Friday, July 30, 2010
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When we visited Disney World earlier this month, Chris and Kieran enjoyed exploring Tom Sawyer Island, so I suggested that we read the book. Last night I finished reading it to Kieran, who enjoyed it immensely. Each night when it was time for bed, he begged me to read more. In spite of the advanced language and historical venacular, he LOVED the spirit of adventure and imagination.
Even though I majored in English, I had never read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I did see the movie, which I recall gave me nightmares. I didn't realize, though, how far the movie diverged from the book.
I read the book out loud in its unadulterated, original version, and consequently I began editing myself as I read. Initially, I read the word "negro" and explained to my son that we never, ever use those phrases nowadays. I tried to put the story into historical context for him without changing the language completely. But when I came across the other "n" word, I refused to read it out loud. I think 7 years old is too young to know that word.
I realize that Twain has been labeled as a racist by some readers who are taking the language at face value and not looking deeper into the text. Twain was actually enlightened well beyond his day and age (and trying to get his readers to examine racial stereotypes more carefully), as comes through more clearly in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck befriends a runaway slave, and some of his essays.
However, his treatment of Native Americans in these stories is far from sympathetic. "Injun Joe" is not a redeeming character. In fact, he's terrifying. Later in life Twain began to adopt a more sympathetic approach toward native peoples...but at the time he wrote this novel, he had strong opinions about Native Americans (standard at the time).
The best thing about this classic American novel is the way Twain depicts the sheer wonder of boyhood in all its dirty glory. Tom and his friends dwell in their imagination and love for great adventure. They run free and wild and wear shoes only on Sundays. They fall in love and "get engaged" to girls. But in spite of their desire to be pirates and robbers, they also have consciences and are good souls. I chuckled when Tom invented facts to suit his own purposes or showed off to his friends or Becky Thatcher. Or when he told Huck that robbers like to have orgies, having no clue what they were (my son asked what an orgy was, and when he told him, he was horrified).
At times this book was tough going for a 7-year-old (for example, the meandering chapters that took place in Sunday School and at the end-of-the-year school event), and I asked him whether he wanted me to skip ahead to something more interesting, but he vehemently said no. So we plowed ahead.
I ordered a copy of Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn/The Prince and the Pauper via Paperbackswap.com, and when it arrived the other day I was disappointed to note that it is the abridged version of the books. Horrors! I have NEVER read an abridged version of a book. But we will give it a try for Huckleberry Finn.
I have no doubt that we will miss a lot of the depth of language and details contained in Twain's original, but perhaps I won't have to edit myself as much. I understand that Huck Finn is more of an "adult" novel than Tom Sawyer, so perhaps the less interesting parts will be cut out. If I feel like I'm missing a lot, I might just have to seek out the full version later on and read it myself.
Onto the next adventure with Huck Finn!
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
"Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
Not only has Rice been a Christian, but she has also been a Roman Catholic. Perhaps that is why she finds it impossible to affiliate herself with an official church and cannot separate her own spiritual beliefs from that of the church hierarchy or its most zealous followers.
Now I can't say that I blame her. I'm embarrassed to be associated with a huge number of people who profess to call themselves Christians. I have no doubt that Jesus Christ is depressed to see what is done and said in his name. But this move also seems to be self-defeating and unhelpful. If all Christians stop calling themselves Christians, aren't we letting the bigots and religious fascists win?
According to the results, students who have productive kindergarten learning experiences are more likely to go to college, less likely to become single parents, more likely to earn more, and more likely to save for retirement.
This research makes me especially grateful for the wonderful kindergarten experiences our children have had so far. Chris and Kieran had the same wise, nurturing, amazing teacher...and we love our elementary school. Here's a link to Kieran's author ceremony in kindergarten, and a photo of Chris with his friend James on the first day of kindergarten:
Reading the results of this study makes me especially grateful to my own parents for giving each of their three children such a unique-in-those-days educational start. In the late 60s and early 70s (I entered kindergarten in 1969), kindergarten was not compulsory--in fact, most parents did not send their kids before then. Required schooling began in first grade. Yet, in spite of our meager income, my parents paid for each one of us to attend preschool and private kindergarten. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mom and Dad!!
This research couldn't have come at a better time, as teachers are losing their jobs and I'm seriously worried about the ability of Portland Public Schools to keep its educational quality, because of Oregon's severe budget crisis. I do believe that the best kindergarten teachers are worth $320,000!
My secret confession of July? I shopped at Wal-Mart in Florida. I have been into Wal-Mart a grand total of two times in my life. I needed to buy some new sandals for Nicholas and we didn't have much selection near our rental in Kissimmee. So I got sucked in! Don't worry--I don't plan to make it a regular occurrence.
Yesterday the German tycoon owner of Trader Joe's died. Reading that article led me on a trail to this one, which discusses Trader Joe's secretive purchasing practices, which are being questioned by activist groups. Until I know something factual, I refuse to boycott Trader Joe's (although I do certainly wish the company used less packaging on its fruits and veggies!). What would I do without the wonderful quality and variety and reasonable prices of TJ's? I hope no skeletons are found in its tropical-shirt-attired closet!
Other news I learned today: According to the HuffPo, the CEO of Target has donated $150K to a homophobic candidate in Minnesota. This is surprising news, because earlier this year the Human Rights Campaign gave Target a 100% rating for its treatment of LGBT employees. I certainly understand the CEO's practice of supporting candidates on both sides of the aisle (my company does the same), but this is unacceptable. I'll be firing off an e-mail to Target's CEO. Target is our family's anti-Wal-Mart. If there had been a Target in sight in Kissimmee, you can bet I would have chosen that alternative.
So at least I did read ONE piece of good news today!!
Previously I had read that AT&T is well known for supporting conservative causes, so of course I felt guilty last weekend when I took advantage of my company's 18% discount for personal cell phone plans and opened a two-year contract on my new iPhone. Well, apparently, AT&T has changed its ways and is now supporting Democrats. So now that's one less thing to feel guilty about in my world.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Book Review: Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Rethinking Thin is not a diet book, despite the title. Gina Kolata is a science writer for the New York Times, and she set out to study the science and history of dieting.
She follows a group of dieters who were recruited for a research study by three universities. The study aimed to compare the effectiveness of the Atkins diet to a low-fat diet.
Kolata intersperses chapters containing anecdotes of the dieters' experience with reports of previous dieting studies and the history of diets through the ages.
It turns out that Atkins was not the first person to come up with the notion that a high-protein, low-carb diet results in weight loss: that idea actually began with a French gourmet in the 18th century.
One chapter, titled "Epiphanies and Hucksters" discusses the dieting trends since the 1800s. Another chapter, titled "Oh, to Be as Thin as Jennifer Aniston (or Brad Pitt)" covers the extreme obsession of weight loss in the U.S. today.
Did you know that Jennifer Aniston, who is 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weighs 120 pounds, has a body mass index (BMI) of 20? Some Miss America winners have had BMIs as low as 16.9. She then discusses the more relaxed standards for men, who can be critical of women for their weights. They are actually the "fatter" sex, if that is defined by BMI. "Just 36 percent of men over 18 are at a healthy weight, and a mere .09 percent are underweight." In comparison, 49.5 percent of American women aged 18 or older have a "normal" BMI. Furthermore, Brad itt is 6 feet tall and weighs 159 pounds. If he had the same BMI as Aniston, he would weigh only 135 pounds. Revealing, isn't it?
After delving in to multiple research studies (the ones that revealed the difficulty of permanent weight loss rarely reaching the light of day because of the lobbying power of the diet industry), Kolata reaches some difficult conclusions:
-One's weight is largely determined by one's genetic makeup. If your parents or relatives are overweight, you are more likely to be.
-Although environment is important (and having healthy foods available), it's not as critical as your genes.
-It is nearly impossible for people who are extremely overweight to lose the weight permanently, without resorting to surgery.
-People who are overweight and then lose great amounts of weight usually are never sated, no matter how much they eat.
-Our notions of weight and overweight are not always grounded in science. Being overweight does not always mean you are less healthy.
Generally, each person has a destined weight range, and will generally be able to gain or lose 5 to 20 pounds, but probably will not be able to take off more than that permanently.
This could be perceived as a depressing book by people defined as obese. On the other hand, it could give some encouragement because it discusses the sheer futility people feel when trying to diet over and over again, and not reaching long-term success.
One of my dear college friends lost a huge amount of weight when she turned 40 by becoming an amazing running machine. I've never seen anything like that. And she's kept it off for about 5 years now. But she can never let up on the vigilance. That's what Kolata found.
Many of the dieters thought that once they reached their ideal weight, they'd be able to let their guards down. It doesn't work that way. According to Kolata, if you start out overweight and you are able to lose weight through dieting and exercise, it's a HUGE lifelong commitment to keep it off. And multiple studies (rarely covered in the media) have confirmed this.
Very few people are successful, making my friend's success story ever more sweet. I will never be a runner like her. But she's my inspiration!
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Monday, July 26, 2010
- Whole grains and basmati rice
- Certain veggies off limits in Phase 1
- Wine or beer
- Dark chocolate (on occasion)
- Sugar (rarely)
But the hardest thing for me? No fresh seasonal berries--for two weeks!
Today I ventured a thought that I might feast on some berries this evening to end Phase 1, and Mike looked HORRIFIED!!! End Phase 1 just a tad early? Never.
I knew he would think worse of me if I caved, so I'm being a good girl. Cheating on berries? Sheesh!
I can't wait until tomorrow. Strawberries for breakfast!!
The major appeal of the iPhone for me was to have one device for music, e-mail, and phone. And our iPods continue to get passed down.
1. I bought an iPod Shuffle (the original version) years ago and loved it.
2. I purchased an iPod Nano a few years ago and sold my iPod Shuffle to Chris for $30.
3. Chris purchased an iPod Touch this spring after saving all his money for many months. He sold the original iPod Shuffle to Kieran for $10.
4. Now Kieran will have my Nano and Mike will get the Shuffle.
Seem unfair? Well, Mike is a wonderful dad and a softy. Kieran desperately wants to be able to see the name of the song (which the Shuffle does not do), so Mike agreed to let him have it. I was surprised to learn that Mike was interested in the Shuffle at all, because he's the least likely of all of us to listen to music.
He discovered a new British singer the other day on NPR and checked one of his CDs out of the library. I teased him mercilessly. The guy sounds like muzak crossed with the Eurovision Song Contest (which he loved as a boy). Am I not a mean wife? Our musical tastes overlap at times (he's even made an ABBA lover out of me), but not always!
In case you have never heard of or seen the Eurovision Song Contest (I hadn't until I met Mike), check out this poor-quality video compilation of some of the winners. It's like American Idol Musical Group for European and commonwealth countries. It will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.
I have to say, though, that I really enjoyed the movie. It might even be my favorite of the series. The original Toy Story was quite male centered; about the only females in the movie were Bo Peep and Mrs. Potato Head, both minor characters. Toy Story 2 was an improvement because Jesse the cowgirl was introduced, and in Toy Story 3, Jesse, a Barbie doll, and even a little girl all have key roles.
What I liked the most about the story (and the series in general) are the encompassing themes of loyalty and true friendship. A friend forgives you when you make a mistake, or turn into a crazy person temporarily, or abandon the group until you come to your senses. A friend will always get you out of a pickle, even if it means taking death-defying risks to save you. A friend will always be there for you during your tough times.
And yes, I cried, no less than three times. The most emotional scene for me was when Andy's mom says goodbye as he leaves for college. I tend not to consider myself to be quite as sentimental about my children as my lovely sister (who I will always recall expressed sadness about approaching birth when she was pregnant, because her babies would not be with her all the time any more), and my wonderful brother-in-law (who cherishes his long bedtime routine with his sons because this time will not last forever)...but now I will be thinking more about that day approaching. Chris is turning 14 next month and will be entering high school in one more year. The day is not too far away. Considering how rapidly the first 14 years have raced by, I know that time will be here in what seems like an instant. Another reason to cherish every moment.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
When I drove up to the church, the parking lot and all nearby lots in the area were jam-packed. I had to park in a residential neighborhood up the street. I have never seen so many people in our little church. Both the sanctuary and the overflow room with a video feed were standing room only: a wonderful testament to this man and his family.
The NICU turned me into a highly emotional person. I started sniffling during the first hymn, "On Eagle's Wings." Several people spoke about Bill and shared humorous and poignant stories, and our pastor eloquently preached about "where is God" in this type of a death. This man had done loads of work behind the scenes at our church--much of it I had not been aware of. It was a beautiful service.
It made me think about memorable memorial services and funerals I have attended over the years:
- My maternal grandmother's (when I was 9 or 10, the first I had attended, and to this day, "How Great Thou Art" always makes me choke up)
- Both grandfathers'
- My paternal grandmother's (the hardest one of my grandparents, because she lived the longest, I knew her the best, and it was the end of an era...I remember feeling comforted by my large extended family and feeling like I was part of a clan)
- Many assorted great aunts and uncles, too many to remember
- Mike's Dad's (one of the saddest ones--and that year was especially difficult, since we lost Mike's dad, my grandma, and my favorite great-aunt, all in the same year)
- A couple we knew who died while hiking in Silver Falls (the only time I've seen two caskets side by side--Mike and I sang at the service, and Chris was about a year old--later the family told us that he cheered them up because he was waving to them)
- Quinn (a baby whose parents we had provided support for in the NICU)--again, a beautiful but tragic service
- Sweet little Zacary (the hardest one of all, he tragically died at age 4-1/2, but I remember his service as being the most personal and painfully beautiful one I can remember)
- Adrian, the wonderful and loving husband of my friend and former coworker Nancy--another one who died too young (I remember how many people shared personal memories of him, and also how the minister urged everyone to continue to provide support for Nancy months and years down the road)
(I was touched yesterday when our retired priest, who was leading the intercessory prayers, actually explained what they were--I felt that was a first for a Catholic priest! In my experience, most priests just assume that everyone will know what is being done.)
It is a time for providing comfort, but not making it be all about God. I suspect that many Christians differ from me on this opinion (and from others of my opinions, now that I think about it!). It is not comforting to talk about God's will, or to say that the person is now in a better place. The best services are deeply personal and full of laughter and tears and personal memories.
Since meeting and becoming close to many parents who have lost children, I have learned the importance of the anniversary of their loved ones' deaths. This doesn't just apply to children who have died, but also parents, spouses, and other close family members.
As I was snuffling through this most recent service, I was comforted by the presence of a baby a few rows in front of me in the overflow room. There's nothing like new life to help me see that life is a circle.
After the memorial service, I was completely spent for the rest of the afternoon. I feel deeply for the family left behind and for the grandson who will have ever-fading memories of his wonderful grandfather.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Our kids get along well for the most part, but I have observed that theme parks (or even vacations in general) are the great leveler. They all have such a great time together.
Arriving in the park Friday morning
Chris and Kieran on the Dumbo ride (which we always go on first because of the massive lines later in the day)
Because of our clever touring plans (especially heading for Fantasyland first thing on Friday), we were able to go on tons of rides by 10:30 a.m. The best way to experience a theme park! We even had spare time to wait in a (short) line to see Wendy and Peter Pan:
And glimpse the mean stepsisters--wouldn't that be a fun role to play?
Getting ready to watch the 3-D Mickey's Philharmagic:
Last time we were at the Magic Kingdom in 2008, I coaxed Kieran into going on the Pirate of the Caribbean with us. The Disney cast member loading the ride assured him that it was not scary. He was terrified! Ever since then, I've sworn I would never pressure a child into riding a ride. However, our Nick was delighted by pirates. He is a brave soul!
Having fun in the gift shop--my cute pirates!
True to form, Kieran ended up on stage in the Jack Sparrow Pirate Tutorial show! (In 2008, it was Chris who was chosen as one of the select few.)
He was instructed to sword fight to the right and left, and then jab in the belly. Then he was to point and shout "Look, it's the governor's daughter!" and flee in the other direction (in true Jack Sparrow fashion).
Kieran took to his part like a true pirate:
And then shouted: "Look, it's the president's daughter!" which elicited a big laugh out of Jack.
Between the two days in the Magic Kingdom, we went on Splash Mountain (my personal favorite) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad four times each (all with Fastpasses, of course). Nick LOVED Big Thunder, and enjoyed Splash Mountain too, until he sat in the front one time and got just a bit too wet. I've never seen such a thrill-seeking 3-year-old!
Nick and Kieran in the Laughing Place gift shop:
I have to take a moment to compliment our teenager Chris. He delighted in the small things and constantly interacted with his younger brothers, telling them about upcoming rides or asking them what they had liked best. Some teens would have complained bitterly about the kiddie rides and "It's a Small World." Not our Chris though.
With Emperor Zurg after the Buzz Lightyear Spin (and did we ever spin, with Nick in charge of the spinning!!):
A show in front of the castle--with a few fireworks:
Another day of Splash Mountain--this was the time Nick wanted to ride in the front with us, but ended up ducking down low!
Part of me feels guilty that our kids have been to Disney parks so often. If Mike didn't have relatives in Orlando, we would most likely have never gone (or perhaps only once). During this trip, the theme park tickets were our biggest expense. We used frequent flyer miles for tickets, and our condo was insanely reasonable (about $645 for 8 nights). However, I would rather have done Europe, Mexico, or even Hawaii...but the kids enjoyed themselves and it was great to catch up with Mike's relatives.
Since we returned, Nick has been performing pirate shows constantly, featuring himself as Jack Sparrow. He's memorized the words of his favorite book, Captain Flynn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, but substitutes his friend Asher's name for Flynn and Jack Sparrow for the pirate captain.
Kieran and I have started reading Tom Sawyer, which I will leave to another blog post all its own.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finished this late last night, both relieved to be done with the series (so I can get other things done in my life) and sad to say goodbye to Lisbeth Salander forever (unless Larsson's lover really does have a partially finished fourth manuscript).
Like the others in the series, this book has its flaws:
*Too many characters
*Too many unnecessary details (Larsson classically flunks the "show, don't tell" school of writing)
*Too many subplots
*Too many implausible plot points (most implausible: what hospital would house two people who tried to kill each other two rooms away from each other, without ANY police security?)
*Yet again, too much coffee and sandwiches (although slightly less than Book #2)
*Not enough Salander
*What the heck happened to Blomvkist's daughter???
And yet, despite its flaws, I couldn't put it down. I liked the facts about female warriors between each section (versus the math equations in Book #2!) and the parallels he drove with these historical warriors and the ones in the book. This series--more than most thrillers or mysteries--contains tons of strong (both intellectually and physically), independent women. I love that.
Book #3 doesn't have as much suspense as the other two...it's more of a legal thriller. Larsson's knowledge of the Swedish political system is amazing. Clearly, he was a stellar researcher and his journalist roots show heavily in his novels.
I'm convinced that Larsson would have proudly described himself as a feminist, because he does show a great deal of respect for his female characters. (If only he hadn't created a middle-aged male lead who was magnetically sexually attractive to every woman he met, leading to constant jealousy...talk about a classic male fantasy.) Sometimes the villains are a bit too villainous...take for example the vast number of bad guys who were perverts in addition to being otherwise evil.
The best thing about these books for me is survivor Lisbeth Salander: complex, quirky, insanely bright, strong, sensitive, and deeply damaged. The Millennium books are the types that don't leave you when you've put them down--they stay in your brain while you go about your daily business. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, while somewhat flawed, was a highly satisfying end to the series.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I first began working in the building I now work in 20 years ago. At that time, hardly any food options existed in the vicinity. Then we moved across the river to Lloyd Tower, and several years ago we moved back into the old building near Portland State. At that time, a burrito cart sat across the street from the office. Eventually a handful more food carts surfaced. More food options existed than in 1990, but pickings were slim compared to what we'd left behind in the Lloyd District.
All that has changed now, especially with the recent FOOD CART REVOLUTION! The cart foodies even have their own Facebook page.
And now CNN and Budget Travel have bestowed Portland with a heady honor: we were named #1 in best street food...in the whole world! Singapore and Thailand, two of my favorite locales for street food, rank near the bottom of the list. Portland has arrived.
My personal favorites on my local Food Cart alley are Dosirak, a Korean place that does teriyaki chicken and brown rice with salad; Buddha Bites (the gluten-free place), which does a great Greek salad with salmon and Mike's favorite--a chicken/avocado sandwich on actually tasty gluten-free bread; New Taste of India (which does a great lunch special for $5...but I have not eaten there in awhile since I'm trying to eat healthier...); and the Portland Soup Company, which makes to-die-for soups and is owned by the son of some friends from church.
I tend to go to Dosirak most often, because the portions are large and last me for two lunches (for just $6!). The Korean owners are unfailingly friendly and alas, have taken the month of July off so they can go to Korea for a visit. I'm in withdrawal!
Chris with cousin Anna and her friend:
New buddies Kieran, Nick, and Nick (family name!):
Relaxing in the shade:
Nick enjoyed the (extremely warm!) wading pool:
Boating on the lake (I'm surprised our kids were not scared of gators!):
Mike with his first cousin, once removed, Emily (who is being a nanny for her cousins during the summer, just like I did when I was in college):
I was in the middle of The Girl Who Played With Fire...
Our second-to-last day in Florida we went to Mike's cousin Tammy's house for dinner and a reunion with his aunt, cousins, and families. Here are Mike and Olga with the Florida contingent of women:
Leslie and her husband Doug were in Haiti when the earthquake struck earlier this year, so we were fascinated to hear about their experiences there.
With Chris and Anna
More pool time for the boys--Kieran meditating??
Tanya with Mike's mum (Aunty Olga)
With my wonderful mother-in-law: