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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sold!

Treadmill, not dog. :)





Rearranging to commence on Monday!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Congratulations!

A little bragging on my nephew, whose team just won the state Little League championship...


Great job, guys!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

1434

1434 by Gavin Menzies

It's time to take another look at everything our 10th grade history teachers did (and didn't) teach us.

Gavin Menzies challenges readers to further investigate the Renaissance and the traditionally "Eurocentric view" of it, and he comes up with some interesting results.

"I submit that the transfer of Chinese intellectual capital to Europe [in 1434] was the spark that set the Renaissance ablaze."

Menzies discusses how the Chinese emperor loaded down a fleet of ships that "resembled a floating university and probably had more intellectual knowledge in its library than any university in the world at that time" with information about topics including astronomy, mechanics, weapons and agriculture.

Why?

"The extraordinary magnitude and generosity of Chinese gifts to the West made sense from the Chinese emperor's viewpoint. If China was to remain a colossus on the world stage, the barbarians must be bribed and educated to continually render tribute."

But it didn't exactly work out that way. Through extensive research, Menzies shows how the information actually made its way around Europe and was, in a sense, plagiarized.

"The transfer of intellectual knowledge in 1434 was between a people who had created their civilization over thousands of years, and a Europe that was just emerging from the thousand-year stagnation following the fall of the Roman Empire. The Chinese seeds fell on very fertile ground."

One fertile copier that might surprise you? The Renaissance man himself.

"We have verified that each element of a machine superbly illustrated by Leonardo [da Vinci] had previously been illustrated by the Chinese in a much simpler manual...Leonardo's body of work rested on a vast foundation of work previously done by others...but brilliantly drawn."

Menzies says Leonardo and other "inventors" continued to copy, share, exchange and spread their work, but he does give them some credit.

"We should not underestimate the pollination of ideas that resulted from the continuous intellectual interchange among these geniuses."

They built upon the Chinese ideas, then spread their information to the New World, which Europeans were just beginning to explore at that time. And the rest, of course, is...um...history.

"It was the combination of a massive transfer of knowledge from China to Europe and the fact that it came in one short period that sparked the revolution we call the Renaissance."

The illustrations were brilliant and vibrant, and Menzies makes great use of the Internet. His site--http://www.gavinmenzies.net/--is easy to navigate and well-organized. It was also fascinating to me to read about how much he encourages cooperative research, which is so timely in this age of wiki-ness.

However, he never quite seems to find his voice as an author. The book varies between sounding highly academic and more personal, even slightly witty at times. But it never really flows. (He also promoted his upcoming book, which came across as arrogant.)

He ended the book abruptly as well with an irrelevant discussion of the "conquistadores," never answering the "so what" factor for me. Despite increasing public awareness and understanding, what was his purpose in writing?

Nevertheless, 1434 is worth a read...at least for 10th grade history teachers.

Silent Thunder

Silent Thunder by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

Silent Thunder is a lot like a Harrison Ford film. Action-packed, fun and fairly well-developed characters, generally not Oscar-worthy, but incredibly entertaining. It's definitely a page-turner and a great summer read.

Hannah Bryson is a brilliant marine architect, who is in deeper than she realizes when she takes a job examining a Russian nuclear submarine slated to be displayed at a museum. She stumbles onto a secret that three other sinister characters are also interested in finding, so Hannah suddenly becomes a valuable threat. She has to decide--quickly--which of the three is her best shot to pair up with and trust.

Her brother already lost his life, and Hannah has to trust her instincts, her logic and her photographic memory in order to keep hers.

Mother-and-son Iris and Roy Johansen teamed up to write Silent Thunder, but you never realize that there are separate writers. The dialogue and descriptions flow nicely, and I enjoyed solving Silent Thunder's secret along with Hannah.

Favorite quotes:

Everybody needs help sometime. I'll just pass it along when it's my turn.

So many...WASPy recruits...found themselves increasingly irrelevant in an agency that now prized brown skin and knowledge of Middle Eastern dialects.

When you say "old girl," you'd better be talking to the sub.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dallas Mania

I don't remember when my Dallas obsession officially began, but I started watching the show as a kid and grew into a crazed fan by college. Even though it was off the air by then, I was not to be deterred. I started buying the show's VHS tapes--two episodes per tape (before the DVD days)--and soon amassed a collection to drive any college roommate crazy.


Except my college roommate. Because she loved the show too. Another freakish parallelism of our lives...but that's another post for another day.



So Shelley and I watched Dallas and dished about J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby, Pam, Lucy and the others...10 years after most of the world quit caring. Good times.

But even better? Moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and learning that there actually is a Southfork Ranch, and you can actually go there and tour and take pictures and buy really really cheesy souvenirs.


So, of course, we did.

Here are a few more highlights...

We started off the day with lunch at Miss Ellie's Deli, where they were playing music in the background. Not the Dallas theme or sad country-western songs. Oh no. They were playing Funky Cold Medina and Will Smith's Summertime. Too funny.


The "Who Shot J.R.?" gun...

Lucy Ewing's wedding dress...

Jock Ewing's Lincoln...
This cracked me up. The sicko family tree. The long lists are the affairs...

Beside the famous pool, scene of many Ewing fistfights...
The breakfast table...

Gorgeous view. It was kind of out in the boonies...

Interestingly enough (or maybe not), none of the show was actually shot inside the house, so that's why we have mostly outside shots. It was great fun, though, and we enjoyed having a rare girls' day out.

Next up? The JFK Conspiracy Tour.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Whole Lotta Random

~Fred is definitely back to his normal self. We can no longer catch him when he's running, which is a good sign. Need evidence? This video was taken just before he got sick when we visited Fort Woof...



~Meanwhile, I especially can't keep up with him right now. My asthma is back with a vengeance. Must be the 100-degree temperatures we've been enduring lately. It's actually bugging me more than usual because I've been upping my speed on the treadmill in the hopes of getting back to running again. (I've been inspired by this blog.) Sigh. Not yet. Any runners out there with asthma? Advice?


~Randy Frazee has some good advice in Making Room for Life. He talks about the concept of the Hebrew Day Planner, where you sleep from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., work from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., and connect from 6-10 p.m. Good stuff. I've really enjoyed his tips for being more efficient at work (so you don't have to stay late or think about it at home), and Jason and I are both having fun brainstorming ideas to make our time in the evenings more valuable (rather than just vegging out in front of the tv).


It's been a good resource for spiritual growth, too. Another good resource--Deuteronomy, which I finished this week. Truthfully, I hadn't been too excited about reading it, but there is so much practical advice there about how to live your life for God. Favorite verses...


When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life."


Wow. That's been stuck in my head since I read it. The Bible is not just something I pick up every morning, read a quick chapter, then get on with the day. It is my life. God? Not just a Savior, creator, someone I talk to on Sunday mornings or when I'm in big trouble. He is my life. He is what my life is supposed to be about, be centered on. I have a long way to go.


My Korean friend, SunJee (left), had a long way to go--back to Korea. While we were having a goodbye lunch, I also learned that another Korean friend, Sarah (right), is moving to North Carolina. Sad! Who will teach me Korean now?








On a lighter note, I love Billy Joel. I really do. No shame--no judging. The 2002 BJ-Elton John concert in NY is still my all-time favorite of the ones I've attended. Here's a good article about his most recent concert at Shea Stadium... http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/17/arts/music/17joel.html?th&emc=th

Wish I'd been there!


OK, that's enough randomness for now. Happy weekend!

Reading the Blues

So, no reviews yet. However, I am hoping to finish up at least two books this weekend, and I promise to tell you what I think about them soon.

Maggie saves the day, though, by continuing her challenges-within-a-challenge. My blues name? Using the blues name generator, I came up with Asthma Apple Adams.

Why? My asthma has been acting up lately in this 100-degree weather, so that was the first physical infirmity I thought of. Meanwhile, I crave Granny Smith apples every summer, so I've been eating enough of those lately to just about give myself a rash. (Sounds like I have plenty to sing the blues about.) And I guess I wanted an alliterative blues name, so I just picked an "A" president--John Adams (or John Quincy, if you prefer).

The photo is from a Starbucks in downtown Fort Worth, but I thought it would also be a nice backdrop when I'm singing the blues in some smoky bar with a sexy phlegm voice.

OK, onto a few quick links for your weekend perusing...

I was so excited about this incredibly cool site--an online literary map for the state of Alabama:
http://www.alabamaliterarymap.org/

Also, I was impressed with this thorough, thoughtful response to a challenged book:
http://jaslarue.blogspot.com/2008/07/uncle-bobbys-wedding.html

And, the latest from Google's Librarian Central:
http://www.google.com/librariancenter/newsletter/0807.html

Meanwhile, a new search engine:
http://www.tigerlogic.com/ChunkIt/

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Reports

Fred is back to his normal, fluffy, drama king self...


And my nephew is celebrating 11 years of amazing coolness...

Otherwise, life is good...just busy. Also, Jason got a job. Woo-hoo!

Library Tour

Jason and I have had a lot of fun lately checking out Fort Worth's various public libraries. Here are a few shots from the gawgeous downtown branch.




Meanwhile, two reviews (and hopefully author interviews) coming soon!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Fort Worth Fourth (and anniversary, continued)

So, we continued the third anniversary celebration with dessert...



Then we partied on until the Fourth, meeting friends at El Fenix (yum)...



And catching the Fort Worth fireworks...photos courtesy of my talented hubby...







Then we strolled around downtown...pictures of which are coming soon.


It was a great few days, but it was a little too much for poor Fred. We came home Sunday night to find him sick...



He threw up more than I knew was possible for a 15-pound dog (a carpet shampoo will soon be on our agenda). After two trips to the vet (one emergency) and much pampering, I think he's going to be OK. It's tough watching your little guy hurt, though, and not knowing how to help!

Hope everyone had a good Fourth!

The Sunday Wife

The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King

Dean Lynch is a typical Southern Sunday wife...almost. She stands by her preacher man, teaches piano, dresses conservatively and doesn't speak out of line...too often.

Dean's rebellious tendencies are magnified and multiplied, however, when she meets Augusta Holderfield--a free spirit who leads Dean out of the shadows, but soon reveals she has some shadows of her own. The two friends get into hilarious escapades (with and without their husbands), taking on everyone from Augusta's ex-rival to the Eagle Forum, a ridiculously uptight group of hopeful book banners. The story moves quickly, the dialogue is true and touching, and there are plenty of surprises--but not too many to be unrealistic.

It would have been easy to shift the spotlight off of Dean and onto Augusta, who, on the surface, is a more intriguing character. King never lets that happen, though. She starts off with a strong foundation of what Dean is all about and then builds onto that--stretching, developing and transforming her into quite a different person by the end. It is truly Dean's story, and the focus stays on her, as it should.

However, I was sad for Dean in a lot of ways. She is in a loveless marriage with a husband who is just a rotten guy, despite the fact that he is a preacher. Also, their church is not much better.

Donald Whitney says "The church...is an imperfect messenger, but it has a perfect message." Its message in The Sunday Wife is barely visible with all the gossiping, social pressures and downright meanness among the church members. Again, I'm sad for Dean because she seems to never have experienced what I think a church is supposed to be--a community of like-minded believers who love Christ, love each other and then extend that love to the world around them.

The book served as a reminder for me personally, too, considering that my husband is planning to go into some form of ministry. I think it can be easy to lose sight of God when your vocation consists of working for Him. As Dean says...

The busy work of serving God had made Him seem as remote and inaccessible as a faraway star. Without time for introspection, my devotion withered on the vine, dried up by the endless details of meetings and committees.

Now that I've read Dean's story, I hope my devotion is less likely to wither.

Other favorite quotes:

It was still and airless, the sun overhead like an angry god glaring down at us.

I was a scrappy backwoods kid who never had a single break, who made the choice to take my life and make something out of it rather than go back to the squalor I came from. In digging myself out of that dung heap, I found God, and I'll always be grateful.

Consumed by a loss Ben couldn't begin to understand, I found absolutely nothing to say to him.

How convenient that the Lord's will coincided with Ben's ambitions.

I know now--without any doubt--that God has not left me. I have left God instead, shutting myself away from the solace I found when I first trusted in the order and rightness of the universe.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

My Life in Orange

My Life in Orange by Tim Guest

Tim Guest spent most of his childhood following in the shadow of his mother, who was a disciple of the "guru" Bhagwan. She dressed in orange, maroon and yellow (the colors of the sun), so he did as well. She shared all of her belongings with other members of the commune, so he had no say as other children played with and ruined most of his toys. He was uprooted as they moved from England to India, back to England, then to Oregon, on to Germany, and finally back to England--never feeling as if he had a home.

Bhagwan wanted us to let go; but it felt like all I'd ever done was let go. Bhagwan wanted the children of his communes to be free of history; but if I was to free myself, I needed a history.

My Life in Orange is that history--as well as that of the relationship between Tim and his mother. Many might be tempted to blame Tim's mother for all of the problems and dissatisfactions in his life, and he does give her a fair share of the blame. However, Tim also does a great job of explaining the reasons behind her flaws.

"I got lost," my mother said to me once. "Because I was a lost person. I didn't have a strong sense of myself and my values--I would just give myself away to the moment. I didn't have a substance that kept me anchored in the things that mattered."

She grew up in an oppressive family and thought she had found the secret to life's happiness in Bhagwan, who turns out to be nothing more than a greedy, egotistical jerk using hypnotism and other mind-control techniques to keep his sannyasins sending him enough money to finance his Rolls Royce habit.

I got sadder and angrier as I read--not only on behalf of Tim, but also on behalf of all the other victims of various cults who haven't emerged enough to find the kind of closure he has.

My Life in Orange does showcase the dangers of cults, the psychological traps they use and the torment they inflict. But it also proves that it takes much, much more than a village to raise a child. It shows that a village--especially a semi-hypnotized, self-indulgent village--is incredibly inadequate when it comes to meeting the needs of children.

Our parents were saving the world, but saving the world took time. While they danced, rolled their heads, swayed their arms, flailed their malas, beat cushions, broke up their social conditioning, and set themselves free, we filled our lives as best we could with the things we found around us.
So, children need their parents--and they need good parents. A lesson from Captain Obvious? Maybe. But apparently a lesson that still needs learning.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Three...It's a Magic Number

Well, the Norrises have made it another year. We think this marriage thing just might work.

We started the celebration with a festive lunch at Arby's...

Fred was quite unhappy that we went without him, so he decided to seek revenge on my "throw" bouquet.


But we got the last laugh--he is at the beauty shop today.

Come to think of it, is it really fair that the dog gets his hair cut, and I have to wait another month?

Further pictures and updates coming soon.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Quick Recs

As you can see from my "Currently Reading" list...I have a pile of books going right now. So I'm a bit behind on reviews, but I'm almost finished with several, so just hang on. :)

Meanwhile, I did finish The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli today, and it was fantastic. If you are in any imaginable way working with customers (or patrons) OR if you are managing in any sense of the word, I urge you to check out this book. It is practical and inspiring, and it only made me crave coffee a little bit. (The picture is from our favorite Starbucks in Fort Worth.)

And if, like me, you weren't fortunate enough to make it to Anaheim for the ALA conference, here are a few friends who were:




I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth ahead! Unless, of course, you don't live in the United States and have no reason to celebrate our independence. Then, I just wish my international blogging buddies a safe and happy weekend. :)

Read from the beginning...