Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lead, Guide, and Direct: Thoughts from Today's Quiet Time

Quiet time: n. time spent reading scripture, praying, and drawing close to God.  I would like for it to happen every day, but, of course, it doesn't.  Today, however, I pulled out my Bible and read while munching on my Apple Pecan Chicken salad from Wendy's for lunch.  It was peaceful.  And tasty.  I don't think eating during quiet time is irreverant.  Often times it feels like the only time I get to sit down and focus is during breakfast or lunch.

I sometimes use a devotional magazine my church gets.  Today the scripture it referenced was exciting: Psalm32:6-11.  The reason it was exciting was because in the first section, I recognized the lyrics to a song Jordan and I sang last summer: v.7 "Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance."  The song is "Hiding Place" by Selah, and they re-interpret the words this way:

You are my hiding place.
You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

If you have never heard the song, check it out - I love it, not only for the words, which really speak to my fearful, anxious tendancies, but also for the music: the male and female vocals weave around each other in a really haunting melody.

A few verses down, I was struck by the picture that the psalmist paints: v.8-9 "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.  Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee."  The idea is that we tend to be like a willful horse, who has to be tightly controlled and disciplined with a bit and reins in order to be useful.  God wants us to draw close to him, and He doesn't want to force us to with the spiritual equivalents of bit and bridle.  How much more pleasant the experience would be if we would turn to Him instead of stubbornly going our own way.

I used to think that the phrase "lead, guide, and direct us" was rather redundant, but my father always includes it when he prays.  Perhaps, considering how crucial it is that we allow ourselves to be lead by God, the phrase is not redundant, but, rather, appropriately emphatic. 

P.S. The above picture is from St. Materiana's Church in Tintagel, England.  It is a very small, very old church at the top of a rocky cliff jutting out into the sea.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Best Books: Young Adult, Part 2

Summer of My German Soldier (Puffin Modern Classics)1) Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene:  It's been years since I read this, but it is a powerful work - a young girl hides a German POW, deals with an abusive father, racism, and all the drama of being a teenager in 1940's South. 

by Betty Smith (Author)A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Paperback)2) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith: Another one that I haven't read in a while, but also a coming of age during difficult circumstances novel - the main character grows up in Depression-era New York in a tenement and deals with poverty and other heavy issues.  I really need to lighten this up, huh?

The Phantom Tollbooth

3) The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster: I do not like math, but this fantasy novel about a world of mathematic principles (it's kind of hard to explain) is very funny and fun to read.

The Mozart Season4) The Mozart Season, Virginia Euwer Wolff: This novel about a young violin prodigy struggling to be herself, please her parents, and deal with the identity issues arising from being half-Jewish, half-Gentile didn't receive great reviews, but I loved it and checked it out from the library multiple times.

Just as Long as We're Together5) Just as Long as We're Together, Judy Blume: Blume is a nearly ubiquitous feature of teen girl reading lists, and I read them all.  This was my favorite.

There are more, of course.  I'm beginning to see patterns in my reading from younger years.  Why was I so enamoured with these heavy coming-of-age novels?  There were abusive parents, poverty, death, identity issues, on and on.  And I know the adult equivalents of these - you know, the books that read "Sarah thinks her life is perfect until a tragic accident and her husband's death causes her to re-examine the life she loves and to consider the possibilities...."  I put these back down in a hurry - why is teen angst appealing, but adult angst is just depressing?  Thoughts?  Anyone?  It's a problem.  With the young adult novels, I would pick up anything on the shelf at the library and read it.  Now with books for grown-ups, I scan the back, read the first paragraph, ponder and debate and still generally end up hating everything I get from the library.  It has gotten so bad that I hardly read fiction at all - there is so much drivel out there.  And it is all so depressing.  The "good" books, the ones that win Pulitzers and National Book Awards are generally boring and depressing and bleak.  The "popular" books are just awful and depressing and maudlin - Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, yikes.

I would like to grow up, but the young adult books are much more satisfying.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Best Books: Young Adult

I read. A lot. And not just because I am an getting a PhD in English. Reading is like breathing for me - completely necessary. I would like to share some of my favorites with you. These won't be the obvious choices, although I love the canonical works - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, etc. Instead, I would like to include some works that maybe you haven't heard of, or the more obscure works by well-known authors. At any rate, these are some real gems. I'm starting with the best YA, a category that I still read and love. Here we go:

A House Like a Lotus1) A House Like a Lotus, Madeleine L'Engle: Although L'Engle is best known for her science-fiction series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time, her realist teen fiction is just as good. A House Like a Lotus centers on Polly, takes place in Greece, and deals with a variety of heavy issues in a smart and insightful way. It is beautiful, and the type of book that makes me want to be a better person.

The Blue Castle (Voyageur Classics)2) The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery: Again, Montgomery is better known for a beloved series (the Anne of Green Gables books), but this single novel is one of my favorites. It is a grown up book about a young woman who gives up trying to please her family and bow to convention and begins doing exactly what she wants. It is more sophisticated than Montgomery's other novels, but still has a satisfying romantic plot.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)3) The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander: This fantasy series based on Welsh mythology is fun, and like an easy version of The Lord of the Rings. I am re-reading them now with a little guy that I tutor and he loves them. See, not everything I read is girly!

Little Town on the Prairie (Little House)4) Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder: Although the Little House books are well-loved, most people seem to stop with Little House on the Prairie. The later installments are also good, these two in particular.

Jacob Have I Loved5) Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson: Angsty, full of sibling rivalry (the title refers to Jacob and Esau from the Bible, not a romantic plot), this book also provides a look at a coastal fishing town.

Eight Cousins, Or, the Aunt-Hill6) Eight Cousins; Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott: Little Women is good, but I also enjoy this duo from the author, which includes Alcott's special blend of didacticism and romance.

This will no doubt be continued in other posts - the list goes on. I also want to point to another aspect of YA books that I love - the covers. I remember all the book covers from my youth, on editions that came out in the 70s and 80s, and I have to say, the more current editions just don't live up. I especially like the work of Jody A. Lee, who did covers for the Dell/Yearling editions of fantasy novels. I have been collecting these versions from used books stores and have almost complete series of the L'Engle books and the Alexander books. The book pictured above is one of her covers.

Anyway, what young adult novels get you all nostalgic? And which ones are you still reading today?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The England Album

I love taking pictures (probably inherited this love from my dad, who did some professional work, once upon a time, long, long ago). In England, I kept my camera busy. It's not a great camera - a point and shoot Olympus FE110 that I got for Christmas in 2005, but it does well enough for what I want - and besides, I think that good pictures have more to do with the person taking the picture than the performance of the camera - I've seen people with incredibly expensive, high-tech cameras take plenty of crappy pictures because they don't know how to use it. I also don't use Photoshop - I edit pictures primarily with Photo Manager and maybe some fun things with the free options on Picnic. Most of what I do involves shifting midtones and enhancing the contrast. Some programs seem to require a four-year degree, so I stick with what is simple and subtle improvements.
I printed the best pictures to put in a scrapbook. This is also another area that I didn't want to spend a ton of money on, and I also didn't want to work too hard. And, above all, I didn't want a cutesy scrapbook. I abhor cutesy. This turned out to be a fairly simple process, with a few basic items. I found a beautiful metallic brown 12x12 album with an embossed design on the front, and I used black paper. I framed pics using a white marker, and journaled on note-paper that I tore the edges off. Alphabet stickers, pre-cut cards for captions, and a few sheets of printed paper rounded out the materials.
I included post-cards, tickets, and brochures from the trip. I am pleased with the overall look. I have found that one side-effect of scrapbooking is the re-kindling of desire. I am already looking forward to going to England again. Maybe in a few more years...

Why Sewing is Not Relaxing...

I like sewing, but it is not relaxing like knitting or crocheting. With knitting or crocheting, you generally have a lap-size project that you only have to give minimal attention to - I frequently knit and watch a movie (I've even tried knitting and reading with some success). When you are done knitting for the day, you roll up the project and stick it in a basket. No mess.
Sewing, on the other hand, consumes your life and apartment. Instead of sitting primly, watching TV, you are crouched on the floor (see above) or hunched over a sewing machine, biting your lips. Scraps of fabric and pattern pieces litter the floor and my husband was afraid to sit on any of the furniture because I had pins stuck everywhere. I made that dress in record time because I couldn't wait to get my apartment clean again.
Sewing is exciting, but an all-consuming task. Or maybe I'm just messy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sewing Lessons: A Vintage-Style Dress Project

There were several reasons that I wanted to sew a dress. First, I am writing about dress in my dissertation, about heroines who sew their own clothes and therefore have agency over their identity. Making my own dress, felt a bit like research. Second, it's too hot to crochet or knit. And third, most importantly, I really, really needed something to wear to my wonderful friend's wedding.
I found the pattern on Burda Style, which I had never heard of before. Apparently, Burda is a sewing magazine in Germany, but there is an English website. The site is a bit like Ravelry for knitting and crocheting - there are patterns available for free and for purchase and members can upload photos of their projects. This dress pattern was $4 which is much cheaper than buying a McCalls or Simplicity pattern at Hancock. I couldn't find any material that I liked in the fabric stores so this dress is made out of ...... a bed sheet. I know, why didn't I just use the curtains, Scarlett? But, the fabric feels the way I wanted it to (a nice balance between crisp and drapey) and it is the color that I wanted - a smokey blue that I think is called soldier blue or cadet blue. I altered the pattern a bit to include the pintucking on the front and the lace trim, inspired by another member's alterations (and material of choice). I am thinking about pearl buttons on the front, maybe.

I really liked the overall pattern, which had a nice vintage-feel (late 30's early 40's?) with its pleats and gathers. I especially like the inverted pleat in the back. It definitely fits too, which is unusual for a dress for me - I normally have to get dresses with ties in the back to gather up the excess material. This is darted like crazy for a close fit and a side seam zipper. Oh, and it's lined too. Of course, since I made it, I am painfully aware of all the flaws in the dress. But we won't talk about those, will we?
Anyway, I will wear it with light silvery-gray strappy heels and my hair in a Gibson tuck. I hope it won't look too costumey, but I am sure that N will let me know. Right?

Domestic Scholar is Back Online

Hi, I'm back. Domestic Scholar has been undeleted. I wanted to see how I liked things in a blogless world, prompted partly by a small marital tiff and partly because I feel I get a bit too ambitious with my projects, blogging included. But, in the end, I missed the blog. I kept saying to myself, "oh, I need to blog about that." So, back I come. There have been a few slight changes to the layout - I couldn't resist blogger's new template designs, and besides, having also deleted my flickr account (which wouldn't actually delete, but that is another story), I lost the link to my header. So here we are.

A few updates:
1) England was fantastic! Perfect, unbelievable, outstanding. I will post on the scrapbook that I made from our pictures.
2) I have a nephew! He is almost one month old, and he is perfect, unbelievable, and outstanding.
3) I made a dress. A separate post will follow, but I am pleased with the way it turned out.
4) I am working on my dissertation. It is hard to account for actual progress because I feel like I am working on three chapters simultaneously, but the Pamela chapter has passed two committee members, the Mansfield Park chapter has passed through one, and I am planning to turn in the Villette chapter to my chair next week.
5) I am slowly working my way through Ken Follette's The Pillars of the Earth, which is great - the epic story of the building of a cathedral in medieval England - full of minute historical detail, architectural explanation, and multiple view-points. I am also reading Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, which is hilarious, perfect for reading before bed.
6) Summer produce! I have made blackberry crisp and blackberry swirl poundcake, sweet corn on the cob, squash, and veggie pizza with wonderful produce from Kimrey Farm (if you are in the area, check them out

Anyway, I'm back, and I'm happy about it!