This week’s Mundane Monday Challenge from Dr K Ottaway has the theme, Faces. I don’t feel completely comfortable putting up human faces here. My kids have taken a huge number of selfies showing their faces, but they’re old enough to curate their own online social media histories without me getting involved. And I’m just not feeling ready to post pictures of the faces of friends, strangers or acquaintances. I could post my own face, but ugh.
So I had another idea as I was looking through trip pictures: clock faces. I happened on this one from Guernsey.
It was in an upscale souvenir shop near the Little Chapel, a sweet tourist attraction on the island. These clocks were extremely inventive. This one played Spring from the Four Seasons, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Morning from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, the theme from Beethoven’s Symphony #6 Pastorale, and maybe Pachelbel’s Canon. (If not, there was definitely another one playing–and playing and playing–Pachelbel’s Canon). Especially cool was that the face of the clock came apart into the flower shape shown here, whirled around to the music, and finally went back together when the music stopped. We didn’t buy it but it was fun to watch.
This is another unusual clock face, this time from Bad Schussenried, Germany. The workings of an old tower clock (Turmuhr) from 1750 were made into artwork on the side of a building. This one is not going to tell time for you.
And this last “face” is on an Anniversary Clock, the name for the type of golden torsion pendulum clock under glass shown here. This one was given to my step mother-in-law by my late father-in-law when they were married. She was his second wife after he was widowed in 1989. He passed away in 2015, just before we moved to California.
Legend has it, when he died, the clock stopped. It later started again on its own. It still sits on her windowsill, facing the room, now with fresh batteries.
I wanted to give this book 5 stars, and for audacity and imagination, I do. But I also found much of the text slow, repetitive, and curiously unemotional, and it lost a star for those aspects.
The animating idea of this novel is that in a time not too far from our own present day, evolution has begun to go backwards. Creatures are devolving from more complex to less complex forms, the very laws of the universe may be reversing themselves, the expanding universe has reached its apex and is now contracting back into singularity. What would this look like in the slow motion way that biological creatures experience time?
Such a big idea is almost impossible to bring down to our mundane level, but Erdrich almost pulls it off through the eyes and ears of Cedar Songmaker, nee Mary (Potts), a single mother newly converted to Catholicism, pregnant with a baby due on December 25th. Cedar addresses her story to her unborn child, whom she loves abstractly and believes to be normal, unlike the majority of babies born to women in the devolving universe.
Unfortunately for the reader, Cedar is the least interesting character in the novel. For the first third of the book I found her annoyingly passive and uncurious about what was happening to her world. Her trip to find her birth parents that comprises this part is interesting mostly because we get to meet Sweetie, her birth mother; Eddy, Sweetie’s husband; and Little Mary, their daughter. They are Ojibwe who live in northern Minnesota on a reservation, run a Superpumper gas station, and are setting up a shrine to a local Saint. The reader can theoretically understand and empathize with Cedar’s desire to find out more about her own origins as the world collapses around her, but her first reaction is one of muted disappointment about small things. She mopes around in her house, says nice things about her adoptive parents, avoids her baby’s father’s phone calls, reads pregnancy literature, and works on a Catholic newsletter that she is writing. This section of the novel felt like a clumsy and unnecessary expository lump, especially since I have been pregnant myself, and when I was, I read carefully the pamphlets about fetal development from my OB/Gyn’s office, which some of these chapters sounded like.
Things really get going, though, when Cedar is captured by the pregnancy police and put in a “hospital,” ostensibly for her and her baby’s protection in the New World Order, in which most pregnant women and their babies don’t survive. Again, she is surrounded by characters more interesting than she is: her fellow pregnant prisoners Agnes and Tia, the nurses who either torture them or bravely risk everything to help them escape, and her adoptive mother Sera who is highly placed in a resistance movement and actually manages to spearhead a successful escape for both Cedar and Tia.
This part makes the whole book worth reading. Events pull the reader along in suspense, and then the action almost stops for a painfully true conversation between Cedar and Sera, encapsulating mother/daughter tensions and bonds. Then Erdrich shows how effortlessly beautiful her prose can be, with a harrowing and horrifying account of Tia’s labor and stillbirth closely followed by Cedar’s wild joy and confidence in her own body’s wondrous abilities to bring forth life.
As the book barreled towards its conclusion and then petered out, I wondered if the author just couldn’t figure out how to end it properly. A dramatic climax comes about when Cedar discovers something surprising and dismaying about her own parentage, but this revelation neither propels the main plot nor illuminates the themes of devolution and collapse. And then when Cedar was captured again just before giving birth, I felt mostly tired and numb. Unlike most pregnant women in this book, she and her baby survive the birth process. Then Cedar’s voice, never particularly strong, fades into near nothingness and the book ends without our finding out what happens to her baby.
Does he become the “Living God” of the title, the messiah that his father hoped for? Has the very idea of a messiah become turned on its head, another exercise in futility? What does that mean for the future of faith?
This book promises a great deal and occasionally delivers. But because of the slow start and this truncated ending it was ultimately not as satisfying as it could have been.
I started this blog with a Geocaching theme, although over the three-and-a-half years of its existence, it has strayed from those original roots. Geocaching, or the “global treasure hunt,” as it’s sometimes called, can be a metaphor for many things. For things lost and found. For the quest and the hunt. For “finding yourself.”
For this Blogfest post, I want to focus on the geocaching community, which is a group of some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. There are over 3 million geocaches hidden worldwide and an estimated 451,316 active geocachers in the United States in 2017. When we moved to California, geocaching was a great way for us to meet new friends.
My husband finds more caches than I do. To do so, he likes to go to some out of the way places, and this past spring, he and one of his friends managed to get their car stuck in the Yuma desert. A quick post to a Facebook group and local geocachers who were on the scene in Yuma came to the rescue.
They weren’t in serious danger, mostly inconvenience. But this story, Canadian geocachers rescue stranded camper in remote woods, is a great example of what the community can do in more dire circumstances. Without these geocachers out looking for their First to Find, Robert would have died.
Geocaching events are a rare place in which folks of different ethnicities, income levels, gender orientations, and political persuasions come together and share an activity and friendship (at least this is true in the United States; worldwide Geocaching is still heavily concentrated in wealthier industrialized countries). Geocachers also organize regular CITO (cache-in, trash-out) events to help clean up local parks and waterways.
The featured photo for this post is a picture from a virtual geocaching souvenir called the “World Turtle.” In order to earn this souvenir, I had to find 100 caches between June 27 and July 25th. I finished just in time, on the last day, by attending a lunchtime geocaching event. There were 13 souvenirs to earn in total, called “Hidden Creatures,” most of which were easier and required finding fewer caches than the turtle. I found most of them while I was on my trip to Europe. (I like the Hippocamp especially because, as a neuroscientist, I am reminded of the hippocampus!)
The World Turtle was the most difficult one, requiring 100 finds in the time period. A turtle carrying the world on its back is a creation myth in Hindu, Chinese, and Indigenous Peoples mythologies. Here’s an interview with Roxxy, the artist behind this World Turtle. The geocaching community is truly a worldwide phenomenon, and I think appropriate for a “We Are the World” shout-out.
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing good newst. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.
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Dr KO has such nice themes for Mundane Monday. This week’s theme is the beach. I’m back from my trip to Europe, which was not really a beach vacation. But the parts of the trip I will remember the longest involved beaches of a sort.
The last day of our cruise took us to Dover, England, of the famous White Cliffs. When British pilots returned from bombing runs during World War II, it was the sight of these cliffs that let them know they were home, and (relatively) safe, for now.
Our day was warm and sunny, the sky a clear blue with a few white clouds. We hiked along the Cliff Walk and looked out over the beach and the water.
My son taking pictures
The beachiest picture in this whole blog
We were high-up enough to see the curvature of the earth and the boats crawling along the watery arc of the globe.
And a lighthouse behind a field of flowers.
The different shades of blue and white were amazing all day. As we sailed away from Dover on the cruise ship, seagulls followed us, drafting off the ship’s movement.
This gull was dive-bombing some leftover food on plates stacked up in the bistro at the back of the boat.
And the cliffs themselves, and the shadows they made, took on a different hue as they receded into the distance.
There’s a song about bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover, but as we learned, bluebirds are not native to the area and cannot be found here. It’s white birds all the way. White birds against a deep blue sky.
I will start by thanking PJ Lazos at Green Life Blue Water, who introduced me to this book, The Hate U Give, a debut novel by Angie Thomas. I might not have read it without her excellent review; I was initially turned off by the word “hate” in the title and by the prospect of YA fiction preachiness. Those concerns were completely unfounded. This novel is a great read: sad, funny, forgiving, and wise. And Starr, the viewpoint character, is a strong and relatable voice.
The novel’s plot comes straight from tragic headlines. Starr is the only eyewitness to her black friend Khalil’s shooting at the hands of a white police officer. She tells the story to the media and eventually testifies before a grand jury. The officer who killed Khalil is not indicted. But those are only the bare bones. The meat of the story is about Starr’s conflicts due to straddling two worlds: the inner city ‘hood where she grew up and still lives, and the wealthy, mostly white, suburb where she goes to private school.
I am not qualified to speak to its authenticity regarding African-American culture, but because of Thomas’ skill at writing vivid characters and dialog, I found most of the book very easy to understand and relate to. I especially appreciated the way the author was able to walk the reader through Starr’s thought processes as she moves from being a terrified, silent teenager to a more mature activist, ready to speak her mind and shine a light on injustice. At first I was a little impatient with her reticence; it seemed self-defeating to me and I wondered where it came from in such an otherwise bold and self-aware character. But then even Starr herself shared the same impatience, and she was a self-aware enough narrator to figure out and explain the effects that fear, conditioning, and loyalty had on her. These insights are not something one can understand merely from reading headlines on the news.
After I finished the book I realized that it contained characters that touched on almost every point of view, and that those choices must have been deliberate. There was a heroin-addicted parent, a clueless and mean white girl, an abusive drug kingpin, an activist female attorney, a set of fiercely protective parents, an upper middle class black family jokingly referred to as the Huxtables, a well-meaning white boyfriend, an Asian friend and ally, and a strict family matriarch. In fact, if you watch the TV show “Black-ish,” you may recognize the broad outlines of many of these characters, or at least their quirks. But at the same time each character had his or her own unique voice that made the novel fresh and original. The author has a wonderful ear for dialogue that never sounds forced or confusing, in spite of the liberal use of slang. Reading this book is like being a part of Starr’s extended family.
I was also initially a bit wary of this book because I was afraid it would be a downer, something to feed despair and hopelessness about the brokenness of our world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Young people like the author and the real communities represented by Starr and her friends can point the way forward and give us all hope for the future.
Hi! I’m back (if anyone is still reading this blog!)
I didn’t intend for my break from blogging to be this long. I was on a trip to Europe, then I visited my parents, then I had a really busy teaching week. I can see how one gets out of the habit, especially with a full-time demanding job. And then all of the sudden you look up and a month has gone by.
I also have a bad case of photo fatigue. I showed my parents the pictures from the trip on TV and it took two 2-hr sessions to get through everything.
A couple of years ago I started participating in a weekly photo challenge called Thursday Doors, now run by Norm 2.0. Thursday doors goes back to 2014 in Montreal. and it now includes weekly links to posts from all over the world. I find that doors provide a unique view of a place: doors show not only the architecture but the street culture and the history, the way neighborhoods cohere and don’t, and what people find important at the moment.
Although Norm tends to show closed doors, I have been surprised at how often the doors I am trying to photograph are open, leading to posts that are more about Thursday doorways. And I have wrestled (but not too hard) with the question of whether a gate is a door (answer: for blogging purposes, yes!)
So, for this Friday’s version of Thursday doors, I’m continuing what I started in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate.
Weather in Germany is different from weather in California. I’m biased, but I like California weather better. In the past when we have gone to Germany in June and July I have felt cheated out of a real summer. It’s just not summer when your normal clothing to go about the day comprises long pants and a jacket. IMO.
But that is Berlin for you. Like many European cities, most of the buildings in Berlin are made of stone. The trappings of modern commerce, especially around and in the doorways, manage to look both dignified and out of place at the same time.
This effect is especially apparent to me under a gray sky. Gray to match the buildings.
On this day it rained a little bit, too. It wasn’t even enough water to make real Germans think twice.
We were still a bit jet-lagged and tired from the 9-hr time difference, but we were getting out there because we were in Berlin and we were supposed to. So the experience felt a little surreal, wandering through alleyways (because that’s what these stone buildings make the streets feel like) in search of food and a geocache.
What is this man doing? Laundry? No, someone hid a geocache in a sock in the middle of a street in Berlin! It’s not a door, but I thought it was still worth showing. I’ve never seen a cache like it before. I’ll also point out that he is 6’4″ tall and still had to reach up pretty high to retrieve it. I probably couldn’t have gotten it on my own.
We had surprisingly good luck just finding places to eat, and this was a nice restaurant, a cozy place to eat and wait for the rain to stop.