Saturday, July 30, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Hawaiian Sunsets

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

Friday, July 22, 2016

Picture Day Friday: St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

Built nearly 450 years ago, this gorgeous cathedral is on Red Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. The Orthodox Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. It was built in the mid-sixteenth century by Ivan the Terrible. The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky and consists of nine churches around the central Intercession Church. The newest church was built in 1588 over the grave of the venerated St. Basil. The original architects are unknown, but rumor has it that the original nine churches were built by Barma and Postnik Yakovlev.

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

[Provenance unknown.]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Make Your Mind an Ocean
Author: Lama Yeshe
My Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Award Nominee or Winner (Lama Yeshe's books are very well-known in the Buddhist world and have won many awards.)

This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. "When your mind is narrow, small things agitate you very easily. Make your mind an ocean." This is the central advice from Lama Yeshe.

He was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students.

The phrase he uses most often is "checking your mind", in other words, understanding your nature and using your own wisdom to solve your problems. He says that one must always question things. There's no concept of blind belief in Buddhism, unlike other religions. Buddhism believes in always questioning everything. "If you don't ask questions, you will never get any answers." They also believe that ultimately, your mind is your religion. If you want to be happy, you need to check the way you lead your life.

Sounds so commonplace, so obvious. And yet so difficult to implement in daily living. We like to think circumstances, things, people, and events cause us unhappiness. What Lama Yeshe says is that it's our internal makeup that makes us susceptible to these external stimuli. So if you're unhappy, look to yourself for the solution to your unhappiness. Most unhappiness comes from a dissatisfaction with something. Find out what that is. This is called Analytical Meditation.

Understand your mind by figuring out how it works: "how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, where emotions come from, how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Then check your mind by asking: When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes, I discriminate in such a way. Why?" The basic assumption of Buddhism psychology then is that when you check your mind properly, you stop blaming things outside yourself for your problems.

Lama Yeshe is at pains to point out that wisdom should be the pilot of your mind. Thus you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others." The more you question your mind, the more wisdom will provide you the answers. Because your basic nature is wisdom.

An interesting comment, Lama Yeshe made was that the greatest problems of humanity are not material but rather psychological. In certain circumstances, this is a difficult thing to agree with. When your belly is caved in and your bones are showing because you have not eaten in days, or you're shivering in the cold winter because you don't have sufficient clothes, then material things are paramount. But if you have food, water, shelter, and safety, then his comment stands true.

Thus, it is crucial to cultivate a healthy mind through continually questioning it and allowing innate wisdom to rise to the surface, thereby ensuring happiness and peacefulness for yourself and those around you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Ranakpur Jain Temple, India

The Chaturmukha Jain Temple in Ranakpur, India was built in the 15th Century. It took 63 years to complete this architectural magnificence. The temple is built with a light-colored marble. The temple roofs are supported by 1444 marble pillars, each is carved in exquisite detail, and no two pillars are similar. More about the temple here.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions of India. It was founded on the principals of non-violence towards all living beings to the most possible extent. Mahatma Gandhi was said to have been influenced by the tenets of Jainism and adopted many of its principals. More about Jainism here.

My friend recently visited the temple, and these are some of her photographs of the interior.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

During the last few months of his life, Sacks wrote that it is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, and to die his own death.

And that is what he did for eighty years. Like Paul Kalanithi who wrote When Breath Becomes Air, Sacks was a medical doctor (neurology), who was diagnosed with cancer and took to pen and paper to express his thoughts and feeling about life and his own, in particular. And like Kalanithi, he passed away in 2015.

This book is a collection of four of his essays written in the last two years of his life: Mercury, My Own Life, My Periodic Table, and Sabbath.

In December 2014, Sacks found out that his 2003 melanoma of the eye had metastasized to his liver. Within days, he completed his most well-known essay, My Own Life. This essay caused an outpouring of comment and support, which gratified Sacks. He almost didn't publish it, and then sent it in at the last minute to the New York Times just as he was going into life-saving surgery. The NYT published it the next day. His numerous patients of all walks of life and experiences already thought him wonderful, but now the wider world was aware of this thoughtful person in their midst.

Sacks wrote, "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return. I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

It is with this sense of gratitude that Sacks conducted his whole life. From his residency in medicine, through his career in neurology, through his interactions with his patients, to his near-death experience during mountaineering, his writings, and his numerous friends, he lived life in gratitude for what he had been given by others and for what he had been able to give back.

It was very important for him that he'd contributed to the lives of those around him and that he'd lived a good and useful life. It was his wish that when he passed on, he would live in the memories of his friends and through his books, which he hoped would speak to people.

His hope for his death was that like the DNA Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, he, too, would pass on engaged in his most creative work. And that is what he did. He wrote till the end.

From his essays, I felt that while neurology and caring for his numerous patients was very important to him and he was dedicated to their well-being, it was writing that made his heart sing. It was writing that he remembered best of his life as his life was ebbing away, and it was writing he was engaged in right towards the end.

In his essay Sabbath, he wrote about how he got into writing. He felt it was his mission to tell stories of his patients, their almost unimaginable troubles, and their life histories to the general public.

His essay, My Periodic Table, is his most whimsical. In it he writes about his passion for collecting elements from the Periodic Table. His most prized possession was the highly radioactive (!!), beautifully crystalline Thorium in a little lead casket.

Of being in his 80s before his illness, Sacks wrote, "I begin to feel not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievement and deep ambiguities. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At eighty, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at as earlier age."

And to be cut down by disease just as he began his Renaissance is the tragedy of fate.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Safavid Art from Iran

The other day, Erin Satie and I were discussing Safavid art, and I thought I'd do a Picture Day Friday post to show some examples of the exquisite work that the Safavids were famous for.

The Safavids came to power in Persia (Iran) in the 16th century. They're originally from Azerbaijan, and are claimed with being one of those dynasties that unified greater Iran. At one point, their empire included modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Armenia; most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan; as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. WOW! Other than their stupendous military, governance, and civilian prowess, the Safavids are also credited with their patronage of architectural and the fine arts.

Here are some examples of the art:

A 17th C. wall painting from the Chehel Sotoun pavilion in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by Earth, Water, Air, Fire.]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by]

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Lord of Dishonor
Author: Edith Layton
My Categories: Romance, Fiction, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Favorite Trope — my favorite romance trope is marriage-of-convenience, and this story sort of fits that category since it's a forced engagement during which they find love

This is my June TBR Challenge book, and I'm running so late on this review that it's almost time for the July review.

Lady Amanda Amberly is the legitimate daughter of the Countess of Clovelly. However, she's infamous for being a part of the Amberly Assortment, a motley collection of legitimate and illegitimate offspring of the countess by various peers of the realm. Now, the countess lives openly with the Duke of Laxey at Kettering Manor. Amanda seldom visits her mother, but on this fateful night, she finds herself fast asleep in the manor's blue room, while her mother besports herself with her wild set below.

In the meantime, Christian Jarrow, Lord North is heading home after being away on the Continent for two years on behalf of his majesty's government. Despite the bone-chilling cold, his luggage and valet rattle home in a warm carriage while he surges on ahead on a horse. Finally, succumbing to the cold, he takes refuge at Kettering Manor. He's well-known to the inhabitants, having been a part of that set before. His wild ways have given him a sullied reputation as one sharing his person far and wide and frequently, but not his name.

Under the guise of the lateness of the hour and the unexpected arrival of her guest getting her confused between the manor's blue and gray guest rooms, the countess puts Christian in Amanda's room. There they're "discovered" by the countess and her guests having a discussion while sitting on the bed in their dishabille. Amanda is compromised. And since she's part of the ton, Christian's hand is forced. It is understood that he has to offer for her.

So far, there's nothing new in this book that previous books have not covered. However, now, the book departs from established script. Christian openly tells Amanda in a private interview that he has no intention of marrying her. She's vastly relieved and declares that she'd rather repair to her father's home than be married into her mother's set of friends. Amanda also has her sight set on Giles, a man of whom she has marital hopes, but who has so far been malingering.

Christian decides for once to do a good deed for a fellow man. He suggests that he and Amanda enter into a false engagement—only they know it's false. Amanda should then write soulful letters to Giles hinting at her disappointment and unhappiness with her engagement, hoping that this would spur Giles into arriving posthaste and offering for her. And so the plan is hatched. And Amanda and Christian repair to Christian's home to see their story play out.

I very much enjoy Edith Layton's storytelling style and unusual turns of common storylines. This story is no different. For fans of traditional Regencies, Lord of Dishonor is a very good read.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My June Reading

My month was taken up with the tome from Julian Fellowes. I loved the story to pieces. Highly recommended! Overall, it was a slow reading month for me. Too much going on in my personal life, and with school out for the summer, my days and evenings are unscheduled and chaotic.

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
Categories: Victorian, Historical Fiction
Comments: Gosh, how I enjoyed this gossipy upstairs & downstairs, cits & the nobility story set during the early Victorian era. Unlike the excesses of Downton Abbey, the drama here was tight like Gosford Park. My comments are published by All About Romance.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: Julia Quinn writes with such joy. Her stories are imbued with her ebullient personality. They're witty with a lighter treatment of issues, but they're not issue-less or fluff. JQ was one of the first Regency romance authors I discovered after reading Julie Garwood, who was my first modern romance author. I have happy memories of JQ's Bridgertons. While to many Romancing is the most romantic of the original Bridgerton series, my favorite is The Duke and I. Still Colin and Penelope's story is a decided hit. Penelope has been in love with Colin for years and years but he is only interested in friendship, until suddenly at thirty-three he starts noticing Penelope. At first, he's completely shocked but over time, he cannot believe how he didn't notice her before. It's a friends to lovers trope done well.

A Kind of Honor by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: This is another of Wolf's stories, where she goes out on a limb and tells a difficult story. The book with an excruciating storyline was The Counterfeit Marriage, which I reviewed here. In A Kind of Honor, Wolf handles infidelity in a marriage on part of the heroine. Amanda "Nanda" is the Duchess of Gacé, living with her expat husband in London. The French Duc plays up to the Bourbon King hiding out in Hartwell as well as spies for Napoléon. Adam Todd, Lord Stanford is an injured war veteran, now involved with the strategic planning of Wellington's key offensive. He's also investigating a highly-placed leak in the Horse Guards. Adam is urged by Gacé to stay at his house. Gacé was probably hoping his wife would seduced Adam into revealing his secrets. However, Adam, having been an intelligence officer, is not one to indulge in pillow talk. Of course, Adam and Nanda fall in love. There is no love lost between the Gacés, but he has a hold on her because of her deep love of her two children, whom she would lose if she strayed. Gacé turning out to be the leak in the Horse Guards is a given but the catching of him is well done. Wolf writes stories with such warmth, such heart.

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Categories: Children's Picture
Comments: Poor Madame Chapeau, all alone in her hat shop, making hat after exquisite one-of-a-kind creations. Little does she know in her loneliness how much people around her care for her. On the day of her birthday, a bird flies off with her very special birthday hat, and she's bereft. Everyone around her offers her their hat to lift her up from the desponds. Finally, a young girl gifts her a colorful hand-knitted hat that Madame Chapeau declares is the best hat she's ever seen. She has company on this day for her annual cake, and company then on. I liked the artwork especially for all the varying expressions on the characters' faces. And all those beautiful hats!

A Tale of Two Rice Birds by Clare Hodgson Meeker, illustrated by Christine Lamb
Categories: Children's Picture
Diversity: South Asian characters
Comments: This book looks like a children's book and is considered by the author to be so, but it is not. My copy is a signed copy and I met the author when the book first came out. She said it's a children's story that told all over Thailand in schools and by grandparents. However, for a western audience, it's very much an adult romance novel, after a fashion.

Two rice birds were very much in love and spent all their days together as they flew from pond to rice paddy fields in search of food and sipped nectar from lotus blossoms. The lotus flower has a peculiar quality that it closes shut when the sun's at its zenith and opens again when it is at its nadir. So the rice birds had to be clever in stealing nectar and flying safely away from the lotus flowers.

In time, the birds have babies and while the female rice bird stays with the nest, the male rice bird flies hither and yon to bring food for his family. One day, he's so tempted by the nectar that he doesn't realize that the lotus is closing and he gets trapped inside. The female rice bird in the meantime, has been anxious about his return. In an unfortunate circumstance, the tree where the nest is catches fire. In vain, the female bird beats her wings and tries to save her babies, but they burn to ashes.

In the evening, when the male bird returns, the female cries bitter tears, accuses her mate of perfidy and shiftlessness, and commits suicide in the still-glowing embers. He, in turn, beseeches God citing his faithfulness and qualities of a good mate and promises to be faithful in the next life, and then commits suicide.

The female rice bird is reborn as a princess. She's a happy child and brings joy to everyone around her even as she grows up to be a young woman. But she talks to no man, not even her father, the king. The king is worried about her getting married. So he sends out a proclamation that any man who can get his daughter to speak can marry her.

In the meantime, the male rice bird is reborn as a farmer's son, a dutiful young man who works hard and also studies magic. One day, he reads the king's proclamation and it stirs him deep in the heart and he hies off to the kingdom to try his luck in winning the princess's hand. When she sees him, she immediately runs inside. The king's encouraged by this development and asks the farmer's son to go to her chamber and get her to talk to him.

The farmer's son is very clever and using magic, tells the princess a story, and asks a tricky question. The princess, unable to contain herself, rushes out of the door and answers the question joyfully. HEA.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Milford Track, New Zealand

The Milford Track in New Zealand's fjord country is considered one of the finest treks in the world. It's a 33-mile walk of moderate difficulty spanning five days and four nights. It's a roundtrip track from Queenstown to Queenstown and ends with a cruise of Milford Sound. The vistas are said to be awe-inspiring, especially when it rains and you see waterfalls around every bend of the track. It's a guided trek with food and accommodation provided. You need to carry only water, a fleece, and a rain jacket. Your luggage is transported for you.

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]