30 August 2007

Book Review: Angels & Demons

About a year ago, my mom gave me a book on CD: Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. Because my drive to work is so short, I failed to begin listening until the long drive back from Norman's wedding. It was a long drive--from 4 p.m. to 11:30--just long enough to get me completely hooked.

Like the rest of humanity, I read The Da Vinci Code, finding it a first-class thriller. I held back from A&D primarily because I'm not a big reader of thrillers. I can probably count on one hand the number of thrillers I've read in my life--my all-time favorite being Ken Follet's Die Nadel.

To be honest, I enjoyed A&D a little more than DVC. Yes, it has religion at its core: a plot by the secret group, The Illuminati, to destroy the Vatican with a superweapon. It isn't as enthusiastically heterodoxical as DVC, however. I felt Brown did a pretty good job of balancing believers with skeptics--even as he was killing off a pope, four cardinals and bringing St. Peter's Cathedral to the edge of destruction.

What I loved about the book was the tour of Rome he provides the reader. The art of Bernini, the Piazza Nuovono, the Pantheon, and the Sistine Chapel provide settings in the book. I thought the clues that Robert Langon (also the hero of DVC) had to decipher were a little more clever than those he solved in DVC as he raced from Paris to London to Scotland. The love story--this time involving a beautiful Italian nuclear physicist--is better told than the awkward relationship with Sophie in DVC.

Best of all, though, has to be Brown's pacing. Just when I was about to get to a key point, the reader would break and then say, "Chapter 34." One of the problems with listening to thrillers on tape instead of reading them is that you can't scan ahead. You have to wait!!!

All told, I give the book four of five stars. If you're interested in listening. I have the CDs here!

19 August 2007

Of Ghosts and Grandfathers

Taylor and Brandon are my neighbors, ages 10 and 11. They spent most of the past summer here at my house, playing with Owen and Jonah, and doing the kinds of 'boy things' (good and bad) that make summers memorable.

Yesterday they helped us to celebrate Jonah's 4th birthday. Jo-Jo had gotten lots of cool birthday presents, and they lost track of time. By the time they were ready to go home, it was dark outside.

"Can you walk us back home or drive your car?" Taylor asked. I tried to ignore him. They live two doors down from me, and while you have to go a ways in the dark, it isn't that far--or that spooky.

"Just follow the driveway," I said. "You'll go straight there."

They disappeared for a moment. Then they returned, asking with more urgency, "Can you walk us home?"

Just then Tascha pulled into the driveway, delivering her niece, Tristan, for a sleepover Ellie was having. Brandon was on a bike. "Just follow the car up the driveway. Once you hit the street, you're almost home."

A few minutes later, they were back. Taylor was gasping for breath. He was scared to death. "We lost the car," he huffed. "We need you to take us home."

I finally gave in. God gave me a mission this summer--a mission for the kids in my own neighborhood. I have been challenged daily of the sheer inconvenience of caring for kids who aren't mine, picking up after them, and overlooking silly little things. I walked out the door and headed up the driveway.

As a Dittes, I am programmed to do one specific thing every time I go out my front door at night: I look up at the stars. My grandpa used to do this when it was his house. He would walk us out as we left, and he would look up and point out a constellation. I find that it is a reflex now: go out, look up; walk down the sidewalk, look up. I don't think there has been a single time in 36 years of walking out that door that I haven't looked up!

As we walked down the driveway, I told them about Grandpa. "I love to walk out here in the dark," I said as we walked up the hill. "My Grandpa used to walk out here with me and tell me stories about the stars."

"Can I tell you why I'm scared?" Taylor asked.


One night both Brandon and Taylor had been awakened by their grandfather. He had shaken them in their beds, trying to get their attention. When they told their mother about the incident the next morning, she reminded them that he had been dead for almost three months.

They had seen a ghost--they insisted on this fact. Both had been awakened that night at the same time. They said their mother had consulted a fortune-teller who had told them not to worry: the ghost had been looking for mother, not them. (I don't think it had worked. They were still worried, obviously.)

I dropped them off at home. They thanked me several times.

But as I walked home through the gloomy pines on my way back home, I couldn't stop thinking about ghosts. It was quiet. The white gravel glowed in the starlight.

I thought about how much I missed Grandpa--how nice it would be to see him again and share one more walk under the stars. For a moment, I let myself wish that I might see his ghost--but I couldn't figure out if he would look like the robust doctor of my childhood or the hobbling old man of the years before he died last March 13.

There are a number of reasons why I don't believe in ghosts--and that imagination thing has to be one of them.

As I passed through the tall pines, gliding across the glowing gravel drive, I looked up at the stars. I remember how Grandpa would recite the number of light years for each of them. "The light you're seeing was created 30,000 years ago," he would say. "It is just reaching us tonight. That star could go out, and we wouldn't know it for another 30,000 years."

Grandpa's ghost is gone. Every physical and substantial part of him is buried, awaiting resurrection.

His spirit lives on, however, just like the light of the stars. It will burn--in me, my children, and my grandchildren--for many years more before anyone will be able to notice that it had burnt out long ago.

16 August 2007

Dangerous Toys

We were watching the Nightly News the other night and learned about the Mattel/China toy recall.

Checking on Mattel's web site, it turned out we had one of the dangerous toys: a lead-paint-spattered "Sarge" character toy from Jo-Jo's favorite movie, Cars.

I logged on and entered some information. They have sent me a mailing label to print out and sent with the package. They will also send me a $7 gift certificate.

The scary thing is that Jo-Jo's birthday is this Saturday (the 18th). I had already bought him three more Cars toys and a race track (all made in China, of course). Who knows if those toys are the next ones to be recalled (there have been three recalls of Chinese-made toys in the last two months)?

I honestly try to look at labels when I buy toys. It's to the point now, where it's almost impossible to find things NOT manufactured in China. What's a dad to do?

14 August 2007

Cousins in Chicago

Owen, Jonah and I have one thing in common: we love our cousins.

My cousin Norman's wedding (see below) was an opportunity for me to get back together with family, including my cousin, Donnie. When Owen & Jonah heard that my sister would be there with her kids, they signed up immediately. Ellie & Jenny stayed home.

I left early Saturday morning (5:15) and drove straight to Chicago. I desperately wanted to show the boys the Field Museum and take in the natural history and dinosaur exhibits there. The trip took us a total of seven hours, giving us 2 1/2 hours to explore. It was so much fun: we viewed artifacts of Ancient Egypt, all the stuffed and posed animals (including passenger pigeons, which I had never seen before). The museum staff practically had to drag us away from there.

The highlight came that night when we saw my nephews, Jacob and Joshie. Jo-Jo and Joshie's birthdays are just a few weeks away, so we had a birthday party with lots of gifts. The boys swam in the hotel pool and later played in our hotel room until midnight. It was a party!!

We stayed in South Bend, Indiana. The next day we drove up to Berrien Springs, Michigan, to see my cousin Norman get married. We got back home near midnight Sunday--the night before the first day of school! (Yes, it may have seemed foolish, but there are three men in my family who think it was worthwhile, just for the chance to hang out with cousins that we love!)

Of course, I was very happy to see my own cousin, Donnie. He lives just three hours away, but we only get to see each other every other year or so, so it's always good to see him. I'll include a picture of him and my sister as well.

Honoring an Awesome Cousin--an Awesome Man/Husband

It's been way too long since I've posted on this blog. I hope I still have readers. I'm back from my cousin Norman McNulty's wedding at Andrews University in Michigan. I need to post at least one picture of the handsome groom, and his lovely bride, Joelle.

Norman is six years younger than me (I was thirteen years ahead of him in the marriage department). He's the first of my cousins that I can honestly remember growing up from cradle onward.

Norman & I bonded when he was in kindergarten and elementary school. My cousins and I loved sports, and Norman and I were always on the same team, whether it be football, baseball (in Grandma's garden), or basketball. I, the oldest, and Norman, the youngest of the first four boys, played against Donnie and Stephen.

It would take a book to relate all the Norman Stories of those years. He didn't act like the littlest. He was hyper-competitive. He cared more about winning than the rest of us, and he ended up hitting his first home run over Grandma's ivy-covered wall at the age of six. Like me, he loved Pete Rose--although he later abandoned the Reds for the Chicago Cubs. This, I believe, was the beginning of Norman's long fall from grace--into a top academy and college student, a passionate and well-spoken Christian leader, and, sadly, an MD. (He is currently in residency for neurology.)

Norm, if you'd stayed a Reds fan, you could have been somebody!

Last weekend, Norman married the love of his life, the former Joelle Darmsteegt. What can I say about Joelle? She's beautiful, thoughtful, and she has made my beloved cousin tremendously happy. Other than that.... There is no other than that at this point. I am really happy for them both.

Congratulations, Norman & Joelle!!