Thursday, 29 March 2012

All Growed Up

You know you're officially an adult when:

1. Kids you're used to playing goofy games with now target you for money when they have a fundraiser at school.
2. The parents of your friends call you not to invite you to birthday parties but to ask your opinion or to catch up over coffee.
3. Instead of voting as your parents tell you, your parents vote as you tell them to.
4. Coworkers old enough to be your parents introduce you to others as simply their "friend".
5. When your parents leave for the week, instead of telling you to keep it a secret and banning any friends from the house, they invite you to throw as many parties as you wish.

And sometimes you're never quite sure:

1. Just who are you supposed to refer to by first name and who by title/last name, huh?
2. You still measure how adult you are by comparing yourself to your parents.

Growing up is weird.

"Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." C.S. Lewis

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Piece of Scum

I was hired at the church a month ago to cover for our receptionist/secretary/do-all wonder Christine while she's in the UK. One of the tasks involved in this job is creating the bulletin.

Here's my work from this week:


At least I'm not in charge of Danielle Smith's political campaign.

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.” Mark Twain

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Party in the Laundry Room

Mom did my laundry as a kid. Now I do it (or don't do it, but either way, Mom doesn't do it anymore). One of the reasons I don't do it is because I have quite a few things that need to hang dry or be laid flat to dry. Or rather, things that are supposed to hang dry or be laid flat to dry.

I feel guilty if I don't dry them properly. And I feel like pulling out my hair when I try to find a place to hang them. Mom used to have a wooden clothes rack thing that was in the basement laundry room. I don't know if it made the move with us eight years ago. At any rate, in the absence of a rack, I've used rolls of duct tape as weights to hang my shirts from the laundry room cupboards, and once resorted to tying up lines of yarn. Our basement dweller, Rachel, uses the bathroom shower curtain rod to hang her stuff. She can attest to how dangerous that is. More than once it's collapsed and no, I don't mean gracefully slid down to the ground.

So enough is enough, I finally decided. A short to trip to Canadian Tire, where neither of the sales reps knew where the clothes racks were, but were willing to go on the hunt with me, and finally, after eight years of procrastination, I expect that the frustration is at an end!

Mom was happy to see a clothes rack in the house, and immediately agreed that once I move out and take it with me they will have to purchase another. Personally, I don't think I've been this excited about a purchase since... I bought plants for my bottle gardens? All of half a month ago. But I'm still inordinately excited about something as mundane as a drying rack.

Anyway, I'd post a picture of the thing, but that might be seen as a bit odd. You've probably seen a hundred before and know what they look like. Unless you're like me, that is, in which case it's still new and exciting.

"After enlightenment, the laundry." Zen proverb

P.S. My brother and I fed my Venus flytraps a baby cricket the other day. It was so cool!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Internet Timekeeping

So, Google knows a lot (more than it should - but I'll write on that later), but I guess it doesn't know everything.

Um... no, I'm pretty sure it's not.

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” Mark Twain

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Incredible Russian Literature

After reading both The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, I think it's safe to say that Dostoevsky is my favourite author and he's going to be tough to beat. I read the Grand Inquisitor in University and Dostoevsky was on my to-read list since then. It didn't disappoint! In addition to the Grand Inquisitor, the character of Ivan has two other major theological debates.

Brothers Karamazov I read off and on for about a year, and it was so worth it! But it's definitely heavy reading. If you're not into long, drawn out stories with numerous subplots, then I'd recommend taking in Crime and Punishment first. This one took me about two months, rather than a year, and left me with a glowing, happy feeling inside. Not to mention the plot is so tightly knit that Chekov must have left his gun there.

If you think that old authors are dull and dry, rest assured that this is not always the case. Crime and Punishment has what is probably the single most intense scene in any book I've ever come across. You thought the drowning of Sita in Ted Dekker's Blink was intense? Yes, it was, but it didn't leave my heart pounding for half-an-hour after I finished reading it.

If Dostoevsky's dry in some way, it's his sense of humour. I don't recall much from Brothers Karamazov that made me laugh, but Crime and Punishment had me giggling on the C-train a few times. For example:

"Blood was flowing from his heart and face; his face was crushed, mutilated and disfigured. He was evidently badly injured."

As if we needed the clarification, thanks. Plus, the character of Razumihin is an excitable, but loveable nut, if a bit dense. Some of the things he says...
"When I heard of all this I wanted to blow him up, too, to clear my conscience...."
If I ever get a dog, maybe I'll name him Razumihin. Not because I mean to demean the character (it'd be an honour for the dog) but because I don't think a non-Russian human kid could pull off "Razumihin". And don't freak out, we could call the dog "Raz" for short.

Naturally, since it's Dostoevsky we're talking about, the book is chock-full of psychological and sociological musings. It explores morality and criminality, which is no surprise. It's not as theological as Brothers Karamazov, but does take a turn in that direction in the last few pages. And I seriously couldn't judge how the protagonist was going to end up in the end, unlike the vast majority of modern stories. You'll have a hint if you read it, since you've read this post first, but I don't think I've given away any spoilerish specifics to actually damage your enjoyment.

Actually, it's this uncertainty about the fate of the characters that makes Dostoevsky so appealing, in my opinion. Most often, characters are painted as either good or bad. Sympathetic bad guys turn good, and any good guys that turn bad do so primarily as a result of awful circumstances, or weren't ever truly good to begin with. Dostoevsky doesn't do that. A character goes downhill because of his or her psychological and spiritual condition. The characters create their stories and aren't merely navigating through them.

And rather than tying up all the unsatisfactory loose ends, Dostoevsky is likely to leave the people in their bad situations. Not all the time - sometimes he'll throw in a "and this particular person did improve over time" near the end of the book, but not always. It's a whole lot more realistic than always fixing everything.

For one example, in Brothers Karamazov the love interest of the main protagonist starts off in a wheelchair. As she and the protagonist make plans to marry, she is almost miraculously healed and begins to walk again. She has good relationships with her mother and her fiance, but as she improves physically, she becomes increasingly manipulative and twisted until she's expressing positively horrifying desires. The very last lines about her in the book (which is in a chapter entitled The Hell Kitten) are these:

"And Lise, as soon as Alyosha had gone, unlocked the door, opened it a little, put her finger in the crack, and slammed the door as hard as she could. Ten seconds later she released her hand, went slowly to her chair, sat down, and looked intently at her blackened, swollen finger and the blood that was oozing out from under the nail. Her lips quivered.

'I'm a vile, vile, vile, despicable creature,' she whispered."

Given that the psychology behind self-harm isn't well understood or even discussed much now, it's particularly potent coming from a nineteenth century author. Though I said it already, it bears saying again - Dostoevsky writes intense scenes!

The Idiot is definitely on my to-read list, now.

There are so many good quotes from both books that I don't know which to give you, so I'll pick one from each at random:

"Every person is needed, and who can tell who is needed more and who less?" Grushenka, Brothers Karamazov
"Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I'll kiss you for it." Razumihin, Crime and Punishment

Monday, 12 March 2012

Bookworming Through the Night

Though a bookworm as a child, once I hit college, my reading-for-pleasure habits naturally stagnated a bit, as I was swamped with reading, and not necessarily reading that I really enjoyed. Since convocation, though, books have wormed their way back into my life and I've successfully polished off a few good stories.

Currently, Monday is the only day of the week that I can sleep in, so last night I made good use of my time by staying up until 3:30 in the morning reading John Calvin Goes to Berkeley. Basically, it's a theological discussion in novel format.

The writing itself was rather choppy. Details were recounted that had no bearing on either the story or the theological discussion, which sometimes left me wondering if I should be reading greater significance into the asides or whether they were just there to decorate what otherwise sometimes turned into a lesson on Calvinism. Given that the book's primary purpose is to discuss predestination, however, it's a forgivable offense.

Less forgivable, in my opinion, is the somewhat anti-Catholic vibe. The definite anti-Calvinist vibe is much stronger, but the book is at least discussing Calvinism. The primary Calvinist character starts off as a rather generous and generally nice character, and turns into more and more of an arrogant blowhard as the story progresses. It would have been nice to see a happier ending, but at least his character is believable. I've certainly met people like him. But the anti-Catholic thing came out of nowhere. The claims weren't explored at all, merely thrown out there as undeniable, and I have to wonder what role they served except as a statement that Catholics are doomed to hell.

Still, choosing to overlook that, the rest of it was a good read. Quite a bit of intrigue with just a smattering of romance and all-around very believable characters. Having read it straight through without checking its claims against an actual Bible, I can't say as yet that I agree with its conclusions, but on the face of things, it makes a lot of sense. For those of you who are curious, the basic conclusion that the book draws is this:

Nobody is predestined to heaven or hell, but neither are people able to choose faith on their own. People have enough free will to choose to repent of their sin - not enough to actually change, but enough to genuinely want to change, as the Holy Spirit calls all people. Upon repenting, God in His sovereignty grants "light" to people, not faith. Light to understand the things of God, which, once people have understood, results in their ability to choose faith.

It's somewhere between Calvinism and Arminianism, but certainly closer to the latter.

And kudos to the author for almost breaking the fourth wall on the second-to-last page (page 300). Made me giggle.

* * * * *

"Maybe we could tell the story of how we solved [the mystery of predestination]," Angela said, "adapt it, and turn it into a three-hundred-page novel."

"Nah," the three guys said at the same time.

"It needs to be scholarly," Elliot said.

Alex sat back and joined his hands behind his head. "We can decide later."

* * * * *

Now I want to know if this story is anything like the author's own experience...

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Great Plant Experiment

Green-thumbs don't exactly run in my family. At least, if they do I wouldn't know it because nobody here bothers to grow stuff. My mom puts some flowers in the garden each year and does the bare minimum to keep some old houseplants alive, but it's certainly not her hobby and she's never involved any of us kids in the process. When asked, she agrees that growing things wasn't even a part of the school curriculum. How I made it to 22 and eleven twelfths without even sticking a seed in a styrofoam cup of soil I don't know, but it's time that changed.

Recently I bought a couple of mini-kits for growing Venus flytraps and a bonsai tree, but grew thoroughly overwhelmed reading the instructions. Dormant periods? In the fridge? High humidity - in Calgary? However, as I was browsing the internet, trying in vain to find some source saying that the seed kit instructions were needlessly difficult, I stumbled across some bottle garden photographs and an idea sprouted in my mind.

Bottle gardens are pretty. Bottle gardens make high-humidity plants much much easier to keep alive. Bottle gardens are portable and perfect for someone who might want to move and keep plants in a university dorm room. Much more perfect than trying to raise a bonsai tree on campus (not sure how I would explain the tree in the communal fridge to my roommates).

So I found some old bottles, called up the most green-thumbed person I know (who voluntarily admits she isn't actually a green-thumb) and we went out today to buy some wee little plants to put in them. Or so we thought. Turns out we overestimated the size of our bottles a bit. Like, we thought they were about twice as big as they actually are. Her baby was staring quizzically at me trying to stuff a purple Jew into what shall probably soon become its glass sarcophagus. Even babies know trying to stuff something big into something smaller doesn't work, much less a living thing. Especially after you've already potentially traumatized the plant by splitting it in two at the roots. But no matter, it's an experiment if nothing else. If they all die, well, at least I get to watch them die. Through the glass. And they'll look pretty doing it.

It was an afternoon of much laughter. Between oohing over the nice selection of plants, spreading dirt all over my friend's kitchen table and trying to keep her baby from eating the plants and the dirt, we eventually turned out with some decent looking plant-things. I say plant-things instead of bottle gardens because we had a lot of extra to keep in pots when we were done. Because, you know, we massively overestimated how much room was in the bottles. But I think I've mentioned that.

Whether the plants will survive or not we shall soon see. Here's some pictures of what they look like now.

First, so you know what kind of plant raising background I come from, this is the state most of our house plants are currently in:

Now, bottle garden #1: This is one is just moss, but it might look the best. I'm really hoping I can keep moss alive, at the very least.

This one is part bottle garden, part oddly shaped pot. What does it tell you about my spatial awareness that I even tried to put the plant inside the jar?

This is the one that had the baby staring at me quizzically. When I brought it home and showed my mom, the first thing out of her mouth was, "It looks a little crowded in there."

This bottle I really liked, so I planted this one first, neglecting to consider that perhaps I should plant my favourite bottle after I've had a little practice. This one will be a real survivor it it lives.

This is part of the fern I didn't even try to stuff into a bottle. I put it into a pretty dumb pot, though. Those are holes in its side. The dirt streams out as mud when you water it. Probably not the best thing for a living room. Still, replanting it again, after it's already been split (my friend managed to get part of it into one of her bottles) will make certain its demise.

This is a piece of bamboo that I may have already killed. I had to buy it so I could cut a piece off the bottom for my frog aquarium. Here's hoping it lives. Here's hoping it helps my frogs live.

I also caved and bought a Venus flytrap, because that's what first made me want to try raising plants. I'm leaving them in their original pot for now. I set one of the traps off by mistake just trying to get the plastic cover over them. Transplanting them would kill them for sure. Still not sure how I'm going to feed it.

And there are a couple other plants in pots, but they're pretty standard looking, so I'll spare you.

"I have no plants in my house. They won't live for me. Some of them don't even wait to die, they commit suicide." Jerry Seinfeld

P.S. If anyone else wants to make a bottle garden, I've got charcoal for you. For at least fifty of you.