Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer in Texas: Part III

Landon was out shooting nature when a storm began forming in the distance.
(above) A cumulonimbus cloud takes on an anvil shape, the sign of a thunderstorm.

(above) The clouds expanding over Texas skies.

(above) A sunflower in the storm's glow.

(above and below)
The anvil has taken on more definition now and clearly points the storm's direction .
Birds taking flight before the storm.

The storm clouds expand even more and take on fiery colors (reflections of the afternoon sun).

(above) The downdraft with rain is now visible behind the cumulonimbus layers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summer in Texas: Part II

The following photos were shot by Landon at a local bird sanctuary.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Summer in Texas: Part I

My brother, Landon, is a very skilled nature photographer. I will be posting some of his pictures from this summer all week so that you can admire his work as much as I do. :-)

A Texas Hummingbird
(or, a hummingbird in Texas):

Monday, August 18, 2008

Knitting and Literacy

A library in Canada kicks out a girls' knitting group in order to become more "literacy focused". However, they have a new plan in place to attract younger crowds: video game nights. Huh?! Knitting is a constructive, mental process which challenges the brain with learning to read patterns and charts in multiple languages, doing math calculations, and problem solving to achieve a result. Gaming is pointless entertainment, not a promotion of literacy. This simply does not make sense...

But, as a knitter and avid reader, what do I know about it? :-)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ashley's Birthday

Yesterday we celebrated Ashley's birthday. It was my turn to decorate for the birthday girl and I had a little help from Lexi:
My mom found the roses, which matched the color scheme perfectly. I based it on some napkins I found at Target with a modern butterfly print on them. Unfortunately, I did not have a lot of time to decorate, so this had to suffice.

Ashley opens her gifts.
Lexi had picked out the candles for the cake. We were a little surprised when Ashley couldn't blow them out...
...though she tried very hard, this was as far as she could get:
We all had a good laugh when we realized that Lexi had bought sparkling trick candles!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Health and Weight

Doug Wilson blogs about weight and the feminie ideal:
When a girl who is hovering on the edge of "skeletal" sincerely believes in her heart that she is "fat," the problem is obviously one of a dominating paradigm of self-deception. And when this happens, such a person usually attracts the concerned attention of others, but only because (and this is my point) she took the problem too far. A lot of people have a milder version of the same problem, and no one is concerned at all.
Read the rest here.

Also, new studies show that being fat doesn't necessarily mean you're unhealthy and that being thin doesn't necessarily mean you are healthy:
You can look great in a swimsuit and still be a heart attack waiting to happen. And you can also be overweight and otherwise healthy. A new study suggests that a surprising number of overweight people — about half — have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of the ills associated with obesity.

The first national estimate of its kind bolsters the argument that you can be hefty but still healthy, or at least healthier than has been believed.


Yay for someone finally pointing out the obvious: bad food and a bad lifestyle are bad for you, whether you're fat or thin. It always seemed illogical to me that it is seemingly okay for thin people to eat greasy, sodium loaded, chemically altered fast food but it isn't okay for fat people, just because they actually gain weight on it. It just seems logical to assume that what is bad for one person would be bad for everyone, and being thin can't save you from the very unhealthy foods that we consume daily in America. I have an aunt who consumes fast food regularly and secretly gorges on oreos concealed in her room, and just because she is thin she thinks she's okay and healthy. Don't you think that while the excess sugar and fat may not make her gain weight, it is still an unhealthy lifestyle? America seriously needs to get over the weight prejudices/judgments that exist in every conversation about health and turn the focus onto good food/bad food and healthy lifestyles. And please, let's just not discuss weight at this point because it obviously has nothing to do with making a judgment call about health.
Thank you. :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mystery Revealed

Mysterious box.
Very carefully, open the lid:
I cannot believe what's inside!
Macaroons! Delicious, yummy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate macaroons:
Ashley spent all of my birthday making these as a surprise for me. She used this recipe and they turned out perfect.
There is a story to this gift, as you might imagine. When Ashley and I were visiting family in France two years ago, we went a little crazy at the patisseries. Once we had tasted the delicious French desserts we had to return to a patisserie every day for more. We had tarte citron (lemon tart), pain aux chocolat, pain aux amandes et chocolat (chocolate bread and chocolate almond bread, respectively; aka croissants), gateau basque (Basque cake) and... Macaroons. Delicious macaroons that came in more flavors than you can imagine. On my first patisserie visit I thought the macaroons would be like the ones I had tasted here, and of course I was uninterested - until I saw them, then tasted them, then got hooked on them.

When we returned home, Ashley and I began our hunt for French macaroons. All the bakery websites in our area promised authentic French macaroons. We would try one and instantly be disappointed. We didn't give up however, and occasionally I would get a phone call from Ashley that would go like this: "Shelbi! I found a French bakery and they have macaroons! I'm buying a couple - I'll let you know..." Then, a few minutes later, a text message: "never mind, they were horrible!"

We finally gave up. It seemed so ludicrous that the bakeries that promised authentic French food from owners/chefs who had supposedly visited/studied/lived in France turned out to be as American as other bakeries. How could you have visited France and tasted the food and then turn out something that didn't even resemble the French equivalent?! Even the patisserie chains in France have superior macaroons, which look like this:
See the difference?
Not hard, ultra sweet American cookies. These were melt-in-your-mouth, bittersweet delicacies.

So, for my birthday, Ashley found a recipe and decided to try her hand at making macaroons. You will notice that the recipe calls for almonds, which have to be blanched then ground into powder. This is one secret to French desserts that American bakeries fail to note: the French almost always use almond powder or flavoring in their pastries. Everything has a slight almond taste, from the tarts to the croissants. It is so much better than our use of vanilla extract, which makes our desserts very sweet tasting. Almond flavoring counteracts the chocolate and sugar in French recipes, offering a sweet but flavorful dish. Go ahead, give the recipe a try. Have a French tea. Dress appropriately (French women are femininely dressed: always skirts, loose slacks/pants or dresses, even for grocery shopping or visits to the park!), practice your best manners (the French excel at this! For instance, the first thing my cousin schooled us on was to always greet and always take leave of people, even to waiters at the cafes - it is culturally unacceptable and considered very rude to not do both). Decorate with natural botany from your surroundings. Make tea or petite cafe au lait. Relax and fall in love with the French lifestyle, like I did two years ago. :-)

Note: when Ashley and I were mall shopping in France, we would always stop by this patisserie chain for a pastry fix. Paul's offers a guide to French manners on their website, which is hilarious and informative all at once. For instance, take this advice on greetings:
"Greet friends and family with La Bise, a kiss to each cheek, starting with the right, and accompanied by the words “Salut! Ça va?” or similar. Kissing on the lips should be a private activity, as should feeding each other PAUL chocolate or coffee éclairs…"
Or this one:
"Sitting down to Eat: Men take their seats after women. Once everyone is seated, if a woman gets up from the table, it is customary for all the men to get up as well. It is also customary for men to stand up when new guests arrive – unless they are children. Women remain seated. If a woman returns to the table or arrives late, the men must stand and remain standing until she has sat down. And no, it’s not a game of musical chairs. After all that, you will have worked up an appetite for some PAUL bread."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Birthday... rolls around once a year. When I was a child, it felt like an eternity in between birthdays. Now they come faster and faster. Thankfully I have a wonderful surrounding of family and friends who helped me to celebrate another turned year. I'm so thankful for all the comments (and wow, one from Korea! Thanks, Brian!), emails, text messages, and phone messages that I received. I feel so very special! :-)

Here are a few photos Landon took during the day:

My breakfast table, complete with roses.

Delicious breakfast treat of blueberry muffins.
(one of the many perks of still living at home as an adult: your family still goes all out for birthdays!) :)

What's in the box?
'Twill be opened and shared later.

Birthday candles.
And no, I'm not 5... My family just didn't feel like fitting 20 more candles on there. :)

Bendel celebrated too.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Over at the Resurgence Blog...

Mark Driscoll shares some recent conversations with J.I. Packer here and here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

22 Words

This blog site has fast become a favorite with me. The author asks a question or makes a statement in as few words as possible. I love the topics, I love the comments. I really liked this one.

Learning a Language

I love the French language. I loved it before I went to France and then I fell even more in love with it when I was immersed in it. One of my favorite things to do in the village just outside of Bordeaux was to go out in the courtyard in the evening and sit on a lounge-style chair, book in hand, the crisp evening breeze sweeping away the heat of the day, the village church bells tolling the hour, and the soothing chorus of voices from the neighbors and passers-by on the street filling the air as they went about their business in the village. It was one of the most beautiful, harmonious I have ever heard. I never once heard a French person raise their voice. They can say so much more through a look or a slight tonal inflection than through any hard, loud words we Americans love to throw out at the people who make us mad.

Anyway... so I've been (not too diligently) studying French for a couple of years now, but have often wondered if I'm not studying the wrong language. After all, isn't Spanish a more useful, practical language for an American to learn? I know lots of people who claim Spanish as their native tongue. I can't say that in regard to French.

On this website it would seem as though my doubts are correct, as the French language is introduced as such:
French is highly useful for any activities involving travel to France: whatever great minds the French have, they are poor polyglots. If you go to France and want to understand something of the country, speaking French is a must. Speaking a few words will help considerably, but don't expect people to applaude just because you mumbled a heavily accented Bonjour Monsieur. The French can be extremely demanding and even rude, especially in Paris, to people who do not speak French well.

As opposed to the Spanish intro:
If you are looking for a useful language, Spanish will definitely be on your short list. You can speak Spanish in more than 25 countries and with 330 million people who often speak nothing but Spanish. The language is spoken in a very similar way all over the world, and each hour of study you put in will bring you closer to all 25 countries.

The time estimated to learn French is somewhat discouraging when you compare it to the time it would take to learn Spanish.

For French:
If you study an hour every day there is no reason why you should not be able to read a newspaper with a dictionary after a 12 months of study. Speaking and writing simple texts without errors should be reachable after 18 to 24 months.

For Spanish:
If you already speak another Romance language,
6 months of regular one-hour-a-day-sessions or 200 hours should see you fluent in Spanish. This is what it took me and I had absolutely no prior knowledge of the language. Adding advanced vocabulary and getting to speak with great fluency will get easier and easier as you progress. Once you have assimilated the few but important differences between Spanish and the other Romance language you speak, the rest is very similar.

If Spanish is your first foreign language and your mother tongue is not a Romance language, you should be reasonably fluent with 300 hours of study. In my opinion, an hour of serious study every day for a year is more than you need.

That said, I'm still learning French. But I think that studying two languages at once would be a challenging, ultimately rewarding thing to do. French for fun, Spanish for practicality. Let's just hope I don't mix up the pronunciation though... ;-)