Catch Up Time…

catch_upWork has been a bit nutty in terms of workload, so my reading has had to slow down a bit. With my bad eye and being in front of a computer screen all day, I’m kinda tired when I get home. That plus I’m wearing contacts which means I can see great far away, but middle distance and close up are terrible. (Thus the not-much reading situation.) Hoping that will get sorted out as the days go by, but there’s quite a bit of fiddling around at the moment.

I spent a lot of today working on website issues which is, surprisingly, great fun and I really enjoy it immersing myself in HTML and other puzzles. There’s always something to do with a large website (such as work has), and I can get completely sucked in at times. I just put some tunes on in the background, and have at it. Rather fun.

Reading seems to have taken a back seat for the last few days. We’ve been catching up with some TV: Better Call Saul (irresistible sidekick series to Breaking Bad), a Netflix series called Case, we’ve started Planet Earth (BBC/David Attenborough), and then saw the Dave Chappelle special the other night. (Mostly funny, but way too many “rape jokes” for my liking. [It’s never ok.]  Dave – you can do better than that.) Oh, and the regulars: Bill Maher, Samantha Bee et al. I’m constantly amazed at what comes out of the White House every day, but only three and a half years to go.

Oh, and I lucked out and got Garth Brooks tickets for this Sunday afternoon’s concert when he comes to town with Trisha Yearwood. (Heehaw. Very excited as he puts on quite a show, I’ve heard. Squeee.) Slightly strange to be going to a big concert on Sunday afternoon, but there you have it. Them’s the breaks sometimes. I’m dragging SuperHero DH with me, which means that I’ll owe him a concert in return. Slightly concerned that this might entail a Disturbd or Korn concert, but I’m crossing my fingers that it’s something a bit more palatable than that.

We also bought Daniel Tosh (comedian) tickets for later this month. He’s got some hilarious set pieces with some questionable pieces in between. He’s more good than not, so we’re going. Rather looking forward to him as he has no mercy for anything or anyone. Ever. You just sit there and cringe while you’re laughing and hope that he doesn’t pick on you. :-]

The outdoor pool on campus just opened this week. Naturally, the temperatures have plummeted to the 40’s since then, but there are plenty of sunny days ahead. Looking forward to messing around at the pool soon. It’s got a curvy lazy river which is awesome to float in after a long day at the office. Speaking of office, I actually now have air conditioning. I’ve spent the last two years sweating in my office year round, and now? It’s truly great to have a nice temperature at work. Thank you, lovely hard-working campus Physical Plant people!!

So – quite a busy weekend ahead and it’s busy-fun! Great combination to have!

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The Weekend in Review…

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(Above) – The tree under which I was reading. If you look closely, you might be able to see some dry brown seed pods amongst the leaves. When there is a gentle breeze, these pods rustle with the leaves, and makes a really relaxing sound. Hooray for Sundays!

It was a fun weekend. I’m not sure it could be said that we did a whole lot, but that was also one of the reasons why it was so lovely. The weather has suddenly become autumnal here on the South Plains, and so the light has become crisper and the colors are finally becoming reds, oranges, and brown (although not, perhaps, in the pic above!). I do love autumn in a million different ways, so it’s definitely my favorite season.

I spent yesterday sitting outside in an open space on campus right by the library. Just reading away whilst a nice breeze brought the temps down from 87 degrees (on the thermometer) to something much cooler than that. I’m really lucky to have such pleasant places to go to outside. It’s quiet (generally). No traffic. Not much foot traffic, and under a huge blue sky. Lovely way to spend some time.

I’d been feeling that I hadn’t been reading that much lately, so made a concerted effort to make that part of the weekend. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed doing that. I think I’d just got busy and tired, and went for the activity of least resistance: Narcos TV show on Netflix. Wow. Pablo Escobar was (is?) a ruthless man. I’m wondering how true it is.

narcos

Speaking of versions of “true”, I’m interested in watching the biopic about Dr. Dre. I’m not really a huge hip-hop kinda person, but ever since watching Straight Outta Compton, I’ve become pretty interested in the culture and major players. It’s a very different world than the one in which I live, so I’m inquisitive about that. It’s very far removed from my everyday life!

Back to books: Had great fun reading. I’m trying to read more of my own books (HA!) and was doing really well until the library called this morning with an ILL. I did it to myself though, and if it’s an ILL it means that the title is going to be a good one, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know what it is when I pick it up, mainly because I can’t remember what I ordered so it’ll be a surprise for all of us!

I’m not sure that I’m going to get a blog post up about the Kennedy book that I read the other day (The Ladies of Lyndon). It was good, but not notable really (and I say that as I can only remember very vague things about the plot).

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I did read a cheap print of a graphic novel of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was one of those cheapo Barnes and Noble books, and at first, I wasn’t sure that I could keep reading it. The art wasn’t that great, and I kept thinking I’d rather go back and read the original. (It’s one of my fav books.) But then something clicked, and the book and I got on really well from then on. I do have to admit that the graphic novel was more scary than the actual book. Maybe I’m a visual person in how I read as I don’t remember being so scared at the novel itself. Whatever triggered that reaction, I was glad that I was reading it out in the open under a sunny sky when I was reading it. Some of those comic panels were actually rather frightening – more so than the book. Weird how that can be, huh?

(For a more substantive review of the original Dracula, I have a post here.)

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Original movie poster from 1975.

Finished up a quick re-read of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. An old book from 1972 (nicely filling a spot on my Century of Books project), I thoroughly enjoyed this read although I did have to jump over the truly sexist comments that mark the second third of the story. If you haven’t read this, it’s a spec fiction (perhaps) about a family who move into the community of Stepford. The mother in this family is proud to be a Women’s Lib supporter and is rather horrified when all the wives around her were only focused on domestic duties and being subordinate to their husbands in obvious ways. Why was this? Was she the only one? Then she meets a friend, similar to her, and wonders if she too will change… Does she? You’ll have to find out. It was a spooky read with lots to think about so expect a chatty blog post about that soon. (As an aside, check out this slightly strange website. I have to hope it’s a joke.)

I’m not 100% sure what the next title will be, but it may well be straight non-fiction. I’ve only read fiction this month (which is strange for me). It’s been great fun though, so perhaps I’ll keep on that streak. Who knows? I won’t until I browse my TBR shelves and also find out about that ILL. The suspense, my friends… I’ll let you know.

Fridays are more fun with this…

http://robandleo.com/the-ones-that-got-away/

I saw some geese flying over head yesterday as they traveled on their journey down south to warmer climes. I was immediately reminded of this, one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, and then today, I saw it posted by one of my friends on FB:

“You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves. / Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on. / Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain / are moving across the landscapes, / over the prairies and the deep trees, / the mountains and the rivers. / Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again. / Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.”

“Wild Geese” – Mary Oliver.

 

A Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl (1946)

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“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

So, I finally picked up “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Viktor Frankl’s mesmerizing autobiography about his time and thoughts when he was captured as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, one of the most notorious concentration camps in Germany during WWII. I’d been meaning to get to this for a very long time, but I felt that I needed to psych myself up to read it as I know it was not going to be an easy time. Now I’ve finished it and reflect back on the experience, it was a tough read in both the subject matter and also the philosophical discussion that is in the second half of the book, but it was hard mainly because it was true – that people had treated each other in this manner. What. The…. ?

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was a psychiatrist and neurologist living in Vienna during the 1930’s when Hitler came to power and instigated the horrendous concentration camps that tortured and killed millions of Jewish people at the time. It’s a time that I find incredibly hard to understand as it’s so completely removed from anything that I would choose to do (I hope), that there seems so little overlap between the life I choose to lead and the lives of the people who ran these camps. It’s easy to judge over time and distance, but I hope to god that I would have tried to stop this whole genocide if I’d had the chance, but who’s to know? The human condition is a strange one at times.

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Back to the book: it’s basically a book in two parts, the first part detailing the three years of his life (and those of others) when Dr. Frankl was picked up and sent to Auschwitz, and then the second half which is more of a philosophical discussion of how he made sense of the whole ordeal and came up with his school of treatment called logotherapy.

It’s an intense read, and if you’re feeling remotely sorry for yourself when you start to read this, I can almost guarantee that you will have your perspective shifted by the time you finish it. How could one compare the minor trials of life today with the lives of these prisoners who had *nothing*? Literally nothing.

It’s not an easy read, but how could it be when one considers that topic matter? What’s amazing is that anyone survived long enough to walk out of the camps when the final day of freedom arrived. (You’ll need to read Frankl’s description of how some of the prisoners reacted when the gates of the camp were first opened…. It’s incredibly powerful to read.)

So, Frankl discusses his ideas on the meaning of life for himself and others, and concludes that life has meaning to be found in every moment of living and that it never ceases to have meaning, even when one is suffering profoundly. This is the concept of “tragic optimism” — that no matter how terrible life can be, it only ceases to have meaning when there is no hope for change in the future. Once the hope is gone, then life is over – that love is the ultimate and highest goal that (hu)man can aspire to.

To me, the book seems to be about the importance of deriving meaning from suffering – that one suffers only so that you should learn from it to be a better person and if one loses sight of that goal, then one is doomed. If one feels a sense of control over one’s environment, then you will fare better than those who are physically strong but do not have that sense, and the existential angst that people may feel at some point in their lives is due to the lack of personal agency they may feel in their lives.

I’m not sure. It’s hard to write about this clearly without babbling and sinking into a morass of blather, but it seems to me that perhaps the key to a good life is to serve others. If one looks outside oneself to help someone else, therein lies the meaning of life.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.

I urge you to read this for yourself and to draw your own conclusions. My vague personal ones are above, but I think this book is too important for you to try and draw your conclusions from my version of things. It’s a hard book, yes, but it’s an extremely important book and frequently in the top ten lists of influential books for people. It’s an astonishing read. Don’t miss it.

 

Monday Check-In…

 

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It’s been really H-O-T in Texas lately (which is fairly par for the course around here in August), so when it’s this hot, I’m either at the lazy river (doing exactly what it implies) or indoors doing something (like working out or reading etc.)

I’ve been really sucked into Mary Roach’s new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Mary Roach, as you may or may not know, is one of the great non-fiction science writers around and whatever the topic, she ends up asking the experts questions which are exactly the type of questions you (or maybe just I) would ask.

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This volume covers the science behind the world of the military (primarily the US Army so far but I think Navy come in at some point). As the book jackets states, “Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries – panic, exhaustion, heat, noise – and introduces us to the scientists who conquer them.” And regardless of how you feel about the ethics of war, one still has to consider the equipment and reactions of the young soldiers who are put into that position. To me, it’s fascinating.

(If you haven’t read or heard of Mary Roach, get thee to the library right now. She’s funny, inquisitive, delightful, clever, and if we knew each other, I just know that we’d be best friends (in a non-creepy fashion). 🙂 ) Her books include Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the After-Life, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, and they’re all at least a 7/10 in my book (usually higher for the most part).

I know that I’m usually reading more than one book, but my right eye is *still* bothering me from that surgery I had in April and due to the nerve damage, it feels like fireworks going off in my eyeball and face a lot of the time. A bit distracting at the best of the times, so that’s slowed me down a bit. That, combined with the lassitude of late summer, means lots of lying around á la Victorian heroine and not actually being very productive.

However, over the weekend, I actually did some of those things that were in the “Some Day…” category in the To-Do List. I ordered a new ink pen (this time with a fine nib) along with some cool new ink in a new color, and, of course, a very modish pencil case to go along with this. If you’re curious about the pen, it’s a new Pilot Metropolitan in gold and I’m strangely super-excited to see how this writes. (No doubt there will be updates on here once it’s come in and I’ve tried it. Hold your hats on as I know you’re excited as well.)

As I work on an academic calendar, it was time to get a new planner for the year (and I don’t know about you but I adore office and school supplies) so spent a pleasant hour choosing the right one. And then another pleasant hour filling it in with appointments and meetings with the result that I feel super-organized and hot-to-trot. Bliss.

My twin came out to say hi which was really fun, and then hubby and I are planning our trip to England in Oct/November time to say hello to family and then see some of England itself. I grew up there, but I seemed to spend a lot of time dreaming about coming to America or in a swimming pool training so missed a lot of the sights. (Isn’t that usually the case when you live somewhere cool? You’re busy living life so you don’t do the stuff that tourists do.)

blue-apron

And BIG NEWS (for us – maybe not for you): We have signed up for Blue Apron, the meal delivery service where you order the ingredients for a meal, they deliver them to you and then you cook it. No shopping! No finding a recipe! No finding out halfway through that you don’t have something vital and now you’re going to have to go to the shop… etc. It’s a pretty foodie thing, but so far the recipes have been doable (with some prep time) and I am learning my way around the kitchen as a sous chef. (Superhero is the [bossy] chef.) The end result is that we’re out of the “Food is Boring” trap and now eating stuff you’d never think to try. Yummy. We’ve had both vegetarian and non-veg options and they’ve all great. (And I’m a picky eater.) So recommend this if you’re interested. Worth it.

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Oh, and Nova Dog is coming along. She has a few issues but then don’t we all? Here is an example of her latest craft project (above): whittling the wires that come out of my reading lamp but now fixed by Superhero. (Skillsz!) (And yes, the lamp was unplugged so she and her tongue are ok.)

And who, in god’s name, needs SparkNotes for Harry Potter? ….

Sparknotes_HP

Stick Fly – Lydia Diamond (2006)

stickfly

We recently had the opportunity to see a performance of Lydia Diamond’s play, Stick Fly, hosted on campus last weekend as part of the ongoing recognition of Black History Month (or African-American History Month). (The title can vary according to different sources.)

As with Black Violin, we had little idea as to the play itself but as campus prides itself on putting on a high standard of work for the most part, we trundled down to the theater on a sunny Sunday afternoon. (The play was only being hosted three times and I didn’t want to miss it.) So off we went…

Lydia_R__DiamondThe story centers around an affluent African-America family who all meet for one weekend at their weekend house, the two sons both bringing their new girlfriends (one white and one Af-Am) along with them. Add to the mix the now-adult child of the family’s old housekeeper and it’s an explosive recipe. As the weekend progresses, the paterfamilias arrives (sans wife) and via the two new girlfriends, a whole new family dynamic emerges with fresh perspectives. It’s not a comfortable narrative arc, but it does address some valuable issues as it progresses through its different acts.

 

Girlfriend #1 is African-American and secretly engaged to the younger son and none of the family know about this state of affairs. She is young, fiery, outspoken and passionate and creates quite a stir for everyone just being herself. Her boyfriend (younger son) is a lost soul who would rather write than do anything, an occupation found not really suitable by the rest of the family who would rather he would commit to a more concrete pragmatic career.

Girlfriend #2 is older, white, has a Ph.D. in multicultural issues and arrives as a “friend with benefits” sort of thing. She’s with the elder son who is an accomplished plastic surgeon, and so the stage is set for some interesting conversations that challenge the status quo: ones that challenge ideas of race, class, multigenerational issues and multicultural issues.

So – there is a lot packed into this play, but it doesn’t seem overstuffed with all the Big Topics. They flow very naturally into the play’s narrative and don’t provide roadblocks along the way. This was a great way to spend Sunday afternoon and I appreciated all the work that the students had put into making this play so professional.

The play was written in 2006 and was awarded the Black Theater Alliance Award for that year. The playwright, Lydia Diamond, who has written plays adapted from The Bluest Eye (by Toni Morrison) and the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. Good stuff.

Happy New Year to everyone!

new-yearsWith the holidays being more and more over, and with my break from work coming to an end, it’s time to start thinking about resuming normal life and all those routines. However, my break’s not over just yet, so I thought I’d chat a bit about what exactly I’ve been doing to fill those two holiday weeks.

First, it’s been a fabulous time. We haven’t done anything that sounds very spectacular, but we have been having a lovely down-time to just “be”, and that’s been invaluable. You’d think that with all that time off, I would have filled it with reading, but I was much more drawn in to doing anything BUT reading, and so that is what I did in the end. Just bumbled around and caught up and slept in and went out to see old and new friends.

And in between, there was a book here and there, and a professional massage or two, and putting the Christmas tree up (and taking it down), and all those little things in between that make life fun.

This area of the Texas Panhandle where I live is (in)famous for its extreme weather throughout the year, and as part of that, we’ve just had a huge ice storm followed by some snow (and now freezing rain) which has considerably slowed down the world where we are (in a good way), and so since I’m not overflowing with recent books-read reviews, I thought I’d just chit-chat…

Flannel sheets... Snuggly bliss.

Flannel sheets… Snuggly bliss.

With this big cold front coming through, it’s been the ideal time to put flannel sheets on the bed. (I know – who would think old-fashioned flannel sheets would merit some blog post space? But they do.) It’s not too often that we get the chance to put flannels on the bed, and so when we do, it’s always a treat and even more so when it’s very cold outside. (Really cold weather runs about 1 week/year on average here in our area, so it’s a pretty big thing for us to have cold temps that last more than a day. Aaah. Those little things in life, right?) So sleeping and reading in bed has been a favorite choice this week as it’s such a snuggly warm and soft cocoon in which to be… What bliss.

christmas sock with gift and sweets _pvAlong with the cold and the flannels, I’ve managed to hit some of the after-Christmas sales and picked up 90% of the contents for the kids’ stockings for next Christmas. (I don’t mean to brag, but merely to say that I help out the Salvation Army each year with their kid Christmas stockings which they distribute to kids who may not have much holiday spirit in their homes. The more I can save, the better their Christmas stockings and the more kids that I can help. It’s such a fun project, but it’s very under-publicized here and I wish more people knew about it.) Along with my office friends, we handed over seven VERY stuffed stockings this year – such fun for us and such fun for the kids to open (I hope)!

Since I haven’t been reading that much during the break, how have I filled my time? Watching movies for some of it. I watched a version of Wharton’s House of Mirth (which is considerably darker and more depressing than my read of the book was), and then a BBC film adaptation of The Duchess about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was really intriguing and now I wonder how much was true. True or not, she seemed to be a fascinating character of the time.

The Duchess movie poster

I listened to the podcast, Serial, which started off great but then peetered out somewhat. (However, millions of people may disagree with me on this, but it might be because I happen to be married to a homicide detective and so I’m more familiar with this type of situation and hear lots of stories from DH.) Still good though. While doing some house projects (well, one), I listened to a wide selection of podcasts from TED, and during coffee breaks, I caught up with some of my magazine reading.

So, although my break sounds a little quiet, it was super fun and had a great mix of seeing lots of friends and catching up with solitude. It has really recharged me, and I’m hoping to jump back into the books and work as the year progresses. No new year resolutions for me, really. I just try to view each day as a fresh start and go on from there. (Don’t I sound like a person who’s perfect? I’m not really…)

The only big reading goal that I have is to stay the course of reading good books and keep choosing more titles from the TBR pile. 🙂

Credit: ?. (If anyone knows, I’m happy to give that. Just shoot me an email or comment. I know someone did it out there!)

Credit: ?. (If anyone knows, I’m happy to give that. Just shoot me an email or comment. I know someone did it out there!)

Goodness Gracious Me…

I apologize for the lengthy space between blog posts. Work has reared its head more than normal, and so I haven’t had resources to do a proper blog post. (To give you some idea of just how busy it’s been, I didn’t read one book last week. Waaah.)

Hopefully, this work thing will calm down in a week or two. In the meantime, here is a picture of Muttley the Ancient One with a rather mournful look as I asked her to balance a tiny rubber duck on her head for two seconds. Such indignity.

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Cowboy Impressions

Cowboy Cat doing her very best impression of a beached whale.

We have been adopted by a large and very sweet cat we call Cowboy (who is a girl. Roll with it.) Her name derives from the fact that she is a bit *odd-looking* (said in a whisper so as not to hurt her feelings). She has feet that face outwards (pigeon-toed?) and bowed legs (like old cowboys can be after years of riding in the saddle – thus her moniker) and is HUGE.  I weighed her yesterday – twenty pounds huge.

She looks a bit like a Mr. Potato Head in that she seems to be made up of various unconnected pieces from other cats all joined together in one body.  However, she is extraordinarily gentle, very sweet and generous with her purring.

She is very tough when she needs to be and is happy to put Avi Puppy in his place in the home pecking order. She also does a very good impression of a beached whale. And she loves the (mostly) indoor life spending most of her time taking 20-hour naps in preparation for her next meal.

Today’s Cowboy Adoration Moment is brought to you by Fancy Feast. 🙂