Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A-Z Challenge: Random Acts of Kindness beginning with "A"

Throughout the A-Z Challenge I'll be blogging through the alphabet using each letter to create an inspiring list of Random Acts of Kindness. I've been collecting RAK ideas for some time now as I gear up to the 2016 launch of a project near and dear to my heart: B(e) Kind 366. I'll be performing an act of kindness every day of the leap year starting January 1st, 2016 while raising funds for World University Service of Canada (WUSC), an organisation that has changed my life.

I'm starting each post with a synonym (of sorts) for kindness. I added this part to my posts because of an amazing movement I am a part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. We link up monthly and blog about changing the world for the better. It's magical really.

A is for Acceptance & Appreciation

Random Acts of Kindess Foundation
Adopt - an animal from a shelter (but only if you're serious about caring for a pet), a family during the holidays (a number of different organisations run programs like this), a star!
Advice - give some to someone who asks for it, take some from someone who gives it.
Allow - someone to go ahead of you in line, to cut into traffic.
Ally - become one! Take ally training.
Ask - before you borrow something, if you can help, if everything is ok.
Assist - someone, anyone with something, anything!
Astronomy - find out if there is a local astronomical observatory in your community (usually located at a university) and take part in a public star gazing event. You won't regret it!
Attend - a fundraiser, an advertised event.   

Some of these letter lists will include an item that has extra special importance to B(e) Kind 366. For "A" the special RAK is Art - make it for a gift or for yourself, visit a gallery, enjoy it! (I’ll be sending mail art to everyone who donates to B(e) Kind 366 in the month of May.)

That brings me to the end of my A-list! Please help me build my list of Random Acts of Kindness by leaving suggestions in the comments!

Want to win some Jane Austen swag?! Who doesn't?! Check out my super fun "If Jane Austen Blogged A-Z" post and test your Janeite knowledge!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

If Jane Austen Blogged A-Z (and a GIVEAWAY)

I "borrowed" this idea from the extremely talented S. L. Hennessy over at Pensuasion. She is one of the incredible bloggers hosting the A-Z Challenge this year and to provide participants with some inspiration, she has written two Characters Who Blog posts that are just so great: Ingo Blogtoya and Blog-ementary, My Dear Watson. I am eyeball-deep in my Master's of Arts thesis right (I actually just typed "write" there initially) which is a detailed look at Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I think, speak, dream, and I would guess even bleed Jane Austen at this point so when I saw S. L.'s posts I couldn't help but consider how Jane Austen might blog A-Z. So, I am taking a break from thesising to write this post!

I'm only going to include first or last names of characters in Austen's six complete novels with a few added "extras" here and there. At the end, I'll leave a couple of fun questions for you to try and answer in relation to those "extras." As you read through, see how many characters you can place in their proper novels (Hint: The characters within each letter are listed in order of the publication date of the novels they appear in - but sometimes there is more than one character from each novel.)


Original image: Holly Hayes
It will be a truth soon universally acknowledged that a reader in search of a fascinating blog need go no further than Little Bits of Ivory. After all, it's been over two hundred years since my first publication and I am more famous today than I was then! This new-fangled A-Z Challenge is rather intriguing so I cannot help but participate.

A - Anne
B - Brandon, Bingley, Bennet, Bertram
C - Cassandra, Collins, Charlotte, Crawford, Catherine
D - Dashwood, Darcy, de Bourgh
E - Elinor, Edward, Elizabeth, Elton, Edmund, Emma
F - Fitzwilliam, Ferrars, Fanny, Frederick
G - Georgiana, George
H - Henry, Harriet
I - Isabella
J - Jane
K - Kitty, Knightly
L - Longbourn, Lydia, Lucas
M - Marianne, Mary, Maria, Morland, Musgrove
N - Netherfield
O - officers
P - Pemberley, Price
Q - Quirk Books
R - Regency
S - Smith
T - Tilney
U - Udolpho, Mysteries of
V - Val McDermid
W - Willoughby, Wickham, Woodhouse, Wentworth
X - Xerxes
Y - "Yes" by McAlmont and Butler
Z - zombies, Zellweger (Renee)

So, how did you do? Could you associate all of the characters with their novels?

Here's a little "extras" quiz:
1. Which novel has the most character names listed A-Z?
2. Which name is NOT one of Austen's character's? (Hint: The name is actually her sister's)
3. Place names are listed from only one novel. Which novel?
4. O, Q, R, U, V, X, Y, and Z have their own special significance. Any guesses?

If I get at least five participants via the comments in my little quiz by April 30th, 2015, I'll send a Jane Austen swag bag (includes: a copy of Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Emma, and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict - so far!) to the person who gets the most answers correct!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A to Z Theme Reveal: Random Acts of Kindness

Link Up
Themes are not necessary during the A to Z Challenge, but they definitely help with keeping up to the daily posting schedule. The first time I took part in A to Z (2013) my theme was "All Things Grad School" because I was leaving to pursue a Master of Arts degree the following September. There wasn't a theme reveal in 2013, but since then the masterminds behind #AprilA2Z have made the theme reveal official!

I decided to take part in A to Z again this year (I skipped 2014) for a couple of reasons: 1. I really enjoyed taking part in 2013. 2. I have a little more time this year as my MA is in its final stages. 3. I really hope to build my blog following as I gear up to launch B(e) Kind 366 in January of 2016, a project that is very near and dear to my heart and has been a long time in the making.

B(e) Kind 366 is the inspiration for my A to Z theme so all through the twenty-six letters of the alphabet I'll be posting ideas for Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) that correspond to each letter. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they inspire you. And I hope you'll help me to grow my list. I need 366 ideas after all! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Positive Stereotypes, Do They Exist? ("Building Beyond Bullying" - A #1000Speak Post)

One month ago, on February 20, a beautiful project was launched: 1000 Voices for Compassion (#1000Speak). Bloggers from around the world linked up providing incredible posts that will touch your soul. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for me to come across this incredible initiative since I am spending 2015 gearing up for my own massive kindness project launch in 2016: B(e) Kind 366. To keep the momentum of this #1000Speak going a theme for the month of March was created: "Building from Bullying." After reading a lead-up post from one of the 1000Speak masterminds, The Village NEEDS Namaste, I decided to write a post about stereotypes. It might fall slightly outside the "bullying" box, but I feel it asserts a similar message nonetheless.

Identity Collage (home, language, religion)
I recently attended a workshop called "Effective Collaboration Across Differences" led by Peter Wanyenya, an International Students Adviser from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As we worked through the thought and action processes that lead from stereotypes to all out racism, Mr. Wanyenya asked us if positive stereotypes existed. We were already hyper-aware of the effects of stereotypes so we knew this was a loaded question. "Just toss out a few ideas first," he suggested, "and then we'll discuss whether they are actually positive or not." Hands shot up and the microphone travelled around as participants offered up so-called "positive" stereotypes like, "Asians excel at mathematics," "The elderly have a wealth of wisdom," "Women are very nurturing," and "Gay men have impeccable taste in fashion." These all seemed like positive things. "So what do you think is wrong with these statements then?" Mr. Wanyenya asked us.

We all sat quiet for a brief moment, pondering our facilitator's question and then a few hands went up. "Not all Asians excel at mathematics." "Not all women want children." To summarise the answers to Mr. Wanyenya's final question: All of these "positive" stereotypes are still stereotypes which makes them just as exclusionary as "negative" stereotypes. For example: if we assume that a person who is visibly of Asian decent is a genius at math and we ask that person to tutor us on the subject, how then does that person feel when they have to tell us that they struggle with math as well? The answer: They don't feel very good. And we have gone from thinking we are complimenting someone to actually making them feel inferior without even intending to. That is just one of the many examples of how "positive" stereotypes do not actually exist. I learned a lot at the "Effective Collaboration Across Differences" workshop, but this is one of the lessons that stuck with me and caused me to really pay close attention to the words I say and the actions I take.

For hundreds more blog posts on the topic of "Building Beyond Bullying" visit the #1000Speak link up!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

International Day of Happiness (March 20)

I'm writing this post for a few reasons: 

1. A few days from now, upwards of 1000 bloggers will come together to create a list of blog posts all following the same theme: Compassion. March 20th marks the second installment of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion (#1000Speak) and this time the theme gets a bit more specific: "Building Beyond Bullying." You can find the first set of 642 blog posts from February 20 here. The link up for the March 20 posts will be live on that date so if you are interested in participating (and please do) just keep an eye on the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion facebook page that I linked to above or keep an eye on @1000Speak on Twitter. 

2. I don't think the organizers of 1000Speak realised it, but March 20 also just so happens to be the International Day of Happiness. The point of the movement is to encourage people to reach out and make at least one positive connection on that day in person or online. You can get involved and download your own Happiness Pack from their website. All of the #1000Speak participants are already taking action for happiness whether they realise it or not simply by sharing their positive blog posts far and wide. Adding one more hashtag (#IDOH) is all it would take to acknowledge the International Day of Happiness and take part in the initiative!

3. I've gotten myself back into blogging this year in an effort to garner support for a huge project I am undertaking in 2016. B(e) Kind 366 has been in the making for a couple of years now and I'm finally going to have the time to dedicate to it come January. Every day of the year (366 because 2016 is a leap year) I'll be performing a random act of kindness as well as launching different events to raise funds for World University Service of Canada's Student Refugee Program, an organisation and program that has changed my life over the ten years I have been involved with it and continues to inspire me daily.  

If happiness, compassion, and kindness don't go together, I don't know what does! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I'm Officially a RAKtivist!

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

I've been doing random acts of kindness for years. I did a 100-Day Challenge, I completed 29 RAKs for my 29th birthday on January 29, and in 2016 I'm launching B(e) Kind 366  - one RAK a day every day of the year. Ever since I started doing RAKs I've been following The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation on Facebook and Twitter. At the beginning of this week I noticed that the Foundation was taking applications for RAKtivists. In the lead up to the launch of B(e) Kind 366, this opportunity was just perfect timing. The application was short and straightforward and within one day of submitting it, I received a response letting me know I was officially in! I'm a RAKtivist! I strongly urge you to think about becoming one too. Really and truly and once you do, here's the application: Become a RAKtivist today!

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation also has a Pinterest and YouTube page filled with pretty much unlimited kindness ideas. The Kindness Ideas page of the Foundation website supplies kindness ideas in the categories of Environment, Animals, Community, Work, Family, School, Sports, Just for Me, and Everyday Kindness. The acts can be sorted by expense and time investment. As a RAKtivist I take part in a weekly challenge with hundreds of fellow RAKtivists. I can't wait to turn my RAKtivism and the ideas and inspiration from The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation into a big part of B(e) Kind 366!

Around the World in 80 Days (Audio Book) by Jules Verne

I've always been intrigued by this story, perhaps because I've always had a touch of wanderlust in me. When I happened upon the opportunity to download this audio book version for free, I couldn't pass it up, plus it counts towards to The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge!

Around the World in 80 Days was originally published in 1872 (1873 in English), but I think Phileas Fogg may still be the best character name in literary history. Can you think of a better one?

The story tracks Phileas Fogg and Passepartout from London, England to Paris, France to Turin, Italy to Brindisi, Italy to Suez, Egypt to Bombay, India to Calcutta, India to Singapore to Hong Kong, China to Yokohama, Japan to San Francisco, U.S.A. to New York, U.S.A. to Liverpool, England and finally back to London. Throughout the journey they travel by steamer ships and sail boats, trains, an elephant, and a sled (with sails). I'm not really sure why the image from the Listening Library's website has a hot air balloon on the cover. I suppose it's likely because of the popularity that the 1956 film version of the novel, in which a hot air balloon is used at one point, brought to the story. During the entire story the listener wonders whether Phileas Fogg is actually guilty of the theft he's being accused of and whether or not he'll actually make it around the world in eighty days! I won't spoil either one for you in case you haven't read/listened/watched it.

The novel provides historical, political, geographical, religious, and cultural facts about many of the countries visited: India, Singapore, China. A lot of these details include the colonial effects of Britain, its benefits and its detriments (such as the supply of opium to Hong Kong). Every time the local natives were depicted as savages (especially the Sioux in the U.S.A.), I shuddered, but had to remind myself that Around the World in 80 Days was written in the nineteenth century. At the end of the audio book, Tim Dutlow, publisher of Listening Library, provides a nice explanation of Jules Verne's background including his lack of cultural and religious knowledge. I thought that was an appropriately added touch.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when the train crossing the U.S. has to wait for a herd of bison. I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony that only our fast-paced society would appreciate. How much do you despise waiting for a train to cross when you're trying to get somewhere?

Of course, the wanderluster in me was most interested by all of the places Phileas Fogg encounters on his around the world route. If you're not all that intrigued by the places, you might want to skip this list! Mokha, Yemen is seen from the Mongolia between Suez and Bombay and the travelers make a stop in Aden (Steamer Point), Yemen for refueling. As they approach Bombay, the Islands of Mumbai Harbour (including Salsette, Elephanta, and Butcher) are noted. On the way to Calcutta, the train stops momentarily in Burhanpur. The railway stops in the small hamlet of Kholby and the travellers must find alternative transit (which ends up being an elephant) to Allahabad where the rail begins once again and proceeds to Calcutta. After a brief stop at Banaras (Varanasi), the group arrives in Calcutta. After Hong Kong they have an unexpected stop in Shanghai before making it to Yokohama. Across the United States a number of cities are mentioned: San Francisco and Sacramento in California, Reno in Nevada, Ogden City in Utah, Green River in Wyoming, Fort Kearny and Omaha in Nebraska, Chicago in Illinois. There is one shout out to Canada as the Henrietta passes the coast of Newfoundland and just as the travellers are about to complete their journey, they must stop briefly at Queenstown and Dublin in Ireland.

The audio book is just under eight hours long and narrated by Jim Dale. He does a fantastic job with the characters' voices. Each chapter includes music for the first few minutes that sets a nice tone for the rest of the narrative. For instance, Chapter 10, taking place in Bombay, begins with lovely Indian music; Chapter 19, taking place in China, begins with vibrant Chinese tunes; Chapter 23, taking place in Japan, incorporates some beautiful Japanese music. One more added benefit of an audio version of a book is the sound effects. There are pounding horse hooves, chugging trains, gun shots, and every sound you can think of really!

This is the first audio book I have listened to from start to finish and I have to say that I really enjoyed the experience and the book. Right at the end of the recording, narrator Jim Dale speaks to the benefits of audio books for children: "Try pressing play on an audio book," he suggests, rather than turning on the television. I think I may take his advice for myself!

I have to look past the cultural insensitivity of this 1872 publication and give Around the World in 80 Days 5 stars!

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night is the second novel in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy. I picked up the first book, A Discovery of Witches, because I am taking part in Riedel Fascination's Ethereal 2015 Reading Challenge. I'd consider these books to be fantasy, a genre that I am not typically a reader of, but that's one of the reasons I decided to join Ethereal 2015. The first book was a worthwhile read, intriguing enough to make me consider reading the second one. What really got Shadow of Night off the shelf into my hand is the fact that Harkness takes her readers back in time to the end of the sixteenth century. Historical fiction is my guilty pleasure (which means Shadow of Night also works for The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge) and I'm a student of literature so the sixteenth century means Shakespeare!

In my review of A Discovery of Witches, I was a little disappointed in Harkness' negative opinion of Shakespeare. Part of the reason I wanted to read Shadow of Night was to see how she treated Shakespeare in his own historical era. I am sad to report that it doesn't get any better in book two. Harkness pushes her opinion that Shakespeare stole all of his work from other authors, particularly Christopher Marlowe, whom she seems to be a fan of. If you happen to be a skeptic as well, I suggest you watch this little TED Ed video: Did Shakespeare write his plays?

Diana (witch) and Matthew (vampire) time walk (one of Diana's powers) out of twenty-first-century America back to sixteenth-century England both to escape danger and find answers. One of the main purposes of their time walking is to find a witch to help Diana learn about and control her powers. The wide array of witches and their many powers is, by far, my favourite aspect of the book. The descriptions of weavers; fire, wind, water, and earth witches; and the witches' fetches (sort of like pets, but with a lot of power, that live inside a witch's body and can be released when their assistance is required) are very finely detailed and definitely imaginative. The fact that I enjoyed these fantasy aspects more than the sixteenth-century setting says a lot considering I am a historical fiction junkie. The sixteenth-century setting was well done and clearly well-researched, but I found that most of the focus was on changes required of Diana's clothing more than anything else.

Harkness intermingles the past with the present considerably well. Diana and Matthew could not travel to the past without affecting the future and the author makes sure to address that detail intelligently. All of the characters that remained in the twenty-first century from the first book were brought into Shadow of Night in some clever way so as not to be forgotten. Traveling to the sixteenth century in turn, allows the introduction of new characters from both Diana's and Matthew's past adding to the depth of character development and plot.

In my review of the first novel I critiqued how Harkness casts Diana in the stereotypical role of damsel-in-distress and allows Matthew to become the knight-in-shining-armour. In Shadow of Night Diana receives some redemption despite the female-oppressing gender dynamics of the sixteenth century. As she increasingly masters control of her powers, Diana is able to save herself and rely less on Matthew for protection.

Before giving my final opinion, I have to mention one specific detail that really bothers me. I'll quote the line so you can see exactly what I mean: "The lumbering vehicles resembled enclosed wagons and were nothing like the dashing carriages in Jane Austen films." Jane Austen was a nineteenth-century writer, not a sixteenth-century writer so I am not sure exactly what the point of this reference was. I hope the mention of Jane Austen was meant to be a comparison between the centuries and the progression of transportation, but bringing in a reference to the nineteenth century at all when the settings (whether sixteenth or twenty-first century) have absolutely nothing to do with Jane Austen or the era when she was writing just seems like a mistake. The whole statement is out of place, especially to someone like me who is finishing a Master of Arts thesis on Jane Austen. I couldn't help but notice the oddity of the reference!

Shadow of Darkness is a bit slow to get going, but the last half of the novel is quite a page turner. I don't think I'll pick up the third book, The Book of Life, anytime soon, but I won't write it off forever. Overall I'm giving Shadow of Darkness 3.5 stars.