Life Lately: Reading, Reality, & Nostalgia

My blog is once again a sad, quiet place inhabited by cyber-tumbleweeds. Ideas for posts hit me in a abundance, but whenever I put fingers to keyboard, my brain acts like it doesn’t know English.  Or good paragraph structure.  Or how to log in to my dashboard.

When the grammar/literature side of my brain thus malfunctions, I turn to artwork.  Yesterday, I created a watercolor work-in-progress post, taking snapshots of my work space and of each step of the painting process.  (And scribbled a page of hieroglyphics that I would later translate into coherent explanations.)  But at the last minute, the watercolors bled into each other and caked up, ruining the painting.

Moral of the story: “Quit while you’re not ahead.”  Actually, maybe it’s “Don’t paint and post simultaneously.”  Maybe even “In order to further artistic skill and understanding, practice and use your selected medium more frequently than once in the duration of the moon’s rotation, and the chances of such utter and abysmal failure will lessen drastically.”

Or most likely: “Wait for the paint to dry completely before you add another layer.”  🙂

I have a couple of other posts drafted.  One is about Christine Daae and the deeper layers of her character in the musical.  Another is a post about Movie-Raoul and how Patrick Wilson was underused and underappreciated.  I’ll get them up as soon as I edit and tidy the concepts, sentence fragments, unconnected paragraphs, and random notes like “something about what she might have been feeling <insert picture later>.  <too sarcastic; don’t be biting>  <forgot what I wanted to say here, argh>.”

What I have been doing (instead of blogging) is reading, mainly non-fiction about my historical interests.  One of my favorite time periods is the British political landscape of the 1820s—30s.  This period is called the “Romantic Era,” because of the influence of Romanticism in art, literature, fashion, society—and politics.  I’d go so far as to say the 20s–30s politics laid the foundations for the politics and reforms of the Victorian Era.  Pretty significant, right?  As such, it annoys me when people either ignore the period or lump it in with the Regency or Victorian Eras.  No, guys.  The 1820s—30s was its own period, especially politically.

Okay, rant over.  For my birthday, I received Norman Gash’s Aristocracy and People; Britain, 1815-1865.  A nice, hardback copy to boot.

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Gash’s research is thorough and balanced; he presents all the arguments in a conflict, notes both the successes and mistakes of everyone involved, admits when information is insufficient or when records conflict, and supports his conclusions with a lot of facts.  He also includes an impressive bibliography; I accidentally annoyed my family the night of the party by browsing the bibliography before opening the rest of my presents.  Gash did not disappoint; the bibliography of Aristocracy and People was several pages.

On a different note, though still historical, I changed my desktop background.  If you recall from this post, the background was the Alamo compound under attack.  Here’s my new desktop:

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Yeah, this obsession is not ending anytime soon.  🙂  I recently ordered Three Roads to the Alamo by William C. Davis, and it arrived a couple of days ago.  This book is not about the battle for the Alamo or the politics of Texas independence, but rather about the lives of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis.  Davis too includes an impressive bibliography, with the list of primary sources much longer than the list of secondary sources.  Good show.  And I’ve started decorating the pages with Post-Its.  Which I tend to do with my non-fiction resources.

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I still need to get my hands on resources discussing the battle and the politics of the conflict, but Three Roads to the Alamo is a good place to start researching.

On yet another historical note, I started re-reading the American Girl books.  “Reliving my single digits,” as Mom says.  I forgot how good those books are–not in-depth by any means, but since they were written for 5 to 10-year-olds, they teach the basics of a time period and provide a starting point for more research.

Plus, they’re good stories.  Yes, rather simplistic sometimes, but I was struck by how reasonable the parents (usually) are in each set of books.  Josefina’s Papa, for example, is a reasonable authority figure: he is respected as the patron of the rancho, yet he listens to his children when they have something to say and often does little things to please and cheer them.  Felicity’s parents are also reasonable.  Though she often disagrees with them about what is proper, it’s clear that Mrs. Merriman works hard to keep the household running and to be a wife, mother, hostess, and neighbor.  A doormat of the times, she is not.  And Felicity herself matures through the series, becoming more patient and sacrificial rather than thinking of her own wishes.

It’s sad that the company now owning American Girl has stripped away much of the historical emphasis and resources.  In the ’90s, along with the dolls and their outfits, the company offered paper dolls as well with snippets of information about the historical fashions and customs.  There was also a line of cookbooks and craft books from each girl’s time period.  And companion books titled Welcome to [Girl]’s World, providing even more information about the time period than the “Peek into the Past” sections of the books.

Now most of those resources are gone.  Yes, you can still buy the girls’ stories and find the cook/craft books secondhand online.  But the whole foundation of the American Girl series has been chipped down to almost a side line.  In the recent catalogues, the first pages contain the Girl of the Year and Truly Me dolls, as well as doll salon sets, doll school rooms, and doll snack carts, all with hundreds of accessories and with sound effects built into the hair dryers and popcorn makers (I’m not making that up.)  The historical characters come now with fewer historical outfits and period-appropriate accessories (such as Samantha’s sampler and Addy’s old-fashioned ice cream maker and Kirsten’s spoon bag).  The dolls themselves have been recreated with thinner bodies and faces.

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See?  My doll from the ’90s (on the left) has a wider face and more “chipmunk cheeks”–she looks more like a child, a nine-year-old than the other doll.

Samantha will always be my baby, and I looked like Molly as a kid (round glasses and all, though I have brown eyes instead of grey)–but Josefina is my favorite.  She’s sweet and caring–she loves her family dearly–yet she has a spine of steel and she’s excitable on occasion.  And she has a child’s hope and interest in the world.  In Josefina Saves the Day, it’s adorable that she wants to buy a little toy farm, partly because it looks fun but partly because it reminds her friend Patrick of his home.

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It’s also cute that in this picture, she wears her hair in two braids instead of one!

As I re-read the Josefina books, I became enthralled with 1820s–30s Mexican culture.  So I ordered Welcome to Josefina’s World, which should provide a starting point for further research, especially if it has a good bibliography.

So that’s what I’ve been up to (and what I’ve been fangirling over), and hopefully, I’ll have slightly more coherent posts later in the week.  🙂

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