Friday, February 27, 2009

full size

We got Georgie a full-size cello for her birthday (yay for growing!). Her birthday is Sunday but I wanted her to open it last night.
Georgie's orchestra won the Middle Levels Orchestra Festival! They competed against over 50 other orchestras, and they were one of the six that received a "superior" rating. Minutes before her orchestra was to play for the judges, one of Georgie's strings popped. Then, to the amazement of Georgie and all her friends, her peg snapped of spontaneously and flew across the room! It must have got cracked on the way.
Georgie was able to borrow a cello from another orchestra, but it was full size, and she'd never played a full size (hers was 3/4). So, she played a full-size cello for the first time on stage in front of judges. And on top of that, Georgie had a fever and so did 10 or so other members of her orchestra. The drama!
Georgie's fingers are still a bit small for a full-size cello, but we decided it's time to move up.
She would not smile for me in these photos because she wanted to go back downstairs to practice.
Georgie has a Rubik's cube competition Saturday.
Lidia and I leave in a few minutes for a feis in Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

mormon hipsters

Meet my latest awesome blog discoveries:

the rockstar diaries, love josh and naomi. These two live in Harlem. He's a Columbia grad and she, Julliard. It is impossible to be cooler than they. Don't even TRY.

"Mormon in Manhattan's" (No) Sex and the City. The adventures of single Mormon girl and actress Natalie Hill, living and working in NYC. Who's Carrie Bradshaw?

a little sussy. Not in NYC, but still cool. This is the blog of photograher Nicole Hill Gerulat, sister to Natalie.

Monday, February 23, 2009

speaking of books

I wish I'd posted about this book sooner. Once you're my age, it's nearly impossible to recall many details from a book you read an entire TWO WEEKS ago.

I wish I'd bumped this book up to the top of my list last year when I first heard about it. Then I could have rooted for it to win the Newberry and felt all gratified when it did.

The Graveyard Book has a very unique setting and characters, which is admirable in this day and age when it seems everything has been done to death. It is loosely based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, but the setting is a graveyard instead of a jungle. There is an attempt at a plot, but it fades in the middle to a series of episodes. Some of the episodes were merely ok, but others were stunningly original and utterly delightful. I think the Dance Macabre chapter could have won its own Newberry. I would have liked a little more fleshing out of some of the ghosts' characters. They were too faintly drawn--mere outlines, really, with little substance. Ethereal. Get it? Oh, I kill me. One of the most appealing things to me about Gaiman's writing is what he leaves unsaid. He creates all kinds of mystery and interest by keeping things pared down. However, I think in this case that strength sometimes became a liability.

The sly humor in this book was immensely satisfying, just as in Coraline. Now, did I like it better than Coraline? Hmm. That's tough. I do not think I liked it better, but likely just as much. I think Gaiman took more risks in The Graveyard Book, and though they didn't always work for me (there were some plot points that didn't hold together), I give him kudos for the attempt.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

chatting with the book babes

Thursday I finally did something I've always wanted to do, but could never quite get up the courage. I called in to my favorite radio show, MPR's Midmorning with Kerri Miller. The guests were the "Book Babes" who've just written a book with lists of recommended reading for women. I called in with a favorite book recommendation. I was very nervous and I'm sure it came through in my voice. So far I have not been tempted to listen to the podcast. [Edit: So I did listen. I'm at about 41:50 in the podcast if you care to hear. I do not live in St. Paul and didn't say that I did, so not sure what happened there.] Can you guess which book I recommended on this list?

I told my family about it at dinner that night, and Marcus said earnestly, "So Mom, did you get your fifteen minutes of fame?"

"I guess I did!" I replied. "But more like fifteen seconds."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

poverty and worldview

I wasn't thinking much about poverty when I started this discussion, and yet it keeps coming up in comments. So now I'm thinking about it.

K. said, "We both came from families that didn't have much as far as worldly posessions, yet I didn't realize we were poor until years later. But that never held us back from becoming successful, intelligent, caring individuals. So it is a little difficult for us to understand why others let things like poverty hold them back." K., I really liked your comment and I think you are right that our worldviews have a lot to do with our upbringing. And not just from our parents, but from the strength of generations of resilient ancestors to boot. Maybe I should clarify that when I said I have a problem with an attitude of victimization, I really wasn't thinking of poor people and why they can't pull themselves out of poverty. I've noticed a feeling of victimhood in people from all walks of life, and even in people who had a very good upbringing. Within the same family, there are people who feel like victims and people who don't.

I don't know much about the causes of poverty. I haven't experienced poverty or even read much about it. I do have this experience, though, for what it's worth: Long, long ago, when I was in my early twenties, J and I were assigned to work with an impoverished family. We were to help them set goals and achieve them. I was so excited about this project, especially after getting to know this couple a little better. They were college educated, loving, faithful, hopeful, optimistic, and VERY hardworking. "This will be a cinch," thought I.

However, I quickly discovered that it would not be anything close to a cinch. In spite of working long hours, having every intention of paying their bills on time, believing they were doing everything they could to live frugally, this couple always lived on the edge of financial disaster. And sometimes not on the edge--sometimes smack in the middle of disaster. Talking with them, you would never think them capable of making outrageously bad financial decisions. And yet they did all the time. It seemed to me their unfailingly optimism actually worked against them in this regard, enabling them to leap headlong into extreme risks that a more pessimistic sort never would have considered. They were exemplary parents in many ways. They truly wanted the best for their children. And yet, they could never get it that showering their kids with stuff, especially stuff they couldn't pay for, is NOT the best.

I found this very depressing. I saw that we were not able to help them, and at the time I thought it was because we were nearly ten years younger. I thought they probably didn't like taking advice from a young couple. Maybe that was true. But honestly, when I look back, I wonder if anyone would have been able to help.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

azar nafisi on midmorning and (separately) contagious foulness

I wasn't able to listen to the entire program because I had to take Georgie's cello in for repair. I hope it's on podcast soon so I can hear the few minutes I missed.

I loved her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. I have given up recommending it, however, because no one I've recommended it to has liked it much. I was delighted to hear that Kerri Miller, one of my favorite journalists, seems to like the book as much as I do. The program was primarily about Nafisi's new book, Things I've Been Silent About. But Kerri kept sneaking in questions about Lolita. I felt like saying a big AMEN to just about everything Nafisi said this morning. About the beauty and power of literature, the shocking cultural decline in our country, the importance of passion and imagination to the American culture, and something about not living a life of victimhood no matter what happens to you, though I think I missed part of that discussion. I think I would have liked listening to the interview even if I hadn't read any of her books because it totally comes through what a passionate, intelligent, strong woman she is.

Listening to that lively interview almost made me forget about a weird incident at Cub Foods this morning. I had been waiting in line at the check out for a few minutes. I saw that another lane was being opened. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that some lady who'd just arrived to the check out area saw that the lane was opening, so she stopped and waited there. The check out lady came out, looked at my line, and pointedly said, "I can help whoever is in line next." I waited for the lady in front of me to go first, and then I followed her into the newly-opened lane. The lady (remember: just barely got to the check out) who'd stopped to wait a couple yards back came up behind me and said very bitterly, "FINE! You just go ahead," whipped her cart around and took off to find another lane. Shocked, (this is highly unusual behavior in a state known for its "Minnesota nice") I turned around and stared at her offended back. That's when I noticed she had a toddler in the cart. He wasn't crying or anything, just sitting there lumpily with a vacant expression in his eyes. And here's what I thought: "I am so glad I didn't notice before that she had a little child with her, because I totally would have let her go first. And now I see how undeserving she was." Wasn't that foul? It just shows how smallness of spirit can be catching like a nasty virus.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

more worldview

I really like this discussion. I learn so much from our blog chat. My concept of heaven is to be able to talk about anything I want with anyone I want. And to have people just be totally honest and open. Sometimes I feel like our discussions here approach my heaven.

Now that I've written that corny thing everyone will turn from their screens in disgust and read no further. I guess that's the risk I take. Trust me, I don't get sappy again in this post. (Hmm, risk and trust--topics for another post...)

I should probably clarify a statement in the previous post. I said, "An attitude of victimization is one of the few things that makes my skin crawl." What I meant here is that the thought of having that type of worldview MYSELF makes my skin crawl. NOT that people who live like victims make my skin crawl. That would be a rather coarse lack of compassion, wouldn't it? I mean, I'm not going to say I am completely judgement-free. I do make hasty judgements sometimes, but I also feel empathy and have a sincere desire to help. I want to understand different worldviews better, and that's why I'm thinking about it and talking about it in the first place. I would like to help people to feel more empowered and optimistic, so I'd like to know why they are not that way.

1. It's a mix of nature and nurture.

2. Poverty is possibly influenced by worldview, but there are many other factors.

3. It's a choice, at least to some extent.

4. It's sometimes not a choice if you have depression, and we shouldn't judge.

5. There are situations where even the most optimistic people could lose hope.

A friend commented in a private email something that occurred to me, too, and included, in part, the following:
6. According to our theology (Church of Jesus Christ of LDS), people lived pre-mortal lives where they were free to make choices and develop talents, which may explain some predispositions we appear to be born with. We believe "the light of Christ" is given to all people at their birth. The light of Christ helps people to recognize truth, and have faith and hope. My friend wonders if that ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, the belief that something great awaits you right around the corner, "is the light of Christ able to manifest itself stronger in those individuals, perhaps in direct proportion to their pre-mortal obedience."

I do believe that people can choose to become more optimistic. Maybe that sounds obvious or simplistic. I think there are many days and many situations where I could go either way. I can choose despair or hope. That is particularly evident to me this time of year when I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are many days that I am overcome with negative thoughts and I have to think up a thousand and one ways to distract myself. It takes a great deal of effort to keep myself from getting into a negative rut. I feel unreasonable urges to strike out at family and friends. I feel apathy. There are many days that I feel exhaustion, both physical and mental. I feel sad for no reason. I take no joy in the things that usually bring me joy. I can't focus. I forget things easily.
However, I see no reason to let SAD define me. That would be admitting defeat. I choose to be productive, loving, joyful, and optimistic during winter months. It is much, much harder than in the summer, and I'm nowhere near as effective at anything I try to do at this time, but I don't just give up. This too shall pass.

My life would be so much better and I would be so much happier if I didn't have SAD, right? I don't know. Maybe not. I've found that when I have to work very hard to be happy, I value it more. When suddenly I can not possibly eat food the food I've always loved, I've discovered new recipes I never would have found otherwise. I have found new interests when I am looking for distraction. [Bleep!], I've traveled the globe in the library and online. I am more aware of my thought patterns and feelings than I would be without SAD, and I feel more power to change them for good. Practice makes perfect. I feel more empathy for people who struggle with depression because I do, too. And when spring finally rolls around, I feel like Sally in the deli scene of "When Harry Met Sally."

Monday, February 16, 2009


This is something that I can not stop thinking about. I should have posted about it a while ago because that always helps me organize and sort my thoughts. I only have a few minutes to write this because I have to spend some time with my kiddos on their day off, so excuse bad wording or lack of clarity. I'm just spitting this out so I can stop thinking about it quite so much and also get some feedback.

A few posts back I put up the following quote by Laura Rowley, author of Money and Happiness:

"In 2001, my company laid off 400 people after a merger. I loved my job, and the layoff was a huge disappointment. But I have a peculiar worldview: I am the tenth of 11 children. In most families, I would never have been born at all. As a result, I tend to think anything is possible. Growing up in that lively environment, I saw my parents overcome many challenges by staying committed to their values and taking a longer term view rather than sweating the details. My mother's classic line was: "This too shall pass"--a philosophy that carries no small amount of hope. When I experienced a setback, such as losing a scholarship competition, she would insist there was something more worthwhile waiting for me. Because of this I have spent my life trying to figure out the hidden opportunity in the crisis. (It beats weeping in public.) I looked at my layoff as a challenge to restructure my work life around my kids, and it turned out to be a wonderful gift: I published my first book about a year later. Did I mourn the loss of my job? Sure. Was the transition terrifying at times? Absolutely. Did I despair? Never. My worldview made the difference."

So here's what I've been thinking about: Where do people get the pick-yourself-up-dust-yourself-off worldview? Jorge is that way. I'm that way. I could never see myself, for example, wallowing in self-pity for more than a few minutes. It just seems such a waste. I would rather be hated than pitied. Even though I am fairly fatalistic, I can't imagine having an attitude of resignation or despair about the bad things that happen to me or others. An attitude of victimization is one of the few things that makes my skin crawl. I may not be in control of my own outward success, but I am fully in control of my happiness. In other words, if my dreams were thwarted, rather than giving up or raging against God, I would think it's time for new dreams.

Watching Slumdog Millionaire made me think a lot about this. I think many would say that a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life is learned, but I see that it can vary within the same family. So is it just something people are born with? Something we choose? What thinkest thou?

Friday, February 13, 2009

a bad plan is better than no plan

Really? I don't think that's what Abraham Lincoln would say.

I have yet to hear of anyone, save the politicians, who thinks this stimulus plan is a good idea. (And that's only because it makes them look decisive.) Liberals, conservatives, you name it, we all appear to have the same reaction: Huh?

Harvard economist Robert Barro in an Atlantic interview:

This is probably the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s. I don't know what to say. I mean it's wasting a tremendous amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don't think will work, so I don't think the expenditure stuff is going to have the intended effect. I don't think it will expand the economy. And the tax cutting isn't really geared toward incentives. It's not really geared to lowering tax rates; it's more along the lines of throwing money at people. On both sides I think it's garbage.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

midwinter chop

HOW LONG have I been trying to grow out these bangs? Forever. And now look at what the February blues gone and made me do.

the ultimate centrist

Happy 200th birthday, Honest Abe!

Saturday, February 07, 2009


We finally went to see it last night. We walked into the theater about 10 minutes before it started and were surprised to see it packed. Then I remembered that Oscar nominations just came out this week, so droves of people who'd never even heard of the film before its ten nominations had come out to see what was all the fuss.

This film received a controversial R rating from the MPAA. Many people feel this was unfair and saw the film as solidly PG-13. One reviewer claimed that this is just the kind of joyful, inspiring film children should be watching, rather than the crude fare they generally ingest at a PG-13 level.

I loved the film and I am so glad we decided to see it. We choose our media very carefully for ourselves as well as for our children. The vast majority of PG-13 movies would never make it into our home on DVD. While I loved this film and thought it was one of the most well-done and inspiring I've seen in a long time, it's not something I'd want my children to see, not even Georgie who is very mature and has been watching Hotel Rwanda at school. This movie is NOT for everyone. While there is no sex, very little bad language, and the violent scenes are not explicit, it's not what you see in this movie that is so disturbing. It's what you don't. There is one scene that I felt the blood drain from my face, and the people around me gasped and covered their faces with both hands. J and I sat through much of the film feeling like someone was squeezing our hearts. The depiction of poverty is staggering. The scenes in and of themselves are not explicit--rather, it's what you know is happening that is not shown. And not only that, it's what you know is happening every day in India and other places in the world. It's real.

If you do not believe in the triumph of the human spirit, then I would not watch this film. If you are cynical about feel-good movies or believe that people are victims of their circumstances, than this might not be the one for you. Because what you will take away from it is not the inspiring message of hope, but the awful images of despair.

However, I agree with the author of the book the film is based on, who says the following about the film (in yesterday's WSJ): "It doesn't show slums as centers of despair and hopelessness. It shows slums as teeming with vibrancy. Also, the main character overcomes that background. This is a film about hope and survival."

When asked why the characters never whine about the terrible things that happen to them, he says: "That's the spirit of India. People move on with their lives. [...] People are forced to live their lives there because of their temporary circumstances. But that is how they see it, as temporary. Constantly they are trying to get out of the slums. Nobody sits and moans and groans."

I don't know much about how movies are made, but my guess is the film owes its incredible vibrancy to the editing. The music is great, too. The actors gave riveting performances. Dev Patel as the main character is absolutely good for every one of his many close-ups and I feel like I could see another entire movie of just him.

Has anyone else seen it? What did you think? Did you find it inspiring? (No spoilers please!)

Friday, February 06, 2009

the mighty anne

Auntie just reminded me that we are descendants of Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan dissident and promoter of women's rights. When Anne was 46 and advanced in her fifteenth pregnancy, she had to stand for several day before a board of male interrogators who charged her with violating the fifth commandment. They said she was dishonoring "thy father and mother" by encouraging dissent amongst the "fathers of the commonwealth." One minister said about her, “You have stepped out of your place, you have rather been a husband than a wife, a preacher than a hearer, and a magistrate than a subject.”
Go, Anne!
I bet Marcus and the girls too will enjoy learning about her.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

the feminist

I can't believe it's been five days since I last posted. And I can't point to any one reason. I've still got all my fingers and even if I didn't, I could always type with my toes.

As part of our on-going history study, I've talked with the kids about how throughout history, there have been laws unfavorable to women, even in our own country. We've had some good discussions about it. One of my children has been more disturbed to learn about this than the others: Marcus. Several times now, he has brought it up at random moments. A few days ago he suddenly looked up from his homework and said, "When I grow up I'm going to get rid of all the laws that are bad for women."