Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quite A Lot To Say

Good afternoon, one and all! I mentioned a few things in my 'Little Letters' post in July that needed follow-up, and besides, things have happened since then that were not mentioned at all.
(I'm going to do this professional blogger style and have lots of pictures in this post. Because that's totally necessary to look professional.)

I have a reason for all the pictures, except this one. I just like it.
First of all, I mentioned A Tale of Two Cities. What I did not say, was that I am now an avid Dickens fan and immediately started listening to Bleak House.
What I also did not say is how poorly I am following the Classics Challenge. I really wanted to read my July and August books, but I have been doing school and reading tons of history books (non-figuratively speaking, I'm sure there's been close to one ton of books) and have had precious little time for reading that I can't justify as productive. Yes, I am still plugging away at Lord of the Rings. When I have time for it, I eat it up quickly, but time is of the essence.
I have also put it aside several nights in a row because I have wanted to read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for a very long time (I've had it checked out from the library for more than four months), and since I was studying the Industrial Revolution it was a good time to tell myself it was For School. It has been good from the beginning, but at first I'd switch off between it and LotR. Last night all the bones in my body were sort of melting because it was so good and I have no one with whom I can speak of it, as no one in my family or circle of acquaintances has read it! Which also presents the problem of who will watch the BBC miniseries with me when I finish...

But back to the Classics Challenge. I'm currently studying The Civil War era in history, but haven't yet started any other of my subjects. Next week, that will change. I'll be doing Calculus, Physics, a literature group, and another class in addition to history. My reading time is only going to shrink. So rereading The Chronicles of Narnia and the Anne of Green Gables series may not happen. I'd love to so much, but I have more books in my drawer of next-ups, and four or five on my shelf that I've never read at all. Rest assured that I shall do my best to finish the last two months (books that are not rereads) and post about them here.

Moving on, I do have some good news! My sister and I now have a knight in shining armor. We share him with some jealousy but he is open-hearted and treats us equally, I think. Sir Jeffrey is a silver 1999 Honda Civic and we are very happy to have him.

Also, we went camping in the beginning of August and took these Instant Oatmeal Packets. It was my first time actually camping for more than one night, and I liked it quite a bit. I'm now obsessed with the Instant Oatmeal packets. I loooovvveee oatmeal of all kinds. And also millet is really good. My family is going to be doing a grain-free diet soon, so I will get them only rarely, or if perchance I make breakfast alone (I'm alone half the time anyhow so that shouldn't be too infrequent).

I'm also rather obsessed with 1850s dresses currently.
Another thing mentioned in the Little Letters post was drama. Well, for better or for worse I am directing The Eskimos Have Landed, which has nothing to do with Eskimos and everything to do with history, old ladies, and New England. I have a cast of five girls and I'm excited for it. I am acting in a play for the seniors of the group called The Cop and the Anthem, taken from the O. Henry short story. (I'm a waitress and an Irish cop, which is rather funny because I've been an Irish cop before in Arsenic and Old Lace, spring 2013).

I've been writing a fair amount, and I'm 300 words into Chapter 10, of thirteen. The thirteenth is planned to be very short, mind. So in essence I have three chapters left. Then of course it'll be back to the beginning in second drafts. I may take a break and pursue a short story or dabble in something else first. That will enable me to be openly critical about everything instead of it being my newly-birthed darling who shouldn't be touched. Since I wrote a Twelve Dancing Princesses short story in Fall 2014, the beginning of school and autumn weather always puts me in both a short story mood and a Twelve Dancing Princesses mood, which means I have put three or four TDP books on reserve at the library and am excited about finishing Arthur and looking at something else for a while.

I'm also desperately trying to find space in the coming months to hold a ball. Everything is on the drawing board right now, so there isn't much I can say about it, but I wanted to share the above image. For it's so true! Even my dad noticed me doing rock steps while doing dishes.

That's all for now, folks.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blueberry Peach Crumble Muffins – Gluten-free, Vegan and Refined Sugar-free

I saw this post I wrote a year ago, and I thought to myself "Wow, that would be a good muffin". So I adapted the Chocolate Cherry Muffins that I posted in June, as follows.

Blueberry Peach Crumble Muffins

Prep time: 10  minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Yield: 12 muffins

3/4 Tbl flax meal
2 Tbl and 1 tsp water
2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
2 tsps baking soda
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (if your mix does not have xanthan gum, increase to 1 tsp)
1 1/4 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened non-GMO soy milk)
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup and 1 Tbl canola oil
1/4-1/2 tsp liquid stevia*
1 Tbl vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup chopped peaches (each piece should be about 1 centimeter cubed)
1 1/2 Tbl Earth Balance 
1/2 c oats
3 tsp cinnamon

Combine the flax meal and water in a small bowl. Let sit for five minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or spray with oil.
Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients (including flax mixture) in a medium bowl. Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk. Stir well, then fold in blueberries and cherries. Scoop 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup. 
In a small bowl combine Earth Balance, oats, and 3 teaspoons of cinnamon. Place a rounded 1/2 tsp of this mixture on the top of each muffin.
Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins sit in the pan for 10-15 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

*These muffins are not very sweet. If you like your muffins sweet, add the full amount of stevia.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Classics Challenge: A Tale of Two Cities (June)

I have so much I could say about this book. First of all, I LOVED it. The only Dickens I'd read previous to this was A Christmas Carol and a Great Illustrated Classics Oliver (yes, Author, we owned an abridged book). I'd mostly heard he was paid by the word, and therefore longwinded, dry, and dull.

Ohhhhh no. Was he ever far from dull! Did I already say I loved it?

Lucie Mannette from the Broadway musical. There's also a ballet of TOTC!

The audio book was almost 17 hours long and it has been my companion during many loads of dishes, several batches of laundry, and a fair amount of laundry. I even considered listening to it while driving [in our new car!], but since I've had my license only a few months I decided that was a bad idea.
I'll greatly miss Doctor Mannette and Mr. Lorry and Darnay and Pross. Even Jerry Cruncher.
Anyway. How to explain this wonderful book without spoilers is tough.

The first paragraph describes well the French Revolution:
"IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

And then there was the haunting repetition "Buried how long?" which really intrigued me. I really appreciated that I knew nothing about this book because I was very confused at first, but it made it so hard to put down. The plot is long and complex and I was so curious to know what would happen next! *SPOILER* I will say that I did predict was Carton would do at the end, and also I guessed who Solomon was before he identified himself. But don't let this make you think it was predictable! Personally I like books where you can figure out a few things if you're paying attention. *END SPOILER*
The plot is, as I said, very complex. Everything that is ever mentioned is tied back in somehow. A character barely mentioned will return, I assure you. Something that happened years ago will come back in.

It's also a really funny book. I liked it when Mr. Lorry (I love him!) keeps insisting "A matter of business!" when you can clearly see he cares.

I found it very difficult to find a picture of Mr. Lorry. He has spectacles, people! But I like this one of Miss Pross.
Then it's filled with food for thought. Comparing Darnay and Carton (more on that later) is an obvious one, but also think about the two leading ladies, Lucie Mannette and Madame Defarge. They both have very good reasons to be bitter towards a particular character, but their actions and choices are so different!
  *HUGE MAJOR SPOILERS* Granted Lucie didn't know this about D. before she married him. Still, if she DID know, perhaps she wouldn't have married him, but it's clear she would have still acted in forgiveness (it wasn't his fault to be born into his family) rather than being consumed with vengeance like Madame Defarge. *END THE TERRIBLE SPOILERS*.

I like Doctor Mannette too. He seems weak, at first, but of course this isn't so. He's incredibly brave and strong, but years of suffering take their toll on a person. I love how his relationship with his daughter restores him. He's so selfless, this man. He always thinks of his daughter (and we only learn the depth of this at the end). *SPOILER* I like how we get to see him being the strong one at the end, cleverly using his influence and his popularity for the sake of those whom he loves. When we walks in at the end of Chapter 12 ("Darkness"), oh, OH! :( *End SPOILER*

I liked Charles Darnay from the beginning. I mean, anytime someone is put on trial for his life you kind of feel bad for the guy! 

"The Jackal"
I was at first confused about who Sydney Carton was and confused Stryver and Carton (audio books do that kind of thing to you). *SPOILER* But by the end I was enamored with Carton and frequently whispered to myself as I switched laundry and listened enthralled, "I love Carton!" It's rather fascinating how he, who at first appeared to be a random confusing lawyer person, really becomes the hero of the book. I started out thinking Lorry would be the main character, then Dr. Mannette and his daughter.  *BIG HUGE MAJOR ENDING SPOILERS* Then Darnay enters and it's kind of easy to say "Love interest" and I rooted for him. But really? Which of the "twins" is the more heroic one? We can't say whether Darnay would have died for Carton (though really, Carton died for Lucie, not Darnay), so perhaps that's not answerable. What we can say is that Carton is a lot more complex than Darnay, who's basically just "the good guy". I don't think he's as clever as Carton (but then, one could argue that he came to France when he did not because he was stupid but because a poor innocent servant required his assistance, and he was going to help whether his life was at stake or not). Also Darnay puts Carton down (after the latter had left) to Lucie and Dr. Mannette, which was unkind too poor Carton. Personally, I would have preferred that Darnay died and Carton married Lucie. (No, not really, because Carton was so wonderful in giving his life for love of Lucie, so that she could be with the husband she loved. Oh, Carton. :( ) *END ALL SPOILERS*

It was much harder to find a satisfactory picture of Carton than Darnay. I think that's telling.
"Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away."
(Sob sob)

Of other characters, we mustn't forget Miss Pross, Lucie's companion/nurse/servant. She's so devoted and strong, and also provides a lot of the humor of the book with her high standards for her "ladybird". Nor Mr. Cruncher, whom I disliked a lot at the beginning. I felt so bad for poor Mrs. Cruncher! Yet even Mr. Cruncher was dear to me by the end, and I think some consistent hardwork in the company of such kind people like the Mannettes was good for him. *LITTLE SPOILER* He did promise to stop interfering with Mrs. Cruncher's "flopping, you know. He improved. *END SPOILER*

No summary of characters would be complete without speaking of the Defarges.
Though shown in a much less favorable light than the Mannettes, they are definitely main characters also. They're well-developed. At first I thought Madame Defarge was just a random lady who was always knitting and I found that hilarious. Of course that was the last of the hilarity we got from her, as she's a woman with horribly twisted femininity. Bitterness and a desire for vengeance has consumed the gentleness and beauty that ought to have been hers. "We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!" she shouts to other women at the forcing of the Bastille. Though just as lustful for blood as she, Ernest Defarge is less awful. Maybe because she is a woman, and therefore what her character has become the antithesis of her God-given nature.
  *THIS IS A BIG SPOILER* As awful and twisted as Madame Defarge is, when we learn her history it is easy to feel sympathy for her, if not acquit her of all her crimes *END BIG SPOILERS*
 Side note, I loved the showdown between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. *VEILED SPOILER* But I was shocked by what happened afterwards. It wasn't Miss Pross's fault, after all, so that was a sorry reward for her loyalty. *END SPOILER*

Another thing I really liked about this book besides the witty writing, the well-developed characters, and the enthralling plot, was how Dickens shows both sides of the Revolution. I'm a person who believes there's two sides to every thing, and I don't like it when people assume one person or set of persons is the "good" group and the other is the "wrong". Though the Revolution is rightly shown to be a terrible thing and a horribly unjust time, Defarge is still a realistic human and one we can empathize with. The Marquis St. Evremonde is a consistently awful person, whose crimes no one will condone. We understand that the aristocrats weren't just poor innocents wrongly accused who need rescuing by The Scarlet Pimpernel. Did that happen? Oh yes it did, as this book also shows many examples of. But it's not just "the evil Saint Antoine people" vs. "the poor aristos".

Although I'm not sure that Charles Dickens was a Christian (he believed in God but hated "dogma" and was really rather more of a Deist or a Unitarian; plus he had a mistress for a time), his characters are, and the Bible is quoted on more than one occasion. I love reading about other people's faith in times of trouble, and this was no exception. (Particularly Carton's at the end...)

Random fun fact: France is on their fifth republic, and their motto is STILL Liberty, Equality and Fraternity! That just shocks me. And you probably already know that they still celebrate Bastille day. It just seems very odd.

Do I recommend this book, and to whom? Yes, I would recommend this book to anyone I see who can read. Ha. Probably 13+, because there is a little violence (it's the French Revolution, after all). I think d---ed is used a few times. But yes. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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