31 December 2010

2010 Flops and Not

So, 2010 didn't exactly go the way I'd planned when the year started.  I'll blame Uzbekistan and one of our grants for that.  But thanks to Kyrgyzstan's much more reasonable visas regulations, I'm hoping that this year's 10 things list will be a little closer to reality:

Live in Kyrgyzstan most of the year
Move to another city in Central Asia at the end of the year
Learn to cook naan in a tandur
Learn Uzbek
Refresh Russian
CBT Kyrgyzstan
Watch the boys learn Uzbek and Russian
Don't run out of money (which implies getting another grant)
Bone games, of course
Read a lot


And a couple that are unreasonable to hope for, but I still do hope:

Visit Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
Church recognized in Kyrgyzstan


Some things did go better this year than I'd hoped.  The massive books-into-ebooks project was a stunning success, and we have many, many fewer boxes of stuff to store. I read lots of great books too (although the end of the year went out with a whimper, but I have a good excuse). And I'm looking forward to a good 2011.  I'm glad to see 2010 go, but it still was a good year.

18 December 2010

Dulce de Leche and the Crock Pot

People were talking about sweetened condensed milk, so I needed dulce de leche.  Usually I just poke a hole in the lid of a can of sweetened condensed milk and boil it for a few hours, but I've started using the crock pot for things that boil over or away.  And I always worried about the can exploding even though I poked that hole in.  And I never knew if it was really done.

Anyway, this time I dumped the milk into a pint jar (actually, I did two cans in two jars) and covered it with foil and stuck it in the crock pot.  Then I filled the pot with water till it came above the level of the milk in the jars, but below the level of the top of the jars.  It took 6 hours on high and the glass jars made it easy to see when it was ready. 

I've said before that I've never done much with my crock pot, but when I finally started using for things like this, my stove got a lot cleaner.  I don't think I've ever forgotten something and boiled away all the water and had it burn, but I always, always have things boil over when I'm cooking stock or beans or milk for yogurt.  The crock pot is perfect for things like that and I'm finally using the thing more than once a month.

17 December 2010

Guests of the Sheik

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi VillageThis was a reread for a book group after reading it a few years ago.  I think I enjoyed it even more this time- definitely one of my favorite books.  Highly recommended.

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being EarnestI've loved this play for a long time, but somehow missed this film version.  It was excellent and I wish I'd found it sooner. 

08 December 2010

Hurramabad

HurramabadI picked up this collection of short stories and novellas at the suggestion of Christian Bleur on Registan. I enjoyed it very much, with the exception of the longest novella that I ended up skipping because it just wasn't my thing.

All the stories are set in Tajikistan and are mostly about Russians living there during the early 1990s during the civil war. The book is very Russian, very realist, very vivid. It's obviously not cheerful (how could it be?), but Andrei Volos creates a Hurramabad that draws in the reader even as you know that things aren't going to turn out well.

I was particularly taken with "A Local Man" about a Russian who moved to Tajikistan because he was completely sucked in by the place.  But even though he marries a Tajik, learns the language, and loves the place, he knows he will never fit it. 

30 November 2010

The Ring of Solomon

Bartimaeus: The Ring of SolomonAfter reading the Bartimaeus trilogy earlier this year and liking it, I was happy to get a chance to read this new prequel sort of book.  I enjoyed it as much as the other books and think it easily lives up to them.  Definitely worth reading if you're a Bartimaeus fan.

23 November 2010

Not That Clueless

So we've been working on visas for five months.  We've had to change countries at least three times and worked with all sorts of people, none of whom we've ever actually met, who have tried to help us.  We've run into every problem you can think of, but today's email telling us that we really don't want to live in our chosen small village in Kazakhstan because apparently no one has toilets or running water and we'll all die of strange diseases bugged me more than just about anything.  Reminds me again why we don't generally email embassy families to find out what it's really like living overseas.  Peace corps and missionary friends are a lot better (missionaries from churches besides mine; the missionaries from our church also thought our chosen part of Kazakhstan was "scary."  Glad they don't get to live there.). 

Give us a little credit.  We may have only lived in Central Asia once, but we're not throwing darts at a map to pick the places we want to live.  We also have taken the time to learn as much as we can about our chosen towns before we start on the visas (it's amazing how you can find people living in the most obscure places in the world through the internet).  And please, if you wouldn't choose to live somewhere, don't exaggerate to convince us we shouldn't either.  We actually want to live there.  Of course, most people think that makes us crazy in the first place.  Don't you?

In other news, we got some unexpected snow today.  It's been two years since we've seen any and we've had a great day.  Still snowing.

21 November 2010

Ereaders Galore

One thing that has surprised me a little, or at least keeps forcing itself into my brain, about having a digital library is that you need lots of different ereaders.  I knew that, of course, but it seems that we always could use one more because none of them do everything we need them to.

It would ease things up a bit if Amazon made it easier to put library books on the Kindle, because, outside schoolwork for the boys and my husband, that's how we use our ereaders.  Our library has an amazing collection of ebooks and the boys and I always have something checked out, and we've even discovered a few online places that let you check scholarly ebooks out for a couple of weeks. But we have lots of our own books scanned and the Kindle DX is the best place to read those, so there's always something good to read, with a little negotiation.

If I were starting again at zero with ereaders and looking to switch to ebooks, I'd probably end up with about the same collection of readers that we have though.  I'm hoping that in a few years larger screen readers like the Kindle DX will be more affordable because they're so flexible (as long as you can put library books on them).  9.6" Sony Reader that costs $130 sounds good to me. I wonder how long that will take.

Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty In The United StatesIt's hard to say exactly what I thought about this book, because it was so uneven.  It's excellent in many ways, dealing with capital punishment in a new way, but it's also incredibly slow to read and difficult to slog through, and not just because it's not a cheery topic.  It took me forever to get through it, and several other women in my online book group felt the same way.  I was also already opposed to the death penalty before reading this book, so I wasn't exactly the target audience, unless I need to get inspired to do more about opposing it.

But like I said, there are excellent parts, where Sister Prejean writes about two of the death row inmates she works with before their executions.  Those were the most effective parts of the book, not all the statistics and moralizing and quotes from famous people.  In the end, I think it's certainly worth reading.

12 November 2010

Central Asia

Lonely Planet Central Asia (Multi Country Guide)This is the newest edition of LP's Central Asia guide.  Since you can buy individual chapters as pdfs, we just got the countries we hope we'll need in the next few years (maybe we'll get lucky and need to buy Turkmenistan and Afghanistan).  As always, LP is practical and reliable, even in Central Asia, but it's just the bare bones.  With 6 countries in a few hundred pages, you can't expect too much, but there are good individual country guides for most of the countries in this book published elsewhere.

Tajikistan and the High Pamirs

Tajikistan & The High Pamirs: A Companion and Guide (Odyssey Illustrated Guides)This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only guidebook dedicated solely to Tajikistan.  It's written by a couple of Westerners who lived in Tajikistan for years and obviously love it.  It's packed with all sorts of interesting information, much more than you'd ever find in any sort of Lonely Planet (certainly more than the Central Asia one, since it has 6 countries in a book that's much smaller than this one), but it's also not quite as practical as LP.  You probably need both.

Half this book is about the Pamirs, and especially about the Russians and other Europeans who explored them.  That's not my favorite part of Central Asian history, but there's plenty in here besides that to make the reading worthwhile.  We're hoping to be in Tajikistan in about a year, and I already have a list of places I want to see.

A new edition is set to be published in a few months; wait till then if you can to buy it.

Comfort Me with Apples

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table (Random House Reader's Circle)I read Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires about two years ago, but never got around to reading Comfort Me with Apples, the second book of what's sort of a three-part memoir.  I enjoyed it, nowhere near as much as I liked the other two though, but this one is especially memorable for the story of Reichl's attempt to adopt near the end.  It's worth reading just for that part since it's described so well, even though it's painful.

Cold

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen PlacesThis was a wandering and interesting book.  I liked it, but it ran out of steam and I skimmed to the end.  It jumped around constantly and was rather repetitive, but there was a lot that was different and worth reading.  This would be the perfect book when you have a million things to do and can only pick something up for a few minutes at a time because you don't have to keep track of anything that already happened (in fact, it's best if you don't).  Too bad that wasn't what I needed right now.

30 October 2010

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)Julie recommended this a few days as a must read and she's right.  This is an excellent book in many ways about what needs to be done around the world to help women.  If you do much reading about women's issues, there won't be anything new here, but to have chapters on fistulas, schools, rape, etc, all in one place in an accessible book is important.

There's a lot in here.  There are plenty of stories about individual women (the authors are obviously relying on the statistic that people are much more likely to help a specific woman than to donate to a cause that generally helps women).  Many stories, especially at the beginning of the book, are horrifying.  But many of the stories are hopeful too.  I don't think they tell any story of a woman where there is no hope.

I appreciated the chapter on whether Islam is misogynistic.  They don't gloss over the statistics that show that women are very often mistreated in Muslim countries, but they don't blame Islam itself; instead, Muslim societies are blamed for allowing so many women to be killed and mistreated.  They also make the important point that Muslim women don't need us to tell us what we think is wrong with them.  They don't let anyone else off the hook either, from conservative Christians who promote abstinence-only methods to avoid HIV to the American feminist movement that is far too parochial and dogmatic and plenty of people in between.  They've also spent a lot of time in these countries, talking to these women, and have seen a lot of what works and what doesn't. 

I also think it's important for people to understand that "women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do...the greatest challenge is to change ways of thinking."  There is no doubt in my mind that a significant reason why women are treated so poorly in so much of the world is because everyone thinks it's okay.  Education is vital because it changes the way women see themselves.  And that's what changes their world.

I kept wishing I had a book group to talk about this book and marked lots and lots of things in the book (I never kept track of anything in a book till I started reading ebooks and I love it now).  This would be an excellent choice for a book group.  There's a lot more in here to talk about, but that's it for this post.

24 October 2010

Little Pink House

Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and CourageAn online friend mentioned that she thought this was one of her best reads last year, and since she's made other excellent recommendations, I thought I'd try this one too.  And it is excellent.  It's basically the story behind the 2005 Supreme Court case on eminent domain, but the author tells the story well.

It's certainly not an unbiased telling, and there are villains, who probably weren't quite as awful as they're made out to be, and there are heroes, who probably aren't as wonderful in every way as they're made out to be.  But it's still a quick, interesting, and very worthwhile read.

I looked up Claire Gaudiani, the most vile of villains in the the book, to see what she's up to now.  Interesting.

21 October 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

8The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A NovelI knew nothing about this book when I started it, except that people were reading it and thinking it was different.  And it was different.  But I thought it was well-written and I liked it quite a bit.  No regrets about reading this one.



Spoiler:
I thought the timing of finding out about the rest of the family's "skills" was well done.  Even though you know that the narrator can do something impossible, it doesn't seem too out of the ordinary because it's always part of the novel and it's really not so very weird.  I didn't even think that there might be other skills out there.  But.  I did think the brother's (it's pathetic how quickly I forget the names of characters in a book; I only finished this two days ago) skill was a bit odd in comparison to the rest of the family.  Turning into furniture?  Really?  The mundacity of that skill must have had some significance, but I missed it.  At least it prompted me to make up a new word.  Never mind.  Urban Dictionary already has it.

Joseph.  That's the brother's name.

Ah.  Here's a comment that explains the mundacity. Totally missed that, but I think it's exactly on.

17 October 2010

The Vagrants

The Vagrants: A NovelThis was a book group read for my real-life book group.  It's one of the few I've read for that one that I'd never heard of before.  It'll be interesting to see what the group thinks of it since it's not exactly our standard fare.  Almost makes me hope that we'll still be in Seattle in a few weeks so I can go to the group.  Or at least it would make up for some of the disappointment if we're still here.

Anyway, this is fiction, set in China 3 years after the end of the Cultural Revolution during the first Beijing Spring (or, more precisely, at the end of the first Beijing Spring in one town).  It's not a happy book, but you shouldn't expect that.  Since it is fiction, and well done, and set after the Cultural Revolution, it's a little different from the other books I've read about China.  There are a variety of interesting characters and situations.  All in all, I thought it was excellent and I'll have to talk more with the woman who suggested it.

Girl in Translation

Girl in TranslationI've had several friends read this with varying opinions, and had returned it once to the library without reading it, but I did sit down and read it earlier this week for a book group.  I liked it and thought it was a good description of immigrant life in the 80s.  It's short, and simple, and nothing amazing, but that's the way most people's lives are anyway. 

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (Compass)I wanted to like this, but I could only get about a third of it read before I couldn't stand it anymore.  A theory (even a very interesting one) that's based on lots of happy coincidences isn't really my thing.  Especially if you keep overlooking some obvious holes in your theory.  This book should sit on the shelf next to 1421.

03 October 2010

Boring

I sincerely hope we get visas soon because this blog is in serious need of something new to talk about. I'm not even reading anything worth blogging about, just rereading Lord of the Rings.

29 September 2010

The Host

by Stephenie Meyer The Host, A Novel 1 editionBook group read.  Stephanie Meyer is great at thinking up interesting conflicts.  She's also pretty good at working up to a climax.  But she is a master at the anti-climax.  Everything always works out so conveniently.  Don't bother getting worried that something might go wrong; it won't, not really.  Or if it does, it'll be fixed very soon.

I did like this better than the Twilight books (I couldn't make myself read the last one after the reviews).  There were a lot of interesting (or at least potentially difficult) questions raised.  Too bad the book didn't really do much with them.

24 September 2010

eSchooling

We're finishing up our second week of eschooling (if that's the right term for it since I'm not talking about any sort of virtual school; in fact, we hardly use the internet for school).  It's sort of odd to be doing it in the US right now, since the whole point of scanning all the books was to use them overseas, but I suppose it's good to work a few things out now.

Our biggest problem so far is that we need to use the iPad a lot.  It's on for at least 5 hours a day just for books, and since there's only one, it's been tricky to work out a schedulde for sharing it.  Plus the two-year-old's picture books, so he wants it during naptime, and all my cookbooks are on it. If we can find a used Kindle DX for under $200 before we leave, we'll probably get it since the math, grammar, and Uzbek books are all black and white anyway.  In case you're wondering, we can't use those books on our smaller Sony Readers because the formatting on any reader is wonky when you increase the font size, and you have to increase the font size.  Math problems don't look right with wonky formatting. 

(An aside: I said before I wouldn't want to use the iPad as a reader.  Even though we use it for books a lot, there's no way I'd sit down and read a novel on it for fun.  It's wonderful as a color ereader, but my eyes don't like it for a long time.  That's another reason why a DX would help.  But it's not likely we'll find one for the right price before we leave.)

Even though I LOVE that we can take so many books with us, it still makes me a little nervous to have almost all our books be electronic, especially for the little one.  We still have about 20-30 picture books that we'll take, but it bugs me to think that he'll probably learn to read on the iPad.  This should not bother me.  But I can't help it.  Maybe parents thought the same thing about their kids learning to read a codex rather than a scroll.

The hardest subject to do right now is Uzbek, for obvious reasons. We're testing a new fifth grade writing program that's going surprisingly well. 

So, what we're doing this year:

Uzbek and Latin (Lively Latin 2)
Grammar, writing, spelling, and reading (ebooks and audiobooks)
Geography (capitals this year)
Social media thing (the grandmas like this)
Math (Singapore and Life of Fred)
Medieval history
Earth science and astronomy

We've dropped the art and music this year, but I'm counting on an interesting cultural experience anyway.  And I'm willing to cut back on some things if we need to focus more on Uzbek.

23 September 2010

If you're smart and reading this on some sort of aggregator, this won't apply, but if you're here and thinking things look odd, I do apologize.  I might get around to fixing it soon. 

19 September 2010

Sitting around Seattle

So we're still in the US.  I so wanted to be in Central Asia today.  I've packed everything that can be packed, eaten almost all the food in the fridge, scanned 400 books, and sold the car.  But we don't know what country we're moving to, and won't for several more weeks.  You can't buy plane tickets if you don't know where you're moving.  That's not exactly a minor detail. 

I'm not sure which member of the family is going to go crazy first.  Even the 2-year-old asks when we're moving to Uzbekistan.  All he really cares about is flying on the airplane though.

Maybe we should go by boat.  That would kill some time.  The 2-year-old would approve of that.  Aren't there passenger ships from Seattle to Singapore?

200,000,000 Years Beneath the Sea

200,000,000 Years Beneath the Sea: The Story of the Glomar Challenger, the Ship That Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans and Their Continentsmj (or her husband) recommended this a long time ago, but it wasn't in my library then, and I only remembered now to get it from this city's library.  I enjoyed it, even though it's about 40 years old.  It's about the Glomar Challenger and the scientific discoveries it made through deep sea drilling in the late 60s and early 70s.  This book only covers the first few years of the Glomar Challenger's expedition, but those first few years were some of the most significant in what was learned about plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics is such a basic part of science now that it's a little strange for me to imagine that it's really not been an accepted theory for more than 50 years.  This book is an interesting and readable glimpse of those earlier years.

13 September 2010

God's Harvard

God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save AmericaJulie recommended this one a few days ago and I can't say much more than she did: Very, very interesting.

04 September 2010

The Beak of the Finch

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our TimeI think Julie recommended this a couple of months ago and I liked too.  I did feel at times that it made its point very, very thoroughly and I skimmed a bit (or maybe the book's just a little too long for its own good), but overall it's very readable and interesting.  A good book to read about evolution.

25 August 2010

Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)My library was surprisingly on top of things and had this book ready to be picked up yesterday, a day before its release.  I liked it a lot, even though I still don't much like Katniss. Quit reading here if you want, because I'm going to talk about some details of the book.

I liked the overall plot and how Collins used the idea of food and entertainment to control people.  I appreciated that the rebels were far from a perfect organization; revolutions often are too neat in history and in books.  I couldn't help thinking of Kyrgyzstan often throughout the book.  But that's just me. 

I was disappointed at how easily Collins discarded Gale.  I don't mind that he ended up out of the picture, but I thought it was unfair that his much more difficult childhood (compared to Peeta) ended up creating a personality Katniss didn't need.  But maybe it was more than their circumstances that created Peeta and Gale. 

It didn't wrap up neatly, which I liked. It wasn't at all neat and there are still plenty of questions. I was sad to lose Finnick though.  I really liked him. 

I don't know if others like her a lot, but Katniss certainly isn't my favorite heroine.  Her cluelessness was over the top in the second book, but even here she didn't see things too clearly.  And what about her voting for the Hunger Games to happen again?  Seems Peeta should have had trouble getting past that decision. 

Anyway.  What did you think?

24 August 2010

Mormon Country

Mormon Country (Second Edition)I loved this book.  Totally fascinating.  The only drawback was the brief chapters which nearly always left you wanting more (you can tell the book was written quickly), but since there are lots of brief chapters, you still get a lot.  Highly recommended whether you're Mormon or not, especially since it's a unique look at Mormons and Mormon life in the early part of the 20th century by a non-Mormon.

18 August 2010

Red Odyssey: A Journey through the Soviet Republics

Language hat recommend this one in his review of The Possessed.  It's nearly 20 years old and out of print, but my library happened to have a copy and it turned out to be one of the best books I've ever read about the Soviet Union or traveling in Central Asia. 

It's by Marat Akchurin, a Tatar who was born and raised in Tashkent and lived in Moscow at the time the book was written.  He traveled a lot throughout Central Asia before this book was written and speaks Uzbek well (he was raised in a mahalla) and can therefore get by in a lot of other Turkic languages.  He studied Islam and speaks Arabic also and lived in Iraq as a translator for the USSR.  In other words, he's uniquely positioned to write a book about the Soviet Union.

He travels by car from Moscow through Kazakhstan and spends a little time in Kyrgyzstan (since he was forced to leave early because of the violence in Osh province in 1990 (sounds familiar)), and also goes to Samarqand, Tashkent, Ashkabad, and Baku.  The chapters on Uzbekistan are the best, but the entire book is excellent.  It's a completely different and refreshing perspective on the Soviet Union and Central Asia.  Highly recommended.

One quick warning for the one person who'll probably read this- there's a short violent bit at the beginning (this is the Soviet Union in 1990, after all), but don't be dismayed.  The rest of the book isn't like that at all.

16 August 2010

How to Scan a Lot of Books

Don't bother reading this post if you are opposed to violence towards books.

Books are hard to move for mobile families.  I hadn't really bought many books for the last 5-10 years before scanning everything because we moved so often and nearly always had an excellent public library, but we still had over 1000 books.  They'd been moved and stored, and, every once in a while, all of them were out on shelves.  It was impossible to take them overseas, impractical to store them again, and painful to part with them.

So we scanned them.  It was a huge project, but we ended up with 600 scanned ebooks (we gave the rest away, or sold a few).  I don't regret one second spent on that project.  It was the best preparation I have ever done for an overseas move.

Most people are rather horrified when they learn that I cut up so many books and then recycled them all.  But there have been a few people, usually those who've moved overseas without help, who get it.  Ebooks are a lifesaver.

Anyway. It took some time to figure out how to get the scanning done quickly.  We started with a flatbed scanner and an old computer and it took forever to get through one book, so we bought this scanner.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Scanner for PC
I never thought a scanner could make me so happy. It folds up into a nice little package and all that, but it works amazingly quickly.  It's not a flatbed scanner so (here's the catch for a lot of people) I have to cut the binding off all my books.  I was curious how long it took so I timed it and took pictures.  Here's the process:



10:23 AM Begin cutting. There are lots of ways to do this. I don't recommend using a saw because it creates a lot of dust that can jam up your scanner. You can take your books to an office supplies store and they'll cut off the bindings for about $1, but that adds up quickly when you need hundreds of bindings cut off. You can buy a guillotine cutter like the office stores use and do it yourself.

I decided to use my fabric supplies because they were available, cheap, and the mat wasn't going to get stored anyway (it's gotten pretty beat up in the process). First, I recommend cutting the book into sections with a box cutter or exacto knife. It's much easier to work with smaller sections, the cutting is neater, and it ends up not taking any longer. 50-75 pages is good.


Then use a rotary cutter to neatly slice off the binding.  Make sure you don't leave any glue bits on the page, but try to take off as little as possible.  As I said before, it's much easier to do this if you're not working with a huge chunk of the book.



Finally, you need to check the pages to make sure none are still stuck together.  Flipping carefully through the pages helps you notice this.  It's worth taking the time to check the pages well. The entire cutting process took 6 minutes for a 270-page paperback. 

10:29 AM Begin scanning. It took me 10 minutes to scan the 270-page book, but it would have taken our faster computer about 7 minutes. 

You can stop here because the scanner creates a pdf document. However, it doesn't create a searchable document that can have its font adjusted on an ereader. If that what you want, then you'll need to open up Adobe Acrobat and run the book through OCR. That took my (slow) computer 19 minutes.

Obviously, all these steps can be shortened a lot by combining them, and the longest part is the OCR which doesn't require any effort at all on my part (I'd usually tell it to OCR a lot of books overnight). The process can take a little longer when you're cutting up a book with pages wider than 8.5 inches. You'll need to figure out where to trim more paper off.

One more thing- we got a refurbished scanner.  It includes Adobe Acrobat standard, which we needed to buy anyway, so we were very happy with the price for the scanner.  If you already have Adobe and buy the scanner new, it'll be more than $400.

Totally happy.

13 August 2010

The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition

The Book of Mormon: A Reader's EditionI thoroughly enjoyed reading this edition of The Book of Mormon.  I checked it out of the library so I had to get through more quickly than I usually would, but that was no problem.  It's always amazing what a difference some simple format changes can make in a book.  Even though every word was the same, it still felt different.  Almost as refreshing as reading a new translation of the Bible after reading the KJV all your life.

Highly recommended.  I'd buy this one if we were buying books right now.