Tuesday, December 15, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: The Return of the King {Book VI, Ch. I-V}


Sorry I was behind this week. I actually had everything read but my Sunday ended up being busier than expected. I was done with this section of reading on Wednesday because I could not put it down. We have finally reached the climax — 900 pages in — and it was everything I hoped it would be. I feel a bit like Sam with his double vision as I was reading the scene with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Mount Doom - the movie was superimposed over the writing and I was visualizing both simultaneously. My favorite part, though, was the Faramir/Eowyn storyline. It is so tiny but it really stood out to me. Eowyn's feelings for Aragorn are wrapped up in hero worship, idealization, and stubbornness. He is able to heal wounds of the body but it is Faramir who heals the wounds on her soul. I think that there is a lot to be said here about modern perceptions of love but I will refrain. I merely wanted to point them out to you so you could mull it over for yourself :)

1. Sam's time of testing has finally come. What does the Ring show him? How is it different from what others were shown?

2. What do you make of Sam's double vision? What is he seeing superimposed over mortal vision?

3. After the Company is reunited in Minas Tirith there is a feast at which a minstrel tells the tale of the Ring and Frodo. Tolkien writes, "And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness". What does he mean by this? What connection between pain and delight, sorrow and joy is he making?

4. Why was Eowyn so insistent on being a shield maiden?

WE ARE ON THE LAST WEEK. Only 5 more chapters and we are done. Time has flown. The world has changed. Savor these last moments with these unforgettable characters who live in the world we all wished we lived in. Have a great (rest) of the week :)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

LOTR Read-Along - The Return of the King {Book V, Ch. VI-X}

The most recent issue of Time magazine has a wonderful article about the new Star Wars movie and what drives the magic of that universe. Care to take a guess as to what it is? Hope. To quote the article, "Hope: it's the keystone concept in the Star Wars legendarium. One of the eternal mysteries of Star Wars is that it looks like science fiction, with robots and lasers and such, but at the same time it's set far in the past and has the dustiness and feel of ancient history. It catches you up in a double-reverse, a temporal anomaly subtler than anything in Star Trek, that leaves you with a strange nostalgic longing for the future. And what is hope but a longing for the future?" Y'all. If this does not sum up the magic of The Lord of the Rings as well then I do not know what does. Especially at this point, where now there is but the faintest of hopes. What do you have but to go on, to cling to that hope with all you have?

I have been thinking of hope a lot this past week, with it being the start of Advent. I do not think I have been more aware of how much I need the hope of Christ. Indeed, I almost believe that the Church in America has forgotten in Whom our hope resides. Refugees, terrorism, Syria, France, the political races — all of it serves to cloud our vision, to draw our attention away from the hope we have in Christ, the hope that our world is in such desperate need of. In LOTR the hope is that the Ring will be destroyed, that Sauron will not be able to conquer Middle Earth and usher in unending pain, death, and destruction. Even now, with the armies of Men making a last stand at the Black Gate, there is little hope to be had. It is better, though, to give their lives in a last desperate attempt than to live in the world that will come if they fail. There is no room for apathy or despair or cynicism. The hope of victory is too small to allow room for any of these attitudes because they will overpower hope. One must push aside these and cling to hope, to do the hard things even with only the slightest promise of victory because life under Sauron would be too intolerable to sustain. How different would our own world be if we grabbed onto hope and did not let cynicism or apathy rule our actions, thoughts, and words?

1. Why can Eowyn defeat the King of the Ringwraiths? Is she a likable character?

2. Gandalf tells Denethor that "Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death... and only heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death". Compare Denethor's actions with Aragorn's. Why are Denethor's actions anathema to some one like Aragorn?

3. Why does Aragorn not come into Minas Tirith as king? Why does he want to wait to claim that title?

4. What is Sauron waiting for? Why does Gandalf want to keep his focus on Minas Tirith and the armies gathered there?

We are starting the last book this week :( Book VI, Ch. I-V. HOPE y'all have a wonderful week!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

LOTR Read-Along - The Return of the King {Book V, Ch. I-V}

I do not know how the pagination works in the editions y'all are reading, but mine picks up where the previous book left off rather than starting back at 1. So, in starting The Return of the King, I am on page 731. I really like the sense of continuity this builds — for those who don't know, these books were originally one long book. It also gives me a great sense of accomplishment lol. Anyways, we are on the last one! I cannot believe it has already been 8 weeks since we started this. I know it is going to be hard to finish during the busy holiday season but I hope y'all persevere. It will be worth it!

Does anyone else feel sorry for Pippin? The poor guy has no clue. Tolkien does a wonderful job with Pippin's age; he does not let us forget that Pippin is the youngest hobbit. He has barely reached the age of majority and does not have the perspective that the other three have. He is an impressionable kid who is caught up in events much larger than himself and is drowning, more or less. He is so real. Two of my excellent friends and I were talking about how the LOTR is such a real story; not everything turns out perfect, nor is every character perfect. I think Pippin is a prime example of this. Many of the popular fantasy stories out there (especially with YA protagonists, as Pippin would be) revolve around a young kid having to bear burdens beyond their years and how they overcome them against all odds. This is a wonderful thing and I am not knocking it. I am merely pointing out that Pippin represents what would really happen if most of us were placed in a similar situation. He is completely dependent on Gandalf (I would be, too!) and does not do critical thinking well. Which is all completely understandable because he is facing, literally, the end of the world and has no idea how to cope.

At first I was very frustrated with him... I might have even thought, "Pull your head out of your butt!!!" a couple of times. The more I read, though, the more I realized that he is representative of the vast majority of us. He is so young, so innocent. Rather than look on him with contempt, I should look on him with patience. Rather than ignore him because he has nothing to offer, I should take 5 minutes to explain so that he might begin to understand.

1. Denethor is the Steward of Minas Tirith, not its king. Gandalf says that he, too, is a steward. What is he the steward of?

2. Can you relate to Merry's feelings of helplessness? How is his helplessness different from that of Pippin?

3. Why is Denethor going mad?

4. In "The Ride of the Rohirrim" we are given some of the myriad of emotions that surround battle. Trace them from the start of the chapter to the end. Is this something that is easily understood for those who have never been in battle, who have never pitted their lives against another?

This week we have Ch. VI- X. Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book IV, Ch. VI-X}

I did not anticipate liking this book as much as I did. It is, I confess, my least favorite of the movies; I thought I would feel the same about the slow pace of the book as I did about the slow pace of the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth! The book allows us in the thoughts and the emotions of the characters that is all but impossible in a movie. One of my classes is reading The Scarlet Letter and they told me that they would not have figured out who the father was so early if they had not seen the movie. Movies do such a wonderful job with interpersonal communication but often miss the mark when it comes to internal dialogues and nuanced conversations. This is very true of The Two Towers. The dialogue of the second half - between Frodo and Sam, Frodo and Gollum, Gollum and Sam, Faramir and the hobbits - all of it is immensely important to the story, adding the depth to the narrative for which fantasy is so well-known. The majority of this is lost in the medium of film (I am not saying the film is terrible, just different).

Talk about a cliff-hanger! I felt so badly for Sam in that last chapter. It is a wonder that he did not have a heart attack, truly, because of the wild disparity of the emotions he experienced in such a short span. I have a feeling I am going to devour The Return of the King.

1. What two impossible choices must Frodo make in Chapter VI? Why, do you think, does Tolkien keep putting his characters through this kind of thing?

2. In Chapter VIII Frodo, Sam, and Gollum encounter the Wraith King. Why is Frodo not tempted to hide using the Ring?

3. Sam, speaking of adventure stories, says, "I used to think that they were things wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for... but that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them". Do you agree or disagree? The stories that really matter (in your opinion), are they sought out or do they happen and the characters have to deal with them/

4. What are your thoughts on Sam's choices in Chapter X? Would you have done the same? Done something differently?

We are starting the last book this week. Time has flown by. We are reading Ch. I-V of The Return of the King. Hope y'all have a great week!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jenny Reviews: Innkeeper Chronicles

I am a big fan of the husband and wife team behind Ilona Andrews. I have read and re-read the Kate Daniels series and The Edge series multiple times in the two years since I have come across them. Their books are always humorous, well-written, and character-driven. They come up with the quirkiest ideas and, somehow, they work. One of the quirkiest, in my opinion, is the Innkeeper Chronicles. Each of the books (only two so far) starts life as a serial on their blog. This means we get to read it for free, one chapter at a time, while they are writing it. It is a really cool process. I came across Clean Sweep, the first in the series, when it was almost done so I missed out on most of it but was able to follow the second book, Sweep in Peace, from the beginning. And I am so glad I did! It was a fascinating to get the story piece by piece as it is written. It has given me an even deeper appreciation for the craft of writing long, sustained narratives. With that being said, I want to introduce you to the two books that currently make up the Innkeeper Chronicles — did I mention that they are very reasonably priced? Even more reason to love them!

The Vitals

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: 2 December 2013
Page Count: 235
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: Adult
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
Format: Purchased; Kindle e-book
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Notes on Clean Sweep
This book is unlike any I have read. The premise — an innkeeper who is trying to revive an intergalactic inn — is unique and provides a wonderful, elastic backdrop for all sorts of adventures and misadventures (which, arguably, are more fun than adventures, anyway). The main character, Dina, is one of my favorite characters in fantasy literature. She is so normal, and I mean that in the best possible way. She is someone you would want to hang out with. Everything about her is so real; she does not make stupid decisions that have you rolling your eyes in disbelief. Can I just tell you how freakin' refreshing that is?! She is practical, she is slightly snarky, and she is steadfast. She balances out the otherworldliness of the other characters perfectly. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is well worth the few hours and few dollars (literally - it is $1.99 on kindle!!!!). 

Memorable Quotes
“Being an innkeeper meant walking a fine line between courtesy and tyranny.”

“Where is Arland?"
"Rapunzel decided to walk around in the woods to get 'the feel of the battleground.' He won't leave the grounds and he promises to defend the inn with 'all the strength in his body.' I told him if he gets in trouble, he should try singing prettily so his woodland friends will come to the rescue. I don't think he got it.” 

 The Vitals

 Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews
 Release Date: 13 November 2015
 Page Count: 237
 Genre: Fantasy
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #2
 Format: Purchased; Kindle e-book

 Summary (From Goodreads)
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina's door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance.

Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn...and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it's all in the day's work for an Innkeeper…

Notes on Sweep in Peace
I love this book even more than the first one. And, to be honest, that very rarely happens. Normally the second book is either on the same level or a bit lower than the first; that is not the case with this series at all. Dina has to host a peace-keeping (or, rather, seeking) summit at her inn that no one wants. Her inn desperately needs guests and this would be a major coup. Several friends from another series pop in, which was a wonderful crossover for longtime Andrews' fans. The plot is tight, complex, and engaging. You cannot simply skim through this book; it requires more brain cells than the first. There is so much at stake in the peace talks that it requires a more serious, more harsh (in a way) book than the first. Yes, this book is still humorous. It just has a more serious undertone than the first. Perhaps, too, with the events of last week in Beirut and Paris the necessity of peace has been driven home a bit within us all. The resolution is brilliant and compassionate. How I wish such a measure could be used in our world. Nothing breaks down walls like understanding one another's pain. Sorry to get all philosophical — back to the book! The best part of all of the Andrews' work is the complexity and believability of the characters and the plot of this book really allows that strength to shine. These characters are all true to form and are not caricatures, which I would imagine is easier said than done when it comes to writing them. For example, the vampires are not defined by their "vampirism"; there is more to the characters than simply trite stereotypes. They are driven by a multitude of emotions and motives, making them a million times more believable. These book has several main players and each one is carefully developed AND stays true to that development. I cannot wait to see what the Andrews have in store for Dina next!

Memorable Quotes
“My future chef was an oversized, hysterical hedgehog with a martyr complex.”

“No, I never expect people to be idiots,” George said. “I do expect them to lack some of the necessary information, because experience has demonstrated to me that assuming someone in a key position knows everything you do leads to disaster.”

“You are not meant to be at peace. We, the human beings, are meant to live life to its fullest. We are meant to experience it all—sadness, disappointment, rage, kindness, joy, love. We are meant to test ourselves. It is painful and frightening, but this is what it means to be alive.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book III, Ch. VII-XI} + {Book IV, Ch. I-V}

It is two for one week on the blog! Or, more truthfully, I have been so busy that I missed last week's discussion post so they are combined this week. Not quite as catchy. I started a new temporary job and it is taking a bit to get settled in. So, my sincerest apologies. I hope it will not happen again.

A lot has happen in these chapters! Just because I have not been blogging does not mean I have not been reading. In fact, events from The Two Towers have made their way into my teaching lately as examples. It is heartening how many high school students at the school I am at enjoy LOTR. This balances out how disheartening it is that they could not tell me that David was king of Israel (I'm at a Christian school). Anyways, these sections of the larger story are particularly interesting to me because of the pacing. I literally could not put down the book when reading about the Helm's Deep and Isengard and the reunion of the majority of the Fellowship. Then comes the long and grueling road of Frodo and Sam. It was hard, I admit, to make myself read every word and to not skim. It is just so, well, boring after the excitement of the previous chapters. The more I pondered it, however, the more I appreciate Tolkien's genius in giving Frodo and Sam the second half of the book. One cannot appreciate the contrast between the two paths of the Fellowship as well if the boring and come before the exciting. We would not have realized how boring the boring is if we did not know how exciting it could be. Are you tracking with me?

Why is this important? Because the more I read the more I am in awe of Frodo's determination. His is the path less desirable, for multiple reasons, but most especially because it is the most difficult, the least rewarding, and the loneliest. He has only Sam for company, which is nothing to sneeze at, but Sam is not an equal the way others were. He cannot share the fears and doubts of Frodo just yet. Frodo is the wise council, he has no where else to turn at this moment. And his decisions affect not only him but sweet Sam as well. While Frodo is not facing the dangers of battle, his is the greater fight of simply putting one foot in front of the other. How often do I overlook this in my own life? Those who are faithful in the every day little things, not just the big, showy ones? In Sunday School this morning the teacher spoke of how Barnabas was the unsung hero of the early Church. I believe the movies make Frodo something of an unsung hero, while the book is the praising of Frodo, of giving his story the attention it deserves in a way that highlights the strength of his character.

Book III, Ch. VII-XI
1. Why does Aragorn try and parley with the Orcs? What is the essence of his message?

2. What is the Ents role in these victories? Do you prefer the movie version or book version of this?

3. Saruman relies on the power of machines instead of that of nature. What is the result of this? Why do you think Tolkien continually draws attention to the strength of nature?

4. Why does Gandalf not intercede when Saruman is addressing Theoden?

5. Why does Pippin want to see the Stone again? What is driving him?

Book IV, Ch. I-V
1. How has Frodo changed since the beginning? How are these changes marked?

2. Think on Sam's reaction to Gollum vs. Frodo's. Which one do you feel your own reactions align with most closely?

3. Why does Frodo make a distinction between swearing on the Ring and swearing by the Ring?

4. What kind of feelings does Gollum illicit? Is he truly a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

5. What makes Faramir so different from his brother Boromir? How would the Fellowship have been different had Faramir been a part of it instead?

We are finishing up The Two Towers this week. I cannot believe we are already almost to the last book. I hope y'all are enjoying this amidst the business of life. Have a wonderful week :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Beauty Queens and Eggheads

For those of you who do not know, I  (Jenny) work part time at a hair salon. I am most definitely not a stylist; I run the front desk. If you want an appointment, I'm your girl. If you want a bang trim or ombre, see one of the girls. It is, hands down, the best part-time job ever. Excellent bosses, hysterical coworkers, and heavily discounted salon services? Yes, please.

When I first applied I was a little... leery. It is a small salon, so that means 7+ girls working in cramped quarters. If some type of drama goes down there is nowhere to run. I also do not possess an artistic temperament; I tend toward logic, not emotion. Also, let's be honest, I very rarely wear makeup and the only thing I know how to do to my hair is blow dry it. Needless to say, my apprehension was understandable. Luckily, the bosses took a chance on me and I am so very, very glad that they did!


What is the point of this post? At the macro level, to talk about intelligence. At the micro level, to share my thankfulness for bosses and coworkers. Let's go big picture first. These ladies are some of the smartest people I have had the privilege of being around. What do I mean by that? They understand people, the way the world works, and the necessity of having people in your life who have your back. They are counselors in all but name. Some of the things clients tell them y'all would not believe. They listen, they advise, they console, and they care. Their people-smarts are honed through years of listening to the people in their chairs. They understand emotion. I, on the other hand, am an egghead. I understand logic, think about the philosophy of ideas, and can discuss literature from The Communist Manifesto to Beowulf, if a client is so inclined. They degrade themselves to me ALL THE TIME because they think they are not as smart as I am. Can y'all see the ridiculousness of this?! I have talked till I am blue in the face but they still make comments all the time about how I am smarter. So what if you did not know "apropos" was a word? You knew exactly what to say to encourage the client who is struggling with infertility. I cannot understand people very well because it does not occur to me that people will think/act with their emotions first, not logic. Their intelligence is just as valuable, just as impressive, and just as hard-earned as mine is.

Okay, small picture now. In case you cannot tell, I am so, so thankful for these crazies. They challenge me to come out of my egghead shell. They encourage me to engage the real world, not just the world of books. They bring me down to the concrete, tangible beauty that I so often miss in my world of abstracts. Y'all, I wear red lipstick on occasion now. I can (somewhat) successfully use bobby pins in my own hair. I like to think I have had some impact on them, too. If nothing else, I make sure that their appointments don't get out of whack and that they have clean dishes and remind them to call clients back. This group has seen me through my BA and MA. They have prayed over me, challenged me, made me laugh, and made me cry on occasion. A client tried to insult me by saying I looked like a librarian and they were all offended on my behalf... and then we all laughed together because, come on, I cannot think of a less-insulting thing to call me. Librarians are the best! I am a firm believer in the fact that eggheads and beauty queens need each other. We are better together.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book III, Chapters I - VI}

It is so hard for me not to race through this book. The Two Towers starts off exactly where the Fellowship left off (since all three were originally written as one book) and it does not slow down much. New characters are introduced, old friends are reacquainted, and small hopes keep the Company pushing forward. The ties that bind the Company are strained by distance, treachery, and the unknown but still remain strong. I love how loyal the are to one another, no matter how tough the situation. Sometimes that loyalty means one must stick to the path that leads away from the others, no matter how hard that is or unwise it seems. I fall in love with this world a little bit more with every word I read. I so hope y'all are doing the same!

1. Aragorn spends a good bit of the first and second chapters second guessing his decisions. How does this differ from what we have seen of him thus far? Would you have done anything differently?

2. "Well, we have no time to ponder riddles," said Gimli. "Let us bear Boromir away!" "But after that we must guess the riddles, if we are to choose our course rightly," answered Aragorn. "Maybe there is no right choice," answered Gimli.
Do you think Gimli has the right of it? Is there always a right answer?

3. What does nature tell Legolas and Aragorn, and even Gimli when he pays attention? How does "reading" the signs it provides help or hinder them? Why is nature affected?

4. Tolkien constantly refers to Treebeard's eyes. What do they look like? What do they seem to contain? Are they truly "windows of the soul"?

5. Is hope important? How important is it to the Fellowship? What different ways has hope been manifested thus far?

(Bonus!) Which Norse deity does Gandalf resemble with his gray cloak, hat, and staff?

I wish I could tell y'all all of the Old English/Old Norse materials used in crafting the Rohirrim. I could not read that chapter without trying to interpose our world on to it. It was close enough that I could pretend that Middle Earth was our own history. Anyways, hope y'all have a great week and enjoy Chapters 7-11 :)                        

Monday, October 26, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Fellowship {Book II, Chapters VI- X}

This book ends on a bit of a downer. We have a Fellowship broken by loss, lust for the Ring, and diverging paths. The respite in Lorien was all too brief and difficult choices are upon them once again. It is hard to believe that we have already finished The Fellowship of the Ring. I don't know about you but I am racing through The Two Towers already. It is hard not to look ahead while typing this post! In order for the story to be fully felt, however, I believe the pause between books one and two is necessary, even if it is impossible to pause for long.

1. Put yourself in Aragorn's shoes. The book does a wonderful job (almost too wonderful) of fleshing out the burden of leadership. How would you rate his leadership? Would you choose someone else to be Gandalf's successor?

2. Everyone is a bit apprehensive about entering the Golden Wood. Boromir tells the Company that Men tell tells of the Wood and how none come out unscathed. Aragorn counters this by saying that the better word would be unchanged, not unscathed. What distinction is he making? Why is this distinction important? Can the two words be synonymous, to a point?

3. What is the significance of Galadriel's ring? Why will Lorien diminish whether they fail or succeed?

4. Galadriel embodies a number of different things, almost a different thing for each member. What are they? Why do you think that is?

5. Aragorn has a lot of names. What are the significance of them? Why does he have so many?

6. Think on Boromir's arguments on why Frodo should loan him the Ring. They make sense if one is willing to dismiss the wise counsel of Gandalf and Elrond. Do you think we, as a modern society, honor wisdom? Or are we too intent on the here and now, what we know and experience?

Sorry (not sorry) there are so many questions this week. These last five chapters had a lot to unpack. I so wish I could sit down and discuss these with y'all, more so than any of the other discussion posts so far. Congrats on finishing The Fellowship of the Ring! That wasn't so bad, was it?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The PR Report: August + September 2015

Hey hey friends! I'm here finally posting my August and September recap...

...22 days into October.

Life is crazy right now. It's been hard to put energy into the blog, which explains why you haven't heard from me in a while. My schedule is maxed out, the house is a mess, and I'm just plain tired. If there's one thing I'm learning from this season, it's that I need to get better at saying no and implementing real boundaries in my life. The people pleaser in me says yes WAY too often and I know all of you are screaming at me to read The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst already. I'll get on it. Soon. Pinky promise.

My friend Gretchen shared this on her Instagram today and the Lord spoke so clearly to me through her words. I desperately needed to hear them. Maybe if you're in the same boat as me, you'll find encouragement in them as well:

"I am trusting my tired eyes and weary body to the One who sees all things clearly and has strength enough for today. His faithfulness cannot be measured by our feelings or our circumstances. His grace extends beyond our messy homes, long to-do lists, and changing plans. He IS faithful and His grace upon grace never runs out on us. Rest your heart in that truth today and live in light of the gospel that never changes and meets you right where you are."

AMEN. And with that said, here's what happened in August and September:

August + September in Pictures

Hiking the Triple Falls trail in NC | Fenton family photo at High Falls | Swimming in Hooker Falls (brrr!) | Campsite setup at Cascade Lake | Hiking John Rock trail | Lillianne's 3-month photo session (she's the cutest!) 

Labor Day cabin getaway | Photoshoot with JMo for the blog (more on this soon!) | My sister-in-law is pregnant and it's a girl! YAY for another niece! | UGA vs. South Carolina at Sanford Stadium | Walking around downtown Seaside, FL | Reading on the beach

Favorite Books Read in August + September

Re-read: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt 
Adult Contemporary: Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

On My Shelves in August + September

Bought for Shelves
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Most Popular Posts in August + September

Lesley Anne: The Lord of the Rings Read-Along: Intro + Sign-Ups!
JennyLOTR Read-Along Discussion: Fellowship (Prologue - Chapter 5)

3 Things I'm Looking Forward To in November

1. THANKSGIVING. I love this holiday so much. The older I get, the more and more I like it better than Christmas #sorrynotsorry.
2. The Ministry Village Benefit and Silent Auction. We're having this year's event at a farm in Monroe, and I'm so excited for people to learn more about this awesome ministry!
3. Basically being done with stuff for the year. I can't wait to have a Saturday at home where we literally have ZERO things to do. It's going to be glorious. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Fellowship {Book II, Chapters I-V}

This is my favorite part of the Fellowship. Community is something I have been thinking about a lot lately (foreshadowing of a future blog post). I love books that feature strong friendships/relationships and this is some of the best. Aragorn's pledge to the hobbits — "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will" — is but the first inkling of the kind of people who will eventually make up the Company of the Ring. Their word is their bond in a way that is hard for the modern reader to understand. Aragorn is pledging his life to protect Frodo as Frodo is pledging his life to bear the Ring to Mount Doom. What is even sweeter is the center of the Company, its foundation, is the four hobbits' relationship. They refuse to give up on the other. They are so far from anything any other hobbit has experienced in their lifetime (excepting Bilbo, of course) and they cannot even truly comprehend the terribleness that awaits them on each leg of the journey, yet in spite of all this they are of one mind, not letting Frodo shoulder the burden without help. Love, love, love.

1. Bilbo has an interesting reaction to the Ring when he asks Frodo to see it. Why do you think this is? What does he mean when he tells Frodo to put it away, that "now he understands"?

2. What started Saruman on the path to partner with Sauron? Do you agree with him when tells Gandalf that there won't be any change in their ends (quest for Knowledge) but only in their means? Does the end justify the means?

3. Tolkien does a wonderful job of giving the members of the Company distinct personalities from the very first. How/why are they able to work together? Is there a member you would have left out? If so, who would you replace them with?

4. The hobbits are very innocent of the world at large and do not understand the full measure of danger, yet the Ring gives Frodo the ability sense, to be aware of the unseen evils all around. Which takes more courage? Facing a known evil, one you can understand, or an unknown evil, on you have not encountered or heard of but know is there?

Things are pretty grim for the Company right now. If you had the will power to not finish off the book, that is what we ware going to be doing this week — Book 2, Chapters 6-10. If you devoured it, you can get a jump on The Two Towers or use this time to catch up on the discussion questions *wink*. Hope y'all have a wonderful week!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

LOTR Read-Along Discussion: Fellowship {Chapters VI - XII}

The hobbits are finally on the Road! It only took them five chapters to do so. (They remind me of some people I have traveled with *cough* Matt *cough* who start prepping a week or two in advance of any trip, no matter the length.) The seriousness of the task has not quite sunk in yet, though they are beginning to understand it will not be easy. It is clear that something is starting to stir, something that is causing change to spread towards the Shire. Even with the reality of the terribleness that is coming, that they will experience, help is never too far. Tom Bombadil and Strider enter the hobbits' lives just when hope is waning, just when they are over their heads.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts, even if it is just a text message or a tweet.

1. Is the enmity of the trees towards the hobbits surprising or understandable?

2. What do you make of Tom Bombadil? Of Goldberry?

3. Frodo thinks of how "he had at times stood enchanted by fair evlen-voices; but the spell that was now laid upon him was different: less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange". Think about the different types of joy Tolkien is describing here. Do you agree or disagree about there being different types? Or, it not joy, what do you think he is talking about? (This passage comes from the very beginning of Chapter 7 - In the House of Tom Bombadil)

4. The hobbits are almost frustratingly obtuse in this first part of the book. Which would you say is the keenest? Which is the most clueless of how the world works? Which one would you be?

This week we are reading Book 2, Chapters 1-5. Hope y'all have a great week :)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

LOTR Read-Along Discussion: Fellowship {Prologue - Chapter V}

Y'all. I cannot tell you how excited I am to discuss these books. I am a firm believer that some books are made better, or more meaningful, by discussions, arguments, and musings. There is SO MUCH going on in this world that Tolkien has created that we could discuss these books every year and find different things to talk about each year. I am going to throw a couple of questions out there for y'all to mull over. I will -probably- give my answers mid-week, in case anyone is interested. As Lesley Anne said in the Intro post, feel free to join in the discussion in whatever way is easiest for you—in the comments, in a post on your own blog, on Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Just be sure to let us know where you respond so we can all come read your thoughts! If you use Twitter or Instagram, be sure to use the hashtag #LOTRreadalong.

Sometimes, when a book starts out slow, we want to rush through the initial chapters to get to the action. If you have never read these books but have seen the movies then you might have struggled a bit getting through this portion. Part of the beauty of read-alongs is you read a specific portion (usually), no more and no less, so you are forced to concentrate on absorbing just the one part. Part of the genius of Tolkien is that no description, no seemingly-innae conversation is ever wasted; one can really see the influence of the medieval understanding of reading on Tolkien in his own fiction. The medieval writer was obligated to the reader to make them a better person and the reader was obligated to the writer to read to the text to the best of their ability. Reading and writing were highly prized skills that not everyone was fortunate enough to possess. Being a good Christian meant cultivating the skills God had given you to the best of your ability; this included reading and writing as well as weaving, preaching, being a husband/wife, etc. To bring this full circle, Tolkien is both writing to the best of his ability, telling a story that entertains and edifies, as well as requiring the reader to pay attention, to think and reason. Okay, lecture over.

Discussion time!

Please, Lesley Anne and I would love, love, love to hear y'all's thoughts. I hope you have time to discuss with us. If not, I hope you enjoy the conversation and that it deepens your enjoyment of the story.

1. Why did Tolkien spend the Prologue giving an overview of hobbits? It seems a bit random, considering the story, but we know that Tolkien did not include anything that did not have purpose. What things do we learn of hobbits? Why is this important to the story?

2. What is the nature of the Ring? Compare and contrast its effects on Gollum and Bilbo. Think about Gandalf's reasons for refusing it and Frodo's reluctance to take it. How exactly does the Ring work its will?

3.  Sam's primary motivation is to see the Elves. After they spend the night in their company Frodo asks him if he still likes them now that he has spent time in their company. Sam replies, "They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak, " answered Sam slowly. "It don't seem to matter what I think about them. They are quite different from what I expected — so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were." What is he trying to say? What quality of the Elves is he trying to capture using words? Have you ever encountered anything that was above your likes and dislikes?

4. For those who have seen the movie, what are the 4 main hobbits — Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin — like in the book versus the movie? How do these differences influence your perceptions of them? Which do you prefer?

This week we are reading Chapters 6-10. I hope y'all are enjoying this as much as we are. Can't wait to hear y'all' thoughts!!

Home is beyond, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread,
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed,
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jenny Reviews: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The Vitals

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Release Date: 14 July 2015
Page Count: 278
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
Target Audience: Adult
Series: No
Source and Format: Borrowed; Hardback
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Notes on Go Set a Watchman:
I have not been so moved by a book in a long time. It has taken me a couple of days to process the complex simpleness of this book. (Yes, you read that right. I will come to back to it in just a minute.) I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird  before I read Watchman and I am so glad I did. I do not think you can fully understand it without first re-reading Mockingbird, most especially if the last time you read it was in high school. You will hate Watchman if you do not have an adult's grasp of Mockingbird. You might hate it anyway, but do not let it be because you do not have the full picture.

So, the complex simpleness. This is a simple book. Scout, beloved narrator of Mockingbird, returns home for a visit. This is, essentially, what the whole book is about. She has a beau, one Henry Clinton, who is Atticus made over, more or less. Perfect for the little girl who idolizes her daddy. She is trying to decide if she wants to love him enough to marry him. Atticus is getting older but is still practicing law; Alexandra has moved in permanently; Jem has passed away; Uncle Jack now lives in town. Maycomb is, more or less, exactly as she left it. This continuity is something Scout depends on even as she is exasperated by it at times. 

Intertwined with this permanence is the infallibility of Atticus. Scout has long held her dad as her own conscious, making moral decisions based upon the question "What would Atticus do?" I believe this is also a sin of which every reader of Mockingbird is guilty. He is, as Miss Maudie says, "the same man in the street as in privacy of his own home". He is a wonderful person, but he is also a flawed person. This is a painful lesson. It is never fun to discover that idols have feet of clay. Scout's awakening is, to be sure, more painful than it has to be. She does not listen well. She is impetuous and quick to accuse. She is, in short, every one of us in our 20's. We are coming to understand that the world looks different from how we thought it would, or should, that there are more shades of gray than we are comfortable with. 

This is where the complexity comes in. The issue of race in the South was (and still is) as complex an issue as can be found. It touched on every aspect of life and was not something that could be solved by the government. Please do not think I am saying that change did not need to occur, because that is the opposite of what I am saying. My point is that it was an issue that so permeated society that change needed to come from more than just the political sphere. Actions have consequences. Just because an action is positive does not mean that it cannot also have negative consequences. One must not shy away from looking forward to all the consequences and trying to take into account other changes that one change can necessitate. This is what Atticus was doing and what he was trying to get Scout to do as well. Do I agree with his position? Not at all. Does he raise valid concerns that need to be addressed? Yes, he most certainly does. We should not be afraid of conversations like this. Our generation resorts to social media as a place to put forth our opinions, rather than sitting and having a face-to-face conversation and actually listening to what someone else has to say. 

I am still wrestling over how prophetic this book is. Harper Lee wrote it in the mid-1950's. The issues that Scout and Atticus and Henry Clinton and Uncle Jack were dealing with are still very much what we are dealing with today. I can understand why Lee only wrote two books; what more could she have to say? Her insight into human nature is humbling. I was so upset when I realized how Atticus felt about things. I loved every word Scout threw at him. I was also cut to the quick by that last conversation with Uncle Jack, when I realized how much of Scout is in me... especially when I was talking about how I did not like her that much in the previous blog post. What good are Scout's convictions, which I agree with, if she cannot listen to another's view without becoming angry, without feeling as if a disagreement about a position was a personal attack? What good are her convictions if she has not thought through them, if she only has them because she thinks that is what Atticus's are, not because they are her own? What good are your convictions if you are only concerned about being right?

Memorable Quotes
“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

“The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—” 


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lesley Anne and I are life-long readers; that is, we have loved reading our whole lives. Sure, we played football at recess with the boys, but we also had at least 4 books checked out from our school library at all times. We thought a fun way to showcase the books that solidified our love of literature at a young age is to put a bookish twist on the ever-popular Throwback Thursday meme. If you, too, started your love affair with books as soon as you learned to read, you will probably recognize a lot of these titles. If your love of reading was something acquired later in life, you might have missed these gems. These books are near and dear to our hearts in a special way; it is through them we first learned the hidden power of words and imagination. The beauty of these books is that they remain just as wonderful to re-read as an adult. Ahh, the power of nostalgia. :)

The Vitals

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Release Date: 1960
Page Count: 324
Genre: Fiction (Classic)
Target Audience: Young Adult/Adult
Series: No
Source and Format: Purchased; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads)
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior—to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Notes on To Kill a Mockingbird
I read this novel for the first time in 9th grade in Mrs. Smith's English class. Having just re-read it in preparation for Go Set a Watchman, I am now of the firm opinion that every person who loved this as a child/teenager needs to re-read it as an adult. Seriously. If you have not read this book since high school English, do yourself a favor and become acquainted with it as an adult.

I had a hard time reading this book in high school. It was the first time I was made aware, or rather made to deal with, the fact that life is supremely unfair at times. It was the first time I really grasped the subtlety of hate and ignorance. It was my first understanding of racism. It is a book that has stuck with me for a long time. 

Reading it as an adult was just as hard as reading it as a fourteen year old. There was so much in there that I did not have the ability to understand before. The core of the story was the same, but the characters took on different dimensions. I found myself not really liking Scout at all. Jem was a much more multifaceted character with depth I did not see before (he would have made a much more compelling narrator). Atticus is much more wise than I knew; not simply good or uncompromising (in the best sense of the word) but wise to the multitude of currents that are swirling around him, his children, and his town. And I seemed to have completely forgotten Miss Maudie altogether. I think she is my favorite now. 

I cannot sum up the unique beauty of this novel sufficiently, so I am not going to try. Go read it for yourself. It is just as thought-provoking the second time around as the first. I am positive that the third time will be the same. It is even more timely now as the South is struggling with how to deal with its past. It captures perfectly how no one or no history is two-dimensional. The same neighbor that would condemn Tom Robinson also would have commended Boo Radley for his actions. This complexity is why the South is so wonderful and so frustrating at the same time... as am I. As are you. 

Atticus's Words of Wisdom
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

“The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.”

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.”

“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Read-Along: Intro + Sign-Ups!

Background (from Lesley Anne)

There’s no question about it: The Lord of the Rings is my favorite story of all time. I binge read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was in eighth grade, and I couldn’t get enough of it! I was captivated by the epic storyline, the characters, the setting of Middle Earth, and the brilliant imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.

For some reason since then, though, I haven’t made much room in my life for this book (except to have a movie marathon every Christmas, but that doesn’t count). I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that life is more complicated now than it was when I was 13, and time to set aside and read a tome as intimidating as The Lord of the Rings is hard to come by. But I know most of you can identify with this as well—lately I’ve felt a need to read this book again. Like it’s an old friend and it’s been way too long since I’ve pulled up a chair, grabbed a cup of coffee, and visited for a while.

I posted about this on Twitter a few weeks ago, and after a short conversation with Jenny, Lauren, and Britney, the wheels began turing in my head on some things we could do on the blog. Later that day, Jenny texted and said she wanted to read the LOTR with me—and the idea for this read-along was born!

We know several people with this classic on their TBR, or have been meaning to re-read it, so now’s your chance! Jenny and I are really excited to host our first read-along with this book, and we can’t wait for more people to discover this epic tale for themselves. Keep reading if you're interested in joining us!

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is a genuine masterpiece. The most widely read and influential fantasy epic of all time, it is also quite simply one of the most memorable and beloved tales ever told. Originally published in 1954, The Lord of the Rings set the framework upon which all epic/quest fantasy since has been built. Through the urgings of the enigmatic wizard Gandalf, young hobbit Frodo Baggins embarks on an urgent, incredibly treacherous journey to destroy the One Ring. This ring—created and then lost by the Dark Lord, Sauron, centuries earlier—is a weapon of evil, one that Sauron desperately wants returned to him. With the power of the ring once again his own, the Dark Lord will unleash his wrath upon all of Middle-earth. The only way to prevent this horrible fate from becoming reality is to return the Ring to Mordor, the only place it can be destroyed. Unfortunately for our heroes, Mordor is also Sauron's lair. The Lord of the Rings is essential reading not only for fans of fantasy but for lovers of classic literature as well.


If you’re interesting in joining, you don’t have to be a blogger to participate. Everyone is welcome! Having a Goodreads or Google account will make it easier to participate in the discussions every week, but that is definitely not required.


The Lord of the Rings is divided into three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Often these are separated as three distinct books part of a “trilogy,” when actually they are just one book. To make it a little less overwhelming, we have a reading schedule (shown below) that will have us finishing each volume in a month, averaging to about 100 pages a week. We hope that’s a reasonable pace for everyone! If you read faster than that, feel free to read ahead (we aren’t too worried about spoilers coming out since this book is more than 60 years old). After finishing the reading for each week, come to the blog to see our thoughts on that week’s reading, along with some fabulous discussion questions from Jenny!


We’ve created a reading schedule that has us reading The Fellowship of the Ring in October, The Two Towers in November, and The Return of the King in December. Here’s the schedule broken down by week:

Reading Schedule (October, November, and December 2015)

The Fellowship of The Ring
Week One (Sept 27- Oct 3): Prologue, Chapters 1-5
Week Two (Oct 4-10): Chapters 6-12
Week Three (Oct 11-17): Book Two Chapters 1-5
Week Four (Oct 18-24): Chapters 6-10

The Two Towers
Week Five (Oct 25-31): Chapters 1-6
Week Six (Nov 1-7): Chapters 7-11
Week Seven (Nov 8-14): Book Four Chapters 1-5
Week Eight (Nov 15-21): Chapters 6-10

The Return of the King
Week Nine (Nov 22-28): Chapters 1-5
Week Ten (Nov 29-Dec 5): Chapters 6-10
Week Eleven (Dec 6-12): Book Six Chapters 1-5
Week Twelve (Dec 13-19): Chapters 6-9


Every Sunday, Jenny will post thoughts on that week’s reading on the blog along with a few discussion questions. Feel free to join in the discussion in whatever way is easiest for you—in the comments, in a post on your own blog, on Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Just be sure to let us know where you respond so we can all come read your thoughts! If you use Twitter or Instagram, be sure to use the hashtag #LOTRreadalong.


To sign-up for the read-along, you don’t have to do anything fancy! Just let us know in the comments below. We want to keep this as simple as possible for you guys. Just read the book (along with some other awesome bookish people), and come to the blog every week to talk about it. That’s it! We can’t wait to get started next Monday, and don’t forget to use the hashtag #LOTRreadalong on Twitter or Instagram as we go along!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The PR Report: June + July 2015

June and July were pretty quiet months for me, which isn't a bad thing at all. Things are going really well at work, and I got to travel to Florida and North Carolina in July, which are always quintessential trips for me in the summer. When I think about how I spent my free time, it was mostly to celebrate--birthdays, promotions, friends with babies on the way--you name it. There is so much to be thankful for right now, and I'm loving this summer so far!

June + July in Pictures

Hanging out with the Homrichs | Celebrating Father's Day with family | Watching the sunset at Lake Oconee | Celebrating June birthdays in our small group at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (the BEST!) | Baby shower fun for my friend Deanna | Birthday dinner at The Spence

Fourth of July in Palmetto, FL | Obsessed with my new balayage highlights! | Back in the classroom to earn my Project Management Certification | You never know what you'll come across in the North Carolina mountains | My favorite summer tradition - buying a half bushel of peaches from McAbee's fruit stand | Hiking Triple Falls with my aunts and cousins

Favorite Books Read in June + July

Non-Fiction: A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
Classic: Emma by Jane Austen
Fantasy/Retelling: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Most Popular Posts in June + July

Jenny: Five Thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lesley Anne: Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

On My Shelves in June + July

Bought for Shelves
Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels

Gifted for My Birthday 
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley (Thanks Jenny and Zach!) | The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Thanks JMo!)

3 Things I'm Looking Forward To In August

1. Fenton family vacation: We're heading back up to the NC mountains to go camping with my husband's family later this month--there's rarely a dull moment with the Fentons, so I have a feeling it will be an interesting trip!   
2. Book club: We took a short break from book club over the summer, so I'm excited to get back in the swing of things and catch up with everyone (and read what should be an AMAZING book).  
3. Soaking up the last few days of summer: I can already feel the busyness of fall starting to creep in, but for now I'm going to enjoy our more open schedule in August and soak up these last few lazy days of summer (preferably poolside!). 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Five Thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Since this (!!!) is coming soon...

... I am talking about The Hobbit today! Who doesn't love The Hobbit? (If you, for some unfathomable reason, do not love it, please do not tell me. It will create feelings of animosity.)

Five Thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

1. Hobbits are English. 
Hobbits are unfailingly polite and expect the same of others. When they are in a social situation that becomes awkward or uncomfortable, they resort to politeness. When they do not know what to do with themselves, they resort to politeness. When someone says something uncouth or in anger, they resort to politeness. It is their default mode. Martin Freeman does an excellent job of capturing this fundamental character trait of hobbits. Bilbo is much more refined than his dwarvish companions and has a hard time relating to them in the beginning. I like to believe that Tolkien is poking fun at the English and their manners, showing that they do have a place but are not as important as they (and hobbits) seem to think they are.

"Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!"

2. Beorn is a berserk(er).
The first time I read The Hobbit I devoured it, racing to finish it. This time I read at a more leisurely pace so I could notice details I had previously overlooked. Beorn in his warrior aspect was one such detail. The descriptions of him (and his wrath) during the Battle of the Five Armies was so quintessentially Anglo-Saxon/Norse that I cannot believe I missed it the first time. Beorn is my favorite character even though he plays such a small role. He can shapeshift into a bear, lives in a beautiful woodland home with beautiful horses, and has such fighting prowess that he can single-handedly turn the tide of a battle. Awesome.

"He came alone, and in bear's shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-sized in his wrath."

3. Bilbo as thief of the hoard.
Hello, Beowulf allusion! In the Anglo-Saxon poem it is the theft of a cup by an unknown retainer that incites the dragon's wrath against Beowulf and the Geats. Guess what happens when Bilbo takes a cup from Smaug's hoard? One rage-filled dragon awakens to wreak fiery destruction upon the mountain. Bilbo could have taken any number of items from the hoard to prove he had been down there, yet he chooses a cup. Coincidence? Most definitely not.

"He grasped a great two-handled cup, as heavy as he could carry, and cast one fearful eye upwards... His heart was beating and a more fevered shaking was in his legs than when he was going down, but still he clutched the cup, and his chief thought was: 'I've done it! This will show them.'" – The Hobbit

"Therein went some nameless man, creeping in nigh to the pagan treasure; his hand seized a goblet deep, bright with gems... By no means of intent had that man broken the dragon's hoard of his own will, he who thus wronged him grievously but in dire need, being the thrall of some one among the sons of mighty men..." – Beowulf (Tolkien's translation)

4. Companions make or break a quest (or journey, or vacation).
This is the greatest strength of The Hobbit (and LOTR, I suspect). The dwarves need Bilbo and Bilbo needs the dwarves – and everyone needs Gandalf – to survive and complete their quest. Theirs is a relationship forged in the fires of suffering, loss, hardship, and long odds. The dwarves change Bilbo and Bilbo changes the dwarves. Their bond is cemented in a way that few bonds in reality are. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our society were more like the characters in these stories, who stick to the hard path and do not give up when the going gets tough because they know they can count on their friends to help them through (and vice versa).

"This is a bitter adventure, if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it. Yet I am glad that I have shared in your perils – that has been more than any Baggins deserves."

Y'all. I could go on a 5-page rant on how much I loathed what Peter Jackson did to The Hobbit. The first movie was great, which made the second and third that much more gross. No lie – you can ask my friend, Lauren – I almost got up and walked out of the theater when freakin' Kate from Lost showed up as a girl elf who is in the middle of a LOVE TRIANGLE. I am getting angry just thinking about it. I need to go drink some chamomile tea.

Rereading The Hobbit cemented its place on my top ten favorite books list. It was even better the second time around, which in my opinion is a mark of a great book. If you haven't read it, please do so. As a favor to me. And even if you do not like fantasy, please give it a try. It never hurts to stretch your horizons, as evidenced by Bilbo Baggins :)

Other Posts on The Hobbit
Top Ten Favorite Quotes From The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Bookish Place: Bookstory | Cluj, Romania
What To Do With All Those Gift Cards?!
Top Ten Tuesday: Under Our Tree
Top Ten Things On Our Bookish Bucket List

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tea Time in the Summer

For those of us who are raised in the South, or anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the South, or just anyone who is familiar with Southern stereotypes, the drink of summer is sweet tea. This is not so unusual as summers in the South can be somewhat... intense. Case in point, it was 90F by 10:00 AM yesterday, with the humidity hovering at about 83%. This is my kind of weather. Yes, I realize I am in the minority. I am truly sorry that more people cannot appreciate the heat and thickness and heaviness of the air outside. It feels so much more alive than the air produced by air conditioning. Anyways, this is not a post about weather, believe it or not; this is a post about tea. Another way in which I am a minority is that I do not like sweet tea and never have. Give me hot tea or no tea at all. Just because it is shimmery with heat and humidity outside does not mean I stop drinking this elixir of the gods.

I have discovered two new teas that have made their way into my top five all-time favorite teas. Whether you can drink hot drinks in the summer or not, you need to know about them. Both are from Harney & Sons, though one I have only found at The Fresh Market and the other one I have found at The Fresh Market, Publix, and Barnes and Noble. Both are black teas because that is the best, in my humble opinion. Someone once told me that green teas are better gateway teas because their flavor is not as strong. If you like the taste of grass then by all means, please, go with green teas (Just kidding. There are some pretty good green teas out there, they just aren't my favorites).

The easier to find of the two, and the one more likely to be a gateway tea, is Hot Cinnamon Spice. This tea is the only tea I have ever had that tastes exactly like it smells. If you love cinnamon then you will love this tea. The flavor is so strong that it does not need any type of sweetener.

The second tea is called Paris. This one I drink with a bit of milk and honey. There are several flavors that make up this tea, giving it a robust fullness that is wonderful. A couple of friends have tried this one and loved it so you do not have to take just my word for it :)

I also have two tea-related items to share, though you might hate me for one of them. In Romania there is a sweet old man (actually, I do not know if he is sweet. He seems sweet) that sells honey with these awesome pump tops. He is brilliant and should go on Shark Tank because everyone knows how messy honey is. This top prevents any of that, barring human error. Honey is a wonderful sweetener and much healthier than most other options.

The second is this diffuser. My sweet mother-in-law found this for me at Bed Bath and Beyond, I believe. It is awesome because the shape allows you to use it to stir your tea. I am sure there are hard-core tea enthusiasts who would frown on this but I really like the convenience of it.

Whether you wait for colder weather or, like me, enjoy hot tea no matter the season, I hope you try one of these teas. If you do not like tea, thank you for your patience with this post!