An Introvert’s Guide To Hosting A New Year’s Party

I always spend New Year’s Eve with my sister and cousin. There’s just the three of us, but we call it a party anyway. The tradition started with my cousin’s family hosting much larger New Year’s parties, and then after those went away the three of us just kept spending New Years together.

Though one of us (my cousin) is an ENFP, our New Year’s parties are very much something you could describe as introverted. There’s a small number of people and the party activities are generally relaxed, stay-at-home sorts of things. And because our sort of New Year’s party is clearly the best kind there is, I’ve made this helpful little guide to help other introverts (and those who like “introverted” parties) to host their own.

How To Host An Introverted New Year’s Party

Step One: Decline all invitations to traditional New Year’s parties.

Step Two: Find a small number of people you enjoy being around and who will get along well with each other. Read more

The Scarlet Letter

I’ve never been a big fan of classic American literature (unless it was written by Mark Twain). I don’t really have fond memories of any of the American lit I had to read in high school fondly, and in college the only ones I remember enjoying were Puddin’ Head Wilson by Mark Twain, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chestnut (and they still didn’t intrigue me like the British literature).

So when I agreed to teach my homeschooled younger brother’s high school literature class, I had quite a bit of extra reading to do in preparation for American lit this year. This is the main reason there’s a collection of Edgar Allen Poe on my Classics Club Book list, and why I’m re-reading Tom Sawyer. I also added a few other works by American authors, just because I felt like I “should” read them.

Reading The Scarlet Letter

Case in point: Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter. This is one of the books that I didn’t read in high school because my mother hated that she was made to read it (this is the same reason I didn’t read any of Shakespeare’s tragedies until college). Certainly can’t fault her for that, since it doesn’t look like this book’s going to fit in my American literature course either (also, I’m just rebellious enough to feel like I don’t have to teach all the “inevitable” high school texts). I’m glad I finally read it, though, if for no other reason than to enjoy passages like this:

Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn.

Bearded physiognomies augur awful business — don’t they sound like the kind of people you’d want for your next-door neighbors?

Or how about this lovely description of the women, also from Chapter 2 where the town is assembled outside the jail awaiting Hester Prynne’s public disgrace for committing adultery:

Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (1926)

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother had transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, than her own. The women, who were now standing about the prison-door, stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen; and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.

Isn’t this a flattering portrayal? (in case you were wondering, this is the best passage to read aloud to your younger siblings). In all seriousness, I did enjoy the way Hawthorne uses the English language. His humor is subtle, and so dry it’s almost impossible to laugh-out-loud, but it is in there if you’re paying enough attention not to over look it. In most of his character descriptions, like these women outside the jail, I get the impression of him raising is eyebrow and looking down his nose as he tells you about these poor “primitives.”

“A” is for Adultery

While a tight plot, command of language, and good writing are all things I look for in a novel, what always stands out most are the characters. Perhaps the most interesting character in this novel is Hester’s precocious little daughter, Pearl, whose keen intelligence and disregard for conventional behavior more than once leave Hester suspecting the child’s nature is part of her punishment for committing adultery. Just like she stands out in the town because Hester dresses her in bright colors (including scarlet, since Pearl is the embodiment of Hester’s scarlet letter), so she stands out as a bright spot in a novel that can otherwise be rather grim.

Speaking of Hester’s crime, I’ve heard Christian homeschoolers suggest that we shouldn’t teach books like The Scarlet Letter or The Great Gatsby since they deal with the concept of adultery. You can’t fault these books for “inappropriate scenes” (well, perhaps Gatsby depending on what age your teaching, but I think it’s age-appropriate by high school). It’s the subject matter in general which people find objectionable. But ignoring the fact that people sin certainly doesn’t make sin go away, and books like The Scarlet Letter force us to think about a subject like adultery and how we respond to that. There’s no question in the minds of Hester Prynne and Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale that what they did was wrong, and they spend most of the book miserable as a result of their actions. This is not a book that promotes adultery.

But it’s also not a book that lets you sit back and comfortably judge Hester. Her wronged husband is the most loathsome character in the book, and his reaction to his wife’s adultery is even more destructive than her initial “fall.” The townspeople aren’t easily let off the hook, either, and it is Hester — not her accusers or judges — who emerges as the strongest character. She is the one in the town who gives the most selflessly of her time and meager resources, and she is the only character whose mind escapes from the confines of Hawthorne’s depiction of Puritan thought. She’s far more than simply the woman wearing the scarlet letter, and because her sins are out in the open, she has a chance at the forgiveness and peace that so completely eludes Dimmesdale and her husband.

It is my opinion that Arthur Dimmesdale is one of the most unimpressive men in fiction. What sort of man lets the woman he supposedly loves bear public humiliation and raise their child alone, all while living in the same town? He’s so spineless that, at risk of sounding indelicate, I wondered exactly where he found enough passion or gumption to engage in an illicit love affair. He tells himself that he must keep the secret of his relationship with Hester so that he can continue serving God — for if the truth were known he would lose credibility as a minister. He’s so tormented by guilt that he beats himself and is making a half-hearted attempt at starving to death, but though he assures his parishioners that he’s a greater sinner than all of them, he knows this only makes him seem more devout in their eyes. There is nothing in him that I can admire.

Click here to get a copy of The Scarlet Letter. Please note that this is an affiliate link. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.

My Hair is a Sign?

my sister and me
my sister and me

As I’ve written before (see post “Breeding Red-heads“), my sister and I receive quite a number of comments on our red hair. These range from complementary to inappropriate; from harmless to creepy. I was starting to think I’ve heard at least one variation on  most of the types of comments that people might make. This weekend, however, proved me wrong. My sister and I were visiting a Messianic group to spend Shabbat with them. The meeting hall for our regular church group has gotten so bad for my allergies that I can’t go back until they find a new building (I only stayed 10 minutes last time, and still my sister had to drive me home). I don’t want to be without fellowship, though, so I’m visiting other local Sabbath-keeping groups. Anyway,we were talking with a man who’d just introduced himself, and the conversation turned to our hair. There was much chattering and background noise, so I’m not entirely sure I caught all the conversation, but here’s the gist of what he said:

It’s so nice to see red-heads. So rare. Did you meet Emily? Yes? she dyed her hair red when we heard redheads will be extinct by 2050. To show she supported you. We never meet many red-heads you know? and now you are here, it’s a sign. For Jews, things happen in threes. Signs, you know? So Emily dying her hair was the first sign, and now two red heads appear here in our group. You are a sign!

Well, that’s the first time I’ve been called a sign. I have no idea what we might be a sign of, but he seemed pretty positive that’s what we were. (BTW, the red-head extinction theory is — thankfully — bogus.)

The Mystery of the Weigh Stations

Weigh Station: CLOSED

I drove over 1,000 miles last weekend on the way to and from visiting a dear friend. On the way, I had ample opportunity to muse about the complexities and mysteries of life, including weigh stations.

You know what I mean — those little places along highways ostensibly built as “a checkpoint along a highway to inspect vehicular weights” (according to Wikipedia). But they’re never open. There’s usually a sign that says “weigh station” and then in glowing letters it says “closed.” I think prior to this trip I’d seen only one that was open and had a truck driving into it. Coming home I did see a weigh station sign with glowing letters that said “open,” but I never saw the weigh station. Very mysterious if you ask me.

And yes, I did do my research on this and found out about the electronic bypass systems with scales embedded in the road so trucks can be weighed without actually entering the weigh station. But the weigh stations are still there, mostly closed from what I’ve seen, and I wonder what they might be used for. Here are my top theories:

  1. They are entrances to secret government facilities, hiding in plain sight like the purloined letter. And being a weigh station, even an out-of-use one, means no one would think it too terribly odd if a truck drove in and delivered secret something or others.
  2. The entire weigh station thing is a cover for an alien invasion. They landed here and set up weigh stations, edited Wikepedia, and no one noticed because everyone assumed the stations were someone else’s jurisdiction.
  3. 42. It’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything, so I’m assuming that includes weigh stations.
  4. They actually are what they claim to be, but have now been taken over by some kind of secret organization. I’m picturing men in floor-length cloaks with masks whispering “What’s the password?” and speaking in Latin.
view from my car of a weigh station I passed on the way home
view from my car of a closed weigh station I passed on the way home

Personally, I’m leaning toward number 2. But that might just be because I’m starting to get excited about Falling Skies coming back on the 22nd.

What are your off-the-wall or so-strange-it-just-might-be-real theories? Doesn’t have to be about weigh stations — could be anything that has the potential to be far more interesting than most people assume.


Breeding Red-Heads

Red-Head Complaints
my hair

I love having red hair. But there are times when I wish it wasn’t quite so unusual. No one walks up to other girls and says, “Wow, your hair is brunette” or “Your hair is so blond.” As if I didn’t already know I have red hair. Hair stylists tell me they have clients who would kill for my hair color (which is kinda creepy if you think about it– red hair isn’t that amazing).

The most awkward comments are those about how rare red hair is becoming. The first one I remember happened when I was only seven or eight years old and an elderly couple told my red-haired sister and me that we needed to marry red-headed men so we could preserve the red-head population. I’ve heard these types of comments several times since then, but the most awkward has to be the one we received last week.

My sister and three friends were about to jump out of a plane (don’t worry, they had parachutes). I convinced myself it was okay to be cowardly and tag along just to take pictures (after all, think how many books you could buy for the cost of a skydive!). We were all standing in the hanger, waiting on the instructors, when a guy who might have been in his 60s walked up to the desk. He looked over at my sister and I and commented on our red hair. But he wasn’t content to stop there, and continued by saying how rare red-heads are becoming.  I braced myself for the inevitable comment about red-headed babies, but wasn’t quite ready for him to shout, “You should breed!”

I think my face turned as red as my hair.