31 December 2004

Stray Thoughts on the Earthquake

I'm still thinking about the tsunamis most of the time. As always, it is always intersting to watch how things play out in the aftermath of a disaster. These are just a few of the things I've noticed.

As always, we focus on the Westerners who were affected in a disaster. With the death toll at about 135,000 now, Europeans and North Americans will make up a very small percentage of the dead. Surviving Westerners will be flown out and taken away to their safe homes in the West. Yet we have heard more specific stories about Westerners than about the people who will be the ones dealing with this tragedy for a long time.

Yet again, Americans have had to learn a little geography to even know where the earthquake was, let alone all the countries the tsunamis hit.

There is an interesting article on cnn.com that says that animals were not killed in the tsunamis. For example, a tsunami washed 2 miles inland in the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. It is Sri Lanka biggest reserve with hundreds of elephants, yet no elephants were killed. I do think there is something to an animal's "sixth sense," but I also think it would be very hard to make it useful for humans. Animals are just lucky I guess. Or we've lost someting we had a long time ago.

A tsunami warning system is in the works for the Indian Ocean. The expense could be very large, but it looks like the UN will be pushing it, so the individual countries hopefully won't have to pay a lot for it. I am a little worried about the warning system though. False alarms cause many problems, and the Indian Ocean really doesn't get major tsunamis very often. I still think education is the more valuable tool for saving lives.

It is interesting to read conflicting opinions of the devestation and predictions of the effects on national and international economies. Some say that it will take years to recover, and others say the tsunamis won't have much impact on most individual countries. I've wondered if the difference is in the total destruction. Many of the countries should be able to rebuild fairly quickly. It is Sri Lanka and parts of Indonesia and India that will struggle. I hope that we don't forget them in the coming months after the resorts in Thailand are rebuilt.

I have also seen many people pleading for help in adopting children orphaned by the tsunamis. Overall, there is only slightly more need in the world than there was a week ago. There have always been many children in the US and out of the US that need help. Adopting a child affected by the tsunamis is very unlikely, but I hope that people are more aware of the needs around the world because of this.

Finally, the civil war in Sri Lanka has resulted in the deaths of 75,000 people in the last 20 years, more than twice as many as died during the tsunamis in Sri Lanka. Despite the fact that natural disasters seem to be coming more often and be more deadly, we are far better at destroying each other than nature is at killing us.

Tall Buildings

Taipei 101 opened today. I still like the Petronus Towers though.

Homeschooling and the Legislature

Recently I've been thinking about the state's role in education in general and its role in homeschooling specifically. When I first started to think about homeschooling and looking into various state regulations concerning education, I found that governmental oversight of education varies widely for state to state. For example, Pennsylvania, which is considered to be one of the most difficult states to homeschool in requires portfolios, standardized tests, notarized affidavits to homeschool, etc. Idaho, one of the easiest states, simply requires that you provide a comparable education (presumably to the public school curriculum). There is no notification, testing, any kind of oversight, or even a definition of a comparable education. Most states fall somewhere between these two extremes.

I do believe that there is a compelling interest in making sure that the citizens of a state are educated. I think educational neglect is just as damaging as physical or emotional neglect. The problem comes in defining what a decent education is, and the remedy if a child is not receiving one. Any type of education can be inadequate and one remedy does not fit all situations, but legislation usually ends up with a very limited number of solutions.

I am also very troubled when educational issues are linked to child protection issues. I don't think DFS or CPS should be involved in educational problems since it is an educational issue. I don't think educational neglect warrants removal from a home.

So what can I do about all of this? It is my responsibility to be aware of proposed legislation affecting homeschooling in Idaho. There has been an effort here the last few years to increase homeschooling regulations. Some of the proposals have been downright stupid. One legislator wanted to put parents in jail for allowing children's truancy. There were two major problems with this. First, there is no definition of what a comparable education is in Idaho. How can you decide if someone is truant when there is no way to know what they are supposed to be doing? Second, I cannot see how it would be helpful to a child to have their parent in jail if the sole problem in the home is educational neglect.

I wouldn't be angry about a little more oversight in Idaho, but I defenitely will be involved in the process if more oversight is suggested in the next session. It's always fun when the new legislative session starts.

Snow!

We finally seem to be getting some snow! We just moved to a place that generally gets at least 4 feet of snow every winter, but this winter has been a dud. We've had about two inches. Boise was better than this. Maybe the new year will redeem itself. :)

30 December 2004

Practical Emergency Housing

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Sandbag Shelters. With the recent devestation in so many parts of Asia, this type of housing has been brought to my mind again.

Sandbag homes are a variation of basic mudbrick homes that have been built in many parts of the world for thousands of years. Air-dried bricks are used to build domed structures which are very strong. Sandbag homes use the same principle, but instead of air-dried mudbricks, sandbags are used. The bags are filled with a mixture of dirt from the building site and a bit of concrete. The bags are then used to form the domes with barbed wire between the layers to increase the stability. The result is a structure that is adequate for the earthquake codes in southern California.

Nader Khalili developed these sandbag shelters about 10 years ago and has been trying to get
the idea put into use since, but hasn't had much luck. For example, he tried to get the UN to rebuild Bam, Iran with these sandbag stuctures. There were numberous advantages to using this system. It would have been significantly less expensive. The residents of Bam could have been taught how to build the homes, then used resources around them to actually do it. The homes are earthquake proof, at least for earthquakes that Iran has. They take little time to build. It also would have been more in line with the traditional character of Bam.

Instead, the UN went with the traditional rebuilding system of using pre-fab concrete boxes. I can only imagine how awful Bam looks now. It was an interesting and historical city before. The people have had no end of trouble getting their homes rebuilt. If only they could have built their own safe homes quickly. The UN still would have needed to supply lots of things, like toilets, food, water, and other basic supplies, but the major problem of housing could have been alleviated in much less time. This article has more details on Khalili's efforts in Bam.

My husband and I are hoping to be able to learn how to construct emergency sandbag shelters. If we had some skills like this, we could be useful in natural disasters, especially if they were in an Arabic-speaking country. We hope that he could train some of his students, many of whom have international experience and most who have extensive building experience, to build these shelters too. Then maybe, just maybe, there would be more we could do in a natural disaster.

29 December 2004

Contemporary Christianity

I have been getting quite an education in Protestant Christianity from the WTM boards. I have to admit that I am much more familiar with most major world religions than I am with general Christianity. I am a Christian myself, but I really only know about my specific beliefs and practices.

I had no idea before that children in many churches don't sit with their parents during the main worship service. I didn't know that contemporary Christian music was so widely used instead of hymns. I didn't know a thing about Universal Unitarians. I had no idea that Jehovah's Witnesses don't belive that Jesus Christ is divine. I didn't know that people would change churches so often to find one that fit their style and that styles within a given denomiation could vary so much from place to place.

I can tell you about Jewish practices. I could tell you about specific divisions within Islam. I've read a lot about Eastern Christianity. I'm pretty good with Christianity historically. But I have a definite gap in what I know about contemporary Christianity, and I need to fix that.

Are there any good unbiased books out there that would help me with this?

Early Morning Skies

Don't miss Mercury in the early morning before sunrise in the East. It should be visible for a few more days (at least if your skies are clear and you don't have high eastern mountains.)

Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are also visible in the early morning. Saturn is nearing its best time for viewing this year, so it's worth getting a telescope or binoculars out to see the rings.

Still Tsunamis...

The tsunamis are still taking up most of my thoughts. I have always had an interest in earth science, which easily leads to natural disasters. I hoped we would never see something as devestating as the eruption of Tambora in 1815. It is estimated that 92,000 people were killed and the global climate was affected for years.

While this earthquake won't change the global climate as it did so stunningly with Tambora, it will have a global impact. We have never seen anything like this.

I hope that there are less than 100,000 people dead. I can't even imagine that many people dying. That is about the size of the town where I grew up. It is 4 times the size of the place we live now. And it could have been even worse. Larger tsunamis have occured.

I still wish there were more we could do. I don't even think that flying to Indonesia would help, which is something we've thought about. We'll have to figure out something.

28 December 2004

Tsunami

I happened to check the USGS Earthquake website just after the large earthqauke hit Indonesia, before reports of the tsunamis started to come in. They probably hadn't even made it to Somalia and even India by then. What was interesting was that there were tsunami bulletins for the Pacific Ocean and the US even though there was no real threat to Pacific countries. I imagine that they knew there was tsunami danger to the Indian Ocean, but there is no way to warn people of impending tsunamis along the Indian Ocean.

I find it ironic that there was such destruction along so many Indian Ocean coasts when the Pacific Ocean statements were available so soon. Tsunamis can be incredibly destructive, and they have certainly wreaked havoc along the Inidan Ocean coasts before. The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 created huge tsumanis that killed over 30,000 people. However, those tsunamis were the last in the Indian Ocean.

Since tsunamis really are quite rare in the Indian Ocean, I can see that it is not really practical to set up warning systems along the Indian coasts. But education could be vitally important. I was amazed to read an account by a European today who said that he watched the water disappear for a long way back, and then saw the tsunami come. If people had only known that when the water all disappears along your coast, you run and don't stop. My husband said he didn't know that. Any country with a ocean coastline should at least make sure people know what the warning signs are of a tsunami.

I thought it was a sad coincidence that the earthquake in Bam was also on December 26th of 2003. Even though that earthquake was really fairly minor (6.6), 30,000 people were killed because they were living in building constructed of unreinforced masonry. Unreinforced masonry can actually be reinforced for relatively little expense, especially in comparison to the incredible damage that we saw in Bam. But it is hard to convince indiviual governments that there truly is a threat. We all think we are safe in our own homes.

But right now, none of this matters. Humanitarian aid and a variety of assistance is clearly needed, and I hope it can get there quickly. I do hope that this will spur the countries along the Indian Ocean to educate people about tsunamis. A warning system would have saved many lives, but probably is somewhat impractical, since tsunamis are quite rare in that part of the world. Education about tsunamis seems practical and vital.

I also wish that there was more that my family could do. We donate money to a humanitarian charity every month, so we can hope that some of our money will help those devestaed by the tsunamis, but it is not enough. I always remember my grandparents, who, after the hurricane in New England in 1938, hitchhiked from Idaho to New England to help clean up.

26 December 2004

Rote Prayers

In my church, the only prayer that we have that is standard and always repeated word for word is our sacrament (communion) prayer. Every other prayer is personalized and individual, no matter the setting. In fact, we seem to be so set against "vain repetitions" that some people seem to think that we have to be excessively creative to avoid even the appearance of repetition. Since the regular members of the church are often asked to prayer in group settings, we are often giving public prayers.

When rote prayer is discussed in church, someone usually brings up other various Christian denominations that apparently only use repeated or memorized prayers. I say apparently because I doubt that there are many devout Christians that never have personal, individualized prayers. When an unreasonable emphasis is placed on avoiding rote prayers, I think there are two (and probably more) problems occur, and I touched on both above.

The first is that we often end up portraying other Christian denominations as having worthless prayers. As I said before, I expect that most Christians say personal prayers like my own that are individual and unique. Our prayers are not inherently better because they are different every time. Rote prayers can be as valuable to the individual, if they are said with real intent.

The other problem is that repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. My prayers are often very similar to each other, but I don't think this falls into the category of "vain repetitions." I always pray for my family, my friends, the prophet, the missionaries, and Jerusalem. I try to have real intent when I pray. I certainly don't always, but I think that the intent is more important than the words.

I do need to make more of my prayers. Prayer is our opportunity to communicate personally with Heavenly Father and I often take it too lightly.

25 December 2004

Fuzzy Christmas Thoughts

There hasn't been much thinking going on around here. Too much delicious food and a slight lack of sleep are not conducive to amazing thoughts. I did find Phantom Tollbooth at my mother's house. I never quite got into it when I tried it as a child, but I am enjoying it now.

I discovered this Christmas that homeschool catalogues have great gift ideas. The "educational" gifts were a big hit. I was pleasantly surprised when my boys (and a lot of the cousins) thought the balloon science kit was much better than the computer games and electronic toys that always abound on Christmas morning.

The most unusual thing about the day was that my step-mother-in-law (a few too many hyphens) decided that my husband and I are allergic to each other. This was diagnosed by (1) each of us lying on our back and (2) holding our arm in the air and resisting while (3) she pushed on our arm while asking us questions. If we couldn't hold our arms up on any given question, that meant the answer was yes. Apparently all we need to do is go to 20-30 treatments (each costing 65 dollars) and we will not be allergic to each other any more. Who knew? ;)

24 December 2004

Merry Christmas!

Eats, Shoot and Leaves has a long hold list at my library. I had tried to get it this summer, but we moved before I had a chance to get it. But my mother has had it on hold and it came in today! I'll have to see if she'll share with me while I'm here. :)

We'll be having a delightfully busy day and I hope that the next few days are wonderful for you too. Merry Christmas!

23 December 2004

Children's Christmas Books

Every year we get our Christmas books out of the the garage when we decorate the house for Christmas. Here are some of my favorites:

The First Christmas According to Luke This book's text comes from Luke chapters 1 and 2 and has beautiful illustrations. I've read it to younger son every night for the last few weeks. The best part is when we sing Glory to God in the Highest, but we sing in Arabic. I love to hear younger son singing along. We sang Far Far Away on Judea's Plains in church on Sunday and the boys were belting it out in Arabic.

Bright Christmas This is told from an angel's point of view and also has beautiful and authentic illustrations.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is the story of an irritable woodcarver who is commissioned to carve a nativity set for a widow and her child. A little predictable, but still a good one to read.

So Many Gifts is a different take on Santa Claus, and one that I like a lot. Since I still believe in Santa, I really like this one.

22 December 2004

A Perfect Christmas

MFS' post (posted a few days ago) about Christmas sounds just about perfect to me. I am lucky enough to have delighful nieces and nephews who love to play with my children and sing. I have sisters who love to read and don't worry about what they eat. We have a pajama kind of family, and we will be spending one of the next few days at the dinosaur museum near my mother's house. Why would we want to spend our time doing anything else?

Christmas has always been a time of wonder to me, and, so far, we've been successful at having peaceful holidays that are not full, but easygoing and quiet.

And that dinosaur musuem is lots of fun. They have a huge erosion table with sand and running water. My sisters and mother and I have as much fun as the kids building dams and pools, and then flooding all the dinosaurs downstream. :)

By the way, MFS also posted about Reading Lolita in Tehran. I was sure she had, but when I searched her blog last week using the blogger search thing, I couldn't find it. Today I found her handy little search the un-blog space, and found the recommendation.

21 December 2004

Too Much Time on Our Hands

We expect that we will have 6 or 7 weeks free this summer, mostly in July. We have been debating what to do with this chunk of time. If money weren't an issue, what would you do? If money were an issue, would you do something different?

We've come up with lots of ideas. One is to take a trip around the country. We have friends and family in California, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin. We lived in New Jersey for a year and would love to visit there again and show older son where he was born. We'd love to visit LDS church history sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinios, Missouri and along the Mormon Trail. This trip would require lots of driving time, but would be less expensive than some of our other options.

We would love to travel to the Middle East or Central Asia. Cairo is probably my favorite city in the world (I can never decide if Jerusalem comes first), but Cairo in July is not pleasant. My husband and I have wanted to go to Samarqand, Bukhara, and Khiva for a long time. I always want to go back to Jerusalem. The problem with these ideas is that airfare for four people is pricey. Our families would also get in a snit because they think it's dangerous in that part of the world. They shouldn't have let us marry each other.

We could also stay home and build a house here, if we are going to be staying here permanently. This idea is practical, saves money, and sounds very boring. We are too often practical and boring.

I've also discovered that you can take less expensive freighter trips. How about a round-the-world cruise? It would take about 7 weeks and we would stop at ports all around the world.

I had a friend whose family backpacked through Europe as a family. That sounded like a great thing to do. She had a good time, except that her pack was stolen at the beginning of the trip. But she didn't have to haul a lot of stuff around. :)

20 December 2004

So Many Books...

Over the last few weeks, my books lists have gone crazy. First, I discovered that I can request ILL books over the internet at the university library. Then I found that they will deilver said books to my husband's office, and he delivers them to our house. At every other library I've used, ILL is inconvenient, so I haven't used it much. But ILL books delivered right to my home! This is a great system. I have a list right now of 50 books to request, and since I can request anything it is sure to continue growing.

Then MFS at Mental Multivitamin posted a list of biographies. I've been reading M-Mv since she started her blog and I have enjoyed many of her recommendations. I've generally been able to keep up with the ones she recommends that I want to read, but her biography list has slowed me down. By the way, if you haven't been to her site, visit! It's lovely to read.

Then Melissa and Julie started book blogs and I don't have a prayer of keeping up anymore.

What it really comes down to is that I trust the opinions of MFS, Melissa, and Julie. I've enjoyed many of the books Melissa has enjoyed, and I've read several she recommends and liked them very much.

But who can complain? To know that there are so many good books just waiting out there makes me happy.

Marjorie Pay Hinckley

I've never been one who has had a "hero." Of course there are people I look up to, with qualities that I admire, but never someone who could be called a hero for me. But I do admire Marjorie Pay Hinckley.

Marjorie Hinckley is the wife of the current president of the Mormon Church. Sister Hinckley died last April. In the last few years, three books were published in her name. None of them were technically written and put together by her, but they were compiled and edited by her daughters and sons.

The first one to be published was Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley and was published in 1999. It is mostly filled with friends' and family's remembrances of Sister Hicnkley and how she influenced their lives. I read this book in 2001 when I had a 1-year-old and a baby that was a few months old. It was a major factor in my surviving those months. I loved the chapters on humor and motherhood. When I would get bogged down with my little ones, I could read this book and feel like I would be just fine. I still feel like this today, even though things are much easier now.

I also enjoyed her other two books, Small and Simple Things and Letters. Letters came out recently and was interesting to read because it filled her life out a bit.

But the thing I love most about Sister Hinckley is her love for learning. She enrolled in college on the same day that her father lost his job at the beginning of the Depression. The next day, she withdrew from college and got a job to help support her family. She never was able to go back to college. She is quoted on page 97 of Glimpses as saying, "Since college was not an option, I decided, well, if this is my life, I'd better educate myself. And I worked hard at it. I read and read and read."

I was lucky enough to go to college and get my bachelors degree before we had children, since I only had a semester left at BYU when we got married. I wish that I could continue and get a masters degree, but there isn't a practical way to do it right now. Reading this quote by Sister Hickley reminds me that I don't have to have formal education to learn. I can read what I want to and learn as much as I choose. It won't be anytime soon that I will have the official degree. I may not ever be able to return to school to do a masters. But I can take the time to keep on learning despite that.

One of the final things President Hinckley said about his wife was, "Your voracious appetite for reading and your relentless pursuit of knowledge have kept you alert and refreshing throughout a long and fruitful life." I think that is a goal worth pursuing.

19 December 2004

Jane Austen

I'm one of those who loves Jane Austen. However, I have to admit I'm not one of those who swoons over Colin Firth. I know, it's an appalling confession, but it is true. I do love the films, but the books are so much more satisfying.

For a long time, Pride and Prejudice was my favorite Austen novel. Up until a year or two ago, I had only read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park. Out of those three, Pride and Prejudice was my favorite. But, as I mentioned, I read Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion recently and I enjoyed them. Persuasion was absolutely wonderful. It is in the running for my favorite Austen book. I also watched what is, I think, the most recent film version of Persuasion (it's not as long as many Austen adaptations) and it was also very good.

So, why is P&P so much more popular than Persuasion? Is it because of the very popular A&E version? S&S seems to be far better known than Persuasion, again, probably because of the popular film. How popular was Jane Austen before the recent batch of film adaptations came out?

Persuasion isn't as long as P&P and probably isn't as complex, so from a literary analysis stance, P&P might be "better." However, Persuasion has such a delightful story with likeable characters that in some ways, Persuasion could be the better story. If you haven't read it, you you love Jane Autsten, it's very worth reading.

And, just for the record, I like Mansfield Park. It is different in its own way from the rest, and Fanny can be very hard to like (it would have helped if she didn't cry quite so much). However, I did relate to Fanny in some ways, and Henry made the whole book fun to read. I also think Fanny is surprisingly strong, despite the fact that she does not fit what we usually think of as a strong woman.

I bought the book in a little bookstore in Amman, Jordan, when I had read every book I had brought at least three times. It was new and fresh for me, and an entirely different world from the one where I had spent the previous five months. I am sure that had an effect on my enjoyment of the book.

18 December 2004

Why We Homeschool

I still haven't come up with a good answer when someone asks us why we homeschool. Of course, most people just sort of smile indulgently and change the subject. They seem to be thinking, "Her children are little and she's idealistic. Does she really want to turn her kids into little wackos?" Or, maybe they're thinking, "I don't even know what to say to such a weird person," or it could well be, "What an overprotective mother!"

But some people do ask. And if they do ask, they usually care and are willing to listen to an answer. I usually blather around saying we get to spend more time together or I like having the free time, or something like that. It's not very effective, and I need to do better.

I think it's important when I'm asked any question about the way we do things, whether it's about homeschooling or any other part of our lives, that it doesn't sound like I'm criticizing their choice. If I were to say that we're not happy with the public schools to someone who's in the very public school we chose not to attend, it might not be the most positive way to phrase it. If I were to mention lack of morality in the public schooled children, it could easily be taken as a critism of her own children.

(These two reasons I just mentioned actually didn't play any role in our decision to homeschool. They are just commonly brought up as reasons to homeschool.)

I need to come up with a few ways that homeschooling benefits our family, and leave it at that. The main reason I chose to homeschool is freedom. I didn't want the public schools running my life: when we could eat, when we had to get up in the morning, if we could go with my husband on his sabbaticals. Homeschooling is also lots of fun. I love to learn, and I want to pass that on to my children. I could do that if they were in public school (my mother certainly did) but I want to have more time to do it. There just isn't a lot of time after school. Spending more time as a family is a huge benefit that I think will become even more obvious as my children grow.

Maybe the next time someone asks why we homeschool, I'll just say, It's fun and we like the freedom it gives our family. I don't think that should be offensive, unless someone was really trying hard to be offended, and it basically touches on why we're doing it.

17 December 2004

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I first heard about this book on Fresh Air shortly after it came out. (I am annoyed that I can't listen to Fresh Air here. The local public radio station doesn't air most of the NPR programs.) The interview with Nafisi was delightful to listen to, but the book wasn't at my library yet even though we had a good library system in that town. I heard about it a few times after, but I basically forgot about it.

But a few weeks ago, I was reading Melissa's blog and was reminded about the book. I was able to get it through ILL from a nearby library and finished it last night. It was different from what I thought it would be. It is portrayed as a book about a small group of women reading "banned" books, but that is really a small part of the book. As usual, I read the reviews on Amazon this morning to see what other people thought about it, and it seemed to me that the main complaint was that it wasn't what it was portrayed to be. I can agree with that, but it isn't a complaint for me, just an interesting side note on how the book was marketed.

The other big complaint was about the literary analysis of several fiction books. This didn't bother me at all. I think there is a lot more to fiction that a good story. Pride and Prejudice is almost always thought of as a great romance now instead of a social commentary. Jane Eyre suffers from this too. Nafisi and her class take Elizabeth Bennett, Daisy Miller, and Daisy Buchanan and relate them and their reactions to their own lives. That is an important part of fiction.

I personally found this book very interesting because I have only spent time in liberal (relatively) Muslim countries. When I think of Islam, I think of Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Most people think of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under the Taliban. Because of this, I have a much more liberal view of Islam than many people I meet. It is good for me to read about the more restrictive interpretations of Islam (if you can even call them Islam) so I can better understand where people are coming from.

I highly recommend this book. It has persuasive arguments for the importance of reading, especially fiction, and I need to hear that sometimes.

16 December 2004

Yogurt

I love yogurt. We go through 2-3 quarts a week. I love it so much that I started to make it myself. It is incredibly easy to make. I use powdered milk so I can say I'm doing something with my food storage. Here's my recipe:

3 cups powdered milk
2 quarts warm water (no warmer than 120 degrees)
1/2 c yogurt

Mix the milk and water, then stir in the yogurt. I do this right in my yogurt maker container. Then I stick the container in the outer container, plug it in, and leave it for 4-6 hours. Let it chill for 24 hours before eating it. It's a good idea to set 1/2 cup aside right after it's chilled so you'll always have yogurt to make more. If you don't have a yogurt maker, you can leave it in a warm place till it has set up.

My kind sister had a yogurt maker sitting around from her mother-in-law. Since she never used it, she passed it on to me. But then a couple of years later she decided she wanted one (they'd been in Europe and had drunk lots of yogurt drinks), so I got her one for Christmas.

But what do I do with this yogurt? Many people don't like it, or only like it with lots of sugar in it. Use it as a substitute for sour cream or buttermilk. Lots of Middle Eastern dishes are made with it or topped with yogurt. My favorite thing to do with yogurt is to add it to macaroni and cheese. I just cook my macaroni, mix in some grated chese, yogurt, and salt, and I'm all set. One of my children loves it too- the one that's not a picky eater.

Yogurt is cheap, healthy, easy to make, tastes good, and uses up that silly powdered milk that's going bad in the garage. Give it a try. :)

The Jews in Israel

About a month ago on the WTM boards, someone asked for book recommendations for older elementary children on the Palestininan-Israeli conflict. I gave her a few suggestions, but I didn't really have anything good. I've decided that I need to find juvenille non-fiction books that I can find to see if there is anything good written on that level about the conflict. Since I have lived in Arab Jerusalem and studied Arabic, I sympathize with the Palestinians.

However, the main point is that because of that question, I found some interesting things about the Jews currently living in Israel. There are about 13.5 million Jews in the world. 10 million are Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and 3.5 are lumped together as Sephardic Jews. This includes Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and various parts of Asia. However, in Israel, there are more Sephardic Jews than Ashkenazi. There are approximately 3 million Sephardic Jews and 2 million Ashkenazi Jews.

This is very interesting since most Zionists were European Jews, and Sephardic Jews were generally not persecuted to the extent that European Jews were. True, Jews in Muslim and Asian countries were often discriminated against, but that is a far cry from the outright persecution that was going on in Europe for many hundreds of years.

It leaves me to wonder how necessary the State of Israel really was. Many Jews don't want to live in Israel because it can be a dangerous place to live. The Ashkenani Jews were greatly persecuted, yet only 20 percent live in Israel. The Sephardic Jews were generally treated decently in their countries, yet the creation of Israel resulted in many of them fleeing their home countries for Israel and the West.

The World's Major Languages

Well, it depends on how you add it up. Most everyone agrees that Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language. Spanish and English are next. It gets a little trickier after that, since the numbers for Hindi/Urdu, Bengali, and Arabic are not too far apart. This site gives a detailed list of the 50 most widely spoken languages and they countries where are they spoken.

However, the most interesting site I found takes many different factors into account. At the end of the page, it comes up with a list of the 10 most influential languages in the world. This list is similar to a list of the most widely spoken languages, but has some important changes. English is first, Chinese drops to 6th, and Hindi drops to 10th. French, which wouldn't even have been on a regular top ten list, is second.

Based on this last list, it looks to me that public schools are focusing on some of the most important languages. French, Spanish, and German are by far the most commonly taught second languages in the US. I was also able to take Russian in high school.

Does the US need to place a greater emphasis on a second language? After all, English can easily be considered to be the most useful language to know. Can a person really get a decent proficiency in a language if they start in high school? Many non-English-speaking countries start teaching English in elementary school, but there are few elementary schools in the US where it is even an option to study a foreign language.

I don't forsee the American education system spending more money any time soon on foreign language. Is it something that parents should take upon themselves? Is it that important? I think it is.

15 December 2004

Slightly Off-the-wall Geography Game

I just wanted to write about a fun game we played last week. Before I was married, my mother and I made some giant wall maps on fabric. We used the opaque projector at the library and did one of Europe, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. They are 6 feet wide, and some are floor-to-ceiling. It was great when we finally moved to a house where we could put them up.

Anyway, I got the South America map down last week and spread it out on the floor. My boys are pretty familiar with the countries of South America, but needed some practice. I called out a country and the would race to jump on it first. After doing that for a while, we played twister. It was a big hit. I'd tell one to put his right hand on Brazil and his left foot on Colombia and so on. They boys loved it and they learn the countries of South America better.

We'll have to try it with Africa sometime. You could really get tangled up on that one. :)

Rebekah

I just finished reading Rebekah by Orson Scott Card. This is the first book I've ever read by Orson Scoot Card, despite the fact that I like science fiction and that he is so popular (or many it's because of that last one.) Melissa recommended it, and since I have very much enjoyed quite a few of the books she recommened, I thought it was time to give Card a try.

I picked Rebekah because it was available at the library and I like Genesis. It doesn't seem like Mormon historical fiction has tackled a lot of ancient history, so I was hoping this one would be a little different. But, alas, it seemed like most LDS historical fiction. The characters are never what I think they should be. Still, it was an enjoyable read.

While I was reading the book, however, I thought of something that has been nagging me for a while. Why does the story of Jacob's getting the birthright play out the way it does? Was in necessary for Rebekah to play the part she did? I firmly believe the the birthright would have gone to the correct son no matter what Rebekah or Isaac did. However, sometimes our inadequate actions bring about the right consequences.

The reasons I've come up with for explaining this are 1) Isaac needed to be taught a lesson about listening to Rebekah 2) Rebekah's deception wasn't righteous, but since it was the result the Lord wanted, she was allowed to go ahead 3) Jacob and Esau needed to know Rebekah's feelings in the matter 4) Rebekah was inspired to do what she did because Isaac wasn't listening to the promptings he should have heard 5) We today needed another story about an interesting women in the scriptures.

Maybe it isn't any of these. Maybe someone else has a good reason. I prefer to think that Rebekah knew what she was doing and that she realized the importance of that blessing and the birthright far more than either of her sons. But whatever the reason, I am glad that we have stories like this, especially in the Old Testament.

The World's Most Common Languages

What are the world's five most widely spoken languages? What would you guess? Tell me if you're guessing for native speakers only, or including non-native speakers also.

Aga Khan Award

The Aga Khan Award was announced recently. Here is a brief description of the goals of the program from Archnet:

Established in 1977 by His Highness the Aga Khan, the awards recognise examples of architectural excellence that encompass contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, restoration, re-use, and area conservation, as well as landscaping and environmental issues. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies in which Muslims have a significant presence.



Some of the projects this year are very interesting. One is to continue revitalizing the Old City of Jerusalem. The Israeli government has poured money into reconstructing and revitalizing Jewish areas of the Old City (which they say they administer as one undivided city) while Muslim areas are crumbling away.

Another project is to help rebuild the Great Library of Alexandria. This project has been going on for some time, but I wasn't aware of it. I wish that we had known when we were in Alexandria.

My husband thought the Petronas Towers in Malaysia were the best. I liked seeing a skyscraper with Islamic design and decoration.

However, I thought the most interesting project was the Sandbag Shelters. In many parts of the world, homes are traditionally built using sun-dried mud bricks. This is a great system since in many places, like Egypt, people can build homes using the resources around them. However, it is time consuming, since the bricks have to be formed and dried. Refugees and people in natural distasters need housing quickly.

To help solve this problem, Iranian architect Nader Khalili developed the idea for a "superadobe" system. The basic idea is to use sandbags instead of mud bricks. Barbed wire reinforces the structure. These materials are often abundant in refugee situations, and the result is a very safe structure that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.

This is an amazing idea to me. Khalidi took an ancient idea and applied a few modern ideas and came up with something that has the potential to benefit many people.

14 December 2004

Two More Good Books

These two books are completely different from each other. The first is a novel written as a diary, and the second is about amateur astronomy. I read more non-fiction than fiction, mostly because I get caught up in fiction. I also find that fiction often affects me in many ways. I realized this when I read Wuthering Heights the first time. I've discovered I need to mix in some light-hearted fiction. Anyway, here are two books for today.

These is My Words was written by Nancy Turner. It is written in journal form and tells the story of a woman pioneer (Sarah Prine) in Arizona in the late 1800s. It was a very quick read. I especially enjoyed it since my ancestors were pioneers, some in Arizona, at the same time. It was interesting to read more about the settlement of Arizona.

My only complaint was that I felt that the main character had a few too many things happen to her. Now, I know that pioneers had difficult lives. I have one ancestor who had a lot happen to her, but this book really seems to push it. It went from one disaster to another. That being said, Sarah deals with this things well, and comes out ahead. I have very rarely read historical fiction where I felt that the characters were realistic, but Sarah came a lot closer to that than most.

An older woman that I visit teach in my ward (congregation) recommended it to me. She is part of a book group with a number of the older women in the ward. I guess I'm too young to be a part of it. :) (FYI, visiting teaching is something our Church does. The women in the ward visit each other each month to talk about the gospel, chat about our families and interests, and get to know each other better. As I've gotten older, I've seen the benefits of visiting teaching and I'm glad we do it.)

The other book is Celestial Delights by Francis Reddy and Greg Walz-Chojnacki. This is a wonderful book for someone just starting out with amateur astronomy, or who just needs all of this great information in one place. It covers the best astronomical events through 2010. Between this book and spaceweather.com, I've finally been able to keep track of meteor showers, the phases of the moon, appearances of Mercury, and a variety of other events.

The only problem that comes up now is that I love earth science and astronomy and I've got to teach my children about biology, chemistry, and physics too. :)

Mourning miscarriages

I have read with interest the discussions of pregnancies, miscarriages, and infertility at the WTM boards. This is largely because I found that I cannot relate to the feelings that many of the women are expressing. What surprised me, though, was that I have gone through a lot of the things these women are struggling with. We've had four miscarriages (all at 13 weeks) in the last few years, and I don't have uncomplicated pregnancies when they do manage to get past 13 weeks.

However, I haven't felt the "soul-wrenching pain" that some posters talked about. This is what I've been trying to understand. I almost feel like callous mother since I don't mourn the miscarriages. I have a niece and a nephew who would have been the ages of two of the babies we lost. I hadn't even thought about that till these conversations came up on the boards. I haven't seen either of them, but I don't expect that seeing them during Christmas will make me feel sad.


So why is it that we assume that if someone has had similar experiences that they will understand what we are feeling? Why is it that if someone *hasn't* had an experience like ours that we don't think they could ever understand what we are going through? I can empathize with women who have a miscarriage, but it's not because I've gone through it myself so many times. It's because I truly feel sad to know that someone else is suffering.

One thing I can understand is how hard it is physically. Since my miscarriages have all been relatively late, they took quite a few weeks to recover from physically. But we've all experienced pain, and it doesn't have to be the same kind to have empathy for another woman.

The only thing about this that makes me sad is that my children wish they had a younger sibling. They often seek out younger children at church, and they love it when their friends bring their younger siblings over.

This post isn't specifically aimed at anyone. It's just something I've been thinking about and didn't think I could express at the boards without offending someone.

Crockpot Lasagne

I had a few requests for this lasange on the WTM boards, so I thought I'd post it here so I can keep track of it. It is delicious and simple. At my house, it feeds six hungry adults and two hungry children. The recipe says it feeds 10.

Meat sauce:
1 pound ground beed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
29 oz tomato sauce
6 oz tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp pepper

Cheese mixture:
16 oz mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 c cottage cheese (12 oz container)
1/2 c Parmesan

4 oz lasagne noodles

Cook the onion and garlic with the beef till browned. Add the rest of the meat sauce ingredients and simmer 2-3 minutes. Combine cheeses separately. Spread 1/4 of the meat sauce on the bottom of the crockpot, then 1/3 of the noodles, breaking to fit. Top with 1/3 of the cheese, then repeat the layers twice and top with remaining meat sauce. Cook on low 4-5 hours.

13 December 2004

Search, Ponder, and Pray

For a long time I have struggled with studying the scriptures. I've faithfully read the scriptures every day for more that 13 years, but I have to admit that I've rarely gotten a lot out of it. The exceptions to this were when I was in Jerusalem, but that's for another day.

I find I read the scriptures more like a history book or a story. I know the history of the Nephites cold. I can find any piece of information that you want in the Book of Mormon. I enjoy reading the Old Testament because it has lots of good stories. Since I particularly enjoy ancient history, the Old Testament comes alive for me.

These are worthwhile things in the scriptures. But I've never managed to do what my husband does. He really thinks about the scriptures when he reads. He asks me where to find things or what specific words mean, but his questions really get me thinking. I realized a long time ago that I needed to ask more questions, but was never very successful. But now I have finally found the book that has helped me learn to do this better.

Sometime last year, Julie in Austin posted that she had just had a book published about the gospels. I didn't buy it then, mostly because I dismissed it in my mind as another LDS commentary and I forgot about the book. Then I happened to start reading an LDS blog that she posts to and I was reminded of her book. But what really got me was when she said that her book was filled with questions and no answers. This was different. I ordered it. I think it's probably the first LDS book I've ever purchased instead of having purchased for me. I didn't even check it out from the library first.

And I love Search, Ponder, and Pray. This is the first time in a long time that I have looked forward to reading the scriptures. I generally haven't liked commentaries because they say one thing, and I often think it means something else, or I think it can go further. But this book has helped me read the scriptures more carefully. I've thought of new ideas. I've referenced other books of scripture, especially the Old Testament, more often. The introduction alone made the purchase worthwhile.

In fact, I think that after I've worked my way through this one, I could do it myself with the Old Testment. That would be lots of fun, since the OT has plenty of character. I look forward to it.

Thanks, Julie.

Flatbreads and Flavors

Flatbreads and Flavors is my favorite cookbook. It is by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. They've written a few more good cookbooks since then, but to me, nothing compares to their first. They have flatbread and other delicious recipes from India, China, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the Americas. This is worth checking out from the library, or getting on ILL, or even buying. I once read that if you get at least one recipe from a cookbook, it was a worthwhile purchase. Well, this one has been worth it for my family!

Some of our family favorites are the batia roti from India on page 130 and the Uyghur naan on page 31. In fact, I took the naan to some Uzbek friends one time and they said it was pretty authentic- just a little undercooked. :) I also make the chilequiles (384) and tortilla soup (382)often. I use the pizza dough (334) as our standard recipe for pizza, although the boys prefer different toppings. I could list quite a few more delicious recipes from this book, but this is enough for now.

But my favorite thing about this cookbook are the memories it brings back. On my first day out in the Old City of Jerusalem, we stopped and bought some bread rings that we dipped in zatar, a Middle Eastern spice mix. When my husband was in Cairo a few years ago, he brought some zatar back, but I didn't know how to make the bread rings. When I got this book, I found the very recipe I had been looking for! It was wonderful to sit with my husband and dip the bread rings into zatar and remember my first day in Jerusalem. Even though I ate them again in the Old City, they will always remind me of the first day there.

I have a few other cookbooks that bring back memories like this. I'll post about them in the future.

Crocheting

I've been crocheting since the birth of my older son. When I was a teenager, I always said that I would never learn to crochet. It seemed like a silly way to spend time. But after said son was born, my mother taught me how to crochet rugs, and I enjoyed it so much that I started to crochet many things.

Now, 5 years later, I am selling crocheted blessing/christening gowns at consignment place called Mormon Handicraft. The link to the store is http://www.mormonhandicraft.com/ If I knew how to write html better, I could have done that more neatly, but I'll learn later. Here is a link to my dresses: http://users.mstar2.net/familyquilt/dress.html I'm still working on this site to make it more professional, but this gives you an idea of what I'm making.

Hanukkah

Our family celebrates various world religious holidays. We try to celebrate a different religion's holiday each month. Perhaps this is because my religious tradition (Mormon) does not have any of its own holidays. We celebrate Christmas in a big way and Easter Sunday is an important day, but that's it. When my husband and I were living in the Middle East, we saw people really celebrating. I want my children to experience a little bit of that.

So, in December, the obvious pick is Hanukkah. The problem is that I have a difficult time finding hanukkah candles in our little part of the world. I have a beautiful hanukkiah that is displayed all year, but for the last two years, I haven't had any candles for it. I suppose that I'll have to order some candles over the internet to keep this tradition alive for our children.

I also would love to find some good Hanukkah books for my children. Any recommendations?

I feel that it is important for my children to have a respect and love for all religions. As I mentioned before, we live in an area where you can't find Hanukkah candles easily. Actually, we live in a place where you can't find anything but Mormons easily. We have a lot of Muslim friends, but we're not living near any of them now. Our children can't play with their children anymore. Since it looks like we're going to be staying here amongst the Mormons for a long time, I feel strongly that we need to teach our children everything we can about other religions and beliefs.

So, we will make a special effort now to celebrate Passover, Eid al-Adha, Guru Nanak's birth, O Bon, and all the rest.

Geminids and comets

The Geminids meteor shower should put on a good show tonight and early tomorrow morning. If you go out just after sunset and look to the east, you could see a few bright meteors called earth grazers. They often are long and leave trails. We saw some beautiful ones in August during the Perseids.

Go out again around midnight for the real show. Forecasters are predicting 100 meteors an hour, so it's worth getting up. At that time, look up. Gemini will be high in the sky. If you know how to find Gemini, look below Castor and Pollux to see Saturn.

There is also a comet to the left of Rigel, Orion's brightest foot. It is barely visible now, but should get brighter by January. It will be slightly higher in the sky each night.

A handy website is http://spaceweather.com It has sky maps for all of these things I've mentioned.

In Which I Decide to Try Blogging

This is just a little spot for me to write about what I've been thinking about. It will be about the things I am interested in. So, it will cover world religions, languages, people, food, and cultures; the Middle East; the LDS Church; family history; astronomy; geysers; books; homeschooling; education; and anything else I wonder about.