Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Famous Greeks on Audible

Since I enjoyed Famous Romans so much, I decided to see if Audible had anymore courses by the same Professor, Rufus Fears. It turns out that Prof. Fears did several different courses, including Famous Greeks as well as titles like Life Lessons from the Great Myths. I decided to listen to Famous Greeks next.

While I love Greek myths and literature, especially Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey, I was not very familiar with ancient Greek history (I knew way more about Rome from studying Latin and reading historical fiction like I, Claudius). However, this audio book gives a very thorough grounding in the history of ancient Greece, beginning with mythological heroes like Theseus, and going all the way to Alexander the Great and Cleopatra (yes, Cleopatra was actually Greek). Throughout the series, Fears emphasizes how much Greek traditions and beliefs about freedom and equality inspired the American Constitution and our Founding Fathers. Athens, for example, is the world's first known democracy and had a balanced constitution developed by the poet and reformer Solon. Sparta's great lawgiver, Lycurgus, started a highly militaristic and communal culture that prized austerity and equality. Lycurgus developed a balanced constitution with elements of democracy, and he ensured equality among its citizens by guaranteeing them a plot of land at birth (which was farmed by slaves, but that's a story for another day). Spartan women had considerable freedom as well--they were educated much like boys were, with an emphasis on physical fitness and the arts.

In addition to their political innovations, the Greeks had such incredible literature and philosophy that Greece is called the cradle of Western Civilization. Fears covers philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato, and he gives a fascinating account of the life and death of Socrates, as it might have seemed to a typical Athenian citizen. Few people know that Socrates' most prized student, Alcibiades, was ambitious to the point of being amoral--he was the brilliant youth whom Socrates was accused of corrupting, with some good reason. Fears also examines Athenian drama, in particular how the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus reflected the political environment of Athens.

In short, I found Famous Greeks completely engaging. I feel like I gained a much more profound insight into ancient Greek culture and history than I had before. Since ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy, its history feels incredibly relevant to our political situations today (especially Solon the Athenian's careful treading of a middle way, and the Greek belief in avoiding extremes). If you are interested in listening to history on audible, I'd definitely recommend Famous Greeks.

Other Audible Reviews:

The Plantagenets

Famous Romans

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five of My Favorite TV Shows

My Top Five Favorite TV Shows (currently watching)

1. Lost Girl

I discovered this Canadian TV show on Netflix and I'm so glad I did. It's an amazing urban fantasy, with a vibe like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on ecstasy. The main character, Bo, discovers that she's fae, a type of magical being that feeds off human energy or emotions. In her case, she's a succubus who feeds of sexual energy (it makes for some awesome sex scenes). Fae society is strictly divided between the light fae and the dark, with a set of complicated rules governing how the two sides interact with each other. With her best friend Kenzi, her mysterious mentor Trick, and her assortment of lovers, Bo sets about helping fae on both sides of the aisle. 

2. The League

I've never card at all about football, and I don't know anything fantasy football, but I do know that this show is hilarious. The characters are members of a fantasy football league who will stop at nothing to win the championship, whether its sabotaging each other in bizarre ways or trading away "naming rights" for their baby. What more is there to say about a series that depicts a raging Krampus attacking Santa Claus in the mall, or a baby named Chalupa Batman?

3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

This show can be really funny, although they might be a little too raunchy for some people's taste. It's about five people living in Philadelphia who run Paddy's Pub, a seedy bar. The newest season is one of their bests, with episodes such as "Flowers for Charlie," a hilarious homage to Flowers for Algernon that depicts the dumbest character on the show, Charlie, taking part in an experiment to make him more intelligent. I won't spoil the reveal, but it is priceless! Another great episode, "Mac Day" has Sean Williams Scott (Stiffler from the American Pie movies) in a brilliant guest starring role. 

4. The Blue Planet 

I love nature shows. They have soothing voices (usually the oh-so-British David Attenborough) which I find calming after a stressful day. But most of all, they capture the grandeur and beauty of life on Earth. From awe-inspiring footage of dolphins or enormous blue whales, to the struggles of the humble hermit crab, the Blue Planet is gorgeous and engaging. Bonus points for being educational enough that I don't feel bad watching it with my baby :)

5. Firefly

I've watched Firefly at least three or four times (probably more), but I'm re-watching it again with my husband. It's a fantastic science fiction show by Joss Wedon, set in a solar system people colonized after we used up Earth's resources. It follows a band of outlaws living on the fringes of the system, trying to survive any way they can. Captain Mal is part Robin Hood and part Jesse James, and the show really captures the frontier aspects of space travel. It still bothers me that the show was cancelled after just one season, but at least we have it on DVD and Netflix.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Baby's First Camping Trip

My husband and I love camping, so when we had our baby, we wanted to teach her to love the outdoors as much as we do. We recently took our daughter Anwen on her first camping trip (at four moths old) and everyone had a fantastic time!

Anwen and our friend Laura

It turns out you can take babies camping as young as six weeks old (although I'd be VERY cautious with a baby that young). Anwen loved being outdoors and we had gorgeous weather. We were camping with a large group of friends, which meant that there were plenty of people holding her and playing with her all day long. (Note: I think this might be the key to successfully camping with a baby. Lots of hands and lots of eyes looking out for her--it really does take a village).

One of our friends lent us a large six-person tent--the Cabela's Alaskan Guide. We had enough room in the tent to bring Anwen's pack-n-play for her to sleep in. It got down to around 40 degrees at night, so we dressed her very warmly, layering her regular sleeper underneath her fuzzy bunting. I snuggled her in my sleeping bag to warm her up when I thought she might be getting cold. On the whole, I thought she handled the cold very well.

We brought her baby bjorn to put her in when we went for walks around the campsite. We were camping in Davy Crockett National Forest in East Texas, and it was beautiful. Since we were celebrating my husband David's birthday, everyone made a special meal--leg of lamb and tri-tip steak, baked potatoes, green beans, and a dutch-oven cobbler for dessert. The food was delicious!

Overlook in Davy Crockett National Forest

One of the pleasant things about camping is having a great bonfire. It gives you warmth, keeps away bugs, and cooks food. Sitting around a campfire with a group of friends is one of the best parts of camping (especially if you love s'mores, like me). Anwen found the fire fascinating; she kept staring at it. Luckily, she's not crawling or walking, so I didn't have to worry about her getting too close to it. 

Sitting around the fire

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Poems

nothing lasts
even stars fall
leaving streaks of light
like tears
across the face of the sky

dull grey sky
muddy yellowed grass
stinging wind
on red chapped hands
lone crow cries

she cuddles
warm weight against my breast
gentle milk breath

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Persistence--The Most Important Aspect of Talent

Several years ago, I had a violin student I'll call Robin. She seemed like a hopeless case. Although she'd been studying for a year, her technique, sound, and note-reading were some of the worst I'd ever seen. From my point of view she was in a far worse position than a typical beginner, since it's far easier to teach a student correctly the first time than to fix bad habits they've been practicing for a year. I saw no other option than to insist that Robin re-learn everything, even going so far as to start from the beginning of her book again. And teaching her felt slow and painful for both of us--it took her a long time to fix her technique and develop basic skills like reading music. Inwardly, I thought she'd probably quit music before she managed to develop a beautiful tone or play through even easy pieces.

But when I felt myself giving up on her, I felt completely ashamed. She tried her best at every lesson, and it was unacceptable for me to give her anything less than my best. So together we worked. And worked. And worked. I went over technique, note-reading, and every piece she played as many times as she needed to really absorb the lessons. Robin practiced regularly. After a year of struggle, it finally felt as though we hit on a good way for her to learn music (listen to the CD, sing the notes, pizzicato first, then try it with the bow--every time she practices a new piece). Last week, when she came to her lesson, she played through a brand new piece as beautifully as I could have hoped. She had good intonation, a beautiful tone, played everything by memory. Not only has she overcome her early difficulties, she's developing into a fine young violinist.

My experience teaching Robin reminded me that the single most important part of talent is persistence. Had either of us given up, Robin might have become convinced that she had no musical talent, that violin wasn't for her. But we didn't give up, and that persistence pays off. Sometimes people get off to a slow start. Violin is a difficult instrument, and there's an enormous amount to learn about music. Yet even students who struggle at first can eventually learn to play beautifully, if they practice regularly and effectively.

Even skills that we once thought were inborn, like "perfect" (or absolute) pitch, new research shows can be learned, especially if the musical training begins early. In short, it's time that we stop over-emphasizing inborn talent, and start encouraging hard work. I have know many "talented" people who burned out at an early age, or gave up, or never amounted to anything. But every successful person I know, whether in music or any other field, works hard to develop their abilities and never gives up.

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Famous Romans on Audible

When I finished The Plantagenets, I decided to find another history to listen to on Audible. I've always loved Greek and Roman history, and while searching the website, I found a series of lectures called Famous Romans given by Rufus Fears for the Great Courses. I'd heard of Professor Fears while I was a student at the University of Oklahoma--he'd been respected and loved by students there. In fact, his classes were so popular, I could never get into one! So while I missed seeing Dr. Fears while I was a student, I figured it would be interesting to listen to his lectures on audible.

In Famous Romans, Fears gives us the history of Ancient Rome via the lives of its great warriors, politicians, philosophers, and poets. From the epic battles of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, to the brilliant career of Julius Caesar, the stories of these great Roman citizens are engaging and informative. Fears narrates these biographies with passion and intelligence, and is quick to note the life lessons one can find in past. Like Plutarch, an ancient biographer he clearly admires, Fears thinks that the goal of studying history is to learn to be a better human being. In a time when it seems that so many people have little respect for the humanities, it's refreshing to hear someone so vigorously defend the study of history.

Yet, Famous Romans is as entertaining as it is intellectual. Many of these Romans lead fascinating, action-packed lives, full of epic battles, heroic virtues, and great tragedy. Others, like Nero, lead lives of utter depravity. Either way leads to a very interesting story. And that's the heart of what I like best about Famous Romans on audible; it's like listening to someone telling you a series of wonderful stories, with the added benefit of being historical. So if that appeals to you, I encourage you to give it a try.

Other Audible Reviews: