30 November 2007

Anahita's Woven Riddle

Melissa reviewed this book about a month ago and I was very intrigued. It's set in Iran in about 1875 among the Afshar tribe who are famous for their carpets.

It's wonderful to see a book set in this time and place. There is so little written in English about this part of the world, and most is non-fiction from a Russian or British perspective. Sayres has clearly done a lot of research and it's nice to have a weaver writing about weaving (although tapestry weaving is a lot different from creating a knotted-pile carpet, as Anahita does in the book).

The story is pretty good too. Like Melissa, I appreciated that there were 3 reasonable suitors and the story wasn't completely obvious in pointing toward the one she would marry. And it was nice to see Anahita learn a little about herself as time went on, because she about drove me nuts at the beginning of the book.

Two complaints (of course): First, because of all the reform movements mentioned in the book, it felt much more like it was set in the early1900s instead of 20-30 years earlier. But this is hardly something most people would care about.

But I was very surprised and disappointed that Sayres has the Afshar speaking Persian, especially at home with their own families. The Afshar are Turkic and speak a language very closely related to southern Azeri. Persian and Afshar are totally unrelated, although Afshar has borrowed a number of Farsi words. Of course it would be expected that some Afshar at the time would speak Farsi since they live in Iran, but not at home as the characters in the book do. (spoiler) In fact, given the answer to the last riddle of the book, the Yomut and Afshar share Turkic languages, not Persian dialects. It would not have been difficult or any more confusing to have clarified this in the book, especially when Sayres is so careful to portray Iranian life well.

29 November 2007

Rosetta Stone

After dithering about getting some sort of Persian or Tajik language program for more than a year we finally decided to try Rosetta Stone. There really aren't a lot of Persian language programs out there that fit all our needs and Rosetta Stone isn't perfect, but we'll give it a try.

The main advantage to RS is that the entire family can use it. The biggest disadvantage for me is that there isn't a text, but we'll order a Tajik one and the homeschooling version of RS comes with more written resources.

I've been wanting to try Rosetta Stone for a while now. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Click on "Rosetta Stone" at the bottom of this post for other posts about RS Farsi.

28 November 2007

A Limit of Blogging Friendship

I've written before over the last few years how much I enjoy blogging friendships, especially since we move so often. I started blogging 3 years and 4 cities ago and I've stayed in much closer contact with people I've gotten to know on the internet than with the people I knew in the last few places we've lived, except Bishkek. Our nomadic lifestyle lends itself well to internet friendships.

But every so often I wish, just a little, that I had more real life friends, or that internet friends could be more like real life friends. Like when someone I know online is having a particularly difficult trial. It's just not the same to send an email and say you're sorry. I don't know anyone's real address to send something. I don't really feel like a worthwhile friend.

I have met a woman in our new neighborhood who isn't disapproving of our choices or even just pleasantly tolerant of our lifestyle like most people are. It's delightful to talk to her because we talk about things besides our children and other typical mothers-with-younger-than-teenage-children talk. She doesn't quiz me about homeschooling, and her reaction to hearing that we'd lived in Kyrgyzstan was totally different than most people's. I won't push this friendship too much though, because, well, we'll probably move in the summer and this person is quite outgoing and isn't in much need of another friend anyway.

It just makes me think of how it could be if we put down roots somewhere. But in the end, that's not what I want. Because I think the goals we have are a lot nicer, even if they don't sound so friendly.

27 November 2007

No Doom and Gloom Here

In case you're tired of all the doom and gloom you're always hearing about, check out this Foreign Policy article. This calls for a longer post, but not today. Thanks to Global Gal for pointing it out.

The sort of snow that sticks is falling outside. I especially love it when it snows the night before a day that we don't have to go anywhere. When you can stay home and look out at the snow and play in it and not have to get anywhere in it.

26 November 2007

Oprah Keeps Stealing My Books

Just this week I found out that Oprah's current book club book is the very same book my husband's uncle recommended to me recently. No wonder there are so many holds on the book at the library. But how often does your spouse's uncle recommend a book? (I ended up skimming the book since I wasn't will to commit to all 1,000 pages, especially fiction, so I won't do a review here.)

The same thing happened with Anna Karenina. I did not read that book because Oprah said I should. But it looked like I did because of the timing.

I don't have anything against Oprah's book club; in fact, I think it is wonderful. Anyone who promotes books like she does is doing a good thing. But I just don't care to look like I need her suggestions. :)
I wasn't really all that busy over most of the weekend, but I'm still a lazy blogger.

I was looking back over the last few years to see what I'd written other Thanksgivings and found this post with a long list of things I'm thankful for. I'm still thankful for all those things, but this year the list is much shorter- only one thing, and that's to have my husband back to normal after almost two years of nerve and back pain.

I'm thankful for the baby too, but a little nervous too (we've been a family of 4 for almost 3/4ths of our marriage; it will be very different to change that). But there is nothing but joy in having my husband back. I'd forgotten what normal could be like.

I'm sure things will be fine with the baby and soon it will seem odd that we only had 2 children for 7 years, but going to 3 seems odd from this end. And the gap is so huge. Someone referred to this baby as a caboose baby recently. I suppose he is. One of the books I read recently said that every child in the family has a different mother (When All the World Was Young, maybe? it was one of the memoirs) and I imagine that will really be true for this little boy.

He's still nameless. The name we both like just doesn't work in the US though, especially in the state we're living in right now.

20 November 2007

News from Tartary

News from Tartary by Peter Fleming is the rest of the story of Ella Maillart's Forbidden Journey. Fleming travelled the entire distance with Maillart and wrote his own version of their trip. Both books are excellent, especially since Maillart and Fleming write about different things, but clearly travel well together.

Sadly, the edition I read doesn't have any of the photos Fleming mentions; it doesn't even have a map so unless you're pretty familiar with the path they travelled, you're either going to have find your own map or just wander along with Maillart and Fleming. Or find an older edition because it was rather silly to cut out the pictures.

North and South

This is another of those film versions of a 19-century novel, but North and South is also surprisingly good, partly because the point of the story is not completely focused on the two main characters but has a life of its own beyond them.

I really very much enjoyed this movie (although as they say in the commentary, there really are too many sudden deaths). The actors were excellent and I liked Mr. Thornton a lot more than I like Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries. My husband still likes Wives and Daughters best though.

15 November 2007

The Homeschooling Post for the Year

Every year at about this time I think about how much I love homeschooling and how well it works for us. I think the only thing I don't like about it is having people ask me about it all the time. This particular neighborhood we've moved to seems particularly curious about it, more than just the typical questions from mothers with preschoolers that I usually get.

I also don't like to have people assume that I am either crazy or brilliant or a perfect mother because I homeschool. It's refreshing to talk to someone who just thinks it's something some people do. I'm not trying to make a point about how your children are schooled. Nor do I quiz you about your children's education. And no, it really isn't hard to teach second and third grade math or science or history or grammar. I bet you could do it too. You went to third grade, didn't you?

A rather typical day for us is to eat breakfast and get started on school around 9 or 10. We do math, reading, grammar, Latin, piano, scriptures, and writing daily and rotate through geography, history, science, library, and an acting class. My husband often does art and music with the boys since that's what he loves. And it's likely we'll add Persian soon. We're nearly always done before lunch, with plenty of time for more reading in the afternoon, either individually, or reading out loud, or audiobooks. I'm still a bit confused by families with elementary-aged children who take all day to get through their work.

We've been using Miquon and Singapore for math for several years now and it's gone well. I like the combination of the two programs even though I don't try to coordinate them like some homeschoolers do. We just do a page out of each every day, or two pages out of one or the other since older son like Miquon best. This will be his last year for Miquon though. I like Singapore's traditional approach to learning math mixed with Miquon's more intuitive approach, and I like Singapore's multiculturalness, especially since it just is multicultural instead of trying to be.

Story of the World is still going well, although I look forward to a few years from now when we can start the cycle over again with different sources. SOTW works well for young elementary children, but it's far from comprehensive and I have to admit that I cringe just a little when I hear of older homeschoolers using it. You'd never know a thing about Central Asia if that's all you used. :)

I dithered around on a Latin program fort months earlier this year before settling on Minimus. It has been wonderful, so much so that older son (who is not exactly what you'd call a scholarly type) told the dentist this week that Latin is his favorite subject. Minimus isn't a rigorous program and I wouldn't have chosen it if I didn't already have some knowledge of Latin (the teacher's manual is pretty expensive and the book itself isn't very self-explanatory). Since I prefer to teach my children one entire conjugation or declension at a time, I've also added that in since Minimus doesn't present the verbs in a very orderly manner. It has been perfect for us and I am so glad that older son is enjoying Latin. I'm not sure how far we'll go with Latin since I am very interested in my children learning Central Asian languages, but for now, it's an excellent introduction to language learning.

Growing with Grammar has also been excellent in every way. It is clear and comprehensive and age-appropriate and simple. It's been especially nice to start a more formal grammar program and Latin at the same time because they go together so nicely.

Maybe I'll just refer people to this post when they ask me about homeschooling.

Dream of the Red Chamber

I finished this book several days ago but haven't had time to post since we've been getting our computer back online. It was written by Tsao Hsueh-Chin and my version was translated by Wang Chi-Cheng.

And I didn't much like it, even though it's considered one of the greatest works of Chinese fiction. It wasn't completed in the author's lifetime (it was written in the mid 1700s); various others have filled in the gaps and added to the story so it's hard to know exactly what the author intended. My translation was only 40 chapters, half as long as the original book's 80 chapters.

I think I would have liked it more if I knew more about traditional Chinese society. I am rather ignorant in that area and don't really have a desire to learn more. It was interesting though to get a glimpse of life at that time though. There are many, many characters in the book, mostly female, and it's hard to keep track of all of them.

Maybe I would have liked another translation better, or maybe I'm just not the right person to read this book.

Carrot Salad Again

I decided to try to make the carrot salad that I loved in Kyrgyzstan. This time I was a bit smarter and searched for Korean carrot salad and came up with several Russian versions. I bought the matchstick carrots so I didn't have to cut up the carrots myself. And get bored and end up grating them which really doesn't work.

So I used the ideas I found online and came up with something that tastes just right. All amounts can be adjusted as you please.

1/2 lb matchstick carrots
1/8-1/2 tsp cayenne
1 T hot oil [edited later to add that I usually leave this out]
1/2 tsp salt
1-3 T vinegar
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 green onions, chopped

Mix it all up and adjust the seasonings as desired. Let it sit it in the fridge for at least a few hours; overnight is better. Take it out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving.

09 November 2007

I Didn't Finish a Book Today

So I have to think of something else to write about.

I could write about what we're going to name this baby. The other two boys had names long before this and it's annoying to not have something to call this one. He has had a middle name for months, but it's not a name you'd generally call a person. I'd like a name that doesn't sound outlandish in the US, but that works in Central Asia.

I could write about the book I'm reading that's going slowly because it was written in Chinese. I always have trouble keeping track of the characters in Chinese books because they are referred to in so many different ways. Even if there is a handy chart at the beginning of the book, it doesn't always solve the problem.

I could write about vouchers, but that argument is old, especially since it was soundly defeated in Utah this week. But that's old news. It's a bit newer that Mitt Romney thinks homeschoolers should get a tax credit.

I hope it snows this weekend.

08 November 2007

The Lost

I've had this book on my list to read since it came out a year ago and I wish now I'd read it sooner. This is an excellent book about the author Daniel Mendelsohn's search for the fate of his relatives who died in the Holocaust. Of course, it's not a very cheerful book because books about the Holocaust never are, but the awful things he learns aren't the point of the book at all.

I particularly enjoyed the book because I'm interested in family history myself. Not just the dates and places, but the stories behind the people. Mendelsohn starts his quest to find out how his relatives died, but as he writes several times in the book, the goal in the end is to find out how they lived. And shouldn't that be the real point of family history?

Yes, it does get rambly at times and 500 pages really is rather too long for this story. I didn't read absolutely every word on every page. The attention to detail was amazing (actually telling us the notes he was taking of conversations we were reading in their entirety?). And my goodness, Mendelsohn actually uses more parentheses than I do. If I had felt like I had to read everything, I wouldn't have made it through the book. But I didn't (I probably skipped about 50-75 pages all together) so I very much enjoyed the book.

Highly recommended.

07 November 2007

The Painted Drum

This is the first book I've read by Louise Erdrich; I also have her Birchbark House on my list. Erdrich is of Native American descent and writes about Native Americans. I particularly liked that even though some tragic things happen in this book, it's still optimistic.

I really liked parts of this book and didn't much care for other parts of it. The trouble was that I didn't care at all about Faye's relationship with Krahe, but it dominated a lot of the first 100 pages of the book. But I kept reading and once I got to the second part, I very much enjoyed the rest of the book.

06 November 2007

The Devil that Danced on the Water

This was another excellent book by Aminatta Forna. I read her Ancestor Stones a while ago and loved that too; I recommend both of these books highly.

The Devil that Danced on the Water is a memoir of Forna's early years when her father was alive, and the efforts she goes to to find out why he was hanged for treason by the government of Sierra Leone. I much preferred the first two-thirds of the book when Forna was writing about her childhood instead of the end where she writes about the trial. For me, it wasn't so important to know all the details. But that isn't necessarily the main focus of the book, so it didn't really bother me. The brief vignette at the very end about the couple she meets in Sierra Leone made it worth reading the entire book (although the entire book was worth reading).

So many of these African countries are forgotten; Forna's books bring them to life.

05 November 2007

Balzac and the Little Seamstress

This book is by Dai Sijie, a Chinese author who has lived in France for many years and writes in French. It's a short story of two boys who are sent to a rural area of China to be re-educated as so many were in the 70s. They manage to get hold of a collection of Western books in Chinese and the story is based on what happens to the boys because of these books.

I rather liked this book. It's only about 200 pages so it's quite fast to read.

03 November 2007

Tandir Ovens and Hard Red Wheat for Naan

The Carpet Wars had an interesting part about hard red wheat that had been shipped from the US to Afghanistan. The trouble was that the dough made from this wheat wouldn't stick to the sides of the tandir and the naan kept falling into the fire before it was cooked. No matter the consistency of the dough, it wouldn't stick.

This totally surprised me since I have never heard anything like this before. I understand that the protein and gluten content of hard red wheat is higher than other types of wheat. I understand that the way you make your dough might make a difference, and certainly the temperature of the oven, but the type of wheat just doesn't make sense to me. I've used hard red wheat for nan a lot of times and it sticks to my bread stone, which is at least fairly similar to a tandir. I wouldn't worry about the naan falling off it the stone were tipped on its side in the oven.

Can anyone shed any light on this one? What type of wheat is normally used in Afghanistan? Or did the humanitarian suppliers just not know how to bake naan? I almost wonder if they didn't have their ovens hot enough.

And while I was trying to learn more about this, I did learn more about the history of the tandir. The name apparently comes from the Semitic word nar which means fire (that's why it's called a tannur in most of the Middle East) and spread from the Middle East to Central Asia and India. There is disagreement on that point though; maybe they originated in Persia or Central Asia instead and spread in both directions. Whatever way they went, they're entrenched in the entire area.

The Carpet Wars

This book by Christopher Kremmer tells about his travels in Asia in the 90s. A lot has changed in the area since then of course, but it's still an interesting look at Central and South Asia and you'll learn a bit about rugs along the way (I had hoped there would be more about carpets and less about war).

I skipped parts that were more about people fighting each other and I was also disappointed in the section on Tajikistan. Kremmer only went there for a route into one area of northern Afghanistan and only spent a short time in Dushanbe; I would imagine the only reason it was even included in the book was because the civil war had only recently ended.

It was a perfectly fine book, just not what I was looking for. There are better travel books out there about Central Asia, although I enjoyed the end of the book much more that the middle or beginning.

02 November 2007

Absent

After Melissa announced her reading challenge, Absent by Betool Khedairi was one of the books that was recommended in the comments. It's set in Iraq in the 1990s during the sanctions and since Khedairi is Iraqi (although she admits that she hasn't spent a lot of time in Iraqi), this is an important look at life in Iraq during the sanctions.

One of the questions in the chipper little reading guide was whether the book ended on an optimistic note. It would have if it didn't have a historical setting, but since you know that America's intervention/invasion of Iraq was coming shortly, well, it's not too optimistic.

There is a bit at the end by Khedairi about the meaning of names in Arabic and if you know the meanings of the names of the characters in the book, it does add a bit. But going off the meanings of the names isn't all that it seems to be in the book, particularly with Adel. (spoiler) Dalal never should have been sucked in by that man.

01 November 2007

China and Toys and Life

I've been a little bemused the last few months by the uproar over products made in China for a couple of reasons. First, I'm surprised this has come as such a surprise to so many people. What did you expect? There have been plenty of warnings in the past about this, although not quite so high-profile. If you're an uninformed consumer, be prepared for surprises about your consumption.

But what really seems odd to me is that we seem to be far more concerned about the possibility of Chinese manufacturing putting lead in our children's toys than with the reality of human rights abuses in China. More importantly, that China is unwilling to use its increasing international clout to stop human rights abuses in Asia (although it did finally condemn Burma as a member of the UN).

I can understand why your typical mother is worried about lead in a toy her baby is chewing on. I don't have a problem with the uproar the potential harm. But can't we be at least as concerned and up-in-arms about the real threats to the human rights, even lives, of billions of people? I'd far rather boycott Chinese products for that reason; to boycott China because we want to lessen the economic dependence on the country that results in so many governments overlooking so much in China.

I like how Suzanne Power put it in Time a couple of weeks ago:

It may take China decades to see that governments that kill at home make unreliable neighbors and threaten global stability. In the meantime a coalition of the concerned must insist that what is manifestly true of the economy is also true of human rights: in this age, there is no such thing as a purely "internal matter."

Land of the High Flags: Afghanistan When the Going Was Good

I had high hopes for this book by Rosanne Klass. It's a reprint (by Odyssey who wrote several of our favorite travel guides) of her time spent teaching English in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. And I wasn't disappointed, not really, but I wasn't terribly impressed either. But there were some excellent parts and it was quick to read.

It seemed odd how thoroughly absent her husband was in the book. I learned about the gardener, the director of the school, the neighbors, etc, but her husband, who was obviously there for a lot of it, had no role in the book. I also wasn't really excited about hearing about the servants so much (she described one for 30 pages); she also lived a pretty privileged life in Kabul, although nearly all expats at the time did (as most expats still do). I would have liked to hear more about her students and teaching, and about their travels around the country, especially since so many things have changed now.

But what I didn't like was how detached Klass seemed. I know she wasn't, given her obviously intense interest in the region since then, but that fascination just didn't come through in the book and I was a bit disappointed with that. Although it was refreshing to not have to read about her opinions and interpretations of everything like you have to in many modern travel books.

Recommended if you're interested in Afghanistan or Central Asia, and it's fairly good as a general travel book.