Monday, December 31, 2012

Another Year, Another Adventure!

Last year I was writing about the Magic of One Year, and the possibilities that year could hold.  Now, on the other side of that 365 days, it is time to evaluate a bit!  I am actually more organized than I was a year ago, and I tried some new things (like birding!).  Overall, I would say I am happier, and that 2012 was a good year.  I even rolled with being derailed by breast cancer.  Although cancer has dominated the last six months, I refuse to let it have all my time and attention!  I am proud of the things I have been able to do in spite of it.

The end of this year found me reading a couple of great books that have got me thinking about plans for this New Year.  The first is called "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe.  I confess, it is a bit strange reading a book where someone is dying of cancer when battling cancer yourself, but if nothing else, it made me reflect a little more deeply.  This is NOT, however, a depressing book, but a book by and for people who love books.  "The End of Your Life Book Club" is a poignant memoir of a mother and son who share two years of books and in-depth talks as she fights pancreatic cancer.    Author Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, are voracious readers.  They consume novels at a rapid rate, and devour new books as well as old, familiar titles.  Mary Anne is a long time advocate for refugees and has traveled extensively throughout the world.  Even in her seventies with terminal cancer, it is hard for her to slow down.  Throughout the book, she continues working toward getting a library system set up in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Mary Anne realizes the value of the written word in educating us to common, human experiences.
The scope of literature mentioned in this book is tremendous.  I found several books here that I want to read, several I am unfamiliar with, and thankfully, a few that I have actually read.  This book made me want to be not only a better reader, but a better person.
In Will's conversations with his mother, he learns more about her, and also about himself.  At one point he observes "I don't like being interrupted either--but I interrupt other people.  I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging, more dramatic, more relevant, and better-told tales; but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor.  Mom, on the other hand, rarely interrupted other people and wasn't given to topping other people's tales.  She would listen and then ask questions...."  What a beautiful woman!  I find myself waiting for my moment to interrupt, and have decided that being a better listener, and asking some questions, is a good goal for myself this year.

Night in Napili

Mother and son find themselves connecting often over books that involve the importance of writing and sharing the written word.  Many books speak of our need to connect with each other, Schwalbe observes, while discussing "The Lizard Cage," with his mom.
Near the end of the book, as Mary Anne's illness progresses, Will says "I just feel guilty that I'm not doing more in the world."  They are reading  "Suite Francaise" at the time, a book which graces my own shelf.  His mother gently reminds him "Of course you could do more--you can always do more, and you should do more--but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can.  You just do your best, and that's all you can do."  Mary Anne Schwalbe's best was amazing.  This book made me want to do and be better, and the next book I read gave me some clues as to how to do just that.

In "My Year with Eleanor," celebrity blogger Noelle Hancock loses her job, and finds she has lost her way in life.  She finds a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt about doing something that scares you everyday, and embarks on a year of facing her fears.  With her shrink, and a supportive group of friends, Noelle decides to start on her 29th birthday, and spend exactly one year doing what scares her.   She is hung up on the little things that affect many of us (not wanting to make that phone call, for example), but also bigger things, like a fear of heights.  Undaunted, Noelle takes trapeze classes, does stand up comedy, sings karoake, dog fights in a jet, and more in her year of exploration.  Along the way, she researches Eleanor Roosevelt, and learns more about this amazing lady who overcame her own fears to make a difference in the world.  Hancock inserts quotes from Eleanor throughout the book. This was one of my favorites.
"Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run is easier.  We do not have to become heroes overnight.  Just a step at a time, meeting each thing as it comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down."  --Eleanor Roosevelt

There is always another bridge to cross!
Hancock learns, as I think most of us would, that facing fears regularly actually builds courage.  In my own year, I faced some things that really scared me, but having just finished chemotherapy, I can honestly say, I am not as scared any more.  Facing fears really does build courage, and you find you are tougher than you thought.
So, with all this in mind, what are my plans for this year?  Some are similar to last year...I would like to be more organized (but am enjoying the 2 rooms I got completed!)  Others are I am going to read more books.  I am going to be a better listener, and I will continue to stretch out of my comfort zone to try new things.  Sounds like a good year to me. What will your year bring to you?  Let the adventure begin!

Adventure awaits!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by  Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst

"Light and life to all He brings, ris'n with healing in His wings" 
(from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing").

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Resurrection by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873

Monday, December 24, 2012

Festival of Trees - 2012

Angel Tree at Festival of Trees

This year at the Festival of Trees, I tried to find trees that inspired with great creativity.  This angel tree is more of a traditional entry, but a lot of work went into the handcrafted ornaments and the red and white color scheme was beautiful.

Detail of angel tree

The crocheted angels and snowflakes were tastefully balanced with the red and white flowers and wrapped gift ornaments that also adorned the tree.  Several entrants this year were atypical.  Here is one of three Halloween themed trees that I saw.

Halloween Christmas tree

Black, purple and orange may not be common Christmas colors, but the scheme made this tree stand out among its neighbors at the festival.

Detail of the Halloween tree

While the Halloween tree featured smiling Jack o' lanterns and spiders, another tree also sporting orange decor featured Matchbox car racetracks.

Matchbox car tree

When I was a kid, we used the flexible Matchbox track pieces as swords.  It was nice to see them looped and curved into a better use here.

Matchbox cars and tracks top this tree.

As I continued up and down aisle after aisle of beautiful Christmas trees, I found one upside down! This quickly became my favorite of the festival this year.  I don't believe I have seen an upside down Christmas tree before, but it wasn't just the unusual position that caught my attention.

"Chemis Tree" at the Festival of Trees

This tree was science themed and featured molecules and test tubes as ornaments.  This just proves almost anything can be used as a Christmas tree ornament if done right!

Science ornaments on the "Chemis Tree"

I also appreciated the cleverness of the tree's name.  Further down the aisle we found a tree that was motorized, and had airplanes flying around the top. It was fun to watch these planes circling the tree.  They had banners flying out behind them wishing us a Merry Christmas.  

"Forever Soaring" featured motorized airplanes

Detail of plane flying around the tree top.

I am not sure what this next tree was made of, but it was definitely one-of-a-kind at the festival this year.  A white tube spiraled down forming this simple tree.  It was different enough to catch my attention.

Some kind of tube wound round and round to form this tree.

I also liked this tree that came with a nativity scene.  Framed pictures of the nativity figures hung on the tree.  They appeared to be made of felt, and were cut in a simple style that reminded me of stained glass.

Nativity tree

Detail of picture on the nativity tree.

I cannot imagine the quantity of Mountain Dew someone drank for this next tree.  Then again, drinking that quantity of Mountain Dew might have kept them awake for the hours necessary to build this creation.  This tree was made entirely out of recycled pop cans.

Tree made from recycled pop cans.

Even the tree skirt and train at the base were made of aluminum cans.  This was very creative and very labor intensive.  I imagine a few people cut their hands on sharp edges making this one!  The ornaments were made from different soda cans as well.   

Pop can ornaments on a recycled pop can tree.

Of course, the tree my son had heard about and wanted to see was the Lego tree.  We continued scanning aisle after aisle, and at the very end, finally found the long awaited Lego tree.  He was more enamored with the box sets of Lego around the tree than the tree itself.  However, the ornaments and Lego garland were well-constructed and worth seeing, too.

The much-anticipated Lego tree.

Detail of the Lego tree

A volunteer told us that somehow the creators of this tree made holes in the Lego pieces to string the garland. I cannot imagine how they did this, or the hours it took, but it was very effective as a decoration.  I greatly enjoyed my annual trip to the Festival of Trees.  This worthy event raises money for the local children's hospital, and is run every year by countless volunteers.  Congratulations to all who participated in 2012. It was another great year at the festival! 

For more Festival of Trees, check out the quilts and gingerbread houses.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gingerbread Houses at 2012 Festival of Trees

Gingerbread Bird House

This year's selection of gingerbread houses at the Festival of Trees did not disappoint.  Wandering through the "Gingerbread Village," we saw many architectural wonders.  Several of the houses had movie themes this year, representing films such as "Tangled," "The Hobbit," "Ice Age: Continental Drift," and "The Lorax."

Tangled Up Christmas

"Tangled" had a gingerbread entry last year as well, and remains a popular theme.

The Shire in Gingerbread

Bag End Gingerbread House

I thought "The Hobbit" was particularly well-represented with these two entries showing the Shire, and also Bilbo Baggins' home, Bag End.  Someone was very clever to create these, and they are a nice departure from more traditional gingerbread house styles.

The Once Ler's House

This colorful gingerbread creation from "The Lorax" drew a crowd, and was popular with kids.  "Ice Age: Continental Drift" was popular with the younger set as well.

Ice Age in Gingerbread

I liked the narwhals on this one.  Of course, as in any year at the Festival of Trees, more traditional styles of gingerbread houses were also on display. 

Nutcracker Gingerbread House

I cannot imagine the hours of planning and then actual execution that goes in to some of these projects.  One entry this year actually spelled it out for the viewers, however, and included a list of the supplies and time it took to make the Mountain Home.

Just a little bit of work!

Mountain Home Gingerbread House

All of those ingredients and all of those hours went into this beautiful, two-story log cabin.  This "Mountain Home" was definitely one of my favorites this year.  Another elaborate house was a holiday bakery.  I was intrigued by the texture and style of the roof.

Gingerbread bakery

At the very end of my journey through the Gingerbread Village, I saw one last amazing piece of edible art.  Someone re-created the historical Provo Tabernacle, and it was beautiful.

Provo Tabernacle

It was by far the largest and most imposing piece.  With its architectural detail and snowy roof, it was a show-stopper.  All of these gingerbread houses are created by volunteers and donated to the Festival of Trees.  The Festival is an annual fund-raising event for Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.  Run completely by volunteers, the Festival features performing groups, delicious treats, and many items for sale including Christmas trees, the gingerbread houses, wreaths, quilts, and more.  All of the proceeds go to the hospital and help pay for treatments for those who cannot afford care. Held each year in early December, The Festival of Trees is one of my favorite ways to kick off the Christmas season.

Patrons meander past the Gingerbread Village

For more Festival of Trees, see my other blog posts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quilts at the 2012 Festival of Trees

Detail from quilt titled "Let It Snow!"

Early December brought the Festival of Trees back to the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.  This annual event is a fundraiser for the Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.  Each year, countless volunteers put in thousands of hours creating and selling wonderful Christmas items all to benefit this worthy charity.

Row of quilts on display at the Festival of Trees

The Festival of Trees has something for everyone.  There are dance and music performances throughout each day and evening on two different stages in the festival itself, and in the lobby area outside.  Quilts, wreaths, trees, gingerbread houses, and other Christmas decorations are for sale.  And of course, there is the food.  Scones and cinnamon rolls are always popular, but our new guilty pleasures are fudge and fresh divinity at the Sweet Shoppe.

"Cock a Doodle" quilt

This bright Cock a Doodle quilt was one of my favorites.  Not all items at the festival are Christmas-themed. Many items are made in honor of a loved one, sometimes someone treated at the children's hospital that this event benefits.

Quilt titled "The Great I Am"

My son didn't want to spend much time among the quilts, but I managed to view a few on our journey through the Expo Center space.  You could easily spend a few hours here, so we mapped out our priorities quickly.  This year we skimmed quilts, skipped wreaths, saw the gingerbread houses, and did a speedy trip through the trees.  Of course we made time for a treat.

Detail of "The Great I Am" Quilt

This quilt, titled "The Great I Am" had squares depicting different scenes from the nativity story.  I liked the colors and the tree squares, but the whimsical features of the animals are what really caught my eye.

"Let It Snow!" quilt

Who can resist snowmen?  This quilt quickly became my favorite of the festival.  Each panel features a different snowman, and we loved looking at them all.

Panel from "Let It Snow!" quilt

With a few quilts under our belts and a favorite selected, we were ready to brave the crowds around the amazing gingerbread houses.  Stay tuned for some great ideas from The Gingerbread Village at the 2012 Festival of Trees.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Reading Anna Karenina

My library copy of Anna Karenina

Between, recovering from surgery and starting chemotherapy, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.  So, I thought, why not tackle a big novel? Previews for the Keira Knightley version of Anna Karenina were being shown, and a friend told me she loved the book, so I checked it out of my local library and began.  All 924 pages of it.  You may find another version that has a slightly different number of pages, but my version had 924.

I was pleasantly surprised that the translation I was reading was very approachable and easy to follow.  Sometimes I have to really concentrate to read "classics," but this one read fairly easily..  I was also a bit surprised to find Anna is not really the main character in this peopled Russian novel, and you don't even meet her at the beginning.  In fact, the book starts with her brother dealing with the fallout at home of his own discovered affair with a nanny.  Stephan Arkadyvich (Anna's brother) and his wife are one of three couples followed throughout the narrative.  Tolstoy's novel is less about Anna and more about marriage and society.

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

Although Stephan's wife struggles to forgive her husband of the affair, society is accepting of it.  Anna, on the other hand, gets an entirely different reaction as she enters into an affair with Count Vronsky.  Unhappy in her marriage to the stiff Alexsey Aleksandrovich Karenin, Anna seeks happiness with Vronsky, and they have a child. While Vronsky continues to move freely in their social circle, Anna finds herself paying a very high price for the relationship.

Alicia Vikander as Kitty Levin

Meanwhile, Kitty Levin's marriage plays out as the counter to the other relationships.  Kitty and her husband, Konstantin, live in relative domestic peace.  When they have conflicts, they talk them out and resolve them.  They work at keeping one another happy.  Tolstoy had a very astute eye when it comes to viewing society, marriage, and families.  Many of his observations are as applicable today as when he wrote his novel in the 1870s, and many moments in the novel made me smile or think.  For example, as Levin enters into marriage, Tolstoy writes "As a bachelor, when he had watched other people's married life, seen the petty cares, the squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart.  In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of that sort...."  Of course, Levin discovers he does have all of the "normal" difficulties in his relationship with Kitty. 
Vronsky and Anna believe they will find happiness with each other, but as their relationship continues, it grows strained.  Vronsky tries to reassure Anna as her insecurity increases.  Her decisions about whether or not to divorce her husband and marry Vronsky further complicate  their relationship. Tolstoy writes "Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy."  Many times the thing we thought would make us happy fails to do so, and I appreciated Tolstoy's recognition of this in his novel.
The tragic Anna Karenina
Anna reminded me a bit of Edith Wharton's Lily Bart in "House of Mirth" in that both women are on downward spirals, and as a reader, you hope someone will pull them out, or especially in Anna's case, that they will make decisions that will lead them to peace in their lives and acceptance in society.  However, both women have tragic ends.  Tolstoy's novel, for me, bogs down a bit in the parts about local Russian politics, but his characters are well-drawn.  Levin and Karenin both experience religious journeys that are in themselves interesting to examine.  With the new movie introducing another generation to this story of complicated love, it is a good time to delve into Tolstoy's enduring novel. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

View of the kill site at Head-Smashed-In

On my trip to Alberta, Canada this summer, I couldn't resist a stop at "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump."  What a great name!  It begged for a visit.  Head-Smashed-In is just what is says, a buffalo jump site where people herded buffalo off a cliff so they could butcher the animals and use the meat and hides.  Today, this location is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It has a wonderful interpretive center, and is well worth a visit.

Welcome sign

We were excited to make this stop on our drive from Great Falls, Montana to Banff.  There is ample parking at the site.  If you don't want to walk from the lots to the center, you can take the shuttle bus.

Interpretive Center

This beautifully designed multi-level building is set into the hillside and follows the contours of the land.  We entered the center and proceeded to the top of the building to begin our visit.  We ventured outside to see the top of the "kill site."  This is the cliff where the buffalo fell to their demise.  The pathway is paved, and it was an easy walk to the overlook.

Walkway to the overlook

Winds blow frequently at this site, and can reach up to 150 km/hour.  It was definitely a high wind day when we visited.  Since we felt like we were going to be blown away at any time, we decided to have a little fun with it, and practice flying.

The guys try their luck flying in the high winds.

After visiting the top of the kill site we were pretty wind blown and headed back inside to view the movie about buffalo jumps.  This film carries a warning about its graphic nature, but frankly, the films I saw about buffalo hunts in elementary school were more graphic and intense.  This film is very informative and well done, and we felt it was worth our time to watch it.

Skins used for herding the buffalo.

Buffalo jumps may not be used for generations.  Timing and conditions had to be right.  If a herd was nearby, and the people were able to set up a camp, then a buffalo jump could proceed.  First, a ceremony with the iniskin (buffalo shaped rock) was held to ensure a successful jump.  Then, drive lanes were constructed on the top of the cliff area.  Buffalo runners would dress in skins (pictured above) and maneuver the buffalo into the drive lanes where they would be funneled down to the cliff face.  Once the buffalo fell off the cliff, the hard work of butchering the animals and preparing meat and hides began.  Head-Smashed-In was a successful site used over 5,700 years because a spring of water seeps from the sandstone cliff base.  Without a water source, it would have been impossible for people to camp and prepare all the buffalo at the bottom of the cliff.

Model of a buffalo jump in the interpretive center.

Head-Smashed-In was a relatively undisturbed site for many years, leaving a great archaeological record.  Tools and evidence of camp life in the area help researchers learn more about the buffalo jumps.  The current cliff is 10 meters high.  However, because of the dense bone deposits here that extend 12 meters deep, it is believed that the jump site was twice as high 6,000 years ago.

Display of buffalo skulls in the interpretive center.

Old photographs and records give some idea of the vast numbers of buffalo that once filled these prairies, and of the numbers killed in successful buffalo jumps.  One sign at the center displays this quote:  "I never saw such amazing numbers together before...they immediately fill up the place like waves in the sea."  --Peter Fidler, 1792.  It is hard to imagine today the buffalo extending further than the eye can see.  It must have been quite something.

Display of artifacts, including a hammer stone and scraper

The interpretive center has many attractive displays including animal mounts and tools and artifacts.  We saw arrow heads, a teepee, and more.  Signs give insights into the Blackfoot culture that was dominant in this area.  We also heard from a Blackfoot volunteer while we were at the center.

Replica of a Blackfoot teepee.

One of my favorite displays was a "Winter Count Robe."  Buffalo robes were used to record important events, including numbers of buffalo.  The robe on display at this center is a Piegan Indian winter count robe and covers the years 1764-1879.  This is one of the longest records on a buffalo robe.  Symbols on the robe indicate things like an outbreak of small pox and the end of the buffalo.

Piegan winter count robe.

After we finished seeing the interpretive center, we headed out on the 1 kilometer walkway to see the buffalo jump from below.  Along the way, we saw several cedar waxwings in a bush.  They were smaller than I expected, but were beautiful birds.

Cedar Waxwing

Again, the walkway was paved and this was an easy walk.  The wind was not nearly so strong at the bottom, either.

Family below the buffalo jump.

This sandstone cliff rises from the grassy Alberta prairie.  It is a quiet, peaceful place today, but we could imagine it bustling with excitement and anticipation as the Blackfoot people prepared for a buffalo jump.  There are other buffalo jump sites you can visit, but we highly recommend Head-Smashed-In.  It is a quality experience.

Sign about the Women's Buffalo Jump

Buffalo jumps were used by generations over thousands of years. I think that is one of the things I learned that I had never really considered before...that this process of harvesting meat was handed down and used by many groups over many, many years.  I liked this interpretive sign that indicated the Women's Buffalo Jump was the place where men and women decided to live together according to Blackfoot lore.  This is a wonderful stop and well worth the drive.

View of the prairie from the top of the buffalo jump.

If you go:  Head-Smashed-In is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The location has a cafeteria, a film, and exhibits.  Tours are available, and it is wheelchair accessible.  It is open daily (except Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Day, and Easter Sunday) from 10am to 5pm.  There are extended summer hours from July to Labour Day.  We saved a little on admission by buying a family pass.  Head-Smashed-In is located in southwestern Alberta.  It is a little out of the way, but I recommend it.