31 January 2005

Monday's Books

I got a little bogged down this week and didn't get through as many books as I would have liked, but here are the ones I finished.

The Word According to Eve by Cullen Murphy- Julie in Austin recommended this one and I very much enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed the first half since it dealt with the Old Testament. It is also helpful to know Arabic, since Hebrew and Arabic roots are very often the same. I also love Biblical archaeology- I've read more than my share of Biblical Archaeology Review. It is a survey of a variety of feminist scholarship on women in the Bible. It was different from what I thought I was looking for; I wouldn't have ever picked it up on my own. I'm still waiting for you to blog more about this, Julie. :)

Great Catherine by Carolly Erickson- This was a good biography of Catherine the Great. I don't know a lot about that time period in Russia, so I learned a lot about Russia in addition to Catherine. The beginning was especially interesting. I didn't enjoy it quite so much towards the end, when Catherine became the Empress. There were several reasons for this. Probably the main one was that Catherine had written her memoirs, but they only went up to the time that she became Empress. As I was reading, I could tell that an interesting source had been lost. Also, Catherine, like nearly every ruler, was corrupted by her power and was not as likeable as an empress. I also would have very much liked to hear more about how she dealt with things as a ruler. We only got bits and pieces- mostly how she dealt with major uprisings. The book mentioned reforms that Catherine put in place, but never told us much about what those reforms actually were. I wanted to know more of how she dealt with non-Russian areas of Russia, and her relations with other countries. However, I do see that all these things don't necessarily fit in a book like this- it seems to be written as an accessible book, and those other details wouldn't interest a lot of people who are more normal than I am. I do definitely recommend the book, since it is interesting and is about a rather unfamiliar time and place for most of us.

Jerusalem Architecture by David Kroyanker - Beautiful "coffee-table" book with many pictures. Lots of detail. A little different from other Jerusalem books, since it covers secular buildings too. It goes from 1000 BC to the present, even covering the BYU Jerusalem Center. Added to my wish list.

Comet Machholz

It's still out there.

30 January 2005

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is coming up in about 10 days. This is an easy one to celebrate because many cities have activities going on already, there are lots of activities that go along with it, and Chinese food is more familiar and available than say, what I'll suggest for Nowruz next month. :) Search for activities on the internet, or try some of these listed below. My boys have enjoyed some of these. There are so many sites with activities that you shouldn't have any trouble finding ideas.

Crafts and Activities for Chinese New Year - EnchantedLearning.com

Kids Domain - Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year for kids and teachers - kiddyhouse.com

China: Dim Sum: New Year or Spring Festival

Yuan Tan


There are also many good books about China and Chinese New Year. We use this time to learn little about Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese culture. This is also the new year for other countries in SE Asia, like Vietnam, so there are lots of choices. One book I recommend is Chinese Festivals Cookbook by Stuart Thompson. This one has information about three different holidays with a variety of recipes.

29 January 2005

The Islamic Year

I finally found a good book about Muslim holidays. It is The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations by Noorah al-Gailani and Chris Smith. I wasn't sure if it would be too simple- most books on Islam for children are very basic. This book doesn't assume the reader knows anything about Islam, but it goes far beyond the basics. It is more than an introduction to Islam.

The chapters are divided by different periods in Muhammad's life, since the main Muslim festivals celebrate events in his life. The holidays it covers are: Milad al-Nabi (Muhammad's birthday), Laylat al-Qadr (first revelation given to Muhammad), al-Isra'wa al-Miraj (Night Journey and Ascension), Hijrah (New Year when Muhammad and his followers went to Medina), Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), and Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice).

Each chapter quotes relevant surahs from the Qur'an and has a story about Muhammad. It goes on to detail a certain holiday, with emphasis on how it is celebrated in different countries. There are also several folk tales and activities in each chapter centered around a theme related to the holiday. The activities are better than many I have seen, with a direct relation to Islam.

I highly recommend this book. Even if you know nothing about Islam, it has enough explanation that you won't be lost. If you know a lot about Islam, it goes beyond the basics.

Another excellent book is Muhammad by Demi. It is a children's picture book with beautiful illustrations and a good retelling of Muhammad's life.

28 January 2005

My Little Views on Classical Education

All of the discussions about classical education on various message boards and blogs have gotten me thinking about why I choose to classically homeschool my children. I've not read all the books that are out there on the subject. In fact, all I've read is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. My view is limited, but I still have opinions. :)

One of the main reasons we homeschool is that I received a good public education- it was almost classical. My mother taught me to read phonetically when I was 4. I did dictation, narrations, and poetry memorization. I took two years of Latin and four years of French. I learned how to diagram. Geography, history, and current events were taught well. I was the fourth child in my family, so my mother knew who the good teachers were. My high school had a large number of AP classes available. We had great science labs. We read a lot in high school- even poetry and Greek mythology. I learned about American politics and civics.

I was incredibly lucky. Even my friends that I grew up with didn't get the same things I did. It's very unlikely my children could get something similar, and I do think I got nearly the best education available. When I read the TWM, it fit almost perfectly with the education I want my children to have. It gave me the confidence to homeschool. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn't know how.

I don't know about all the theories behind classical education. I'm not convinced that it's vital to focus so completely on European traditions. But I can tailor our needs since we homeschool. We can figure out what's best for us as we go along.

I don't know if we'll keep homeschooling forever. I do think we'll keep going at least through grammar state. But I do know that for now, it's what we want, and it's been good for my family. My husband even thinks it's a better idea now. :)

27 January 2005

Missionary Work

I was going to do another post about international politics, but I thought I'd spare you the pain. So it'll be missionary work today. I recently posted about an excellent article that in part dealt with missionary work. There is also an article in the February Ensign about missionary work (check the comments for the link to the article- thanks Diane!). When I first read the Ensign article, I was quite dissatisfied. But as I've worked on this post, I've decided that it's a better article than I had thought.

First, let me quote a bit from that previous article by Roger Keller from Bridges. He says (and this is also my view of missionary work):
As a missionary, my goal is to bless lives- all lives. I believe that the
greatest blessing I can give people is baptism into the fulness of the gospel.
But many are not ready for that, so I seek to move them a bit further along the
spiritual path than they were the day I met them. I may make them better
Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or Presbyterians than they were when we
met, because we began to talk about the spiritual things of life that had become
peripheral to them. If I do this, I have been a successful missionary, for
conversion to the fulness of the gospel is a process; not a moment. It is a
process guided by the Holy Ghost.
Here are the 7 points from the article in the Ensign:

1. We simply can't predict who will or won't be interested.
2. Building a (deep) friendship is not a prerequisite to inviting people to learn about the gospel.
3. Despite their inexperience, we can trust the missionaries to teach the gospel well.
4. Inviting others to help us with our work in the Church helps them feel needed and helps them feel the Spirit
5. We succeed as member missionaries when we invite people to learn and accept the truth.
6 Because we have so much to do in our busy lives, we need deadlines.
7. We can expect God to bless us with miracles when we go and do the things He commands.

When I first read through the Ensign article, I felt that it was advocating the old run-out-and-ask-everyone-on-the-street-to-listen-to-the-missionaries approach, and I do not think that works. But on a closer, less-annoyed reading, I realized that they are only saying that you don't have to be great friends with someone to invite them to listen to the gospel, and I agree with that. What we need is some kind of connection. Chatting on an airplane for a while can create that connection, but having gone through the same checkout line probably doesn't.

I haven't had much contact with the missionaries since the effort to "Raise the Bar," so maybe there are fewer "bad" missionaries now. When we lived in Trenton, however, we had the missionaries over two or three times a week. We got to know a number of missionaries, both elders and sisters, and I cannot say that I would have trusted all of them to teach the gospel to someone I knew. Most were very good, but there really was a difference among them.

I know I am too sensitive about missionary work in the first place. I am not outspoken and not good with striking up a conversation with people I don't know. We've also had some bad experiences with friends getting offended when we've discussed the gospel with them. One was quite unpleasant, to the point that they would not answer the phone when we called and go into their house when we came out (that can get inconvenient when they're your next-door neighbor.)

I honestly believe that praying for opportunities to share the gospel and then listening for promptings is the most effective way to do member missionary work. However, there are so many ways that we can do missionary work. It is important to remember that it is a process. I love how Brother Keller says it- that helping someone along their spiritual path is effective missionary work. I hope I've been able to do that.

26 January 2005

Second Inaugural Address

Newsweek has an interesting article by Fareed Zakaria about President Bush and his ideals. It is based on his inaugural speech. Near the beginning, Zakaria writes about a discussion he had with a Indian business man:

"Why didn't anyone criticize the French or Chinese for their meager response to
the tsunami?" I asked him recently. His response was simple. "America positions
itself as the moral arbiter of the world, it pronounces on the virtues of all
other regimes, it tells the rest of the world whether they are good or evil," he
said. "No one else does that. America singles itself out. And so the gap between
what it says and what it does is blindingly obvious-and for most of us,
extremely annoying."

I have heard this criticism leveled at the US by Arabs often in relation to Israel. There are plenty of examples around the world of the US supporting regimes and totally cutting itself off from others for less than admirable reasons.

I liked that Zakaria criticized some of the administration's actions, but acknowledged that there are often good reasons behind those actions:

There are understandable reasons why the United States must look after its
security, as well as its political and economic concerns. But President Bush has
suggested in his speech that there is no conflict between America's ideals and
its interests. The record of his administration- as all previous ones-highlights
the opposite.

I think this may be one of the United States' biggest problems. It is practically impossible for anyone's ideals and interests to completely converge. Families can't do it, schools can't do it, cities can't do it, states can't do it, and nations can't do it. However, we seem to be very good about espousing our ideals, but ignoring the fact the the reality is far from it.

Zakaria also discussed how difficult it is do take democracy to other countries:

President Bush's impulse to stop supporting the status quo in the Middle East and promote reform and freedom has broad support within America. The question is, how to do it? The answer is not always obvious. In Jordan, for example, the unelected monarch is more liberal, more open and more progressive than most of the elected democrats, many of whom are deeply reactionary. The United Arab
Emirates is rated one of the least free countries in the world, yet its biggest
city, Dubai, is quickly becoming an open, free-market haven.

One of the first things anyone has to realize is that what worked for them might not work for someone else. In fact, it is interesting to note that relatively few countries have adopted anything similar to our Constitution. The parliamentary system is far more widespread. We love our system and our Constitution, but we have to admit that other systems can bring freedom also.

We have always had trouble bring democracy to other countries. Zakaria writes, "From Versailles to Vietnam...satisfied by the virtues of their grand goals, American policymakers lost sight of the practical realities on the ground." We have fallen into the same trap in Iraq. Getting rid of Saddam, a completely worthy objective in my mind, was not enough.

Zakaria ends with this:

The writing is on the wall. The remaining tyrannies will eventually perish. And the world will move slowly toward greater and greater freedom. The United States is right to push this trend forward. The president is wise to articulate the path ahead. But we should also note the trends toward chaos, plague and poverty, which consume the attentions of much of the world. These are also great evils, and we should propose ways to lead the world in tackling them. That, too, would make for an interesting and important speech.

The Joys of Arabic

Something else that amuses me is the number of people who think they can learn Arabic in a few months. It's come up more often since September 11th. Learning Arabic seems like a sure way to a job. People pack up and go to Cairo or start taking classes at some university, thinking that in a few short months, they will be translating documents for the government.

It doesn't work that way. Arabic is not a quick language to learn. First, you have to decide what type of Arabic you want to study. Qur'anic? Probably not, unless you're a devout Muslim. Modern Standard? That could be a good choice, since it's the language used in the newspapers and is widely understood, if rather formal. But it's not a particularly friendly version of the language, and the grammar rules might kill you. Most Arabs don't even know how to speak formal Arabic correctly.

Or do you want to learn one of the dialects? The grammar isn't nearly as strict, and everyone would be able to understand you- at least in the area where that dialect is spoken. Egyptian is handy, since there are many Egyptians and most movies are produced in Egypt. Many Arabs understand Egyptian Arabic. A dialect could be worth learning if you know the specific country you want to focus on.

One of my friends who studied Arabic with me works for the State Department. She also took Arabic for 3 years in college and spent 9 months in Egypt and Palestine studying Arabic. Still, the SD had to send her to an intensive program in Egypt for a full year to study Arabic. Her vocabulary doubled in that time. Even after the first 3 years of study, she was not ready to help the government much. I wouldn't even attempt to get a job with Arabic; I've had the three years and time in the Middle East my friend had.

Even people who've studied Arabic for 20 years have trouble. An Arabic professor was giving a talk in Morocco in Arabic. He had spent most of his time in Jordan. He used an Arabic expression that in Jordan was very positive- wishing blessings on the hearers or some such thing. However, he didn't know that particular expression had a completely opposite meaning in Morocco. The audience was not impressed.

No wonder the government wished for more native Arabic speakers.

Icy Roads

Every winter I am amused by the reports of traffic coming to a complete halt because of one or two inches of snow. I've always lived in snowy towns (well, Boise and Trenton weren't very snowy). It would take over 4 feet of snow in a very short period of time to cause any problems around here. I never had a snow day in my life, even though there was usually snow on the ground in the winter. We did have church cancelled once when no one could get out of their driveways in time.

The town we live in now doesn't even bother plowing most of the roads. It seems to be the goal to plow the main roads (all two of them) within 24 hours of a storm. If we didn't know how to drive on ice, the entire place would shut down for months.

I don't mean this to be critical- it's scary to drive on ice if you're not used to it. But it does amuse me. :)

25 January 2005

The Good Earth again

Julie asked some questions in the comments about The Good Earth. Since I don't like typing long things in those tiny comment boxes, I'm going to do it here. Skip along to the next post, if you'd like.

I think O-lan did kill her baby. And I don't blame her for it. It is unlikely that the baby would have survived anyway. I should have said "She only lost one child at birth." This brings up the topic of infanticide. I have a theory about female infanticide that relates to this, but I need to read more before I write anything about it.

Modern women really cannot relate to the historical woman. We don't have anything in common with them. O-lan is nothing like me, but we might have been very much alike if I'd been in her shoes. Her passiveness was not weakness. I think she was strong. She worked to change her family's situation through the limited means that were available to her. She wasn't just working for survival, and I think that shows strength. I liked O-lan.

In the end, I can't complain about my status as a woman, because I have it so much better than women have ever had it. We can't even relate to women like O-lan because we have come so far. I know that's not in the least helpful for many women; often, if you feel miserable, it doesn't matter if someone else has been more miserable that you. But it is very helpful for me.

I have choices; O-lan didn't. I choose to be home with my children because I feel freer at home- I make the choices here. When I hear the word preside, I don't choose to think that means my husband will have the last word and get his way. Since I don't choose that, my family isn't that way. I choose to homeschool, not only because I think it's good for my children, but because it's good for me.

I loved the writing in the book. "Lyrical" is a good description. It flowed and was a pleasure to read. I appreciated the somewhat more realistic view. I think historical fiction generally much better when it is written by someone who has lived in the places that are being written about. Pearl Buck spent many years in China, and she seemed to really have a feel for the country and people.

I'm inclined to think that the fall of the House of Wang is related to the sons' disregard for the land. They never worked the land, they didn't really see the financial benefit it had been, and they couldn't understand how important it was. The land was the foundation of the wealth of the family, and when you destroy the foundation, you lose the house.

24 January 2005

This Week's Library Books

How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife edited by Christopher Jay Johnson and Harsh G. McGee- This book is very interesting. Most books on world religions discuss various beliefs about death and afterlife, but this book has far more information. It also covers various forms of Christianity. Especially helpful is the question and answer section at the end.

From Samaria to Samarkand: The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel by David A. Law- I check out books on the Lost Tribes every so often, but I've never read one that I've thought was very good. What I'd love to see is a scholarly book on the Lost Tribes. Everything I've read has been written by intelligent people, but with a point to prove. They come up with a conclusion first, then try to find anything they can to prove their conclusion. This is more of the same.

The Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo by Jerry Brotton- I found this book to be rather simple, which was disappointing. I've read a lot about the Renaissance, and was already fully aware that the East had a huge impact on Europe at that time. It is quick to read and interesting, but basic. If you've not read a lot about Eastern influences on the Renaissance, then this would be a good book to read.

Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card- Interesting book. It looks at a post-war America from a Mormon point of view. (Although many Mormons wouldn't agree with some of Card's ideas).

A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia by David Christian- Pretty dry, but still informative. I suppose it's too much to hope that someone will write an interesting history of Central Asia, like all the ones about Jews, the Irish, etc.

World Religions Today by John L. Esposito, Darrell J. Fashing, and Todd Lewis- This is a good book. It covers the major world religions currently practiced- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the East Asian traditions. Like most world religions books, it discusses doctrine, belief, and practice, but also discusses how the religions have changed and were practiced at different points in history. It also has quite a bit about current practice and religious festivals.

World Religions by Warren Matthews- This book covers more religions than the previous one. It also discusses native American and African religions, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and other ancient Middle Eastern religions. Both books are good, but I didn't like the lightweight paper in this one.

23 January 2005

World Religions for Children

I am seriously considering writing a book on Islam for children (early logic stage/9-12) from an LDS perspective. I've searched for books like this, and I don't think there are any. If there really isn't one, I think it is needed.

Children are taught about Islam in school and I've met a number of parents who are uncomfortable with what their children are learning, but they don't know enough themselves about Islam to even have a meaningful conversation with their children. Certainly there are many non-LDS children's religion books, but I think some parents would be more comfortable with an LDS perspective.

I love Islam and all world religions. I have great respect for other religious traditions and beliefs. It bothers me when I hear people in church making derogatory or ignorant remarks about other religions. How can we love and respect others- two absolutely necessary factors in missionary work- without understanding their basic beliefs?

Do you think this would work? I hope a children's book wouldn't require so much time to write. I easily have 3-4 hours every day to work on it without having to get childcare. I have been told that getting an illustrator is difficult, but I would prefer to use photographs instead.

I think I'll at least write a chapter and send it to Deseret Book to see what they think.

22 January 2005

The Good Earth

I finished The Good Earth yesterday. I loved it. I'd usually wait to write about all the books for this week on Monday, but I have been thinking about this book a lot, especially in relation to the conversations about women's roles that have been floating around some LDS sites. O-lan was the focus of the book for me.

The book is set in China about 100 years ago. O-lan is the principal woman in the book. Her entire role is defined as Wang Lung's wife. Her life in spent in service, first as a slave, and then to her husband. Wang Lung's financial prosperity would never have happened without O-lan, but he never realizes this. Everything she did was for him and his children, and she never received even a kind word.

Yet O-lan was a fortunate woman. She had plenty of food, even during most of the famines. Her husband didn't beat her. She was lucky enough to have 3 sons. She only had one child die in childbirth.

Historical fiction usually portrays women's lot in life a lot more positively than it really was. It seems that women and girls in books are always learning how to read, marrying someone rich, or living in one of the upper classes. It is rare to read about women doing what women really have done for thousands of years- bearing child after child; starving; watching her children die; working in the fields, even hours after childbirth; being beaten by their husbands or sold by their fathers. True, those books are there, but it seems in historical fiction that women and girls are not realistic. It was nice to read a more honest book.

I hadn't ever read this book, mostly because it's one you're "supposed" to read. That has always been a big turnoff for me, and it's too bad, because I have thoroughly enjoyed many of the classics that I've finally read in the last few years. Giants in the Earth, Return of the Native, Madame Bovary, and Heart of Darkness, to name a few more, are rightfully on Great Books lists.

Choices

So, how does The Good Earth relate to women today? (Not that his topic needs to be rehashed, especially since Julie was stating what I think so well).

To me, the biggest change in women's lives today are the choices we have. O-lan really had no other option but to continue to quietly serve her family. She could have run away, but would that have made her life any better? Possibly, but very likely not. Her only other choice was a bad one.

Most women throughout history have lacked options, as I mentioned above. Today women have so many choices. But many women seem to think they don't have enough choices.

O-lan never heard a loving word from her husband. He was repulsed by her when she was dying. He took a second wife because O-lan didn't satisfy him. Is there any doubt that we have advanced so far beyond this?

The primary reason that I choose to be married and be at home with my children is a that I feel it is a duty- a religious duty. Even though it is a duty, I still can choose. There are many women who feel they have a duty to society, and that is important too. But for me, my duty is to be at home.

There is no question that I have given things up- even dreams- to fulfill this duty. I would have a PhD now without this duty. My husband has given dreams up too. He would have been an architect or an attorney; instead, he is teaching at a small university that is not very prestigious. He did it partly out of duty.

But I don't let the things I have given up define me now. I don't let duty define me. I choose to be happy, because I can choose. I know that I could choose to go back to school and start my PhD. I know exactly what I would study and where I would go (and how far I'd get into debt to do it). I could choose to work at the university like so many women in my ward do. I could choose to skip out on my whole family and start all over again by myself. But I choose not to.

21 January 2005

Family History

We love family history at our house. We don’t do a lot of new research, since most of what can be done reliably has been done. Because of this, we've chosen to focus our family history efforts on sharing what we already have and teaching our children about their ancestors (fondly known as "grancestors" at our house).

The first thing my husband and I started doing together was to visit family cemeteries. I love to go to cemeteries. We've been to family cemeteries in New Jersey, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Idaho, and all over Utah. It’s always exciting when we find a familar tombstone.

My husband also put together a book of short stories about his ancestors that would appeal to children. He handed them out at a family reunion and his cousins loved them.

We did the most "real" family history when we were in law school. First, my husband started a family history website. It took some time, but it has been very helpful. We get several emails a month from distant relations, and they often have new information.. It’s not like most genealogy web sites, since we have stories and pictures instead of pedigree charts.

My husband also came up with a family history card game. It's basically fish, but highly personalized. Here are the instructions and here is an example of a card (we did type it and print it, instead of handwriting them). My boys are just 4 and 5 and can't read well, but we play with the cards that have pictures. They have learned the names of all their grancestors with pictures, and I tell them short stories about them as we play. The card game has been the best thing we've done to teach our children about their grancestors.

One of the best things I did to get more information was to write to all the people who had submitted information to the LDS Church. I found the addresses through Familysearch. I wrote asking specifically for stories and photos of our ancestors, and I had a very good response. I had almost no stories or pictures from my mother's side, and now we have more than I could have hoped for.

Once I had all the pictures we could find, I printed them as 8x10s and framed them in matching black frames from Wal-Mart (you'll have to stop reading now, since I shop at Wal-Mart). We have 30 picutres on the wall now.

The final thing we've done is to gather all the stories we have and put them into a book. I’ve printed them for each of my sisters, in addition to having it all on the website.

None of this has really taken a lot of time, since it has been spread out over many years. We haven’t done much that’s new for the last few years, but we’ve been able to use the resources we put together and family history is part of our everyday lives now.

20 January 2005

Sidebar Photos

Alaska sent a lovely email last night and asked about the picture of the Mesquita. I haven't ever written about the pictures in the sidebar, so I thought I'd do that today.

Dome of the Rock- This is taken from a little different angle that you usually see it. Usually you see it from the east sitting over the Western Wall. We had climbed up on some roofs during Eid al-Fitr to watch the goings-on at the Haram al-Sharif (Holy Mount where the Dome of the Rock sits). We went back there on Eid al-Ahda and my husband took this picture. This link has many pictures of the interior of the Dome of the Rock, taken by Said Nuseibeh. He has an excellent book written with Oleg Grabar about the Dome of the Rock.

Registan Square- This picture shows only a tiny part of the beautiful buildings in Samarqand. Here's a link to more pictures. There are additional links at the bottom of the page to other Uzbek cities. The monuments were built in the 14th and 15th centuries, under the rule of the Timurids (Timur the Lame).

Ibn Tulun- This mosque was finished in 879. It was one of the first three mosques built in Egypt and is one of the oldest buildings in the entire Muslim world. The sprial minaret is almost unique (only the mosque of Samarra, Iraq has a minaret similar). This site has more pictures at the top of the page.

The mosque has an interesting history. It was damaged and deserted by 1150. It was believed to be haunted by the 13th century- the muezzin was the only one who entered, and he only stood in the doorway to do the call to prayer. In 1296, Hussan al-Din Lagin murdered the governor of Egypt and hid in Ibn Tulun for a year. He promised to rebuild the mosque if he escaped alive, which he did. As ruler of Egypt, he restored Ibn Tulun, and a later governor restored the minaret. It was used for the next 300 years. Around 1700, it was used as a fort, then rented by wool-weavers as a workshop. In 1814, the outer enclosure was used for homes and shops and a hospital. In 1890, Ibn Tulun was recognized as a historical monument and has been cared for ever since.

An interesting children's book about the mosque is Ibn Tulun: The Story of Mosque by Fiona MacDonald

Mesquita- Also known as the Great Mosque of Corodoba, this mosque was built in the 10th century. It was expanded and worked on for many years. Corodoba was taken by the Catholics in 1236 and the Mesquita was converted into a cathedral. Here are a few more pictures.

Qayt Bay- This masoleum was completed by Sultan Qayt Bay in the 15th century. He built many buildings throughout the Mamluke Empire. This building is quiet, light, and peaceful. This link has more photos a little down the page.

Alhambra- This is a Moorish building from the 14th century in Granada. It is a huge complex with many building and stunning gardens. More pictures.

Mt. Timpanogos Temple- We were married here.

BYU Jerusalem Center- This building was completed in 1988 as an extension of BYU. There are no students there currently, but in the 90s hundreds of students studied there. The building is between Mt. Scopus and the Mount of Olives.

New Gourna- Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian architect who wanted people to return to simpler and traditional ways of building. New Gourna was the mid-brick village he built. He also did projects around the world, including New Mexico.

Hassan II- My husband loved the mosques in Morocco. This mosque is a modern one, completed in 1993. Here are a few more pictures of it.

Aurora Watch Continued

You probably didn't see any auroras last night, but there is (hopefully) a better chance tonight. Take a look! You can always enjoy Saturn and the bright winter stars while you're at it.

19 January 2005

Auroras

There could be auroras tonight. Check for them if it's not cloudy at your house.

Hajj Reports

What did you think I'd write about today?

Shaykh Abdul Aziz al-Shaykh spoke at a mosque at Mount Arafat today. He is the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia. Islam does not have one single leader, but men like al-Shaykh are influential. He states:
The greatest affliction to strike the nation of Islam came from some of its
own sons, who were lured by the devil. They have called the nation
infidel, they have shed protected blood and they have spread vice on earth, with
explosions and destruction and killing of innocents.

He goes on to warn, "They are all against this religion. The nation was described as a terrorist nation, that we are terrorists and backward," and not to be "...fooled by a civilization known for its weak structure and bad foundation."

Interesting.

18 January 2005

Why Does Everybody Hate Us? (imagine a whiny voice)

My mother pointed out an editorial by Thomas Friedman about Muslim dislike for the United States. It was so interesting that I thought I'd write about it.

First, no matter how much Muslim hatred of the US is reported here, I still think it's directed towards *America* and not *Americans.* Friends of ours who have lived in the Middle East recently (since September 11th) have said that it was not an issue. Also, there certainly has been an increase Americans' hatred of Muslim countries too. It's all relative.

Second, I should hope that we're not helping in Indonesia to make us look good. Muslims in the Middle East care about Muslims in Indonesia as much as Christians in the US care about Christians in the Philippines. Helping in Indonesia isn't going to matter either way, no matter what Muslims in the Middle East already thought. If there were a disaster in Brazil, we wouldn't get weepy if Muslim countries donated huge amounts of money.

Friedman states, "It is not an exaggeration to say that, if you throw in the Oslo peace process, U.S. foreign policy for the past 15 years has been dominated by an effort to save Muslims - not from tsunamis but from tyrannies, mostly their own theocratic or autocratic regimes."

I don't agree with this. He leaves out a lot of foreign policy issues, like China and North Korea especially. The 6 examples he gives are Kosovo, Kuwait, Somalia, Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We went to Kosovo to save the Muslims from the Christians. The tyranny in Kuwait was caused by an entirely different regime- it was Muslim, true, but it wasn't an internal problem. Palestine is a lot more than Muslim troubles! A significant number of the troubles in Afghanistan were caused by the USSR, and the fact that after the USSR fell apart that the US didn't help Afghanistan anymore. This is not all a result of bad Muslim government.

Are Muslim nations the only ones with rotten rulers, now or in the past?

My biggest problem when I see arguments like this is that we all sit around and say that people living in Muslim countries are oppressed. What in the world have we done in the last 50 years to help that? It's not just been in the last 15 years that this has become a problem.

It takes a long time for a country to transition to a working democracy. We seem to think that since the West has figured it out, that everyone else should just be able to look at us and figure it out much quicker than we did. But it doesn't work that way.

I think supporting governments in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and even Syria, even though we don't agree with everything they do, is better than ignoring them till they are nice to Israel. It does not help that the US clearly supports the only non-Muslim nation in the Middle East more than any other country in the whole world.

I think Israel gives us an interesting comparison. The country was created 50 years ago, and has fought many wars. There are a wide variety of races and cultural, governmental, and legal traditions in Israel. At its inception, Israel faced many of the same problems that Muslim countries (and all developing nations) face today- creating a stable and fair society for all its citizens. Israel's survival has been completely dependent on the US. Why, when we have given so much help to Israel, do we expect everyone else to do the same without our support?

Hajj and Eid

Don't forget that the Hajj begins tomorrow- and Eid al-Adha is on Friday.

17 January 2005

Multiculturalism

I was reading an article recently about a school (I can't remember where) where math scores had dropped significantly in the last five years because of an emphasis on multiculturalism. I couldn't believe that anyone could think that a goal of math should be multiculturalism. However, I was very wrong. I simply searched for "math" and "multiculturalism" and discovered that this idea seems to be mainstream.

I was going to link to the sites, but I don't even think they're worth linking to. I cannot see how this is a valuable method of teaching math. Personally, I support multiculturalism in history, geography, and to some extent in English. We need more students learning foreign languages. We need to learn more non-Western history. We could benefit from reading more literature from a wider variety of countries.

However, math is not the place for multiculturalism. There are plenty of other places in public schools where it can be taught. I thought this excerpt from a paper written by an education student was telling:
First, I could display posters and biographical information about various
individuals from a variety of backgrounds who were influential in math. I could even have students prepare reports and share them to the entire class. Second, I could explain how and where the math topics and ideas we were talking about came from. I think this is the best idea because it could make the students much more interested in the topic. Third, we could compare the math systems of different cultures. We could also compare how people used to do math before the concept we are learning was discovered. Finally, we could use math to study current issues. An example would be discussing statistics of poverty in the world today. Other examples were also given but I think these were the best and most useful. (http://www.calvin.edu/~ddekke14/SA3.htm)
How in the world does this teach children how to add and subtract, how to figure area and circumference, how to do anything in algebra at all? I agree that these things are interesting and that children could learn about them, but not in math class. This is "social studies" material.

I suppose that I could handle a few minutes from a math class used to discuss some of these other applications, but the school I mentioned at the beginning had multiculturalism as the primary goal of its math education. And people wonder why I homeschool.

Books

Since Tuesdays are library day, I'd better write about the books I'll be returning. We go to the county library here in town, and also to the University library. One of the best things about having my husband teach at the University is that I get my own library card. The ILL books are the other best thing.

The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews by Paul Wexler- Wexler argues that most Sephardic Jews are not descendants of Palestinian Jews. Instead, he uses a variety of evidence- especially linguistic- that most Sephardic Jews were Berber and Arab converts. This is very interesting, considering most Israeli Jews are Sephardic.

Jewish Communities in Exotic Places by Ken Blady- Very interesting book about Jewish communities in Asia and Africa. This is one of the best book on the subject that I've read.

Racing Alone by Nader Khalili- My husband has been reading this one and loves it. Nader Khalili is the man who designed the sandbag houses.

Persuasion by Jane Austen- After reading this one again, I do think it is my favorite book by Jane Austen.

Anthology of World Scriptures by Robert E van Voorst- I think I'm going to buy this one. It is a convenient compilation of excerpts from a large number of sacred texts. Roger Keller requires it for his World Religion class now.

Facing West by Hetty Berg- This book mostly documents artifacts from Oriental Jews.

16 January 2005

Taxes

I got started on the taxes yesterday. I've been doing our taxes since we got married, and rather enjoy doing them. I have a flair for keeping track of money. The best thing about doing taxes is we've always been poor enough to get a huge refund. And before you get huffy and ask why we let the government keep it, we do have them deduct as little as possible. We usually just end up getting it all back.

But this year is different. We're still poor, but my husband was self-employed for half the year, so we didn't have our social security and Medicare taxes deducted. We've estimated what we'll owe (still waiting for a couple of forms to show up in the mail) and we have the money sitting in the bank, but still, it will be painful to write out a check to the government, especially one as large as it will be. If we all had to pay our all taxes at the end of the year like this every year, I think there would be a little more call for change in the tax system.

15 January 2005

Geysers- Third Round

Here are some links and resources about geysers. At the end, I've listed the geysers we've been to, with a bit about them. Hopefully, I'll be adding more starting in April. :)

Electronically Recorded Geyser Data (Yellowstone only)

Yellowstone Geyser Page

Geyser Videos

Recent Earthquakes in the Intermountain West (Utah and Yellowstone)

Yellowstone Hot Spot

Steamboat Geyser (generally agreed to be the world's biggest geyser)

Upper Basin Geysers

Old Faithful

Fun Geyser Page- with photos

Don't forget WyoJones' Geyser site and the Old Faithful Webcam links on the side bar

The best book about Yellowstone's geysers is The Geysers of Yellowstone by T. Scott Bryan. According to a couple of geyser gazers we met in October, a new edition of the book should be coming out soon.

Here are most of the geysers we've seen erupting with links to videos of each:

White Dome- This is our favorite geyser. It is small, but erupts from a huge sinter cone. The orifice (hole where the water sprays from) is only 4 inches wide and will probably soon close completely off. We love it because it erupts from high up and the spray of water is narrow. Irregular interval, but usually fairly short. Duration 2 minutes and 10-30 feet high.

Great Fountain- This is a beautiful geyser. It erupts from a terraced sinter cone. The eruption begins about an hour after the crater fills and begins to overflow. A prediction is often posted on the sign near the geyser, and you can see this geyser from the road. 8-12 hour interval and a one hour duration. 75-250 feet, but usually around 100 feet.

Clepsydra- Lower Geyser Basin, erupts almost continuously. If you come in from the West or North (and possibly East) Entrances, this is probably the first geyser you'll see erupting.

Daisy- Daisy is actually the most reliable geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin (including Old Faithful). However, wind and thunderstorms can delay eruptions. Usually it's easy to see. About a 2 hour interval with a 3-4 minute duration. The prediction for Daisy is posted in the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

Grand- This really is a grand geyser to see. It gets very high, and you can see it over the trees. Since the duration is about 10 minutes, you often have time to run over when you see it start to erupt. Interval about 8 hours; the prediction is posted in the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

Spasmodic and Sawmill- These two geysers are close together in the Upper Geyser Basin. They are rather noisy geysers, and could have subterranean connections. Both are only a few feet high.
http://www.nps.gov/yell/slidefile/thermalfeatures/geysers/upper/Images/07891.jpg" alt="Example" />

Beehive- We've been lucky enough to see this one twice. It is sometimes predictable; we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It erupts for several minutes and you don't have to be right next to it to see it. It also is near Old Faithful, so often people see Beehive erupt while they're waiting for Old Faithful. Interval often around 15 hours.

Cliff- This geyser is right next to a creek, but you can't tell from the video. Fun to watch. Black Sand Basin, irregular interval and duration.

14 January 2005

Geysers- Second Round

Reading about the mud volcano that started to erupt after the earthquake got me thinking about geysers again- of course, it doesn't take much to get me thinking about geysers. What I though about this time is how much geysers change.

Old Faithful is probably the most well-known geyser in the world. There are some good reasons for this. First, you can drive to it easily. You hardly have to walk at all to see it. You can sleep in a lodge right next to it. It is quite predictable. It is large. It even has a web cam- and it's erupting right now (at least it was when I was writing this). One other important thing about Old Faithful is that Yellowstone has been protected from use as a geothermal reserve.

Old Faithful has been erupting quite predictably since at least 1870. For a large geyser, that is a long time without much change. Other large geysers- both in Yellowstone and around the world- have seen major changes in their eruptions.

New Zealand can claim to have had the largest known eruptions. Waimangu started to erupt in 1900, presumably because of a large volcanic eruption in 1888. The eruptions were over 1000 feet high (as a comparison, 300 feet is about the tallest you might see today, if you are very lucky). The geyser was buried by a landslide only four years later.

Excelsior Geyser in Yellowstone was another big geyser. In the 1880s, it had eruptions that were 300 feet high and wide. It is assumed that the violent eruptions blew out the geyser's "plumbing system," resulting in the loss of thermal energy. It last erupted for two days in 1985, but the eruptions were less than 100 feet. You can still visit Excelsior; it's a thermal spring now. It's exciting to look at it and imagine the entire pool erupting.

Other geysers in Yellowstone went through major changes after the earthquake (which created Earthquake Lake just outside Yellowstone) in 1959. For example, Clepsydra Geyser was name for its regularity "like the ancient Greek water clock." However, after the earthquake, Clepsydra began erupting almost constantly- ruining any meaning in its name.

That earthquake changed, for a least a few days, if not longer, many of the geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone. Ear Spring, a small pool in the Upper Geyser Basin, had a minor eruption and discharged a lot of water. Avoca Spring in Biscuit Geyser Basin started to erupt in 1959 and still does. Castle Geyser, one of the well-known geysers of Yellowstone, starting erupting regularly in 1959.

There are so many examples of the way geysers change. A smaller earthquake in 1985 also affected Yellowstone. Some geysers start and stop erupting for no known reason. When we were at Yellowstone in October waiting for Great Fountain to erupt, some "geyser gazers" were waiting with us, and they pointed out a new steam vent that had appeared nearby earlier in 2004. This change is what makes Yellowstone so exciting to me.

I think there's another post in me about geysers, but I'll save it for tomorrow. :)

Aftershocks

Have you checked the Earthquake Activity recently? The fault near Indonesia- the one that caused the tsunamis- is still rattling. There are still several 4 and 5 earthquakes every day. Look for earthquakes listed as Northern Sumatra, Nicobar Islands, and Andaman Islands.

Also, another interesting result of the earthquake is an eruption of a mud volcano in India. This site also has quite a bit of interesting information about the earthquake and tsunamis and various results. Since the relevant information about the volcano is a long way down the page, I'll quote it here:

Eruptions of natural gas that ignited along with eruptions of mud volcanoes were
reported from locations along Burma's Arakan coast and also in Sandoway. A mud
volcano, Barren 1, has also erupted on the uninhabited Baratang Island in the
Andamans. This must not be confused with the very different, Barren Island
volcano. Some press reports also claimed that both, the Barren Island and the
Narcondam volcanoes were erupting but these have since been proved to be
baseless.

13 January 2005

Planets, Moons, and Comets

Saturn is at its closest point to the earth for the year. It rises in the East with Gemini and will be in the sky all night. It's below and to the right of Castor and Pollux. Get out your binoculars or a telescope, if you have one, and you'll be able to see the rings easily.

Comet Maccholz is close to its brightest point also, and still fairly close to the Pleiades. At 9 PM, it will be just about straight overhead. You'll need to sit outside for a while to see it, if you don't have a telescope or binoculars.

The Huygens probe should be landing on Titan, one of Saturn's moons, tomorrow. Cassini, the spacecraft Huygens was sent on, has been orbiting Saturn for a few months, and will remain there for several years. I hope it goes well!

12 January 2005

51 degrees is just a touch too chilly for a house. Just in case you were wondering. :)

One More on the Hajj

I finally had the bright idea of searching for blogs by Muslim mothers for more activities and such for Islamic holidays. Here are a few blogs and other links they led me to:

A Muslim Mother's Thoughts- her post for today has some sites to check out.

Hajj Links

Craft Projects

Eid Activities

What I really need is a book with activities, stories, and Qur'anic verses for Islamic holidays. I found one at Amazon that looked pretty good, but it is geared toward people who know nothing about Islam, and that's not necessarily what I want- I don't need a book that spends half the time explaining Islam to me. Any suggestions?

11 January 2005

General Recipes from Some Muslim Countries

I'll be adding more to this as I find more recipes. Most of my recipes are from cookbooks, and I can't post all of them for copyright reasons. I'd do one or two, but not 10 from each.

I highly recommend Flatbreads and Flavors and Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert, and The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from New York to Samarkand by Claudia Roden.
Mujaddarah (this is traditionally Palestinian)
1 1/2 c brown lentils
1 c rice
Salt
Pepper
Cook lentils 1.5 quarts of water for 20 minutes. Add the rice, salt, pepper, and enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. While cooking, fry strips of onion in olive oil till crisp to use as a garlic. Serve with plain yogurt, or yogurt-garlic sauce.

Falafel
1 c garbanzos
1/3 c bulgur
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp cold water
3 cloves garlic
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
Parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 c fresh bread crumbs
Wash garbanzos, bring to a boil in 3 cups cold water, then cover and boil 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 3 hours. Soak bulgur for 20 minutes, then drain well.
Put partially-cooked garbanzos in food processor with lemon juice, eggs, water, and garlic. Finely chop, but don't puree. Put mixture in a bowl and add seasonings. Add bulgur and bread crumbs as needed to hold the mixture together. Let sit 15-30 minutes to firm up. Heat oil in a frying pan to 375 degrees. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls and fry on both sides till golden brown. Serve with tomatoes, cucumbers, tahina, hummus, and yogurt-garlic sauce.

Yogurt-garlic sauce
2 cups drained yogurt (32 oz of yogurt drained will yield two cups)
1/2 c water
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt

Combine water and yogurt till very smooth, then add garlic and salt (and lemon juice if desired) to taste. Don't add too much- the garlic shouldn't be overpowering.

Tahina
1/4 cup tahini (ground sesame seed paste- most grocery stores carry it)
3 Tbsp cold water
Salt
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
Combine tahini and water till the mixture whitens and comes together- if you keep stirring, you'll see the change. Add lemon juice, garlic, and salt to taste.

Hummus
1 can garbanzos (or 1.5 cups cooked)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 c tahini
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp water
Salt
Pepper (black or red)
Blend or process all ingredients till smooth, adding enough water to thin it down a little, but not have it be runny. Chill at least 4 hours, then spread on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and serve at room temperature with flatbread.


Other links:
Middle Eastern
Vegetarian
Egyptian
Persian

Eid Recipes

One more thing about Eid al-Adha- the traditional greeting is "Eid mubarak." (eed mu-BAR-ik)

The traditional greeting for Ramadan is "Ramadan Karim" (RAH-mah-dahn kar-EEM)

Indian Biryani, Kofta, and Korma

More Indian Eid Recipes

Mutton Stew

Sheer Korma

Gulab Jamin

Eid al-Fitr Recipes

Ramadan Recipes

10 January 2005

The Politics of American Religious Identity

I just finished The Politics of American Religious Identity by Kathleen Flake. Now I'm waiting for her 12 Answers to be posted over at Times and Seasons, since that was where I first heard about the book. However, this is not an exclusively religious book. I found the political side to be just as interesting, if not more so. It is difficult today to imagine the general population of the US trying to oust a senator, and having the Senate actually hold hearings on such a matter.

It was a rather quick read, and enjoyable. It would appeal to people who aren't Mormons also, if they were interested in American politics of that time period. I don't care to analyze this book, since that has been done in other places by people more intelligent than I am, but I am wondering about a few things after reading this.

My main thought after reading this book (since other questions look like they'll be answered on T&S) is whether we as a Church could be asked in the future to do something that is against the laws of the land. The Church practiced polygamy for a long time in defiance of the law. It could happen again, even though at this point it doesn't seem likely. The Church was a very different being one hundred years ago, and I can't pretend to know what it will be like in the future.

We Really Are Homeschoolers...

We started school again today, after a rather longish break. Of course, older son is just five, so there's no rush, but he does love school. In fact, we get along better during school than at any other time. It's nice to get back to school. And who can get too worked up about kindergarten?

Reading continues to be the most important thing we're working on, even though it is older son's least favorite thing. He's moving along nicely though, and is getting very close to reading more comfortably, and I hope he will enjoy it more then.

We're working through Miquon; First Language Lessons; Story of the World 3; handwriting and some spelling; piano lessons; and The Natural World, one of Usbourne's Illustrated Encyclopedias. We had to learn about something besides volcanoes, earthquakes, and geysers. We've been doing earth science for over a year. :)

SOTW has been a big hit, especially Ancients. I guess we're hurrying through the others so we can get back to the beginning and go through more slowly. Older son loves to be read to from SOTW, so we've gotten through it far more quickly that I had thought we would. He loves the poetry memorization (we've added some more poems too- more "poetic" ones) and the picture narrations in FLL.

So, that's our homeschooling day. There is a minimum that we need to do from each subject each day, and then older son can choose if he'll do more, and often does. The minumum takes about an hour, and we usually spend two or three. I have been amazed at how much he likes to learn, even less exciting things. I've also been pleased with the resources we've found, and I know that they've helped pique older son's interest in many things.

It's also amazing how much younger son picks up. He just plays in the same room while older son and I do school, and it always surprises (and amuses older son) when he answers a question or reads a word more quickly that older son.

09 January 2005

Abbas Claims Victory

Mahmoud Abbas has claimed victory in the elections. I'm hoping for a change in the stalemate in the next few months!

08 January 2005

Roses...

I was poking around the list of blogs at WTM and came upon Linda's blog. She has a beautiful picture of a camellia from her own garden. I can't even imagine flowers in January. I've never lived anywhere that it was a possiblity. But it certainly brought back memories of my rose garden.

My garden was filled with old garden roses and English (Austin) roses. I've never really gone in for Hybrid Teas. Linda also has a handy link to EveryRose, which lists over 7000 roses. I think this is the site for me. :)

I had Alfred de Dalmas, Souvenir du Docteur Jamain, Sharifa Asma, Madame Pierre Oger, Ghislaine de Feligonde, Hebe's Lip, Belle Story, Bow Bells, Fantin Latour, Celestial, Marie Pavie, Nur Mahal, and Eden. There were 2 or 3 or 10 of some of these, for a total of 30. I couldn't believe the number of blooms I had the first Spring with Fantin Latour. I've been parital to Sharifa Asma for years, since I started taking Arabic. Ghislaine would cover herself all summer with beautiful peachy-colored flowers. Some of them, like Hebe's Lip and Fantin Latour and Celestial only bloom in the Spring, but they are definitely worth it.

I miss my roses.

The Hajj (and a bit about LDS similarities at the end)

A very sacred time of the year is coming up for Muslims, the Hajj. Since I'm not Muslim, I can't experience the Hajj myself (short of trying to sneak into Mecca, which seems a bit much), but I've talked to Muslims who've been on the Hajj about their experiences, and read a lot about it.

The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is to be performed by every Muslim, as long as health and finances allow. Since it has to be done in Mecca, it can be a very expensive proposition, so many Muslims are not able to go.

Before a Muslim arrives in Mecca for the Hajj, he or she changes into white clothing- two seamless white sheets for men and a white dress and scarf for the women. The purpose for this clothing to is symbolize a state of consecration, and also to emphasis unity and equality among the participants.

When the pilgrims arrive in Mecca, they make the first tawaf, or counter-clockwise circumambulation of the Ka'aba. They chant, "Labbayka Allahumma labbayk," (this is a beautiful sound) which means, "Here I am at your service, O God, here I am!" Pilgrims also perform the sa'i, by hurrying back and forth between two hills, symbolic of Hajar's search for water for Ishmael.

The next day, on the first official day of the Hajj, the pilgrims (millions of them) go to the plains of Mina to camp there. Then, they travel to the plain of Arafat where they spend the day praying and in devotion. On the third day of the Hajj (Eid al-Adha), the pilgrims return to Mina and each throw seven pebbles at a pillar which represents Satan. This is to remind them of Arabram's throwing stones at Satan when Satan tried to stop Abraham from sacrificing Ishmael. Then the pilgrims, and Muslims around the world, sacrifice a sheep, again commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a sheep instead of his son. The pilgrims return to Mecca to perform the final tawaf and sa'i.

The Hajj is a beautiful ritual that brings Muslims closer to God. The Hajj is also a time to ask for forgiveness of sins, since, according to Muhammad, a person who performs the Hajj righteously "will return as a newly born baby."

(LDS stuff coming up)
Clearly, as Mormons, we can see many similarities here in the Hajj with our own beliefs. The clothing, the words, and the cleansing of sins are all familiar. The men's two-piece seamless robe is often worn over the left shoulder. Water is poured over the head for ritual washing at the well of Zamzam (where Hajar found water). The pilgrims pray at the Ka'aba by raising their hands over their heads, repeating, "Here I am at your service, O God, here I am!" and then lowering the hands to the head. We believe that baptism cleanses us from our sins. Muslim women will very often choose to wear the veil after performing the Hajj, as an outward sign of their devotion to God as a result of the Hajj. Muslims prepare for the Hajj for a long time, both financially and spiritually. I have heard Muslims say it is not wise to go on the Hajj if you are unprepared. Finally, a person who has already performed the Hajj can do it for a family member or friend who can't do it themselves, or for a family member or friend who has died.

The Hajj is only one part of Islam where there are many similarities. We as Mormons often focus on similarities with Judaism, when there are a lot of interesting ones with Islam.

Geysers

I really love geysers. I've always liked geysers, but now that we live less than 2 hours from the world's biggest concentration of geysers, I've really been hooked. I've rediscovered Yellowstone, and I'm here to sell you on it. :)

I would think that many Americans have been to Yellowstone. It's an amazing place. It's a big place, with way too much to do. When we go to Yellowstone, I like to spend my time in the geyser basins, since they are pretty much unique to Yellowstone. There are geysers in other parts of the US, but many have been used for geothermal power and don't really erupt anymore. There are also geysers in many countries around the world, especially New Zealand and the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. But no place has as many geysers, and certainly not as many big geysers, as Yellowstone.

How long has it been since you've been to Yellowstone? Have you ever been there? It is the perfect place for a homeschooling family. Go while you're studying earth science, and go in the Spring or Fall before it's crowded.

There are so many different types of geysers. Don't just watch Old Faithful. It's a great geyser to watch, but you're missing out if that's the only one you see. Our favorite right now is White Dome, since it conveniently erupted a few minutes after we settled down to wait for it and thoroughly sprayed our car. The boys loved it. Beehive is fun to watch, although hard to predict. Great Fountain and Daisy, and so many others, are worth the stop.

Don't miss one of the most amazing places in the world!

07 January 2005

Palestinian Election Coming Up

With all the reporting of the tsunamis and the (possibly) upcoming elections in Iraq, there hasn't been much reporting of the Palestinian elections. CNN, which is my main news source, for no other reason than convenience, has an article about Mahmoud Abbas, the front-runner in the elections.

I bring this up because this election could (possibly) be a turning point in Arab-Israeli relations. I've been following Palestinian politics for nearly 15 years now, and the idea of an election without Arafat still seems surprising. I hope it brings a change for the better. Not that I lay the blame for the current lack of cooperation solely on Arafat, as so many do. I cannot consider Sharon a peacemaker, as evidenced by his actions throughout his life.

If Abbas is elected and he does make some overtures towards negotiation and peace, it will be interesting to see how Sharon deals with it. It takes two sides to negotiate, and I am not sure Sharon is exactly a partner in this process. Of course, if you'd asked me five years ago if Sharon could have been elected, I would have said never. I quit making predictions about the whole situation after his election. :)

06 January 2005

Just a Little Too Easy...

Life is awfully easy for me right now. Sure, there are lots of things that aren't going perfectly, but as a mother, things are very quiet. I only have a five-year-old and a four-year-old. We'd had always expected that we would have had another little one at this point, and be thinking about a fourth, but things haven't worked out that way. We are homeschooling, but even then, I really don't have a lot to do since my boys are little.

This is not to say that I am bored. Far from it. I have lots of things going on. There are always 4 or 5 books (or more) around the house waiting to be read. I am halfway through quilting a hand-pieced Log Cabin quilt. I sell crocheted baby gowns. I enjoy baking and blogging. I like to spin and make bobbin lace and crochet and hook rugs. I sew blankets for humanitarian kits. I took up all of these things because they are things I can do at home, in small pieces of time. All can be time consuming, but none require large chunks of time all at once.

However, none of these things is really exciting to me right now (except the reading, but I don't think it's quite reasonable to read all day). They have been wonderful as breaks from taking care of little children, but I've discovered that with more time, I want to be doing something different, something more worthwhile somehow.

If we lived near a university that offered a masters degree that I was interested in, I would definitely look into it. But the nearest place offering masters degrees is 30 minutes away and they only have engineering and education degrees. Blah.

I don't want to do something that requires a lot of time on the computer. It can't be something that requires a lot of time away from home, since I need to be here with my boys and we only have one car. My husband suggested that I write a book, but I'm not much of a writer, as evidenced by this blog. I'm more of a rambler and thinker-out-louder. And he wasn't impressed with any of my ideas of book topics anyway. :)

So, I'm out of ideas. Have any of you been in a situation like this? What did you do about it?

Life in a Global Village

The Fall 2004 issue of Bridges has an excellent article by Roger Keller, "Life in a Global Village". (The link takes you to a pdf file of the magazine. It is the first article, starting on page 5). Bridges is a publication of the BYU Kennedy Center for International Relations and it is sent out to the alumni.

First, Roger Keller is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU and is the Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding. I took World Religions from him in Provo and Old Testament in Jerusalem. He was raised as a Protestant and was a Protestant minister for many years before joining the LDS Church.

The entire article was good, but there were two points that I thought were particularly interesting. Keller quoted 2 Nephi 28:30 and 29: 11-12, with an emphasis on the last few words of verse 12, "...and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it." He goes on to relate this to the sacred texts of the world's religions, that they are the writings of "all nations of the earth."

Verses 11 and 12 of chapter 29 have long been some of my favorite scriptures. I look forward to the day when we will have the records of the other tribes of Israel. I try to appreciate the records we already have. I had wondered about the last few words of these scriptures that Keller highlights, and I think that his conclusion is excellent. What else could they be referring to? I believe that the Qur'an, the Vedas, and the Tao Te Ching (to name a few) do record God's word to those people. Keller states, "No people or civilization is without some direction from God."

Keller also makes a distinction between interfaith relations and missionary work. Understanding is the goal of interfaith relations, and I think understanding should be our starting point, not missionary work necessarily, in "member missionary" work. He goes on to state:

As a missionary, my goal is to bless live- all lives. I believe that the greatest blessing I can give people is baptism into the fulness of the gospel. But many are not ready for that, so I seek to move them a bit further along the spiritual path than they were the day I met them. I may make them better Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or Presbyterians than they were when we met, because we began to talk about the spiritual things of life that had become peripheral to them. If I do this, I have been a successful missionary, for conversion to the fulness of the gospel is a process, not a moment.

We as "member missionaries" could benefit from utilizing this approach.

It's too bad this article was in Bridges; Keller is largely preaching to the choir, since most of his readers will already have great love and respect for other religions and cultures. Our belief that we are the "only true church" often leaves us with the feeling that God only instructs us, when the scriptures in many places clearly teach otherwise.

05 January 2005

The Two-Income Trap

Thanks to By Common Consent (a Mormon blog), I have been reminded of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. This is an excellent book. It refutes, with solid evidence instead of anecdotes, the conventional wisdom than families are increasingly declaring bankruptcy because of overconsumption.

Instead, using federally reported information from the last 30 years, the authors argue that Americans are actually spending less on things like clothes, food, entertainment and appliances than they were 30 years ago. Surprised? I was. But I couldn't argue with it. I've never really seen solid evidence that supports the idea of overconsumption. Warren and Tyagi did find four areas where families are spending more- much more than they were 30 years ago.

First, home mortgages are much higher than they were. So, you say that homes are much bigger than they used to be. The authors found that the average home size in the 70s was 5.7 rooms. Today, it is 6.1. (I'm not sure this is the best comparison of home sizes- square footage would be better- but homes are not 4 times bigger than they were in the 70s, and the mortgages are.)

Second, Americans have two cars, instead of the one they generally had 30 years ago. I think most would argue that this is not overconsumption, but a necessity, especially if both parents are working.

Third, health insurance costs have risen dramatically. Again, not overconsumption, but a necessity for most families (I would argue for all families, but some don't think they need health insurance).

Finally, education costs have increased rapidly, and will continue to increase from all accounts.

What I found most interesting were the authors' solutions. They believe that having both parents working has hurt middle class families (these are not conservative women with an agenda to push- they both prefer to be working mothers). They argue that a parent staying home actually gives a family a cushion in case one parent loses his or her job. With one parent home, a family is not living on the edge of their earning potential.

Another interesting solution that goes against the conventional wisdom was to allow families to have more choice in the public schools their children attend. Many families feel that they have to buy a barely-affordable home in a decent school district rather than live in a lower-quality school district. As a result, homes in "good" districts have more demand, and therefore become even more expensive. If families weren't assigned a school based solely on their addresses, they would have more flexibility. (I would add that they could homeschool too, but I know this really isn't a feasible option for many families, even with an at-home parent).

Many financial advisors advocate cutting back in as many areas as possible to afford the house in a good district or the needed second car. Again, Warren and Tyagi take a different approach. They suggest instead of buying the barely-affordable house, continue renting until you can afford the house more easily. Don't but the second car unless you can pay for it up front, or within a very short time frame. They don't recommend cutting back on the small expenses, so when unemployment or illness come, there are simple ways to save money.

I thought this book was excellent, and it's sad that many conservatives have dismissed it, when it supports many conservative ideals. It promotes responsibility and giving families a second chance with a better financial principles. Of course I didn't agree with all the findings in the book, or all the solutions, but it was refreshing to see new ideas that really can work. We've used many of these principles in our home for years, and they have worked.

Comet Machholz

Comet Machholz will be near the Pleiades tonight and the next few nights. Don't miss it!

04 January 2005

Eid al-Adha

So, Eid al-Adha (The Great Holiday) is coming up in a few weeks. This holiday commemorates the sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham, and comes at the end of the Hajj. You have to be in Mecca and Medina to participate in the Hajj, but Muslims all around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha.

The main observance of this holiday is the sacrifice of a sheep. Most families will sacrifice a sheep, then share the meat with the poor. This is probably not something you would care to do as a family. :)

Instead, you could help others in a different way. Donate money to the tsunami victims, many of whom are Muslim. Serve dinner at a homeless shelter. Visit a retirement home. There are lots of things to do.

Food is a huge part of any Muslim holiday, and since I have so many Middle Eastern recipes, I'll add those tomorrow. A real Middle Eastern feast with lots of friends invited is a great way to celebrate.

I don't have any projects specifically for Eid al-Adha, but I do have general Muslim games and projects that I'll track down soon.

Religious Holidays

Lisa's post reminded me that I wanted to post about various religious holidays. I'll mostly write about them as they are coming up in the year, but first I wanted to write down the holidays we generally celebrate. The interfaith calendar is helpful for this. I'll post links of activities and food to eat as the holidays come up.

One note: I'm no expert on religious holidays. If you have corrections to the list below, or suggestions, please let me know. The only ones I can claim any knowledge in are the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish holidays. I chose the ones I did to spread the holidays out though the year. There are more major holidays in the Spring and Fall, but it was getting too crowded.

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha- Muslim holidays move back about 11 days each year. This year, Eid al-Adha is on January 21st and Eid al-Fitr is November 2nd.

Chinese New Year- February 9, 2005 (not this date every year) - Celebrated around much of the Far East, not just China, and is not just for one religion. We've celebrated Mongolian New Year instead for the last few years.

Noruz- March 21st of every year - Originally the Zoroastrian new year, it is also celebrated all over Central Asia by Muslims too. We've decided to use this holiday to celebrate Spring and life, and do things like coloring eggs that we used to do on Easter.

Pesach- April 24-May 1st 2005 (sometime in April) - Jewish commemoration of their safety during the final plague in Egypt.

Holy Week- We celebrated Holy Week in Jerusalem and I loved how each day led up to Easter Sunday. Mormons don't usually celebrate Holy Week, but we do now.

Vesak (Wesak or Buddha Day) -May 23rd or 24th (I think it's always on the first full moon in May) - Buddhist celebration of the birth, enlightment, and death of Buddha. This is the holiest Buddhist holiday.

Obon- August 13-16- Shinto holiday to commemorate the dead

Paryushana- begins around August 31st this year- Jain holiday

Rosh Hashana, High Holy Days, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah- Beginning October 4th this year, there are a variety of Jewish holidays in the Fall

Diwali- November 1st 2005- We celebrate Hindu Diwali, which is also known as the festival of lights

Guru Nanak's Birthday- November 15th 2005- Sikh holiday to celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak

Hanukkah- December- Jewish festival of lights, commemorating the purification of the temple

Great Fiction of 2004

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

Sandbag Shelters (Again)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Self-Help Emergency Shelter for Asian Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster

Cal-Earth Institute is ready to immediately offer its help to Families, International, Governmental and Non-governmental organizations in the Asian Tsunami disaster region for emergency shelters.

Basic materials needed are on-site earth, sandbags, barbed wire, and human labor. It will contribute its technology using the following methods:

1) Provide Distance Learning via live internet connection instructing in the construction of the emergency shelters directly to relief organizations in the disaster area. A local internet connection and standard software are required.

2) Provide free training at Cal-Earth Institute in intensive hands-on workshops to persons coming from the countries disaster regions, or from the United States who are scheduled to go to the disaster areas to teach and supervise the construction of shelters. The training is based on Cal-Earth's existing educational materials. This emergency shelter technology can be used for the reconstruction of both permanent housing as well as other buildings and infrastructures.

Cal-Earth Institute is a non-profit educational and research organization in Hesperia, California. The Superadobe emergency shelter technology, which has been designed and developed by architect Nader Khalili and his associates at Cal-Earth Institute, has been built and successfully tested for California's strict building codes. It is patented in the U.S. and overseas but is now offered freely to those in need in the disaster region.

The shelters and technology have been visited and endorsed by the United Nations emergency response in 2001, and recently given the 2004 Aga Khan award for architecture for Sandbag Shelters (for photos and video clip see http://www.akdn.org/agency/akaa/ninthcycle/page_03txt.htm

For more information see www.calearth.org , the Photo gallery, News articles, Khalili's message, and Emergency Shelter sections.

Great Non-fiction from 2004 (at least that I read in 2004)

Out of Silence by Russell Martin is about a boy who has autism and his own struggles and his family's struggles.

Longitude by Dava Sobel- About the race to figure out the best way to determine longitude at sea and especially about building an accurate chronometer.

Volcano Cowboys by Dick Thompson is about predicting volcanoes and especially the eruptions of Mount St. Helens and Pinatubo. This is the best book about volcanoes that I've read.

A Fish Caught in Time by Samantha Weinberg is about the coelacanth. I was pleased to find such an interesting book about an old fish. :)

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. Scotti- A very interesting book, especially since my grandparents hitchhiked to New England to help clean up after the storm.

Eclipse by Duncan Steel- I liked this one because it had more information about historical eclipses than many other eclipse books.

No Apparent Danger by Victoria Bruce is about two volcanic eruptions in Colombia and their aftermath. One is the very destructive eruption of Nevada del Ruiz and the other is a small eruption of Galeras that killed some scientists.

Siberian Dawn by Jeffrey Taylor is about the author's travels through Siberia, and not just on the Trans-Siberian railroad, like most books of this type are.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and The Tomb of Christ by Martin Biddle are about the history, archaeology, and people of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Geysers of Yellowstone by T. Scott Bryan is the best book about Yellowstone's geysers. There aren't a lot of pictures, but there is so much more information here than in any other book. Yellowstone's Geysers, Hot Spring, and Fumaroles by C. Schreier has lots of pictures, but much less information. It is handy when you're walking around the park, though.

These are a few that I've mentioned in other posts, but wanted to add here too:

Celestial Delights by Francis Reddy is about all the things you shouldn't miss in the sky till 2010.

Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels by Julie M. Smith has plenty of thought-provoking questions about the Gospels.

Traditions of the Early Life of Abraham by John A Tvedtnes

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

City of the Dead


The only time in my life that I have ever gotten flea bites was in Cairo, Egypt. My feet and ankles were covered with them after we spent a day in the cemeteries. Cairo's cemeteries are amazing and nothing like our own. But the biggest difference is that thousands of people live in the cemeteries of Cairo.

We had gone to the cemeteries to visit the mausoleum of Qayt Bay. My husband, D (this was before we were married) loves Islamic architecture and was always running off to various mosques, madrasas, and mausoleums in whatever city we happened to be in. Qayt Bay turned out to be my favorite Islamic building I've been to. There were many places in the Middle East where I felt peace like I have in church, and Qayt Bay was one of those places.

When we came out of Qayt Bay, we started to wander around the cemeteries. And, as always, we were quickly found by lots of children asking for pens. (When D went back to Cairo a few years later, he took pens with him.) We were invited into someone's home and had a delightful time chatting with the family. D was always fun to run around with, since he talks easily with people and wasn't shy about making mistakes in Arabic.

We were always welcomed into homes in the Middle East, whether the family was well off or was lucky to even have shelter. We were uniformly treated well. I never felt worried about our safety. There were times that I chose to wear a veil out of respect and to show that I consider myself to be modest, but never out of fear. It's something that most Americans don't understand, but our friends who have spent time in the Middle East understand.

03 January 2005

One-upmanship

Am I the only one who is bothered by the competition that seems to be developing between wealthy nations in the aftermath of the tsunamis? Now you can even find out how much per capita various countries have donated. Of course, every penny counts and the more that is donated, the better. Much more is still needed. But the motives here seem to be off to me.

Recent Reading

Here are a few books I've been reading recently. These are all non-fiction. I rarely read a non-fiction book straight through. I tend to read the parts I'm interested in and poke around in them.

Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Charles D. Smith- This book is an excellent history of the conflict. The details of the early years (before the creation of the State of Israel) are particularly valuable. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about the history behind the conflict from an unbiased source. However, if you are strongly pro-Israeli, this book will seem very biased toward the Palestinian side. I lean towards the Palestinian side and thought the portrayal of Zionism was fair.

Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham by John A. Tvedtnes - A compilation of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions about Abraham. Very interesting.

Along the Silk Road, Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis and The Silk Road by Frances Wood- I always like to read about the Silk Road. These two have been good.

Charlotte Bronte by Jane Sellars- This is a short biography. Quick to read and good. I'll read the one by Gaskell next, and I want to get one about Anne and Emily also.

The Life of Jane Austen by John Halperin- Blah. He is far too analytical. I'm going to try the one by Claire Tomalin next.

Middle East Patterns by Colbert C. Held- Very good book about the history of the Middle East and current situations. It covers natural resources, water, history, and many other things. It also covers each individual country briefly but well.

Reject Pile?

I don't have very many books that I haven't liked. I think this is because I don't finish books that I am not enjoying or learning from. I figure there are too many books out there to waste my time on something that isn't worthwhile. So I toss the bad ones to the side and forget about them.

I can really only think of only one book that has disappointed me. It is Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester. I was so excited to read this book. I love to read about volcanoes. Every time we move, I have another library of books about volcanoes and earthquakes to read through. So when I heard about Krakatoa a few months after the paperback edition came out, I was able to get it from the library and I started it immediately. But I was sorely disappointed. The book was not in the least interesting to me. I think it can only be because of the author, since the topics of the book are subjects that I love. I tried The Map That Changed the World a few weeks later, and felt the same way.

I decided to give up on Simon Winchester, but I know that many people very much enjoy his books. Is there another of his books that I should try that I might enjoy more? I've thought about his book on the Oxford English Dictionary, but I haven't been brave enough to try it. That is another topic that I find very interesting.

02 January 2005

Today I've been thinking about the Doctrine and Covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants is one of our books of scripture. We also have the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price.

The Book of Mormon is a history of a group of people living in the Americas from 600 BC to 400 AD. It also includes a record of Christ's visit to those people after his post-mortal ministry in the Holy Land. In many ways, it is a lot like the Bible, with doctrine and stories of prophets and wars.

The Pearl of Great Price is a short book of odds and ends. It contains the books of Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith's history, and a selection from St. Matthew from Joseph's Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible. It also has the Articles of Faith. These are excellent to read if you want to know what basic Mormon doctrine really is. You can read lots of weird things saying what Mormons believe (many of those weird things are not what any Mormon I know believes) but the Articles of Faith are canonized and accepted by most everyone.

Anyway, like I said, I've been thinking about the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a largely compilation of revelations received by Joseph Smith. It is actually more in the style of the Qur'an than anything else I'm aware of. I realized today that the Doctrine and Covenants is completely God's word in a way that none of our other scripture is. It is not a history. It is not telling a story in any way. It is not any man's interpretation of anything. It is simply the doctrines and teachings of the Lord. I will keep this in mind as we study the Doctrine and Covenants this year.