Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

This book has always been on my "to read eventually" list, but I finally picked it up for a book club I've joined. This was our book for May, and I am really glad it gave me an excuse to read it.

Mere Christianity was actually a BBC broadcast series by C. S. Lewis done from 1942 to 1944, separated by 3 broadcasts: The Case For Christianity, Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality. The book is the result of C.S. Lewis' in depth studies into Christianity over the years, and the basic premise is to define Christianity as a whole. No matter what "theology" of Christianity you choose, this book sets down the ground rules that every follower of Christ believes. It's very interesting that he removes any specific religion's beliefs from the argument - everything listed in this book is defined by the teachings of Christ in the bible, so there really is no gray area on these terms. The book examines such points as faith, hope, charity, forgiveness, chastity, and "Be thou perfect", among other things.

This book was just incredible. C.S. Lewis is able to explain things in such a way that it really made me look at certain aspects of my own beliefs in a new light. I particularly loved how he explained that you must choose a religion within Christianity:
I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt in it a preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various other doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is a difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had other wise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?' When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.
I also really loved the chapter about forgiveness. He relates questions he often received from skeptics at the time he wrote this (during and after World War II) about how it isn't right to just forgive the Nazis everything and move on. He examines the law of "Love thy neighbor as thyself," and breaks it down to realize that to love one as oneself doesn't mean that you have to like them or think them always right since we do not always like ourselves or think that we are a "good person"l. We forgive ourselves every single day and we still love ourselves in spite of our flaws. To love our neighbor as yourself, we simply need to hope that they will become better than they are, just as we hope for ourselves.

One chapter in particular really stuck with me (so much so that I copied the entire thing for future quotes) - the chapter called Counting the Cost. In this chapter, Lewis explains that while we may only want to let God help us to become better at certain things, he will not stop until we achieve perfection. He relates a wonderful quote from George MacDonald that really stuck out to me:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doings and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
As I'm sure you can tell by all the quotes, I absolutely loved this book. I look at my own faith in a whole new light now, and that is remarkable that a simple book like this could accomplish such a feat. I feel that I understand Christ and his teachings a little better, and even feel a little more enlightened about what I have agreed to by following Him. Even if you are not a Christian yourself, this is a very educational and unbiased view of Christianity as a whole. If you've ever wanted to understand the basics, this is the book for you. Likewise, if you want to gain a better understanding about the principles upon which all different Christian religions are based upon, this is the book for you. Reading it will inspire you to be a better Christian while giving you the building blocks to begin your efforts. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FO: Blue Beignet Skirt

I have a new finished project that has (sort of ) been 2 years in the making! The Beignet Skirt!
This is a project that I actually planned out and bought fabric for 2 years ago (possibly longer) - I loved the style of the Beignet skirt and this was one of the first Colette Patterns I acquired (it was given to me for my birthday). When I was super new to sewing clothes, I was really gung-ho and planned all these projects I really did not have the ability to fit and make. That didn't stop me from buying fabric before I figured this out though, so the fabric and lining have been in my stash ever since.
A few weeks ago, I decided I was finally ready to tackle this project. The funny thing is - I have no idea why I was so obsessed with this fabric, lol. Not only is it a fairly light color, which I try to avoid on my bottom half, it's also polyester. This is a suiting that I got from Joann's and I remember that I was so excited about it that I would check every time their sales changed to see when this would be cheapest - I can't remember what exactly it was called, but I know it had "Rebecca" in the title. It's an ok polyester, I guess, and it's a pretty pattern (almost linen-like white streaks printed on the teal/blue), but it's pretty thick - almost 70s thick. Yeah. Needless to say, this project turned out a bit too warm for the current weather here in Florida, so this is an AC-only item. Luckily past Megan purchased the coordinating lining (Ambiance with "Rebecca" in the title too), and it just happened to be bemburg rayon, so there's that. In the outer fabric's defense, it did sew really nicely and didn't fray, so that was nice. I had to use a clapper religiously while pressing if I wanted to even be able to tell it had been pressed at all, but we got there in the end.
The best part about this project was the result of my muslin - this pattern fit great right out of the envelope! That has never happened to me before! Once this was discovered, I happily cut into my long-saved fabric and got to work. I made this skirt over the course of a few weeks since my schedule has been incredibly busy these past few months. I spent a few hours one night cutting, then marking and sewing the outer shell the next night, then had to wait over a week before I got to go any further. By that time it was my day off, so I was able to spend most of my day finishing it up and by that night I only had to pick my buttons - a major instagram related dilemma in and of itself, lol. I had always planned on using white buttons with this fabric, but when I went to Hancock Fabrics to purchase them I also came across some teal/blue and white swirled ones that matched perfectly - and I am not exaggerating that, it was an exact match. I was so torn! I put pictures up on instagram, and literally everyone said to go with the blue ones. By the time the skirt was done, I just still couldn't get my original plan out of my head, so I went with the white ones. Sorry, everyone! lol Even when the buttons were picked, it had to wait another 5 days before I had the time to sew them on. Oh, the joys of adult-ing.
Now that the skirt is finished, I can see that it's a little too big just at my hips and below, so I will be slimming that area down next time around. Other than that, I could not be more proud of this skirt! This skirt is by far the most complicated this I have sewn so far - not that it was incredibly hard, just time consuming due to all the different pieces and how it is lined.
I did make the belt and belt loops as the pattern calls for, but I figured that realistically I will probably end up wearing it with my shirt untucked as well, which would look like above. I don't really love this look now that I look at the pictures (it seems to make my hips look wider since it's a bit too big there), so I guess I need to figure out a longer white shirt that won't constantly come untucked like every other shirt I own (I have a long torso - it's unfortunate). The other issue I have with the color is that ... I literally have nothing to wear with this skirt except white shirts, lol. I think it looks super boring with just a white shirt, but none of my cardigans really go with the style of the skirt, which has lead to rather frustrating times getting dressed. So, I've technically made more work for myself, lol, but oh well. I like making t-shirts anyway. I'm more excited about the accomplishment of actually sewing this piece, so I'm not that put out about it.
Here is the true star of the show - the insides! I seriously wish I could just open up this skirt and show everyone, or wear it inside out or something - I'm so thrilled I was able to do this. The skirt has pockets, but they are between the layers so everything looks neat and finished inside. I know the edge along the buttons looks a little puckered in this photo, but that was due to the slight stretch in this fabric (again, spongy polyester suiting). I swear that everything was 100% smooth in there before I put the buttons on. Ugh. Oh well, I'm still proud. It looks so professional :) I just love it.
Details! Just take a look at that curve - gorgeous! I went really slow and pinned the daylights out of it like a princess seam, then cut lots of notches to get it like this. I was seriously amazed when I turned it right side out :) I also ended up hand picking the blind hem, and this is the first time I've ever had to do that. I'm a big fan of my machine's blind hem, but this stinking fabric showed everything like a line of puckers along the bottom when I tried to do it by machine. My hand stitches aren't perfect, but it's much more "blind" than it would have been otherwise. I machine stitched a narrow hem on the lining though. The pockets are perfectly hidden inside the side seams. And oh my gosh I cannot even describe what I went through over those belt loops. This polyester hated to press, but that is incredibly compounded when you're working with such teeny tiny pieces that are only supposed to be turned under 1/8th of an inch. Ugh! My clapper came to the rescue, but I will confess a few minor burns to my fingers in the process. They came out really well, all things considered. I also didn't include a pic here, but I posted on instagram of me using a mallet and blade from work to cut the button holes open - this fabric was so thick that my little snips just couldn't handle it, so I brought it to work with me and hammered them open. It worked very well, and I didn't have to buy yet another expensive sewing tool - score!
Here is the only somewhat feasible looking outfit I was able to make that didn't look too crazy-pants (or does it? lol) And here's a slightly embarassed confession - this was my first time making more than maybe one or two button holes on my machine. I did have to unpick two of them, but only because I didn't get the needle exactly lined up with the others. I call that a success :) I impressed myself there as well.
Anyway, in spite of its little quirks, I am ridiculously proud of this skirt :) I also am proud to say that I managed to tick this off my list before my 30th birthday, so I was able to wear it on the big day. This project was a bit more expensive than my typical el-cheap-o projects, but I have now lived and learned, lol. I'm a total tight-ass, what can I say? 

Fabric: 2 yards Polyester with linen print "Rebecca" - $12.00, 2 yards Ambiance Bemburg Rayon in "Rebecca" - $10.00 (all fabric from Joann's two years ago)
Pattern: Beignet by Colette Patterns - birthday gift 2 years ago
Notions: 12 buttons from Hancock Fabrics - $2.20, 1.5 yards of Riley Blake Bird Print Twill Tape - $2.99, teal thread from Hancock Fabrics - $3.00
Hours: 12 hours total (including muslin making)
Total: $30.20

So yeah, another project in my wardrobe :) I'm planning a denim version next ...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Craftsy Class Alert: Classic Crochet Openwork

I was so excited about the release of this class this week that I wanted to share it with my readers in case you would be interested as well.

Craftsy has made another great crochet class - Classic Crochet Openwork. The class teaches "classic" (a.k.a. "antique") techniques, including: trellis, mesh & filet, pineapple stitch, Irish crochet, Bruges lace, Hairpin lace, and Solomon's knots. Personally, I have always been fascinated by all these old techniques I see in beautiful pattern books I get from thrift shops, but I've never buckled down and figured out how to work the stitches myself. So when I saw this class announced, and that it is taught by Jennifer Hansen (I have both of her other Craftsy classes and they are wonderful!), I put it right in my cart. Just for the record, I purchased this with my own money - I just wanted to spread the word to any other crochet enthusiasts out there who may read this blog :)

So, if you are interested, head over here to snag the class for yourself!

Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is one of those titles that is always somewhere on the Top 100 Books To Read In Your Lifetime type lists, so I thought it would be beneficial to read it.

The Brothers Karamazov is about the 3 sons of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a truly horrible man who has almost no affection for his children or anyone else. The oldest, Dmitri (called Misha), is the only child by his mother, and lead a very indulged life which made him a very irresponsible and ridiculous adult. He is known for his heavy partying and drunken brawls, constantly coming to his father to ask for more money only to be cut off in a way he feels is cheating him out of his inheritance (clue: it isn't). Ivan is the middle child and oldest of his mother, his father's second wife, is the "learned" one - he's an atheist and aspires to travel the world and learn of other cultures. Alexei (Alyosha) is the youngest all around and second of his father's second wife - he is the religious one who joins a monastery under one of the reputed Great Elders of his time in hopes of becoming a monk. There is also one additional young man, Smerdyakov, who is a local orphan that everyone knows is actually the unrecognized son of Fyodor Pavlovich - he works as a sort of cook/ groundskeeper/ servant to his "father", though he is never acknowledged as his son. The first half of the book is all exposition to show the different characters and temperaments of those involved. All three sons were sent away and raised by other relatives, with little to know contact or care from their father in their entire childhoods. There is much description of the philandering of Dmitri and the religious path of Alyosha, as well as a debaucherous history of their father, Fyodor.

The story really takes off when it gets to the main plot. Months before the brothers all come to live with their father in their twenties, Dmitri commits an awful moral crime. Dmitri meets a respectable girl, Katerina Ivanovna, and she snubs him. Later he finds out that her father is going to be in a huge financial predicament, owing his regiment thousands of rubles that he does not have, and Dmitri lets Katerina know before anyone else and tells her he will give her the money if she will sleep with him. She is shocked, of course, and runs off, only to find out he was right later that day. She comes back to him and takes him up on his offer, keeping things very secret. Eventually things for her father get better, and she returns the money to Dmitri, telling him she is in love with him and they become engaged. Dmitri basically decides that he does not want what he has already had, and falls in love with a local tavern girl, known as Grushenka, and blows all of his inheritance, plus a few thousand more that Katerina entrusted to him to deliver to her relatives, on a big drunken spree with Grushenka. He begs his father for the money, but he has been cut off, so Dmitri starts threatening to kill his father to take "what is rightfully his". The main reason his father denies him the money is that he, too, has the hots for Grushenka, and puts 3 thousand rubles in an envelope for her and hides it in his room, telling her that if she comes to him she can have this money. Long story short, Fyodor Pavlovich ends up dead with his skull bashed in. Everyone in the town heard Dmitri threaten his father, and everyone knew the drama that was going on, so when Dmitri is found with thousands of rubles on him having another drunken spree the night of the murder, he is arrested and put on trial for his father's death.

The story line has a very modern feel to it, so I'm sure it must have been quite scandalous back in 1880 when it was first published. I found things a bit slow for about the first third of the book, but once it got going I was thoroughly stuck in. The story really examines lots of complex issues - what truly makes someone "a father"? How much can a persons character be held against them when they cannot help the way they were raised? At what point does circumstantial evidence become enough for a conviction? The trial itself read just like any trial scene of the time from any "Western" country in the world, which just feels strange given the state of Russia's government for the last 100 years. The lawyers really are very good, and present both sides to their advantage. I really loved the differences between the brothers and how they each show a different "life path" and where it can lead. In Dmitri's case, his constant self indulgence and lack of personal control lead to his ruin, while Alyosha's life is almost the complete opposite. I particularly loved the recollections of Father Zosima, the elder Alyosha follows, just before he dies. He tells the story of his life and how he was really not a good person in his youth and the way end became a monk. His story is all about finding happiness in spite of affliction. which I am a big believer in lately. Overall, I enjoyed the book very much, though it wasn't quite the "wow" I was expecting from its reputation. I do recommend the book to anyone interested in a good murder mystery and trial story. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.