28 May 2015

May I Read?

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
-C. S. Lewis

On my table right now, are a few of the books I am reading this month. Can you believe the month of May is winding down already?

The Book Lovers' Anthology - published by the Bodleian Library, Oxford

When I was in Oxford, I saw this book in the Bodleian Library Shop. I picked it up, flipped through it, and saw that it was all quotes and passages from many centuries past about books, and words, and the love of books. From all the poets and authors who wrote about their love of books. I wanted to buy it immediately, of course, but it wasn't cheap and it's a heavy hardcover book. I had a small luggage and many other books to carry back. When I went back to my room in Lincoln College that night, I hopped onto my laptop and found the book on Amazon. A few weeks ago, I let the mail carrier deliver this book to me.

Middlemarch by George Eliot- purchased in Blackwell's Bookshop, Oxford

This is one of those classic English books that I suspect not many people read, but you've probably heard of it. One of those long 800 page books (first published in 1872) that people have good intentions of reading, but don't read. I want to push myself to read some tougher classics like this. I saw this book in the used section in Blackwell's and it was affordable and a beautiful cloth hardcover book from 1957. I couldn't pass it up. I am on page 190 of 795. I have quite a bit to go, but it is going. There are parts of this book that are so profound in the ways of human nature, and some lines that grab me. It's essentially about the role of women in the mid-late 1800's, and the choice a young woman makes in marriage, and the repercussions of that decision, among other characters' stories and situations.

Honey for a Woman's Heart by Gladys Hunt
This book is a compilation of a book lover's favourite books. It is kind of a source of ideas for books to read, as she goes through the various genres and lists a lot of favourites with a general synopsis. A good resource for exploring different genres that I don't usually read. 

Caught Up In A Story by Sarah Clarkson
From the cover, the book looks like it would be a parent's guide to reading good books with their children, but I am reading about the author, Sarah, and her love of books and how her childhood was fostered by encouragement to read and the exploration of books with her siblings. She writes about all the feelings I have for books. Her thoughts on her childhood awe of stories, and her love of the good kind of heroic books like Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and the George MacDonald books warms my heart because I share all the same joys as I read these books. Everything she writes about regarding the challenges of children reading these days I completely agree with, and I am equally as passionate about getting children to love books and to let their imagination run rather than let a movie or electronic device show them what to think. Anytime I buy a gift for a child, it's always a book. I really enjoy Sarah's writings, and I already follow her blog and writings on the Rabbit Room. She is studying at Oxford now, about which I am supremely jealous.

27 May 2015

Your Gardening Answer

Here is the answer to all your gardening questions. What plant? How much sun? How much water? Visit the local garden store and ask the owner. End of story. It's as simple as that. At least, that is my solution, as I am one who knows very little about gardening and plants.

I do not know what plants will thrive in a certain light. Or which type of plant will do well in the heat of the summer. All I know is that delightful plants and flowers make the day a little bit more charming and cheerful.

I've been meaning to visit said local garden store, The Greenhouse, for a few weeks because I needed a new hanging plant by my door. Coming up my stairs to the landing at my door provide a few places for plants to hang, and one of them died a while ago, and that is certainly not a cheerful sight when coming upstairs. It's a tough location, though, because it is exposed to wind, rain, and heavy doses of sun. So, I described my dilemma  to the owner, and he brought me to this succulent that he was watering at the front of the shop when I pulled in. It enjoys lots of sun, has the cool look of a succulent, and as a bonus, the cheer that I was hoping for. These little yellow flowers open up when the sun comes out each morning, and close each afternoon as the light wanes. It is definitely the perfect, happy hanging plant for my viewing pleasure.

Oh, and while I was there I picked up another little succulent for inside. Because, why not?

26 May 2015

At Home Weekend

When it's a long weekend and everyone is out of town or doing certain out of town fun things and I do not have any plans, I will try my best to use the time wisely and study, but gosh, I need to have fun and reward myself, too. That means I felt no guilt whatsoever in the minor indulgences thus entertained while hanging out in town this weekend.

For example:

- An extra cup of coffee and elevensies (a little meal between breakfast and lunch. Hobbits are great enforcers of this meal.)
- Reading time (and a little more reading time)
- Concord Coffee a few times (drink of choice lately: flat white with soy and the Verve 1950 espresso)
- A tiny, ten minute craft, because banners seem to be my thing.
- Watching the sky changes colours at dusk. The sky is such a beautiful, ever-changing art piece of God's.
- Going to the library, finding two books for $.25 each, getting pizza takeaway from Palace Pizza, since I've been craving it for a month, and reading one of those books in less than a day.

Plus I did all my chores, errands, went to church with the family, had lunch with the family, did a little shopping, lunch, and coffee with Mum, had Emily over for tea, and also studied. Whew. It was kind of a lot to fit into three days. Maybe I should take another day.

While there was nothing crazy going on here, it was kind of nice not to deal with any traffic or travel woes this weekend. I am sure most everyone else who drove somewhere had some delays. Sometimes it is good to be at home and appreciate the time there. Did you stay at home or go somewhere this weekend?

22 May 2015

No Ordinary Days

May this forthcoming weekend offer you rest and remembrance. 
May you slow down and reflect on the blessings in your life.
May you think about those who sacrificed so much to provide your comforts.

The history behind us leaves traces.

These days we have now reflect the past.
And now we can call them our own.
These days that become part of history.
Are we playing our part well?
Are we serving others?

May the barbeques be delightful and the weather perfect for picnics.
May your thoughts be dwelling in thankfulness.
May the days be seasoned with the right amount of reflection on the past, as we look inwardly at these moments we are, by grace and design, able to be part of.

May we remember that everything we do now matters for the next world to come.
Nothing is too small or insignificant.
Every tiny kind thing is another perfect blade of grass added to our new creation.

Let there be no ordinary days.
No ordinary moments.
And remember what C.S. Lewis wrote, "We meet no ordinary people in our lives."

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
- C.S. Lewis

20 May 2015

Study Notes

My brain is starting to think very much in terms of bonds, coupons, and yield to maturity. The words swimming around in my head look more like confusing acronyms or elusive words (MSRB, GO bonds, TANs, Section 8). 

Sometimes you have to be a grown up and spend time doing something that could be seen as really boring. Studying. I am being asked to to that. To move forward. To take on more responsibility. And that is an enormous privilege that I do not overlook as a mere tiny thing. It is a big thing. And I accept the challenge.

So my evenings look like this. A fat textbook that weighs as much as a stack of bricks sits on my table and a pencil and journal are ready for any essential notes I want to be sure to write out. First, I am reading. Then, I am going through all the practice questions, hundreds of them. It is practice, practice, practice. Memorization. Learning concepts and applying them to different ways they ask the questions to test you. I feel like it is slow-going, but it cannot be done in one cram session over a weekend. A few months of studying is necessary.

As dry as this material can be if you are just reading it (sometimes my mind wanders to Narnia or somewhere lovely and without current yields), I must admit I love to learn. I like to be well-read and well-rounded in my knowledge. This financial sector of my life fits into my analytical side of my brain, where computations and collective concepts have lived and dwelt for many years. My college years trained me in it. And now I am expanding into an area less familiar to my former days, and becoming more familiar in the recent years.

All this long-winded prose is simply to say that my creative side of the brain has to make way for some important matters. There is just not enough time in the day to study the immensity of this material as well as spend all the time I wish to in my usual reading and writing indulgences. So if you are looking for me, you will find me somewhere in between municipal bonds and SEC rules and regulations. For a little while, anyway.

19 May 2015

Life's Little Reminder Notes

We live in a beautiful world. It was made for good and there is evidence all around us. It's a lovely sky we live underneath, isn't it?
Coldplay- Beautiful World

The only thing I don't like about coffee is when it is gone. The bottom of the cup is sad. Especially when it's from Concord Coffee. Be thankful for what you have, because it won't last forever.
Copeland- Coffee

A couple of  years ago I worked at a place that was not encouraging, or inspiring. My whole world went topsy turvy (in the best possible ways) when I started this current job. It is shaping me into a better person while I am still in the finance industry (seems uncanny, doesn't it?). It was truly God's grace and blessing that this job found me two years ago.
Colony House- Moving Forward

Take a few minutes to do something you love, even if it is just a few minutes. Even if you are so busy the hours seem to fly by without pause. This is me taking a few minutes before work to read a page or two. Sometimes that is all I get in.
Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer- Why Only One?

18 May 2015

Mind Palace

Would you expect anything less than me spending a lot of time in books? Isn't that what the Summer is for? Oh wait. You go to the beach? Hmmm. That's not what I do. I dive into books because I cannot stand to be outside with the extreme heat consuming me. So, my skin stays the same pale shade and my brain grows busier in learning. There is a lot to learn this Summer (more on that in a later post).

If you are a fan of the BBC show, Sherlock, then you know about his mind palace. It always comes up in the story when something desperate is happening and a critical piece of information needs to be retrieved. Something that most normal people would not or could not recall. But Sherlock closes his eyes for a moment and goes into his mind palace where he sees the information needed, and with that, the story continues and they get closer to solving the mystery. 

Did you ever ask yourself- what is the mind palace? Maybe you shrugged it off as something only a highly functioning sociopath genius like Sherlock can do. But that is not true. You and I can use mind palaces. It is something that anyone can learn, and it's a real thing which originated in ancient Greece.

This book, Moonwalking with Einstein, was loaned to my boss by one of our clients, and after reading it in a few days, Colin handed it to me, knowing I would enjoy it (he's perfectly right, of course) and we've been talking about memory ever since (actually, we were talking about memory long before. We are kind of nerdy).

Memory is a fascinating subject to learn about. It is marvelous how we remember things and how much capacity our brains have to store memories and images. We actually retain images better than numbers, words, and concepts, which is why mind palaces make so much sense. It is a 2,500 year old method of recalling almost anything we store, and it is how stories and learning was passed down before the written word and before the printing press. 

Since ancient times, we have lost so much of the need to remember things because we have computers, mobile phones, and books. But the art of memory is using the gift we already have in our minds. If there is something you want to remember, you can visualize a place that you are intimately familiar with, and place that memory in the scene so it co-exists, and when you need to recall it, just go into that mind palace and to that familiar place. Hopefully the memory you needed to recall will be there sitting at the same spot you left it. If you place a crazy image or silly scene, it's all the more memorable.

It is amazing. The fact that our brains can store knowledge as well as images that recall certain memories we store there. It seems super-human, and yet it is part of our making. We all under-utilize our brains and memories. God created us with these expansive minds that have so much storage capability.

13 May 2015

Light Our Way

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
- Proverbs 4.8

The morning light is always joyful, to me. It feels fresh and untainted. It does not carry the weight of the day's tasks, yet. The shadows are soft. The air is serene. The reminder of the day rises in the sky and brings hope of goodness to come. It is not a time to be overcome with darkness, but rather rising to the challenge of being bright lights in the world.

Seek and ye shall find.

When we seek the dullness, the darkness, the dreaded depths of the deep we find ourselves dwelling there.
When we seek the light, the love, the liveliness, the litany of prayers and thanks we find ourselves lifted up.

Listen to the words speaking in your heart. Are they dark and depressing, or light and lively? The sounds of a cacophony will leave you unsettled. While a harmonious arrangement places pieces together that could not be fitted before, but somehow now the seemingly unrelated sounds are sweeter than you could imagine.

Light our way
Twixt night and day
Shape my heart 
So I know my part

And when the day wanes and darkness creeps into the scene that was at once filled with graceful notes, remember this:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- John 1.5

12 May 2015

Where Thoughts Emerge

I am the kind of person who appreciates the little things. Given the nature of my personality, I have a high attention to detail, so I notice the minutiae. When I look at something, it is highly detailed, not just a general thing. This is why I have a job that involves paying attention to many things, big and small. So, when I go to places, I appreciate when details matter to others as well. Concord Coffee has the details of a well-designed place that creates well-designed coffee. And while some friends and I joke that we are not cool enough to be in such a coffee shop, it really is a place where anyone can go, especially if you like good coffee. 

I am a frequent visitor because it is a place that gets me out of my own comfortable zone (in my home) and out into the community by way of doing something I really enjoy, reading and writing. It's the perfect kind of place to hang out for a little bit. The atmosphere is conducive to collecting thoughts in my head.

There is another reason I go here. I go because I love coffee. I mean, I might be obsessed with it. I am already sad that this latte I am drinking right now,  made with Verve 1950 espresso and soy milk, will soon be gone. So, I savor each sip.

This is where thoughts emerge from hiding. While no distractions of the home are present, my mind expands to my surroundings, reflecting off of the ambient noises and the general chatter around. The gentle clang of putting the cup back into the saucer is such a pleasant sound. It's the sound of coffee being enjoyed. and I will sit here and write, in this place where thoughts emerge.

11 May 2015

Sunset Thoughts

The sun is setting on the weekend and I am filled with thanks, for it was a weekend with family, and a time to celebrate Mum. It was a low-key weekend, which is exactly what Mum wanted. Just time to hang out with us. It included things like sub sandwiches, pizza, games like Sequence and Phase 10, Formula 1 racing, Elliott playing in a little pool, and practicing golf swings in the front yard. 

Just the relaxing kinds of things that do not involve schedules, planning, or even going anywhere. Nothing crazy. No rush. No places to be. No rules. Just family time.

The past couple of years have taught me that the best gift you can give to those you love is time. Time is such a precious thing we all have a limited amount of, and we do have the choice of how we use our daily hours. Outside of work, we are making decisions about how we use time everyday, and setting our own priorities. I find that when family or friends are willing to give me time, my heart is strangely warmed by it. I feel loved. I know that they could be spending those moments with someone else or doing something else. 

I hope you got to hug your mother a little bit extra this weekend. To remind her what an important part she plays in your life, even as you are all grown up. Mothers deserve much more thanks and love than any of us can give. But every little bit adds a smile to her face and a warmth in her heart.

07 May 2015

Long Walks in Oxford

These are images from a day of walking I did around Christ Church Meadow, and then through Magdalen College and Addison's Walk. I ended the long walk in the perfect way - with cream tea sitting outside the Vaults and Garden Cafe in Radcliffe Square.

I am really missing my long walks around Oxford, so I thought I would reminisce a little from this day and compile a few of my favourite images. The air was cold, and I actually wished I had another layer on that day, but all the walking I did kept me from feeling too frigid. And the whole pot of tea helped warm me up at the end. 

These are some of the loveliest spots in Oxford, though. I realize I would probably say that about most places. However, the flowers were what caught my eyes in every direction. The meadow was full of Daffodils. Addison's Walk was full of the Oxfordshire Flower, Daffodils, and many other flowers carpeting the path. Even though it was cold, and grey, the blooms warmed up the day. It was a perfect walking day.

06 May 2015

Riven from the Darkness

Morning light casts a perfect, soft glow,
Riven from the darkness, just a memory below.
Coupled with singing birds, a morning cheer,
Leaves unspoken words space to come near.
Light of my life, guide my heart and word
Shift my troubles away, to the back of the herd
On a quiet morning, the hour is hushed,
A prayerful beginning, so the day is not rushed.

God, please always be with me, whatever my woe.
Please always be with me, wherever I go.
My heart has been aching and missing You.
Please provide my strength to step all the way through.

Each day holds its own set of challenges.
Help me guard my heart where needed, 

Help me open my heart when it should be.

04 May 2015

The Importance of Reading

Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.
- Joseph Addison

Profound thoughts have origins in reading. We are fortunate to live in a time where so much history and learning is at our fingertips. We can analyse poetry from the 18th century and then dive into the Greek origin of myths by picking up another volume.

There is a lot of focus about how important reading is for children, which is think is vitally important, and I love to see parents reading to little ones. It instills good habits. I think that same focus should be put on adults, too. For we are life long learners, and that should never stop, even if college is over and we are set in a job. Adults tend to lose a sense of real adventure, story, and imagination in the midst of busy work days.

Many years ago, before television and movies, before cars and planes, downtime was spent reading. In the evenings around the fireplace, families would read out loud from a volume (perhaps Shakespeare or Milton) as everyone listened. Maybe some card games were played afterwards. Entertainment seemed to be so simple, but it also required a little bit of brain power. I cannot say the same for entertainment nowadays. 

To those who say that they watch educational programs, which of course I enjoy, too, every now and then, here is my caveat. Whenever you watch a movie or television program you are engaged by someone else's vision, and your brain is accepting that which is before you. Your own imagination is not being engaged to create the world in your mind. It's being shown to you, instead, and I think there is something vital missing in that. 

God made us to sub-create. When we read good books, we are sub-creating that world in our minds, with the rich language and words building that image. Thus, our imaginations are fully working and creating the world as we read through the book. This is why I will say that the book is always better than the movie. Our imaginations fly highest with the best kind of stories that are full of description and imagery. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll are prime examples of such writing. 

I hear most often that at the end of the day, you are so tired from the busy day that you just want to zone out in front of the television. While I fight the urge to do this sometimes, too (though I don't have cable so it would be a DVD or something), I am never satisfied that I spent my time wisely when I do that. To keep our minds young and sharp, reading is one of the best things you can do. And all kinds of subjects are good, too, it is not just literature. Whatever topics interest you, discover more by reading.

01 May 2015

Drops of Faith

The simple truth is that if you had a mere drop of faith, a tiny seed, say, you would tell this mountain "move!" and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle.
- Matthew 17.20

The rain and thunder shakes the morning up and as I grab my bags to hear out, an umbrella is necessary. I love the weather. I love how the rain refreshes the earth and the air. Concerning weather of the heart, that is part of life, too. Even the stormy times have a way of bringing about refreshment. Once we get through the drought, the rains come.

Why do we have such a hard time having a tiny bit of true faith sometimes? We go through our days relying on other things that are solid and tangible, like umbrellas, people, and even some intangible things like the comfortable predictability of our world that we have in our own little lives (which is ironic because we never know when change will strike).

Haven't we learned by now that all these things will eventually let us down? Don't we know that we cannot solely rely on the tangible? The only thing that will never let us down is God.

If we even had a drop of faith we are told that we could command a mountain to move. Most of us shrug our shoulders and say how unlikely that seems, which is where our faith falls short. But I think Jesus in His perfection could do that because of His true faith. This is where we should be looking: that all things are possible with God. It's not with us. It's with God. Since we are told to aim our lives to be like Jesus, we are to work toward that, even if we don't come close to reaching it. Along the way we will have gained many other things along with some drops of faith.

I would build a cloudy house
For my thoughts to live in,
When for earth too fancy-loose,
And too low for heaven:
Hush! I talk my dream aloud,
I build it bright to see-
I build it on the moonlit cloud
To which I looked with thee.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning