Monday, December 31, 2001

Finally, Happy New Year to everyone!
This year. The not-so-good:
  • World events
  • Not meeting my paper writing goals. Evidence: A stack of book I've had checked out from libraries since January 2001!
  • My office moving 45 miles away.
The good (in no particular order):
  • Going to church again regularly
  • Having a good job and working with people I enjoy
  • Trip to British Columbia in June with my sister to hear her singing group, Schola Antiquae Vocis, perform their season-end concerts. Shopping for shoes in Vancouver, B. C.!
  • TA position with my advisor and opportunity to lecture
  • Rooming with former housemate at AAR/SBL meetings in Denver
  • My two cats!
  • Beginning this weblogging adventure.
Today. Wrote a book note/review on The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Tradition. Went to the mall and left again quickly, empty-handed. Rented three videos: Bridget Jones's Diary; Almost Famous; and Memento. Watched the first two and then washed six days worth of dishes, which earns another May Sarton quote:
The constant remaking of domestic chaos into the order that keeps a house alive and peaceful takes a lot of doing.
(From At Seventy: A Journal, p. 68)

Sunday, December 30, 2001

I want to compose a year-end/New Year's entry, but I am hesitant just to put it out there. In the meantime, I've been thinking and reading about the significance of New Year's and the desire to write such things as year-end reviews.

In Mespotamia, the New Year (month of Nisan, our April) was celebrated at the 12-day Akitu festival in Babylon. The king reaffirmed his loyalty to Marduk and reported that he had been a faithful and just ruler. The Enuma elish, the story of creation and the establishment of Marduk's temple, was recited, reminding those who heard it of Marduk's role in subduing the waters of chaos, that is, Tiamat.

I came across a summary of various New Year's traditions via a reference in The Lutheran magazine. The site, Alternatives for Simple Living, is a non-denominational Christian perspective on living more simply, with ideas and resources for celebrating holidays with fuller awareness of their significance. The site is very much in the tradition of the More-With-Less Cookbook and Living More With Less.

Friday, December 28, 2001

When asked what kept her writing for fifty years, May Sarton reflected:
What kept me going was, I think, that writing for me is a way of understanding what is happening to me, of thinking hard things out....Perhaps it is the need to remake order out of chaos over and over again. For art is order, but it is made out of the chaos of life.
(From At Seventy: A Journal, p. 105)

Thursday, December 27, 2001

I keep forgetting to report that my narcissus bulbs are in beautiful bloom. (Okay, I really must find a new adjective.) Four clusters of white flowers have opened with two more clusters about to open. The stems are 20 inches high now, and rather floppy, so I had to tie them together to keep them upright. I took some pictures and will post them when I finish the roll of film.
Monday--The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service or Misa de Noche Buena was very beautiful. There were candelabras at the ends of every other pew, or so; candles in the windows; two tapered candle holders in the front of the church (like the ones people use for weddings); and little hand-held candles we lit as we sang "Silent Night" in Swedish, English, and Spanish, the three languages of the church's history. The church was packed.

Tuesday--A very quiet day laced with some regret/guilt for not being with my family. It was beautiful weather. (I know I overuse that adjective in describing southern California's weather!) I was going to be ambitious and go hiking in a nearby canyon but settled for sitting in the back yard under the clothes' lines and reading Tokien's The Two Towers.

Wednesday--I made a (successful) early morning foray to Talbot's and then went to work.

Thursday--Another day at work. It is pretty quiet at this time of year. Not too quiet for telemarketing, though. So my colleague and I monitored some telemarketing reps. who are selling one of our products. Listening in on telemarketing calls is almost worse than receiving them because you simultaneously empathize with the person being called and with the person who has to try sell something. We make sure our reps. only do a soft sell and end the call after the second "No, I'm not interested," or even after the first refusal in no-rebuttal states.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Last night it must have been very windy because this morning the roads are littered with dried palm fronds and little black berries from the palm trees. The sky is deep blue with no clouds. It will probably be in the 60s again today. Perfect weather.

I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for two salads I'm making for dinner tonight. Apart from making the salads, I'm not sure what else I'm going to do today. I deep cleaned the entire house on Saturday morning because the landlord and an appraiser were coming to look at the duplex at noon. Maybe I should study. Hmmm.

Well, yesterday I went to see Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. What a satisfying three hour escape into the world of Middle Earth! My friend, who'd not read the books, enjoyed it, too. I want to write something profound about how imaginative literature and good movies provide an escape, not an escape from reality, per se, but an escape in the sense of a prisoner escaping (to use an analogy I heard in a documentary about J. R. R. Tolkien). But my thoughts are not very deep or well-formed, so I'll leave it at that. I finished reading the first book last night and think I will soon start The Two Towers.

Friday, December 21, 2001

When I checked my favorite movie reviewer's column this morning in the WSJ, I was pleased to see he opened his enthusiastic review of The Lord of the Rings with a line in the quote I posted on Wednesday (see below): "'All we have to decide,' the wizard Gandalf tells Frodo, the young Hobbit hero of "The Lord of the Rings," 'is what to do with the time that is given to us.'" Now Joe Morgenstern said he had not read the books as a child nor as an adult, and he decided to watch the movie books unread. I've not seen the movie yet, but I presume that line is in the movie. (To those interested in text criticism: Notice Morgenstern writes "given to us," whereas Tolkien writes "given us.")
Written earlier at work and e-mailed home: Today everyone is giving cards and presents to co-workers, supervisors, and employees. There are various potlucks happening around the building, too. (My boss's boss just stopped by my desk as I was typing this, in Word, not directly in Blogger, thank goodness. But I'm not sure whether or not he could read what I had typed from where he was standing. The privacy/anti-glare screens only work from certain angles. [Edit] I checked later and my secret is safe. Even if he could see the screen, the type is too small to read at that distance.) I just sent off a very boring report I had to research.

My department banded together and bought the new translation of The Tale of Genji for my boss. (See an excerpt of a review from an earlier post.) Of course, she'd already read the novel and owns an earlier translation, but she seemed pleased to receive the new edition. It is two hardcover, cloth-bound volumes in a slip case--a beautiful edition.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

"If I lived nearer a botanical garden, I'd probably while away whole days of my life walking among its indigenous floral treasures and leafy aliens, or buried in its library, or gleaning what I could of the institution's latest scientific investigation." Thus opens an essay, "Plant Zoos," by Hatsy Shields in The Atlantic Monthly for January 2002 (not yet online). I, however, do live near The Huntington and whiled away the afternoon mainly in the Desert Garden area (my favorite). I also walked through the Palm Garden, Jungle and Subtropical areas, and the Japanese Garden, including the bonsai area. (I'm looking forward to the new Chinese Garden that is going to be established.)

The temperature was in the upper 60s and brilliantly sunny. There weren't many people about; however, the groundskeepers were out in force cutting grass and using a chainsaw on something. So it wasn't quite as peaceful as it might have been. Still, it is easy to feel as though you've escaped somewhere magical.

Speaking of enchantment, I saw the end of a documentary on J. R. R. Tolkien's work. It inspired me to re-read The Fellowship of the Ring before seeing the movie.
'Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again' [said Gandalf]. 'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who have to live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'

Monday, December 17, 2001

Warning: This is going to be a long post. I've been thinking I should start giving titles to my entries. I could call this one Las Posadas and also Reading Notes.

Last night I played the piano for Las Posadas service at church. Las Posadas is a Mexican tradition that renacts Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The service wasn't too different from the regular Spanish (Lutheran) mass except there was a mariachi group playing, too. Also, we sang the traditional Las Posadas song in which the men (Joseph), the women (Mary), and the children (the "chorus") sing different parts. My Spanish isn't very good but the song begins with Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay, and the children sing that Mary is very sad because at the inn there is no room. Finally, everyone sings, "Enter holy travelers, receive the corner of my heart."

After the service, there were at least four different piñatas for the children to hit and open to get the sweets inside. We were also served a drink like hot chocolate and sweet bread (champurrado and pan dulce).

Reading Notes will have to be posted later. It is a sunny day, and I really need to do laundry, which I should have had out on the line by now to take full advantage of the sunshine. But hopefully it's still not too late.

Friday, December 14, 2001

When I walked out to the living room this morning, my big orange tabby, Leo, was sitting, smug as you please, on the red crocheted runner on my mantel. I wish I had let him sit up there until my flash warmed up and I could have taken a picture. However, I was too concerned he not get into the habit of sleeping on the mantle, so I quickly chased him off.

It is a dark and rainy (not quite stormy) morning. On the bright side, I plugged in my Christmas tree lights, to help dispel the gloom. I will go out shortly to pick up a few more gifts and then come back to start studying once again. I've taken a break since giving my last lecture over a week ago.

On Wednesday, I baked three kinds of cookies, which more than fulfilled my cookie-baking quotient for the year. My church had a dinner on Wednesday night, which I had to miss because of my class, and I volunteered to bring cookies. I made whipped shortbread so I could try out my new cookie press. It was quite an ordeal learning how to use the press because it has a gear mechanism that needs to be lined up just so in order to work properly. Anyway, after throwing out the first pan, which got too dark, I eventually succeeded in baking very tasty, tree-shaped shortbread. My attempt to make my grandmother's date swirl recipe was not so successful. I learned 1) make sure the butter is very soft so that the dough is pliable enough to roll up without crumbling, and 2) roll out the dough in a couple batches. I ended up with an enormous roll that made giant cookies. They tasted OK, but I felt a little sheepish contributing not-very-pretty cookies for a dinner produced by veteran church dinner cooks. Finally, I made ranger cookies, which are straightforward drop cookies. They tasted good but are not exactly fancy Christmas cookies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

This year I'm decorating my place for Christmas more than I have the past few years. Part of the reason is that I'm staying here rather than spending Christmas with my family out of state. And part of the reason is that I want a complete break from school, at least for a little while. So I cleared off the mantel of my non-existent fireplace and covered it with a red, crocheted runner my grandmother gave me. I also assembled my Swedish angels and candles chime thing, which is on the mantel with a Russian icon of the Mother and Child, a small wreath made of pinecones, acorns, and other brown tree things, a card my mother stamped, and a wavy, green-glass vase filled with water and rocks picked up on a winter Washington state beach in which I'm forcing three narcissus bulbs. The bulbs already have six- to nine-inch shoots in less than two weeks. It's fun seeing the roots grow downwards as the green shoots grow upwards. Laura Petix's Nov. 25th post inspired me to try grow paperwhites in rocks and water, which I've never tried before.

Next to the candelabra with five red candles in the fireplace place, I put a 20-inch potted Italian Stone pine tree (pinus pinea). I have one string of white lights on it--it is beautiful! I will try to keep it alive so I can use it for other Christmases. On my computer monitor shelf is a small ceramic tree with multi-colored lights, and I put multi-colored lights on the ficus tree on my porch.
'Tis the season for reading. In the "Leisure and Arts" section of the WSJ today is an article about Michael Silverblatt (paid subscription required) who hosts a local NPR program called Bookworm. An excerpt:
Mr. Silverblatt, 49, the monotone but strangely hypnotic host of the nationally syndicated radio program "Bookworm," is an unassuming man of sound judgment and taste who's baffled and quietly thrilled by his unexpected success on the airwaves. Now in his 13th year of producing the show at KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Silverblatt has become the go-to guy for brainy authors and poets, among them A.S. Byatt, Art Spiegelman, Grace Paley, Joan Didion, Edmund White and Carlos Fuentes, who are eager to talk a language other than sound bite and gladdened by the opportunity to converse deeply with someone who has read not just their current book, but all their books....The result is something out of the ordinary on radio -- soulful, meditative and, depending on your point of view, poetic or pretentious. "I want listeners to hear what writers talk about when they meet someone who knows all their work and loves it, and when they're willing to drop their guard to talk writer talk," he says. "It's almost like the fun of hearing, oh, athletes in the locker room or astronauts when they come off the ship. 'Bookworm' wants to give you the feeling of eavesdropping on a conversation between intimates."
Because the program airs at 2:30 Thursday afternoons here, I usually can't listen to it. However, I just checked the little radio I have at work, and I can pick up the station, so maybe I'll try next Thursday.

How about reading aloud this holiday season? Here is a free column from the WSJ's "OpinionJournal" on the joys and memories of reading out loud. I remember as a child my parents rushing to finish reading Around the World in Eighty Days before putting us on the plane to fly to boarding school. I also remember having The Hobbit read to us in Grade Five Literature class. We were allowed to do our handwork while listening, and I still remember working on a cross-stitch project for my mother while Bilbo and co. were being chased through the mountain tunnel. (Details are a bit vague, but I'm looking forward to having them refreshed soon!)

Friday, December 07, 2001

Today was a beautiful, 80°-weather day. I sat outside on my porch to eat my lunch.

The lecture Wednesday night went OK, although I wasn't as happy with it as with the first two. I tried to force too much information into too little time for a very tired class with end-of-the-semester papers and exams weighing upon them.

Thursday I went to work--end of the month reports are due. Then I came home and crashed. I watched The Rockford Files and then part of a Banacek episode before going to bed and sleeping 12 hours. Today I did errands and browsing--grocery shopping at Trader Joe's and browsing at Stats, a Christmas superstore. The store covers a whole block and is jammed with everything to do with Christmas, including craft stuff, year 'round. I only bought a few ink pads for the potato stamps I think I'm going to carve in order to decorate brown paper wrapping paper.

I just finished making Susie's mother-in-law's enchilada recipe with (some) of my leftover Thanksgiving turkey. It was very tasty! I liked the contrast of the spicy tomato sauce with the mild sour cream turkey filling. I sprinkled fresh green cilantro on top of the red tomato sauce instead of oregano, which made the dish look festive.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

I booted up the computer to do some writing for Wednesday's lecture, but, by force of habit, double-clicked on the Netscape icon and decided to write something here first. I've been neglecting posting thoughts and/or my activities recently. It's not that I have forgotten about it, it just seems I don't have much to say/write. So here is a random record of the past few days.

Last night I watched The Sound of Music on TV. I realized I've only seen the movie maybe two times before. I'm very familiar with the songs--we had a reel-to-reel tape recording of the album when I was growing up, and I've played the songs on the piano. But I had not remembered how spectacular the scenery is. (My aunt saw the movie being filmed on location in Austria while she was traveling in Europe.) I had an unexplainably unhappy day yesterday, and the movie was the perfect antidote.

On Thursday it rained heavily in the morning, and it was my turn to drive everyone to work. Thankfully we managed to avoid the inevitable freeway accidents.

Probably because I have the lecture to prepare, I've been wanting to spend time doing things (or at least thinking about doing things) for the Christmas holidays. I went to Sur La Table to buy a flour sifter and a few more cookie cutters. (I went to Target first, but their flour sifters were all Made in China. So I went to Sur La Table, where all the sifters were Made in China, except the most expensive one, which was Made in Taiwan. So I ended up with a heavy duty Made in China flour sifter. I try to avoid Made in China, but it's becoming more difficult. Then I think, I need to investigate more fully why I try to avoid Made in China. How founded are the accusations of human rights' abuses; low factory wages; environmental degradation? Even if well-founded, what about Made in Indonesia, Thailand, etc.?)

Then I went to the nearby public library and checked out some books on Christmas crafts and foods. Most of the books are circa 1980, although I did find Martha Stewart's 1999 Christmas book. The older books have some good ideas hidden amongst the (now) hilarious late 1970s fashions--think of a man with longish hair and sideburns wearing a wide tie appliquéd with a nature scene. I've marked a few pages to photocopy; we'll see if I ever actually do any of the projects.

This is the first December in three years I don't have papers or exams due. Once the lecture's done, I'm finished. The professor told me I don't even have to grade the class's papers or final exams. Of course, I have my three PAPERS hanging over my head, but, with no absolute deadline, why should I fret?