Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley: A Review

P.D. James's latest novel is a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (I know, I know, don't leave yet).  James gives Austen's creation the mystery-novel treatment, in which Wickham involves the Darcy's in a murder investigation by being found in the woods at Pemberley with a dead body.  Despite that intriguing premise, the novel gets off to a slow start; she begins with a somewhat amusing summary of Pride and Prejudice, clearly meant for people who had never read it, but a bit tedious for those who have.  She then directs us to Pemberley, six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's wedding, where preparations for a ball are underway.

Most strikingly: Elizabeth has changed.  Throughout the novel, she is constantly described as anxious, apprehensive, exhausted.  She is given to vague, but grim forebodings.  James has done little to capture the witty and practical heroine of Austen's novel (though, likely, Elizabeth Bennett cannot truly be reproduced to the exacting standards of Austen's readers, so why try?).  James's Mrs. Darcy seems to serve as an emotional conductor, relaying the appropriate sensations to the reader to create the right mysterious atmosphere.  Darcy fares better and is more complex, a mixture of intelligence, compassion, and propriety.

The mystery itself is suitably interesting, but we are subjected to numerous reiterations of the facts--we read exactly the same story, in nearly the same words repeated from the first encounter with the Wickhams, the interviews with the witnesses, repeated to the magistrate, at the inquest, at the trial.  The redundancy seems fairly inexplicable, as it really adds nothing to the plot or our understanding of it.  A final gripe: inelegant information dumps.  We 21st century readers can't figure out that the legal system is different in the 19th century, so we have long speeches where one character relates text-book style information to another character.  This, of course, can only be for our benefit, and it seems that it could have been more gracefully integrated.  Honestly, I would prefer an editorial footnote to these little lectures that are fooling no one.

As a whole, though, the book is a good read, a page-turner that I flew through pretty quickly.  The dialogue (even some free indirect discourse) is pretty convincing, and there are a few, fun mentions of characters from Emma and Persuasion.  A light read, though lacking many humorous touches--it seems there is a bit lost in transforming a comedy of manners into a mystery.  Recommended for Austen fans with the understanding that this is not a purist's sequel, and for mystery fans looking for a historical setting with a minimum of grit and gore.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Packing: A Week at Disney World

This is a post I meant to do last summer!  We went to Disney World in June 2012 and had a blast.  I am mildly obsessed with packing, and always put a lot (read, "way too much") thought into what to bring, so even though it is a year late, I am still posting this!  Also, read about my planning and itinerary creation here: Disney World: Planning

It sounds weird, but packing for Disney was pretty tricky.  When we went to England a couple of years ago, I was determined to pack everything in a carry on, and so I carefully coordinated everything to minimize how much I had to take (see that post here: Packing Light: Ten Days in England).

The trickiness comes in because you will basically need two outfits for each day: not amenable to traveling light!  However, I knew that walking around the park would mean being hot and sweaty and I would want to change before going out in the evening.

For day, I chose basic T shirts, including some I usually use for running which are great at wicking away moisture.  Running shorts, sneakers, short athletic socks, and a visor finished things off.  I carried my Ameribag, which is designed to feel like it weighs less than it actually does.  I carried this because I knew I wanted to have my camera and water bottle in the park (hydration is crucial), but next time I think I would try to find a way to get away with less.  Actually, who am I kidding--next time I'll have children and will probably be the resident porter!

After spending the morning and lunchtime in the parks, we would usually come back to the hotel for a swim, nap, and shower before heading back out for evening activities.  Disney is super-casual, so I didn't worry about choosing anything too dressy: just khaki shorts and a white skirt that could be paired with any of the tops.  We wouldn't be walking nearly as much, so the tennis shoes and flip-flops were fine.

The extra items: I brought yoga pants and extra T shirts to wear on our travel days.  We rented a fifteen passenger van (there were 8 of us going--6 adults, a teenager, and a toddler--plus all our luggage), and this worked out well.  Comfort is key on a nine hour drive.  I also packed the necessities: pajamas, swimsuits, and a cover-up.

Here is everything (minus toiletries) as it went into the bag (a large duffle).  I liked rolling the clothes together (sorted by type:  tops, shorts, bottoms, swim, etc), because they take up less room, and don't get quite as wrinkled.  However, since then, I have purchased packing cubes, which I love.  They should feature in an upcoming packing post.

Here is a demonstration of the stack and roll method, although I am pretty sure it doesn't need explanation. 

I was pretty happy with the clothes I brought--I was comfortable and appropriately dressed and even though I brought two outfits for each day, they didn't really take up that much room.

One Dress, Three Ways: Maternity Autumn Work Wear

I know maxi dresses have been around for a few years now, but I have always resisted.  They just seemed so...long and flowy and conspicuous.  However, I have found that they are extremely forgiving of growing bumps, so when I found one in my favorite color (I know, gray is the most boring thing ever, but it's beautiful and versatile and I love it), I picked it up.  I was beginning to have second thoughts, however.  How was I going to wear this?  The top is rather awkward and, without a camisole, obscene.  I was wanting something to wear to work once classes start back this fall, and I rather doubted that this would work.  However, since the dress came from a consignment shop, it couldn't exactly be returned.  I decided to see what I could do with it.

Here is the back view, just to emphasize that the top was not going to work for creating a professional image on its own.

Look 1: Black Blazer.  At this point, I can still button the top button, but it would also look fine open.  I would wear this with a long silver chain necklace, which I forgot to put on for the picture.

Look 2: Blue Button Down with Brown Leather Belt.  I love belts and wear them almost everyday.  A friend asked how I would manage to wear them with the bump--just cinch them higher, of course!  I also think my brown leather boots would work with this look.

Look 3: Long Gray Sweater.  Gray on gray--love this.  I am hoping I don't stretch the knit out too badly as I get bigger.  Notice the strategically placed arm to actually make the bump visible.  I am 20 weeks along, and although the bump shows up in person, on camera it somehow disappears.

A few thoughts on making the maxi dress (typically a casual, summer item) work for the office in the fall/winter:

1) Pick the color/print carefully.  Solid charcoal gray (or black, beige, navy) can be made to seem appropriate.  Bright colors and huge prints might be a bit more tricky.

2) Keep the top covered.  Basically, it it going to make the dress look like a skirt.  I toyed with the idea of cutting off the top and adding elastic to actually make this a skirt, but decided against it--I think it is more comfortable this way, and I don't have worry about waist band placement.

3) Choose a fitted top.  To balance the long, flowiness of the dress, a more tailored piece helps.  A loose top with a loose dress is going to look sloppy.  A belt can make a looser top seem more fitted.

Just to point out a few things: first, none of these pieces is "maternity" and I hope/plan to wear them all again post-pregnancy.  Second, this is my first pregnancy, and I have no idea how big I will get.  Hopefully these (and a few other ideas that I have, some involving actual maternity wear) will see me through.  

Classes start back in late August and I am due in mid-December.  With teaching five days a week over the course of my third trimester in weather ranging from sweltering late summer to freezing early winter, this should be an interesting experience.     

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Baby Bliss: Things I Have Learned in the First (Almost) Half of Pregnancy

Our baby is due in mid-December, so I am just a couple weeks shy of half-way there.  Here are some things I have discovered over the last few months.

1)  Tired.  So tired.
I had been warned that the first trimester would make me exhausted, but I wasn't quite prepared.  I felt like I had been drugged.  I could lay down in the floor and go to sleep at almost any time.  I napped sometimes three times a day.  As I described it to Jordan, I was too tired to stand up, too tired to sit up, and laying down was pretty exhausting.  If there was something less physically demanding than laying down, I would have done that.

I am incredibly fortunate that most of the first trimester was after spring semester ended.  I have been teaching an online class this summer, so I have been able to grade, write, email, and then nap.  One of the funniest tired moments was at about 9 weeks.  Jordan and I were vising our parents for a week, and we decided to hike in Linville Gorge.  All was well until the return trip, which involved hiking up out of the gorge.  I had to stop and rest about every 100 yards.  At one point, I sat down on a rock in the middle of the trail, put my head on my knees, and dozed off.  We finally made it out, and Jordan was very relieved that he didn't end up having to physically carry me out of the wilderness.

2)  There's a fine line.  And I have no idea where the line is.
Believe it or not, exercise actually gives you energy.  Unless you do it too much, and then you are comatose for the next 12 hours.  I tried running through the first trimester, and I actually did pretty good until the last couple of weeks.  By that time, my 30 minute trot meant  my nap time would quadruple the next day.  So I switched to just plain walking.  Last week (week 15/16), I started ramping things back up a bit.  I go to the gym three times a week and do ten minutes on the bike, ten on the treadmill (mostly running, with a bit of walking), and ten minutes on the elliptical machine.  On the easiest settings.  This seems to be working, as I don't get too exhausted, but I still feel like I am getting a workout.  I am hoping to get more running in before I get too big in the third trimester.

On the same principle of the fine line, stretching is good for you.  Everything I have read extols the wonders of yoga for pregnancy, and since I have been doing yoga for several years now, I have kept it up with a bit of light practice at home and a class once a week.  The funny thing about pregnancy is all these hormones are circulating in your body.  One of them, called Relaxin, relaxes ligaments, which is good news for when you are giving birth.  The bad news, for me anyway, is that it means I have pulled more muscles from over stretching in the last few months than I have in years.  Even doing very basic yoga moves that I have done thousands of times before can cripple me for the next few days.  Like I said, it's a fine line.

3)  I am incredibly happy.
Before I got pregnant, I was worried.  I was worried about how worried I would be once I was pregnant.  (Does that even make sense?)  I was anticipating being overwhelmed with anxiety (the sweaty-palmed, heart-racing, cold-creeping-down-your-neck kind of anxiety) once I knew that birth and parenthood were inevitable and impending.  I was worried about this future worry right up until I got pregnant.  Then what happened?  It went away.  I am not overwhelmed with anxiety.  That's not to say that I won't be closer to delivery.  I have always been rather terrified of childbirth--the anticipation of pain sends me for a loop.  But for some reason, I have been quite calm and philosophical about the whole thing.  It will hurt.  I will practice pain-relieving methods and then get an epidural. I will be fine.  I know I am being very nonchalant about the whole thing, and I don't know if it is the hormones or if it is just resignation or if God is granting my prayers that I would be strong and calm (I lean toward the latter!).  But my overwhelming emotion is just plain old happiness.