Happy Birthday Aunt Jan and C.S. Lewis!

“Happy Birthday” to my Aunt Jan in Ohio.  She’s shown between her two older brothers in the photo below taken a couple of years ago at my dad’s 70th birthday bash:

Dan, Jan and Ron (Nov 2012)
Dan, Jan and Ron (Nov 2012)

Incidentally, all of the above are born in the same month — November — as is my husband and my daughter-in-law.  I’ve blogged about this before.  Here’s a photo from their early days (circa 1953):

Dan, Jan and Ron (circa 1953)
Dan, Jan and Ron (circa 1953)

I have many fond memories of my Aunt Jan.  I remembering spending a summer or part of a summer with my grandparents (her mother and father) in St. Paul, Minnesota, when I was about six (circa 1970) and Jan was still in college (she was probably about 20). 
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Birthday Bonanza

I scramble every year during this second week of November.  When I was a kid, I only had to remember that my dad’s birthday was the 18th.  Then, as I got older, approaching my adolescence, I added my uncle (my father’s younger brother) on the 17th.  Yes, that’s right, one day before my dad.  They are separated by four years minus one day.  Also, their youngest sibling, my aunt, falls in November, but thankfully it’s after Thanksgiving.

I left home and went off to college in Wichita, where I met my future husband (thirty years ago this past September).  I won’t share that story in this post, as it’s a poorly kept secret among close relatives and friends.  I shouldn’t have been surprised though to discover that his birthday falls on November 14th, four days before my dad.

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Graduation North Texas Style

A week ago Friday, Rachelle performed for family, friends and faculty at her senior voice recital:

Rachelle Moss, Senior Voice Recital
Rachelle Moss, Senior Voice Recital (click photo for rest of album)

Saturday, the actual commencement ceremony held in the UNT Colliseum:

Rachelle Before Commencement (click photo for rest of album)

Saturday evening, her graduation party, hosted by her friend and former landlord, who also stayed up all night Friday to barbecue ribs and brisket:

Rachelle About to Cut Her Cake
Rachelle After Commencement (click photo for rest of album)

Good food. Good fun. Good times. Great memories.

Toasting (or Roasting) Fanny Price

A Taste of Victorian Literature
A Taste of Victorian Literature

Last year, the Kansas City Public Library, through the Waldo Branch, embarked on a journey through 19th century literature with an adult reading program entitled ‘A Taste of Victorian Literature.’  I could only attend one of the group sessions last fall, the first one, on D.H. Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow.  To my relief, the Library provided an encore this spring, hosted by the Plaza Branch (conveniently located on the first floor of the building my employer resides in) and I happily attended last night’s lecture and discussion led by Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English at Johnson County Community College.

I received my reading guide for Mansfield Park by Jane Austen via electronic mail on Monday, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011.  The guide included a few brief paragraphs about the book and Ms. Austen (about half a page for each).  Never having read an Austen novel, and being at least half finished with it by the time I received the guide, imagine my chagrin when I learned Mansfield Park is sometimes referred to as Austen’s ‘problem novel.’

However, I had no qualms while reading the novel, expecting a slower pacing when compared to 20th or 21st century literature.  I appreciated the circumstances surrounding of Fanny’s life, family and friends, as presented by the author.  Austen’s third novel falls under a broader definition of Victorian Literature; to me it’s a precursor to that era, a transition from the Regency era, and more pleasantly readable prose than later Victorian didactic sledgehammer-esque efforts.   The guide also included a brief biography of Jane Austen (1775- 1817), stating she wrote as she lived, with nuance and realism.

I arrived fifteen minutes early to the Plaza Branch, seeking directions to the appropriate gathering place, in the ‘large’ meeting room between the non-fiction section and the children’s area.  By 6:30 p.m., I was one of a packed room of thirty people, all of them female with the exception of one besieged stalwart male who participated graciously and gallantly.  I should have spoken up in his support; first, because, while female myself, I suffer under the auspices of a gender-confusing name (yes, it’s pronounced just like “John” not some strangely misspelled “Joan”) and, second, because I rarely ever read anything of a romantic nature, unless it happens to slip in as a subplot to an epic fantasy, space opera or science fiction novel.

Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English, JCCC
Andrea Broomfield, Associate Professor of English, JCCC

Andrea Broomfield began her lecture (complete with dimmed lights and a PowerPoint), of which I will briefly recap from my illegibly scribbled notes.  First question up for discussion involved why Mansfield Park would be considered a Victorian novel.  Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in June of 1837, twenty years after the death of Jane Austen.   Yet transformations to society began prior to the 1830s, burgeoning in the late 18th century, during the life of Jane Austen and as expressed in Mansfield Park‘s internal chronology (roughly thirty years spanning 1783 to 1813).  Professor Broomfield related that Punch magazine actually coined the phrase “Victorian” sometime in the 1840s.

Queen Victoria of England, by Alexander Melville, 1845
Queen Victoria of England, by Alexander Melville, 1845

The time span encompassing the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to her death in 1901, provides a frame of reference to discuss the impact of industrialization on society.  Industrialization transformed the existing land and power structures and encouraged the rise of the middle class as society transitioned from an agrarian based (i.e. cottage industries) economy to an industrialized one.  The Evangelical movement within the Church of England helped to abolish slavery and became the foundation for promoting what we now refer to as Middle Class Values (more on that later).

But who are the Middle Class?  They are well educated (engineers, accountants, lawyers, professors, bankers, merchants, etc.) and well paid, but non-aristocratic in origin.  This fostered unrest, as only the aristocracy (those who owned land) were allowed to vote, and essentially a small group of people (approximately 5,000 families) controlled the government and the church.  With such examples as the American and French Revolutions to fuel the fire, the established gentry felt threatened by the burgeoning wealthy middle class, who, in turn, began to demand a voice in their destinies.

Queen Victoria not only accepted middle class values, she championed them, including piety, sobriety, morality, monogamy, hard work.  At this point, I should have spoken up, because I saw a parallel hear between middle class values and Wesley‘s Methodist Means of Grace.  Mary Crawford scathingly referenced Methodism when she showed her true colors to Edmund’s unveiled eyes late in the novel.  Austen, a village parson’s daughter, should have been aware of her contemporary, John Wesley (1703 – 1791), even though he died while she was but a teen.

Professor Broomfield continued with a bit of history around the time Mansfield Park was written and published (1813-4), often referred to as the Regency era, or the period when King George III went mad and his young son ruled as Prince Regent.   A dominance of aristocratic values are portrayed in Austen’s characters of Mr. Yates (idleness), Mr. Rushworth (waste of money/resources), Maria Bertram (laziness) and Henry Crawford (flirtation).  The only obligation the aristocracy had was to maintain the status quo, which meant siring a male heir to secure the land for the next generation.  Thus, they did as they pleased and set their own standards of conduct.   The rest of society, the working class and rising middle class, viewed the aristocracy with contempt, as corrupted and completely depraved.

Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen's lifetime.
Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen's lifetime.

One of the slides from Professor Broomfield’s presentation displayed Austen’s home at the Steventon rectory, exemplifying the typical middle class modest home with divided rooms (in contrast, the working class often lived, dined and slept in a single or at most two room homes). The Reform Act of 1832 let off the steam of the bubbling boiling uneasy middle class, averting bloody revolution by changing the electoral system of England and Wales.

The crucible of Austen’s life and times included the rise of evangelicism, the abolition of slavery (see William Wilberforce for more information), the ascendancy of the British Navy and the accentuating of class differences.  Professor Bloomfield gave an apt illustration of those differences using poetry as her example.  Poetry (and poets) comprised an ‘elite’ art form, reserved for the aristocracy.  Yet an educated middle class yearned for entertainment of a more accessible flavor, creating a void for literature that authors like Austen eagerly filled.   Victorians are idealistic, always in earnest, convinced they can solve all the world’s problems and most assuredly not cynical.

With less than thirty minutes left for our five discussion questions, Professor Broomfield opened up the floor with the following:

  1. If you have read other Austen novels, then you likely see some differences between Mansfield Park and Austen’s other works.  What are those differences?  Why might critics consider this novel to be the most ‘Victorian’ of Austen’s novels, even though the novel was published before Victoria became Queen of England?
  2. Mansfield Park is considered a ‘Condition of England’ novel.  In these types of novels, the author uses fiction as a means to critique the culture around her/him.  What aspects of English culture come under Austen’s scrutiny?  How does Austen use her main characters — the Crawfords, the Bertrams, Fanny and William, Mr. Rushworth and Mrs. Norris — to comment on what people should and should not value?
  3. Do you find Fanny to be a likable heroine? Do you find Edmund to be a likable hero?  Why or why not?
  4. What is the purpose of the attempted play at Mansfield Park, both before and after it is aborted?
  5. Consider any dramatized versions you have seen of Mansfield Park and how they differ from the actual Austen novel.  Are the plot, narrative voice, and characters of Mansfield Park simply too old-fashioned or outmoded for a contemporary audience’s sensibilities?

We only managed to tackle three of these questions.  In response to the first question, comments included a feeling that Austen was just coming into her voice, a more mature voice as compared to her other more popular titles.  Fanny’s reticence and control upheld and exemplified.

With respect to the second ‘Condition of England’ novel question, the disparity between rich and poor as seen through Austen’s characters in Mansfield Park began with Mr. Rushworth, described as a ‘rich boob’ or a ‘buffoon,’ a terrifying thought since his like were ruling England, the figure of a man with little or no substance.  Many readers enjoyed Mary Crawford, despite her faults: wanting to marry for money, position, privilege, power; self-absorption.

This led to a discussion of the philosophical debate contemporaneous to Austen’s times on why people marry.  Fanny (as well as Austen) believed marriage should be made for love while Mary Crawford stood for opportunistic marrying for position.  Edmund wants to blame her upbringing as a rational explanation for Mary’s lack of a moral compass.  Mary epitomized the ‘Old England’ while Fanny portrayed the ‘New England’ as it ‘should be.’

Mansfield Park published by Penguin Classics
Mansfield Park published by Penguin Classics

Austen uses her characters to force her readers to think and her novels always have an economic component to them; jockeying for position, especially among the women.  Professor Broomfield took a few minutes to read Edmund’s dialogue on pp. 424-6 of the Penguin Classics edition, where Austen attempts to teach us why we should like Mary.  Mary is telling Edmund that if Fanny had married Henry, none of the scandal would have happened.  Edmund realizes he fell in love with an imaginary Mary.  Mary’s sarcasm and cynicism clashes with Victorian ideals, and appears to us (in the 21st century) as a very modern attitude.  Edmund, blinded to Mary’s un-virtues for much of the novel, is now disgusted by her, yet he is always sincere.  Fanny, poor neglected and ignored Fanny, might as well have been an orphan, curtailed by her ambiguous class position throughout most of the novel.  In contrast to the pale, wispy Fanny, Marilyn Flugum-James, seated next to Julienne Gehrer (a representative of the local Jane Austen Society), likened Mrs. Norris and Mary Crawford to ‘bright colors on the canvas of this novel.’

With only five minutes left, Professor Broomfield quickly skipped to the final question about any dramatizations we may have seen of Mansfield Park.  I vaguely remember watching the much maligned 1999 film version, but only remember it as a period murder mystery (so perhaps I need to re-visit that film now).  Many readers touted the 1980s era Masterpiece Theatre mini-series.  The A&E version was also mentioned, but not as highly regarded.

And thus ended my second evening foray into the 19th century literature I managed to avoid both in high school and college (engineering and mathematics not lending studying time to the finer arts).  I had a very enjoyable evening and look forward to next month’s discussion of Jane Eyre, published in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë under a masculine pen name.  Professor Broomfield posed these questions in closing to ponder as we read (or re-read) Jane Eyre:

  • What makes this novel radical (when published, it created a huge scandal)?
  • What makes it Victorian?

I read Jane Eyre last year, not for this group, but rather as a prerequisite to reading Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair.  Ironically, Mr. Fforde headlines the signature event for the other winter adult reading program sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library on Thursday, March 17th. Look for a future blog post on my progress through some of the Altered States suggested readings.

Altered States: Adult Winter Reading Program
Altered States: Adult Winter Reading Program

To Eleventy and Beyond

Two weeks and last year since I sat down to compose an entry.  Half my offspring have come and gone (north then south)  mysteriously in the night.  Said goodbye to one of the best years of my life with some trepidation, concerned that 2011 can’t possibly exceed it.

After trimming the tree on Thursday the 23rd, I spent nearly all of Friday the 24th (Christmas Eve) preparing a family tradition — giving the gift of sticky buns to various friends.   I, of course, modify the recipe a bit (see previous link) and don’t bake them.  Rather, Rachelle and I deliver them with instructions on how to refrigerate, thaw, rise and bake them so our friends can enjoy hot out of the oven buns in all their sticky sweet goodness.

I asked, but did not insist, if anyone wanted to attend Christmas Eve services.  My inquiry met with less enthusiasm than I’d hope, so we spent the evening watching DVDs from Netflix (the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Price of Persia).  Oddly, we did not and have not yet watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, a Moss Family tradition going back a decade or more.  Perhaps Rachelle, Terry and I will watch it this evening.

Christmas morning, I took my time waking, since I knew my main courses for Christmas dinner (scheduled for one o’clock) wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to bake).  Rachelle was next to awaken and by eleven o’clock couldn’t contain herself and insisted that grandpa arrive early (since I refused to let her distribute gifts until he arrived).  Once grandpa arrived, with his delicious pasta cucumber salad, Royna played Santa with Rachelle as her elf-like assistant.

The Christmas dinner menu consisted of a fresh green salad with my home made dressing (an off shoot of the dressing grandpa uses for his pasta salad), said pasta salad, a boneless turkey breast, a spiral cut ham, mashed potatoes (because Terry and I forgot to bake the potatoes), green bean casserole and fresh hot sticky buns for pseudo-dessert.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, conversing and even played a game of Catchphrase.  Grandpa returned home, everyone took a nap and I read a book (no surprise there).

The strangest and saddest event was Derek and Royna’s sudden departure around 9:00 p.m. that evening.  They had carpooled with friends from Texas the previous Sunday and now they wanted to hit the road back south – overnight!  The catch was Derek and Royna needed a ride to the UMKC campus (just a couple of blocks southeast of where I work five days a week in the Plaza Library building near the Country Club Plaza).  I agreed to transport them and they quickly packed.  Being a mother, I was concerned about an overnight return trip to Dallas and insisted that Derek text message me at 6:00 a.m. so I wouldn’t worry.  Their return trip was uneventful, he rememered to text me and Derek and Royna were safely home by 7:00 a.m.

Sunday the 26th, I filled up both Pontiacs and saved a dollar per gallon because I had earned over one thousand points at Dillons during the month of December.  I knew I’d be driving to work four days this week since my vanpool was on hiatus between Christmas and New Year’s Day (Hallmark closes during that week).  I don’t miss having to drive in traffic or fight for a parking space (at least the one I want to get) even though I arrive at work very early.

Monday and Tuesday swept by boringly but Wednesday brought a visit from Terry’s sister Bonnie.  She came to visit after dropping her daughter Katie off to visit friends.  We enjoyed her visit, and dinner at Famous Dave’s at the Legends.  Terry and Rachelle also met her the next day for lunch at Azul Tequila in Lansing.  Bonnie retrieved her daughter Thursday afternoon for the return trip home to the Cheney area.

Thursday evening, Terry, Rachelle and I caught a showing of the True Grit remake starring Jeff Bridges at Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as Texas Ranger Leboeuf and Barry Pepper and Lucky Ned Pepper.  Hailee Stanfeld gave an outstanding performance as Mattie Ross.   I highly recommend this movie, even though I’m not entirely sure it’s better than the original.  Watch either or both … you can’t keep a good story down.

Friday, New Year’s Eve, arrived.  The final day of twenty ten.  The only day that last week of the year I didn’t have to drive to Misery (er, Missouri) to work.  Rachelle intended to spend the evening with friends.  Terry and I thought about finding something at a local bar to participate in, but nothing appealed.  So, Terry invited Sean over and I took the dogs upstairs to relax, read and perhaps play a few hours with friends on Aardwolf, an old-fashioned text-based MUD.  Not surprisingly, I fell asleep shortly after ten o’clock, only to be startled awake by the boom of fireworks, dogs barking and my daughter text messaging.  I eventually returned to my dreams.

Early morning, New Year’s Day, twenty eleven, I’m startled awake, again, by the sound of hail stones dancing on my roof.  Did I just sleep through three months of winter and arrive to a Kansas spring thunderstorm?

Spent most of the morning reading a book, playing more Aardwolf and waiting for Rachelle to return home.  Later in the afternoon, Terry, Rachelle and I travelled to the Legends (twice in as many days) to watch the latest Narnia flick: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  We had to watch it in 3D (and pay a premium matinee ticket price for the privilege) but the movie was excellently rendered.  Again, you can’t keep a good story down.

Today, the second of January, two thousand and eleven, dawns crisply cold and clear.  I’m castigating myself for not dragging out the telescope to view Mercury and Venus this morning.  I’ve taken too long to write this blog post and missed the opportunity.  I spy a gleam of dawn to the east.

Have I resolved to change or achieve anything new as the year starts fresh?  Perhaps.  I have a few ideas that I’m still brewing and stewing about; just not ready to codify them publicly via this blog.

I’ll leave you with this thought for the day: various translations of Psalm 90:12

Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom. (NLT)

Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. (NCV)

Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well! (MSG)

Peace and may all your years, new and old, be happy!