Seasons: Autumn 2011

Despite having seen Christmas decorations out even BEFORE Halloween, I am determined to give the season of Fall its due.  Lots happening, lots to remember.

This autumn brought…

…a new creation, new art to carry forever…

…fun times with Grandparents in exotic locales…

…another great Nevada Day/Birthday Weekend…

…a little Wild Thing who will eat you up, he loves you so…

…good food, loving family — lots to give thanks for…

…and lots of time to reflect and relax away from the craziness of it all.

Yay for Fall!

 

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Seasons: Summer 2011

Whenever August rolls around, I wish it was still July.  Although it’s fun to celebrate our anniversary, I know that after the festivities are finished, school will start in a week or so.  So it’s also a good time to look at what an awesome summer this was, and see how we spent our time…that helps it seem longer, too!

This summer was…

...waiting and waiting and MORE waiting...

...new lengths (or really, lack of length!)...

...a new place, a new pad...

...full of family frolics...

...old haunts with a new twist...

...a new childhood beginning, with some of the same players...

...friendships continuing, joy expanding...

...walking, walking slowly, walking quickly, walking thoughtfully, walking hard...

...all about feeling loved...

...streaming SciFi and having drinks after Patrick's bedtime...

...trips to new horizons...

...traveling family style...

One last trip before the summer ends!  Pack the car quick — let’s go!

We’ll miss you, summer!

This Moment

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo moment- no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Walking at the Santa Ana Zoo

This Moment

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo moment- no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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My two boys.

This Moment

A little something from one of Drew’s sailing blogs that I like.

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo moment- no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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Waiting for a sandwich...

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

From the ballet -- Looks like the capture the desperation well. Don't tip onto the tracks!

Centurylink has caused this post to be barely existent. We waited for one entire month for them to hook up our Internet connection, and finally ended up ditching them and switching to Cox…who hooked up the Internet within two days. See, Centurylink, it was not the impossible task you thought it to be.
In the meantime, I finished Anna Karenina. Quite a feat. My first impression was that people must have had many fewer distractions in Tolstoy’s time, because there was a lot going on. Understatement!
But this was a novel that I had gotten halfway through in high school. It was the summer between graduation and college, and I was working at the Excelo Bakery, getting to work to open for them at 6:00 am. It helped to have a good book between 9:00 and noon, when I got off work. Not many people were buying donuts after 9:00. But, that summer, with trepidations of the oncoming move away from home and the frequent get togethers with high school friends, didn’t leave any mental space for poor Anna. At some point mid-book and midsummer, I just dropped it for a book where every character only had one name instead of four.
This time I started from the beginning again, and it took forever…as expected. But! I had NOT expected to become so engrossed in the twin story of Levin and Kitty! I would find myself rushing (or maybe Russian? Ha!) through the depressing, fatalistic sections about doomed Anna and difficult Vronsky to get to the story which Tolstoy must have meant as the positive counterpart to the passionate partners. Levin and Kitty survived together, and loved each other without the selfish bounds that Anna and Vronsky created around themselves.
And even though I knew what would happen to her (spoiler alert!), the train scene was gritty and intense, not what I expected from a book of this time period. It was more like the end of a Tarantino film, and I mean that in a good way. I read it three times before I felt that I understood what was going on philosophically and spiritually.  Also, I was inspired to finally read it all the way through because of the movie, The Last Station, about Tolstoy’s last days.  Really great film.  And now I want to see THAT again too!  Maybe it’s just a continuous roundabout of Tolstoy excitement — novel, movie, novel, movie — until you become so dizzy you fall on the tracks.  (Poor taste?)
All in all, a good read that I am glad to have crossed off my list, but feel no need to reread in the next thirty years or so. After that…maybe. AND! My new favorite song is a song by Phoebe Kreutz, called, “I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About Anna Karenina.”. I know how you feel, Phoebe. If only we could have warned her.

Seriously...a bad feeling.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

First of all, American mothers everywhere need to just calm down.  Deep breaths.  In and out.

Better?

Okay, now we can actually have a conversation here.

Tiger Momming It Up

It’s a fun memoir about all the questions you ask yourself as a mother, all the answers you give yourself as a mother, and all the doubting choruses that can fill your brain as you steam ahead.  I loved this book from the beginning…how could I not?  As I read more and more, I kept bothering poor Drew…”Listen to this!”  “Oh my gosh, can I read you just one thing?”  “Drew– just one more paragraph — check this out…”  So on and so on.  I was in amazement of Chua’s honesty, her philosophies, and the relationships that evolved with both of her daughters.  Striking and amazing — that sums it up.

Here’s the basic run-down of the Tiger Mom concept:

Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the Chinese mother.  This is so wrong.  Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.

The first shocker of the book was that, after all the controversy I’d heard about, this list didn’t seem crazy or militant to me.  In fact, as I read it a second time, a lightbulb began to warm up in my brain…was my mom a quasi-Tiger Mom?  Wait a minute…I was never allowed to question my teachers or their methods, even if she did.  Schoolwork was her first priority for me.  I always felt the engaging pressure of high expectations.  Although I always knew with certainty that she was proud of me and my accomplishments, I didn’t receive many compliments in the presence of others.  I have vivid memories of other people saying what a nice girl I was, or how talented, and I can see my mom, smiling at the compliment, and sometimes agreeing, but rarely initiating.  Okay, the gold medal thing doesn’t fit, but suddenly I had a very personal reason to give Chua’s thoughts a chance.  Perhaps I was the product of Westernized Tiger Mom parenting…a contradiction in Chua’s mind, but not in mine.  A style of parenting with high expectations for both performance and etiquette, but with a slightly relaxed fit.

Be sure to read the type on the cover...

But I am having trouble summing up my feelings on the book as a whole, because there are so many different ideas and striking chords that I found fascinating…so we’ll just go one by one.

Classical music was the opposite of decline, the opposite of laziness, vulgarity, and spoiledness.

Isn’t that lovely?  Chua insists that both of her daughters play classical music, and classical only because she is invested in the truth above.  This book made me wish I were a better pianist, that I had practiced more, or had more drive in college and continued piano lessons at that point. 

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.

So true.  That’s half of the fun of living — working hard to become better at something, so that you get that rush of adrenaline one day when you realize you’re fantastic.  Then it’s fun.  Being able to sightread piano music now?  Fun.  Working hard to get there?  Worth it — but not necessarily fun.

But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up.   On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

This is one thing that my own Western Tiger Mom did for me.  There came a time in middle school when I wanted to quit the piano.  At the time, I couldn’t articulate why — I was an adolescent — but I knew I wasn’t improving and I wasn’t getting any enjoyment out of it.  My mom, being smarter than middle school me, knew exactly why I felt this way, and switched me to a new teacher, who became a fantastic musical role-model for me all through high school.  I began improving again, and really enjoying the piano — even if my practicing left something to be desired.  At another point in high school, I also wanted to quit playing French Horn.  Now I can look back on my reasoning and see it for what it was — insecurity, because even though I was a junior, the underclassmen were better than me.  I didn’t like to be out-performed, and it was happening on a daily basis.  But when I asked my mom if I could switch instruments, the answer was no.  She didn’t let me give up on anything, and I am better for it.  Even if I still get out-performed on the Horn.

“Never ever make fun of foreign accents,” I’ve exhorted them on many occasions.  “Do you know what a foreign accent is?  It’s a sign of bravery.”

I don’t think this one even needs any reflection from me.  It’s just a beautiful and TRUE statement.

In the words of Lulu’s violin teacher Mr. Shugart, “Every day that you don’t practice is a day that you’re getting worse.”

Gulp.  This quote made me feel a little sad.  It’s true.  Sadly true.  I am not the pianist I was at the end of high school.  My sight-reading is much better, but my overall technique is poor.  Practicing would fix it.  But I don’t.  This is why I did love teaching piano lessons for awhile — it gave me a reason to practice.  Every time a student missed a lesson, which happened more often than not, I had nothing else to do but practice.  And I had a whole music store at my perusal.  It was fantastic.  I felt my fingers returning to some semblance of their former glory.  But now, 4 years later, it’s gone again.  This doesn’t mean I can’t play — I’m still doing fine.  But I’m no longer as good as I want to be, or sometimes, as good as I think I am. 

I’d made a career out of spurning the kind of Western parents who can’t control their kids.  Now I had the most disrespectful, rude, violent, out-of-control kid of all.

But this quote, out of all of them, was the most honest statement she made in the whole book.  Any parenting style has flaws.  Let me rephrase that: EVERY parenting style has flaws.  As I try to piece together my own parenting style for my son, I find so many contradictory statements — philosophies I agree with, philosophies that I’ll see in hell, philosophies that are just banal and confusing.  All parents believe that if you don’t do things a certain way, your child is doomed either to inanity or to jail.  I’ll admit that even now I feel that way about other ways of parenting that I don’t agree with.  Obviously that person’s child is going to grow up severely troubled.  But not my son — because I’m parenting the right way.  We all feel like this, and in a way, we have to.  It’s so overwhelming, that if we don’t create a shell of self-confidence, we’ll crumble into ourselves.

Monkey Mom!

I would hope that most people, rather than judging Amy Chua or becoming deathly afraid of the Chinese Children Who Will Take Over Our Land, will be able to see this book for what it is — an honest memoir.  And, whatever your beliefs, I’m sure you can see that honesty anywhere is hard to come by these days.

And, since I’m not a Tiger anyway, I guess my son won’t have a Tiger Mom.  He’ll have a Monkey Mom.  Only time will tell exactly what that will look like.  Chua says in her book (even though she prefaces this by saying she doesn’t always buy in to astrology), Monkey people are curious, intellectual, and “generally can accomplish any given task.  They appreciate difficult or challenging work as it stimulates them.” Watch out, son — you are my given task right now.  And I shall accomplish you!  Ha!

But the final word should go to one of the daughters herself.  Be sure to check it out — it really makes all the critics look pale by comparison.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Marvel made a comic book out of it! Very cool...

(Okay, Beth!  Here it is!)

I enjoyed it.  That’s first.

Second comes all of the baggage that I brought to this book. I kind of didn’t want to like it.  I feel sheepish saying that, but when I finally decided to read this beloved book from the canon, that everyone has always told me I SHOULD read, I pushed back.  Maybe it was because I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre at very impressionable moments.  After being so steeped in the Brontes, Austen’s books seemed so “surface”…  It was all dances and husbands and then finally in the end, a nice love scene which you always knew was coming.  Of course Emma was going to be happy in the end.  Of course Marianne and Elinor were going to be okay.  In the Bronte books you never knew!  At the time, I was only appreciating Austen’s writing for the plot — and there wasn’t much to appreciate.

But that was awhile ago.  So, with it being free on my Kindle, I decided to give it another go.  And, I thought my mother-in-law would approve!  Since it came so highly recommended from someone whose book sense I trust, I had to read it all the way through.

At first, it was a bit of a chore.  I kept telling myself to give it a chance.  Just enjoy it.  Forget that Keira Knightly played Elizabeth in the recent movie and you think she looks like a skeleton monster.  The main character has the same name as you — she can’t be all bad.  Roll with it.

I found myself in turmoil at the beginning over the flightiness and frivolity of the Bennets.  They all — mother, daughters, father — were so deep in self-interest.  I wondered how I would actually read this all the way through.  Then, Mr. Bennet had a problem with Mr. Collins, and Jane shared this thought with me:

In [Mr. Bennet’s] library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there.

Isn’t that beautiful?  And, not only beautiful, but true?  It’s like a little moment of Virginia Woolf in the mind of this patriarch.  It just so happened, also, that I read this at the same moment that I had begun to share my classroom with two more teachers.  I didn’t have my own space away from folly and conceit any more either, and I thought, Don’t worry, Mr. Bennet — we’ll get through this together.

And, with that simple little moment, Jane Austen won.  I opened up to the rest of the story, and didn’t worry too much about the silliness and sometimes stupidity of the women, or the bull-headedness of the men, or the taxing rules of their society.  I found myself marking page after page of my favorite moments, and wanting to comment on her astuteness.  Check it out:

When Mr. Collins simply won’t accept Lizzy’s “no” to his proposal:

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; [because how on earth can you argue with someone who won’t listen to you?  Apropos for our current political culture!] determined, if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals, as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be decisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.  [A problem for women everywhere — how can you be taken seriously by someone who sees you only as an object of feminine wiles?]

A conversation between Jane and Elizabeth:

“It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.  Women fancy admiration means more than it does.”

“And men take care that they should.”

Nice.  Well played, ladies.  I laughed out loud at this next bit from Lady Catherine.  How many times have we all met people like her — when they discover that you are talented at something, they want to make sure you know that they could be talented if they tried, too.  Probably more than you, anyways.

“Of music!  Then pray speak aloud.  It is of all subjects my delight.  I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music.  There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste.  If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.  And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply.  I am confident that she would have performed delightfully.”

She won. I submit to her intriguing wit, biting observations and true-to-life human interactions.

I also appreciate that Jane Austen wants to show that love will only work with relationships that evolve organically.  All of the relationships that were imposed or created by others outside of it were flawed.  But Darcy and Elizabeth in the end seemed good to go.  I’m okay sharing a name with Elizabeth Bennet in the end — she mellowed out, and so did I.

Check out Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thoughts on Pride and Prejudice also — he was reading it at the same time I was.  Unknown book club!

So, in the end, I also swallowed my pride and gave this book another try.  And, lo and behold, my prejudices against it were unfounded and immature.  Hat tip, Jane Austen.  You win this round.  Perhaps we’ll play again some time soon…I bet you’ll win that round too.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

Read it.

Should I end the post with that?

No surprise here, since I am a girl — I’ve always loved Cleopatra.  I never knew much about her — Queen of Egypt, lover of Caesar and Mark Antony, asp death — but it never really mattered.  What’s there to know?  It looked about like this in my mind:

Cleopatra asp-ires to become dead.

Apparently it looked that way to the creators of Rome on HBO — which, despite any contradictions this book may have revealed for me in that show’s character development, I still love. I think to most of the world she looks like the picture to the right — a desirous Elizabeth Taylor, haunting the dreams of defenseless Richard Burton, while Rex Harrison presumably is off speaking a song somewhere.

Poor Debbie Reynolds.

But it turns out, according to Stacy Schiff, who rambled through mountains upon mountains for research for this book, that her story was (surprise!) not really like either of these pictures.  It’s a perfect case of history being written by the winners — in this case, Caesar Augustus, a gem of a guy, who took over after Julius Caesar was, shall we say, “removed from office.”  Cleopatra was a ruler of a country, the wealthiest individual of her time, and she was highly educated.  She was probably not a sexual demon hell-bent on ruining the lives of two pure and blameless men.  According to Plutarch and Dio, if you read between the lines — which, in Schiff’s book, it quickly becomes apparent is necessary to actually find out anything about Cleopatra — she wasn’t even that pretty.  Most of her charms came from her ability to judge a person and to use her voice and tone diplomatically, not from sexual acumen.

The book reveals all sorts of untold turns and descriptions of a queen who was royal in her own right, regardless of Caesar or Antony.  She was considered and worshiped as a goddess in Egypt.  She inherited a kingdom that was soon to fall, despite all that she might do to save it.  By the end of the book, I was totally on Schiff’s page.  Cleopatra was amazing — it’s a shame that we let her memory continue to live on built on the shame the Romans created for her.

The end of the book is pretty emotional, too.  I did not expect to feel as much sympathy for Antony as I did by the end, but the poor guy.  He made several mistakes, sure, but towards the end, people kept on deserting him, leaving his camp for Octavian’s, until all he had left were a few servants to help him commit suicide.  And then, after he stabbed himself but missed his heart, they left or killed themselves rather than help him end his life.  The scene Schiff describes of Antony’s death is heartbreaking.  I was reading it during a journal time for one of my English classes, and I will admit that even in the presence of adolescents, I teared up a bit.

All told, the image of Cleopatra that I’m left with looks exactly like the book cover:

Perfect. This looks like the Cleopatra I know now.

Proud, elegant, rich, powerful, and always looking towards the future of her country and her family.  After I would finish reading a chapter, I’d just look at this cover for awhile.  Her diadem, the pearls, the hair…it’s all perfect.  This is a woman who rules a nation and makes no apologies to anyone — even though it meant they would sully her reputation for two-thousand years.

It was also interesting to be reading this book while history continues to be made in Egypt.  I still don’t know much about the current situation, or their recent political scene, but it was fascinating to be reading about the seizure of Alexandria by Octavian and then come across news pieces like this… Looking at the ancient world and the current world together always boggles the mind.  What would Cleopatra think of her country today?  I don’t know.  But I do know what she thought of her country when she ruled — it was worth dying for.

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