Sick Day

Brilliant repartée...

Brilliant repartée…

“Hunger is the best sauce,” Ma Ingalls used to say. In that same vein, being sick makes any/all tv a lot more interesting. Yesterday and today have been glorious, because I somehow stumbled on an as yet undiscovered BBC miniseries.

At this point in time, I have to dig deep to find one I haven’t seen. I don’t mean to brag (because this is in no way something to be proud of, but I am?), but I have seen a lot of the BBC. I routinely go on the BBC website, check out what’s showing across the pond, and click on their video streaming in the hope that one day they’ll let me into their special zone.

But somehow I completely missed Berkeley Square. It might actually be horrible. But in light of Downton Abbey it seemed the perfect. It’s another upstairs/downstairs story. Only this time it’s about Edwardian nannies. Nannies who become friends with each other and do crazy things like swap in their own illegitimate babies when the rich baby dies from a laudanum overdose. And it works! They get away with it!

The story line is, of course, melodramatic, but it seemed more realistic in the way that it pitted the servants against their masters. It even pits the nursery staff agains the regular staff. I have never understood why the Downton Abbey servants like the upstairs crew. Who wouldn’t hate Lady Mary? If my wildest dream came true, Anna would snap and kill Lady Mary and Isis would help bury the body in the park, and no one would be the wiser.

In Berkeley Square seduction  and romance between the upstairs and downstairs is actually dangerous. And no, you don’t marry into the family, somehow becoming the confidant of Lord Grantham who stoically puts up with your socialist views. You not only lose your job, but you’re turned out without a reference if you try to protest. And you might have an illegitimate child, who also makes finding a job either impossible or tragic (you leave the baby at a “baby farm” in the country).

I guess what bothers me, and will continue to bother me is how little Downton actually humanizes the downstairs servants. They have their little quarrels and problems, but nothing gets treated with the same gravitas as the upstairs’ problems. It’s clear whose story we’re supposed to find more interesting. What I loved about Berkeley Square was the juxtaposition of the Nanny Hannah’s baby swap dilemma with socialite’s “which dress do I wear to the ball” drama. These women were working in these fine houses not because they had nothing better to do. It was a matter of survival and a chance to better one’s self. To gloss over this reality seems unfair to all the men and women who were in service. And honestly, it’s pretty shoddy storytelling, Julian Fellows.

That being said, I have the next episode of Downton all queued up. But only because I plowed through the one and only season of Berkeley Square in two days.

A grim, but not unpleasant view for a few days.

A grim, but not unpleasant view for a few days.

Lessons of the French Revolution

It's like Dickens was writing this for me...

It’s like Dickens was writing this for me…

We’ve been learning all about the French Revolution in history for the past few weeks. I love this unit because it’s my opportunity to show off my French pronunciation. That’s right, 4 years and departmental honors, and this is all the use I’ve gotten out of my French major. No regrets.

I try to ride the fine line between sympathizing with the third estate (97.5% of France) and not excusing their barbaric actions. Although, after you study the systemic oppression of the third estate you wonder why exactly they end up becoming the villains of the revolution.

But I love Marie Antoinette. I just do. I know she was extravagant and selfish, but the more I read about her (just finished Antonia Fraser’s excellent biography), the more she just seems trapped in a culture and society that very strictly defined her role. Are we angry at her for not being Mother Teresa? To have gone against the tide at Versailles (at the age of 14) she would have had to be a young Joan of Arc. Instead, she was exactly the kind of girl she was raised to be. So yes, let’s leave her in peace. And she lost her head, so isn’t that enough?

But that was all a digression, because this was a rough week. Now lying in bed with a tissue up my nose and two cups of hot tea by my side, I realize that I was coming down with something and perhaps trying to fight it off. My students came across as really spoiled. Not all of them of course, and there wasn’t any one thing that anyone did, but I would listen to NPR on the way to work and hear stories of ISIS executing children and Boko Haram invading Nigeria, and I would cry. And then I would go to school and hear whining about the room being a touch too cold or the amount of homework they had to do that would interfere with club sports schedules. And then the Valentine’s Day party involved a thousand emails until I was ready  to scrap the whole thing. Anyways, all this culminated in me telling my students that they were the aristocrats of the world.

They were stunned. Of course, they see themselves as peasants, but we’re not. Of course, we have to be in the wealthiest most privileged population of the world. I don’t know how successful this was, but I had to say something. I don’t want them to feel guilty (although I feel guilty all the time), but I just want them to be aware, to look outside themselves for two seconds. I want to look outside myself for two seconds.

This week my goal is to go to school with a better attitude. In the same way I want my students to be more grateful for their privileges, I also want to reflect that gratitude. I get to teach in a country where education is valued. My school gives me a lot of autonomy. When I run in the late afternoon, I want to appreciate the fact that not every woman (even in the US) has this opportunity. So I guess, that’s  what I’m taking away from the French Revolution. Inequality exists, right or wrong. I may not be able to fix those inequalities, but at least I can appreciate my good fortune. And I don’t have to be ignorant about the plight of others.

Decorating with Books

Actually, the title should be “Decorating around Books.” I am passionate about most things in life, and books are pretty close to the top of that list. I own books that have shaped me as a human being and books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile. Books that I love but haven’t touched in years have a home. I also buy books that I have no intention of reading, but I can’t bear the thought of Audrey’s 1925 Christmas presents languishing in a thrift store. Someone needs to love them and prop them up. That person is me, keeper of the stray books.

I dashed around my apartment snapping photos of the shelves that are taking over my 525 square feet. The bedroom is for poetry, Shakespeare, and french literature. Oh, and Betsy and Tacy and Anne of Green Gables live permanently on my nightstand.

This shelf is also home to a hammer and Remy the mouse. Some things are inexplicable.

This shelf is also home to a hammer and Remy the mouse. Some things are inexplicable.

The kitchen houses the cookbooks. I think I’ve written about this before. The appliances got kicked off the red shelf to make room for the books. The only two I use regularly are Smitten Kitchen and America’s Test Kitchen. But it’s important to have A Little Dinner before the Play close at hand. I enjoy reading cookbooks while I dine. And I really like reading vintage cookbooks because the food sounds so much better and less…artisanal.

Honestly, the food processor languishing on the bottom shelf will probably get the boot pretty soon.

Honestly, the food processor languishing on the bottom shelf will probably get the boot pretty soon.

The desk is really just two book shelves with an Ikea slab on top. These house the essays and Agatha Christies.

I hate that they're stacked because pulling them out is so annoying, but it's so much more efficient space-wise.

I hate that they’re stacked because pulling them out is so annoying, but it’s so much more efficient space-wise.

Then of course there’s the bookcase that my Grandpa Berg built. This one is mostly for the Victorians. I like to think that they’re happiest together. Although, I’m not sure if Dickens got along all that well with his contemporaries. If I worked at Pixar (someday…), I’d write a screenplay about books coming to life. Just like Toy Story. But Book Story.



And now…my greatest pride and joy. My ikea bookcases. That now take up what feels like half the room, and alas, will probably not provide enough space for my growing herd/flock/horde. Jane Austen (and Jane Austen ephemera) takes up about half a shelf. Honestly, organizing these was stressful. Nothing fell into clear categories. I have a ton of literary criticism, but I also have a lot of Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik who don’t really fit into that genre. They don’t go together. And what about my biographies of Victorian feminists? Must Kurt Wallander share a shelf with Miss Buncle? Yes, they must, and so far they’ve both behaved admirably.

The right half

The right half

Left half

Left half

But in all seriousness, it’s almost getting to the point where a serious system is needed. There are too many books now for me to easily locate the one I need. I get side-tracked and end up rereading portions of Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette biography when I meant to grab N.T. Wright.  But the alternative is…not having books? Or doing this abominable thing…


Or this, which is maybe a bit better…

Library of an Interaction Designer (Juhan Sonin) / 20100423.7D.0


I know I could just get rid of most of these and replace them digitally. But…if you’re the kind of person who buys old books based solely on the inscriptions, chances are the kindle is never going to cut it. Someday these books will bury me alive, but until that day I will keep adding to their number one by one (just picked up W. Somerset Maugham’s intellectual autobiography that’s been out of print for years).


New Year

Because a snowy landscape is the ultimate blank slate...

Because a snowy landscape is the ultimate blank slate…

Everyone else made awesome new year’s resolutions or picked a cool word or started a new diet or fitness regimen. And I didn’t. I did do a juice cleanse, but only because I’d eaten a steady diet of all the McDonald’s on the I-70 corridor for 4 days straight. And Culver’s and Sonic. Not pretty. I thought about doing Whole 30 because Hannah sent me her meal plan and grocery list. It would have been so easy except for giving up legumes, sugar, dairy, and grains for 30 days. I started strong, but then Gail brought 7 layer bars in for a treat, and I gave that up.

Here’s my manageable list:

1) Try grating fresh nutmeg with a nutmeg grater. In recipes I make they’re always calling for freshly grated nutmeg. I grab the ol’ McCormick’s from my cupboard and wonder how long I’ve had this bottle. Since college perhaps? This is the year that I will know if it’s really all that great. I have the grater in my amazon basket, so I’m almost there.

2) Get a library card. As Arthur the Aardvark rapped once, “Having fun / isn’t hard / when you’ve got a library card.” I have one to Arapahoe County up in the Denver Metro area. That is great, but I live in Colorado Springs. And I love the library. I’m not sure if I’m afraid of the excessive paperwork, new fines wracking up, or librarians (they can be so mean and not helpful), but it has not happened in the 3 1/2 years I’ve lived here. That ends in 2015. Maybe.

3) Do a headstand. As we often tell our fat dog Guthrie who is jumping impaired, “If you dream it, you can achieve it.” I believe. I also am making friends and family spot me until this works out.

Resolutely on the floor...because jumping is for dogs with less junk in their trunk...

Resolutely on the floor…because jumping is for dogs with less junk in their trunk…

4) Get rid of many clothes. I in no way aspire to be a minimalist. I am in awe when people write about having three t-shirts and one perfect pair of jeans. I know at times that I have definitely over-shopped. Having too many clothes is not good. But I’m not sure if minimalism doesn’t hit the opposite extreme. Being obsessive about having less (which is always way more expensive somehow) seems wrong as well. So I’m aiming for a balance. I want my closet to look happy and maybe a little chubby, but maybe it shouldn’t bring a ruthless gleam to the organizer’s eye. I sent a picture to Hannah, who responded with “It’s like a siren call to me. I want at it!!!”

Too ashamed to post a picture of my closet. So here's a selfie. Yes, I wore red lipstick to help cope with the closet culling. I'm keeping the orange sweater, even though it's been 2 years since I've worn it.

Too ashamed to post a picture of my closet. So here’s a selfie. Yes, I wore red lipstick to help cope with the closet culling. I’m keeping the orange sweater, even though it’s been 2 years since I’ve worn it.

Happy New Year and almost Valentine’s Day!

Advent reading

Sometimes more is more. And sometimes less is more. I have a whole stack of books I’m reading and rereading this Advent season. I’m working my way through Isaiah, and Auden’s For the Time Being, and Bonhoeffer’s God Is in the Manger. And they’re all good and meaningful and wonderful.

But today I received my friend Jenny’s card in the mail. Jenny has a genius for choosing her words wisely. She is one of the few people who truly thinks before she speaks. And these four verses just say it all. Here’s the photo I snapped (and isn’t her handwriting just lovely?):


And here are the verses with the citations:

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Is. 64:1).

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

“He will be our peace…For he himself is our peace” (Micah 5:5, Eph. 2:14).

I have read all of these verses before, but today it was as though I was reading them for the first time. And to reread something with new eyes is a gift. Thank you, Jenny.


Messiah, Year the Third

I went to Messiah last Sunday. The sing-along version (although for me, that is all of them.) And since all the cool bloggers recap their weekends, or give you a preview of the awesome restaurant/movie/art museum they plan on frequenting I shall join the hoard. Here comes a full-blown Messiah recap. You may need to set aside the next three hours.

The first thing to do is plan dinner before. You need food that’s fairly quick nourishing. I’ve hosted a dinner at my apartment before, but we cut it too close and got stuck in the balcony. My favorite hipster coffee-shop was the designated spot this year. A glass of wine, a plate of cheese and we would be ready for the best night of the year. Alas, it was not to be. We ended up at the bookstore’s coffee shop and I ate too many olives and flatbread while chugging a glass of wine because I was antsy about the time.

We walked around the corner to the church that hosts the singalong every year. As we walked in at 6:45, we were turned away because there was no room in the sanctuary (fitting, rather). Lindsay marched in anyways and we found ourselves in the very front row. Because remember, this is in a church, and the front row is always empty. Yeah, we landed the best seats in the house.

The first words of Messiah are “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” from Isaiah. And the altos get to enter first in “And the glory of the Lord.” It’s a big moment, as altos spend most of Messiah singing F,G,A. There are measures we spend singing the same note over and over. But it’s ok, George. Happy to oblige. I also, weirdly enjoy the challenge of not singing the melody. In fact, if you get too close I will try to throw you off your part. Just ask my sisters. I do this in church all the time.

I also weirdly enjoy following the score the entire time. I think the equivalent would be following along with a script while you watch a movie or play (which I have also done). Anyways, all went swimmingly. The bass soloist in particular was excellent. I would like him to sing “The Trumpet Shall Sound” at all the funerals.

And then the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Oh, Hallelujah Chorus. I almost always tear up when I hear it. Especially when the tempo slows slightly to the words “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever.” I do not like contemporary Christian music much. A lot of the lyrics seem to vague and repetitive to me. I question their theology. This is totally a matter of personal preference, and I have nothing against contemporary music, although I do take issue and disagree with the implication that it is somehow more spiritual just because it tends to appeal to emotion. I am deeply moved by the hymns, liturgy, and traditions. However, like any emotional non-denom on a Sunday morning I closed my eyes during the Hallelujah Chorus, swayed back and forth, and may have timidly raised my right hand in worship. What can I say? I’m hard to pin down.

I love hearing the voices of the congregation around me. It is by no means the most beautiful performance of the Messiah. But there’s such an earnestness and zeal in these voices. The sweet little old lady who sat next to me lost her place so many times. I helped her find it once or twice, and then she warbled away not quite in tune, but singing with such a zest for the music it hardly mattered.

Messiah finishes with Revelation and the second coming (which is partially what advent is all about). “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and glory, and blessing…Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the thrown, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And then the Amens. So many Amens chasing each other and blending together. There are short Amens and long Amens and one with many notes and a few with only two notes. It goes on for a long time, 5 minutes of Amen, maybe?

And then it’s over. And we put on our coats and smile a little sadly because it’s all over until next year. I’ve loved Messiah since college when I obsessively learned it and performed it. It makes me a little sad that most of the performances of Messiah are secular. If I were queen of the world, I would make all the churches perform the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It is impossible to hate the “Hallelujah Chorus.” And as far as choral pieces go, it’s not that difficult to learn. And if it was good enough to make King George III rise to his feet then it should be good enough to get squeezed in between Chris Tomlin this and Chris Tomlin that and whatever country music version we’re singing of “Joy to the World.”

So until next year, I will listen to Messiah through this advent season and break it out in October and count the days until the first Sunday of Advent and I get to sing again!

So it begins…

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to keep Advent as best I can. This is the time of year, that I wish I had kids. Other than the 80+ I spend the majority of my day with. Because kids love traditions. And I love traditions. But traditions when you’re on your own seem borderline creepy. But I’m comfortable enough now to embrace that for what it is. I light my candle. I enjoy the glow of my baby tree. I try to read everyday. This year I’m reading W.H. Auden’s For the time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. It’s as good an Advent read as anything, in my opinion.

This is also the time of year that I teach Ancient Rome and the play Julius Caesar. This year in particular I am struck by power of Rome.

Back to Auden. In the intro, Alan Bradley writes about the influence of the book Christianity and Classical Culture by Charles Cochrane on For the Time Being. The main thesis of this book is that the Roman State “was an inadequate answer to a philosophical problem, the problem of how to give meaning and value to human life.” It all boils down the idea that peace and order and freedom are all found through political action (i.e. the Roman Empire). We just finished reading Julius Caesar. And when I asked the question “Was Brutus the noblest Roman of them all?” they all answered with a reluctant yes. They criticized the many suicides and the narrow definition of honor. Neither Brutus nor Caesar seems to care much for his wife or regret the pain that he caused her. Children are mentioned not at all. For these Romans, political power is the only thing that matters, and it is the only thing living and dying for.

And Christ of course, turns that upside down. For a Christian, the political and the personal spheres are never separate again. What you do in your personal life makes a difference at your job, with your friends, in your neighborhood and city and country. Or as Auden says (much better than I can) “There can, for the Christian be no distinction between the personal and the political, for all his relationships are both; every marriage is a polis, every imperium a family; and he has to learn to forgive and sacrifice himself for his enemies, as for his wife and children.”

This year I am so moved when I read about Brutus and Cassius and the conspirators, nobly trying to save Rome from tyranny only to deliver it into the hands of emperor after emperor. How beautifully tragic and ironic. Then I think of Jesus preaching and healing and suffering and dying. Rome fell. Christ remains.The Church endures. I’m not sure if you’d ever call the twelve disciples honorable or noble men. The deaths that they died would have earned them the scorn of Brutus and the gang: “What could be more humiliating to a man to be tortured and killed by his enemies like a common criminal? Much better to run on your sword,” they might have thought. When I think of the twelve, I think of a diverse group of friends that should never have been friends. I think of their love and their faithfulness unto death. And I think of the saints and the nameless Christian brothers and sisters that have gone before me and my brothers and sisters that are suffering now all over the world. And I know with certainty that they are more worthy of my praise and admiration than any Romans.

I don’t know how to wrap this up neatly. Like most things that move me deeply, words just escape me. I think I’m moved the upside-downness or perhaps everything that was upside down was turned right-side up. I find it oddly comforting that countries change and collapse. The US of A was never meant to be our salvation. Nor is it the world’s last best hope for freedom and peace. It is only a tool that God can use for his purposes. People, however, are of the utmost importance. Loving God and loving your neighbor changes you, changes them, and it changes the world. And that is something to feel hopeful about this Advent and Christmas season.