Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables

I grew up on the Anne of Green Gables miniseries.  I loved it with every fiber of my being.  I especially loved the raspberry cordial and lily maid scenes.  Basically, I liked any time Anne was getting into scrapes.  After a while, I grew up and started fast-forwarding through the scrapes to the scenes with Gilbert.  In the end, Anne's story became my favorite love story.  (See?  I wrote about it years ago: I Don't Want Sunbursts or Marble Halls.  I Just Want You.)

But after all those hours of watching the movies, I never picked up the books.  Never!  It's amazing, too, since I love to read.  I'm proud to say now, though, that I've read the first book in the series, and it is excellent.  Just Excellent.  What I thought was a story about childhood shenanigans and romance turned out to be a story about familial and godly love.  I found myself pondering revelation and kindness and ambition.  I even cried in a few places.  When it was all over, I nearly mourned the end of a character I had really come to care about.  (Thankfully, my tears didn't last long because I remembered there are five more books!  Eight, if you count the ones about her children!)

Lucy Maude Montgomery published this book in 1908, and even now, her writing is superb.*  It's really no wonder; she must've been whip-smart in her day.  At a time when women rarely received higher education, she went to college to train to be a teacher and then on to university, where she studied English literature.  She did indeed become a teacher, and she also wrote for newspapers and magazines.  All that writing, I suppose, gave her practice to write such passages as these:
  • "That may make me feel badly tomorrow, Josie," laughed Anne, "but just now I honestly feel that as long as I know the violets are coming out all purple down in the hollow below Green Gables and that little ferns are poking their heads up in Lovers' Lane, it's not a great deal of difference whether I win the Avery or not.  I've done my best, and I begin to understand what is meant by the 'joy of the strife.'  Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing."
  • "Oh, I've dozens of plans, Marilla.  I've been thinking them out for a week.  I shall give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return.  When I left Queen's, my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road.  I thought I could see along it for many a milestone.  Now there is a bend in it.  I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does.  It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.  I wonder how the road beyond it goes - what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows - what new landscapes - what new beauties - what curves and hills and valleys farther on."
  • "Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it.  The joys of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams.  And there was always the bend in the road!

    'God's in His heaven, all's right with the world,' whispered Anne softly.

*I wish I could force young adults to read Anne of Green Gables instead of Twilight.  Oy.  What must Lucy Maude think of us???

Thing I'm thankful for: June lilies

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts

Sometimes people do dumb things.  And sometimes people do dumb things because they don't have many—or any—smart alternatives.

Such is the finding of Dr. Carl Hart, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University.  He grew up in Miami, and because his parents were both addicted to crack, he was reared by his grandmother.  When he went to college to study, he, like many other scientists, thought crack was only addictive in and of itself.  To be sure, it is addictive.  But what he found from further research, though, was surprising to him:  Drug addiction is largely contextual.  Dr. Hart explains this in yesterday's New York Times article The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts:
“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” Dr. Hart said in an interview, arguing that the caricature of enslaved crack addicts comes from a misinterpretation of the famous rat experiments.

“The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats,” Dr. Hart said. “The rats that keep pressing the lever for cocaine are the ones who are stressed out because they’ve been raised in solitary conditions and have no other options. But when you enrich their environment, and give them access to sweets and let them play with other rats, they stop pressing the lever.”
This article impressed me.  Dr. Hart's research impressed me.  While reading about his work, I had two main takeaways:
  1. If addiction is about one's environment, this means so much in terms of one's agency.  That is, agency—once again—is shown to be extremely powerful.  People can change their behavior, even under extreme circumstances.  It's baffling to me—and so wonderfully perfect.
  2. If addiction is about one's environment, this means so much in terms of service.  That is, service—once again—is shown to be extremely powerful.  People can help others change their behavior by offering positive alternatives in an otherwise dreary world.  I think about the person on the side of the road, asking for money, and I hear a friend say, "I'm not giving him anything because he'll just spend it on drugs."  Maybe so.  But maybe not.  Maybe that person just needs a positive alternative.  Or maybe his life is so utterly full of bad options, that using drugs is the most rational choice.  Either way, it's my responsibility to change his environment.  As a student, I may not be able to do much of that now, but someday I will be able to.  And I think someday, God will hold me accountable for that.  I think he will say to me and to everyone, "What did you do to offer someone positive alternatives?  What did you do to make his life better?"

Thing I'm thankful for: the luxury of hosting a dessert party.  I have a good life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parallel Parking

One of the things I love about living in a big city or attending school on a big campus is parallel parking.  I mean, I love parallel parking!  I'm not always spectacular at it, nor I'm I very good at parallel parking on my left side.  In general, though, I'm alright, and I think I'm pretty good at it, for a girl.*

When done right, parallel parking just feels like such an accomplishment.  I want to tell someone about it every time.  Which is basically why I'm blogging about it now.  Ha.  :)

Here's the parallel parking job I did on campus today:

Nice, huh?

*Backing up is an entirely different story.  I am not good at that.

Thing I'm thankful for: other people curling my hair

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Open Letter to Austin Family Magazine

Dear Austin Family Magazine,

You are like a lot of local magazines found at grocery stores across the nation: non-glossy on the inside, covered in advertisements, and in serious need of some white space.  But here's what I like about you (and nearly every other such magazine):
  • You are free!
  • Your goal is to help parents rear bright and happy children.
  • You suggest cheap or free activities for everyone in the community to enjoy.
  • You have a website!  With additional articles online!
Why, this month, I already have some favorite articles:
  • Big Man on Campus - an article about how to encourage father involvement in academics
  • Always Tardy to the Party? - tips for curing chronic punctuality problems
  • Wake-up Call - information about how important well-balanced meals are for strong minds
  • Make Room for Daddy - all about the great things dads do for kids (Talk about a non-sexist magazine!  I love it!)

I look forward to you every month!


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Too Much Customer Service?

I didn't think there was such a thing as too much customer service, but I think I was wrong.

I walked into a Chase Bank today to deposit a couple of checks.  Before I even got to the front of the establishment, I could see one of the employees standing just outside the double glass doors -- all suited up and ready to be helpful.  I thought, "Really?  They're standing outside now?"

See, the thing is that I've been using this particular Chase branch for the last couple of years, and every time I go, it's the same thing -- eager (or bored?) employees waiting to wait on me.  It seems nice at first, but after a while, I just want to get in there, make my deposit, and get out.  I don't want to chit-chat with someone new each time.*  Plus, I know how to make a deposit quickly.  It's easier to just do it myself than to sit down at a banker's personal desk and let him or her fill out the deposit slip for me.  Who needs help at the bank after the first time, anyway?  It can be a little intimidating to open an account, but once you've done that and made your first trip, you just don't need much assistance anymore.

So aneeeway . . .  There I was, walking toward the doors, when the man in the suit greeted me.  I avoided eye contact while I curtly said hello and quickly went in.  Thankfully, no one was at the front desk, so I went to the table with the deposit slips, etc. and began doing what I went to the bank to do.  As I was completing my slip, though, the outside greeter came by, paused for a moment while he watched me write, and said, "Hi, my name is _____; if you need anything after you make your deposit, just come over to my desk and let me know."  Of course I rushed to the teller as quickly as I could before _____ saw me, even though he was on the phone, anyway.

I left feeling irritated with that branch's overzealous approach to customer service.  Banks are not places I want to spend much time in; as I said before, I want to get in and get out.  If Chase was a theme park or a playground or an airport, I might say, "Yeah, sure -- give me a few reasons to stay here a while," but a bank?  Just make my errand as quick as possible, give me a Dum Dum at the end, and smile as you say goodbye.

What do you think, readers?  Is there such a thing as too much customer service?

*Then again, I'm one of those people who doesn't like to be talked to while I shop for clothes, get my teeth cleaned, or have my hair cut.

Thing I'm thankful for: meatball subs