29 October 2007

Timur Biographies

I checked out a couple of biographies of Timur last week and they both were a bit disappointing. I didn't read all of either of them.

Beatrice Forbes Manz's The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane is fairly short and she is an expert on the subject, but the book was pretty boring, even technical. Not what I wanted, although she doesn't spend all her time on Timur's wars.

Justin Marozzi's Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, however, spent nearly all his time on battles. This isn't really surprising in a bio of Timur, but still, it was a bit much. Marozzi also isn't a Central Asia person. I wanted an author who cared about Central Asia, not just who travelled there to research Timur.

But what really sealed this book's fate was Marozzi's insistence on calling Timur a Tatar. He was not a Tatar, but a Turk from the Barlas tribe. Marozzi admits in a footnote early on that that European "Tartar" is not always synonymous with "Tatar," but really, it rarely is and is not at all in this case. I thought this was a serious error especially since it was perpetuated throughout the entire book.

Maybe I'll try another bio of Timur someday.

The Fifth Child

I'm sorry to say that I'd never read any book by Doris Lessing before she won the Nobel Prize. This one and a few others came recommended.

It may not have been the best book to read when I'm expecting a baby soon, nor when I know families in very similar situations (down to the same name of the troublesome child). I do think things are better now for children and families like this, even though there are still no easy solutions.

Maybe I'll read it again when I'm done having children if they all turn out okay.

If I Am Missing or Dead

This book has been going around one of the message boards I read, so I picked it up at the library. It's not a cheery book, as you'd probably guess from the title, but it is an important book about abuse. The author, Janine Latus, writes about her own abusive marriage and relationships and her sister's. The author manages to get out of hers; her sister Amy doesn't.

Like I said, this isn't a pleasant book to read although it's not graphic. But you see both of these women, Janine in particular since you get a lot more detail about her life, continuing on down paths that don't work.

I hope I never understand an abused woman's mindset, why she can't get out even when she has support to get out, how mentally unstable she becomes with an abusive man.

27 October 2007

Nineteen Minutes

This is my definition of escape fiction. Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes is a very quick read despite its 450 pages. It's not amazing literature and you've got all the typical elements of a novel about teenagers (teenage girl being raised by a clueless single parent and has an abusive boyfriend), but Picoult writes a great story.

I did cheat and read ahead so I could go to sleep on Thursday night, since I can sleep if I just need know find out how it's going to happen instead of what will happen. Or else I would have stayed up much too late to finish the book.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one to sensitive types or who are quite careful about what they read, but other than that, it's a nice book to take up some time. And then move on to something more worthwhile.

25 October 2007

Bury the Chains

Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild is about the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in Britain. It's an interesting topic and Hochschild writes well, but I lost my enthusiasm for the topic about two-thirds of the way through and only skimmed to the end.

24 October 2007

Siberian Authors

I've been trying to find authors from Siberia for Melissa's challenge (see next post) but I am having a very difficult time finding any. I'm not looking for Russian authors who wrote about Siberia or while they were living in Siberia, but for books written by native Siberians. Fiction or non-fiction, poetry, plays, anything. Just so long as it's reasonably well written, and preferably translated into English.

Any suggestions?

Expanding Horizons

Melissa has posted a new reading challenge that starts in January. Go to her blog to read about it and make sure to post your list of books. I think I'll do the 6 book version, but I haven't decided yet on what I'll read. I've requested The Railway through ILL (since I never could track it down for the Reading Across Borders Challenge) and if I can get that one, I'll use it for Asia. My Name is Red would be good for the Middle East, but Turtlebella's Absent (see the comments at Melissa's blog) sounds like an excellent choice too. It'll probably come down to what is available at the right time at the library.

As might the entire list. I've been having a lovely time looking around on others' blogs to see what they'll be reading and I have a growing list of books to check out from the library. Then when it gets around to April, I'll see if I've read enough. Starting in January I'll add links to the books I read for the challenge.

And while I'm at it, here are some links to books I've read that could have been included here:
The Devil that Danced on the Water
Balzac and the Little Seamstress
Absent
The Saffron Kitchen
The Color of Water
Anything Can Happen
Siberian Village
Snow
From Heaven Lake
Nervous Conditions
A House for Mr. Biswas
Ancestor Stones
Things Fall Apart
Funny in Farsi
Soul
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Wild Swans

22 October 2007

When All the World Was Young

This memoir by Barbara Holland was thoroughly pleasant to read. Holland writes about her childhood and her experiences growing up in the 1940s. I wish I had keep something to write with on hand while I was reading because she had so many lines that I would have quoted here, but oh well. Just read it yourself.

19 October 2007

Why You Should Care about Turkey

Bonnie Boyd has an excellent post today (the link "Turkey and the West" is on the sidebar) about how the West has mishandled its relations with Turkey. While relations with Turkey are largely ignored in the media and this last round has only gotten a bit more coverage, it is an important issue. Boyd sums it up nicely in her last paragraph:
So, my fellow Westerners: let’s think again about dissing our best friend and most faithful representative out there in the world at large. Those whom we would like to have as friends watch us: they see how we treat the friends we already have.

Hear that, US Congress? And the EU?

17 October 2007

The Saffron Kitchen

This book by Yasmine Crowther was another quick read. Unquestionably the best thing about it was that is a largely set in Iran with many Iranian characters, but the book has very little about politics or the government in Iran, which was refreshing. The reader is better able to see why Iranians love Iran than in many books where you wonder why anyone lives in Iran at all. When an Iranian behaves well or badly, it is not because s/he is Muslim or a woman or a man or restricted by culture, but simply because that's what that person chose to do.

I had trouble really feeling much sympathy for Maryam, even with the revelation in the last few pages of the book. It was entirely expected and comes up in so many books now that it loses its impact. But the book was mostly told from Sara's point of view, and I imagine that if we'd had more of Maryam's thoughts, I might have felt differently.

Recommended.

16 October 2007

When They Severed Earth from Sky

Apparently I'm hooked on Elizabeth Barber's books right now because this is another book she wrote. This one was written with her husband, Paul Barber and is about mythology. I very much enjoyed this one too. The Barbers take a variety of mostly European and Middle Eastern myths and reinterpret them because they believe that many myths are based on actual events. It really is a very interesting book and highly recommended, although it would have been nice if there had been more myths examined from other parts of the world.

15 October 2007

Shadow Baby

This was a quick and pleasant book to read because Alison MGhee writes so well. The story didn't draw me in quite as much as it has some readers, but I still enjoyed it. The characters are all interesting and Clara, despite being an unusual 11-year-old, sounds like one. The storyline is a bit old, in my opinion, but like I say, McGhee makes it work well. Recommended.

12 October 2007

I heard from the Mittens fundraiser and it is definitely still on. They are planning on having a new website up next week that will make it easy to buy Please to the Table and donate to the fundraiser.

I had grand ideas of posting pictures today, but I didn't. We've been dyeing wool with KoolAid. The whole thing bothers me somehow, but it's cheap and easy and safe. We don't have a wide selection of KoolAid around here though; we need some blues. I think I'll try some other food colorings next week. Then we can just dye our own wool and I can buy the inexpensive and easy-to-spin white roving that every spinning place carries.

11 October 2007

Please to the Table

Nyura has been singing the praises of this book for a long time, so when I happened to see it at the library, I picked it up. I have to admit that I hadn't looked very carefully for it before because I'd never gotten past the subtitle of The Russian Cookbook. I was assuming it was mostly Russian recipes with a few from other parts of the former Soviet Union and maybe a handful from Central Asia.

But the subtitle is wrong, as many reviewers at Amazon also point out. There are plenty of recipes from all over the former Soviet Union and a fair number from Central Asia, although the emphasis is heavily on Uzbekistan. It has hundreds of recipes for all sorts of dishes (although I would have liked more salad recipes; I've not found very many salad recipes from this area even though several salads are featured at many meals and should be featured more prominently in cookbooks from the area) and interesting descriptions and details about different areas of the former USSR.

Recommended. If you do buy it, consider purchasing it here (I assume this fundraiser is still on, but I don't know for sure).

10 October 2007

Backstrap Loom

I've been spinning for about 7 years now. I don't have much equipment since it's not very practical in a family on a tight budget who keeps on moving. But I'm happy without a spinning wheel and drum carder and another spinning wheel for traveling and various skein winders and different types of looms and...

But I still want to learn to weave, so I think it's time to put together a backstrap loom. Even though these looms are largely associated with Central America now, they were one of the earliest looms to have been used all over the world.

Backstrap looms are extremely portable and inexpensive to put together (the two most important features for me), but you can't weave a particularly wide piece of fabric on them. See this link for an example of a piece from a backstrap loom, and scroll further down to see several strips of fabric sewn together. (These pictures are from k'tach, which means weaver in Russian and is rather an interesting blog, despite the all-too-common cat pictures that so many crafters seem to find necessary.)

So maybe in a few weeks or months I'll be able to post pictures of my own loom and maybe even something I made. Hopefully.

09 October 2007

Prehistoric Textiles

I'm nearly finished with this book by Elizabeth Wayland Barber who also wrote The Mummies of Urumqi. As I mentioned there, Barber is a textile expert and also teaches linguistics and archaeology. It is a real pleasure to read about ancient textiles from her perspective because she's a weaver herself (she wove the fabric on the front cover based on some ancient textile scraps).

It's not really a general interest sort of book though. It's more for people who are interested in textiles and want to know more about their earliest history in Europe and the Middle East, or for people interested in archaeology. Recommended because Barber writes about technical topics so well.

08 October 2007

General Conference

So I listened to and watched a lot of General Conference this weekend. I slept through some of Sunday's sessions because I wasn't feeling up to staying awake; I didn't even do any spinning or anything on Sunday.

Anyway, I was very pleased that Elder Eyring was called to the First Presidency so we'll get to hear him every conference instead of missing his priesthood session talks (although it means more talks for him). My husband and I both very much like him and his talks and we enjoyed what he had to say on Sunday morning.

I really liked President Packer's talk too, and since I always like Elder Wirthlin, his talk on Saturday was especially meaningful with what happened.

Like I said, I'm a lot fuzzier on what happened on Sunday, but for the parts of President Beck's talk that may have been troublesome (I generally enjoyed it, what I heard and what I've since read), I'll fall back on my favorite parenting/homemaking verse:

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God (D&C 88:119).

While I don't think being an excellent housekeeper is necessary to being a good mother, there certainly are convenient things about being a good housekeeper, but those things have a way of making themselves obnoxious (or just noxious...). I need to keep in mind the playing with the children, the reading scriptures, and the learning and the fun more than the cleaning because those other things are so much easier to forget. No one will notice if you didn't play any games with your children for a month, but they'll notice if you didn't clean the kitchen in that time.

And right now "every needful thing" has been cut way back. I do very little cooking and almost no cleaning. The boys do most of the cleaning and my husband does a lot of the cooking. I sit around and direct (although I try to keep my mouth shut). The only outside activities the boys have are an acting class once a week and scouts for my older son once a week. School takes about 2 hours, and we go shopping once a week. That's it, and it's all I can do right now. And that's fine. There are other times when we'll be able to do more and when other things are more important.

And as usual I liked Elder Oaks' talk. It did seem it was a bit short and I wondered if there will be a little more printed in the Ensign.

And there's my LDS-related post for the season. :)

Pumpkin Bread

The pumpkin bread worked out great. There could have been more flour to hold it together better before it cooled, but the density was perfect when it was cooled. So here's the recipe:

3-3 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
2 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T allspice
2 tsp salt
1/2 T baking soda
1/2 T baking powder
3 eggs
29-oz can pumpkin
1 1/4 c plain yogurt
1/2 c applesauce
1/2 c oil

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes.

05 October 2007

Pumpkin Bread Attempt #1

I decided to fiddle with the old pumpkin bread recipe today and I need to write down what I did right now before I forget. It's still in the oven so I won't have any results for a while, but the batter tasted pretty good. It was still plenty sweet even though I cut back on the sugar.

3 c white wheat flour (none in original)
1 c all purpose flour (original 6 cups white)
2 c white sugar (original 4 cups sugar)
1/4 c brown sugar (none in original)
1 T cinnamon (2 T in original)
1 T allspice (none in original)
2 tsp salt (same)
1/2 T baking soda (2 tsp in original)
1/2 T baking powder (none in original)
4 eggs (I think I'll cut back more on these next time- the original had 8 eggs)
29-oz can pumpkin (same)
1 1/4 c plain yogurt (none in original)
1/2 c applesauce (none in original)
1/2 c oil (1 c in original)

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes. I'll come back another day with the family's votes.

Dislocating China

I didn't have time to get all way through this book because I had to return some books a lot earlier than I planned on, but I'll get it again when I get a chance because it's a very interesting book by Dru Gladney. The subtitle is Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects and covers a fascinating range of subjects from Kazakh genealogy to cultural villages to Chinese films and so much more. It's also very readable and not at all dense. Recommended.

Of course, our friend Seth Frantzman, the expert on everything, thinks the book doesn't accurately distinguish between religion and ethnicity and complains that Gladney is too sympathetic to Muslims. Apparently Franztman doesn't realize that, for example, the Hui are a regularly defined minority in China and that being defined as a Hui is a result of Muslim heritage. In this case, ethnicity is almost exclusively about religion and Gladney is simply following Chinese minorities policy, not making anything up.

04 October 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I very much enjoyed this children's book by Kate DiCamillo. I think it's my favorite of the books I've read that she's written. It's really a very simple story about a china rabbit who learns to love through his many adventures and mishaps. It reminded me vaguely of The Velveteen Rabbit, but it isn't really like that story at all.

The illustrations are beautiful and the book itself is a pleasure to read. It's like reading an old-fashioned book and the story is a bit old-fashioned too, but that doesn't take anything away from it. Recommended.

03 October 2007

Hotsoursaltysweet has finally been updated! They have a few Central Asian recipes up this time, including my very favorite kebab recipe and an unpublished Tajik bread that is quite similar to other flatbreads in Central Asia. Now you know what to make for dinner tonight. :)

Kefir

Several people asked about my kefir experiment. I haven't tried making real kefir yet with kefir grains because they can be a little hard to get (I have found someone who might be able to give me some soon though), so I've only tried the Yogourmet kefir starter. And since it produces kefir that I am totally satisfied with, I'll probably stick with that unless I get the grains and they are amazing.

It's easy, easy, easy to make with the freeze-dried starter. You just mix the starter with room temperature milk (I mixes up some powdered milk, like I always do for yogurt, so I didn't have to reheat the milk) and let it sit for 18-24 hours on the counter. Then stick it in the fridge overnight and stir it up in the morning and enjoy. Save about 1/4 c of the original batch to start your next liter of kefir (apparently you can do this about 7 times, which is pretty reasonable). You can also make kefir cheese if you let it incubate a little longer till the curds and whey separate; drain it in cheesecloth like you do for yogurt cheese or paneer.

And what is kefir, you might ask? It's a cultured milk product that originated in the Caucasus. Like yogurt, people sing the praises of its health benefits (especially the probiotics), but I just make it because I like to drink it. The boys like it in smoothies better since it is pretty sour. You can also use it in recipes in place of buttermilk, if you like. Kefir tastes the way buttermilk should taste, in my opinion. And if you live in Central Asia, you might be able to buy more reliable kefir than milk.

And how do you pronounce kefir? I've always said keh-fear, as they do in Russia, but when I started asking for kefir started in Utah, no one knew what I was talking about till I said KEY-fur. Ick. Of course, most people didn't know what I was talking about anyway.

02 October 2007

Fairest

I read this last night for something a little lighter. And it was. I vaguely remembered Melissa reviewing this sometime, so I checked her blog this morning and she reviewed it better than I would, so go read what she wrote.

01 October 2007

Forbidden Journey

This is another excellent book by Ella Maillart. In this book she writes about her journey through China from Beijing down to Xi'an to the southern Silk Road between the Taklamakan and Tibet to Kashgar, and then down to Srinagar in Kashmir.

But what really makes her travel books different (especially this one) is that she traveled at the end of an era. Even though Maillart's trip through China was in 1935, just 72 years ago, it's a completely different world all across China. This trip would no longer be nearly impossible. A hassle, yes, especially along some parts of the journey, but in general very doable. The ethnic makeup of some areas has changed dramatically. The government is totally different. And most of all, the people are different. How could they not be?

Maillart truly is an amazing woman. One thing I learned about her today is that she organized tours to Asia for over 30 years till 1987. I would have loved to have traveled with her!

Recommended.