Barbara's Random Thoughts

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Milestone

The changing of the season has been gradually creeping up on me. The nectarine tree outside my window has gone from bare branches a month ago, to a few scattered pink blooms mid-month, to blossoms and bright green leaves this past week. I've kept an eye on it from time to time, seeing the change coming. My life has been kind of a parallel of late. There are changes coming, and signs of those changes are all around me. Gradual, but unmistakable.

Spring seems to now be here (it's hard to tell in SoCal, where we have maybe two seasons, unless you count "earthquake season" and "fire season"), and mild as the change is, it's been a reminder of the advent of spring in Pretoria, heralded by jacarandas bursting into bloom--raining down purple blossoms all over Pangani. (I've seen two springs in the last six months, and I'm gonna completely miss summer--ah, the strangeness of traveling between hemispheres.) This spring is a reminder of the change that was ahead when I faced spring in Pretoria--leaving a community I had come to love deeply, and moving forward into I didn't know what. And it's a reminder of the changes that are soon to come once again. There's a return ahead of me--I'll be going back to Pangani very soon. I know things will be different...there are many new experiences and friendships ahead. Isn't that what spring is about? New beginnings.

The fact that my birthday--this particular birthday--is in the spring seems oddly fitting. I'm about to embark on a new phase in my life, setting out on a more permanent venture of living my life outside of America. I'm following a new vision, a new dream, and I'm excited to see where the road will lead. At the same time, I'm moving into a new decade of my life. It's really really weird that I'm turning thirty. But I'm choosing to think of it as a new beginning, rather than lamenting the passage of time. Because, what's to come? I have this feeling that it's gonna be pretty amazing.


| posted by Barbara | 8:45 AM |


Some quotes upon the occasion of my birthday.

"At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they never will be; at thirty they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and, if sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow old gracefully."
--Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Look at what's ahead! Twenty more useful, happy years! Growing old gracefully! I am so encouraged. Moving on.

Turning Thirty
Randy Stonehill

I've got a house down by the ocean
the rent is not too high
and I love to watch the ships come in
and hear the seagulls cry
and lately I've been taking stock
of all that I've been through
oh tomorrow is my birthday
feels funny but it's true
I'm turning thirty

now I've got a wife who really loves me
she makes my life so sweet
and a little baby daughter
who plays games around my feet
and my world is very different
from those lazy bachelor years
but if I had the chance to go back
I'd rather stay right here
I'm turning thirty

and I have friends who care about me
they're the best I've ever had
and they always stood behind me
whenever times got bad
and I love to play my music
though the road can be a trial
but every time I walk on stage
it's worth each dusty mile
I'm turning thirty

well, now thirty ain't like fifteen
and it's not like twenty-five
my back's a little stiff
and there're some lines around my eyes
but I've still got my energy
and I've got most of my hair
and I'm not too old to rock 'n roll
and I'm not really scared
of turning thirty

oh, the eighties look like tough times
the world is turning sour
so I'll keep on serving Jesus
and await the final hour
and though I've often failed him
in these thirty rocky years
his mercy brought me this far
and his love has dried my tears
I'm turning thirty
I'll treasure these years
I'm turning thirty, but that's all right
I'll treasure these years

Though the title is fitting, much of the above does not apply to me. I do not have a house down by the ocean. Or a wife. Or a baby daughter. But, the "tomorrow is my birthday" part is true. And the "friends who care about me" part. That's definitely true. And the Jesus part, that too. =)

Labels: , ,

| posted by Barbara | 8:40 AM |

Monday, March 24, 2008

Family Easter

It was blazing hot today. It went from nice, sunny spring weather, in the low 70s, to a whopping 90 degrees today. We had a big family Easter dinner, and afterwards the kids pulled me outside to play soccer and then tag on the front lawn. After a bit, I collapsed in the shade and the girls followed suit. We were all within arm's reach of each other, so our game of tag degenerated into smacking each other and saying "You're it!" Johnny came over and curled up next to me, leaning against my legs, and I asked: "Hey, Johnny, whatcha doing?" He responded: "Just sittin' with you."

I've now lost track of who's It in my game of tag with Hannah--the game of tag that will soon go intercontinental. I have no doubt that Hannah will keep track, though. She reminded (threatened?) me today almost as soon as they arrived that I would be It when we went outside to play.

Rebekah asked me today why I had to go away again: "Wasn't one year enough?" Apparently not. Gonna miss those kids...

Labels: ,

| posted by Barbara | 5:16 AM |

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

I finished this over the weekend, and you know what that means? It means I finally completed that Winter Reading Challenge from 2006. Go, me. Also, I'm jumping ahead a little by saying this is book #5--I'm gonna have to circle back to another one I finished earlier, but I felt like writing about this one now. So I am.

Also also. I feel a little weird writing any kind of review of Tale of Two Cities, since it falls into that category of Books Everyone Else But Me Has Read. So make of this what you will.

Heather and I became obsessed with the card game Guillotine one summer on a mission trip, and a friend told us he was rather disturbed by the game since he was currently reading Tale of Two Cities. Now I know what he meant. The afternoon after I finished reading this book found me sitting in Starbucks, playing Guillotine with a friend and wearing my Les Miserables sweatshirt...and wondering if there might be something wrong with that. Yeah, probably.

Ok, so about the book. I love Dickens, contrary to what Lucinda thought. =) But the reasons I have loved Dickens in the past are not the reasons I found Tale of Two Cities so good. The Dickensian caricatures, the melodrama, the overabundance of completely implausible coincidences...I love it all. But then there's this other thread of seriousness and historical reality that runs throughout his work, and that's what I loved about Tale of Two Cities. I honestly did feel a little weird about playing Guillotine, making light of such serious events...after reading a novel that put me on those streets, in that time, imagining what it would have been like watching the bloodthirsty executions of the Terror.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the combination of these disparate elements. Caricature, melodrama, and serious historical reality dealing with social injustice. And, an author who can give such a good sense of a place that I feel like I was there. This is what I love about Dickens. Now I'm wanting to revisit Hard Times, because it had the same seriousness and social/historical reality that was so good here. Dang, where's that paper I wrote for Dr. Pickett about Hard Times? That was good stuff.

Next up for my fiction reading: A Far Better Rest by Susanne Alleyn--a book that imagines the missing events of Sydney Carton's life. Kristy got this for me ages ago, not realizing that I was the last person on earth over the age of 14 who hadn't read Tale of Two Cities. I'm not usually up for spinoff books, but I'll see how this goes. Either that, or I'll speed through Les Miserables before I leave for South Africa. Heh. =)

Labels: ,

| posted by Barbara | 3:37 AM |

A Stay Against Confusion, Ron Hansen

I read Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy for English Seminar one semester at Biola, and was fascinated with the way it explored an extreme form/manifestation of religious devotion (stigmata) and the reactions that such phenomena can spark. I later picked up this collection of Hansen's essays, intrigued by the title alone (specifically the subtitle: "Essays on Faith and Fiction"), but also because I was interested in what this particular author had to say on the interplay between faith and fiction.

I was a little disappointed that the essays in the volume didn't spend more time examining that faith/fiction relationship. There were a few along that line, but on the whole, the essays were self-contained--some falling under the faith category and some under the fiction category. That said, I very much enjoyed the book once I got the self-contained thing through my head. I found Hansen's essays quietly thoughtful and reflective. Even though they didn't all fit into the topic I was interested in exploring, I really liked his voice and hope to explore more of his writing.

The essays vary fairly widely in topic, and I found myself compiling a list of books, movies, and other stuff I wanted to explore further as I made my way through the collection. That's always a good sign. Hansen discusses Tolstoy's "Master and Man," the movie Babette's Feast, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Biblical story of Cain (from the perspective of a twin), and offers a meditation on the "Anima Christi" prayer--which I was interested to discover is one that appears at the beginning of the Ignatian Exercises.

Mid-year last year, someone recommended the Ignatian exercises to me, and over the past few months, I've come across more and more references to St. Ignatius/Ignatian spirituality/the Ignatian exercises. This book fit right in with this thread--there's an essay on the life of St. Ignatius and the beginning of the Jesuit order, as well as other references to Ignatius scattered throughout the book. Hansen teaches at a Jesuit college, go figure. =) I'm thinking I need to do some more reading on the topic--intentional, rather than the fortuitous convergence of late.

I'm gonna close with a passage I loved, where Hansen describes the moments following his receiving first communion. It's an amazing picture to me of what communion is about--the grace we are given to partake in something both symbolic and thoroughly real, the work Christ has done and is still doing within us, something accomplished and yet still being accomplished...yes, there is sin. But there is also grace.
Then I knelt heedfully upright and mentally prayed as we'd been instructed to do, some scared and scientific part of me assaying myself for chemical reactions or a sudden infusion of wisdom while fancying Christ now sitting dismally in my scoundrel soul, my oh so many sins pooling like sewer water at his sandaled feet. But soon I saw that I was still me; there would be no howls of objection, no immediate correction or condemnation, no hint that I was under new management, just the calming sense that whoever I was was fine with Jesus.

It was a grace I hadn't imagined.

--Ron Hansen, "Eucharist" (p. 234)

Labels: , ,

| posted by Barbara | 3:22 AM |

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Things I'll miss

My niece Hannah, this morning, during a game of tag: "Barbara, let's keep playing tag until you go to Africa. Then after that, whenever we see each other, we can tag whoever's it." Then she tagged me and ran off, shouting: "You're it!!!"

Labels: ,

| posted by Barbara | 2:01 AM |

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Journey to Myself, ed. Julia Landau

Sarah picked this up at the District Six Museum in Cape Town and lent it to me because of its similarity to the writing project we're working on. (I can say that without guilt because I actually did some writing this afternoon!) It's a collection of personal essays and poetry written by women in prison in South Africa. It's interesting, because Sarah and I toyed with the idea of doing writing workshops or compiling pieces written by the women we talked with. We decided against that idea, and while it was fascinating to read this, I'm glad we decided to do our writing differently.

Autobiographical narratives are tricky. In the preface to Journey to Myself, the editor notes that it's often difficult to separate fact from fiction in the stories these women tell. This is something Sarah and I certainly encountered as we interviewed various women for our project. We had to tackle racial, cultural, and language barriers. Some of our interviews were conducted through interpreters, which added another bias and another level of mediation to the perspective we received. Having women put their own stories down on paper seems less mediated, but the perspective is about as biased as they come. The author can be completely truthful, but it's easy to tell the truth while concealing certain parts and overemphasizing others. These authors especially had a vested interest in how they presented themselves. These stories were interesting for exactly this reason--it was often clear that pieces had been left out, and I wanted more. I wanted to delve more deeply into motivations and history and who these women really were, to find out why they had presented themselves in the ways they did.

While not as satisfying on a literary level, I found this collection fascinating. Partly for personal reasons, as it prompted a lot of thought for me on how I'm approaching telling the stories I collected last year. But also because I'm always interested in first person narratives and in figuring out the speaker--why did they choose to tell what they did? What did they leave out, and why?

As Sarah and I navigated truthfulness with one woman in particular this year, someone suggested it was just as important to hear the story she wanted to tell--the version of herself she wanted to believe--as it was to know what really happened. I was reminded of that comment as I wondered about the women whose writings appear in this collection. The title of the book reflects that idea--the writing of a personal story is a journey to the self, and whether the writing portrays a factual or imagined self, or a mixture of the two, all of these portrayals are significant in reaching a fuller understanding of the whole person.

This ended up being more about me and this writing project than the book I'm discussing. But somehow that seems fitting.

Labels: ,

| posted by Barbara | 9:07 AM |

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another book meme

Maybe I'll just alternate reviews and book memes for the rest of the year. I have no idea where this came from, but it was in my saved drafts...

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

I was somewhere around 3 years old. My mom taught me to read; she was all into the Teach Your Baby to Read book. The sight method, basically. No phonics for me. It’s actually a fascinating approach, based on the idea that reading comprehension is the first and easiest step in language acquisition. It’s always easier to learn to read another language than to speak it--so why can’t children learn to read before or as they are learning to talk? Anyway, it worked for me (like Hooked on Phonics! Only not!). I can’t remember not being able to read, and I was always reading far above my grade level.

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?
I didn’t really get into owning books until later in grade school (Scholastic book clubs!) and then it got completely out of control in college. =) We were heavy library users in my family--I would always check out the maximum number on my card at both libraries (the local Ely library and the one on the military base where my dad worked).

These are the story books I remember my family owning--most of these are still around, somewhere in this house:
-Mouse Tales
I LOVED this book. There’s a story in it about a mouse who buys new feet when his current feet get tired and worn out. I thought that was hilarious. Our family copy got completely worn out. I finally tracked it down and re-bought it a few years ago.
-What Was That!
Looking at the title now, it bothers me that it's an exclamation mark instead of a question mark. I don't remember being so critical when I was a kid...
-Bedtime for Frances
Actually, any of the Frances books. I still remember her alphabet song: “U is for Underwear, down in the drier…”
-The Frog and Toad books
The story where Toad makes a to-do list and the first item on it is “Wake up”? Awesome.
-The Little Bear books
My favorite story was the one where Little Bear gets too cold playing in the snow and keeps coming inside to put on more clothes. When he's still not warm enough, Mother Bear recommends he wear his fur he takes off the snow pants, the jacket, the hat, etc. and plays outside quite happily in just his fur.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?
I really can’t remember--it was probably something from a Scholastic book club. Maybe The BFG? I remember getting “book tokens” from the Ely library for their summer reading program, but I don’t remember which books I spent them on. I do remember The TV Kid and Tom’s Midnight Garden being some of the first books that were my very own (and not just family-owned). But those were actual awards for the summer reading program, rather than books I picked out myself.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?
Not really--and I’m still not. There are books that I love and go back to for certain passages, but I always get caught up in how many more books there are to read. There are always more books to read! I did re-read a lot of Roald Dahl, who was probably my first favorite author.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?
I remember trying to read Watership Down at the age of 9 or 10. Because it was about bunnies! I thought it was the most boring thing ever and never made it very far. So I guess it didn’t capture my interest. I read a ton of adult books on my own in junior high--Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye...stuff I’d heard of and felt like I should read because it was “important.” I actually loved Lord of the Flies. If you can say that about Lord of the Flies. I think I was 13 when I read it.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?
-The Phantom Tollbooth (“It goes without saying.”)
-The Chronicles of Prydain

I read The Secret Garden and Heidi and A Little Princess when I was younger, but re-read them as an adult and loved them so much more--there was so much I didn’t remember.

Bonus Question: Are there books you remember reading as a child that you either can’t find now or can’t remember the title?
There was a book about a little girl growing up in Africa that I remember vividly. No idea what it was called.

Labels: ,

| posted by Barbara | 4:10 AM |

Monday, March 03, 2008

Magic or Madness, Justine Larbalestier

I want to get this review written so I can give the book to Heather & Aaron this afternoon. Motivation!

I got a free Advance Reading Copy of this book a few years back, and never got around to reading it. It's the first in a trilogy, and as of now, not only has this one been officially released, the other two books have also been published. So much for my advance reading.

Basic plot: Reason (yes, that's her name) and her mother have been on the run from her evil grandmother for most of Reason's life. When Reason's mother is hospitalized for mental illness, Reason is sent to live with said evil grandmother. Reason discovers a doorway that's a portal from her grandmother's house in Sydney to New York City. It's in NYC that she is befriended by a girl named Jay-Tee (why do you have to lamely spell out the initials? Why not just "J.T."? This annoyed me), and subsequently: discovers she's "magic," finds out a bit more about her mother and grandmother, encounters people who want to manipulate her because of her magic...and no doubt this plot sounds a bit familiar. I liked this quite a bit, for what it was--young adult fantasy, kid finds out she's "magic," learns to navigate new worlds encountered because of magic, finds fellow magic friends, etc. I was craving this type of thing around Christmas/January, so this was good.

One thing that intrigued me was the way the author describes the kids' magical abilities. Each kid had a unique way of experiencing/describing their own abilities--Jay-Tee's magic builds more from personal interactions; she gains energy from being in crowds. Reason's magic is based more on logic, numbers, and patterns. It was interesting to me that magic was personalized like this; it became a more realistic personality trait rather than some kind of super power or skill to be learned. It's still something to be learned, but has to be more personally navigated, making the whole thing more of a personal journey of self-discovery. Now I sound like I'm describing a teen problem novel. Sorry.

I also appreciated that the characters were fairly ambiguously portrayed--there was a stock villain type, but there were hints of more complexity to the grandmother. I'd be interested to see where the author takes the characters in the next two books.

Labels: , , ,

| posted by Barbara | 1:08 AM |