31 December 2008

Alias Grace

Alias Grace: A NovelI read this one for my local book group and I enjoyed it, although I doubt I would have spent the time on it that I did if I hadn't been reading it for a book group. But I was on vacation and didn't have as much time to read, so it took longer than it should have.

It's well-written and interesting to read. I did rather like Grace. And I think it'll be a good and different discussion at this book group than I've heard there so far.

30 December 2008

I thought I was completely wiped out after we got home yesterday from Utah, but then I saw someone with a U-Haul outside and I decided I wasn't really so very tired.

I think this visit to Utah was probably the best one we've ever had.

22 December 2008

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall DownJulie has been raving about this book everywhere for months and months now and I finally had a chance to read it last week and I'd have to agree that this is one of the best books I've ever read. There was so much in here that I'd love to discuss with a book group and I hope to do so someday.

I think this book affected me so much partly because I have a niece who had some bad experiences getting her epilepsy treated, and because I've seen so many times how difficult cultural misunderstandings are. I kept thinking of so many people, including me, that I've known as I was reading this.

Highly recommended.

17 December 2008

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the WorldThis is another book group book. I didn't need it read it till February, but I put it on hold because there were about 50 people ahead of me. I don't know what happened, but it came in the next week and now I have to return it on Friday because someone else wants it. Hopefully I'll remember enough to make a contribution to the discussion.

Anyway, I can't say I was very impressed with this book. I got nervous about this book when I read Po Bronson's recommendation on the back cover because I didn't much like the only Bronson book I've read. It was also too long; I was tired of it by page 200 out of over 300 pages. Wiener has a very readable style, but a little goes a long way.

I don't see why Weiner thought he could jet off to all these countries for a couple of weeks at a time and find out why they were happy or not when he didn't even speak the languages of many of them. Iceland and the UK were fine, obviously, but I felt that Qatar and Moldova especially were simplified and over-generalized. And I think he dismissed differences within countries much too easily.

Why did he choose Qatar for his super-wealthy example? Yes, it's wealthy, but it's all new wealth, and new changes don't often make people really happy. Countries with older wealth would have been more interesting.

As for Moldova, I absolutely do not think you can travel to many post-Soviet country without speaking the languages there and not spending much time there and come away with a positive feeling about the country. I thought Kyrgyzstan was pretty depressing until I got to know some people and visit them in their homes and speak Russian to them, and then I saw that there were many happy people in Kyrgyzstan. But two weeks in Kyrgyzstan just brushing over the surface of the country? No thanks. Even though the fruits and vegetables are very fresh.

I also thought it was interesting how much emphasis he placed on culture. I disagree that Qatar and Moldova are without culture; instead, they have undergone huge changes in the last 20 years and it's hardly fair to expect those countries to have worked things out yet. And what about cultures that cross borders or immigrate to other places? Like the Hmong? Part of that culture is in China known as the Miao and many Hmong have emigrated. If culture is so important, are they as happy wherever they are? That would have been interesting.

Weiner also LOVES statistics. I was so tired of all his studies by the end of the book.

Weiner travels to 5 European countries and 4 Asian. A little more geographpic diversity would have been nice, although Europe was obviously easier to get to since Weiner doesn't speak any other languages, apparently.

The chapters about Bhutan and Iceland were the best out of the book. His writing about Iceland gave me a new look at the word naive.

A couple of interesting though obvious ideas:

Trust and tolerance are necessary for democracy
Happiness is a choice and relative
Ambition and money might not bring happiness
Some money is necessary for happiness for most people, but it's a different amount in different places

There were some good quotes, but, as usual, I can't find them now.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas CarolNo, I'd never read this book before. I hardly needed to, since it's so popular. But I'd always thought it was rather dark and not what I wanted to read for Christmas. And reading it didn't change my mind. I know many, many people love it, and that's fine, so just let me not like it much. I don't think there are any specifically Christmas books that I do really like.

Land of Yesterday, Land of Tomorrow: Discovering Chinese Central Asia

I had high hopes for this book, based on the title and the fact that it's a book for children on an ignored part of the world. But, I can't recommend it. The pictures were good, but no better than they are in lots of other Central Asia books. And the text was boring or inaccurate. Someday I will put a list together of good children's books to read about Central Asia.

15 December 2008

It's amusing to live in a city where any temperature below freezing is considered "very cold weather." I'm used to living in cities where any temperature above freezing in the winter feels pretty warm. I hope we all survive the 20s tonight.

10 December 2008

Interpreter of Maladies

I thoroghly enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies. I liked The Namesake, but this one was excellent. Recommended.

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo is yet another travel book where the authors are trying to recreate someone else's journey. The biggest difference with this one is that the book is beautiful and the pictures are wonderful (except I would have preferred more pictures of the people they met, instead of so many group shots with the authors in the mix). I expect many people would love this book and it really is a good book if you haven't read lots of travel books about the region, or haven't been there yourself. So in general, it's recommended, even highly, as an interesting and painless way to learn a bit more about Asia. And it's lovely to read a Marco Polo book where they actually go everywhere and don't fly.

I still prefer Ella Maillart's books though. I think she writes better and is more interesting. I thought it was strange that Belliveau kept trying to make their 20th-century Asia mirror Marco Polo's 13th-century Asia. I am also not very impressed to read about people who risk others' lives to follow some former traveler's footsteps. You can risk your own life if you want to, but don't ask others to escort you.

I couldn't believe some of the things they tried though- crossing into eastern Tajikistan from Afghanistan in 1993? And thinking that just because you have a Tajik visa that the crossing wouldn't be a problem? I was impressed they made it along the southern Silk Road in China. You can do that now, but it took some doing then.

Someday I'd love to read a book from the perspective of a guide employed by intrepid Western travelers of Asia.
Eid Mubarak

09 December 2008

The Wednesday Wars

What a great book! I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Wednesday Warsis recommended for any reader.

Here's Melissa's longer review.

05 December 2008

Children of God

This is the sequel to The Sparrow. I didn't like Children of God anywhere near as much as The Sparrow, although it's still a decent book. But it's too long and almost boring in parts. I skimmed the last 150 pages because there are other books calling me from the shelf.

Art of the Loom

I've been reading a lot of books about textiles recently and Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning And Dyeing Across the World was a good one about the looms used and textiles created by a variety of people around the world.

04 December 2008

Yes, I am now the proud owner of a dutch oven. We shall see if this improves our camping experience by testing it next week at the ocean. Because camping has been a bit of a flop in our family. The yurt should help too.

02 December 2008

It's hard to keep the baby out of the toilet and keep the bathroom door open so it doesn't completely moulder away. Fortunately we only have one bathroom. I don't know what I'd do if there were 3 toilets to guard.

01 December 2008

A House in Fez

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco was an amazing and frustrating book. It's the story of an Australian couple who buys an home in the old city of Fez and restores it. The book mostly details that restoration and what the author learns about living in Morocco. It really was fascinating.

But it also was boring in parts- too much detail about the cost of building materials and things like that. And what was up with all the promotion of their blog? I would have been interested in hearing more about the people Clarke knows now in Morocco. We only heard about the workers, one former neighbor, and a seriously flaky 23-year-old woman. A woman who managed to get Clarke to write papers for her in English so she could graduate and continue living off her parents and hope to live off a husband someday.

But it's definitely recommended, even though it could have been better. I can't tell you how much my husband and I would love to do something like this.

Christmas Jars

Christmas JarsBook group selection. It's short. It's typical Christmas stuff. It's done.

Little Leap Forward

I read Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing yesterday while the baby was sleeping in the car during church. It's definitely different from other books about the Cultural Revolution in China, and certainly more appropriate for children. This will be a good read-aloud when we're learning about the Cultural Revolution.

The Queen

The British royal family isn't our usual movie-watching fare, but my husband heard this one was good, so we watched it last week and we both enjoyed it. We thought it was well-acted and interesting. I thought the character development through the film was good too. If you're concerned about the PG-13 rating, my husband and I missed whatever it was that gave it that rating.

27 November 2008

My Very Bad Habit

We've moved so often that apparently my brain doesn't bother remembering if I've met someone before. There are a few people, like my neighbors, that I manage to remember, but it seems that just about anyone else I meet falls right into short-term memory. So the next time I see them, when they start talking to me, I ask all sorts of stupid questions that I'm already supposed to have asked. I clue in when the conversation ends quickly and they leave. It's getting embarrassing.

26 November 2008

Things That Don't Bother Me

Christmas decor after Halloween. I think Thanksgiving and Christmas go together so perfectly that I don't care what decor I see at this time of the year. I love October, November, and December.

Having Thanksgiving dinner without lots of people. I think it'll just be our family this year, and that's the way I like it. Except my husband bought a big turkey. He will be cooking it.

Libraries that have lots of different types of media. I think it's reasonable that libraries provide access to all sorts of media.

Ringing phones. I can ignore them quite happily . That bothers middle son, though.

My neighbors. We have great neighbors.

My mother-in-law. I was just lucky there. Note that I did not mention my step-mother-in-law, but how could that combination possibly be lucky? And really, I can't complain much even there.

My stuff. We have what we need.

Grammatical errors and misspellings. I'm not quite over this one yet, but I don't cringe too very much when someone misplaces an apostrophe.

24 November 2008

The Far Traveler

This is the non-fiction version of The Sea Road and I liked it, although I enjoyed The Sea Road more. The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman isn't really a biography; instead, it's more about the sagas themselves, and the Vikings and the ways we can learn about them. As I said, I liked it, although with the topic and such, I would have expected to love it. But it felt slow. And, as usual, I'd rather read about history and science from historians and scientists, not writers.

Both are recommended.

20 November 2008

The Sparrow

Zowie. The Sparrow is a great book. I read this one for a book group, the one I don't get to go to anymore, and I wish I could be there for the discussion.

I'm generally not a fan of science fiction- it's usually too technical and often dorky. But this wasn't at all. Not for a second. I've got the sequel on hold.

19 November 2008

The Namesake

I rather enjoyed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd like to read Interpreter of Maladies now.

Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and The Woman in White

We've watched all three of these in the last few weeks. The Austens were the new BBC versions, and The Women in White was the 1997 one. Sense and Sensibility was excellent and the others were terribly disappointing.

First, The Woman in White was a sorry adaption. I don't require movies to follow their books strictly, but any changes should be for the better, and the myriad changes in this one were awful. So much of the mystery and interest of the book was lost. Not at all recommended even though the actress playing Marian Halcombe was great.

And Persuasion! I was looking forward to this one because I love Persuasion. I also love the 1995 version; that is the best Austen adaption out there, I think. But this version was awful. Again, the changes weren't for the better. And I was not at all impressed with the actress playing Anne (or anyone else, really). Anne was almost reduced to a Fanny Price, and Anne is not Fanny. Not at all recommended.

But Sense and Sensibility was excellent. Not perfect (Elinor was a bit bug-eyed too often), but so good to watch. I loved the setting for the cottage, and I liked that the actresses were younger. And that Colonel Brandon wasn't so old (I'm comparing to the Emma Thomson version). Recommended.

17 November 2008

Three Cups of Tea, the good parts version

So, I made it clear a few months ago that I didn't like the book Three Cups of Tea. I did like what Greg Mortenson is doing, and today I came across a couple of videos from Outside Magazine about Mortenson and his schools. There's about 10 minutes worth of videos. If you haven't read the book, just watch these videos. They're much better.

12 November 2008

Founding Mothers and Tales from the Expat Harem

I'm doing these together because I didn't finish either. Cokie Roberts' comments and asides throughout Founding Mothers drove me nuts, so I ended up skimming it after reading half of the book. And honestly, I'm much more interested in pre- and post-revolutionary America than in the actual Revolution (not that Roberts spent all her time on the Revolution, but I got bogged down there). I also don't necessarily like reading popular non-fiction by journalists. They usually write well, since they're trained to produce popular stuff, but I always have reservations about the accuracy of what I'm reading. I'd rather read denser non-fiction by scholars that also happen to write well.

I liked Tales from the Expat Harem at first, but I got bogged down in that one too. There was too much about personal lives and not enough about Turkey, although several of the essays were very good. But there were enough I wasn't interested in that it wasn't worth my time to find the good ones. A Woman's Asia was much better for overseas experiences of women.

Why Do I Love These People

Why Do I Love These People? Honest and Amazing Stories of Real FamiliesI read this one for a book group. And, no, I didn't expect to like it and I didn't really. It wasn't worth the time. It's really almost a self-help book, although a step above that. But I do read books if the book group chooses them, and I've been assured that this group read a variety of books. And I prefer a book group to get to know people in our student housing neighborhood instead of playgroups or craft groups or exercise groups or whatever.

Anyway, this is a bunch of stories about different families and their troubles. It's not always cheery, but there is definitely an upbeat and encouraging feel to the book, I thought. I did like that part of Po Bronson's message is that families in general are doing okay- we don't need to fear for them or to start them.

I skipped or skimmed most of Bronson's analysis of what you were supposed to learn from each family. Generally, it was pretty obvious. So I'd generally read the first half of each chapter and gloss over the rest. I got enough out of it to be polite at the next group.

I can see why lots of people love this book. But it's not for me (nor should it be for a book group in general, because it leads to a boring discussing, or, worse, people telling about their own families' problems).

11 November 2008

Nu Ahong and Yogurt

Saudi Aramco World has a short article about Muslim women spiritual leaders in China.

And one about yogurt in all its various forms.

On that note, I made a yogurt curry the other day with mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin and lots of yogurt. We ate it over basmati and it was delicious.

07 November 2008

How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their AccentsI read this one for a book group. I'd considered it and passed it over before (for Melissa's challenge last year- she's doing another this year), but I read it this time since I read the selected book if I'm part of the group.

Anyway, I liked it. I didn't find it it be amazing, but it was a good book. The story was believable and told in an interesting way. I didn't think it was confusing that it switched narrators often and from first person to third person. I also liked that it was told in reverse chronological order. And I always like books about families that only have daughters.

05 November 2008

How Things Can Change

If you had told me a couple of years ago that we would elect an African-American with Muslim ties and a middle name of Hussein, of all things, as President of the United States, I would have laughed and said it wouldn't happen anytime soon.

But it happened yesterday. What an amazing day.

I had to post this here, since I didn't get a sticker with my mail-in ballot.

04 November 2008

Halloween and Samhain

Before my children were born, and when they were little, I though Halloween wasn't a great holiday. Not that I thought it was evil or anything like that, but I did think it was pointless and silly. But now I love it.

It's a community holiday. Can you celebrate Halloween at home with just your family? Not really. Halloween is all about getting out on the streets, meeting your neighbors, and having a great time. We've lost that in most parts of the US.

It's fun and exciting to dress up and go out in the dark, especially when you're a kid. You don't get to do that very often.

Candy. Yum.

And this year, after a discussion on my homeschooling boards about Samhain, I learned more about the history of Halloween and I found it fascinating. We tried a couple of new things this year to celebrate Samhain too.

Mangoes and Curry Leaves

I’d avoided buying Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent for a long time because I’d never much liked Indian food. It may be awful to say, but I don’t like garam masala. Not that garam masala is in everything Indian, but it is in a lot of Indian food and called for in a lot of cookbooks available in the US. And I did use good garam masala- I made it myself. I have tried and liked some Indian dishes, but not enough, I thought, to make the purchase of an Indian cookbook worth it.

But because I like all things Alford and Duguid, and because I’d read more about Indian cooking and learned that garam masala is regional, I finally checked M&CL out of the library in hopes of trying a wider variety of Indian food. I looked through, made a couple of things, returned it to the library, and bought my own copy because I was convinced that this is finally the Indian cookbook for me.

I haven’t tried as many recipes from this one as other Alford and Duguid books, but everything we’ve had has been a winner and added to our standard menu, except the chicken and feta dishes, which are more expensive. So these are all excellent:

Grilled fish steaks with black pepper rub page 210
Stir-fried greens, Bangla style page 165 (the fish and the greens are excellent together)
Darjeeling market Tibetan breads page 136
Dal with coconut milk page 191 (the breads and the dal are really good together too)
Mango drink page 308
Zinet’s chicken with tomato and greens page 245
Chile-hot Bhutanese cheese curry page 173
Bangla-flavored fried zucchini
Buttermilk curry
Pakistani garbanzo pilau

31 October 2008

Hand-Pulled Noodles

I make laghman now with homemade noodles (here's a more traditional recipe); they're much better than store-bought noodles. I've tried a couple of different sorts of noodles and these hand-stretched noodles are the best, but not what I had in Central Asia (so can I be making laghman if I don't have laghman?). But it turns out that it's very difficult to make those long, hand-pulled, thick laghman noodles (lamian in China).

But some nice software engineer decided to figure out how to make these noodles. He says he made over 35 batches of these to get the recipe and techniques right, and he's got everything you need on his website (except the patience, you'll have to find that yourself). This link goes to the page that takes you to everything you'll need (and one more link to a video in Chinese).

I hope I can try these this weekend; they look rather fun to make if you can get the dough and technique right.

30 October 2008

Real Pumpkin

Up till a couple of years ago it had never occurred to me that someone might do something with a pumpkin besides carve it, at least in the US in the 21st century. If you wanted to eat pumpkin, you bought a can of pumpkin at the grocery store and made a pumpkin pie (or cookies or bread). This pumpkin pie thing was relatively new too since the first time I had one was for school lunch when I was probably around 10 and was immediately converted. I didn't get another pumpkin pie till my sisters started marrying people who thought you were supposed to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and then I got married and learned how to make my own. With canned pumpkin.

So I bought a pumpkin and this week I made pumpkin pie and a Uighur pilau with pumpkin (from Beyond the Great Wall). I had a good recipe to follow for the pie (and some advice from Robyn) and it turned out to be easy. My pumpkin wasn't at all watery and I didn't have any trouble. But I really didn't notice much difference between the fresh pumpkin and the canned, which was disappointing. I'll probably buy a pumpkin again, because I like to bake from scratch, or as scratch as possible, but I'll keep canned pumpkin around for pies too.

But the pilau! That was worth the effort of preparing the pumpkin. You can't buy chunks of pumpkin very easily, so I expect I'll freeze some for this pilau. It's a fairly standard pilau, with carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, chicken, and, of course, plenty of rice. The recipe recommend serving it with black vinegar which was perfect.

So the verdict is that canned pumpkin is fine for anything that needs puree, but I can't imagine anything replacing the pumpkin in that pilau, not even squash, although it would do in a pinch. And yes, babushka, I'll give you the recipe if you want it.

The Mother in Me

The Mother in Me: Real-World Reflections on Growing Into MotherhoodMy oft-redirected copy of The Mother in Me arrived this afternoon, and, not being being an angel mother, I plopped down and read it while my older boys ran wild outside and the baby played, nursed, and napped in my arms. I bet my afternoon was better than yours.

Because The Mother in Me is a very good book. It's simply a compilation of essays and poetry from the Segullah women on motherhood, specifically young motherhood. (I love Segullah.) I usually avoid motherhood books because they annoy me if I don't. But this one didn't, not at all. Maybe it's because it's written by women who are in my stage of life. Or because these women don't make motherhood angelic or messy, just real.

I don't think I've ever been reading something about motherhood where I thought "I know exactly what she's talking about." I can often relate, but I've rarely found something where the author has had an experience just like one of my own until this afternoon. Emily Halverson writes, "Sometimes the Lord extends a tender mercy not be eliminating a certain trial, but in warning you that it's coming." Yes, yes, and yes, and no, I've not heard that sentiment expressed very often. And Emily Milner decisions about when to have another baby... Just two little pieces that match me.

I did have one quibble with the layout though. There were too many words crowded onto the longer pages of poetry. Johnna's "origami birds," for example, felt right, but her "no time" was packed onto one page and it was difficult to read.

Anyway, this is all to say that this little book covers a huge range of experiences. It's by women who are there, right now, with little children. They don't blame, they don't give advice. It's simply a celebration of motherhood and the women who make it possible, despite everything that might make it seem impossible.

27 October 2008

Emma Brown

Emma BrownThis book is written by Clare Boylan and is based on a just-started novel by Charlotte Bronte. The firs two chapters are Bronte's and the rest are Boylan's. You can tell, too. Boylan is no Charlotte Bronte.

The story isn't too bad, as long as you're not expecting Bronte. It's a quick read (it reminded me of The Woman in White more than Jane Eyre). But it's neither great nor memorable, and I wouldn't bother reading it if I were you.

25 October 2008

The Dancer from Khiva

The Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for FreedomI almost didn't write anything about The Dancer from Khiva by Bibish and translated by Andrew Bromfield because I didn't read the whole thing- I just skimmed it because the writing style drove me nuts. I was also a bit turned off by the subtitle (One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom) since it implies that somehow the author's religion made her life miserable. There was a lot more to it than that! You can read summaries of the book elsewhere.

Anyway, I'm assuming this was originally written in Russian since Andrew Bromfield translates from Russian even though Bibish (why no last name? Uzbeks have last names) makes it clear that she learned Russian recently and speaks and writes Uzbek much better. It's hard to know if the translation is weak or if the original writing was weak, and weak it is. One review described the book as shapeless and I couldn't agree more. I felt little connection to Bibish because she seems to feel little connection to what she wrote- it feels like fiction.

I did find Bibish's experiences in Russia as an immigrant to have some glimmers of interest, although I never could quite figure out why they went there in the first place. Major decisions are rarely explained. It was generally chronological, although certainly not entirely, but that was the only organization int he book. Honestly, the detachment ruined the book for me and I do think it could have been so much more.

I would be interested to read an interview with the translator to learn if he knows much about Central Asia, and I'd like to know more about why this particular story has been published. I'm left with a lot more questions that answers about this book. But I do hope this book helps Bibish and her family, and others.

The Moscow Times loved it.

23 October 2008


Kira-KiraI liked, but didn't love Kira-Kira. It reminded me of Memories of Summer, which I thought was a better book. If you're making a point of reading Newbery books, then this is a pleasant read from that last, but not as memorable as some.

21 October 2008

Book Groups

I just started with a new book group in my new town; I just left the best book group ever in my old town. The new one will be fine, but not amazing, I think. I fear there will be too many self-help books chosen, or feel-good stuff. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with those, but why choose them for a book group? And I do truly wish that I could find a group that more often read book I haven't read. It's so rare that I get to read a new book for a group.

Anyway, here's how I see different sorts of book groups:

  • Worst- groups that don't really talk about books, but just use it as an excuse to socialize
  • Bad- self-help/personal inspiration groups
  • Not so good, not so bad- groups with too many rules (books less than 300 pages, squeaky clean, only one type of book allowed, a tyrannical leader, etc- these groups usually are on track though)
  • Good- These are hard to describe, because so many groups are like this- not perfect, but good
  • Best- Groups of respectful women that read a wide variety of worthwhile literature and enjoy a variety of viewpoints
What other awful sorts of groups are there? Have you given up on book groups? Do you go even if the book is not great? What about expressing opinions different from the rest of the group? Have you ever tried starting your own? What would it be like if you did?

Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad

Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad (Adventura Books)This is a great collection of essays by a variety of women who lived overseas. There are a lots of different viewpoints and even though no one really described my experiences living overseas, there were plenty of I-know-exactly-what-you're-talking-about! moments. Recommended, especially if you're looking for a travel book.

18 October 2008

The Railway

This book is by Hamid Ismailov. It's set in Uzbekistan during most of the Soviet years. I didn't love it. In fact, there were parts I didn't much enjoy at all. I liked the first half quite a bit though, and tolerated the second half.

The translation is excellent. Robert Chandler has a nice intro talking about his translation, some of the difficulties, and his philosophy of translation (his discussion of profanity was interesting; English is lacking in obscenities, and that's always so obvious when you read something in translation). Chandler refers to it as a witty book, and that is true- "profoundly dark and absurdly comical."

I've been trying to track this book down for a very long time now, and I finally ordered it from the UK (although Amazon appears to have it now). It's not been widely available in the US, nor do I think it would be very popular in the US on almost any level. I'd recommend it to Central Asia aficionados, or to those interested in Soviet literature (Ismailov refers to it as a Soviet book at one point, and I completely agree; it's not necessarily an Uzbek book), or to those interested in something different from another culture.
I'm just keeping track of books the boys have read (middle son) or listened to (older son) in the last week or two. I wish I'd started this sooner. I'm not trying to make any sort of statement here, just keeping track.

I'm always looking for recommendations for the boys. Oldest son is 9 and reads like a typical 9-year-old boy and listens to anything. He loves audiobooks. Middle son is 7 but reads very well, much better than his brother. He'll read anything.

Oldest son- The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963, Black Beauty, Peter and the Starcatchers, The Cay, The Tale of Desperaux, various Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, Adam Canfield of the Slash, Adam Canfield Watch Your Back!, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Eragon, Don't Know Much about World Myths, Dragon Rider, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Holes, Half Magic, Because of Winn-Dixie, Spiderwick,

Middle son- Brothers of the Heart, Peter and the Starcatchers, Eve of the Emperor Penguin, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Twenty and Ten

Stuff I've read to them in the last month or two- The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook, Frindle, Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun, The Bronze Bow, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Summer of the Monkeys

17 October 2008

Do you have recipes that you've always thought about trying, but for whatever reason, like not having time or the right ingredients on hand, haven't ever tried them? I've got lots of those, and I've been able to try them here, because I both have time now and a grocery store right here.

So I can pull down an interesting cookbook after lunch, find something that looks delicious, go to the store if I need something (this is allowed if you don't buy other stuff, and usually I have what we need), and have time through the afternoon to get everything ready. Even side dishes. Last night we had fish smothered in tahini. The night before, homemade rice noodles. Delicious.

(That fish was SO good. It was baked with golden-brown chunks of sauteed onions and I doubled the sauce so there would be plenty to go on the rice. It was from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.)

Bookstore v Library, Part II

The nearest branch of library here is tiny, and it almost has more computers than books. The local Barnes and Noble has a lot more books than the library does. This would usually be unforgiveable, but the city library system is wonderful. So now when we go to the library, we just go in, pick up our stack of holds, check them out ourselves, and head back home.

Then we walk to Barnes and Noble to sit and read and to the library thing.

I'm just getting the hang of this, so I only picked up a few today:

The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the Internally Displaced

La Paella: Deliciously Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain's Mediterranean Coast
Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad
Samarkand: A Novel

16 October 2008

Handmade Noodles Aren't So Bad

I made rice noodles last night for the first time, to go with some bok choi and chicken. They were easy and delicious. Oldest son even ate them. He seems more likely to want to try something don't set a plate out for him. I cooked the noodles in sheets, like crepes, then sliced them into ribbons and stir-fried them.

Beyond the Great Wall has several recipes for noodles. I'd always thought of noodles as something you had to roll and roll and roll and I don't much like to roll things really thin (although I'm better at it than I used to be). But these require almost no rolling. Some are stretched and some are bits of dough flattened with your fingers. Oldest son eats them too.

Fried Butter

Fried ButterThis is a food memoir by Abe Opincar. It's perfectly fine, but nothing amazing.
It seems that every year I somehow get a little more organized. Or little less lazy, more likely. But whatever it is, I feel like we've hit on the perfect routine for the week that gets things done but still leaves me time to be, well, lazy.

We're getting school done in the morning, no questions asked, nothing can interfere. No other appointments or anything else. We're unavailable. The baby naps for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and is generally happy the rest of the time. He sleeps from about 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning (with a few snacks in the night). The boys are pretty willingly getting their schoolwork done in the morning so they can play by themselves in the afternoon and then play outside later after all the other kids in the neighborhood get home from school. There's time to cook too, which is good, since we have to be cheap this year.

I am having trouble not being annoyed with my husband's schedule though, especially on Wednesdays. He sits in his office, reading and writing interesting things about Central Asia, while I'm trying to manage 3 little boys and homeschooling and feeding everyone and doing everything else. I've never been jealous of him before.

10 October 2008

I love our new city. I don't love the traffic, but since we can walk almost everywhere we need to go, it doesn't matter so much. I love the huge library of books to download, I love the library with lots of Central Asia books, I love the bookstore I can walk to, and I love the place we live. But I miss my friends.

I love having all my books accessible. We all love it. All of us read and read all day.

I LOVE my husband's Central Asian politics class. I think it'd all be worth it just for that class.

07 October 2008


It's been a bad couple of days for earthquakes in Central Asia. Not that earthquakes there are unusual, but that several have been deadly, particularly for people in Tibet and Kyrgyzstan.

01 October 2008

Low-Altitude Adjustments

Up till now, I've spent all but one year of my living at a high altitude, or at least what would be defined as a high altitude for baking. Usually it's been around 4,500 feet, although some places in Idaho were only 2,500 feet.

That means I'm having to make adjustments for low altitude baking. I have to follow the recipes instructions and bake stuff for the recommended time and at the recommended temperature or it'll be burned. The rice will be done in the time the recipe says, not five minutes later. Cakes don't fall.

It's almost taken the fun out of cooking. Although my spice cake that by definition is always sunken was pretty good the other day without a pit in the middle.

I should go back through my recipes and say whether it's a low-altitude one or a high. Because I wasn't always consistent when I posted them here if I'd post my changes or post the real recipe.

29 September 2008

Everyday Life in Central Asia

This book edited by Jeff Sahadeo and Russell Zanca is an excellent compilation of essays about Central Asia. Basic enough to be read by anyone who wants to know more about Central Asia, it's also interesting for those with more experience in the region.

The book covers a variety of topics, especially religion, post-Soviet attitudes and changes, gender, etc. Few are specifically about Turkmenistan and Tajikistan; Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are better represented, with a few essays about Afghanistan.

I especially liked the essays in Parts 4, 5, and 6. Several covered issues that I'm particularly interested in, like the one about the Sokh enclave, and another about the diversity of religious life in Central Asia. Whatever your interest, there should be something here for you.

Highly recommended.

27 September 2008

Sarah Palin

I haven't blogged about Sarah Palin because I've been able to talk about her with friends. She was a great topic of conversation just before we moved. I don't have anyone to talk to her yet, but she's still a great topic of conversation.

I ought to wait till after the VP debate to post this, because I think that could well seal her fate. She did exactly what she was supposed to do in the convention, but I don't think McCain was looking much beyond that convention week when he picked her. How can you expect someone to get up to speed on so many different issues in just a couple of weeks? Her interview with Katie Couric was painful for everyone, from the viewers to Couric and Palin. An interview with Katie Couric shouldn't be painful, at least for the interviewee.

What disappoints me most is that McCain had other women whom he could have chosen, if he was determined to choose a woman, women who already have significantly broader knowledge about the issues facing this country than Sarah Palin does.

But even though I'm disappointed, I've thoroughly enjoyed watching this all unfold. And I'll keep enjoying it unless it ends up as a thoroughly embarrassing trainwreck for someone.

25 September 2008

The Language of Baklava

The Language of Baklava: A MemoirI browsed this one at the library just before we moved, which is probably why I couldn't remember the title a few days ago. But now I remember and it's a great book. It's an interesting culinary memoir that has good recipes too.

Diana Abu-Jabr is the daughter of an American mother and a Jordanian father. The book focuses a lot more on her father and his cooking than her mother and anything about her mother, although not every recipe is Arab. The writing is good and the recipes are excellent. In fact, I'd recommend this as a good, basic resource for a variety of Middle Eastern recipes. They're not overly complicated and nearly all the basics are here.


24 September 2008

It's fortunate the Jewish holidays are late this year or we'd have missed them. Now the only conflict is Rosh Hashana and Eid al-Fitr overlapping.

I'm thinking I'll try to track down some Bukharan Jewish holiday recipes since this year is going to be all Central Asia, all the time. I know plenty of Central Asian recipes that will work for Eid al-Fitr already.

Wrong Addresses

My husband and I get emails from Barack Obama's and John McCain's campaigns, which is fine, except he gets the ones from the candidate I will vote for, and I get the ones from his candidate. Neither of us signed up for the emails. We don't know how he got on the list; I got on because I emailed a senator about 5 years ago and that senator apparently thought I would be interested in the emails from his party's candidate. It's been fun to compare the emails.

Back on the Other Side

We survived the move.

We even got lucky; the day we drove out, we found out we'd gotten into a 3-bedroom townhome. It's even 100 square feet bigger than our last place. We drove and drove and drove to get here by 4 the next afternoon and now we're settled in. I even have all my books out.

I have all my books out because of this:

We bought this before the move, thinking we'd use it as a room divider. Turns out we don't need it in this apartment, so it's now in my bedroom. It can hold over 10! boxes of books (since the shelves are deep). We should have gotten one a long time ago.

When you switch apartments the day you move, your mail takes a long time to find you. I think it's still wandering about and may never get here.

I read a good book recently but I can't remember anything about it now to post. I've read a lot of not-so-good books this summer too. There will be a lot of Central Asia books again over the next few months. Did I mention my husband is taking Central Asian politics this semester? Did I mention that I'm looking forward to it more than he is? And he'd taking Uzbek.