Monday, December 30, 2013

From Cover to Cover

I so enjoyed my post last year summarizing my year through my reading that I thought I'd try the same thing again this year.

Overall, it was a year of fluffy fun reading interspersed with reading that challenged my religious perspectives and my world views.  All in all, I've gone on an emotional journey that has had its ups and downs but one I don't regret taking.

The Books of 2013 That Changed my Life:

A Life of Jesus by Shusaku Endo -
One-liner blurb: Explaining Jesus Christ to an audience unfamiliar with Christianity
My thoughts: This book challenged my previously conceived notions of Jesus Christ and turned many events entirely upon their heads.  I didn't realize how concrete my view of Christ was and how limiting such a view could be in my faith.  I realize that my new perspective is not perfect either but being open to a different idea of Christ than I've conceived is a nice step in the right direction.  Endo's perspective on the events leading up to and including the crucifixion now stand in parallel in my faith with other interpretations.

The Messenger by Markus Zusak
One-liner blurb: An ordinary man is given the chance to participate in other ordinary people's lives and somehow the result is quite extraordinary.
My thoughts:  I should have expected nothing less from the author of The Book Thief (which also changed my life but not as significantly as this one).  I summed this book up to my friends as "The Gospel".  By that, I mean, this life feels like a challenge to me, to stop worrying only about ourselves and to see if ordinary people with no special abilities or even special interests can impact someone else's life for the better.  This books shows that it's possible; but at the end of the day, people will always change your life for the better more than you will change theirs.

Books of 2013 That Changed My Perspective: 

The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
One-liner blurb: Vivisection on American prisoners during WWII emotionally scarred one of the doctors forever.
My thoughts: Hats off to Endo for tackling a difficult topic; I can't imagine that this was received well by critics.  He not only alludes to the war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during the war but he also raises the question of what we define as 'moral' and under what circumstances those morals hold or are overturned.  When I finished this book, I was like, 'What did I just read?' and thanks to some good friends, I was able to discuss it and figure this book out.

The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok
One-liner blurb: Semi-autobiographical story of a young Jewish rabbi who serves as a chaplain in the Korean war and finds himself asking questions about his faith.
My thoughts: The part of the book that made this book a stand-out was when the main character traveled to Japan and saw people praying sincerely at their Shinto temples and wondered, "If we believe that our God is the one true God, then who is listening to their prayers?" It was an interesting dive into faith and believers in other faiths.  The side character who struggled with the choice to drop the bomb on Japan and its aftermath brought a poignant touch to the question of "us" vs. "them" as well.

Escape from Camp 14... by Blaine Harden
One-liner blurb: The story of a man who was born and raised and then escaped from a political prison camp in North Korea
My thoughts: After reading other North Korean books, I was ready to go into North Korea when it opened up and love and serve the people until they were healed.  Hahaha, this book showed me now naive my thoughts were.  I didn't think the answers would be easy or simple but now I'm starting to realize that I have not the training, understanding or well, anything that would aid in making 'healing' possible.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
One-liner blurb: A boy in an addiction therapy facility learns to face his demons and survive
My thoughts: I always get emotionally invested in the characters' lives but this one especially rang true with me.  Can we survive the bad stuff that happens to us?  How do we face the broken parts of ourselves that we don't want to admit even exist?  I found myself cheering the main character on in part because I wanted to cheer myself on through my struggles.  This book changed the way that I view my problems and how to address them.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
One-liner blurb: The author spends a year living up to the ideals for women canonized in scripture.
My thoughts: If I believe the Bible to be the word of God (and I do) then should I be living like a woman in biblical times?  I expected to balk at the entire treatment of this but also to enjoy the good sense of humor along the way.  I found it exceed my expectations on both counts; many thoughts and points made throughout the book impressed me and helped me realize a little more about what it means to be a woman of faith.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
One-liner blurb:  A concierge of a hotel in Paris finds unlikely friends in rich 12 year old girl Paloma and enigmatic Japanese man Ozu.
My thoughts: "You are not your sister."  Those words alone turned this book from a good read to a perspective changer.  What is holding me back from truly living?  The ending though is tragic and kind of negates the power in the statement that marked this book for me so maybe I'll just continue living in my own happy world of the mantra "people can change"?

Honorable Mentions: These books didn't change my life per se but they definitely made it a lot more fun
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
Johnny Wander Series by Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota
A Matter of Magic by Patrica C. Wrede

Authors I Discovered in 2013: 

Markus Zusak - His books are moving and his storytelling style is so different in each book that I marvel they were written by the same person.  Seriously, how did he create such interesting narrative styles?  I highly recommend both The Book Thief and The Messenger.  I definitely cried partly through both of them.

Jessica Day George - She came as a recommendation from a friend and I found her books a delightful fun read for those days when you want a satisfying fairy tale with good characters and plot.

Benjamin Alire Saenz - I've read three of his books now.  The first one came as a recommendation from a friend who wanted someone to discuss the book with.  I so enjoyed that I picked up two more of his books.  He definitely uses a lot of language in the books but getting past you, you meet some characters that you find yourself cheering on.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Off to Massachusetts

I'm back from Boston and back from Christmas overall, actually.

Boston was surreal.  It was like meeting up again with my best friend...from a previous life.  As I roamed the shop before the Orchard House tour, I was browsing the titles of the books by Louisa May Alcott and realizing, "Hey! I've read every single one of these books!"  Multiple times.  I think there was a time in my life when I rediscovered them every two or three years and sprinted through them all over again as though it was the first time.

That sums up my entire trip.  Everything was so familiar, but as though I had experienced it all as a different person.  At nights before I went to sleep, I would calculate what time it was in various places around the world just to ground myself in reality.  

My trip was incredibly international.  We made (and ate) Spritz cookies and spaghetti eis from Germany, and rice porridge from Norway.  I met people people from Japan, Armenia, Norway, China, and Puerto Rico.  I ate Thai lunch one day, Italian sausage another day and Moroccan Christmas eve dinner.  It was a lot of fun but definitely kept me hopping, trying to keep everything straight in my head.

My sister and I did some cultured things like go to Orchard House, attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service at a local church, and visit Faneuil Hall.  We also did some really random things such as walking to the North End in cold rain just to see the marker for the Molasses Tsunami and stop by the Massachusetts State House halfway there so we could get warm.  We walked a different way to Tufts so we could stop by Grandmother's house and stopped by a friend's house to sing Christmas carols and give her warm gingerbread.  We watched a lot of bad Christmas movies including a modern retelling of Little Women and a few really good ones like Silent Night and It's a Wonderful Life.

In any case, meeting up with a best friend from a previous life or not, it was a lot of fun.  Thanks for the great trip, Meli.
Orchard House

My sister and I outside Orchard House.  

Us at the Boston Temple. 

"Well, I guess we do owe one offering to the cookie gods."  
"Yep, our own burnt offering."

Make way for ducklings!

Me in the Massachusetts State House.

Okay, so breaking the mold after you create a staircase so it can be one of a kind is cool.  Being excited about said mold breaking might make me nerdy.

"We were just walking by and we saw that there were tours here."
"Yes, Second floor on the left."
"You could have just said, 'Hi, we're here to get warm.'"

A pretty door

I begged my sister for spaghetti eis and she was quite obliging

Hugging Jumbo the Elephant, the official mascot of Tufts University

Awesome clock that also serves as art

Beautiful ceiling in the State House

After walking through cold rain, we found the little plaque and took a picture as proof.  Feel the love, Isa!

An awesome charcoal drawing of Abraham Lincoln.  I kind of like the reflection of the lights and myself, too.

Kon'nichiwa snowman.  At least that's what I called him before I bowed 'hello' in return.

Jedi lights?

"Erin, quick, grab us our Christmas dinner!"

"Grandmother's the pudding done?"

Yay, shadow peace signs!

Holding On

"From time to time everyone endures a barren period in the life of faith. Prayers bounce off the ceiling unanswered. Hymns stick in one's throat, and whatever delight one once felt in the contemplation or worship of God withers away.

"In such circumstances Christians should 'do what is in them -- that is, they should keep on keeping on. They should keep on with their prayers, their hymns of praise and their daily round of duties. Even though it seems like they are walking through an immense and limitless desert with oases few and far between, they plod on, knowing that obedience is more important than emotional satisfaction and a right spirit than a merry heart.

"To such people, 'God does not deny grace.' They live in hope, however, that sooner or later the band will strike up a polka and the laughter and the dancing will start all over again."

~David Steinmetz, found in the talk Hold On; It's all True by Robert Millet

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scenic Route

I'm in Boston!  with my eldest sister!

Today, on the way back from my church, my sister decided to avoid the highway because of the heavy fog reducing visibility.  Instead, she decided to take a quick turn onto another route home so that we could drive along her favorite road to see her favorite view of Boston.

Then she realized what she had just decided to do and we both laughed.

We stopped and took pictures anyway.  So, here you have it, folks: the best view of Boston.

(My sister had to point me in the right direction as I couldn't actually tell where Boston was)
Visibility 100 yards?

Isn't this gorgeous?

This is not actually in the direction of Boston.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Life Imitates Literature

Every time I put on my coat - either one - I feel so gloriously happy.  The rest of Virginia might be sad about cold weather but I'm not.  There's nothing so calculated to make an absolutely penniless, unemployed person feel as luxuriously accomplished in life than to own two coats.

Probably because I read about  the joy of owning two coats in a book (Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster).  Probably because I have a wonderful friend who gave me the most beautiful wool dress coat before she went to balmy Egypt for a year, leaving me with two nice coats.  

In any case, every time, I leave the house, I have to check to transfer my wallet, keys, phone from the pockets of one coat  to the other and I love it every single time.  

It got me thinking - I live a lot of my life imitating books.  

When I was seven (or eight), I put gum behind my ear before I went to bed like the gum-chewing girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, effectively requiring me to get the world's ugliest haircut and banning gum in our house for years.  

When I was in college, my friend and I convinced our friend to let us bake him a cake for a birthday that would occur several months later, simply because his name was Tom, and Old-Fashioned Girl had once so fashioned just a situation.  

I once tried to start a Philomathic Society based on a book, but no one would go for since they didn't like the word 'math' in the title.    

When I was a child, I tried to force myself to be a stoic based the book Stoneface.  

I keep the annual American Mayday celebration - dropping off flowers at doorsteps - because of the book Jack and Jill.  

I follow the Japanese tradition of tying Tanabata wishes to trees, but rather than use traditional Japanese methods, I've picked up my methods from The Ornament Tree.

I really wonder if I've ever held an original thought in my life.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It Happened

Today was not a typical day.

I investigated channel flow with a stick (and saw vortex shedding).

I packed a box of supplies for a fluid mechanics course I'm teaching in January.

I caught up with some friends I haven't seen in a while.

I watched a movie I've wanted to see for several years now (The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer starring Cary Grant and Shirley Temple).

I stayed in my friend's lab with her until 1:30 am, working and talking about everything but mostly about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I came home and uploaded my dissertation.

It was a good day.  A once-in-a-lifetime kind of day.

I'm glad I lived it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Week Off

Pics from Thanksgiving and beyond

Just Chillin'

We made chocolates for Uncles' birthdays! (Just like they do at the Lindt factory in Germany - or so I convinced her)

Smoothie Mustache 

Smoothie Mustache - day two

My attempt at a smoothie mustache was not as successful.

Monday, December 9, 2013

My life is a sitcom

Episode 1: Caught doing embarrassing things

<Annie and I drive up to catch our friend Wil taking pictures of a culvert>
Me: Oooh, what's new with the draining?  Did all that rain last night get backed up?
Wil: Umm...I can't believe I got caught being nerdy.
Annie: We love it.  We love seeing you get excited about your field of study.
<Joseph comes out to join us>
Annie: Joseph, how did your date go?
Me: Oh yeah, how was your date last night?
Annie: Last night?  You went on a date last night?
Joseph: Yeah, it was good.
Annie: Who did you go with that last night?
Me: Wait, who did you go with that other time?
Annie: Oh wait, maybe we don't want to know.
Me: Why don't we want to know?
<Annie looks at me and I look at her.  Then we look at Wil and Joseph and Joseph shrugs>
... <awkward silence>
Wil: So, yeah.  That happened.

Me: So, wait, why did we have to stop talking about Joseph's date?
Annie: I think Wil's interested in her!  They're asking out the same girl.
Me: Oh, awkward!

<Annie sees me in the kitchen sitting in front of the oven>
Annie: Are you seriously watching the garlic bread toast?
Me: Uh...yes.
Annie: <laughs> But why?
Me: Last time, it all burned.
Annie: So, you're going to watch it this whole time?
Me: Yes!  The smoke alarm went off!  Jerry is probably upstairs laughing at my pathetic attempts to cook.  I'm determined not to burn it all again.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stop and Think

Last night, I had an interesting dream.  The first part included espionage and I won't go into details about it but somehow in the process it landed me in Russia at a Mormon singles' conference.  (For those not in the know, this is intended for people over the age of 30.)

So, there I am, sitting at a table at this conference, introducing people to my sisters and anxiously waiting for dinner to start.  I look over and notice a blonde young man with sad eyes who rather looks like this.

So, we start talking - mostly because I'm curious about why he's even attending the singles' conference.  It turns out this kid has just returned from his two year mission and was in attendance because the prophet was speaking at the conference.  (That still doesn't really explain it but it satisfied my subconscious so let's go with it).

Anyway, this kid's story was pretty impressive.  When he was about 16, he had met some Mormon missionaries and became genuinely interested in changing his life around from the rascal life he was living before - we didn't go into details.  Without the support of parents (his father had passed away and his mother was always working to support the family), he started making changes and joined the church.  He continued to improve his life and graduated from high school and served a mission.  Now, he was going to college - one of the first in his family.  I was impressed by him.  He was so good and doing so well.

So, why was he so sad?  Then, he started telling more of his story.  Back when he met the missionaries, he casually mentioned it to a friend.  Before he knew it, that friend and that friend's entire family joined the church.  The missionaries liked teaching the lonely sixteen year old boy but they LOVED teaching the entire family.  And it seems, that's how things went from thereon out.  No matter what he worked to accomplish, his friend did it better, with more people in awe who applauded the results.  This boy changed his life around; the other's family entirely changed and were even sealed together and held prominent callings.  This boy served a mission but nowhere near as "cool" as the friend.  Essentially, this friend and the friend's family were as golden as you could get.  As he told me his story, I watched his face with some sadness.  Because he would never achieve the status of his friend, he believed that he was always a failure.  The comparison and the feeling of failure from such comparison was destroying that beautiful soul of that young man that I somehow to admire in that short time.

I looked into his face and wanted to simultaneously hug him and shake him.  Instead, I said, "I wish you could see yourself.  You're amazing and you've accomplished so much.  You've got to let your jealousy and hatred go.  You're just hurting yourself by comparing yourself to this other family.  You'll never see how far you've come that away.  And you're just going to get eaten up inside with your jealousy."

And then, I woke up before I got to see his reaction.  But in waking, I started to wonder if I needed to listen to my own words and take my own advice.  Or if others do as well.

Leading Questions

More Niece conversations

<listening to the song Will You Marry Me>
Baby: <smiles at me> Erin, will you marry me?
Me: Yes.  Will you marry me?
Baby: Yes.
Me: Awesome!
Baby: Now, ask me in Japanese.

<Baby spies Gwiyomi's partly eaten cupcake on her high chair>
Baby: Gwiyomi's birthday cupcake
Me: Yep.
Baby: She didn't eat her cupcake!
Me: Nope.  She just ate the icing.
Baby: But someone has to eat the cupcake.
Me: Haha, I see where you are going with this.  But no, you can't eat the cupcake.

<I decide to put a blue ribbon in my hair for church and Baby watches me>
Me: There.  I think that works.  Do you like it?
Baby: Yes!
Baby: You know, my mommy really likes the color blue.