Book Look - An Autumn Sowing, by E.F. Benson

This is the rather melancholic tale of a prosperous businessman in the "autumn" of his years (50s) realizing that all he has to show for his life are a silly wife, a preposterous daughter, a grotesquely-decorated house, business acquaintances, and a library full of books that hint at a world of beauty, grace and provenance that he covets even as he resigns himself to accepting that it is beyond his reach. Until a young woman enters his life, and he suddenly discovers himself "sowing" both the passion and pains of love.

I'm not entirely convinced the author, E.F. Benson, knew what he wanted to accomplish in this novel. The first few chapters of the book read as relatively standard period satire, skewering such familiar targets as silly wives, self-important priests, and social castes. Somewhere along the way, however, a funny thing happens: Benson appears to develop a certain fondness for his businessman protagonist Keeling - perhaps because poor Keeling at least aspires to passion, or perhaps because Keeling possesses the good sense to fall in love with Norah, Benson's sensible and appealing female lead. Whatever the reason, the novel gradually transitions from satire to sentiment, finally resolving into a climax that's a muddle of both.

Despite the novel's thematic inconsistency, however, I can't find it in me to be too critical. The fact is, I enjoyed Benson's comfortable prose, I found the main characters to be authentic and sincere, the satire was entertaining enough, and if the ending is a bit of a muddle, at least its a decorous muddle, sullied neither by cloying solicitude nor misogyny. An Autumn Sowing may not be an "improving" sort of book; on the whole, however, I felt its merits more than outweighed its flaws.


A Thousand Words - The Peter's Projection Map

No - this isn't an image that's been squished out of shape by too much dragging and dropping.  It's the Peter's Projection Map, a map that accurately portrays the relative sizes of the continent.  It corrects for the huge distortions of continent size/shape necessitated by the Mercator Projection map, which is great for navigation but not so great for accurately portraying what the earth actually looks like. 

Go ahead and enjoy being freaked out as you realize just how small Europe is - and just how vast China is!  Also, remember how big Iceland was on the map your teacher posted in the classroom? Just try finding it here ...!

SOURCE: http://education.ed.pacificu.edu/bailey/resources/courses/methods04/533home.html

Now, google "West Wing - Cartographers for Social Equality" for a clip of how the fictional characters of the TV show West Wing greeted the suggestion that the U.S. adopt this version of the world map.


40+ secular messages of condolence

I have unfortunately reached the time in my life when writing condolence cards is becoming a regular necessity.  This is made all the more difficult by the fact that I don't affiliate with any particular religion, so many of the conventional/reliable expressions of sympathy (ex: "I will keep you and your family in my prayers") are inappropriate.  Have been adding to the list of sentiments below from some years now; only just occurred to me that others might be sharing my difficulties and appreciate the fruits of my labors.
  1. I/we were shocked/saddened/grieved/devastated to learn of the passing of ____________
  2. My/Our heart/hearts are heavy/filled with sorrow at the news of ________'s passing. 
  3. I/we want you to know that we/I are so very/terribly sorry to hear about the passing of _____________. 
  4. Word’s cannot express the sadness/sorrow/grief we feel for you as you deal with the death of ____________.
  5. I/We grieve the passing of such a _________* person (*remarkable, admirable, kindhearted, talented, admired, unforgettable, fun-loving, funny, wonderful, well-loved, lovely, sweet, gentle, generous, honorable, respected, caring, hardworking, strong, energetic)
  6. I/we will miss _________ too.
  7. I/we extend to you my/our love/heartfelt sorrow/deepest condolences at this difficult time
  8. My/our hearts adn thoughts go out to you at this difficult time.
  9. My/Our most sincere condolences.
  10. Thinking of you and your family as you prepare to celebrate ________'s remarkable life and the memories you shared.
  11. Thinking of you and your family in this time of sorrow.
  12. Keeping you in my/our hearts and thoughts during this difficult time.
  13. Mourning the passing of ____________ with you.
  14. May the heartfelt consdolences and sympathy of those who love you bring you comfort during this painful time. 
  15. May you be consoled by the fact that __________ was cherished by those who were lucky enough to know him/her, and will love on in their memories.
  16. May fond memories of ________ bring you comfort during this difficult time.
  17. May the care and love of those around you provide comfort and peace to get you through/help you endure the hard/difficult/painful days ahead.
  18. I/we wish you serenity and peace during this difficult time
  19. May he/she rest in peace.
  20. The loss of someone dear to us is never easy, but may you take comfort in the fact that you are surrounded by people that love and care for you.
  21.  _______ will live on in the hearts and memories of the people who, like us, loved/admired/respected him/her.
  22. It was an honor/privilege/blessing to have known such a remarkable/admirable/kind/gentle person.
  23. _________ will truly be missed by all of who knew him/her.
  24. If never seems fair, but death is often the greatest relief for the suffering.
  25. I/we send my/our love and sympathy in hopes that they will be of some comfort to you.
  26. Losing someone we love is never easy, but the gift of having  known ________, of having been fortunate enough to share his/her life, is a blessing that even death cannot deprive us of.
  27. If there is comfort to be found in this difficult time, perhaps it is in knowing that _________ (1) lived a long/rich/remarkable life; (2) is finally relieved of their suffering; (3) finally rests in peace.
  28. May you find comfort in the fact that _____________ will be remembered with love and respect by those they have left behind.
  29. Wishing you peace to bring comfort, courage to face the days ahead and loving memories to forever hold in your heart.
  30. Hold tight to memories for comfort, lean on your friends and family for strength, and always remember how much you are loved.
  31. After the tears have dried and the goodbyes have been said, the memories we've shared with our loved ones continue to live on, providing comfort/remembrance/reassurance.
  32. The knowledge of impending death does not lessen grief, only places it on hold for a while.
  33. Today and always, may loving memories bring you peace, comfort, and strength.
  34. Our time on this earth is short, sometimes far too short, but no life leaves the lives of those that have loved them unmarked.
  35. "What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us." -Helen Keller
  36. "Grant but memory to us, and we lose nothing by death." -Whittier, My Summer with Dr. Singleton
  37. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahlil Gibran
  38. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind. ~William Wordsworth
  39. Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
  40. Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality. ~Emily Dickinson
  41. There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart. ~Gandhi
  42. "For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity." - William Penn
  43. "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal/love leaves a memory no one can steal." - anonymous
  44. "It is not length of life, but depth of life." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  45. I know I can’t make your pain go away, but I want you to know that (1) a kind voice and sympathetic ear are only a phone call away; (2) I'm here with a shoulder or an ear or anything else you need; (3) your friends and I will be taking care of ___________ for the time being, in hopes of relieving you of at least one burden.
  46. I know that the hurt won’t go away when the cards and casseroles do. Remember I'll still be here for you
  47. As the days and weeks pass, and as you return to life's routine, may you continue to feel comforted by the love and support of family and friendship.