NOTE: You may have some trouble with apostrophes on this one.

BLOCK QUOTE MARGINS: To indent both right and left margins of the selected paragraph by 0.5 inches:
Macro Name: BlockQuoteMargins
Hot Key: alt+b
With Selection.ParagraphFormat
.LeftIndent = InchesToPoints(0.5)
.RightIndent = InchesToPoints(0.5)
.SpaceBefore = 0
.SpaceBeforeAuto = False
.SpaceAfter = 0
.SpaceAfterAuto = False
.LineSpacingRule = wdLineSpaceSingle
.Alignment = wdAlignParagraphLeft
.WidowControl = True
.KeepWithNext = False
.KeepTogether = False
.PageBreakBefore = False
.NoLineNumber = False
.Hyphenation = True
.FirstLineIndent = InchesToPoints(0)
.OutlineLevel = wdOutlineLevelBodyText
.CharacterUnitLeftIndent = 0
.CharacterUnitRightIndent = 0
.CharacterUnitFirstLineIndent = 0
.LineUnitBefore = 0
.LineUnitAfter = 0
End With
FOOTNOTE: To insert a footnote, placing the reference number at the insertion point:
Macro Name: Footnote
Hot Key: alt+i
With ActiveDocument.Range(Start:=ActiveDocument.Content.Start, End:= _
With .FootnoteOptions
.Location = wdBottomOfPage
.NumberingRule = wdRestartContinuous
.StartingNumber = 1
.NumberStyle = wdNoteNumberStyleArabic
End With
.Footnotes.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Reference:=""
End With
COLUMN BREAK: When typing on a page formatted in two or more columns, to insert a hard column break at the insertion point:
Macro Name: ColumnBreak
Hot Key: alt-/
Selection.InsertBreak Type:=wdColumnBreak
EXTREME EMPHASIS: To convert selected text into all caps, bold type, and word-only underline:
Macro Name: BoldCapUnderline
Hot Key: alt+;
Selection.Font.Bold = wdToggle
If Selection.Font.Underline = wdUnderlineWords Then
Selection.Font.Underline = wdUnderlineNone
Selection.Font.Underline = wdUnderlineWords
End If
Selection.Font.AllCaps = wdToggle
LIGHT YELLOW SHADING: To create a "yellow highlighting" effect over the selected text, one that leaves the text looking very readable when printed on a color laserjet:
Macro Name: YellowShading
Hot Key: alt+1
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = wdColorLightYellow
LIGHT GREEN SHADING: Ditto, only with a green highlighting effect:
MacroName: GreenShading
Hot Key: alt+2
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = wdColorLightGreen
LIGHT BLUE SHADING: Ditto, only with a blue highlighting effect (which, I find, is easier to see on paper than on the monitor):
MacroName: BlueShading
Hot Key: alt+3
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = wdColorLightTurquoise
ORANGE SHADING: Ditto, only rather like an orange highlighter:
MacroName: OrangeShading
Hot Key: alt+4
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = wdColorTan
PINK SHADING: Ditto, only with pink highlighting:
Macro Name: PinkShading
Hot Key: alt+5
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = 16764159
PURPLE SHADING: Ditto, only with purple highlighting:
Macro Name: PurpleShading
Hot Key: alt+6
Selection.Shading.Texture = wdTextureNone
Selection.Shading.ForegroundPatternColor = wdColorAutomatic
Selection.Shading.BackgroundPatternColor = 16764108
NOTE: I'm sure these "shading" macros can be tweaked to suit the color calibration of your monitor and/or printer. I recorded them so that I could "flag" paragraphs of research material for up to 6 different topics of interest.

RED BOLD: To change a selection from regular type to bold, red type:
Macro Name: RedBold
Hot Key: alt+7
Selection.Font.Bold = wdToggle
With Selection.Font
.Name = "Times"
.Size = 12
.Bold = True
.Italic = False
.Underline = wdUnderlineNone
.UnderlineColor = wdColorAutomatic
.StrikeThrough = False
.DoubleStrikeThrough = False
.Outline = False
.Emboss = False
.Shadow = False
.Hidden = False
.SmallCaps = False
.AllCaps = False
.Color = wdColorRed
.Engrave = False
.Superscript = False
.Subscript = False
.Spacing = 0
.Scaling = 100
.Position = 0
.Kerning = 0
.Animation = wdAnimationNone
End With
GREEN BOLD: To achieve the same effect, only with green type:
Macro Name: GreenBold
Hot Key: alt+8
Code: The same except, where RedBold says "wdColorRed," change it to "wdColorGreen."

BLUE BOLD: Ditto, only with blue type:
Macro Name: BlueBold
Hot Key: alt+9
Code: The same as RedBold, only replace "wdColorRed" with "wdColorBlue."

PINK BOLD: Ditto, only with pink type:
Macro Name: PinkBold
Hot Key: alt+0
Code: The same as RedBold, only replace "wdColorRed" with "wdColorPink"

NOTE: These colored types can be handy, for example, when you have to edit copy & you want to draw attention to text you recommend deleting, to your suggested rewrite, to new material you would like to see added, or to wordings proposed by different editors, translators, etc.

Two more shortcuts have proven very handy to me. I work in a variety of applications, some of which have one sort of keyboard shortcuts for an em-dash or an en-dash, and some another. As I move between these programs, I find it most difficult to keep in mind which shortcut I have to use; in some cases, guessing incorrectly leads to disaster. So, I've created my own customization. I recommend that you do too.

EM and EN DASH: From the "Insert" menu, choose "Symbol," scroll through the character map of your default font until you find the em dash (and likewise for the en dash). Once that character is selected, click "Shortcut Key," then assign alt+m for the em dash, and alt+n for the en dash, then click "Close" and "Cancel." Then it's just a matter of remembering how to use them. Use the em dash instead of two hyphens to indicate a break in a sentence; use the en dash instead of a hyphen to indicate a range of dates, page numbers, etc.

NUMBERING: From the "Tools" menu, choose "Customize," then "Keyboards," then under Categories select "Format," and under Commands select "FormatNumberDefault." Under Press New Shortcut Key, press alt+l (lowercase L), then click "Close" twice. This will insert a numbered list without requiring you to hunt through the menus for it.

These are only some of the macros that have saved me tons of keystrokes and mouse-clicks in the last five or six years. May they come in handy for you!

P.S.: Upon request, I can also give you some handy tips on how to transfer macros, autotext, etc. from your normal template to another user's ditto. This can come in especially handy in a shared-folder type of workspace, where different workers are doing similar things and need access to the same shortcuts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ramage 12-14

Ramage and the Renegades
by Dudley Pope
Recommended Ages: 14+

In Number 12 of the Lord Ramage Novels, it is the Year of our Lord 1802. Peace has broken out between revolutionary France and the United Kingdom—what proved to be only one year of peace in the middle of 22 years of warfare. For many in Britain's Royal Navy, peace was more dangerous than war. Ships no longer needed to blockade French ports or to protect merchant shipping were paid off, their crews put ashore, their officers consigned to half-pay. Meanwhile, those outside Addington's government fear that Britain, by giving up too much to the French in the Treaty of Amiens, may have "won the war and lost the peace"—or, even worse, that peace may be merely a chance for Napoleon to refill his supplies and arms for yet more war.

The duplicity of Napoleon worries Captain Lord Nicholas Ramage on a more personal level. Though the heat of his passion for the Marchesa of Volterra has cooled to something like the love between brother and sister, and though noblesse oblige rules out the possibility of marriage between the heir to a Protestant earldom and the ruler of a Catholic state, Nicholas worries about Gianna. He worries that the deceptive nature of the peace, together with the unclear status of Volterra, may make this new freedom to travel on the Continent a trap for Gianna. In spite of his best efforts to convince her otherwise, Gianna insists on traveling home to Volterra. And before Ramage can learn what will become of her, he is ordered away by the Admiralty on a peacetime mission that may give Britain an advantage in the next war.

His Majesty's Frigate Calypso, still manned by the best officers and crew in the fleet, sets sail this time for the Ilha da Trinidade, a tiny unpopulated rock in the South Atlantic, six hundred miles off the coast of Brazil. By some stroke of luck, this potential base for watering and victualling ships was left out of the Treaty, so its status is unclear. Lord St. Vincent wants Ramage to claim it for Britain, and sends him with a team of surveyors, masons, a landscape painter, and a botanist to map the island, to build fortifications, to plant potatoes, and to take soundings of the surrounding waters.

This seems a very straightforward mission. But it turns out to be filled with exciting incident. First there is the drunken fraud of a ship's chaplain, who threatens to destroy the morale of the crew before he is exposed. Then there is an encounter with a dangerously mad frigate captain, the first of at least three such cases in successive books, illustrating a sticking point in Britain's Articles of War in that there is virtually no way to remove a captain from command. And finally, in a harbor on Ilha da Trinidade, the Calypsos find a privateer with a string of prizes taken (allegedly) before the news of peace reached them. Which side of the fine line between privateering and piracy they stand on, becomes clear when they hold off the Calypsos by threatening to kill the passengers of the captured merchantmen. The resulting tense standoff, like a hostage crisis with boats, culminates with a swashbuckling rescue, complete with a gravely wounded Ramage swooning in the arms of the newfound love of his life.

Mystery, romance, suspense, action, exotic (but real) scenery, and a foreshadowing of dramatic developments to come, make this an essential installment in a highly entertaining series of naval yarns. Though the characters speak in a modern idiom and behave according to present-day mores, the anachronism is perhaps forgivable because it brings the ideal age of naval conflict—even in an interval of official peace—so vividly and effortlessly into the mental world of today's reader. The romance between Nicholas and Sarah is of a tastefully mature order. The discussion of noblesse oblige reveals an insight into a world of motivations understood today by few who have been weaned on the ideals of the age of revolution. And if that isn't enough to make you want to read this book, the promise of a little commando warfare (in more than one sense of "commando") and a some spectacular explosions ought to do the trick.

Ramage's Devil
by Dudley Pope
Recommended Ages: 14+

1803. After a year of peace, war is on again between France and Britain. The sudden renewal of hostilities catches Royal Navy Capt. Nicholas Ramage and his bride Sarah in the middle of their honeymoon in France, guests of a nobleman who, just as suddenly, is arrested and sentenced to be transported to the notorious penal colony of Devil's Island. And a certain upstart First Consul, soon to become Emperor Napoleon I, demonstrates his barbarism by ordering the arrest of all British subjects caught on French soil—including civilians, and even women—in a radical break with the hitherto conventions of civilized warfare.

The 13th Lord Ramage Novel thus begins with Nicholas and Sarah's white-knuckle escape from certain imprisonment for the duration of the war, if not worse. Aided and abetted by four Frenchmen who can't abide Bonaparte, the Ramages recapture the British brig Murex, which a mutinous crew had surrendered to the French, and with the aid of the loyal officers and crew left on board as prisoners, sail her out under the shore-batteries of Brest. This leads to an encounter with the British fleet just arrived to blockade Brest, and then in turn to a reunion with Ramage's beloved frigate Calypso and all its officers and crew, who had been recommissioned in a hurry under a captain who proves to be so mad with drink that he has to be removed from command (the second of at least three similar storylines in successive books of the series). By a perhaps ludicrously improbable series of events, Ramage finds himself once again in command of Calypso, reunited with Aiken, Southwick, Orsini, and the rest, and sent to the insalubrious coast of French Guiana to rescue his French Royalist friend, and other political prisoners, from an evil fate on the aptly named Île du Diable.

I've already given away enough of this book's points of interest, if not too many. Let it suffice to say that to love the Lord Ramage series is to love this book, combining an attractive set of characters, modeled on present-day dramatic ideals, with daring naval exploits realistically depicted according to the maritime practices of the period—and what a fascinating period!

One might squirm a bit at author Pope's over-reliance on the literary device of turning an interesting excursus into some facet of naval life, such as the habits of the tropical boatswain bird or the precise definition of "point-blank range," into an instance of a character lapsing into daydreaming. This does become a repetitive pattern, and the characters' motivation for such bouts of woolgathering seems at times improbable if not bizarre; but with the right sense of humor you can read these in the spirit, I think, that Pope intended: as a consciously unreal, but entertaining, way of drawing the reader into a more fully real, highly colored, three-dimensional world in which wind and waves, honor and courage, and a bit of luck could change the course of history.

Ramage's Trial
by Dudley Pope
Recommended Ages: 14+

In Book 14 of the Lord Ramage series, the captain of His Majesty's Frigate Calypso has just brought a pair of French frigates into Barbados, among the first naval prizes of the new war against Napoleon, when he is dealt the first of a series of shrewd blows. His newlywed wife Sarah has disappeared, together with the brig Murex that was supposed to carry her home from the blockade of Brest. And just when Capt. Nicholas Ramage is on fire to get home, the port admiral puts him in charge of a large merchant convoy.

Convoy duty, as one may have learned from previous novels in this series, can be a fussing, frustrating, slow-moving bore. Even the company of an old friend—well-bred and well-heeled merchant Sidney Yorke—cannot entirely alleviate Ramage's agony, especially given that Yorke's beautiful, spirited, and obviously smitten sister Alexis must serve either as a temptation or as a reminder of his beloved wife. And then the British frigate Jason breaks the horizon, and throws everything out of whack.

Jason is commanded by a madman named William Shirley. Shirley cuts a remarkable figure, gliding upon his quarterdeck like a sleepwalker, dressed in a heavy cloak yet, in spite of the tropical climate, not even breaking a sweat. He has some kind of sinister hold over his officers and seamen, preventing them from helping the Calypsos understand why Jason attempted to ram them, then raked them with a broadside, though Shirley now denies that it ever happened. Since the Articles of War make scanty provision—really, none at all—for removing an unfit captain from command, Ramage risks more than just his career when he involves himself in the mystery of the Jason. In fact, as soon as Calypso moors off Plymouth, Ramage is targeted by a court-martial under laws which, if he is convicted, carry a mandatory sentence of death.

The really bad news is that the presiding officer at Ramage's trial is none other than Rear-Admiral Goddard, a man who has carried a political vendetta against Ramage's family since Nicholas was a child. Goddard has already done his utmost to destroy Ramage, and now with the authority to dictate the rules of evidence at Ramage's trial, he really seems to have our protagonist in his power. It is heartbreaking to see the spirit die within Ramage as he faces the virtual inevitability of his conviction, which Goddard has ensured by ruling out of order any defense he can possibly give. But neither Goddard nor Ramage has reckoned on the efficacy of one furious, strong-willed girl, nor on the surprise testimony of the one witness who has nothing to lose.

If you love naval action, or courtroom drama, or stories about virtually insoluble ethical and legal dilemmas, this is book will grip you. It will also inform you about a surprising variety of aspects of 19th century life and the maritime world, bringing that era and way of life all the more vividly before the senses. To be sure, it lacks the subtlety, depth, complexity, beauty of language, and historical realism of Patrick O'Brian's Aubreyiad, but it is part of a splendid entertainment nevertheless. I could damn it with faint praise and say that I have read many equally good books in this genre; but at the same time, I must candidly admit that I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. before a work-day to finish this book, because after a certain point I just couldn't put it down. So you can be sure that I'll be reading Book 15, Ramage's Challenge, as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Cat Who Said Kowabunga

Yesterday, I had just opened the front door of my apartment to start loading laundry into the car for the weekend's laundromat run, when Tyrone the cat--he of the "dart out into the hallway and roll on the upstairs neighbor's welcome mat" game--shot through the opening like a projectile.

As he flew past me, Tyrone gave the feline equivalent of a rebel yell. It was a full-throated, multisyllabic meow that bemused me just long enough to enable him to squeeze past my ineffective guard. I might have successfully fended him off if it hadn't been for that vocalization. Without having any consonants & not so many distinct vowels, his meow really did sound a lot like "Kowabunga!"

Crock Potluck

Church-Cookbook-Style Cocktail Meatballs, as I witnessed them being prepared this morning in anticipation of a potluck dinner:

Buy 3 bottles of Chili Sauce, a 34-ounce tub of Welch's Grape Jelly, and as many bags of home-style frozen meatballs as you reckon will go into a crock-pot. (If given a choice between "Italian-style" and something else, go with something else.) Let the meatballs thaw in the refrigerator, inside the sealed bag. A couple hours before serving, combine the ingredients in a crock pot and gently heat them so that by dinnertime they are bubbling nicely.

For cocktail weenies, I hear, the sauce is a combination of pineapple and apricot preserves and barbecue sauce. Hmmm. Good to know in case you ever have to cater a large group. Which, believe it or not, I have. Though I'll have to tell you what I served another time...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tackiness in Denial

This week's message at the neighborhood ELCA Temple of Lighted-Sign Tackiness:


Sniff. Right. You just go on saying that. Potted is right. But what does this have to do with church? Is botox now a sacrament? Are they doing dye jobs in the baptismal font? Exactly how is this reluctance to go gently into that good night relevant to the Christian message?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting Noticed

I know I've been a little slow with the updates the last several weeks. Being up to my ears with Symphony stuff, Lent and Easter worship, an extra-strenuous work schedule, and an illness I am still getting over, has all taken a lot of the wind out of my sails. Nevertheless, even during this quiet moment in my blog, I've gotten some nice remarks in the mail bag.

First, S. Alini writes:
I’m enjoying your book list on mugglenet.com. Thanks for creating it. Noticed your profile mentions that you write books no one wants to publish. Have you considered self-publishing online? I was in the same boat as you. Only recently took the plunge and uploaded two books to the Kindle. Technology is leveling the field for writers.

Also started following your blog (good title for a blog). Interesting profile on Douglas Reeman. It’s not the kind of profile one is likely to find on book blogs these days.
Dear S: Thanks, I appreciate the tip. I'll give the self-publishing idea some thought. The novels I actually finished are several years old now & I'm not sure I like them any more... But there's always rewriting!

I hope you enjoy the blog. I've been a little tied up just lately, but I expect to be doing a lot more writing soon! RF

Then there's Paige, who recently reaped some bread that I cast on the waters at a fabulous St. Louis city used bookstore:
I had a coupon for Dunaway Books on South Grand in StL and spent the better part of Saturday afternoon browsing. I almost despaired of finding anything worthy my shelf space -- I've no room for additional shelves and that makes me picky -- when high up I found a full set of Edward Eager's magic books, beginning with Half Magic. I own four of them in a boxed set but couldn't remember which titles were included so I bought them all -- a very worthy use of my coupon. I read to children in our local grade school and we are just about to finish Half Magic. I think I may hold a drawing for the extra copy I now own.

Anyway, I found your name and Arizona address stamped in the front of the books. Googled you. Found your BLOG - Good Heavens you are a writer! I tried out a couple of your hymns - Pruning is cool. Not for my congregation, but I like the poetry of it. And the message. May dip into your book reviews, too.

For now -- thanks for a worthy addition to my limited collection. pax et bonum...
Paige: Thanks, glad you looked me up. Obviously I'm not at the Arizona address any more. It really broke my heart to have to shed the Eager books, they've been a cherished part of my collection for so long, but I had a bad tax season this year. If you dig around at Dunaway's you may spot a complete set of Horatio Hornblowers, and other books by CS Forester too, all of which I have reviewed & cherished. I hope they'll go to a good home! Happy reading, RF

Finally, there was this little note from Anu, actually a comment on one of my blog posts: "hi I'd like to use the image you have here on my website. Does it belong to you? Please let me know if its ok." The image in question was a cute photo of a kitten and a puppy cuddling each other. My reply: "No, sorry, I just found that image online & stuck it in there as a decoration. I have no idea who it belongs to."

I repeat this exchange only because there have been several like it. I'm ashamed to say that I don't go to much effort to find out who owns the rights to images I use on my blog. I more or less just ransack the web for decorative images and stick them in willy-nilly. If you happen to spot an image that belongs to you, used on my blog without proper authorization, please alert me & I will remove it with abject apologies.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Douglas Reeman

A Prayer for the Ship
by Douglas Reeman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Written in 1958, a decade before he started the Bolitho series under the pseudonym Alexander Kent, this book was Douglas Reeman's first novel. It is based on the author's personal experiences as an officer in Britain's Light Coastal Forces during World War II. And I think it's a good place to start experiencing the wide variety of naval fiction by this very prolific and popular writer who, more than 50 years later, is still working as I write this.

The opening of this book finds Sub-Lieutenant Clive Royce, sort of a naval reserve officer, as he joins his first ship: MTB 1991. The MTB stands for Motor Torpedo Boat, part of a group of zippy little "tanks on water" which, together with Motor Gun Boats (MGB), cruise the North Sea off the Eastern Coast of England. World War II is on, and German vessels on and under the water are a menace to Allied shipping. The Light Coastal Forces are a key part of Britain's nighttime defense of its shores and harbors. Plus, they often provide an armed escort for supply ships and troop convoys; and, when there's nothing else to do, they patrol the Netherlands and Belgian coast in hopes of catching the other side's E-boats and armored trawlers.

Compared to the age of sail, battles in the modern age of rockets, ordnance, and motorized craft is a swift and inhumanly brutal business. Within minutes of sighting an enemy ship, an MTB's crew could be cut to ribbons by flying bullets and shrapnel, or blown sky-high by a shrewdly aimed torpedo. The boats are fast, communication (by radio) is still faster, but death can come even more swiftly when ammunition penetrates solid steel, whereas there isn't more than a few planks of wood between a petrol-powered engine and a storm of fiery death.

So, Clive learns to keep his eyes well peeled through the long, cold, dark nights. And he rises fast, through the death of one commanding officer in MTB 1991 and his own nearly crippling injury while seconding another. Soon he commands an even larger and more powerful boat and is forced to take even more responsibility, but when nothing is less certain than whether one will live to see Christmas, falling in love may be the most dangerous maneuver he has to make.

I learned a lot while reading this book. I had to, obviously, since I had never before read a book based on 20th century naval warfare. I spent the first third of it, give or take, poking around Wikipedia and other websites for photos and descriptions of types of weapons and ships named in the book, as well as some naval slang I had never heard of. If you have no idea what an Oerlikon is, or a "Hostilities Only" rating, or an A.F.O., this book may be your opportunity to immerse yourself for a little while in a remarkable era gone by--one that wasn't, after all, so long ago.

After reading several other books by Reeman, I have begun to sense that this book is representative of his style in many respects, even though he covers diverse maritime subjects ranging from pre-Napoleonic ships of war to modern battleships with diesel engines, machine guns, and radios. For one thing, he has a strong inclination toward romance, frequently weaving into his adventure a love story (whether it ends happily or not), which may help his books attract more female readers than other authors in the genre. For another example, Reeman's books reveal a recurring type of psychological conflict within the main character, simultaneously serving his country with honor and courage while also loathing and dreading the carnage and wastefulness of warfare. Even in his more historically oriented fiction, the inner voice of Reeman's heroes reflects a present-day sort of humanity, making the heroics of previous generations all the more impressive.

For another early Reeman novel based on his own WWII naval experience, look for High Water (1959). I certainly will. For a list of Douglas Reeman titles in publication order, with cover images and plot summaries, see this page of the author's website. A quick scan of these summaries indicates that, while the greater number of Reeman's non-"Alexander Kent" novels are set during World War II, he covers a whole range of action from 1850, in the early days of the steam era, to as recently as 1970. You can take the sails out of the wind but, apparently, you can't take the wind out of the sails of this fine author, or of the Royal Navy and Marines whose bravery he honors.

Badge of Glory
by Douglas Reeman
Recommended Ages: 14+

This book is the first of five books in the "Royal Marines Saga," a.k.a. the "Blackwood Novels," by a still-active master of naval fiction whose career has spanned over 50 years. I understand that the novels depict succeeding generations of a family whose men were officers in Britain's "sea soldier" service. If you've been reading the type of naval fiction I have (the Hornblower, Aubrey, and Ramage series, all set between about 1770 and 1820) you'll already be familiar with this red-coated band whose quarters, even on board ship, are called "barracks," who live separate lives from the sailors, and whose officers have a separate chain of command from that of the Navy.

These are the bluff figures who, most of the time, seem to be on board mainly for ceremonial purposes, a little sentry duty, and firing muskets out of the main top. Now and then they distinguish themselves in an on-shore expedition, where they are really in their element, or when battle spills over the sides of the ship and onto the enemy's decks. But when the story is mostly about the captain of the ship, how he handles his vessel and commands the men under him, you can sometimes pass several chapters together (if not a whole book) without even noticing the Marines are there. This series is different, and it begins with a young Marine Captain named Philip Blackwood, around 1850.

Blackwood is a third-generation Marine officer, following the footsteps of his father and grandfather in the tradition of a family that had previously been noted for its army service. When we meet him, he already has a good deal of field experience, including a terrible battle with the Maori of New Zealand in which too many comrades, including his commanding officer, were killed--thanks, in part, to the recklessness of one Admiral Sir James Ashley-Chute. Now Blackwood finds himself, once again, serving on Ashley-Chute's flagship, this time in command of the ship's Marines, as well as his own half-brother, Second Lieutenant Harry Blackwood.

The date is in the 1850s, sometime after the fall of Napoleon. A new power is rising—steam power. On land, at least in England, one can travel by train instead of horse and carriage. By sea, paddle-wheels and (later) underwater screws provide the power to maneuver quickly, regardless of the wind. Being a new technology, steam isn't accepted by everyone. One of the last to recognize its potential is Ashley-Chute, while Blackwood himself longs for a change from the slow-paced world of ships under sail. Steam power has its weaknesses. It requires a constantly replenished supply of coal. It produces scandalous amounts of soot and dust, to say nothing of the oven-like heat of the engine room. It breaks down at the drop of a hat, and even when it's working (at least in the paddle-boat stage) it makes for a sickening ride over the tops of the heaving seas, whereas wind power pushes a ship straight through them.

But speed is on their side when Blackwood commands a Marine force in a mission to rescue the survivors of an African trade outpost who have been besieged by black natives and Portuguese slave-traders, who have their own sinister interests to protect. Blackwood takes his first serious injury here, even while leading his pitifully outnumbered Marines to victory. Returning to duty as quickly as he can, he is soon put in even greater peril. First he must rescue the woman he loves from the hands of brutal slavers; then, without a moment to rest, he must snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a battle botched by a cowardly superior officer who, naturally, takes all the credit while Blackwood slowly recovers from an even worse injury.

But that's only the appetizer for a dramatic adventure that combines the anguish of hopeless love, anxiety over his father's illness, his stepmother's infidelity, and his brother's sexcapades (adult content advisory!!), before rising to a climax in the trenches of the Crimean War. Which, I bet you didn't know (unless you're British), was a war between Russia and Turkey over part of what is now Ukraine, in which the British fought on the Turkish side. Whether you've heard of it or not—I mean, really! Florcence Nightingale? Charge of the Light Brigade? Balaclava? Sebastopol??—you'll find it offers amazing opportunities for a Marine officer, from a nearly disastrous naval engagement in the Black Sea port of Varna to a (then) new type of battleground where troops dig in, instead of marching towards the other side, and lob artillery shells at each other.

It's about the world of warfare in the midst of turblent changes, driven by technological improvements such as rifled gun-barrels, grenades, and ships that could switch from wind power to steam in the time it takes to read this paragraph. The conditions that made World War I the bloodbath that it was, were already starting to take shape. At the same time, the role of the Royal Marines was changing, even as Philip Blackwood's place in the service and in the civilian world was changing. All this makes this book a fascinating snapshot of a dynamic moment in military history, as well as an appropriate launch-slip for a series celebrating the original Marine Corps and its ever-evolving way of life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why the Liturgy?

A little while ago, I had a dream in which I received an unexpected answer to the question, "Why do we observe the church year?" The answer, which I heard come out of my own mouth just as I woke up, was: "It is not our time; it is God's time. We do not give it to Him; He gives it to us."

A sense of the strangeness, yet aptness, of this answer still lingers in my mind. Consciously, I would have come up with a number of other answers to the question, "Why do we use the liturgy?" (Specifically, the traditional Lutheran liturgy, substantially as passed down from Catholic Christianity before the Reformation. More generally, this includes the Church Year and its cycle of Scripture readings.) Those words from my dream would answer this question just as well. Still, I have been spurred by conversation with other bright lights in the Lutheran Church to give additional answers that also suit the question, "Why use the liturgy?"
  1. The liturgy, by its repetitive nature, is an aid to memory: a teaching tool. The more repetitive it is, the better it serves this function. So, in my opinion, a one-year lectionary is more useful than a three-year lectionary. The more deeply its contents are ingrained in our hearts, the more it can provide us comfort in times of trouble, answers when our faith is questioned, and confidence in the face of death.
  2. The liturgy is the shape of our faith: a confession, a kind of creed. It is easy to say that the church believes and teaches according to the Bible. What can be much harder is to pin down exactly what that belief and teaching is. Groups claiming to believe what the Bible says have taught all kinds of things. What we believe and confess takes particular shape in the way we worship. What we mean by "what the Bible teaches" becomes evident in our liturgy.
  3. The liturgy proclaims the whole counsel of God. It protects us from our own itching ears, as well as our preacher's pet ideas, provided that (again) we use the lectionary as the basis for our proclamation. In particular, the liturgy proclaims Law and Gospel. It ensures that we invariably hear a call to repentance. It is also, however, filled with the healing power of God's forgiveness.
  4. The liturgy is a setting for the jewels of Baptism, Lord's Supper, and Absolution. The words and actions of the liturgy show what regard we have for the Sacraments, and what we believe about them. The liturgy instructs us in how to think about these means of grace, how to prepare ourselves to use them, what benefits to expect from them, and who is acting in them. The liturgy convinces us that the Sacraments are the Gospel, giving us forgiveness and faith.
  5. The liturgy is saturated with the Word of God. It is made not of the word of men, but of God's Word. Nearly every phrase of the liturgy comes directly from Scripture. Its primary focus is on the reading and teaching of the Word, which is living and powerful, nourishing and life-giving, and which armors us against the power of Satan and the poison of sin. We do not know for certain whether any strategy or program devised by men will succeed; but we believe that God's Word (and Sacraments) will go to work and do what He promises, according to His gracious will.
  6. The liturgy is a mark of distinction. It sets aside the worship hour, the worship place, and the worshipers as holy time, holy space, and holy people, devoted to the Lord alone. It separates us from those who believe and teach otherwise. At the same time, it unites us with those around the world, and across the ages, who teach and believe as we do. It makes our faithfulness to the Word of Christ evident to anyone who cares to know where such a community of faith can be found.
  7. The liturgy glorifies the one true God. It directs our prayers and praises to the God revealed in Christ: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It honors Christ, specifically as He has been revealed on the cross. It directs our hearts, ears, minds, and lips toward the present Christ, placing our trust in His promises as to where He is to be found. And since it takes, by and large, from His Word the words that we say back to Him in worship and prayer, the liturgy gives us a firm basis for our confidence that God is pleased to receive it.
  8. The liturgy does evangelism and mission work. Don't be fooled. Missionaries have been visiting some countries for decades, almost a century even, while nothing like a church has taken root. A week, a month, a year after the last missionary has been recalled from a given field, and the sands will close without a mark over the church where they have been leading Bible studies, or teaching English as a second language, or giving malaria shots, or what have you, for howsoever many years. But let the local leaders begin to preach, baptize, absolve, and commune—especially when they can train and ordain their own pastors—and there will be a church. When you can visit a country you have scarcely heard of and find a congregation singing hymns you recognize, and using a worship form you can follow by heart even though you don't understand the language, then you too will bear witness that wherever the liturgy spreads, so spreads the church.
  9. The liturgy is a demon repellent. It is difficult for one who is fully occupied in the liturgy to entertain evil in his heart. Not that it's impossible; Martin Luther himself could not say an Our Father straight through without noticing that his mind was wandering, even into impure thoughts. Nor does the performing of the liturgy make us holy or righteous as such. But since it is God's Word (which combats sin and the devil), and especially insofar as it is set to music (which also, according to Scripture, drives away foul spirits), we can enjoy in the liturgy a certain shelter, even if only for a short time, against the daily darts of the devil.
And of course, by way of bringing these theses to a nice, round, Reformational number, I will go back to the words of my dream and anoint them as Thesis 9.5: We use the liturgy, after all, not because we created it, or because we chose it, or because it pleases us, but because it is a blessing freely given to us by God. He does not call us to be equals with Himself, or as individuals into a one-on-one relationship with Him, but as subjects—all together in one body—of His Kingdom, Dominion, and Headship. It is not for us to fashion our own "style" or "mode" of interfacing with God. Rather, we receive together the form of worship that has been passed down to us, and we pass it on in turn, as the manner in which we have been called to meet Him as members of one body, whose Head is Christ.

NOTE: The images are from LCMS churches in Fort Wayne, Ind., that I have visited and admired. From the top: Zion, St. Paul, and Redeemer; I think the statues of the Apostles are also from St. Paul's. And yes, I know that I have done a "Why liturgy?" post before. At that time, Thesis #1 (Liturgy is an aid to memory) was all I had to say about it.