29 March 2009

LDS Holy Week

I wish there were a better way for my family to celebrate Holy Week. Yes, there are many things we can do at home, alone, as a family, but what I want is a church to celebrate with. I've written about celebrating Holy Week in Jerusalem and I'd love to have a group of people that I know (which means I don't want to pick a church at random to attend for the week- that's not my thing) observe some of those traditions with us.

I asked for ideas about celebrating Holy Week on a board with a variety of Christians, but the general consensus was that it's hard to celebrate Holy Week at home. It's just not the same to try to recreate Palm Sunday with 4 or 5 people, or to do something for Maundy Thursday.

I've been trying to be creative and think of more things we can do to celebrate Holy Week. We already read from the Bible for each day and sing hymns, but I want to do something.

27 March 2009

Luxor Morning

One morning in Luxor we rented bikes and rode out of the city. We bounced through fields and down little dirt paths. I hadn't been on a bike in years. We saw this woman and boy grinding grain (I assume) with their donkeys. I imagine tourists rattling by on bicycles wasn't something they say every day either. We would have stopped to talk to them, but we had to return the bikes soon.

25 March 2009

Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean

I requested this book from the library because it looked so interesting and was compared to some of my favorite Paula Wolfert cookbooks. When it arrived, I got a little worried when the title announced the author's restaurant, because I usually don't like restaurant-owner cookbooks so much. They're not quite in touch with homecooks, often.

My first flick-through looked good though. Interesting asides, innovative organization, readable. The recipes looked good too. But then things started to go downhill when I read the somewhat too-detailed instructions, and saw things like roasted peaches. I have nothing against roasted peaches, but I'm not doing them here.

There's a lot of good in here, but to me, it's a bit too much like trying to recreate upscale-restaurant-style food instead of the home cooking and baking traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean.

So Many Books, So Little Time

I read this one by Sara Nelson on Melissa's recommendation and largely agree with her review, except that the annoying things annoyed me more than they did her, especially by the end of the book. But there were a lot of things I liked about this book- things that rang true, like the chapter on recommending books to friends, or the one on books that you carry around with you (I will spare you a rehash of my feelings about Nine Parts of Desire, the book that Nelson says makes you look smart. And what's up with Nine Parts and From Beirut to Jerusalem being Nelson's choices to educate herself about the Middle East? Is that balanced? You decide.) because of the message your choice of reading will send. I've managed to quit worrying about what I take out with me, but I spend a little too much time choosing and rechoosing the books for this bookcase in the living room. I'll have to take a current photo of it...

I did think the book-a-week bit was weird, even though that's not what Nelson was trying to do. It seems that she was trying to do what a lot of book bloggers and book lovers do- read a lot and write about it. It just seemed normal to me, not like something you'd comment on. But, like Melissa said, that's really not what the book was about. It was about books and for books and for book lovers. But I think Ex Libris did that better.

I've read few of the books Nelson writes about, but I'm not as big a fan of fiction as she is (she neatly dismisses non-fiction because it seems like homework). I do read a lot more fiction now than I used to because of book blogs, but I don't really feel like I need to read most of the books she wrote about. And Nelson really is a bit of a snob, both bookish and otherwise. Spending $200 when you can't settle on a book to read is a bit much.

Anyway, this book is for book lovers.

24 March 2009

Please Don't Buy That House

Some friends of ours are going to be moving soon to begin their medical residency. They're considering buying a home for the three years because the monthly mortgage payment would be less than what they can find to rent.

I am doing everything I can to not run to their house and shout, "DON'T DO IT!"

So I did it here, and I feel a little better.

(Of course, buying a home is usually a good investment. But not short-term, not right now. And not when you don't have much of a down payment. And not when your husband is working 80+ hour weeks and you have to buy an older home and neither of you know anything about maintenance.)

23 March 2009

Garlic and Sapphires

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in DisguiseMelissa's challenge has been so worth it for me because I've been introduced to Ruth Reichl's books. I read Tender at the Bone a few weeks ago and enjoyed it because I like Reichl's writing, but I thoroughly loved loved loved Garlic and Sapphires. I loved everything about it, the stories, the food, the wit, what she learned, everything. What a great book. Recommended.

And There Was Light

And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French ResistanceI picked up this book about a blind man who was involved with the French Resistance and betrayed on the recommendation of a friend who loved it. I can see why she loved it. It's an inspiring book, and interesting, especially when he talked about his blindness, and I'd imagine a lot of people would enjoy it. I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped though, but I usually am not a fan of this style of autobiography.

20 March 2009

Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter

This isn't the greatest picture (since I took it, not my husband), but it shows one of my favorite things to see when we would walk around the Muslim Quarter. Since most of the Old City that lies next to the Haram al-Sharif is part of the Muslim Quarter, the Dome of the Rock pops up in all sorts of places when you're in the Muslim Quarter. We spent a lot of time poking around the Muslim Quarter in the not-so-touristy areas.

The Pursuit of Safety

I learned a long time ago that one of the first questions people will ask us if I mention that we've lived in/want to live in/are moving to almost any part of Asia is whether it's safe to live there. I've got a variety of answers for that, but really, I'm tired of the question. It seems that there is an American fetish about safety.

I like safety. I like my children to be safe. Safety is a top priority, but it's not my only priority. And it seems that the pursuit of safety in the US is trumping common sense.

You can read about people who want library books pulled off shelves because of the possibility of lead in the ink, about laws that require all items sold to children to be tested for lead, proposed laws that would dramatically increase testing of food products sold in the US. We've been living with the Patriot Act and other related laws and regulations are designed to keep Americans safer. These laws probably do make us safer in some ways.

So if we close our borders, kick out any non-citizen that doesn't believe the right things, harass Americans who know too much about Afghanistan; if we test everything that our children might touch for lead, throw out old library books, and only eat government-tested food, will we really be safer? If we are, will it be worth it?

I'm willing to deal with a little extra perceived risk (and the perception is important- auto accidents are the number one killer of children, despite all the lead and terrorists apparently floating around out there) if I also can have Muslim friends get the visas they've been denied because they're Muslim. Or to keep innocent people out of prison who were arrested under the Patriot Act. Or to be allowed to grow produce in my backyard. Or to check out-of-print books out of the library. Because it seems to me that if we allow this level of regulation in our lives, the benefits won't outweigh what we lose.

But maybe publishers would reprint those out-of-print books if all the old ones have to be tossed.

19 March 2009

Well-Seasoned Reader Finish

It's probably time to post my wrap-up for Melissa's Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge. I read lots more than three books that fit the challenge, but these were the three best:

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper
The Hunger Games
Hanna's Daughters

And the honorable mention goes to The Reindeer People, which doesn't count because it was a re-read. But it would have been the best if it had.

15 March 2009

China Witness

China Witness: Voices from a Silent GenerationChina Witness is an interesting new book of interviews with older Chinese, usually in the 70s, about their lives in China. It's fascinating to read about their experiences, and nice to have such a variety gathered in one place.

I completely agree with the NY Times review that it can be slow going in places and some editing wouldn't have been a problem, and with the breathless Oprah-style questions. The author, Xinran, came through too clearly for me and I was more interested in the interviewees. (Maybe it's something with people who go by one name.)

It's a good book, and worth reading, although maybe not straight through. More books like this would be great. I'd love to see one from the point of view of various minorities in China.

Things I've Been Silent About

Things I've Been Silent About: MemoriesThis is a new memoir by Azar Nafisi about her life in Iran. It was good, although I didn't enjoy it as much as Reading Lolita in Tehran. If you read that one because it was about books, then you probably wouldn't be very interested in Things I've Been Silent About, but if you enjoyed Reading Lolita for more reasons than the books, then you'd probably like this one.

13 March 2009

Women on the Roof

We took this picture at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Maundy Thursday in 1997. There were people all over the Church that day to watch the Greek Patriarch wash the feet of some of the priests, and people were tucked all over the place. Since this was Orthodox Maundy Thursday, there were far fewer obvious tourists than on Protestant/Catholic Maundy Thursday. I love this group of women chatting on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre.

Istanbul to Beirut and Back

Stop in Istanbul on the way to Central Asia

Take the bus for several days through Turkey to Gaziantep (I've wanted to go there ever since reading The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean), stopping in various places along the way. Or we could take the train from Istanbul to Aleppo, but it would be sad to miss so much of Turkey

Cross into Syria and spend several days in Halab, going with the travel advice from our American friend who grew up there.

Go by bus to Damascus

Head to Beirut, spending several days with our soon-to-be-living-in-Beirut friends

Return to Istanbul by boat

06 March 2009

Muyayyad Mosque

Since we're not traveling anywhere right now and living in the US, I think I'm going to start posting pictures on Fridays of places we've been.

This was taken at the Sultan Muayyad mosque and madrassa in Cairo, Egypt, in March 1997. This man was sleeping outside by this design that says the Shahada- There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger.

Two Silly Late Night Memes

1. How big is your house? How many people do you have living in it?

1000 sq ft for five people.

2. How many hours a day do you spend cleaning?

Zero hours, unless you count the dishes as cleaning. I do spend minutes a day cleaning.

3. Do you work for money in or out of the home? Do you clean more/less if (now that) you have a paying job?


4. Are you successful at getting hubs or kids (what age?) to help? HOW?

Sure. My husband likes things to be cleaner than I do. The boys clean the bathroom and their bedroom. It doesn't seem hard, it's just something they have to do and it doesn't take much time (see answer to #1).

5. Do you clean frantically before guests (your mother-in-law) come?

Nope. My mother is coming tomorrow and we haven't done a thing.

6. Does housecleaning/house-messiness/housecleaning-inequity affect your daily contentment?

Nope. A small house forces me into keeping things organized and see answer to #4.

7. Have you discovered how effective blogging is at procrastinating/blocking out messes?

Depends on how old the baby is. Blogging isn't effective if someone is climbing on me, no matter what I'm trying to ignore.

And the other one.

Six things that make me unquestionably, blissfully happy:
1. One-year-olds, especially when they're doing one-year-old things
2. Reading an excellent book
3. Talking about an excellent book with a reader
4. My garden, when I have one
5. Homeschooling
6. Having my husband not practicing law for a while (maybe forever?)

03 March 2009

I Suppose It Had to Happen Sometime

I started Ex Libris yesterday, a collection of essays. It turned out I'd read the first essay before. I thought it must have been in another book, or online somewhere. Then I'd read the second and I started to get worried. The next one or two were familiar, but I couldn't be sure I'd read them, but by the time I was halfway through, I knew I'd read the book before. Unfortunately, I didn't keep track of my reading before I started this blog, so I don't know when I read it, although it vaguely seems like it was around the time I read 84, Charing Cross Road.

Anyway, Ex Libris is an excellent book and highly recommended. Even though I didn't remember reading the book, I remembered and still think of several of the essays.

The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader: A NovelThis was a light, page-turner sort of book. It was pretty good, although nothing amazing.

I did like the connection with bobbin lace in the book though. I learned to make bobbin lace years ago (hence the "amiralace" in the blog address- I do more reading now than lace-making and have switched to "amirabook" instead). If I hadn't made bobbin lace before, I would have been confused by the description. It's hard to imagine where the bobbins and pins and everything would have gone. A diagram or a picture might have helped, but it didn't really hurt the story if it didn't make much sense.