Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"controversial" author

I didn't realize that Orson Scott Card was considered "controversial." Evidently so. Read this about the mini-furor created by Card receiving the Edwards award from YALSA.

Card sometimes writes about politics. It seems that he has written some articles about his opinion that laws against homosexuality should remain on the books. And for that reason, some people think he should not have been given this award. I read some comments on one YA blog about this. Some did defend Card's right to express himself and receive the award. But one said, "the consequence of being a bigot is that you should not get a lifetime achievement award." One said that he had made the personal choice to not read Card's books because he "preaches intolerance and hate." One person responded to that comment saying, "And if the consequence of being a bigot is that you don't get a lifetime achievement award, can I tell the Edwards committee not to give the award to Stephenie Meyer in 10 years because I think many LDS beliefs are misogynist?" (Orson Scott Card, like Meyers and many other talented authors, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.)

Yikes. Here's what I wonder: If Card were Jewish or Catholic or Muslim would anyone be calling him a bigot? Imagine for a sec that the Edwards had been given to a Muslim man who had written an article similar to Card's besides the YA work he was being recognized for. NO ONE would be saying ANYTHING about how awful that YALSA gave an award to a bigot. No way.

Monday, January 28, 2008

j away

J is in Lisbon. He left yesterday. For the next eight days he will be in Ankara (Turkey), Athens, Madrid, and Dublin.

It has been a long time since he's done such a long trip. The kids were sad when they heard how long it would be without the fun parent. But after feeling sad for a moment, Georgie asked, "Can we have clam chowder and lasagne?" That is one fun thing we do when old Dad isn't around. We glut ourselves on his least-favorite meals. We all enjoyed bowl after steaming bowl of clam chowder tonight. Tomorrow it's lasagne. We'll have a "breakfast for dinner" night (ooh, he hates that one.) We'll order pizza since he won't be around to get heartburn. We'll go out to eat a couple times, trying to forget that he is enjoying much higher class European food. (It's such a waste on him. He prefers to eat my cooking. Can you believe it? And for those of you who don't know, no, I am not that great a cook.)

He was not looking forward to being gone so long. He likes to be with his family. But he does enjoy his work and the people he works with when he travels. He finds that he has a lot in common with them, no matter their ethnicity, political persuasion, or religion.

J does like his work, but it has been very intense this past year. He does not usually work killer hours, but often has to work at a frenzied pace. He has to keep many plates spinning. I am grateful that he has always worked hard to support our family and has never complained.

Last Thursday I had a bad day. I did manage to get dinner on the table, but left soon after to take Lidia to dance. I was in a bad mood. The house was a mess. I calmed down a little at dance as I read and chatted with friends. When I got home, I found that J had spent the entire hour and a half cleaning and had recruited the kids to help. He'd had a long, exhausting day at work, but instead of sinking into the recliner when he got home, he raced around to clean up so that I wouldn't have to come back to a mess.

I do not deserve this man.

robert millett on speaking of faith

I heard some of this on MPR around noon today as I drove to an appointment. What I heard was excellent.

Americans have been hearing a lot about Mormonism in the context of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. But much of the public discussion of this faith of 13 million people has focused on controversies in the church's history. We'll avoid well-trodden ground to seek an understanding of the lived beliefs and spirituality of Latter Day Saints, with a leading scholar of the church and a lifelong practitioner. Robert Millet describes a developing young religion with distinct mystical and practical interpretations of the nature of God, family, and eternity.

Go here to download the 53 minute program or the 1 hr 36 minute complete, unedited interview.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

June 23, 1910--January 27, 2008

I can not get this hymn out of my head. I'm glad because it comforts me.
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!
Thou hast made thy children mighty,
By the touch of the mountain sod.
Thou hast fix'd our ark of refuge,
Where the spoiler's foot ne'er trod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

We are watchers of a beacon
Whose light must never die;
We are guardians of an altar
Midst the silence of the sky;
The rocks yield founts of courage,
Struck forth as by thy rod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

For the dark resounding caverns,
Where thy still, small voice is heard;
For the strong pines of the forest,
That by thy breath are stirr'd;
For the storms on whose free pinions
Thy spirit walks abroad;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

The royal eagle darteth
On his quarry from the heights,
And the stag that knows no master,
Seeks there his wild delights;
But we, for thy communion,
Have sought the mountain sod,
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

The banner of the chieftain,
Far, far below us waves;
The war-horse of the spearman
Cannot reach our lofty caves:
Thy dark clouds wrap the threshold
Of freedom's last abode ;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

For the shadow of thy presence,
Round our camp of rock outspread;
For the stern defiles of battle,
Bearing record of our dead;
For the snows and for the torrents,
For the free heart's burial sod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee.
Our God, our fathers' God!
--Felicia Hemans

nine parts of desire

This is the hidden world of Islamic women as seen through the eyes of a secular feminist westerner. Geraldine Brooks, originally from Australia, worked as a middle east correspondent for the Wall Street Journal from 1987 to 1993. The book was published in 1995.
She writes of her own experiences as a "Jewish" woman living amongst Muslims. (She converted to Judaism when she married a Jewish man. But she does not strike me as a religious person.) She writes of her impressions of the Muslim women she meets as well as the violence and repression they experience. The best thing about the book is that she is able to write about women in many different Muslim countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Palestine, Jordan, and Ethiopia. I found the author's impressions of the Ayatollah Khomeini's widow, Khadija, and her daughter, Zahra, very interesting. She also meets several times with Queen Noor of Jordan. It was fascinating to read about these prominent Muslim women and the roles they play in their society. Almost equally interesting were the author's stories of women she knew as friends or acquaintances, like her assistant in Cairo, a highly-educated member of Cairo's upper crust, who becomes a Muslim fundamentalist.
There were some not-so-interesting parts. I was bored with the pathetic story of the poor woman in a polygamist marriage. Surely Muslim people do not have the market cornered on unhappy marriages. Brooks also puts before us the overworked Saudi woman who works a full-time day job and then goes home to hours of backbreaking housework to serve her husband, brother-in-law, and whatever other man happens by. Brooks points out that the men do not help around the house. I think there are probably a few Christian, Jewish, Hindi, Buddist, and possibly Wiccan women who could identify with this Muslim sister.
Brooks sometimes strikes me as surprisingly naive for a hard-nosed member of the press.
The back of the book blurb says this book is "Brooks' intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives." Yes, Brooks does a first-rate job of showing the contradictions. However, I don't think the aim of this book is understanding. Brooks' agenda is to reveal the Muslim faith as a foe of women's rights. She also calls for action: "If some ninety million little boys were having their penises amputated, would the world have acted to prevent it by now? You bet." Hmm. Nothing is ever that simple. Welcome to the unfair world.
I don't mean to sound callous. I'm not. I just don't see how the western world can force millions of Muslim men to treat their women right. For the past week I've been thinking a lot about the violence done to Muslim women and the injustices they suffer. It is awful. It is sickening and barbaric. It makes me cry. J and I have talked several times about it this past week, wondering why it happens. Islam did bring unprecedented freedom to women of the 7th century. Why not now?

Saturday, January 26, 2008


We finally saw it this afternoon. It's so funny and so touching. So well done. I want to go see it again! The soundtrack is great.
I have a headache and I can't think of anything more to say. Go see it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

chef lidia

Lidia got this cookbook for her birthday. She has been going great guns in the kitchen ever since. Last night she made some tomato sauce from scratch! It was delicious. Better than any tomato sauce I've attempted. Today for lunch she made a yummy tomato soup with canned tomatoes. She says that now she can make dinner when I'm sick or "don't feel like it." (Sigh. How well she knows her mother. :-)) I think I will take her up on that.

peggy noonan on the clintons

Bill Clinton, with his trembly, red-faced rage, makes John McCain look
young. His divisive and destructive daily comportment—this is a former president
of the United States—is a civic embarrassment. It is also an education, and
there is something heartening in this.

There are many serious and thoughtful liberals and Democrats who support
Mr. Obama and John Edwards, and who are seeing Mr. Clinton in a new way and
saying so. Here is William Greider in The Nation, the venerable left-liberal
magazine. The Clintons are "high minded" on the surface but "smarmily
duplicitous underneath, meanwhile jabbing hard at the groin area. They are a
slippery pair and come as a package. The nation is at fair risk of getting them
back in the White House for four years."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

book of a thousand days

I read differently now that I want to write a book. For one thing, it used to be that almost everything I read was old. Some classic, some just old. Now I am reading modern young adult novels. (The category name "young adult" cracks me up. How old would you say a "young adult" is? Twenty-two? Most of the protagonists in these books are in their teens. Many could appeal to a child as young as nine.) Also, I have a new awareness while I'm reading. I'm paying attention to how the story is crafted.

For example, in Book of a Thousand Days, I am incredibly impressed with how Shannon Hale created the rich and evocative setting, medieval Mongolia, without ever resorting to long paragraphs of description. Or any paragraphs of description. The setting is conveyed almost entirely through plot elements and Dashti's colorful, lyrical language. I read Shannon's blog and I remember her saying that her books go through many drafts. I haven't read any first drafts of novels, but I bet that's the difference between a book that limps vs. a book that dances. Here Shannon compares the first pages of her first and final drafts.

I'm trying to decide if I like Book of a Thousand Days or Princess Academy better. Maybe I'll have to reread Princess Academy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

andrew davies interview

I couldn't resist posting this from the PBS Masterpiece site. If you love the Austen film adaptations, you'll find this interview with Andrew Davies very interesting. He wrote the screenplays for P&P (w/Colin Firth), Emma, Sense and Sensibility (newest version), and Northhanger Abbey (newest version). He also did Daniel Deronda and Wives and Daughters, two of my favorites.

His thoughts on sexual tension in Austen:

I think we have lots of advantages with novels of this period and
particularly Jane Austen because there is always delayed gratification. You
know, to touch a man's hand would be an extraordinary thing. A look, a glance,
can be so enormously significant. So this is the thing that kind of keeps us
going to the end and a kiss is only possible after they have been engaged so
that's great. It is much more difficult to keep the sexual tension crackling in
a modern novel because there is nothing to stop them from sleeping together in
the first reel and then where do you go?

yes, those are braces

She's had them for one week. She has dad's big teeth in mom's little mouth, among other issues.

happy birthday, beautiful

She turns 10, she says, at 5:45 pm.

northhanger abbey

Did anyone see "Northhanger Abbey" last night?

I loved it! So much in fact that I'm going to watch it again on Tuesday. I don't know if it's just been a long time since I read the book so I don't remember all that happens. Or maybe I'm comparing it to the 1987 version which was not completely awful, but did have terrible music, like Andrew Lloyd Webber parody or something.

The actors in this version were very good. Felicity Jones was cute as Catherine Morland, who fancies herself a gothic romance heroine. The actors who played Captain Tilney and Isabella Thorpe were perfect. My favorite was Henry Tilney as played by JJ Field. It's been ages since I read the book, but I don't remember liking Henry especially. I really liked him in the movie.

I loved how they did Catherine's fantasy scenes. So funny.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

what i've been up to

I want to write a novel. This is not news to most of you. I've posted about it here and there.

I have started three different stories and radically changed each of those stories at least twice. I've decided, at least for the time being, to focus on researching the things that I love and that spark my imagination, like Muslim Spain. I'm reading folk tales. I'm also reading lots of YA fantasy and historical fiction (and historical fantasy) because that's what I think I'd like to write. I am jotting down ideas for plot lines. For now I'm taking a little breather from the writing because I think I don't know yet exactly what I want to write. I know I can do better than the stories I've come up with so far.

I have been reading the archives of Miss Snark, a somewhat crass but very funny literary agent. My favorite posts of hers are the "Snarkometer" ones where her blog readers submit 350 words of their novel (usually the first page) and Miss Snark critiques it or at least says if she would want to read more or not. This page has 57 of them.

I read The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb. It was very, very helpful. It made me feel good about what I already know and what I think I can accomplish as a writer. It made me think that yes, I can do this. I can write a good children's book. I can write the book I would like to read.

A few from the many on my to-read list:
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (just won the Newberry)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (just won the Caldecott)
The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience by Jane Gerber
A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment by Chris Lowney

the complete jane austen

It's several months of Jane Austen on PBS' "Masterpiece." (The dropped the "Theatre" and the catchy old theme song. ExxonMobile no longer sponsors.) Here's the schedule if you want to check it out.

It started last week with "Persuasion," a new adaptation of the Austen novel. Did anyone else see this? What did you think? There was a lot I did like about it, like the actors and the edgier feel. Sally Hawkins made a passionate Anne. However, I though it moved way too fast, to the point of making the story ridiculous. The last ten minutes were especially frenetic.

Tonight is "Northhanger Abbey."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

mormons and politics

Tex and his wife Donna were some of the first friends we made in Minnesota. He was born in Mexico and his wife is from Minnesota. So they are also Spanish speakers and they have four children who correspond exactly to our children's ages and genders (and even personalities!) except their youngest girl is one year younger than Bernie.

Here is Tex on MPR talking about politics. I haven't listened to the audio yet, but the brief article talks about how Mormons will not necessarily vote for Romney just because he is Mormon. However, according to a study, 55 percent of Mormons are Republican and only 14 percent Democrat. I am not sure why this is. Jan Shipps is quoted as saying that identity politics do not pull Mormons, meaning, I suppose, that Mormons are not pulled in to the Republican party based solely on a couple issues like abortion or gay marriage.

So why are so many Mormons Republican? Any ideas? BYU is dramatically Republican. Of 100 girls on our floor in my freshman dorm, only 2 of us voted for Clinton in '92.

At book group last week no one said they were planning to vote for Romney. Some did not say anything, some said they were still undecided, and there were a few ardent Obama supporters.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I don't say that Marcus is the child who loves me best, but he is the most affectionate. For Marcus, my name is "Beautiful Mommy." He almost never calls me anything else. He loves to give me hugs and kiss my shoulder. Whenever I duck in for a kiss on the cheek he grabs my shoulder instead. He did it again this afternoon after church as I was making him a quesadilla.
"Why my shoulder?" I ask. "Why not right here on Beautiful Mommy's cheek?"
I didn't expect an answer of course. I've asked him this many times and received no reply. If any of you know Marcus, you know he doesn't often respond to questions. At least not in the way you expect. But today he answered, "I don't like freckles."
"What? You don't like my freckles? You don't want to kiss my freckles and that's why you don't give me kisses on my cheek?"
The girls started laughing. "I love Mom's freckles. They make her look byoot-ee-ful," said Bernie, seeing her opportunity.
Marcus looked relieved that he had finally confessed this little antipathy, but concerned for my feelings. "I do like your freckles, but..."
"Not enough to kiss them, hmm?" I told him that was o.k., and I that I didn't like freckles when I was seven either. This makes me think that maybe after all he won't marry a woman some day who is the spitting image of his mother.

Friday, January 11, 2008

around town

So our little paradise made national news this week (the link is our Star Tribune but it was on CNN yesterday). This is what I heard: The mother of a student at Eden Prairie High School heard that there were photos of E.P. students drinking alcohol posted on their Facebook sites. She found the photos, printed them off, and turned them into the administration. Some of the students are varsity athletes and they've been suspended from their teams. Some of the parents of these students are considering legal action. However, it seems that they won't get help from the ACLU. According to ACLU executive director Charles Samuelson, "Any kid who thinks what they post on a social networking website is private is an idiot."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if the ACLU calls you an idiot, your chances for getting some legal redress are probably small.

It was dumb to post the photos on their Facebook sites, and I'm sure they all feel incredibly moronic now. The students huffily claim that the school's actions are not going to effect under-age drinking in any way except that now they will be smarter about what photos they post on Facebook. I always think less idiocy in the world is a win, so I'm happy with that.

I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and we have a health code that prohibits alcoholic beverages. I'm never tasted alcohol, except for a few stray bites of tiramisu. Also, I have never once in my life wished that I were not Mormon so that I could get drunk. I do not think moderate drinking is sinful and I would probably drink plenty of wine (and maybe occasional hard liquor) if I were not Mormon, but I have to admit I've never wanted to get wasted. Could someone explain to me why this is considered fun?

Ok, I get it that you might want to try it and see how it feels. You give it a try, and then after you act like a jerk and retch for a few hours you decide it's not for you. I can see that. But I don't understand why kids do it weekend after weekend. When I asked my friends about it in high school, they could never come up with a better answer than "it's fun." But here's the thing: there are a lot of fun things to do that don't make you act disgusting and vomit. So why not do those things? Especially if they are legal?

It seriously bothers me that I don't get this. I like to understand why people make the choices they do, even if they are not choices I would make. And this, I don't understand.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

book group list 2008

A friend reminded me that I haven't posted the list of titles my book group is reading this year. I am so excited about the picks for 2008! Tuesday night we met to discuss "Wit," a play by Margaret Edson. I love plays but prefer to see them performed, so I saw the film with Emma Thompson. She was amazing in it. It's about a professor of literature who is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

Here's the rest of the year:
F- Nine Parts of Desire: The hidden world of Islamic women by Geraldine Brooks
M- How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
A-Two Income Trap: Why Middle Class Parents are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi
M-Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
J-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
J-Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life by Robert R. Reich
A-Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
S-The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
O-David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Gregory A. Prince and Wm Robert Wright
N-A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vaunaken

Monday, January 07, 2008

new york times on the lds church

Our post-denominational age should be the perfect time for a Mormon to become president, or at least the Republican nominee... read more

Sunday, January 06, 2008


About mid-December I read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. This one had been on my list a long time and I bumped it up when K. in CA especially recommended it. I wish I'd had the opportunity to post about it earlier because now, after less than a month, I can't remember much in the way of specifics. I did find it very interesting, though it was a little intense in some parts. I'm usually not up for violence in books or movies, and while there isn't a lot of graphic violence in this book, the few brief scenes are strong. Not at all gratuitous--these scenes are key to the plot and themes. There is also some crass language that I could have done without.

Ender's Game was very masculine. I had that impression again and again as I read it. I have never read such a masculine book. It's about leadership, but also one-up-manship, cruelty, war, political strategy, extreme sibling rivalry, and genocide. I have not read a lot of science fiction. Is much of it similar to this? It was a fascinating read, though it took a bizarre turn at the end that reminded me of Latin American magical realism. The last chapter seemed more like the outline of another novel.

After Christmas I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. The book is spellbinding. I couldn't put it down. It takes place in a parallel universe. All of the people of this world are constantly accompanied by their "daemons," which take the form of animals. This was the most unique feature of this fantasy. There is a powerful, controlling, and violent church in this world. I too got an inbox full of forwarded emails about a mysterious "they" whose goal it is to lure my children in with this movie (a flop, it seems), hook them on the anti-Christ series, and turn them into little atheists. It motivated me to read the book, and for that I thank the originators of this email. It is true that Philip Pullman is an atheist and hater of the Narnia series, but The Golden Compass is genius. It deserves to be a classic. I am now reading the second in the series, The Subtle Knife, and it's good but not like The Golden Compass.

not deleted, but removed

I've taken down the political posts for now.

But I do want to say that when I reread yesterday's post I saw that it could be offensive to evangelicals. I did not mean to suggest that evangelicals are irreverent or superficial in the way they speak about God. My point was that Mormons may also have deep relationships with the Savior but choose to talk about it less.

Friday, January 04, 2008

rump states

With Iowans caucusing and New Hampshire voters getting set to cast their ballots five days from now in their quadrennial rites of passage, the question deserves to be raised in earnest--why do we let these two small rump states, largely white and Protestant, set the agenda for our vast, heterogeneous population in America?

Why indeed? I agree with this guy. We need a national primary.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Last night was tough. It wasn't the best of New Year's Eves. We should have gone sledding or something very active yesterday, but instead the kids played too much Wii while I did some organizing and cleaning around the house. They helped too, but minimally. By evening they were wired. J had to get a shipment out and ended up staying all day at work rather than coming home early as planned. J and I were both exhausted and the kids were on "aire," as J's abuelito used to say. We went out to eat at our favorite Greek restaurant for dinner and the kids, under extreme threats and sharp glances, behaved more or less o.k. On the way home they let it all out and consequently, three of them were banished to their rooms "until we decide if we want to spend New Year's Eve with you or not." Leaving them in their rooms and going to bed early was so tempting, but unfortunately that is not our tradition. I had not planned very well and we only had one movie to watch that appealed to everyone. We let them out of their rooms and watched it together, and that was fine. It was "Nanny McPhee," which turned out to be highly appropriate considering their earlier behavior. When that was finished it was only 10:15 and we spent an agonizing hour or so arguing over what to watch next. It was torture. We finally settled on Tom and Jerry and I escaped after a couple episodes to read a chapter of The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children (excellent). We finally came together at midnight to watch the ball drop and give hugs and kisses. I bought grapes for the hispanic tradition of making a wish and eating one grape for every tolling of the midnight hour but I didn't pull those out. Too tired. The kids went up to bed but Bernie didn't make it. We found her a few minutes later asleep in the upstairs hallway.

So yeah, it wasn't great. Maybe better next year.

One reason J and I were so tired is that we still haven't recovered from our ski trip. We went up to Duluth on Thursday, skied Friday, hung out in the hotel pool Saturday morning, and then came home. Saturday night Bernie spent the night vomiting. She's fine now, and no one else seems to be getting sick. But I'm tired. I have not had a full night of sleep in more than a week.