Monday, August 31, 2009

Lovely Summer Days

I can't remember ever having an August as comfortable and cool as we have had this year. After weeks of warm (but far from oppressive) 90 degree temperatures, we experienced a warm front with temperatures reaching highs of 100+. Last week a cool front came through and knocked the temperatures down to the 80's daytime, 60's at night. I could almost believe I live in some other state, this is so unlike Texas! On Saturday I took a walk in my local park and noted the flowing creek (usually dry this time of year), the clear blue sky dotted with snow-white clouds, the swooping birds and dainty butterflies that danced in front of me, and the deliciously cool breeze in my face. It was unbelievable for a mid-morning in August. Yesterday, taking advantage of the north winds and sunny skies, I took my book and a cup of green tea out to the backyard hummingbird garden and sat at the garden table. For awhile, all was peaceful (except for occasional shouts from a pool party at a neighbor's house). I was intent on my book when I heard a steady, low chirping. Looking up I saw a hummingbird at the feeder nearby. I watched him above the blooming flowers as he visited again and again, always flying up into a nearby tree before returning for more nectar. Eventually, various birds began to gather at the other feeders and bees began dancing and buzzing around the nearby flowers... and I realized that I was surrounded by nature. I couldn't read anymore for watching all that was taking place in front of me, but I couldn't imagine a better way to spend a Sunday than being in the middle of my Creator's marvelous handiwork.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Quick Observations on Food:

I have so many thoughts I would love to blog on, and for which I especially regret the lack of time to "think aloud" by writing them out. I have had so many questions and thoughts related to topics such as the health care debate, our current economy, our society, politics, etc.,. Theological ponderings I have had lately have been about prayer, God's sovereignty, and so on... Thoughts I do want to share at some point as I (hopefully) find/make time to do so. For now I'll happily point to other blogs/articles/videos that I have enjoyed and found to be useful, and then add my thoughts to them as I can.

First up, this blog post on food by Douglas Wilson. My quick thoughts: I love fresh, home cooked/baked food. It is my preferred meal unless a restaurant somehow manages to do better (which is rare). I love using organic when possible, but must admit that it's expensiveness makes it a luxury I can't often afford. Should I feel guilty then for buying from the corporate owned grocery store down the street what I couldn't buy from Whole Foods Market? I mean, at least I'm buying fruits and vegetables - isn't something better than nothing? You would think so, and yet I know people who are so dogmatic about their organics and their avoidance of corporate-owned stores that they refuse to shop at any place and eat anything that isn't to their personal standard of organic/natural.

My book club met at Starbucks last Saturday evening. The baristas, during a break from the store's busyness, created a tray of bite-sized sandwiches and pastries for us, then brought it over to serve us. I took one (as did my mom and sister), not because I was especially hungry and wanted the bacon and gouda on whole wheat, but because I wanted to show gratitude for their kind effort to serve us. The rest of our group refused the food because it was "corporate" and not from a local source. While I love supporting local businesses (again, when I can), I came away from our meeting with the strongest desire to not be so dogmatic about food that I can never enjoy what is offered to me by someone else who may not hold to my standard of eating. There is so much freedom in being able to see both sides, supporting local business when possible, eating organic when available and affordable, but never feeling guilty if unable to do it and you're forced to shop at (gasp) Target or Wal-Mart. Food is a gift from God, one that we can take pleasure in and enjoy, but it is, like the air we breathe, for our survival more than for our pleasure.

Another quick observation: food refusal often occurs in dieters as well, and I have seen co-workers bake a time-consuming dessert to share at work, only to have 80% of the other co-workers refuse to eat any of it (not even a small, tiny piece) because they were "trying to lose weight". My question: at what point do we become slaves to our food, not so much in consuming, but in not-consuming because of our vanity? Has eating/not eating become a form of idolatry in America? Really, does it ever hurt to just take a piece of something someone has prepared for you and eat it and be thankful for it? (I am not talking to people who would refuse something based on dietary restrictions, i.e,. people with diabetes) Will it make you gain 20 pounds to eat a small piece of cake once when the rest of the time you do a good job of watching what you eat? The same applies to organic foodies: will it really give you cancer to just eat a small piece of something that has preservatives once in a while, especially when it's a rare occurrence for you to do it anyway?

In conclusion: I am not advocating organic vs. non-organic, or corporate vs. local. There is so much to be explored in the food source argument. What I am advocating is a thoughtful approach to food vs. a dogmatic one. Eat organic if you want, buy locally if you want. Eat food with pesticide residue if you want, and shop at the corporate-owned store if that's what you prefer. Be informed but be careful. Please just don't be the kind of person who can't ever enjoy food. Simply eat and be thankful. :)

Summer is Over...

Ah well, I guess summer vacation ended at day 4 as life got very much in the way of more posts. :) It is hard to believe how quickly August has flown by. I return to work this week, so my summer break has officially ended. I have used my break to work on three large projects; one was successfully completed last week, and two more I am still working on. I hope to reveal one of the projects soon...

For now I shall direct your attention to something we are quite proud of:
Landon placed as a semi-finalist in a photography contest by Nature's Best Photography for Students. Way to go little brother!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Vacation: Day 4

Book Four: The English Countryside
Victorian Era

I have a biography of Charlotte Bronte, as well as a collection of letters between the Bronte sisters and their friends. Being a huge fan of the Brontes, I have devoured all I can about their life and how it influenced their writing. I first read Jane Eyre when I was a young teenager. I have since returned to the tale again and again. It is one of few books that I can read and, knowing the story, still have a hard time putting the book down. I remember how surprised I was to learn from biographers that Charlotte Bronte was incurably, ostensibly shy her whole life (as were her sisters, to varying degrees). This simply didn't mesh in my mind as possible for the author of one of the most passionate, enduring (and unlikely) love stories ever written in the English language. How could someone so reserved, with such little life experience, write about a man as dark, brooding, and passionate as Mr. Rochester? Who could ever have conceived of such a protagonist for a romantic story? Yet the love between him and shy, plain Jane Eyre (undoubtedly Miss Bronte, though she may not have realized how much she mirrored her own life into her famous heroine) is not only believable, but has changed the way we see marriage. Thanks to the Bronte's (and others who championed love conquers all), Victorian society began to think about the possibility of marriages that can bridge classes and defeat societal expectations, and not merely arranged for profit, connections, or blood lines. The Bronte's may have been quiet, shy, and content to be away from the lime light (once Charlotte hid herself behind curtains in a friend's parlour during a dinner in her honor), but they felt deeply the injustices they perceived in a cruel society and the life they could never have - they were caught between the genteel life of being the curate's daughters - above the notice of the poor and below the notice of the rich. They lived lonely lives, despite being celebrated authors, and all died young with only one – Charlotte – ever experiencing what they wrote so deeply of: love and marriage.

Reading the Bronte books is like catching brief glimpses into their life, real and imagined, and putting together pieces of a puzzle found in their novels that only end up telling us more about them than their biographers ever could. Most of all, you come away feeling an affinity and connection with them through their stories. In fact, you can only come away feeling as though you know them very well - almost as if you were their friend long ago.

Download or Buy Jane Eyre

My favorite film adaptation to date (it's old and bad quality - somebody please make a version as faithful to the book as this one!)

Charlotte's wiki page

Summer Vacation: Day 3

Alas, I failed to post yesterday due to time constraints and a weird, ongoing problem with Google. Here is yesterday's book:

Milton (a fictional name for Manchester)
Victorian era

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... So wrote an author that while describing a different era, undoubtedly captured his own in that remarkable paragraph. It was an era marked by disease, famine, progress, hope, despair, and abject poverty that moved Dickens to write his famous novels. The same feelings moved his contemporary (and friend) Elizabeth Gaskell to write about the sweeping changes and fears of progress that typified their era. And while Dickens focused on the working classes primarily, it was Mrs. Gaskell who turned her attention to the complex relationship between masters and men in her timeless novel North and South.

Mr. Thornton owns and operates a mill which produces cotton. Beautiful, courageous Margaret Hale, newly arrived from the verdant countryside in the South of England, opposes the mill (as well as the owner's growing attachment for her). Conflict rears it's ugly head when the mill workers strike for better wages, only to learn that their master is not easily swayed by politics. Soon the unemployed workers begin dying from the hunger, disease, and despair resulting from lack of work. Their story is interwoven with that of the Hales and their own trials and triumphs as they adjust to a new life in Milton. Mrs. Gaskell, like so many of her writer friends, was herself caught between a genteel life and a restricted income. As a curate's wife, she experienced that strange limbo society placed her in - too rich to be poor, too poor to be rich. Undoubtedly the strong emotions and urgent themes present in her novels are the result of her own struggle with life and all of it's joys and contradictions.

Download it, buy it, or listen to it

The movie

Mrs. Gaskell's bio

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Vacation: Day 2

London, with a short excursion to Paris during the Reign of Terror

Swashbuckling hero hardly comes to mind when mentioned in conjunction with one of history's darker moments in time, yet it is exactly what one thinks of when the hero is the Scarlet Pimpernel. Daring, adventurous, secretive, romantic – The Scarlet Pimpernel embodies everything a typical British hero is often portrayed as (but, like Americans, hardly ever in reality is :) ). If you like sitting on the edge of your seat and flying through a book just to see whether the hero will live or die and what happens to his beautiful wife, then this book is for you. And yes, I know that the book's author isn't really British, but as she did live there for most of her life, it seemed enough to make her an honorary inclusion to my list.

Buy or download it

The book's wiki page

Baroness Orczy's bio

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Summer Vacation

I am someone who loves to travel. Sadly, I am not an heiress who can simply hop up from her chair and go on a whim. Each trip takes careful thought as to cost and time away from work and home. I rarely escape during summertime, as the expense of travel “in season” puts it out of budget for this frugal, would-be jetsetter. My trips are generally taken during “off seasons” when a dollar stretches just a little bit farther in cities otherwise known for thinning your wallet on even the simplest and most inexpensive necessities.

So here I am, another summer at home, biding time until my mid-fall trip. Everyone else is on their way to exciting destinations – or, in any case, cooler destinations. To avoid envy and discontent while I wait out the 100+ degree summer, there is clearly only one thing to do: travel vicariously through books. Any destination desired is within reach of my bookshelf (or local library). I can cross time zones effortlessly without worrying about jet lag. I can even travel back in time into a favorite historical period without having to strap myself into some sort of futuristic time machine. In short, I can create the ultimate vacation that will not only encompass the greatest cities in the world, but also their multiple historical periods. Why not, I thought, choose the place one has always longed to visit, and a time period in which one has always wanted to live, and create the perfect summer trip which is traveled from the inimitable comfort of home?

So I decided to create an imaginary itinerary. Where to go and for how long? After much thought I realized that most of my favorite books are by British authors (the great writers England has produced is incomparable to any other nation thus far), so it only makes sense to travel to the UK for my summer journey. I plan on traipsing through a different book each day for a week (please note that I am reviewing books already finished - there is simply no way I could seriously read through an entire book in one day!). I hope you enjoy my journey as much as I shall enjoy sharing some of my favorite authors and books with you in my hopeful attempt to imagine myself away from the summer heat. :)

Day One (Book One): Bath, England

Year 1817 - Regency Era

I would be a remiss travel guide if I neglected to start with a universally acknowledged authoress, whose wit and wisdom in six (finished) novels continue to bridge time and culture to capture the heart of every woman who has dreamed of finding a Darcy, and every man who has dreamed of finding a Lizzie. Shall I throw in an early surprise on your trip? We will not read Pride and Prejudice on this journey. Rather than set our romantic hearts fluttering for a hero we will never have the opportunity to meet, we will travel within a book that contains a little less romance (is that really possible for Austen?) and which is set in a town more suitable for a summer escape. You may have guessed now that I speak of Northanger Abbey.

Ms. Austen's shortest novel follows a young girl on her first outing from home, in the fashionable seaside resort town of Bath. Naïve, pretty, sweet, occasionally showing some wisdom but often falling short of it, Catherine Morland is certainly the silliest of Ms. Austen's otherwise brilliant heroines. But this novel isn't meant to be taken seriously; in fact, it was written to parody the hugely popular (and largely forbidden) gothic romance novels that were devoured by impressionable young women in Ms. Austen's time. We are meant to laugh at dark castles with imaginary pasts, a seemingly authoritative and menacing father, a brutish suitor, an impossibly patient friend (and eventual love interest) and a heroine who conjures up impossible plots to fulfill her vivid imagination. Thankfully, at the end of the story, Catherine is wiser, humbler, and (amazingly) loved by a noble clergyman.

Buy the book or download it

Jane Austen bio
Bath, England

Friday, August 07, 2009

Speaking of Ms. Austen:

the BBC released this promo for Emma a couple of weeks ago. I'm just not sure about this version...

I know, I know, the book purist inside me sometimes gets in the way of my enjoyment of adapted-from-a-favorite-novel films, but I do make exceptions sometimes. For instance, if the film doesn't deviate too much from the original story and if the spirit of the novel remains (i.e., if the filmmakers don't try to modernize or to politicize it), then I can usually overlook a few things; however, the scene of Emma bursting into the library and blurting out something like "I'm never going to get married" is a little strange. Not Austen-like if you know what I mean. I'm just not sure what to expect from the rest. I am still looking forward to it though since I'll watch almost any period drama the BBC puts out.

Another one I'm looking forward to is the new Cranford. I loved the original mini-series almost as much as the book itself (and did I mention I'm hard to please? :) ) If only I didn't have to wait so long for it to hit the USA. Sigh.

I Was Not Invited *Sigh*

A Jane Austen fan throws the ultimate party for Austen lovers in Chawton.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer Fun

Here we are enjoying a recent Texas Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers game at the Ballpark in Arlington. I guess we like baseball - this was the 2nd baseball game in a month for my family and the 3rd time for me. :)

Parker, Mom, and Landon about to head in.

We had four tickets from a rained out game and then 3 that we bought at the last minute (the tickets were reduced drastically for the home games last week). So Mom, Parker, and Lexi sat on this side of the ballpark and the rest of us were on the other side, exactly opposite from this picture.

Sometime during the game, Mom, Parker and Lexi moved to these seats - long, long story...

but the seats were much better!

For whatever reason (discounted tickets? $1 hotdog night?) the game was packed that night.

We joined them near the game's end. Here Hunter passes mom a ball of yarn that I wanted her to see. (yes, I was knitting at the game...)
Families have so much fun together. :)