Taking up a New Hobby

I’m not sure if it’s the result of a midlife crisis, or just an expression of healthy personal growth, but I recently decided to take up painting. As you know, my inner artist has been mostly dormant since childhood, with only brief intervals of resuscitation. The latest of those happened thanks to my friend Ali, who invited me to go with him to a place called “Painting with a Twist.”

It’s kind of like those painting shows on T.V., except it’s live and they paint the painting right in front of you while you paint your own approximation of the painting along with the instructor. Here’s Ali, halfway through his painting:

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I went with a bit of trepidation, since I wasn’t at all sure that I could actually complete a decent looking painting, even with somebody telling me exactly what to do at every step. I had one moment of panic staring at the blank white canvas. But then I plunged in and started painting. In the end, to my surprise, my painting actually ended up looking pretty recognizable (if you can’t tell that it’s a romantic couple on a rainy street, just pretend that you can).

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The thing that surprised me even more, though, was how very much I enjoyed the physical act of painting. My brush felt like a magic wand, and I couldn’t believe how quickly three hours flew by. When I got home and showed him the result, Tony–ever the supportive husband–immediately hung my painting up on the wall. And I think that may have been the moment when I decided I would become a painter.

My head filled with visions of myself trekking all over our Greek island with my easel on my back, and then settling down on some rocky promontory to paint the impossibly blue Aegean melting into the sky. In my head, it was positively Byronic.

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While I like to think of myself as a sort of mad adventurer, my madness is often quite methodical. Since I had no idea how to become a painter, I turned to Google. Near the top of the search results was the website of Will Kemp, who not only looked to be a good authority on painting, but also shared my appreciation for the gelato of Florence.

I pored over his website, fascinated as a complete neophyte by articles on the difference between oils and acrylics, choosing brushes (turns out my “magic wand” idea wasn’t too far off), and balancing warm and cool colours (he’s British, as well as an Italophile).

Unfortunately, I was suddenly jerked out of my sun-drenched Greek island reverie by this statement:

“80% of a painting’s success comes from the drawing.

Maybe even 90%.”

I have a complete lack of confidence in my drawing abilities, and a sort of latent horror at the thought of inevitably getting something out of proportion. And I had imagined that painting would be a way around that, and that I could skim through happily with my brush, oblivious of such frightening concerns as perspective and proportion.

Apparently not.

Would my painting career be derailed before it began? It was touch and go for a matter of moments. Fortunately, I was deterred only temporarily by the thought that I would need to learn to draw in order to learn to paint. After all, there are Youtube videos! There is my library! (One good thing about living in Florida is that your library is full of books about things that retired people do, like traveling, and knitting, and drawing and painting, it turns out.) There are $6.92 sketch and drawing pencil sets on Amazon!

Armed with these tools, perhaps I will be able to conquer my fear of drawing and take the first step toward becoming a painter. Wish me luck.

Photo credit

 

My Favorite Walks Around the World

I found this post mostly completed in my drafts folder, and thought I’d share, since it’s been awhile since I did a nostalgia post. One of the beautiful things about moving often is that you experience the “little things” of life in so many different ways. Like the smell of the plants outside your window. Or the way different fruits taste when they’re in season. Or the cadence of stray overheard phrases in different languages.

Among the constant yet changeable things in my life is the evening walk that Tony and I have taken ever since we got married. Besides being a great time to reconnect as a couple, talk about what’s on our minds, and get some fresh air, our walk also helps to explore whatever neighborhood is ours at the moment. Since we so often view the outside world through a car window, walking lets us take a slower, more intimate look at the scenery and notice things we wouldn’t otherwise see.

We have lived in so many places and become acquainted with so many evening walks that I can’t list them all. These are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Our walk in Tunisia began like this:

And ended like this:

Or on very special nights, like this:

Another favorite walk was in Ireland. We’d walk out to (I kid you not) the most idyllic cow pasture in the world. It’s funny to me how fondly we still speak of “our” cow pasture.

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Our route left town just a block or two from our apartment in Mullingar, where we took a path that paralleled the Royal Canal.

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At the time, we were reading Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, and I thought about it every time the train went by. This walk and the picnic we usually had at the end of it always made me feel like we were re-living some lost Victorian country childhood. This photo makes me remember so many things about Ireland: the authentic Irish brown bread that I always made, the wellies my kids lived in, and how very little they were back then.

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And then there was our beautiful little Italian village. Here’s how our walk started out there:

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And then, you know those stock photos of the road between trees that converges on the horizon with a perfection that looks like it can’t possibly really exist? Ours did in fact exist, although this photo is less about the perfection of the road than the exuberance of a very pleased little Axa.

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After the tree-lined walk, it opened out into beautiful Alpine fields backed by mountains.

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We had similar beautiful walks in Vancouver, Washington, where the spring was a delicious parade of different flowers that seemed to go on for months, and in Carmel Valley (San Diego, California), where we lived in a neighborhood where all the houses followed a strict Spanish-style architectural code, the sidewalks were always perfectly swept, and there was nary a blade of lush green perfect lawn out of place.

In La Jolla, we walked by the Mormon temple every night, enjoying its dramatic beauty and our memories of getting married there. Even here in Florida our walks through our little suburban neighborhood are nice, although it’s sometimes so hot and muggy we only make it once around the block. We’re looking forward to beautiful walks on Kea, where the walking paths date back to the ancient Greeks, and the Mediterranean is visible from all over.

My Top 20 Books

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You know that Facebook thing that’s been going around where people tag you and you have to list your top ten books? Well, I was waiting and waiting to get tagged. I finally did a couple of days ago (thank you, Jared) but by then the number had ballooned to 20 books. Which I guess is OK, because I had a hard time as it was narrowing it down to just 20. And I didn’t think I could just post a list without explaining what each and every book meant to me. So it got too long for a Facebook status, and ended up on my blog. Here, in no particular order, are my top 20 books:

 

The Left Hand of Darkness

Part of me thinks this should be a list of authors rather than books. Ursula LeGuin writes so many brilliantly insightful books it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve loved this book ever since I was a teenager. Besides her insights into what patriotism is, what gender means, and why uncertainty is a necessity for life, there’s one particularly beautiful scene that expresses better than anything else I’ve ever read how lonely it can sometimes feel to be an expat in a foreign country.

 

The Once and Future King

I have read a great many King Arthur stories, and this is by far my favorite. It is wise, charming, and heartbreaking by turns. I wish every political leader could grow up like T.H. White’s Arthur, or at least read this book.

 

The Birth of Tragedy

I took a class on Nietzsche back when I was a philosophy major, partly for the delicious irony of studying a philosopher who famously claimed that “God is dead” at a university that nicknames itself “The Lord’s university.” This is the book that introduced me to the Dionysian/Apollonian dichotomy, and taught me that art should be a “transfiguring mirror.”

 

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

This is actually a children’s picture book by the incomparable Chris Van Allsburg. It was also the center of a secret literary society I formed as a homeschooled kid to write stories about the mysterious paintings in the book.

 

The Original Homeschooling Series (Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling #1-6)

As well as growing up homeschooled, I have read dozens of books about homeschooling, and this series of six is still my go-to manual and source of inspiration. 19th-century British educator Charlotte Mason talks about treating children as persons, giving them an education that is both wide and deep, and helping them to connect with everything they learn on a personal level.

 

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Patricia McKillip has always been one of my favorite authors. This book is a beautiful parable about betrayal, revenge, and love. Also, if you have ever wondered where my email address and miscellaneous internet handle came from (Lyralen), it’s my intentional misspelling of the mythical white bird in this book.

 

Measure for Measure

During my freshman year at university, both my history of philosophy class and my literature class analyzed this play. It was fascinating to read it from the viewpoints of two such different disciplines, and it’s been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays ever since. I love the themes of hypocrisy and forgiveness, and I think this play has weathered the years exceptionally well even for Shakespeare.

 

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)

What can I say about Lord of the Rings? I’ve probably read it more times than I’ve read any other book, and worn through several paperback editions. As a kid, I paid my seven-year-old sister a quarter every night to stay awake while I read the series aloud to her. When I got married, this was one of only two books that turned out as duplicates in our combined library–except that Tony’s copy was the leatherback edition from the locked case in the bookstore, and mine was yet another dog-eared paperback.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

I really debated over including this one. My orthodox Mormon friends hate it, and my feminist friends hate it, for entirely different reasons. But it had a huge positive impact on my perception of my sexuality (not to mention my sex life with my husband). Which is already TMI, so I’ll leave it there.

 

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

There’s not a lot of nonfiction on my list, but this is a great book. I’ve traveled around the world enough to see the massive disparities in technology and living conditions in different countries. This book tackles the big question of WHY those disparities exist, and which historical and geographical accidents gave certain civilizations the tools to conquer and subjugate others (spoiler: it was climate and geography, not genetic superiority).

 

Cloud Atlas

I think of this as a sort of novelization of Guns, Germs & Steel. I’m equally enamored of the movie, even though it’s more of a fantasy on a theme than a faithful reproduction. As a meditation on power, human goodness, and our inseparable connection to one another, this story moved me profoundly.

 

Phineas Redux

It’s hard for me to explain my adoration of Trollope’s novels, even to myself. This is book four in his ponderously lengthy “Palliser Chronicles,” which center around 19th-century British politics. It’s fascinating for the period detail, expansive vocabulary, and colorful characterizations of even minor characters.

 

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

I am currently in the process of reading this aloud to my children, all the while realizing just how much Anne influenced me when I was growing up.

 

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine

Most Christian religions have (at least!) a few problems when it comes to traditional treatment of women. My spiritual journey is a little different from Sue Monk Kidd’s, but her book was valuable for me as I was articulating to myself my experience as a woman in my church.

 

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury at his very best. I can’t resist a book about books, and this is the iconic book about books. I’ve never forgotten the opening scene where the woman burns in her house full of books. “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” 

 

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

This was sort of the beginning of me coming to terms with the good, the bad, and the weird of Mormon history. Joseph Smith was an extraordinary person, and it was great to get to know him, especially in the rich historical context Bushman provides.

 

Les Misérables

I sobbed my heart out when I read this book as a teenager. I hadn’t much use for the somewhat sappy love duo of Cosette and Marius, but I was in love with Enjolras. This probably led directly to my soft spot for revolutionaries everywhere.

 

The Sun Also Rises

This was my first introduction to Hemingway. I had no real concept as a teenager of the harsh post-WWI background the novel embodies, but wow, could I ever relate to the angst.

 

A Tale of Two Cities

When I was at university, my best friend and I printed out the first paragraph to this book, memorized it, then tore it up into little pieces and ate it. Because that’s what we did for kicks back then.

 

The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights

I’ve always been fascinated by these Middle Eastern fairy tales. And the underlying premise of a woman who must use her wits and her stories to stop a mad tyrant from killing her and the rest of the young women in the kingdom is an enduring testament to the power of the stories we tell ourselves and others.

 

So. If you’ve read this, go ahead and consider yourself tagged. What are your top 20 (or top 10, or top 5) books?

photo credit

Guest Blog at The Exponent

I was invited to blog this week at The Exponent, a Mormon blog focused on women’s issues. They’re currently in the midst of a two-week focus on international voices. So if you’re interested in similarities and differences between Mormon congregations in various countries, you might want to pop in and have a read. My article is here.

David Tennant – Elsewhere

The last time I had a celebrity crush this bad was when we lived in Ireland. I got really sick, and spent a week in bed watching Darren Hayes music videos. I still love me some Savage Garden, but I’m (mostly) over Darren Hayes, although I can never get tired of listening to “The Animal Song.”

Things are much worse this time. Even re-watching the three David Tennant seasons of Doctor Who with Tony (and then again with Axa) is not enough to give me my David Tennant fix these days. So I’ve had to branch out. I was initially worried that seeing him play anything other than a 945-year-old Time Lord would be somehow disillusioning. Fortunately, David Tennant is versatile enough to be brilliant no matter what he’s doing (or what he’s wearing). Here’s what I’ve been watching him in lately:

Spies of Warsaw

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This is a two-part miniseries set in Poland just before the outbreak of WWII. Neither David Tennant nor any of his colleagues are particularly convincing as French officers/spies, but that doesn’t stop the story from being exciting and dramatic. David Tennant is a French nobleman working at the embassy in Warsaw. He’s also an intrepid spy with a big heart and a highly developed conscience, and all the contradictions that implies. Aside from being set in the late 1930’s, it kind of has the innocent, nostalgic feel I associate with movies actually made during that time period. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this film.

Also, I am not usually one for men in uniform, but David Tennant in epaulets? Yes, please.

The Decoy Bride

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OK, this one was silly. Very, very silly. David Tennant plays a mediocre writer who is about to marry a famous actress and instead falls for another mediocre writer. The movie takes place on a little Scottish island, so I was really looking forward to hearing his natural Scottish accent. Unfortunately, he wasn’t actually Scottish in the movie, although he does do a scene where he plays bagpipes while a deaf couple dances, as well as spending a fair amount of the movie wearing the incomparable outfit pictured above. I’m not hugely in to romantic comedies in the first place, and this one was sillier than the average romantic comedy. Still, David Tennant, so.

The Politician’s Husband

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I quite, quite enjoyed this one, another BBC miniseries that is more a commentary on balancing work, children, and marriage than a real political drama. Tennant’s Aiden Hoynes is an ambitious politician whose wife’s political career has always taken a backseat to his. When a leadership bid goes wrong, his wife’s political star begins to rise even as his is falling. Holding down the homefront proves a challenge for Hoynes, as he struggles to deal with more household responsibilities, his autism-spectrum son, and jealousy over his wife’s political alliance with a bitter rival. David Tennant’s acting is incredible, as always, and the story is riveting, if painful to watch. I’m really not a fan of what they did to his hair, though.

Broadchurch

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I’m about 2/3 of the way through this excellently done crime drama. I am not that in to murder mysteries, not least because I don’t like spending hours going over every gory detail of a horrific crime. Broadchurch, though, is more about how one tragic event sends out ripples through the little community where it happens, affecting the lives of every person who lives there. Even without David Tennant, I think I would be fascinated by this incredibly crafted exploration into human relationships and reactions to tragedy. I’ve yet to decide how I feel about antisocial, unpopular Alec Hardy, who’s always slightly rumpled, too formal, and surreptitiously limping away from his own emotional wounds. But I think Tennant’s performance is impeccable.

Bizarrely, Fox is premiering a remake called Gracepoint next month in the United States, in which the entire cast, except David Tennant, has been replaced. I can understand keeping David Tennant, of course. But why the remake? The only explanation I’ve heard is that Americans can’t understand the accents. It’s called subtitles, people. And how could you not love the accents? I’m sure I’ll end up watching it, though, because David Tennant.

P.S. If you’ve already watched Broadchurch, don’t tell me what happens. If you tell me who the killer is, I may well commit my very own murder.

As you can see, David Tennant is an absolute delight to watch under any circumstances. And these aren’t even his most well-known roles. I have yet to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, any of his Shakespeare roles, or even Casanova, which was kind of his first big role. Russell T. Davies initially got some flak for not casting a sexier actor as Casanova. I think he’s been amply vindicated since.

If you’re still (unimaginably) on the fence 0ver whether you need to see more of David Tennant, I’ll just leave you with this iconic clip from the Catherine Tate show:

Deep Breath (Spoilers, of Course)

When I found out that Deep Breath, the premier episode of Doctor Who, Season 8 would be showing in theaters, I was over the moon. The only bad thing was that for whatever reason (long-delayed British revenge for the Boston Tea Party?) it wasn’t screened until a full 48 hours after it had been shown in Britain. So I did my best to stay off social media in the meantime to avoid being hit by spoilers in one of the six different Doctor Who Facebook groups to which I belong.

However, the long-awaited day did dawn at last. I picked up our babysitter on my way home from work, and felt a little guilty that she was babysitting for our kids while we went to Doctor Who when I found out that she’s a fan too. Such are the vicissitudes of being a teenage babysitter, I guess. I remember thinking that most of the things the parents I babysat for as a teenager were doing sounded more fun than staying home with their kids too.

When I got home, I was delighted to find that Tony had bought us Doctor Who T-shirts for the occasion. Here’s a bad selfie taken at the theater:

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And here’s one of Tony catching a cat-nap before the movie:

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His, of course, is the Tenth Doctor. And mine’s the TARDIS, over a grunged-out Union Jack. I love it.

Doctor Who Shirt

As for the actual episode, I loved it too. Be warned, the following thoughts on it not only contain abundant spoilers, but will be completely unintelligible if you haven’t seen the episode.

First of all, I loved how alien the Doctor was. I really think he had more empathy for the dinosaur than for any of the humans, including Clara. I adore David Tennant, but he was a very human Doctor, and always intent on understanding everyone’s feelings and reassuring them. The way Capaldi seriously let Clara think he had abandoned her was so unnerving, but so empowering for her. It really reminded me of the Fourth Doctor–unpredictable and brilliant, but almost a little cold. It’s impossible to forget that Capaldi’s not human. And he’s SO funny! Plus, I love, love, love the Scottish accent. I’m so glad they let him keep it.

I also liked the way Clara had a hard time reconciling herself to the new Doctor. But even more, I liked that it showed how hard it was for him for her to look at him and not see him. And I didn’t mind the phone call with the 11th Doctor. It was a good way to establish emotional continuity, both for her and for him. I also found it fascinating how the Doctor wondered about where his new faces come from. I’ve heard it speculated that he was remembering his meeting with Caecilius at Pompeii. But I like to think that there’s some interesting explanation for  how he gets each particular new face, since it seems pretty random.

The balloon made out of human skin was a little much, I thought. And the half-faced man was terrifying and horrible. Those androids in The Girl in the Fireplace were never my favorite, so I wasn’t overly thrilled to see something similar. This is definitely an episode my kids would find terrifying, and I think lived up to the speculation that Moffat was planning to take the series in a “darker” direction.

I know that some people love them, but personally I am pretty tired of Madame Vastra and her entourage. Especially Strax, who has started to feel like predictable comic relief to me. The Doctor himself is funny enough on his own. So I hope they stop appearing, so we can see some new faces. I’m intrigued by Missy and all the theories around her. I’d love for her to be another incarnation of River Song, but I don’t really think she is. The names of the last two episodes make me think that the Promised Land/Paradise/Heaven must be a pretty central theme. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

One really fun thing about Deep Breath was that the whole episode had a decidedly Steampunk feel. The costumes were delightful (especially Clara’s opulent green dress). And the Doctor up on a rooftop in his nightgown like Wee Willie Winkie was utterly endearing. Yes, the plot was convoluted, but people who don’t like convoluted plots likely stopped watching Doctor Who a long time ago. I am excited for the new season, and I think this first episode did a great job at raising many more questions than it answered, introducing some fascinating new themes and characters, and most of all, establishing that Peter Capaldi is subtle, unpredictable, brilliant, and born to play the Doctor.

Game of Thrones, Falling in Honey, Bigger on the Inside, and Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times

Doctor Who

It’s been a while since I published a book review. As is probably obvious, I spend most of my discretionary time these days watching Doctor Who. It’s still not clear whether my infatuation will eventually burn itself out, or develop into a lifelong love affair. Of course I am hoping for the latter–doesn’t everyone who’s in love want it to last forever? In the meantime, I just signed my daughter up for an online homeschooling class entitled Traveling Through History With Doctor Who, because who doesn’t need another excuse to watch a Doctor Who episode every week and then write papers and do projects relating it to history, science, literature and ethics?

I’ve been reading too, though, at least a bit. Doctor Who related books, and even a few others. Check out my latest reads:

 

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve kept this on my currently-reading shelf for quite a while, but finally realized that I was never going to finish it. For one thing, it’s so long! I like long books, but only if I like them, so I must not like this one very much if it feels like I’m slogging through and not getting anywhere.

Most people I know either love or hate this series, but I find myself merely lukewarm. When I am in a particularly nihilistic mood, I kind of love wallowing in the T.V. series in all its opulent glory, even if I have to cover my eyes for the really gory parts. But I’m not all that impressed with Martin’s prose.

The only character I really like all the time is Bran Stark. If the book were all about him, I’d probably like it much better. Which makes me think I should probably just go back and read Lord of the Rings yet again, if what I’m interested in is the diminutive, melancholic character on the quixotic quest to save the world.

I have a several friends who adore this series. At least now I can say I tried.

 

Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My HeartFalling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart by Jennifer Barclay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is far from the best expat memoir I’ve ever read. It probably only deserves maybe 2.5 stars. But I’m moving to a Greek island, so I did enjoy it quite a bit and I’ve rounded up my rating.

Things I liked – reading all the little details, like descriptions of food (I am addicted to descriptions of food), the traditional dancing at festivals, and the idiosyncratic directions to her new house.

Things I could have done without – so many pages devoted to her love life. It seemed like she should have written a separate memoir for that, although I’m sure the two things (Greece and complicated relationships) were inextricably connected in her mind.

So, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as good armchair traveling, unless you like it mixed in with an unrelated soap opera.

 

Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside (Popular Culture and Philosophy)Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside by Courtland Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book I am going to send back to the library with a post-it note containing my name and email address. Because if you read and loved this book, we should be friends (and because I’ve been informed that in Whovian circles this is considered a legitimate way to make friends).

Every time I watch a Doctor Who episode, I end up with a head full of ideas that I’m just dying to discuss with someone, and my husband can only take so much Doctor Who-related babble. So this book was like water for my parched soul–essay after essay written by people who not only take Doctor Who seriously, but were also interested in exploring its ethical and existential themes. Heaven.

The book is divided into several sections, including Ethics, Personal Identity, Aesthetics, etc. I minored in philosophy, although I haven’t read a whole lot of philosophical texts since I graduated. So most of the philosophical arguments in the book were familiar to me, but I think they would still be accessible without a background in philosophy.

Since each essay is written by a different person, the quality and style is somewhat uneven. But there are enough gems to give the book five stars. A couple of different authors developed the idea that the Doctor’s ethical system is a variation of the “Ethics of Caring” developed by feminist thinkers in the 1950’s, and I found those essays enlightening, since I’m particularly interested in (and enamoured by) the Doctor as an unconventional hero with an idiosyncratic moral outlook.

Whether you want to get your Whovian friend interested in philosophy or your philosophical friend interested in Doctor Who, this is the perfect book.

 

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Lives and TimesDoctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times by James Goss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone in acquisitions at my library is apparently as taken by Doctor Who as I am, since I’ve probably checked out a dozen or more books similar this one, which is a sort of documentary-type book about the series.

This one, though, is by far my favorite. While many of the others are simply character encyclopedias, this book has lots of interviews and reminiscing by cast members about what it was like to be part of Doctor Who, and it’s laid out in an appealing scrapbook style.

I admit to skimming some of the earlier chapters, since I’ve only seen a fraction of the classic episodes, and I’m trying to avoid too many spoilers. But if you wanted a nice overview of the series, including characters, plot(s), and behind-the-scenes, you couldn’t go wrong with this book.

View all my reviews

Planning an International Move

Stock MonkeysYou’d think planning for an international move would be old hat for me since we’ve done it so many times. Unfortunately, we actually haven’t done it that much. The planning, that is, not the moving. We’ve moved plenty, but it’s mostly been on the spur of the moment, and after a mad few weeks of planning. The last time we really took a long time to plan was nine years ago, before we went to the Philippines for the summer. If you’ve read my book, you’ll remember that despite the exhaustive planning, we were such rookie travelers we ended up in the airport with no money and no place to stay, after having spent all 13.5 of the 14 hours on the plane with tomato juice all over my white pantsuit.

I’m pretty much an expert at winging it and improvising, but it’s always been my dream to have at least four months to plan and execute an international move. And this time I do. Now that I actually have the time, though, it doesn’t seem that exciting. Still, now that I’m here, I might as well do it. So here goes: my exhaustive list of

Things To Do Before My International Move:

  • Buy Plane Tickets (I have been obsessively checking Kayak to make sure that the flight we’re planning to take doesn’t disappear or go up radically in price–not that I could do anything about it if it did–but we want to iron out housing before we get our tickets to make sure that the dates work)
  • Arrange travel for sugar gliders (This involves researching how the airline feels about pets, going through airport security with them, which carrier to buy, etc.)
  • Check with airport veterinarian in Athens re: sugar glider importation requirements
  • Get certificate from U.S. vet + letter stating that sugar gliders don’t get rabies
  • Sell stuff on craigslist (lawnmower, old sugar glider cage/aquarium, washer/dryer, computers, Curtis’ desk, other desks, chest of drawers, couch, futon, etc.)
  • Buy International Health Insurance
  • Pack (One little word, but easily the most work-intensive activity on this list)
  • Put stuff in storage (We’re not shipping a container to Greece just yet, so we’re leaving furniture, books, and stuff in storage here)
  • Sell car
  • Stop auto insurance
  • Check passports, American/Italian (I am pretty sure at least some of these are expired, since we haven’t been out of the U.S. in three years. Both our U.S. and Italian passports need to be up-to-date, because we need to present the U.S. passports to leave the U.S. and the Italian ones to enter Greece. Who said dual citizenship made your life less complicated?)
  • Unlock phones/research phone service in Greece
  • Housing (We are considering several different furnished rentals. Renting sight unseen is risky, and we’ve had some rather interesting experiences with it in the past, but it’s the reality of our life)
  • Internet (This will probably end up being via an internet key)
  • Buy laptop
  • Buy luggage (We have an assortment of luggage that we’ve dragged all over the world, but most of it is in tatters and unlikely to survive another transatlantic flight/bus/ferry. Our favorite large suitcase just broke a wheel after having been pressed into service for the past two years as weekly transportation for our library books)
  • Buy homeschool supplies, etc. (You know. All that stuff we don’t want to pay insane international shipping for sometime next year)
  • Plan packing list (Yeah, this should go up before “Pack”)
  • Notify banks/credit cards of foreign travel

And this is just my off-the-top-of-my-head list, so I’m sure I am forgetting some things. If you’ve done a move like this, did you have a list? Care to share, so I can make mine even more unmanageable?

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Silence in the Library

As per our usual Saturday routine, I took the children to the library this morning. Upon walking in the door, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a book sale going on in the Book Nest, our library’s resident book store. It was one of those $3 per bag sales that I absolutely love, because I don’t have to weigh the relative merits of each book–I simply have to concentrate on stuffing as many books as possible into my allotted grocery bag. I’ve become quite an expert at this. Here’s my haul for today:

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I always hit the classics shelf first. The librarian working in the store was surprised and delighted to find that I was buying the large, ancient tome of Plutarch that she thought nobody read anymore. It’s true that I do have another edition of Plutarch, also the Dryden translation, but it doesn’t contain nearly as many lives. And now we can read it as a family. I also netted a more modern Penguin Classics edition of Plutarch containing just six lives: Sulla, Crass, Cicero, Pompey and Caesar, complete with copious notes.

I got nice hardback copies of Milton (Complete Poetry and Selected Prose)Pride and Prejudice, and Far From the Madding Crowd, along with a paperback of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, which I haven’t read (although I did see the rather silly film adaptation with Edward-the-Vampire in the title role). Also Beowulf, since the kids have been listening to a kid version on Librivox.

The drama shelf gave me Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, as well as Hamlet, The Tempest, and Much Ado About Nothing in the “No Fear Shakespeare” editions that my homeschool friends are always raving about. I already have at least one Complete Works of Shakespeare as well as each play in adorable pocket-sized hardbacks, but one can never have too much Shakespeare.

Poetry was a bit sparse today, but I did net The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse.

I’m of course on the lookout for anything to do with Greece these days, and was pleased to find a Collins Pocket Greek Dictionary, although Tony rightly pointed out that one’s pockets would have to be unusually large to accommodate it. Will Durant’s 1939 The Life of Greece (part of his Story of Civilization series) looked promising, as did Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, since I’ve read and loved her previous book, The Greek Way. I don’t typically buy random books I’ve never heard of at book sales, but The War at Troy by Lindsay Clarke sounded interesting, and also Greek, so I popped it into my now nearly overflowing bag.

My library usually does not have very much good children’s fiction at book sales, but today I was pleased to find a darling edition of The Wind in the Willows. I already own two copies of this book, but it’s such a lovely book, and the illustrations in this particular copy were so sweet that I couldn’t resist. I also found Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, along with its three sequels, all matching.

A heavy-duty Childcraft Children’s Dictionary rounded out the kids books, unless you count 100 Heartbeats, which I got for Axa because the author, Jeff Corwin, is her hero, and possibly also her first crush. In a similar vein, we also picked up Among the Great Apes, for more nature-related reading.

By this time my bag really was splitting at the seams, but I managed to cram in a final book: Literary Houses, a sort of idiosyncratic old fashioned coffee table book about ten iconic houses in famous literary works, and their real life inspirations, among which Manderly from Rebecca, Satis House from Great Expectations, and Northanger Abbey from Northanger Abbey.

I’m seized by a sort of madness when I go to these book sales. For years, I’ve been collecting books because I knew someday we would move far away from the library, to somewhere where the only books my children would have in their native tongue would be the ones I had collected.

That original impetus for my book collecting is still in force–we are indeed moving to a Greek island next year. But the drive to collect books has become something more for me now. I can feel the relevance of good, old fashioned books slipping away. It’s not that I oppose the digitization of books; I love my Kindle and can’t get enough of sites like Gutenburg and Librivox. These days I’m as likely to read a book on my Kindle or listen to it on my phone as read the printed page. Not that I’ve given up the printed page either; I’ve just learned to be omnivorous. I love having a book by my bed, but I love being able to access my whole Kindle library on my smartphone too.

I’m all for every book ever written being available online to anyone in the world who wants to read it. But at the same time, I can’t help being affected by the prognostications that printed books and libraries are becoming obsolete, and pretty soon everything will be digitized. I’m not a luddite. I want them all digitized. But I want them as books too, real books that I can touch–the bodies that hold their souls.

And so I continue on in my melancholic mania, buying so many books that my shelves are overflowing with printed bounty. It’s my own little way of holding back the dark. When I’m old (and wearing purple, of course, with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me) I won’t be a cat lady, I’ll be a book lady. And then again, maybe the doom-sayers are wrong, and there are enough people who just like books, real books, that they’ll never go out of fashion or completely out of print. Maybe the Doctor is right when he says in Silence in the Libary,

“People never really stop loving books. Fifty-first century. By now you’ve got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell. The smell of books.”

Here’s hoping. But I’m keeping my own book collection, just in case.

Friday Afternoon Blues

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“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“Yes.”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one.”
Thomas Hardy

Am I just in a bad mood, or has it been kind of an awful year so far?

Working loosely backwards, there’s Ebola, which while it hasn’t killed anywhere near as many people as more prosaic diseases like malaria and the flu, is wreaking serious havoc in West Africa, and is nowhere near containment or control.

There are the two Malaysian Airlines disasters. One plane just disappears, leaving loved ones in limbo for months as hope slowly disintegrates. The second, in an event that would seem simply bizarre if it were not so horrific, is accidentally shot down over the Ukrainian conflict zone. It’s the epitome of “senseless” violence.

And Crimea and the Ukraine conflict in the first place–déjà vu anyone? I thought we didn’t do this stuff anymore, especially on that continent.

Not that there isn’t plenty happening on other continents to go around. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again devolved into full-scale war, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured, and what can only be described as the opposite of progress on any type of diplomatic or negotiating front.

And just when I thought the situation in Syria could not possibly get worse, ISIS declared an Islamic state over large swathes of Syria and Iraq, where it currently presides over a chaotic melee of sectarian strife, in the absence of any sort of functional government.

Even on the U.S. border, we are grappling somewhat less than gracefully with a flood of unaccompanied children fleeing drug violence in Central America. Some of these kids are not much older than mine. How bad do do things have to be for you to let your children leave you for a deadly dangerous 1000 mile journey with an uncertain ending?

All in all, it’s enough to send me off to read some Thomas Hardy. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and the world will seem splendid again.

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