31 December 2010

Christmas 2010... Ho! Ho! Ho!

A quick recap of my Christmas this year-- one of the best in my opinion.  Though, as I've said, my seasonal spirit was nowhere to be found in the approaching days of the holiday, it was back for December 25th.  Christmas Eve was a big disappointment, but I'd like to stick with the positive and brush over that low point.  All of the Christmas enthusiasm I couldn't muster beforehand projected itself through the gift openings, laughter, sharing, and general merriment of the actual day.

Traditionally, the immediate family gathers at my parents' home, wakes somewhat early, opens gifts, eats breakfast, then heads out the door to my aunt and uncle's house to celebrate.  The routine remained the same with a few tweeks: we slept until 8. It was wonderful and relaxing.  

I love Christmas morning at my folks' place.  We wake up to the smell of coffee brewing and Breakfast Souffle baking in the oven-- a dish that epitomizes holidays.  Growing up, Mom made the souffle only on Christmas and Easter morning; twice a year, creating a magic for us children around this aromatic, incredibly tasty breakfast treat. It's a classic.  

And so, while the house fills with our traditional smells of Christmas, we gather downstairs in the living room, in our pajamas, and the kids open their stockings. Yes, we still have stockings filled with goodies and presents from Santa-- Mom never had the heart to break with tradition. As an adult, encouraging Santa Claus feels like encouraging the Spirit of Giving.  Obviously we are Christian and celebrate the birth of Jesus-- the greatest Gift of all-- but I love the youthful encouragement of generosity.

Once we finished rifling through the stockings and admiring the scent sprays, Starbucks cards, and treats Mom and Dad stuffed into them, the family moves to the Music Room.  There, we gather round our Christmas tree covered in ornaments collected and given throughout the years, each telling its own story or provoking a memory.  Of course, due to the plethora of gifts falling out from under the tree into the middle of the room, we spend five minutes passing out each package, and then my parents enjoy the surprised expressions lighting our faces as we rip the colored paper and toss the bows around.

After opening, admiring, thanking, eating, showering, and gathering, we pile into the mini-van then travel over the river and through the woods to Aunt Debbie's house.  Below is a photo of the tree and piles of gifts from everyone. Did I mention everyone agreed to no presents?  Don't let the picture fool you, though, most of these gifts are for everyone animals!

The 19 of us ate delicious food, phenomenal dessert from Jarosch Bakery (check out the site, people!), the women chatted, we played Apples to Apples, and the family sang carols.  And the LAUGHTER.  My extended family loves to laugh and boy did we giggle.  :)  

Overall, I am incredibly overwhelmed by the generosity from my parents, in-laws, siblings, and extended  family-- AMAZING.  Not only did God bless me with His Son and the ultimate Sacrifice, but I also get to celebrate the birth of Christ with a loving family.  

24 December 2010

Twas the Week Before Christmas...

Though I've been a bit of a Scrooge about Christmas this year, I would like to spruce up this blog with some festive photos.  We've been visiting my former stomping grounds, spending time with family and friends, visiting Chicago, and goofing off with the cat.  My spirits are still low and I am finding the normal Christmas routine just that-- a routine.  I think new traditions and experiences are in order, and I am looking forward to those we start with our future children.

 The 900 North Christmas tree... from the bottom.

 Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago.

 The manger at Christkindlmarket.

 Hand-painted ornaments from Germany-- at the market.

 Niko looking festive on his 3rd birthday.

 Watching the Christmas Eve snow.

The table for Christmas Eve dinner.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

22 December 2010

Literary Canon

For the final in my English class, my professor assigned a literature canon for a group project.  To summarize: our group needed to define the term "literature,"interview a couple people on their personal definitions and a few recommendations, then create a canon that all English majors should read during their stint in college.

I have a much more liberal and, I feel, inclusive view of literature.  Although I have the utmost respect for those eternal authors and works attributed to the founding of the study known as "English," I feel the current repertoire for English students offers little in the way of other categories, such as Young Adult, Children's, Graphic Novels, etc.  This concept led to a lively (and somewhat annoying) debate during our presentation, especially since my professor has not (and will not) read Harry Potter and must argue against its presence on the Canon.  Ah well, to each his own.

Before I present the list in question, I must clarify that I haven't read most of these works and at least half of the works must be UNread by the entire group.  We are basing this off of research, recommendations and required readings from past English classes, and personal choice.  They are organized by categories and I am aware that most of the titles belong in multiple categories; however, the list would be redundant.

Here is the Canon for your perusal--

1000 B.C. to 100 A.D.  (World Literature)
Fables by Aesop (Moral Tales 6th Century B.C.)-- read
Oedipus Rex and Antigone by Sophocles (Greek Tragedy Plays 5th Century B.C.)
The Dialogues by Plato (Philosophy 4th Century B.C.)
Poetics and Ethics by Aristotle (Philosophy 4th Century B.C.)
Aeneid by Virgil (Epic 1st Century B.C.)
Metamorphoses by Ovid (Mythology 1st Century B.C.)
Lysistrata by Aristophones, play, 411 BC—read
The Illiad & The Odyssey by Homer, epic poem, 1194-1184 BC
Dante’s Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, poem, 1555
The Bible by Various Authors, religious text, around 500 bc—read
Greek Myths (author unknown), folklore, 800-900 bc—read
Medea by Euripides, play, 431 b.c. – read

From 100 AD – 1200 AD
Beowulf by Anonymous, epic poem, 8th to 11th century— (a little)
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, fantasy, 1950-1956
Confessions and The City of God by St. Augustine (Theology 4th Century A.D.) 

From 1200-1500 A.D.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, frame tale, 14th century—read
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by the “Pearl Poet,” Middle English alliterative romance, 14th century
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (Allegorical Tales 1353) 

From 1500-1700 A.D.
Utopia by St. Thomas Moore (Theology 1516)
Paradise Lost by John Milton (Epic Poem 1667)
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (Theology 1678)
Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes, satire, 1615

From 1700-1900
Grimm’s Fairytales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Folklore/ Fairytale, 1812
Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen, Children’s Lit, 1835-1861—read
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, adventure, 1844-1846
Candide by Voltaire (Philosophy 1752)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Novel 1857)
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Novel 1862)
War and Peace by Victor Hugo (Novel 1865)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Novel 1866)
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, adventure, 1844

From 1900- present
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, children’s lit, 1943
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, fantasy, 1937
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, fantasy, 1954
O Pioneers by Willa Cather (Novel 1913)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Novel 1925)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Novel 1939)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (Novel 1942)
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (Novel 1957) 

Women’s Literature
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, novel of manners/ satire, 1813—read
Persuasion by Jane Austen, romance, 1818—read
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, drama, 1868
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Novel 1847)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Novel 1847)-- read

British Literature
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, morality tale/ fairytale, Dec. 19, 1843
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by W.J. Craig (and Shakespeare), playwright/ anthology, 1914 (and 16th century)—read
**Animal Farm by George Orwell, Dystopian/ political fiction/ social science fiction, June 8, 1949—read
The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland/ Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, fantasy, 1865-1871
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, detective fiction/ mystery, Oct. 14, 1892
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, novel, 1859—read
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Novel 1847)
Collected Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Poetry Mid 19th Century)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Novel 1855)
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (Novel 1873)
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (Novel 1874
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (Novel 1898)
1984 by George Orwell (Novel 1949)-- read
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift, adventure/fantasy, 1726
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, adventure/ young adult, 1883

American Literature
Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe, poetry/ horror, 19th century—read
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, realistic fiction/ children’s lit, 1882
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, satirical novel, 1885—read
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, folk/ satire/ children’s, 1876
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Novel 1850)-- read
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Novel 1850)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, fiction novel, 1852
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, war novel, 1895
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, fictional autobiography,1719

Collected Works of Robert Browning (Poetry Mid 19th Century)
Collected Works by Molière (Comedic Plays 17th Century)
The Poems of Robert Frost, poetry, 1894 to 1960’s-- read 
Collected Works of William Wordsworth (Poetry 18th -19th Century)-- read
Collected Works of Lord Byron (Poetry Early 19th Century)
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, comedy/ play, 1895
Collected Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Philosophy 18th Century)
Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Essays 19th Century) 
Collected Works of Henry David Thoreau (Essays 19th Century) 
Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther, newspaper columns, 1939
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (Play 1890)
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (Play 1949) 
Our Town by Thornton Wilder, play, 1938—read

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fantasy, June 30, 1997—read
Savvy by Ingrid Law, Children’s Lit/ Fiction, May 1, 2008—read
The Giver by Lois Lowry, soft science fiction, 1993—read
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, Young Adult, 1962—read
Pemberly Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson, fan fiction, Dec. 10, 2006—read
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, fantasy, Sept. 30, 2008—read
Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison, graphic novel, 1989—read
The Watchmen by Alan Moore, graphic novel, Sept. 1986—read
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, historical realism, Aug. 31, 2010
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, satirical novel, Aug. 17, 1996
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, novel, May 29, 2003
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, novel, 1970—read
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, novel, 2001—read
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, children’s lit, 1924-- read
 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, historiographic metafiction, 1992
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, fiction/ novel, 2009
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, Latin American novel, 1985

06 December 2010

Creative Writing: Dictionary of the Khazars Entry

After reading and analyzing The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic, my English professor assigned this writing project requiring the class to add our own entries to the dictionary. Let me give you a little background on the novel before you jump into the entry.

The Dictionary of the Khazars is a meta-fiction novel, meaning it's a fiction within a fiction. The main point of the "dictionary" is to explain why the Khazar people disappeared after converting to either Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Made up of 3 books, the novel consists of entries within each book, some repeated throughout, that define and tell stories about the particular subject. That's the uber-simple version.

Honestly, I hated the darn thing. However, reading the book enabled me to realize I dislike meta-fiction-- there's always a lesson to be learned! If you haven't read the book, reading my entry will seem weird, make absolutely no sense (not that reading it helps much), and it will all seem "out there". But let me assure you: I received a 98 on the assignment and my teacher mentioned how well I captured Pavic's style and tone. So there.

My entry--

Van der Spaak, Manuil (1979 to ?)— Hebrew devil and the son of Mr. and Mrs.Van der Spaak, the former an excellent white tortoiseshell instrumentalist and the latter a talented left-handed painter, a renowned aristocratic Belgian family; innocent murderer of Dr. Abu Kabir Muawia. Referred to by some as “the most beautiful little boy ever seen,” Manuil possessed the loveliest face worn by a person in three centuries, with milk-white skin and eyes like opals under the water on a sunny day. The face resembled a porcelain mask meticulously painted by his mother from right to left so as not to smudge the delicate features of her precious little one. Though cut short, his black hair gave the distinct impression that it wanted to be longer and was missing its better half, amputated as a sacrifice to a fallen friend. As a boy and a man, Manuil loved all things red, blue, and yellow; during his infancy he ate only foods of those colors but expanded his palette at the age of one when he made a conscious decision to mature. Also, he had a particular affinity for chocolate milk—the darker the better—and enjoyed dipping soft bread into his ice-cold glass.
Reports from those close in proximity to the family say the boy had two thumbs and no pinkies on each hand. No matter the occasion, season, or time of day, Manuil was never seen without the black leather gloves which meant he never had paper cuts, and it was rumored he wore them while he slept. Because his mother painted on every surface within her reach, the gloves were covered with brightly painted red, blue, and yellow Hebrew symbols and ancient Khazar designs, and Manuil often used his gloves to interpret his dreams. Once, he dreamt of a deep blue river of tears flowing up a waterfall with purpose and into a gaping mouth at the edge of a red mountain. Along the river stood white reeds, tall and menacing, and he used a jagged dagger to cut them down and collect the milky sap from their stems to gather strength. As he reached the mountain, a man lie dying, blue blood spilling from his head and around his neck, a gorgeous smile of perfect teeth on his face, his black eyes reflecting time and the universe. Manuil knew at once that he had killed the man though he had no idea why; he closed the man’s cosmic eyes, laying a yellow Ornithogalum umbellatum across his mouth. When he awoke, the boy searched his gloves for the meaning of such a dream but found only the little yellow flower on the tip of his right index finger.
In 1982, at the age of almost four, Manuil went on holiday with his parents to Istanbul and stayed at the Kingston Hotel during the conference about cultures of the Black Sea. One particularly balmy morning as his family breakfasted in the sunny corner of the hotel courtyard, Manuil noticed a lovely middle-aged woman with red eyes enjoying mint tea in the windy corner of the courtyard and he so approached her. Though he recognized her, Dr. Schultz recognized nothing of the boy’s features but still found him pleasant enough when he kissed the ring finger of her left hand. Everyday Manuil visited the woman, bringing the doctor his zaddik to smoke, watching her mouth release swirls of sad smoke that spoke of the past as she touched his hair with evident tenderness like old friends reuniting after years of estrangement.
On an October day with a red sunrise and white-hot conviction, Mr. and Mrs. Van
der Spaak left their son in the courtyard to find his way in life. Sipping chocolate milk, Manuil watched as Dr. Schultz resumed her usual table while clutching her handbag so close she was almost suffocating it while perspiring uncontrollably. Shortly after her entrance, Dr. Abu Kabir Muawia approached the doctor, sat down, and handed her a stack of papers that loosened her grip on the purse and swept away the beads of sweat almost instantly. As he sipped the milk and watched Muawia talk with passion—though about what he couldn’t understand—Manuil noticed the gleam radiating from his mouth. Muawia’s perfect teeth telling perfect lies. Suddenly Schultz left and the sunlight reflected against her gun hidden underneath the scattered papers. Manuil failed to notice Virginia Ateh, the Kingston Hotel waitress, standing in the background.
This is the dialogue taken from her witness statement of Dr. Schultz’s trial:
At once, Manuil approached Dr. Muawia and he asked, “Why don’t you remove your gloves, Boy?”
“Because this place makes me sick,” the boy answered. The doctor wanted to know what Manuil was sick of and he proclaimed, “Of your democracy!”
“What kind of democracy?”
“The kind you and your ilk protect. Look at the results of this democracy of yours. Before, big nations used to oppress small nations. Now it’s the reverse. Now, in the name of democracy, small nations terrorize the big. Just look at the world around us. White America is afraid of blacks, the blacks are afraid of the Puerto Ricans, Jews of the
Palestinians, the Arabs of the Jews, the Serbs of the Albanians, the Chinese of the Vietnamese, the English of the Irish. Small fish are nibbling the ears of the big fish. Instead of minorities being terrorized, democracy has introduced a new fashion: now it’s the majority of the planet that’s being burdened…. Your democracy sucks…”
Unable to respond, Muawia watched as Manuil retrieved Dr. Schultz’s gun from underneath the Khazar papers and aimed.
“Open your mouth so your teeth won’t be ruined!” And Dr. Muawia did as he was told. Manuil heard a scream from inside the hotel then fired one shot precisely through Muawia’s mouth, keeping his smile in tact.
Dr. Abu Kabir Muawia’s murder remains unsolved while Dr. Schultz—the initial suspect—went to prison for the murder of Dr. Suk. During her six-year sentence, Manuil wrote Dr. Schultz faithfully with a hand and tone the prison guards assumed belonged to his father. They corresponded until her death in 1988 on the day of her release. Though circumstances surrounding her passing remain a mystery, it was not a surprise to Manuil who had dreamt it a few days before and used his gloves to realize her death. His final letter containing one sentence was found in her hand the day she died in prison:
When we meet again, I will no longer be a man and you will recognize only my gloved hands with two thumbs on either side.
Manuil Van der Spaak did not attend her funeral as he was at the Interpol station with his parents in Bulgaria, sipping chocolate milk and coloring triangles with red, yellow, and blue crayons and going outside the lines only when someone said, “Jew.” Mr. and Mrs. Van der Spaak were being held for questioning in the disappearance of Virginia Ateh—waitress at the Kingston Hotel and accuser of Manuil in the death of Dr. Muawia. Mr. Van der Spaak claimed acquaintance with Miss Ateh and that he remembered she always served his ku scaled and tuned. When asked if he had taken and murdered Miss Ateh as revenge for her accusations against Manuil, Mr. Van der Spaak replied, “There is no time for foolishness when it is lovely weather for reptilian music,” and began playing furiously on his white tortoiseshell. Mrs. Van der Spaak said nothing and painted everything.
Having no evidence or witness against them, the Van der Spaak family joined the public once again, and it was at this point that Manuil decided to break away from his parents and make a life of his own. He was seventy in dog years and his porcelain face had become lined with questionable deeds and stolen innocence. After wandering into Romania, Manuil found himself in Transylvania at the traveling stand of a blind fortune teller who offered him a fortune by way of a palm reading. Although Manuil wore gloves, his mother’s paintings enabled his hands to have lines of flesh and so he paid the teller his fee of blood and a lock of hair. His fortune is as follows:
Your days grow short. Your nights grow long. Peace comes to those who learn nothing and know everything. Follow your footsteps back to the beginning.
Walking backwards, Manuil left Romania, went through Bulgaria, and was last seen in Istanbul with his back to the Kingston Hotel.

02 December 2010

About my Grandpa... Follow Up

In the early hours of Thursday, November 25, 2010-- Thanksgiving morning-- my Grandpa died.

I wish I could say I am sad, but that would be a lie. In his last days, Grandpa became grumpier, shouting at hospital staff and mocking his wife. No words of regret, no apologies. There was no realization of God-- he even requested no funeral and when asked if she wanted a minister at his private burial, Grandma replied, "what for?" This death was really a loss of life-- the life he ruined with bitterness and anger. Truthfully, he was dead long before he died.

Today his ashes were placed in the ground during a private ceremony where only his wife, three children, their three significant others, and two out of his four grandchildren gathered. No one offered to do the honors of placing his ashes in the small hole, and only his wife spoke a few delusional words in his memory.

This is hard. It's hard knowing of this loss and having the inability to feel it. To fully realize how little my own grandfather meant to me in life and death has struck me to the core, and I mourn the numbness I feel from his passing. However, I pray for his soul everyday because I fear it is in hell and I can't bear the thought of anyone being there for the rest of eternity. Never in my life have I thought anyone close to me who has passed on is not in Heaven, but in my grandpa's case... I don't know. I can only hope and pray.

There is a lesson here: Forgive. Love. Laugh. Share. And finally, never EVER take the people you love for granted and treat them poorly, otherwise no one will mourn your death and you will fall into nothingness.