Saturday, May 22, 2010

What a week.

This has been a crazy week. Our garden is growing wonderfully but we haven't been very diligent about weeding so we decided it was time to tackle the weeds. We wanted to know where we planted the garlic after all. This week I have put a lot of time into weeding and I am feeling it. My body is sore and my feet itch like nothing else. Friday, I knelt down to weed and after feeling a couple bite realized I had put my feet in a fire ant mound. I quickly brushed them off, changed my position and continued weeding. Later while watering I stepped in some grass that conveniently, also hid a large fire ant mound. This time I got about 10-12 bite before I could get them all off. It was even the same foot from before. I must say though, the bag of beans and carrots in our fridge are worth it. We're looking forward to eating tomatoes from our garden this week too.

In addition to the garden, Hannah started swim lessons. The City of Austin has several swimming pools through out the city, many of which are free. Since it gets so hot in the summer, the only way to be outside is to be in the water so we swim a lot, almost everyday. I decided that especially since next summer I will have three kids to wrestle in the pool with, the more comfortable Hannah and I can be with her doing it on her own, the better. So she has two sessions of swim lessons this summer. She is doing really well and loves it. She keeps asking when she goes again and is very disappointed that she has to wait until Monday. Her friend Ben is taking this class with her so I think she really enjoys that. Thursday, Jonathan and I went dressed to swim. It was a chilly because there was no sun and after we swam for about 1 1/2 hours Jonathan was shivering so bad I finally made him get out of the water. We had a good time though.

On top of those things I have daily chores and such that work on. I am trying to get Hannah a little more cooperative in working specifically and with focus on her alphabet. That is proving extremely difficult. I also have a few sewing projects I am working on and should be working on updating the kids' scrapbooks, which I haven't touched since about 4 months after Jonathan was born.

There are also Hyrum's trips out of town that we have to adjust to. This last time we hung around her for a few days and then went up to his parent's house. That was fun especially since Josh and Caleb, the cousins were in town as well. As an added bonus we got to see Hyrum's sister, Rachel, play Millie in her school production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie." I wish I had pictures but alas, I don't.

We are staying busy and time just seems to keep slipping away. In some ways it is sad but I am really excited for all the new things our kids are learning and doing. Jonathan is growing up so fast. His speech improves everyday and I find myself more often than not understanding what he is saying. It's not just words but sentences too. He is amazing. Hannah loves being with her friends. She really misses those that aren't here right now. She loves to help me and right now I am her best friend. That is a pretty good feeling because we have certainly had our struggles with one another. She is constantly hugging my arm and saying "I like you, Mom." I love it. Family is great and we are so glad to have those two little kids. We are also excited for the "new baby" (I wonder how Hannah will take it when we actually give the baby a name?).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Brief-ish Bleak House Review

*** Warning: Plot spoilers possibly ahead. ***

I just finished reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens on Monday. I feel like I've run a marathon. The last few days of my read it was all I could do to wait until kids where in bed or get dinner ready. I found a very enjoyable read. It took a few chapters to get into it and to be completely honest, there were parts I skimmed really fast.

Charles Dickens started his novel writing with Pickwick Papers which was a comedy. This was followed by Oliver Twist, a novel more about politics and social reforms. Bleak House follows the trend of the later and pokes fun at the government system of the Chancery Courts. The difficulty in reading this novel is the mass of characters. In you are introduced to a new character, the next chapter follows this new character to new circumstances where you meet another new character. This happens again and again. Finally, in the last third of the book do these circles become completed.

The character of Esther is an interesting one. Esther is an angel. She has a few struggles with pride, mostly relating to her disfigurement after her illness but other than that she has perfect perspective and is the kindest and gentlest of people. She is the person many strive to be like and have nearby.

Esther is juxtaposed by Richard who in his selfishness, paints everything as for everyone else, especially Ada, but by his actions and obsession with Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, he ignores the pleas of all those that really care for him including those of Ada, his fiance and finally wife. Richard is by all accounts a lazy young man born of the upper class. When he asked what he wishes for his profession, he has no answer. He wants to try everything out and when he finally settles on one thing gives it a meager try and then moves on to something else with no thought to the effort and sacrifices made on his behalf to acquire each position. In the end his obsession with Jarndyce v. Jarndyce proves his undoing and prevents him from enjoying life with Ada and their family.

Ada isn't really a pivotal character. She is a place keeper and gives purpose to Esther's existence. She is a tool to create the first tensions between Mr. Jarndyce and Richard that eventually becomes the wedge that drives them apart over Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The only place we really see any character at all is when she declares to Esther that she has married Richard and will not be going back to Bleak House with her. She is simply a place keeper for those around her.

As far as the plot goes, it was pretty easy to figure out most of the twist and turns. I will admit that a few things caught me by surprise but not unpleasantly, most notably, the relationship between Mr. George and Mrs. Rouncewell. The writing was what made it interesting. Dicken has a way with words, sometimes too many words, but he expresses well the importance of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce to Richard, the cool elegance of Lady Dedlock, the craziness of Miss Flite, and other such things. He weaves such a tale that at first I had little hope of it being resolved in any good way. I began to expect a true tragedy, but eventually all comes full circle and ends well for those we care about.

I really enjoyed this book. It just cements my love for the British Literature of this period. Though there is a little bit of political commentary the plot isn't bogged down by it. The story still flows while the reader feels the contempt Dickens had for the court system. You come to love the characters and hope for their well-being. It isn't unrealistic in its outcomes either. Some characters end well and others don't, some received the very best of what they wished and others only find comfort in their misfortunes. To say the least, it was an interesting and enjoyable read.

Out of Africa

I've been traveling a lot lately.  And by "a lot" I mean "enough to circle the Earth twice, just in the last four months."  Take that, Phileas Fogg!

My latest exploits have taken me to the ICSE 2010 conference in Cape Town, South Africa.  The journey was long, though relatively uneventful, and while I enjoy flying, spending two consecutive nights on airplanes (in economy) is just a bit much.  The weather the week of the conference was rather dreary, but I did manage to get to the top of Table Mountain during one of the rare clear periods (picture below).

South Africa itself was a bit of an enigma.  Having lived in some rough areas of the US, I'd have to say that it was just a couple of notches rougher, and on a much larger scale.  And yet, going to places like Robben Island, or some of the other museums made it feel that South Africans have addressed problems that we are still facing in the United States.

The highlight of the trip wasn't actually in Cape Town: it was in Johannesburg, where I stopped for a couple of days to visit some friends.  Ten years ago, I served in Los Angeles as a volunteer missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The mature couple assigned to supervise the missionaries in that area ten years ago, has now been assigned to be in charge of training perspective missionaries in the Church's Johannesburg Missionary Training Center.  Compared to the MTC in Provo, Utah, this one is tiny: only 19 missionaries the week I was there.  But the experience was a good one, and I'm glad I could be there.