31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

I suppose I ought to do one more post before the year ends.  Here's the checklist from the beginning of the year.

No visa woes
Visit Uzbekistan
Don't run out of money
Best homeschooling year ever
Stay in Bishkek till the summer
Don't move more than twice
Dissertation done
Read more
Write more
Research more
Fit more
Russian more
No mooching
Play more games

We didn't make it to Uzbekistan (again) and I didn't do much writing, and Russian learning stopped when we left Bishkek (and was undermined anyway because I heard more Russian on the streets in Tokmok than in our particular neighborhood in Bishkek).  And the dissertation isn't done, although that's not my husband's fault.  It has to be done in the next few months or the world will come to and end, so I'll add to to this year's list.

I don't have very much to say about this year, but I can come up with something, I hope.  I'm really only willing to talk about the next seven months though because that's how long our lease is and how long we have to work here.

Go to the ocean
Colonial Williamsburg
Explore, explore, explore
Read more
Great homeschooling year
Camp more
Hike more
Play more

It appears I want to get out this year.  Virginia is a great place to do that.

21 December 2012

Kyrgyzstan Ornaments

And here are the Kyrgyzstan ornaments.  We got the yurt when we lived there the first time, but all the rest are from last year.

Starting at the top center, there's a red beshik, then a kalpak, a camel, a Marco Polo ram, a chuko bone, the yurt, and a do'ppi. 

Love these.

20 December 2012

Seattle Ornament

After we stopped getting a gold star each year, we decided to get an ornament that represented the place we were living at the time.  Since we move a lot, that's sort of fun.  Anyway, here's our Seattle ornament. 

When we lived there, we were really close to an outdoor mall.  My boys' favorite store was Bartell Drug because they sold legos.  So when we saw this ornament at Bartells, with a Bartells sitting right in the middle (not that you can really see that in the photo), we thought it was a good Seattle ornament for us.  It doesn't only remind us of Seattle, but also the specific place we lived.

19 December 2012

Stray Gifts

My favorite here is the Star Wars ornament that a dear friend gave us about 5 years ago off her tree.  We all think of them when we pull this one out. 

18 December 2012

Russian Ornaments

When my parents lived in Russia, my mother wanted to send ornaments to all her grandchildren.  That turned out to be quite a feat (mailing things from the former Soviet Union is hardly straightforward), but they all arrived safely and before Christmas.  She even sent one for my littlest who hadn't been born yet.  I love these unique ornament and am not looking forward to their leaving my tree someday.

Later she gave us the wooden bell along with a book.  The bell is from St. Petersburg and even though it wasn't necessarily designed as an ornament, it's happy on the tree.

17 December 2012

Off My Mother's Tree

This photo should have gone up about a week ago since these are all older ornaments even if they haven't always been mine.  My aunt and uncle made the julehjerter at the top when I was younger.  My mother's ancestry is almost entirely Danish, so I like it because of that, and because it reminds my of the aunt and uncle, one of whom died a few years ago.

My sister made lots of the shell ornaments on the bottom when my mother switched to a more organized look for the Christmas tree.  As I remember the story, they'd decided on the design but hadn't been able to find shells that would work (no surprise in Utah before the internet), but we stumbled on some when we were visiting Florida.  It seems like they were in some touristy souvenir shop, but they were perfect and now there are many of these.  Enough that my mother was willing to share one with me a few years ago.

The other two ornaments are two more ways I benefited later from my mother's new tree style (I also got some of my grandmother's ornaments that I posted earlier).  They were on the tree when I was little and were favorites.  One summer our garage flooded and some of the Christmas decorations were damaged or ruined.  I remember worrying specifically about these.  They barely survived, and they're on my tree now.  My boys love them too.

16 December 2012

10000 Villages, Part 1

The year we lived in Salt Lake, I took the boys (the two that were around then) to 10000 Villages to choose ornaments because they have unique and inexpensive ornaments.  We all loved that, so this year, since we live near a 10000 Villages again, we did the same.  I don't have photos of those yet, but I'll get them up later.

One reason I like to go there is to see what the boys choose.

Tunduk Creche

And here's the last nativity.  I got it a year ago in Bishkek.  The felt pieces are hanging from a tunduk, which you can't see very well since this is really hard to get a good photo of.  Most people wouldn't understand everything that's going on here if they saw it, but that's okay.  Because I do.

I don't think we'll be getting a nativity this year.  We don't always, and ornaments are always easier to store and display. 

15 December 2012

Crocheted Ornaments

I should have posted these sooner since I made them before some of the others posted here.  These always remind me of my oldest son.  I was experimenting with different ways to stiffen these and sugar was one of those ways.  He was about 2 at the time and discovered that some of the ornaments on the tree tasted really good.  Others, however, just had cornstarch and he wasn't so impressed. 

I made a lot more than these, but some got chewed on and others weren't my favorite.  One year I had a lot hanging in the windows.  But now there are just these 5.  Maybe I'll make some more this year since I know which ones turn out best now.

Made in Thailand Nativity

I really like this metal nativity that was made in Thailand.  I don't have any special stories about it. I just like it.

14 December 2012

Homemade Ornaments

I only have a few ornaments that my boys have made.  They've often made lego or origami ornaments for the tree, but they never survive till the next year.  The balls are what we've kept from the ornament-making fest we had when we lived in Boise.  They were easy for the boys to make (just pour a little watered-down paint into a clear glass ornament, plug the hole, and shake) and they made them to give away for several years. 

The Russian Creches

 When my parents were living in Russia a few years ago, I asked my mother to try to find a Russian nativity for me.  She searched high and low for something that she liked, but the best she could do was to find the two nativities in the first photo.

Personally, I like them.

But since she didn't like them so much, she got me the one in the lower photo later when she found it in a store in the US.  For the record, it was made in Russia.

I really like it too.  So I lucked out and have three Russian nativities that I like.

13 December 2012

Danish Cardamom Christmas Cookies

This is my take on cardamom cookies.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom
2-3 tablespoons sugar

Cream the butter and sugar, then beat the eggs in one at a time, then slowly add the flour and cinnamon.  Cover and stick in the fridge for at least 30-60 minutes, or overnight, or whatever.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine the cardamom and sugar in a small bowl.  Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll around in the cardamom and sugar, then put on a cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 8-12 minutes.

Ground cardamom works fine, but if you have cardamom seeds, open them up and bruise about 1 tsp worth and mix that with your sugar.


So pants are the hot topic this week in some of my internet circles.  Or, more accurately for some, trousers.  Seems like an odd topic for everyone to get bothered about, but there it is.

I know this is getting spun as a protest by many people, and certainly for some people it is, but it's not for many people.  There is a difference because protesting (something I don't want to do in sacrament meeting) and supporting (something I want to do) even if the actions might appear similar.

If you happen to see a woman at church in pants, please don't automatically assume she's protesting anything and dismiss her attitude as inappropriate for sacrament meeting.  Maybe she's cold.  Maybe she's in nursery.  Maybe all her skirts are dirty.  Maybe she wants to see changes in our clothing expectations. Maybe she rode a bike to church.  Maybe she doesn't own a dress or skirt.  Maybe she likes pants.  Maybe she is trying to show support for something.  Maybe her pants look nicer than her skirts.  Maybe she's mad.  What does it matter?  She's still someone who showed up for church, and that means a lot.

It's simple for me to decide whether I'm wearing pants to church on Sunday.  Since I don't own any dress pants, I'm not*.  I will, however, be wearing a purple shirt (amazingly, I own one) because I want to show my support for anyone at church who doesn't fit the mold, who doesn't feel comfortable, who doesn't always say or do the right things, who's cold, or who's mad.  Even the mad people need someone to care.

I'll definitely be looking for the pants-wearers.  Because I'm a supporter of the pants-wearers.

*I could probably find the money and the time to buy some this weekend, but it's far more likely that I'd rather find the time and money to buy something more personally fulfilling.  Clothes are never that for me.  If I had to bring a well-written book or a delicious international meal to an event to show my support? Count me in.

Updated much later:
I did wear pants for this the next year since I finally had a pair of dress pants.  I wear them often now especially when I've traveling.  They're easy to wear in some places and less comfortable in others.

Happy Birthdays

Today my littlest turns 5 and this blog is 8 years old.  And it's the Geminids tonight (and maybe a new meteor shower, did you know? they'll be around Pisces, if they happen, and maybe earlier).

Birthdays are so much funner when you're 5.

12 December 2012

The Abstract Creche

This may quite possibly be my favorite nativity of all.  My oldest son put this together when he was seven.  He had a bucket of wooden pieces of all shapes and sizes and one day produced this nativity on his own.  I took it over after discovering it in his room later. 

I'm perfectly happy if you think I'm just a doting mother, but I think this creche is amazing.

Boise Ornaments

These all are from when we lived in Boise.  That's probably been the place where we most felt like part of the community.  We built a house there 10 years ago, planning to stay for awhile (this is the biggest thing, I think). There were lots of people moving into the area but not really too many moving out.  We had neighbors with kids the ages of our kids. Our ward was wonderful and welcoming.  The spiders and the snowman are from all of these people.

And then my husband got laid off and we returned to our wandering ways.  We moved to another part of Idaho where the sons of two of our friends also happened to be moving to for college.  We had them over for dinner often and the mother of one of them sent us the ornament in the lower left corner just before he left on his mission.  It doesn't technically match our family anymore since we have our littlest now, but we had two children for so long and we have so many good memories of Boise, so this is one of my favorite ornaments.

11 December 2012

The Snow Child

When I was going through book lists a few months ago, this one came up and so I put it on hold and finally got it not too long ago without knowing anything about it, just that one of my friends liked it.  Then I started reading the dust jacket and immediately clued in that this is a retelling of Snegurochka.  If you've read any Russian fairy tales, you've probably read this one and I was delighted.  We don't get so many retellings of Russian stories in the US.

And fortunately, this was really well done.  Alaska was the perfect setting for an American version of this, but I felt like it was true to the original tale.  I enjoyed it very much and think it would be an interesting book to discuss for a book group.

Golden Stars

These photos are pretty much awful, but they'll have to do.  It's pretty much impossible for me to make it work when there are 5 shiny objects.

Anyway, we gathered these stars over 13 years, only stopping a few years ago.  For a long time these were the ornaments we got each year.  We started with the one in the lower left corner in the photo on the right because it's from the Alhambra. The others are based on various designs from around the world and all are from the Met.

We stopped mostly because we had enough and so we could branch out into other ornaments. And it was time to stop.  I'm glad we did it.

Wooden Kyrgyz Creche

This one has been on here before too.  My husband put it together while we were in Kyrgyzstan the first time.  They do sell sets that use these, but I like this one because I can rearrange the people the way I want them.  It's the only set I have where there are women besides Mary (the one with the shorter white fabric hanging from her chin is one, and the other is the right side of the short pair). 

In this photo they're arranged to have Mary, Joseph, and Jesus with Anna and Simeon standing behind them; two short shepherds, male and female; and two Wise Men.  I've also rearranged it with the one who's Simeon above as a Wise Man and Anna as a midwife.

10 December 2012

Felt Yurt Nativity

I've posted this one before (and I'm using an old photo of it, because it's gotten slightly squished over the years and the yurt has a bit of a slump).  Some expat friends of ours gave this to us.  I've loaned it to creche exhibits several times because it's unique, even with the slump.

This would have cost about 5 dollars in 2005.  Not anymore. 
I think I've covered all the ornaments I had when I got married. My sister made us many ornaments the first Christmas we were married (well, technically the second, but since we got married right before Christmas, the second felt like the first one).  We were living across the country from the rest of the family and were lucky to have a tree at all, and these ornaments filled up the tree nicely.

These are the only two left now.  Some have broken when we've had hardwood floors, others were repurposed into ornaments my sons made after the tree started filling up with other ornaments.  My husband calls them the garter belt ornaments. 

I love having ornaments that remind me of people I care about.  It meant a lot to me that my sister would spend the time to make all of these and then ship them across the country.  It was the perfect gift.

09 December 2012

Religious Ornaments

These are some of the last ornaments I got from my mother.  You probably can't see the top black round one very well, but she got it the year that I'd just come back from Jerusalem the first time and it was perfect.

Uzbek Creche

I've posted this before, but it can be done again.  This isn't a very good photo at all, sorry.  This isn't really a nativity scene, but a collection of Uzbek ceramics that we turn into a creche in December.  A Russian friend from Uzbekistan gave us the two large figures in 2001 and a Korean friends from Uzbekistan gave us the three smaller figures we use as Wise Men in 2007. 

I really like using the figurine here for Mary.

08 December 2012

High in the Clouds

I suppose the next nativity is this one, although I'm not entirely sure if it should come before the next ones.  This one is definitely the oldest one I have since it was in my parents' house while I was growing up.  Sometimes I benefit from my mother's decluttering.   There were other nativities that we were given before this one, but they got moved on our end.

It always amuses me that this set has identical shepherds.  It really isn't the most beautiful set (which is probably why my mother passed it on), but it reminds me of getting out the Christmas decorations and finding the long blue box where it was stored.  There were a satisfying number of pieces to unwrap and set up.  And it seems it was on a green cloth?  I could be making that part up.


There's not too much that's interesting to say here.  I liked these and requested them one year for Christmas when I was a teenager.  I started with six, but one broke sometime along the way.

I do still like them, although they're not really my style anymore.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

I liked this one.  Didn't love it, because sometimes I just didn't like Budo.  Always liked Max though.  And the crisis was just a little unbelievable.  But there was a lot to like here.

Connie's Ornaments

My aunt sometimes sent us ornaments when we were younger.  I'm not absolutely sure that all three of these are from her, but I think they are.  Even if the Snoopy one wasn't, it should have been, because she loved Snoopy.  She'd also write us letters sometimes. 

Another Olivewood Set

My husband came with his own olivewood set when we got married.  His is one of the more modern ones, if you want to call it that, where carving isn't as detailed.  This always lives under our Christmas tree because it's completely safe there, even when there's a two-year-old in the house.

05 December 2012

Celtic Creche

I think this one should go next.  There's nothing special about where I got it.  I just saw it in a catalog when I was a teenager and asked for it.  Always loved it.

Travel Ornaments

This batch is mixed in with yesterday's chronologically and are from places we'd visited the year I got them.  They're probably pretty obvious, although the bell might not be.  It's from Arizona when we visited my oldest sister there and cut our own tree.  It was fun to cut our own tree even if it was a little scrawny.

04 December 2012

The Cute Ornaments

So after we got past the round ornaments we switched back to cute ones.  The dolphin one really should have been in a different photo, and I'll explain why tomorrow, but it's still cute.  The viola on the bottom is a favorite of my own children and I got it when I played the viola in junior high. 

These aren't entirely chronological now because there are a few that'll be in tomorrow's photo that come in the middle of these, but it's pretty close.

First Olivewood Set

This would be my second nativity since my sister brought it back from Jerusalem when she lived there (I won't say how many years ago).  Since she was the first to go, she got stuck with bringing back lots of these sets, not to mentioning shopping for them too. 

You see olivewood creches all the time, but I like mine.

03 December 2012

The First Nativity

Like I said, I like to pick up nativities here and there.  This was the first one I got more than 20 years ago and here's the story, or, the version I remember.

My church has lots of programs for children and teenagers where you set goals and work on different projects and things.  There were various rewards for meeting certain goals, and unfortunately those rewards were (and still are) often jewelry for the girls.  When I was about 10, my mother was in charge of running everything for all the children in my church in a fairly large area, and so she decided to skip the jewelry and instead got nativity set pieces instead.   

I promise, that was a much better system.

The Round Ones

So the first three ornaments were all cute little things.  The way the story goes, my older sisters got more traditional round ornaments those years. Someone pointed that out to my mother- that the older daughters got "boring" ones and the younger ones were more unique.  So my mother switched the pattern after that and their ornaments were more creative and my little sister and I got round ones for the next few years.

I don't know if I have the story entirely right, but I like it no matter what and always think about it when I hang these three ornaments. And I like them even if they are boring, athough one does have sappy daughter sentiments on the side.

02 December 2012

The First Three Ornaments

So, like I said, my mother got us ornaments when my sisters and I were growing up.  She started sometime between the time my next-older sister and I were born and these were the first three I got.  The dangly one on the right is a favorite of my own children too. One of them broke off the lowest elf when they were little and it was like that for years till we were at my parents' house one Christmas when I had my ornaments with me and my dad fixed it. So that's what I think about when I hang that one up. 

The little drummer boy is missing a stick, but I honestly don't remember it ever being there, so that's okay too.  The soldier with the thimble hat had had a less traumatic life than the others.

01 December 2012

Grandma Nisson's Ornaments

I've been meaning to take pictures of my Christmas tree ornaments for years so I'd at least have photos of them when I can't put them up, and I finally did it now.  This series of posts will be boring for you.  Sorry about that.

I'll do these in chronological order.  As usual, the photos aren't great, and it's even worse than usual on some of these because it's hard to take photos of groups of shiny things.

Anyway, these 6 ornaments were on my parents' tree while I was growing up and they were my mother's mother's tree before that.  I don't know where she got them, but I like having them on the tree since they were hers at some point.

On my parent's tree there also was a coveted blue glass ornament that was always hung high on the tree by someone responsible.  Since I'm the shortest in the family (and I'm not even short), I was way down the line for hanging it, but I got to one year.  It's not even that exciting an ornament- it's just blue.  But it's a tradition. 

Ornaments and Nativities

We don't do much decorating for Christmas here because Christmas decor is just something else to move.  But we do have a box of ornaments and a box of nativities.  We always get an ornament each year, and we get nativities every so often when the mood is right.  Ornaments in particular are great for our family because I can always fix one more in the box, they're very lightweight, and they're great mementos. 

The nativities are a little trickier and I've even had to cut back on those to keep the most important ones in the box.  But we still have the ones that are the best.  My mother sent me this book last year which is another great way to see more nativities.

I think it would be fun to design my own nativity.  It would have some midwives and Anna in it too, and how about Elizabeth?  If we can put the three Wise Men in when they apparently didn't even make an appearance till long after Jesus' birth, then I vote we can find room for many more women in our traditional nativity scenes.

28 November 2012

An Everlasting Meal

I really liked this.  Tamar Adler has a way of making this style of cooking and eating accessible and real.  She's just great to read.  And even though my cooking is generally very different from what she writes about in this book, we're still following the same basic principles.  I don't think I'll ever be as fanatic about French and Italian cooking as I ought to be, at least to be a person who care about food in the US, but that's okay.

In a way, I felt like I was reading what a cookbook should be like.  The best cookbooks are much more than a collection of recipes, but they're a way of life. 

27 November 2012

Shenandoah Books

I've been reading a lot about the Shenandoah Valley since it's here, so these are a few books I've read so far.

Shenandoah Voices- I enjoyed reading this.  It's mostly short anecdotes and it's really heavy on the author's own ancestors, but that didn't ruin it at all. 

Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley- This felt like reading a LDS ward cookbook from the same time period.  Americans cooked the same basic stuff all over the country with a few regional variations.  I picked out the unique recipes because all the rest are easy to find.  I always love reading a cookbook though.

Shenandoah Heritage- This was specifically about the people who lived in what would soon become Shenandoah National Park.  It was written in 1978 so, while it was more modern than sources I've read from the 1920s and 30s, it was still somewhat biased against the people of the park.  Still, a very interesting read.

From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens- This wasn't specifically about the Valley, but the authors are from there.  It was similar to the one I reviewed above.

20 November 2012

Sour Cream Apple Pie

So we've been having a pie fest recently because it's that time of the year, and since the South is apparently pie country, I've made some new pies.

I now know why my mother always said pie is too sweet.  We've had some horribly sweet pies (although they were pretty good once liberally covered with lime juice).  I'll give the chess pie another chance with a modified recipe, but I'm not sure I'm quite converted to pecan pie.

Anyway, I'm still trying new ones but without as much sugar.  Today's was a sour cream apple pie that was really good.  My middle son loved it most- he ate half the pie by himself, and that's unusual for him.  He eats everything, just not lots of it.  The original recipe had less sugar than many do, but I cut it half anyway and thought it was about right, although still a little too sweet.  Less of the crumb topping would be good, or just leave it out.

Unbaked pie crust in an 8" plate
3 cups chopped apples
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1.5 tablespoons butter
2.5 tablespoons sugar
2.5 tablespoons flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine the apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and salt and dump into the pie crust.  Combine the sour cream, egg, and vanilla and spread over the apples.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then at 350 for 25 minutes.  Combine the rest of the ingredients into a crumb topping, sprinkle over the top, and return to the oven to bake at 400 for 10 minutes.

17 November 2012

Savory Sweet Potato Galette

I have to get this recipe down before I forget how I made it.  I wanted to make a savory galette like I did recently with cabbage and sausage (only this time I stir-fried the cabbage, red onion, and garlic before baking it and I think that was better), but with sweet potatoes.  I couldn't really find a suitable sweet potato filling so I made this one up that turned out to be really, really good.

I used a half recipe of the pastry I always make (1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup grated cold butter, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and a bit of water).  I had too much filling, but I was trying to so I'd have plenty and could use it for leftovers too.

Prick 3 large sweet potatoes and cook them in the oven or microwave till they're nearly done.  Let them cool, then peel and chop into bite-sized pieces.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, chop one large onion and a tart apple like a Granny Smith.  Sauté the onion till soft, then add the apple and cook till the apple has softened but still holds its shape well.  Add the sweet potatoes, salt and cayenne to taste, and Old Bay seasoning (I think I put in about a teaspoon) and cook for a few more minutes till everything is hot and flavorful and as soft as you want it to be.

Roll out the pastry and put it on a cookie sheet.  Mound the filling into the middle, leaving about 1.5 inches around the edges, then fold the edges up to make a rim around the vegetables.  There will be a large hole at the top.

Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.  Let it sit a few minutes before serving.

The tart apples were perfect with the sweet potatoes.  You could use different seasonings if you like.

16 November 2012

Civil War Sites, part 1

We live in the middle of a huge number of Civil War sites.  Many major battlefields are less than two hours ago in several different directions and there are smaller sites all over the place (like on the hill where the grocery store is).  So we're working on seeing as many of them as we can while we're here.

We're using some books from the library, but the most practical source of information and maps has been at Civil War Traveler.  They have maps of several different sections of Virginia and the sites are generally marked with a Civil War Trails sign (sometimes they could be marked better, but generally we've been successful in finding what's marked on the maps).

This is a project we can do on a tight budget because, even though there are museums and such at some sites, it seems there's nearly always some sort of historical marker you can see without paying, and if you get books from the library, you should have more information at your fingertips.

I also love driving around Virginia. 

Anyway, we went to the central Shenandoah Valley earlier this week.  We saw the Port Republic, Cross Keys, and New Market battlefields, plus other various things. We did very little at New Market though, in comparison to what was there, since VMI owns a lot of the battlefield.  There's a museum and self-guided walking tours included in the admission.

I've been having trouble planning how we'll see all these sites.  It would be nice to do them in somewhat chronological order, but that really isn't practical.  Appomattox would make a lovely day trip, but I don't want to go there before going to at least a few other places.  And Manassas/Bull Run is a hassle to get to (although relatively close to a Lego store as my children like to point out).

Good Riddance, Twinkies

What does it say about us that some of our quintessential American foods are Twinkies and Wonder Bread?  I don't see anyone mourning the loss of Nature's Pride whole grain bread or Hostess's other real food.  I can't get too worked up about the disappearance of Ding Dongs from the American diet.  If we're lucky, they'll never come back. But I don't think we'll be that lucky.

15 November 2012

Bride Kidnapping, part 50 million

There was a good post at Registan the other day about bride kidnapping. It's written by a Kyrgyz reporter and is focused on Kyrgyz response and action to a proposed law in parliament to increase the potential prison time in case of a conviction for bride kidnapping.

There is a significant legal ramification if this law is passed.  Kyrgyz law differentiates between different types of crime and the basic way to tell what sort of crime it is is to look at the prison time.  Different types of crimes (private, public/private, and public) are investigated in different ways.  Only public crimes require that the police get involved.  For other types of crimes, the police can only get involved if the victim wants them to.

Right now the prison time for bride kidnapping means that it is not a public crime.  So the police, by law, cannot get involved unless the woman who was kidnapped initiates things herself.  As the article at Registan points out, a woman in that situation is extremely unlikely to do so and there are a huge number of reasons why which I've talked about often elsewhere on this blog.

But this new law would move bride kidnapping into the public crimes section.  That means that anyone who knows the crime has been committed (her family members, someone in the boy's family, a friend, someone on the street, anyone, really) can contact the police and at least get an investigation going- they don't have to wait for the kidnapped woman's okay.  That doesn't mean that the police actually will do that, but by law they would have to.

This distinction in crimes is not well-known at all in Kyrgyzstan so it's entirely possible that it wouldn't make much of a difference in getting these cases prosecuted.  I'm also completely unconvinced that the families of either the boy or the girl generally want the police involved at all.  I think it's possible that this law would just make the boy's family more anxious to smooth things over, but that the marriage would still take place.  I still don't think a legal solution is what will change people's perceptions of bride kidnapping.  Education will.

The One and Only Ivan

This was a nice little book about a gorilla, protecting animals, friendship, so many things.  It's based on a real gorilla who was named Ivan and died just a few months ago in a zoo.  It's worth reading about the real Ivan (there's a bit in the book, but much more online) too.

While the basic outline of the story is true, the plot itself isn't, which is obvious if you read it.  It's really just simple.  But nice.

14 November 2012

The Night Circus

I have mixed feelings about this book.  In some ways it was amazing.  It's a really great plot and the writing is lovely.  But the characterization just wasn't there in many places.  The only characters that really worked were Bailey, Widget, and Poppet.  I just couldn't care much about the main characters.  It also felt a little half-baked in places.

But I have no regrets in reading it.  The amazing parts really did largely make up for what was missing.  It just felt like it could have been more when I finished it.

13 November 2012


I knew I'd forgotten to blog about a book recently, but I could not remember the title of it (or much else, for that matter).  But today I was thinking about dust jacket covers that give away too much, I suddenly remembered enough to blog about.  I often don't read the dust jacket till I'm well into the book because they often give away too much at the beginning, but I read a little of this one, unfortunately.  In addition to getting a very basic fact about the book completely wrong, it also made no secret about a major plot point that isn't revealed till the very end of the book.  There's foreshadowing, yes, but I think it matters to the reader that you don't know that particular detail.

Anyway, it was a fine book, even if I can't think of the title.  I'll remember not to break my rule in the future of not returning books to the library till I've blogged about them.

And just in case you can help me, the book is about a brother and sister whose father was schizophrenic.  The sister's son, who is also mentally ill, dies in an accident at the beginning of the book.  The book largely about the brother and how he deals with the consequences of his nephew's death in all of their lives.

08 November 2012

The Book of Lost Things

I really enjoyed this new take on old fairy tales. 

02 November 2012

Downton Abbey

So I finally got caught up on real life by watching Downton Abbey.  I'd missed all the fun while we were overseas, but I'm ready for January.  Too bad I knew most of the plot points ahead of time, but it's okay.


We had colcannon last night for dinner, for Samhain.  I just kept it simple and made it like this:

7 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed, and seasoned with butter, milk, and salt
1 large onion, diced
1/2 head cabbage, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and cabbage in some butter (at least 2 tablespoons) till just starting to brown, then season with salt and pepper.  Combine with the mashed potatoes and heat if it needs to be.  Check the seasoning again before serving.

I also made an apple cake and soda bread.  I'll make my Welsh cakes tonight as soul cakes.  Nice to have Halloween, Samhain, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Día de los Muertos, and whatever else all together here so we can spread things out. 

27 October 2012

More Burma

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying Rivers of Flavor.  Here's the current list of what we've tried:

Fried shallots
Chile-garlic sauce
Spinach and tomato salad
Long bean salad with peanuts
Roasted eggplant salad
Okra shallot stir-fry
Tamarind-pumpkin curry
Eggplant delight
Easy coriander tomato omelet
Golden egg curry
Paneer in tomato sauce
Pale yellow Shan tofu
Deep-fried Shan tofu
Fish stew with aromatics
Chile-oil fish
Chicken in tart garlic sauce
Peanut and rice porridge

16 new recipes in a month? Yeah, we're enjoying ourselves.

One thing I like about Duguid's books is that, even though she makes the recipes doable* for North American cooks, she also puts in things that don't necessarily seem to appeal to North American expectations.  For example, the peanut and rice porridge doesn't look all that appetizing, but it's in the cookbook anyway because it's unique and delicious.  I was very pleasantly surprised by that dish in particular and it'll be served often in place of rice.

I did use pressed tofu in the chicken with tart garlic sauce because I'm more likely to have tofu in the fridge than chicken (because it lasts longer).  The paneer in tomato sauce was very similar to the Bhutanese cheese curry from Mangoes and Curry Leaves.  I'm not sure which version prefer- maybe I'll make both one night and we'll find out.

Both fish recipes have been amazing.

*I've never quite understood the fetish for authenticity in international dishes. When I'm living in Kyrgyzstan it's impossible for me to cook completely authentic American food (whatever that is).  It's just the way it is.  I also have zero desire in Kyrgyzstan to visit 5 different stores so I can make typical lasagna, just like I'm not about to drive to five different stores in the US to make exactly perfect Pad Thai.  But I also don't want Americanized food (like typical American Chinese restaurant food, or Mexican restaurant). I think that this is my biggest reason why I like Duguid's books- she balances the recipes in a way that works exactly right for me.

26 October 2012

Komoch Naan

Komoch naan is a Kyrgyz and Kazakh bread.  I rarely saw it in Bishkek and Tokmok since tandyr naan is typical there, but if you get into rural areas of Kyrgyzstan like Naryn or Kochkor, this is much more common.  It makes a slightly larger loaf than they usually make in Kyrgyzstan, but it works pretty well.  It makes one domed loaf and there are several ways to bake it.  It's traditionally cooked in a clay pot, although it isn't always anymore.  This is based on several recipes I picked up in Kyrgyzstan and on one from Beyond the Great Wall.

1.5 cups warm water or milk or sour milk
1 tsp yeast
1/2 c yogurt (optional, especially if you used sour milk- increase the milk by 1/4 cup if you leave out the yogurt)
2 tsp salt
4-5 cups flour (I use whole wheat, but all-purpose or bread flour is good too, or a mix.  All-purpose is typically used in Kyrgyzstan.)

Make a soft, well-kneaded dough with the above and let it rise for a couple hours till it's doubled. 

I've tried four different cooking methods for this.  My favorite is in a camp dutch oven over a fire, but that's not exactly practical most of the time even though it's more similar cooking in a clay pot.  I've also tried it in the crockpot but it didn't work really well, although it did produce the right texture for the bread.

The two easiest methods produce fairly different loaves depending on what you want.  You can shape the dough into a ball and drop it into a cast iron skillet lined with parchment paper.  I just have a 12-inch skillet so I use that, although a smaller skillet would be good too.  Let the dough rest for a few minutes then press it out toward the edges of the skillet.  Cover with a lid or a bowl or plastic and let it rise for about an hour- it shouldn't quite double.  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes or till it's golden brown.  Keep an eye on it the first time you make it because bread and ovens vary so much, at least in my world.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before slicing.  This produces a drier loaf that is good and, I think, more commonly used now in Kyrgyzstan.

It's also really good baked in a covered pot.  Use an oven-proof straight-sided 9-inch (or so) pot and line the bottom with parchment.  Shape the dough into a ball and drop it in, then press it towards the edges as above.  Cover with the lid of the pot and let rise for about an hour.  Leave the lid on and bake at 375 for about 30-40 minutes.  At that point, check the bread to see how it's coming.  It might be ready then, or you can put the lid back on to finish baking, or you can leave the lid off while it finishes to help the top get crispier.  After it comes out you can brush with butter and the top will soften again.

A Discovery of Witches

So I really enjoyed this book in a lot of ways. Interesting characters, interesting plot, interesting places.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy (although I'm annoyed, because I didn't know it was a trilogy when I started it, especially one where the books haven't all been published yet- if I'm going to be out of the reading loop for a couple of years, at least I shouldn't have to wait for new releases now).

But in some ways this was almost as bad as Twilight.  Despite the author insisting that Diana isn't pathetic, she was.  And she's supposed to be in her mid-thirties?  She came off as a teenager most of the time.  The worst line was when Diana's aunt was concerned that she had changed so much after meeting Matthew- that the independent Diana was gone.  Diana's answer was that she loves him.

Still, there is actually a plot here which helps a lot.  And there are far fewer Twilight moments here than in, well, Twilight.  And I sincerely hope Diana actually stops being pathetic instead of just hearing other characters tell me she isn't.

And there's lots of cool history stuff.  The author really likes wine though, which is fine, but it did get a little over the top in places. 

24 October 2012


This was one that came out while I was in Kyrgyzstan which I couldn't read.  If you like maps, this is a great book even if you're not one of the types of map lovers that Jennings writes about (which I'm not).  I could go on here for a long time about maps, but I'll spare you.

23 October 2012

The Coffins of Little Hope

This was a unique book and I liked it.  Nothing much happens, but the main character is wonderful.

19 October 2012

Burma: Rivers of Flavor

I love to cook food from all over the world, and especially food from every corner of Asia.  Way back in 1998 I discovered Flatbreads and Flavors by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford and I've been hooked on their books ever since.  I still remember paging through F&F the first time and finally finding recipes I'd been looking for after spending nearly a year in the Middle East.  Their tastes worked for me and I've never been disappointed since then.  I've read through and cooked through all of their books (Beyond the Great Wall, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Homebaking, Seductions of Rice, and Flatbreads and Flavors).  There's a lot to love, but these people even get Central Asia. Really.

I was excited to see that Naomi Duguid was going to be writing a book on Burma despite the couple's divorce a few years ago.   I wondered how the book would be different without Alford.  Rivers of Flavor is more cookbookish (although there are still plenty of wonderful photos) and I think this book may be even better without Alford- certainly I don't think anything was lost without him.  Duguid has always seemed more straightforward.

One difference with this book is that there is a beginning section with recipes for staples you'll probably need to make the rest of the food in the book.  I don't really like to open up to a recipe and see that I'm going to have to prepare 5 different special ingredients to make the dish, but it turned out to be okay because all of the staples make a lot.  So instead of trying to track down shrimp powder, you can just make some and store it till you need it.  It's slightly more work initially than just buying it at the store, but after that, it's the same.  And it may not be any more work in reality if you, like me, have spent a long time trying to find the right ingredient in an ethnic store where it may be difficult to communicate what you need.

Anyway, the recipes are very good.  As usual I have dozens marked to try and I've made about 10 so far. I'll add to this list as I cook more. Updated to link to the final list of recipes.

  • Shrimp powder
  • Chile-garlic sauce (this is amazing)
  • Long bean salad with peanuts (I wished I was in Bishkek to make this one so I could use long beans, but regular old American green beans tasted good too)
  • Okra shallot stir-fry (this was the first time I'd ever cooked okra- I figured I ought to try it since I live in the south, but I couldn't bring myself to make a typical southern okra recipe)
  • Tamarind pumpkin curry
  • Easy coriander tomato omelet
  • Golden egg curry
  • Pale yellow Shan tofu
  • Deep-fried Shan tofu

I liked all of these.  My husband isn't a big hard-boiled egg person so the egg curry wasn't his favorite, but my middle son loved it and had fun helping me fry the eggs.  The okra was a surprising hit- I honestly didn't know how it would go over.  And I loved the bean and peanut salad.

This really is just the beginning.  There is so much to try here and I think this book is easily as good as Duguid's best books.  Highly recommended.

One other thing- I've enjoyed learning more about Burma in this book.  I know much less about Burma than any of the other regions Duguid has covered, particularly the minorities living there.  I really appreciated that she traveled all over the country (this is a reason why I love Beyond the Great Wall) and introduced food from different parts of the country.

18 October 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients

This was a pleasant little book, although nothing amazing.  If you love cooking, you'll probably like this.  But it's really just a string of short stories about food and cooking loosely tied together into a cooking class.  Each character gets a chapter and that's it- nothing happens that pulls the book together at all.

But since I love to cook, I got this.  Even if I already knew it.

17 October 2012

True Sisters

I thought this was an interesting take on the Martin Handcart company because the author isn't LDS. I didn't think it was amazing, but it was fine.

16 October 2012

Fire Study

This was a nice ending to the trilogy, but I think there was way too much going on by the end.  And some parts didn't come off right to me.  The first book was best.  Still, I liked it. 

15 October 2012

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

This was such a fun little book with all sorts of interesting things to learn.  Definitely worth reading.

13 October 2012

Magic Study

I liked Poison Study better, although I don't feel like this is a trilogy where the middle book just strings the first and third together.  It did its own thing. 

12 October 2012

Griffin and Sabine Books

Jean pointed out that there were a lot more Griffin and Sabine books, so I read them too.  They're all very interesting and different to read and I like them, but I didn't love them.  A nice way to spend an afternoon though.  And they'd be fun to do for a book group.

There are 2 trilogies that are tied together for a total of 6 books.  All are short and quick to read unless you spend a long time looking at the pictures which is totally reasonable.

11 October 2012

The Last Town on Earth

This was another book set during WWI and reminded in some ways of The Air We Breathe.  But this one was thoroughly depressing and I'm not at all sure how I feel about it.  It was well-written though, I thought.

03 October 2012

Savory Galette

I like to make fruit galettes, but it had never occurred to me to make a savory one till I read about it somewhere.  I used the entire recipe from the link above for the pastry and rolled it out, then topped it with the ingredients below, folded over the edges a bit, and baked for about 30 minutes.

Mix all this together:

1/2 head chopped cabbage (or about 4 cups)
1/3 lb cooked sausage or some other meat, or fried tofu, or skip it entirely
1 thinly sliced red onion
2 cloves sliced garlic
a few tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste
crushed red pepper, to taste
other herbs, if you want (I used zaatar)

I think that's everything I used.  There was a lot of cabbage and it was pretty heaped up so it didn't look beautiful, but it was really yummy.

02 October 2012

Poison Study

Liked this. And it was a quick read.

01 October 2012

A Song for Summer

I'm not at all sure what I think about this book.  I really liked it at the beginning and through the middle, but then it took an odd turn near the end and just went downhill from there in so many ways.  Overall I'd say I liked it, but the end nearly ruined it for me.

29 September 2012

The Air We Breathe

I really liked this, although I thought it was better at the beginning.  It lost a little something toward the end. 

28 September 2012

Chickpea Tofu

So the new Burma book showed up a few days ago.  I've been busy and haven't been able to try much, but we did have fried chickpea tofu with a new chili sauce for lunch.  The tofu was so good, and it was really easy to make- much, much easier than soybean tofu.  And the chili sauce was amazing and easy and convenient because it was based on dried peppers.  I think it's probably the best chili sauce I've ever made. 

There's a pureed peanut-rice soup I have my eye on along with a lot of other recipes.  I'll do a better review later when I've tried more things, but right now, I'm delighted and excited.

Griffin and Sabine

This was a very unique book.  It's always fun when you get to try something new with a book (even if I did feel a little like I was reading something designed for a four-year-old at times).  The story was going along so well, then all of a sudden it disappeared and the book ended.  And it was so short.  I can't say I didn't like it, but it sort of felt half-done, or like the story wasn't the point at all.  Maybe it wasn't.

27 September 2012

It Looked Different on the Model

I can't remember who recommended Notaro's because they're funny, but they were right.  There were several laugh-out-loud moments.  But there were lots of other times when her humor didn't quite sit right with me (ethnicity came up negatively a little too often, for example) and I don't know that I'll seek out her other books.

26 September 2012

The Bean Trees

Really enjoyed this even if it was a bit heavy-handed at times.  And the legal issue at the end was resolved way too easily. 

24 September 2012

Whole Wheat Round Hallah

1 cup warm water
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
4 eggs
1/2 tablespoon salt
2/3 cup oil
About 6 cups whole wheat flour, or maybe a little more
1/4 cup gluten, optional

Combine everything into a nice dough, rise till doubled.  Divide into two pieces and roll each into a snake about 30 inches long.  Coil each around to make a dome, place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic and let rise till nearly doubled.  Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, or till very brown.

20 September 2012

Rivers of Flavor

I'm waiting not-so-patiently for this.  Just a few more days.

19 September 2012

The Silken Thread

I've read many, many travel books about Central Asia and most of them are pretty similar.  Hardly anyone who is feeling successful and accomplished goes off to Kyrgyzstan to write a book about it, so you end up with a lot of people dithering about their past failures.  Hardly anyone reads much about Central Asia before going beyond The Lonely Planet, so you get a lot of LP-based info (sometimes down to exact phrases).  Sometimes they've read about various British explorers/military guys, so you hear about them. 

Then they talk a lot about getting around and gross stuff they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  And there's a lot of standard history thrown in- usually very basic with some mistakes thrown in.  And there's plenty about the other tourists they meet and the people who run their hotels and guesthouses and their taxi drivers. 

This book was all that, although this one was probably a little better than many, at least in some ways.  But please, if you need to work through all your past relationships, don't go to Central Asia to write a book about it.  Or stick it in something besides the travel section.

17 September 2012

Tamarind Ginger Fish

1 heaping tablespoon tamarind
1/2 cup hot water
2-4 tablespoons oil
Some chopped onions, shallots, or green onions
2 T julienned ginger
4 cloves garlic, sliced
About a pound of fish fillets
1/4 c brown sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce

Start the tamarind soaking in the water 20 minutes before you start the rest of the recipe, or stick it in the microwave and get it really hot while you're cooking. Push the pulp through a sieve and save the liquid.

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok, then add the onions and stir-fry a few minutes to soften, then add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry till it's lovely and fragrant.  Add the fish fillets and quickly cook on each side, then add the brown sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind liquid.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes, or till the fish is just done.

16 September 2012

Left Neglected

I was interested in reading this after enjoying Still Alice recently and I really like this one too. There was, again, one preachy part, but that's forgiven too.

In a Perfect World

I thought this dystopian novel was surprisingly good.

15 September 2012

Pecan crisps

1 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted as above
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla

Combine dry.  Beat butter and sugars till fluffy, then add rest.  Beat in dry, then half the nuts. Fridge one hour.

Divide dough in half and roll into logs, 2 inches by 9 1/2 inches.  Sprinkle with remaining pecans, pressing into surface.  Freeze at least four hours, or 2 weeks.

375, greased cookie sheet

1/4 inch slices, 1 1/2 inches apart.  9-11 minutes, transfer.

Pecan Praline Cookies

1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp powder
1/4 tsp soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup slight softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla

Toast nuts In preheated to 325 oven for 8-10 minutes, cool. Butter a plate or dish.

In small pot, mix sugar and 2 tablespoons water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, swirling to help dissolve.  Cover and boil 2 minutes, then uncover and cook 2 or a bit more minutes till syrup thickens a bit and turns amber.  Add toasted pecans and stir, then dump on buttered dish.  Cool and break into small pieces.

375, greased cookie sheet

Mix dry.  Beat butter till fluffy, then add sugars, egg, and vanilla and beat. Add half of dry and mix, then add rest. Save 1/3 cup nuts and is the rest in.  1 inch balls, dip in nuts, 2 inches apart. 10-11 minutes. Sit 2 minutes and transfer.

Cornmeal Cookies

3/4 cup slightly softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 3/4 cups flour

350, greased cookie sheet

Beat butter, add sugar, beat till fluffy, add egg yolks and vanilla and stir, add cornmeal and mix well.  Sit 2 minutes, then add flour.  Sit 5 minutes and shape, adding a little more flour if necessary to hold shape. 1-inch balls, 1 1/2 inches apart.  Press with palm.  14-16 minutes. Stand 3 minutes and move to rack.

14 September 2012

Cheddar Apple Muffins

1 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup yogurt
1 apple, chopped
1/2 c grated cheese

Combine dry ingredients, cream oil and sugar separately and add egg, then sour cream.  Combine with dry then stir in cheese and apples.  Bake 15 minutes at 425.  This makes 12 muffins.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

I feel like I'm late coming to this one (because I am), but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There was an over-dramatic moment at near the end, but I'll forgive that.

13 September 2012

Lemon Tart

I knew I'd forgotten a book or two from earlier this summer, and when I was thinking about the mystery thing yesterday, I remembered this one.  I got it as a free ebook and it was a nice little mystery too.  I don't think mysteries are quite my thing, although they're fine in small doses.  I think I always feel like the author is trying to manipulate me when I read one.  Other authors do too, but mystery authors are experts at it.

12 September 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter

I'm not sure I've ever checked a book out from the dedicated mystery section of the library (not that there is one at every library), but now I have.  I liked this, although I didn't love it.  And the title?  It was in the cold midwinter, not the bleak.  It (the title) didn't quite work for me, although that's not the point here. 

11 September 2012

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I don't have much to say about this one, but I did like it very much.

10 September 2012

Where the Streets Had a Name

This is a YA book about everyday life for a teenager in the West Bank.  It's simple in a lot of ways, but it's sad, and terrible in a few places, but mostly it's quiet.  Very little happens, but, like I said, it gives a good taste of how things really are on the wrong side of the Wall.

09 September 2012

Still Alice

I really liked this book.  It's written by a neurologist from the perspective of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's.  I'd have been interested in the topic no matter what, but since a woman in the neighborhood I grew up in had this, it was a little more meaningful.  Anyway, it was a well-written book (although I felt Alice's speech near the end was the author preaching at me) and I really couldn't put it down.

This would be a great book to discuss sometime for a variety of reasons.

More Spellmans

I can't remember the titles of the other two books I read in this series, and I'm pretty sure I skipped one, but they were great while we were camping last weekend.  Lots of fun, even if there's nothing much to them.

04 September 2012

Shenandoah National Park, Again

We went camping again this weekend since we finally could go for more than one night and it was lovely.  I'm not sure how I feel about Shenandoah National Park though.  Yes, it's a lovely and peaceful place, but I'm used to national parks in the West where they're more than just a beautiful place.  I feel more like I'm in a popular nature preserve there instead of really getting away from (or getting to) anything. 

Or maybe I just miss Yellowstone.

28 August 2012

Thinking Positively

In the spirit of trying to trick myself that I would rather be in the US than in Kyrgyzstan, here are some things I like about the US.  I will also try to refrain from posting drawbacks to these (like how much it costs to put gas in the car).

  1. Libraries.  This isn't as huge as it could be since we were able to use the library at one of the international schools in Bishkek and I could walk to it, but it's lovely to find a book I want to read and be able to get it from the library.
  2. Having our own car.  We'd have to have one where we live since bikes and walking aren't safe on the roads around our house and public transportation is really limited here, so that's not what I like about having a car.  It's being able to get out on the weekends.  I missed that a lot in Kyrgyzstan.  We could and sometimes did get a taxi, but it's not the same.  At all.
  3. Homeground whole wheat flour.  Despite many valiant attempts, I never found real whole wheat flour there (when we go back someday, I'm taking a grinder).  No more white flour for us!
  4. Lots of other nice ingredients.  I don't miss all the convenient ingredients while we're in Kyrgyzstan, but there are plenty of things in my kitchen now that I haven't seen in a long time.
  5. It's nice to go to church with other people.  
  6. Amazon Prime.  We'd never done it before, but since it's the only place I can find that has more than a few Mr. Rogers episodes, we signed up.  I like Mr. Rogers, but the free 2-day shipping is the best, especially since I don't have the car during the day. 
There are still some things, after nearly two months, that seem weird.  The vegetables here are glossy and slick (and slick-feeling) (and expensive).  I still think twice every time I get water from the tap.  The appliances are so convenient.  There are so many things everyone wants us to get and do.  But this is veering off into the reasons why I don't like the US (except for the clean water thing and the appliances), so I must stop.

25 August 2012

2012's Homeschooling Post

We're getting a little earlier start on homeschooling this year, which I like, because the school district here starts earlier than it did in Seattle and because we aren't going to move in September.  One or the other of those pushed homeschooling back for the last four years.  But we're starting in August this year.  That's best, because it gives us a little more room for a break in the fall.

The boys are in 8th and 6th grades this year, and the little one is still four, so we'll just keep doing what we've been doing with him.  Here's this year's plan:

Math- New Elementary Math 1 for the 6th grader and NEM 2 for the 8th grader.  We'll use NEM again this year even though they're discontinuing levels 3 and 4; I think oldest son will go on to DM 3 and 4 in 9th and 10th grades.  Middle son will do LoF Pre-Algebra with Biology and Econ and oldest will do Beginning Algebra.

History- Our beloved OUP sets have ended, leaving us to do modern history on our own.  We're using DK's giant history book, Joy Hakim's US history books a little and field trips a lot since we live in the middle of a lot of US history, and lots of library books.  We'll also cover the Soviet Union really well.  My boys know a lot more about it than your average middle schoolers, obviously, and from an entirely different perspective, but there are some gaps we need to fill in. 

Writing- We're beta testing Writing with Skill 2 this year, but it won't fill in all of our time, but there will be plenty of time to practice what they've learned in their writing program as they're doing science, history,  literature and poetry.

Grammar- Yep, we're still using Growing with Grammar after all these years.  We started with it when level 3 came out and now my oldest will be using the last level.  It's from an exciting program, but it solidly has taught both boys grammar and diagramming with extraordinarily little effort on my part. My oldest who isn't big on the whole language arts part of school is really quite good at grammar in spite of himself.

Spelling and word roots- Oldest still need work in spelling, so we'll stick with that, and we'll use Classical Roots to work on word origins.  I just have the flashcards for now because I think that's all we'll need.

Literature- We'll be reading through the WTM list as usual and writing about it.  This year is modern literature.

French and Spanish- My heart really isn't as in to these as it ought to be, so we're dabbling in a variety of sources.  If they stick with these languages, we'll need to get them into decent classes by next year.

Latin- We'll use Latin Prep 1 for now, but we'll go through it quickly, I think.  And we'll keep using Anki for all our foreign languages.

Physics-  Life of Fred Elementary Physics and we'll build lots of stuff and watch cool things online.  We'll also use the physics sections of How Science Works.

Logic- Art of Argument plus lots of logic games and puzzles

Current events- CNN student news

Geography- Online quizzes, as always, plus iTunes videos about different places around the world.

Typing- We'll try typingweb.

World religions- We'll try this website for now and see if it works for me.

Guitar, piano, scriptures, memorization, quizzes, and exersicing as usual.

24 August 2012

The Spellman Files

Loved this in so many ways and will probably pick up the next book in the series.  My son kept asking why I was laughing while I was reading this while tucking him into bed.

23 August 2012


I really wanted to read this one when it first came out before we left for Kyrgyzstan, but there were too many holds on it at the library for me to get it before we left, and I couldn't get it in Kyrgyzstan.  But it was waiting for me here (bestsellers are so much easier to get at the library almost two years later), so I finally had a chance to read it.

In some ways, I'm glad I read it now instead of then because Jack reminded me of my own almost-five-year-old in many ways.  It seems that when you read books narrated by children that the child's voice sounds too adult, but Jack sounded like a five-year-old to me.  I had to keep stopping while I was reading and hug my own little one.

And my own four-year-old has been trying to navigate a new world too.  Of course there is no comparison between getting rescued after being held captive in one room all your life and moving to a new country, but I think it's too easy to assume that what we're used to is normal. Nearly everyone around my son assumes that the US should be normal to him, but Kyrgyzstan is his normal. Room was Jack's normal, partly because Ma made it as good a place to live as possible, but mostly because it was all he knew.

I think it would be interesting to read this same story from Ma's point of view. If I were reading this with a book group, and I wish I could, her story is what I'd like to talk about most. 

One of the descriptions of this book is "darkly beautiful" and I think that sums it up perfectly.

22 August 2012


I'm ambivalent about Shannon Hale's adult books and this one didn't change my mind.  Still, it was a fun, light read between two heavy books.

21 August 2012

Every Last One

It turns out that there are a few good things about being back in the US and the library is one of them.  We've been in Charlottesville for three weeks and have been to three different libraries.  Two were in unique buildings, but the third is the most convenient even if its location is a little boring.  That one is also one of the larger libraries in the area, so I think we'll just be boring. 

And it turns out that libraries in the US have free wifi now, so I wandered around the library with Melissa's and Julie's blogs and started checking out all the books I missed in Kyrgyzstan.

Julie's reviews are much shorter than Melissa's, so I didn't know anything about this book when I started it.  It was obvious something not-so-happy was going to happen, but I wasn't expecting what did happen.  So it ended up being fiction about dealing with grief and I thought it was very well done.  It could easily have not worked, but it did.

20 August 2012

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

I read this when we'd just gotten back to the US after Melissa reviewed it.  How could I pass up a book with Kashgar in the title? 

It's one of those books where you have two different, seemingly unrelated (although it was pretty clear how they would be connected) stories running along in pieces that only come together at the end.  That's generally not my favorite style of book, but it's not terrible either.

The problem I really had was that I felt like the entire Kashgar part felt forced and fairly unrealistic.  I felt that the author had read a lot about East Turkestan in the early 1900s from Europeans' perspectives, particularly European missionaries, but that wasn't enough to create a story set in Kashgar and East Turkestan, at least for me.  The three European women in Kashgar were all a bit over the top for me too, in their own ways. 

But if I ignored all that and didn't think about the book being set in Kashgar, or think about history, it wasn't a bad story.  The modern-day part was pretty good, in fact.

Big Meadows Campground and Dark Hollow Falls at Shenandoah National Park

We managed to go camping this weekend, barely.  And we had everything we needed, barely.  We can only improve from here, and since there are plenty of campgrounds nearby, we should have lots of practice. 

Before we left, I'd read everywhere that we wouldn't be able to find a camping spot in Shenandoah National Park if we got there after work, but we did and were happy with it.  It rained quite a bit, but we were happy for the giant tarp and bungee cords that I did remember to pack.

It was fun to go to a national park again.  I missed them in Kyrgyzstan, and they always make me feel like a little kid again, especially when we go to the visitor centers. The park is close enough that we can go there often.

We want to try Mathews Arm campground, and some other friends recommended Loft Mountain.  But we're hoping to do a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway next time.  It was also fun to use the dutch oven again.  When we're a little better organized, I'm planning to try naan in the dutch oven over the fire.  I have high hopes for that system.

We also hiked to Dark Hollow Falls.  We picked it because it was the shortest hike in the area.  The climb back up wasn't fun for the four-year-old (440 feet in less than a mile), but he made it.  And the falls was cool. 

13 August 2012

White Oak Canyon

I have monstrously long lists of things to do around Charlottesville.  I think we could spend every spare minute going places for the next year and still feel like we'd missed a lot.  I'm hoping we can at least see a few good things. 

A few days after we got here we went to Shenandoah National Park and hiked (walked, really) a little bit of the White Oak Canyon trail.  We were already in the area for something else and I'd found a recommendation for doing just a small section of the trail with little children.  It can be really hard to find good hikes for our family because our little one is so much younger than everyone else, but this was perfect for him.  It's also in a section of the trail that isn't so insanely popular, so it's a lot quieter.

We started on the lower end of the trail.  It's not hard to find- just go to Syria, Virginia, and follow the brown signs to the parking.  You'll enter the park as you begin hiking. We only walked about 30 minutes at a four-year-old speed, so it would also work to carry in a picnic.  We stopped at the first falls (barely a falls); it also had a couple of swimming holes.

Everyone else who was hiking continued past us to the falls and other swimming holes so we had the place to ourselves.  The entire trail isn't really long, and if you start at the bottom instead of at the traditional start from Skyline Drive, you'll do the uphill part first which is always smarter, especially with kids.  The trail gets a lot steeper after the point where we stopped, so little children would need more help at that point. 

We want to go back with the older boys to do the entire hike, and to do that part we already did on a Sunday afternoon.  It seemed perfect for that.

09 August 2012

Getting to Know Charlottesville

Charlottesville really is a lovely little city, although we don't live right in it.  I'd have loved to, but that's another story.  There are some really good things about where we ended up, and I'll survive without being able to walk to places for a year.

Charlottesville has a lovely downtown that's near UVA.  Even though I have to drive to get near there, I can park a few blocks away, skip the parking fees, and walk to all sorts of things.  There's also a free bus that loops around Main Street and UVA.  The whole thing is a nice mix between interesting shopping (there's a decent international store and a pretty good spice store, plus lots of used book stores), history (this city loves Thomas Jefferson), and community things (swimming pool, library, UVA stuff). 

There are still a few things I'll want to drive to Washington for, especially a better selection of international food.  I'm not impressed with Charlottesville's options so far, although it could be much worse. 

We're all enjoying the trees and wildflowers which help make up for the lack of mountains.  When I told my son that he was looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains, he informed me that they couldn't be mountains because they were completely covered with trees.  I tend to agree. They're still pretty though.

And I love that I can see the stars from my house.