31 December 2009

What's Happened in the 2000s

In no particular order:

Moved 10 times
Lived in Kyrgyzstan for a year
Had two more children, including bedrest with one of those pregnancies
Built a beautiful house and sold it two years later
Learned a lot of Russian
Forgot a lot of Russian
Survived 18 months of  husband's major health problems
Survived husband being laid off
Started homeschooling
Learned a lot about Central Asia
Blogged half the time
Had 4 miscarriages
Stopped driving and started walking
Quilted, spun, crocheted
Learned I love geysers
Really learned to cook
Learned that life is better when my husband likes what he's doing, no matter what we're getting paid

I wish I could have said that I'd lived overseas more than just one year out of those ten and that I'd learned and not forgotten several languages.  There were also a few challenges I didn't handle very well.  At all.  Mostly those relating to my husband's health problems.  That's one thing I never, ever wish to deal with again, at least not on that scale.  And he could have been a lot worse.

But mostly, I've enjoyed my family, read a lot, and I am excited for the next ten years. I hope they're as good as the last 10.

First Lines Meme

I thought I'd try the first lines meme I saw on Kate's blog.  I don't exactly do great first lines, do I?  And where did my spell check go? 

I very much enjoyed this book. (The Goose Girl)

I'm debating why I can't say that I loved this book. (March)

This was a light, page-turner sort of book. (The Lace Reader)

I've been rereading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and To Kill a Mockingbird this week for three different book groups.

I have to admit that the Kindle gets more tempting every time I look at it. (It's no coincidence this was posted on my birthday.)

I probably read this when it was new and have been meaning to reread Patricia Wrede's dragon books.  (Dealing with Dragons)

I checked this one out a year or two ago, but never really got into it. (Empires of the Word)

I poked through both of these books on language a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed both, even if I didn't sit down and read them completely.(Spoken Here and Stuff of Thought)

I reread this one because I love it, and to decide for sure if I want to do it for a book group. (The Chosen)

I'm still learning to figure out what I'm seeing, but here are a few of my neighborhood birds. (The only non-book post of the year.)

This was one of those books that ended up being pretty good, but that you hoped would have been great after reading the first chapter. (Abou and the Angel Cohen)

There's plenty of reading going on here, but it's all old issues of NatGeo and Smithsonian that a friend gave us this week.

The Help

The HelpI liked this book more than it deserved, probably because I read it while we were moving and didn't really give it a lot of thought.  So the stereotypical characters didn't bother me (even Hilly), nor did the African American English (although that was only because I read the afterward first where the author wrote about her decision to use AAE (but if I wasn't annoyed by that decision, I was annoyed that all the white characters were written in standard English, which isn't exactly accurate for Mississippi- the black characters sounded black, but the white characters didn't sound southern)).  There were lots of other things that would have bothered me in a normal week.

So I can only recommend it if you don't think about it too much.  It's a fun read in a lot of ways, and definitely interesting to learn a little about life in Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest LessonThis wasn't a reread, because I didn't read it 10 years ago when it was so popular.  But I figure that a book that's still getting talked about more than 10 years later might be worth reading.  And it was pretty good.  There was lots of good advice, none of it earthshaking (a lot of it is what I hear at church every week), and it really felt almost like a self-help book.  Which is all perfectly fine, but if it had been much longer, I probably wouldn't have finished.  The message of the book could have been summed up in a much shorted space.
I suppose it's time to start posting again. The week or two around Christmas is always a little busy here with an anniversary and two birthdays in addition to Christmas, but moving pretty much sucked up all my energy. I'd rather not move 4 days before Christmas again, especially on 10 days' notice. It was fun to decorate the tree twice though. I'm very glad we got an artifical tree for the first time in 12 years. That was lucky.

We still have to move again, sometime in the next few weeks. Isn't that lucky too? Guess which lucky was sincere.

18 December 2009

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsI'm not quite finished with this one, but I wanted to try out the new, easy way to post book covers here.  It really was easy. 

Anyway, I've really liked reading this one.  I'm not flying through it, but I'm simply enjoying it.  I've particularly liked reading about WWII from the Japanese perspective, and learning more about sumo wrestling.  Even if I still can't get a positive image of sumo wrestling in my head.

14 December 2009

Happy Birthday Blog and 2-Year-Old

It's the little one's birthday today. We're lucky to have such a happy two-year-old. It's been so fun to enjoy him on his own. There are definite advantages to having children close together, but we've all loved getting to know the littlest one on his own.

But today is also this blog's 5-year anniversary. When I started this, I wouldn't have guessed that five years down that road I'd be sitting in a little (moldy) student housing apartment while my husband was working on a PhD, but I'm happy were here. Because instead I can say I'm sitting in a perfectly-sized-for-us apartment near lots of friends in an interesting city while both my husband and I are learning a lot more about Central Asia and getting ready to go back.

Happy birthday blog. I hope that the next five years take us to Samarqand and lots of other interesting places.

13 December 2009

City of Light

City of Light
I read this one on Julie's recommendation and enjoyed it. It was different and interesting to read about Buffalo, New York at the turn of the 19th century, and I really liked the main character/narrator.

My only complaint was that there was a little too much of too many things- too many pages, too many characters, too many minor plotlines, too many actual historical characters and events to work in. But it was only a little too much. Worth reading.

11 December 2009

Homeschooling on a E-reader

So, it looks like we're going to spend the next school year bouncing around Central Asia. If we do that, we'll be able to take about 200 pounds of stuff with us. Total. For all 5 of us. That's not very much, especially I remember we took 300 pounds of books to Kyrgyzstan last time and it was nowhere near enough.

That's where e-readers are going to have to come in. The trouble is, children's books aren't exactly the most common books available on e-readers. Especially children's non-fiction about world history from 500-1500, or astronomy, or world music.

Maybe it's just all an excuse to get a couple of e-readers. But they do seem like the perfect option for a family who reads a lot and moves a lot.

10 December 2009

December Happenings

December has been going well, at least the Christmas part of it. We made a list of ideas that we could choose from, so we're doing something for Christmas each day. It's always seemed like, since I was little, that we decorated for Christmas at the beginning of the month, and then you did a few things here and there, but you sort of forgot about Christmas by the middle of the month. Our list is pretty simple, but I think the boys have been having fun. And I made popcorn strings for the first time. They're cooler that I thought they'd be.

The December part that hasn't been quite as good was finding out we have a major roof leak and will have to move to another apartment next week. We couldn't quite make it through an entire year without a move. At least I feel vindicated for reporting mold and water dripping from the ceiling since last Christmas.

It's not every Christmas that you get to decorate twice. We're all actually a little excited at the prospect of trying out a new apartment. Maybe we've moved a little too often?

Northern Pintails and Trumpeter Swans

Yes, I'm still out looking at birds most everyday. Today I saw three Trumpeter Swans on the lake. They've been around for few days, so I hope to get a better look at them soon, since I only saw them from a distance today. They really are big birds. And I'm pretty sure I saw a Northern Pintail last week. It took me a long time to find something that matched what I saw, but the Pintail seems to fit. I can't think of anything else very unusual.

07 December 2009

Fiesta Bowl Disappointment

Count me as one of the people who's disappointed in the Boise State-TCU bowl matchup. I was pleased to see two non-BCS teams go undefeated, but it would have been better to have just one if they're going to be matched against each other.

If you're going to complain about weak schedules in the Mountain West and the WAC (and that's a legitimate complaint), then don't take away one of the few chances for those teams to play a team with a good schedule. Or does the BCS just not want to see a repeat of Utah-Alabama or Boise State-Oklahoma?

It'll be meaningless, whichever team wins. And I don't think I've ever watched a bowl game where I very much wanted both teams to win.

I imagine this will be the only football-related post of the year. Back to our regular programming.

06 December 2009

Some of Us Even Like December

I think there's just one thing I don't like about December (and I'm contributing to it by not liking it). I don't like the complaining about December- that there's too much to do, that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, that you can't say Merry Christmas, whatever. It's always a little sad to hear people complaining about this time of the year.

Because I love it. I don't get quite as excited about it as I did when I was little, but I look forward to December. I don't get worked up if it's not appropriate to say Merry Christmas, or if someone wishes me Happy Holidays. I'm a pretty simple person, so we're not overwhelmed with traditions expectations. We move a lot so I only keep decorations I truly love, and I love decorating for Christmas and see the ornaments and nativities. My husband is in school, so there are no work parties to suffer through (that is one thing I haven't liked other years), and my children homeschool so we have no Christmas programs or whatever to do to.

Shopping also used to be a problem, but it isn't anymore with the internet. It's also been lots of fun to live right next to a nice mall, since traffic is never my favorite thing. But yesterday I just walked to all the places where I needed to do some Christmas shopping. We also live very close to one of the major city attractions (it's not big, but it's popular, so it's nice to be able to walk to it, and it's not overdone), and I don't really feel a need to go to anything else at night, except to drive around to look at lights.

I'm sure a lot of the difference is just a personality thing- there are lots of people who are going feel required to do too much for Christmas so they don't disappoint anyone. And a lot of that responsibility falls on women, who seem more like to feel like they have to create a perfect Christmas. But I don't think it's unreasonable to sit down with your family and find out what's important to your family, and figure out a way to make that happen.

04 December 2009

Christmas Traditions

I want tamales for Christmas dinner. And I can even say it's a tradition. Unfortunately, I've never made tamales, so we might have to experiment a few times before Christmas Eve.

We're not going to be travelling this year for Christmas, not near any family. I was thinking the other day that those two things haven't happened to us often. We ended up flying last year to be with extended family because of a major event happening two days after Christmas, and the two years before that we lived very close to extended family. It does happen every few years- the year in Bishkek, the year middle son was born, one year in Boise, the year in New Jersey. But I can't imagine I made any sort of interesting meal the year we were waiting for the baby to be born, and we probably got a roasted chicken in Bishkek, or went out to eat.

But here's where the tamale tradition part comes in. The year we stayed home in Boise, our neighbors invited us over for tamales on Christmas Eve, and they were delicious. I can handle a completely traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but when the rest of the family is willing to branch out for Christmas, we'll do it. I don't think I'd convince them to go Asian though.

We're trying some other new Christmas things this year too, and I'm liking it.

Still Lazily Reading

There's plenty of reading going on here, but it's all old issues of NatGeo and Smithsonian that a friend gave us this week. And the never-ending language book and history book.

01 December 2009

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
This is another of those way-popular books that is a lot of fun to read, but ends up being a little disappointing because there really isn't much there. I liked it, it was worth reading, but it won't stick with me. It did skirt around some difficult topics, like female circumcision and AIDS and suicide and genocide, but didn't really tackle any of those topics. And there really was too much about cake and clothes, both of which I can do without.

30 November 2009

Pressed Tofu

I'm completely hooked on this stuff. Here's a simple way to prepare it that I have to write down before I forget it. Cut up some pressed tofu into small cubes and brush with a bit of vegetable oil, a little sesame oil, some salt and cayenne, and some black vinegar. Stir fry till it's starting to get crispy and serve with rice.

29 November 2009

Lazy Reading

I've been reading a bunch of things recently, but not finishing anything new. I was working on a memoir and a biography, but, as so often happens, I fizzled out on both before the end of the book. That type of book isn't the best for me to check out of the library because I don't always read straight through them. The memoir was Dragon Fighter, about Rebiya Kadeer, a Uyghur activist. I got bogged down in her myriad business dealings, and even though her political activities picked up farther into the book, I just didn't keep going. The biography was Through the Land of Extremes about the Littledales, a husband and wife team who travelled extensively in Central Asia more than 100 years ago. Again, it was interesting, and I'd like to read more sometime, but not right now.

I also reread (again) The Girl of the Limberlost. I can't figure out why I like that book so much- the writing is overdone, it's preachy, some of the characters are terribly predictable, all good reasons to not like it. It's a lot like Little Women, though. I just can't help loving it.

26 November 2009

Too Bad the Pilgrims Weren't Afghan

Every year I think about being a little creative with Thanksgiving dinner, only to have any idea that's outside the norm shot down by the rest of the family. And I suppose it's fair, since they have to eat weird things all the rest of the year. So tomorrow we'll be having everything American-style, from the turkey to the rolls to the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (I do sneak a little coconut milk into the pies though).

If I got to make a Thanksgiving dinner for myself, we'd have flatbread, chicken kebabs, some kind of basmati rice, a yogurt-vegetable salad, and we could still eat the American pies. Or we could have tamales, red rice, salsa, black beans, and the pies.

The cranberries are ready, and the pumpkin and chocolate pie, the bread cubes are dry, and the roll dough is in the fridge. Tomorrow we'll roast the turkey, heat the ham, make potatoes and gravy, stuffing, rolls, and bake the store-bought raspberry pie (cheating, yes, but I can't buy raspberries for less than the pie cost). That still sounds pretty good, even if the tamales sound better.

19 November 2009

Uncertain Roads: Searching for the Gypsies

Uncertain Roads: Searching for the Gypsies
I got this book about the Rom for the boys, but ended up reading it myself. There just doesn't seem to be a lot written about the Rom, but I was pleased to read this one. It's not long, and it has lots of pictures, so you don't get a lot from it, but it's always interesting to learn about people in their own words.

The book's almost 20 years old, and things have changed a lot in Eastern Europe since then. Yale Strom met most of the Rom he talks to just after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It would be fascinating to go back and see where these people are now, especially those who were teenagers then.

Disappointingly, my local library doesn't have much else about the Rom.

The Potato Peel book

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)
I finally got around to reading The Guernsey Literary...Potato Peel... book. And honestly, I thought the book was a lot like the title. Charming, even cute, but really not much there. Yes, it was fun to read, and yes, I learned a little about the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The characters were lovely. The setting was beautiful. The book was quick to read. But I can't say there was much that would stay with you, and the whole thing was rather predictable. I didn't really expect anything different though, and it certainly wasn't a waste of time. I just hope none of my book groups choose it, although it's exactly the sort of book a lot of groups would choose.

Suite Francaise and 84, Charing Cross Road are both more worthwhile, on similar topics.

13 November 2009

The Diddakoi

I found this one while searching for books about the Romany. It turned out to be a nice little children's book, which wasn't clear from the library catalogue. It reminded me a bit of The Hundred Dresses and Understood Betsy and Mandy. It's a bit dated, but still certainly worth reading.

11 November 2009

Fifth Business

Fifth Business (Penguin Classics)
I read this one last week for a book group and enjoyed it. It's a little mysterious, a little different, and always well written. I think it'll be a fun one to discuss and I'm glad I read it- I don't know I would have other wise.

This is the first book in a trilogy. I think I might pick up the next one, although I don't feel compelled to.

Adam of the Road

Adam of the Road (Puffin Modern Classics)
This was a Newbery winner a long time ago. And like a lot of Newbery winners from a long time ago, it's a nice little book, but I can't say it was anything amazing. My eight-year-old would probably like it, but my ten-year-old would think it was boring.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
I wasn't much impressed with this short book by Valerie Zenatti. It was all a little too predictable, or if it wasn't predictable, it was a bit unbelievable. I also thought it a bit unfair, in a book that says it shows both sides, to have the Israeli point of view so much better written and described. The Israeli main character has so much more happen to her and writes about it well, but the Palestinian character just trots out the same old Palestinian grievances. I can't really see how anyone would come away feeling much sympathy for the Palestinian side.

04 November 2009

Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly
I picked this one up on Melissa's recommendation a few weeks ago and enjoyed it as much as she did. In fact, I'd have to say this is one of the better books I've ever read. The characterization was perfect, the writing was so pleasant to read, the plot was simple but interesting, and it was different in so many ways.

I'm always interested in the way Islam and Muslims are portrayed in books, and Camilla Gibb does an excellent job of writing from a Muslim perspective. I thought Lilly's thoughts on Islam in the West in the last few pages were especially good, in addition to her experiences as a Muslim in two very different Muslim countries. This is a great book about Islam and its diversity.

The only thing that would have made this book better was for me to have a better understanding of Ethiopia's recent history. I have only the barest outline in my head of the last thirty years and the ethnic and religious differences in the country. But Gibb, who has a PhD in social anthropology and did fieldwork in Ethiopia, doesn't assume that the reader knows anything about Ethiopia and expertly weaves history into the plot- often novels that jump around in time seem a bit forced to me, but Sweetness does it well.

02 November 2009

Abou and the Angel Cohen

Abou and the Angel Cohen: A Novel
This was one of those books that ended up being pretty good, but that you hoped would have been great after reading the first chapter. Some first chapters are just really good, but the rest of the book doesn't manage to keep it up. I felt like I was just getting preached at by about halfway through the book, and I couldn't quite see the point of all the preaching (even though I agreed with most of what was said). Still, it was a fun little book in a lot of parts, and different (although I'd like to see something like this done from the Israeli side too, to balance things out a bit).

31 October 2009

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
I've heard so much about this one, and have been meaning to read it, so I finally got to it when a friend loaned it to me. I expected that I'd think it was interesting, but I didn't really expect that I'd like it a lot, since it seemed that a lot of people whose book opinions I value didn't really love it. But it turns out that I liked it, a lot. I think the timing had something to do with it, since I've recently done some other dystopian novels, and this one was a nice contrast to the others I've read this year. Atwood is a good writer too, which helps any novel (I fear for the last book in The Hunger Games series, and I honestly just got bored with Orwell). I'd love to discuss this book with a group sometime because there's a lot in there that's worth talking about.


I think this will be my last vampire book ever. Since it was written by Robin McKinley, it was certainly better than, say, the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer isn't anywhere near as good a writer as McKinley) and it's unfortunate that Twilight is the one that got all the attention instead of this one. The plot is just much better, even though it's certainly not as "clean" as Twilight (although I think you can make a good argument that those aren't as clean as some people make them out to be). I didn't love it, though. McKinley's books always seem to spend a lot of time in the narrator's head, but it seemed that we almost parked in Sunshine's head for long chunks of the book. But it was a quick read, and fun, and different.

The Rock: A Tale of Seventh Century Jerusalem

The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem
This is an interesting book- it doesn't really fit into any category. It's fiction, but it's rather scholarly fiction, and not exactly engaging, even though it's interesting. There isn't a lot of historical fiction about this time period, and Makiya does a good job of bringing in a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives. Because of that scholarly bit, and since I wanted something more like fiction, I skimmed some, but overall, it was worthwhile and different.

26 October 2009

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I found this old never-posted bit from a couple of years ago about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And since I never wrote much more about any churches in Jerusalem, I at least need to post this about my favorite church there before some of my favorite people visit Jerusalem. I still need to do that post about church disgust, since the Holy Sepulchre is the perfect example of it.

I love to walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and see the Unction Stone kissed and rubbed smooth. I love to put my hands on the crosses scratched on the walls of the stairs leading down to St. Helena's Chapel. I love to see the variety of Christians from all over the world praying inside the walls of the church. I love the Rotunda. I was able to visit the church both before and after the reconstruction of the Rotunda. It was dark and almost dank in 1995, but in 1997 it was filled with light.

I love to remember the Holy Week I spent in Jerusalem, when I watched the Greek Orthodox patriarch wash the feet of some of his priests on Maundy Thursday. I followed the Stations of the Cross through Jerusalem on Friday and climbed the stairs to Calvary. I wish I could have gone to the Holy Fire ceremony on that Saturday, but we had church that day.

I'm fascinated by the history, even though it's a tragic one, of the church. I spent a semester at BYU reading the small collection of books in the library about the Church and getting a few others through ILL. But that history is getting better. The Rotunda was actually finished. The Armenians, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox often work together well now, although the Syrians, Ethiopians, and Copts don't.

Many Mormons who've been to Jerusalem to prefer the Garden Tomb. I can understand why. The way the Garden Tomb is maintained fits in much better with our religious tradition than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Garden Tomb looks and feels right and is peaceful and quiet- not the way you'd always describe the Holy Sepulchre. But someday when I go back to Jerusalem the Holy Sepulchre will be the first place I want to go.

22 October 2009

The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide: A Novel
There was a lot I liked about this book, and when I closed the book I thought it had been a worthwhile read. But still, there's just a little something in the back of my brain that thinks it wasn't quite as good as it could have been. I felt like there were a lot of ideas that were just hinted at and not really developed. Sometimes that's okay, but not here.

This was another book group read, and I think it'll be interesting to talk about, especially since the woman who is leading the discussion is married to an Indian. Some of what I liked, and what bothered me, were the relationships between the various characters. They were sort of cliched, but then, they weren't at all cliched. I'm looking forward to the discussion.

I really liked learning a bit more about this area of India that I've only read a little about. Recommended.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four
I hadn't actually ever read this book before this week. But with a book this well-known and oft-quoted, it can be sort of a letdown to actually read the thing. I think I like the bits and pieces that have been picked out of this book and used by so many others better than actually reading the book. And, unfortunately, I read it for a book group that was just postponed for two weeks to a date that I probably can't go. So I didn't even need to read it. I think it would have been a better book to talk about that just to read.

21 October 2009

Nook, Kindle, and Sony Reader

There's another e-book reader out there. I still don't have one of any type, but I hope to soon, and a little more competition is always a good thing with new technology. I like the look of the new Nook (but who came up with that name) more than the Kindle and probably the Sony Reader, but I'll have to wait and see if B&N has as much available for its reader as Amazon does for Kindle. I'll enjoy reading the reviews and comparisons over the next few months.

14 October 2009

The People Who Are Wrong on the Internet

Some days you just don't have enough time to sort out all the people who are wrong on the internet. Today I am barely managing to ignore discussions on whether Islam is important in Central Asia, whether service is about the server or the servee, and whether the LDS Church's policy on undocumented residents is reasonable.

For the record, Islam is a vital part of Central Asia, service is about the one who is served (although it's nice if it also benefits the one who serves), and it's crazy to think a person should be denied baptism or other rites in the LDS Church because they are not legally in the country they are currently in (and therefore the current policy is very reasonable).

Now I can get on with my day.

13 October 2009

A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

A Leaf in the Bitter Wind
I read this one on Julie's recommendation and thought it was pretty good. There have been other books I've read about the Cultural Revolution that I thought were better though. It did make me realize again that I don't really want to read more books about the Cultural Revolution from the point of view of urban, usually more upper-class individuals (although it's because they're urban and a little better off that they had the opportunity to write their memoir of the decade). I'd like to read some books from the perspective of the rural families who had people sent to their villages to be re-educated, and to read about the effect of the Cultural Revolution on the lives of the minorities, and outside the most densely-populated areas of China. I suppose I should start looking.

Spoilers ahead:
I was bothered by the author's decision at the end of the book to go to Canada. I felt like she was trying to justify her choice by saying it would be for the good of her daughter. There weren't very many times throughout the book that I felt that her daughter's interests her most important concern, even though she clearly loves her daughter very much. This is not to justify her first husband's actions in any way, but I think she went to Canada for Bill and herself, not for Qi-meng.

08 October 2009

Convent of the Sisters of Zion

You get to this church from Lions Gate. If I'm remembering correctly, you just continue down the street after entering the city. The Palm Sunday procession we went to ended here, and I think I went in the church one other time. The Ecce Homo Church is in the convent.

But the main reason I always noticed this spot is the arch over the street outside. Since we often used Lion's Gate, we'd walk under this arch and I'd always think about this church and the story in the Bible about it.

The Language Instinct

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)
I think I'm mostly winding down with the language books for now, and I think this is a good one to finish with (except for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language that I'm slowly but surely working through). Steve Pinker writes clearly and makes what could be a confusing or boring topic interesting.

Definitely worth reading, even if it took me forever to get through it. I'm glad I didn't major in linguistics though.

27 September 2009

Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)
My library finally managed to get this book processed and out to the people who've been waiting on hold. As expected, it was a great and quick read. I thought it could have been better, but it seemed like a typical second book in a trilogy, so I'll just wait till next year when I can read the end.

I did like Peeta so much more in the this book. I never did like him much in The Hunger Games. I'm still not sure if I like Katniss.

The Power of Babel

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
I enjoyed this book about language by John McWhorter. I didn't like everything about it, but it's an easy-to-read overview of how languages change and evolve. It's pretty basic, since I was familiar with a lot of what he said, but what I liked best were the interesting examples from languages all around the world he has throughout the book to help explain what he's getting at. Too many books I've read about language are heavy on examples from familiar languages, or just briefly mention the "exotic" ones.

Unfortunately, the book feels a little dated already, and it was only published in the early 2000s. There are many, many references to popular American culture, which can make it more enjoyable to read in some ways, but I think overall, it was a little much.

The best thing about this book is that it neatly clears up a lot of myths and misunderstandings about how language changes- things like dialects, non-standard forms of a language, etc. I also thought the chapter on language death and the practical realities surrounding it were good. It's a great book for people who aren't linguists to understand. And since too many linguists seem to have a problem making themselves understood by the general population, that's a good thing.

23 September 2009

The Year My Son and I Were Born

The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery
I took a break from lots of interesting reading about language and languages to read this book by Kathryn Lynard Sloper. I wanted to read it because I like anything she writes, but this book turned out to be so much more than a well-written memoir about the year after her son, Thomas, was born. There are lots of reviews about the book, so you can go read one of them (this one is my favorite and what finally gave me the idea to check at my library for it) if you want that.

This isn't just a book about Down Syndrome, or post-partum depression, although those are two major parts of the book, and I can see why it's often been described as a book about those things. But it's so much more than that. Kathryn has the ability to write about motherhood in a way that can make anyone understand it better.

She also isn't writing a book where everything is all better in the end. It's clear that there are still going to be plenty of challenges ahead, but it's always nice to see how someone deals with something- whatever it is- that knocks them flat on their face.

I also was interested to read about her and her husband's decisions about hearing aids and other various intervention. It seems to me that there is such a push now to provide as many opportunities as possible for disabled children, which is wonderful, but maybe not what every single disabled child needs. I'm glad they were able to make decisions they felt were right for Thomas even though others disagreed with them.

All in all, an excellent read for so many reasons. Do see if it's at your library. Or buy it.

15 September 2009

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Contemporary American Fiction)
I've been wanting to read this for a while, so I was pleased when it came up for a book group. And I liked it, although not as much as I liked Angle of Repose last year. When the book was all over, I just didn't like Bo. Usually I sympathize with the main character of a book, even when he or she isn't all that great of a person, because I've learned a lot about the character and understands them better. But I just couldn't sympathize with Bo. I was hoping for something to happen, but he just annoyed me the entire time. And Elsa's understanding of him bugged me even more.

It was still very worth reading for many reasons. A friend of mine who read this recently said there was a lot of big rock mountain, but not much candy. It isn't a very cheerful book. But I love to read Stegner because he writes about the West in a way I relate to. This book in particular talked about so many places I've lived or spent a lot of time. He gets the West. I think I'll try Crossing to Safety too.

12 September 2009

Mixing Up the Spices

I finally sorted out the spices last weekend because I'd started throwing the wrong thing from the wrong unmarked plastic bag into dinner. But it turns out that black cumin is excellent in stuffing. That's a combination I never would have tried.

11 September 2009

Back to School, Whether It's Good for the Family or Not

I always get a little happy and sad at this time of the year, seeing all the children in the neighborhood going back to school. Happy for them, because they're excited and (usually) ready for a new year. But sad for the loss of so many things too.

Learning new things is about the most important thing any child can do. And public schools are a great way to do that. I wish they didn't control so much of a family's time though. Sometimes it's just little things, like when you go on vacation, or setting a daily routine. But school often dictates big things, like where a family lives or even the jobs the parents can have.

One of our neighbors recently moved because their child was assigned (our public school system apparently has some sort of lottery and is happy to send kids to a school an hour from home) to a school on the south side of the city. Since they, logically, value living near their kindergarten's school, they moved. There are countless other families who have moved to get into a better school, or to be closer to school, or who have bought a house that was too expensive so their children could be in a good school. It can force people to make really hard decisions.

I get especially worked up about this when I talk to or read about international/nomad type families. One in particular was in the most recent issue of Steppe magazine. In 2003, Alex and Eleanor Duncan and their young children (4 by 2008) moved to the Wakhan in Afghanistan. The Wakhan is one of the most isolated areas of an already very isolated country. Alex Duncan is a doctor and practiced medicine there. They rented a Wakhi house and settled in into their one room place. But in 2008, they returned to the UK because their oldest child was ready for school. Now, maybe there were other reasons why they returned to the UK, but if the motivating factor really was school for their children, I wish that some other education system could have been used. There are no Wakhi doctors. Alex Duncan was it, and the family was happy there. Infant mortality was cut in half while they were there. This is an incredible family that (in my opinion) should be in Afghanistan, not in the UK.

I wish there were more options, or more widely-accepted and affordable options for children to get a good education.

09 September 2009

Another Library Meme

From Melissa

1.If you don’t frequent your local library, why not?
There have been times that I haven't used the local library much, usually because there's a better university library available. Or because the local library is pathetic and didn't allow requests from other libraries.

2. If you do visit the library, how often do you go?
Once a week, every week.

3. Do you have a favorite section that you always head to first, or do you just randomly peruse the shelves?
No randomness. I'd rather browse on Amazon. I head for the hold section, check out my books, and leave. This city has lots of small branches which makes picking up books I want off the shelf unlikely, but there have been few books I want that I couldn't request, so I just need the hold section.

4. How many books are you allowed to check out at one time? Do you take advantage of this?
I think it's been 100, but the limit is changing. Since I go every week and I don't check out music and I'm on foot, I don't push the limit.

5. How long are you allowed to have the books checked out?
3 weeks.

6. How many times are you allowed to renew your check-outs, if at all?
Twice, if no one else has it on hold.

7. What do you love best about your particular library?
The holds.

8. What is one thing you wish your library did differently?
I agree with Melissa about the processing. Catching Fire isn't ready here yet either (but no one has been there to process it; they were really slow with The Last Olympian too).

9. Do you request your books via an online catalogue, or through the librarian at your branch?
Online every time. Why would I want to have to talk to anyone?

10. Have you ever chosen a book on impulse (from the online catalogue OR the shelves) and had it turn out to be totally amazing? If so, what book was it, and why did you love it?
Rarely. But one that I did find on the shelves was The Reindeer People. And if you know me at all, you know I'm a bit fanatic about that book. You should read it. I can't even link to one post about it, because I've blogged about it a lot.

08 September 2009


The library is back.

05 September 2009

Central Asian Bone Games and Bone Stories

I'm still interested in finding games, stories, and traditions about the sheep bones in Central Asia. I have a couple of stories, but not very many, and there's not much about the bones online, and most of what is online is about the games. Since they're called by so many different names, and not necessarily spelled the same on every website, they can be hard to track down online. But here are some new things:

One new tradition I found recently is that the groom at a Kazakh wedding might be given these bones from the sheep slaughtered for the meal to represent the hope that the couple would have a son who would play with the bones.

Here's a picture of a Kazakh boy's drawing of children playing with the bones.

There are a couple of traditions here from Mongolia about exchanging bones as a sign of friendship (I got my first 4 bones from one of my husband's students in Idaho when he saw how interested I was in them and some people in Kyrgyzstan were a bit surprised that their neighbors sold us bones instead of giving them to us- that was fine with me, because I wanted a lot) and about how the bones might be used in fortune telling.

"Shagai is also used in fortune telling. Four Shagai are rolled and depending on which sides they land on, a person will have a question answered. The sides with the convex humps are considered lucky to roll, with Horse being more lucky than Sheep, while the sides with the concave indents, goat and camel, are considered unlucky to roll. All four landing on the four different sides is considered very lucky."

And a mention in Manas:

The original meaning of the word "ordo" comes from the Kyrgyz traditional game called ordo (from "orto" i.e., "center, middle"). The game is played only by men who use sheep and horse knuckle bones. They draw a big circle on the even ground and place the "khan" in the center of the circle and also place his soldiers around the khan. By using different tactics, the players or "attackers" try to hit the khan and his soldiers with a tompoy (horse knuckle bone) with the aim of driving them out of the circle. This circle is compared to the kingdom of a khan and his army. In Manas, the game is mentioned several times. In the earliest episode of Manas, the young Manas is attacked by enemies while he was playing the ordo game with his friends.

The Devil's Highway

The Devil's Highway: A True Story
A neighbor loaned me this one and it was another interesting, although about a sad topic, read (I still have Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter on my list to read). It's also an important book to read about immigration over the US-Mexican border. Urrea presents all sides fairly and you sympathize with most everyone.

Boring Food Stuff

brown sugar
powdered sugar
black beans
pinto beans
white beans
fava beans
brown rice
quick oats
sesame seeds
chocolate chips
brown lentils
red lentils
whole wheat pasta
whole wheat macaroni
parboiled rice
whole wheat lasagne noodles
plain old rice
powdered milk
baking powder
baking soda
hard wheat
soft wheat

whole black pepper
maple flavoring
stick cinnamon
garlic powder
onion powder
crushed red pepper
montreal seasoning
chicken base
beef base
ground cloves
whole cloves
Old Bay
poultry seasoning
green cardamom
ground coriander
Thai red peppers
star anise
black mustard seed
Sichuan pepper
bay leaves
dried mint
poppy seed
seasoned salt
ground nutmeg
black cumin
curry powder

balsamic vinegar
tomato paste
lemon juice
vegetable oil
olive oil
peanut butter

frozen corn
frozen fruit
chicken breasts
ground pork
ground beef

yogurt starter

fish sauce
soy sauce
black rice vinegar
rice vinegar
rice noodles
black rice
broken rice
sticky rice
sesame oil
soybean paste
egg noodles
coconut milk
red curry paste
shrimp powder
tofu sticks

04 September 2009

So the entire library system for the entire city is closed this week. Everything. I planned ahead and have plenty of books checked out, both for me, the boys, and school, but I didn't know the website would be down too. No putting interesting books on hold, no checking to see what's available, no looking for something to read about the Old Kingdom of Egypt, no downloading audiobooks. Apparently I almost like the website better than the library itself, because that's what I'm really missing.

02 September 2009

The Chosen

I reread this one because I love it, and to decide for sure if I want to do it for a book group. I don't know how many times I've read it, but based on the state of my paperback, it's been more than a few times.

If I do decide to go with this one, I want to do something from a Palestinian perspective the next month. Not that The Chosen is overly pro-Israeli, but it obviously is written from a Jewish perspective, and I think it would be interesting to discuss a different view the next month. But I can't think of quite the right book. It must be well-written, and I think preferably fiction, although it doesn't have to be. It also needs to be readily available at my library, and not brashly political or about Palestine (since The Chosen certainly isn't brash). The point here is to read good literature and learn something along the way. A book that is Muslim in the way this one is Jewish would be good too.

You'd think I'd have read something that would be perfect, but nothing is coming to mind.

28 August 2009

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart: A Novel
This was a reread for a book group. I'm looking forward to the discussion, especially about missionary work in Africa since this is a church group and we're certainly a missionary church.