Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a Happy New Year

I've been gone so long that the emails have stopped coming and I've stopped looking.

But for those kind enough to wonder where I've taken off to I thought I'd at least let you know we're alive and well and looking forward to another year but I'm afraid life has given me other things to do instead of blogging.

Here's a picture of our last camping trip at the end of the summer at Quartz Creek where we had a great time and the kids kayaked and rode horses till they nearly dropped from exhaustion.  Andrew, Spencer and Grace ran the zombie half-marathon at Halloween and now she's waiting nervously for her college application to BYU to got through. We're all pulling for her and think she's definitely going to get in but it's up in the air till we have that letter in hand, right? Spencer's been busy with cross country skiing and running and his graphic design business is booming, he's had four or five clients so far and is finishing up a series of ten or so graphics right now.

David is dealing with middle school (what else can you really say about those years after all?) but is loving basketball and got the lead in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown slated for opening the middle of February (we're teasing him that he'll have to shave his head to get fully into character). And then Lillian is trying out for the role of Cossette in the local high school production of Les Miserables. We'll see if that happens, she's having fun practicing.

But me?

Last May I was asked to teach an early morning scripture study class for high school juniors in our area and after planning and preparing all summer long classes started August 22nd and I've been doing that ever since.  They come at 6 am each school day, we do our best to get through a few chapters in the Old Testament (our text for this year, New Testament is next year) and then I go home, wonder how on earth I can do it again and spend the rest of the day frantically pulling together another lesson.

I actually love it--I love studying scripture, love the kids I teach and love what they teach me but it has pretty much eaten up any extra time I may have had. The good news is that it's really a blessing to know exactly what you need to accomplish each day and then have a chance to practice it over and over again. 

But before I leave you for another four months, I thought I'd at least share a few things.  With the Christmas break I've been doing some outside reading and have found some amazing books along the way:

Bloodwork: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker.
I heard about this on one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class. It's nonfiction but reads like a novel and tells the story of the first blood transfusions. Seriously icky stuff but as fascinating as a train wreck.  You get a bit of 17th century French culture, the history of medicine and circulatory theory and a great who-dunnit that solves a 300 year-old cold case. Highly recommended.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.
It's just what the title suggests, a basic outline of philosophy as illustrated in humor. It's funny and easy to digest and gives you a better appreciation for the world of the joke. My only gripe is that some of the jokes (maybe a quarter of them) are raunchy and you'll want to skip them. You'll know when they're coming.

Socrates: A Man for our Times by Paul Johnson.
The latest by our long-lasting, conservative British historian who tends to name-drop whenever possible.  A great read, and just the right length, though about 40 pages toward the beginning are long-winded and could have been a little more relevant.  By the end you'll be enthralled by the man (Socrates, that is) and will wonder how you ever got along without reading such a great analysis of his influence. 

Though I think Johnson has succumbed to the Tolkien Effect.  This is the simple problem of elderly British academics reaching such monolithic proportions as to be considered untouchable by editors, to their (and their readers') detriment.  No one (and I repeat, no one) is above the need for a good editor--even Moses was edited before final publication for goodness sake! Anyone who insists on using the word "obfuscate" instead of simply saying "darkened" or "clouded" is drowning in their own pit of irony.

Creators, Intellectuals, and Heroes all by Paul Johnson.
Three other books by the above author.  Heroes was the best of the three and the one I was able to finish while the other two were more of the same and not enough to keep me nibbling.  Each book is a list of people who fit his definition of creators, intellectuals or heroes respectively and while there aren't many surprises (his list of heroes includes Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, to which I say in all kindness: "D'uh.") there are a few that I just can't reconcile with my personal definition of heroism.  Sorry, I just can't call Julius Caesar heroic. The man killed something like 4 million people in his conquest of Gaul and chasing personal glory. I'm just not seeing the hero thing in that.

So I'm not recommending these three but Napoleon and History of the American People are fabulous. Spend your time on those instead.

The Carolinian by Samuel Shellabarger.
My little digression into historical fiction which I love so much. Not one of his better books--it's about a South Carolinian pre-revolutionary aristocrat who weaves his way rather tediously through British and colonial intrigues despite the best efforts of his wife to cause him difficulties.  For some reason Shellabarger always has a female in his stories, giving the hero all sorts of grief because she's just some silly female who can't possibly understand the greater picture that the hero is trying to achieve. For once I'd like to see one of his heroines save the hero because he's the foolish one and she's the one who gets it.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
Interesting and philosophical (as you'd expect from the title) and definitely worth a read. The author takes a cross-country motorcycle trip with his young son who has all sorts of interesting issues and the story builds up around the father's acceptance and understanding of what hand he's been dealt in life.

Here's Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos.
This gets the award for the best title for a book. Ever.  I just finished it and would recommend it to anyone who will listen.  What else can you say about a book that has a Chapter Zero?  I think that pretty much says it all--but then I'll always try to say more, won't I?  It's a series of essays covering the ways math relates to us, our world and our imperfect human understanding of that world. Yes you get into mathematical theory but it's easy to understand (generally) and some parts will blow your mind. Origami, gambling, the golden mean, vedic mathematics, menger sponges--it's all there for your enjoyment.

Barbarians by Terry Jones.
Yes, as in that Terry Jones (the one from Monty Python). He's not exactly an historian, as best as I can tell he's just a guy who loves history and makes it fun and interesting. He's had several History Channel series and I think this book is a companion volume to one of them but I love how he takes an unconventional approach to history. Whatever story we've come to accept as true he will turn on its head and show how once again, it's been manipulated by those who survived to write it down. History truly is written by the conquerors and while I don't know that I accept Mr. Jones' story any more than what I was taught in school, I do love having something to think about and reconsider. Oh, and this book examines the peoples conquered by the Roman Empire and debunks the idea that they were dirty, stinking, illiterate barbarians without any culture worth preserving. A good read, though it slows toward the end.

And next on my list? I just started Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected by Daniel Boorstin, then I've got scheduled  The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton followed by The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and History from the World of the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean (which I can't wait to read, it's come highly recommended).

If this isn't enough for you I'll leave you with a couple other things: I made this pie and it was the most amazing chocolate pie experience ever. A truffle in a crust if you will. It could not be easier to make with only a handful of ingredients and it works with all kinds of crusts. Just partially bake a crust for 10-15 minutes first before filling if you want to use a regular pastry crust instead of graham crackers.

And then I read that if you have stainless steel appliances, especially brushed nickel or stainless steel, then using a little WD-40 on a cloth to wipe them down will not only clean them up but help them resist spotting and fingerprints. It is absolutely true and I don't know how I have lived this long without this trick. It is amazing.

So that's it for now. Goodbye for a while. I'm back to work on Monday and while I may have time to pop in over the next four months, I'm guessing I'll be swamped till spring. Hope your new year is terrific!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Talkeetna, Alaska--the Top of the World

Long time, no see? Well today--most glorious of days--is the First Day of School which means I have time to take a shower without being interrupted. I can finally eat breakfast sitting down and possibly find some time to do a bit of writing here and there.

We've had a nice summer--Grace worked for the Parks and Rec department again. She now has a motor scooter (I should post pictures) and I even have a new nephew.

The men took a 50+ mile kayak trip on Lake Louise, they also hiked to Gull Rock and I've been reading lots of great books while they're out sleeping in their tents.  And today--officially--Grace is a senior, Spencer a freshman, David hits middle school and Lillian is in fourth grade. Zowee! Time flies!

In celebration of the event we spent Sunday night at my parents' cabin and Monday morning we drove into Talkeetna--that coolest of cool Alaskan cities where climbers start their journey up Denali.

There are probably more airplanes in town than cars--in fact, I'd be willing to bet money on it--because that's where people go to either take flight tours of the mountain or to fly to base camp for the climb. 

Did you realize that Denali (Mt. McKinley) is not only the tallest mountain in North America but it is also taller than Everest? At least in overall height.  Everest sits in its boosted grandeur on the Tibetan plateau so it's got a cheater advantage. Denali is taller from base to summit and has a bigger bulk. Take that Tibet.

We started our day with a hike around Y Lake--which is, of course, in between X and Z Lakes. As if you had to ask.  And no, I'm not making that up.  Andrew and I went to Talkeenta for our anniversary back in June (happy 19 years!) and we read up on the hikes that might be good for a family trip and this one was at the top of the list for a good reason. 

It's an easy 3 mile hike around the lake, completely flat at the beginning and at the end, with a slight rise around the far side, but beautifully wooded with lake views as you clump along.  Not only that, but we brought our buckets and picked high bush cranberries along the way which were in such abundance that the kids of course began to throw them at each other and I finally had to break it up with a "If I catch you throwing any more of those at your brother I'm going to leave you here to walk back to Anchorage! Do you hear me? Do you?"

To get there take the Parks Highway to Talkeetna Spurr Road, then take a right on Comsat Road and you'll see the turnoff and parking a hundred yards or so farther on the right. There are outhouses and a small parking lot though you can also drive a little farther in along the trail if you need to.

Beaver dams, moose tracks (though we saw no moose), lots of birds and sunshine--we had all the elements for a great hike.  And for those of you interested in trying it for yourself, there are two docks with public use canoes--one on either side of the lake--so bring your paddles and PFDs and enjoy time on the water as well.

Once we'd made it around the lake with our berries in tact we headed toward town. Back on Talkeenta Spurr Road heading north you come around a bend in the road and there . . . BAM!!!!

You see it--The Mountain.

Of course on a clear day you can see Denali from Anchorage, but you forget how big it really is and 100 miles closer it is truly amazing. Denali is the one in the middle and to the left is Mt. Foraker, also an amazing peak. In fact, it's hard for me to think much about mountains like Ranier and such when you've got gals like these nearby.  I hope that doesn't sound too snotty because I'm sure those other mountains are very nice too. Very.

There is a turnoff just there at the bend where you can pull off and take pictures (as you see here--and even on a Monday afternoon in August you can see that there are going to be tourists--and this picture only has a few of those who were there).  Andrew let me grab a picture for you good folks and then we were off again.

We drove on into Talkeetna proper, parking downtown (heh--"downtown") which is made up of a park slightly smaller than a football field with a covered picnic area and a few picnic benches and about 20 parking spots around the perimeter. One hundred yards or so down main street we stopped for lunch at Mile High Pizza for a gorgeous lunch on the covered terrace where live music serenaded us while we munched great food.  It really could not have been a better afternoon.

You can definitely tell who is local and who is from out of town.  Out of town? Look for older, graying, slightly portly (isn't that the nice way to put it?), windbreakers and camera equipment. Local? That would be those with tie-dye t-shirts, dreadlocks, dusty flip flops and a general air of waiting until September to worry about a shower. Although, in my post-hiking condition you can probably see how a casual observer might wonder about my own most recent attempt at personal hygiene.  I'm just trying to fit in and hang with the locals.

Anyone with expensive sunglasses?  Tourist for sure. Anyone on a four wheeler? Definitely a local. You get your fishing guides, your restaurant workers and the summer employees with Princess cruises and the Alaska Railroad there and everyone is really friendly, especially considering that their town gets completed invaded every June to August with retirees who have dreamed of seeing Alaska. You really couldn't get a greater difference between natives and visitors than you get in Talkeetna.

But as for us, we packaged our leftover pizza and headed for the river where we could walk across the bridge (dodging locals on four-wheelers carrying supplies to their cabins in the back woods) and watch the fishing boats go up and down the river. 

A very, very good day and for the kids it nearly made up for the fact that the next day was school. 

Wow--now I'll have to see about writing another post.  Who knows where this could end?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Barbecue Soup

My mom came back from a trip to the Outer Banks last month, raving about some soup she'd had there. Apparently it was good enough to warrant a scouring of the internet for the recipe that could copy such gastronomical bliss, and (lucky for me) she was successful.

Listed as "Get a Husband Stew," it makes the prodigious claim of being the soup with the power to change your marital status. That, sir, is no small boast. And if that wasn't enough to rouse my interest, Mom said that while she didn't get any more husbands after fixing this soup, it certainly did delight and thrill the husband she had already acquired.

She dubbed it "Barbecue Soup"--maybe on account of not wanting any more husbands--and she changed the recipe a bit from what she pulled off the web and then when I copied it from her I did things ever-so-slightly different. Please feel free to make any changes you see fit, though I can't guarantee the husband-attracting effects if you deviate from what I've got below:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup diced sweet onions
4 stalks celery, finely diced
1 cooked rotisserie chicken
3 14-ounce cans of petite diced tomatoes
4 cups water
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup hickory smoked barbecue sauce
dash of tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 10-ounce bag of frozen corn kernels
4 potatoes, diced
2 bay leaves

Saute the ground pork in the olive oil, breaking up the meat with a spoon until it's browned and cooked through.  Add the garlic, diced onion and celery (which I dice very small because I can't stand big hunks of celery. It's a thing with me) and continue to saute over a medium heat, cooking until the onions are soft and translucent.

While that's cooking, remove the skin from the chicken (heh, as if we're counting calories or something) and shred the meat.  Add it, along with the cans of diced tomatoes, water, ketchup, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, salt, pepper, bell pepper, corn, potatoes and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes.

Go ahead and adjust the salt, pepper and hot sauce if needed--and I'll warn you, it's very thick.  The original recipe called for 1 cup of water but it's easier to keep things from burning if there's more liquid in there and I like things soupier as it is.  It's great with a side of biscuits. Or really anything--you could serve raw squid eyeballs on the side and it would still be a fabulous soup!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Batter Up

I am taking a solemn pledge here today. Never, ever, EVER again will my children play team sports. Or at least not through city teams and leagues--and I mean it.  Go ahead and call me the Scrooge of little league but after what I've been through the past month even a beating with a baseball bat would be welcome relief.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit but I can't count how many times Andrew and I have shaken our heads this past month and said, "How do parents do it? Are they all completely insane? And why was it we joined their ranks?"

Oh yes, it was because we wanted to be good parents, wanted to bring joy into the life of our little Little Leaguer but all it's done is beleaguer the whole family. I think it started when David, years ago, decided he liked baseball and since we're all about physical fitness, fun times and the enjoyment of a good game I signed David up with the local team. I remember how he had a lot of games and a lot of practices, and I vaguely remember thinking, "Wow, it's really, really cold sitting here on these fanny-freezing aluminum bleachers in the Alaskan rain" but somehow I figured it was all worth it. Starting with childbirth itself we're conditioned to make sacrifices for our kids and if sacrificing means sitting at the park every night for six weeks during our few precious days of summer, maybe missing a date or two or seven with my husband, and forking out enough money to purchase a small tropical island then dogone it I was going to do it because I loved my kid and I was going to be a great mom.

Now, two years later, we signed him up again. Partly because he wanted to play again but mostly because I haven't got a full-sized brain, having forgot how it was before, and I have been regretting it ever since. He's old enough now to be on the major league team which means even more practices and more games and a louder, more aggressive coach who sends me exactly 275 emails each day, listing times and events and fundraisers and carnivals and cleanups and practices and then--oops--new times because the previous email was accidentally, completely wrong and you need to be at the field half an hour earlier than what has been drilled into your skull in the last 274 emails.

It's all got me rethinking why we do it. Why do we even put up with the system of kids sports? Not to eulogize the golden age of the pick-up game at the neighborhood sandlot but, seriously, what kind of a monster have we created??

Kids have so few ways to express their independence and getting together to play a game of ball was one of the few ways they could get out from the world of adult rules and set their own boundaries.  They decided what to play, they decided who was on which team, they decided on the equipment (if they had any at all), and on the team name and play schedule.

But now? It's completely taken over by adults who sign them up, coach them, drive them, and then attend each game more religiously than anything connected with church.  We've taken every bit of the decision-making process away from them and I'm not seeing any significant improvements except maybe some very snappy (and very expensive) uniforms. A while ago I watched a group of boys get together to play a game--they stood around, looking rather lost, not knowing what to play or how to start. Each suggested playing whatever sport it was they played at night but because there was no adult to be umpire/ref they couldn't really come to a decision and eventually they kind of wandered away and gave up--they had forgotten how to play by themselves. It was truly pathetic.

Instead of kids getting together to run the show and enjoy the game on their own we let them know how and when they're going to play, what the rules are, how they'll dress and there has to be a trophy at the end. Sometimes we'll even yell and scream from the sidelines, showing shocking displays of unsportsmanlike conduct in case the crucial point of having them play brilliantly, bringing honor to our names, is somehow overlooked.

And then there's the other lesson it teaches children: that they're the most important thing in the world. David's baseball schedule has completely and irrevocably controlled our family's life this past month. Family dinners? Gone--David has to be at practice early. Family nights together? Postponed until after baseball season ends. Date nights with my husband? Let's just say the highest form of romance we've experienced lately is a space blanket and pocketful of Skittles while praying that the inning goes quickly. It's a constant measuring of priorities: which is more important? Baseball or scouts? Baseball or his sister's birthday? Baseball or the church service project? And it's too easy to let baseball always win.

It's just not good for one person in a family to absorb that much of the time and resources of the rest of the group.  Not good for the individual who becomes the sole consumer and not good for the others who spend all their energy on the one, often neglecting the needs of the group.  All it does is reinforce the idea of winning at any cost--which may be part of the reason doping and game-rage parenting are popping up all over.

And the sad reality is, that the whole thing has become a zero-sum game. You have to act like some Soviet-era official, entering your child in a sport as soon as they can walk, if you're going to do sports at all. Gone are the days when a child can, in high school, decide to try a new sport and go out for the team. If they haven't been doing the clinics and seasons all along, chances are they won't be able to make it against those who have--you know, the kids living with the odd phenomenon of juvenile sports injuries and end up needing hip replacements by the time they're forty.

So what's the answer? Well we've taken the approach of discouraging our kids' participation in team sports, period. Starting right now. Individual sports such as cross-country running or skiing, swimming, etc. are much easier to deal with as a family, don't require years and years of childhood training for participation and are usually more helpful in promoting a lifetime of good physical fitness.

But still . . . it bothers me that instead of giving our children good experiences and opportunities from sports, we've succeeded in producing a system that puts the individual before the group, teaches kids to leave life up to the adults, and gives a whole generation of kids the idea that success in life is found on the court or field. If we took all the money we flood into the kiddy-sports league industry and instead got together to bring back the neighborhood sandlots--then had the guts to walk away and say, "There's your field--now go outside and play" I wonder what the consequences would be? I don't know for sure but I have the sneaky suspicion that it would be a lot easier for me to teach responsibility, independence and teamwork if we adults weren't constantly standing at the sidelines, calling every shot.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

World's Easiest Dessert, I Promise.

Long time, no see? Thanks again for the emails--it's really nice to know that if I ever went truly missing that you'd all send out the Navy Seals to come find me. Makes me feel appreciated!

I have another post in the works for later this week but for now I thought I'd share with you the excitement I'm feeling over discovering the world's easiest dessert. I know that's so hyperbolic but truly it is the easiest--just you wait and see.

It comes from Apartment Therapy's Kitchn Blog which I faithfully follow and it's banana ice cream with only one--count it one--ingredient. Bananas. Yup, bananas and only bananas.

All you do is freeze some bananas (they were on sale this week so I grabbed a dozen or so and popped them directly into the freezer) then peel them (that's important).  Then puree them into ice cream in your food processor until they're the proper consistency--something similar to soft serve ice cream which you can then let ripen in the freezer if you want it more like the hard packed stuff.

A couple of tips:
1. I froze mine with the skins on which worked fined, it kept them from tasting like freezer, but it's hard to peel a frozen banana the way you would an unfrozen one. Just clip off the top and tail a bit, slice it crosswise in half, then slice each remaining half again lengthwise. They're pretty easy to peel that way, you'll just freeze your fingers a bit.

2. It's particularly good with homemade hot fudge sauce and a dab of whipped cream on top--it's so creamy and fresh tasting. And did I mention healthy? So healthy. Your mouths will rejoice.

And lest you think I've been doing nothing at all around here, this is my proof that I haven't been a complete slacker. My garden is coming up nicely in front as you can see--love those columbine and daffodils. I'm afraid I haven't been as diligent on the computer as I used to be, there have been so many other things that have seemed to occupy my attentions lately--more on those later.

I've been reading--The Night Attila Died by Michael Babcock which was completely fascinating.  Of course it went into the history of Attila but from a completely different angle. Babcock is a philologist, or one who studies the history, forms and meaning of language and while the common thought is that Attila died of a hemorrhage on his wedding night (one of many wedding nights I'd add), Babcock reconstructs the historical records linguistically to put up a case for his murder. It's Sherlock Holmes meets Henry Higgins meets CSI.  Only without any singing or dancing of course.

Then I followed that up with Round the Bend by Nevil Shute who is one of my favorite authors. If you haven't read A Town Like Alice drop everything and go read it--though honestly, I do think Requiem for a Wren (also published as The Breaking Wave) is even better. It's a novel about a British man after World War II who goes to the Persian Gulf to start up an airfreight business and his relationship with the man he's known since his teen years who is the zen-master of airplane maintenance. 

Hard to describe but Shute's characters and stories are always wonderful and this one has a bit of religion and philosophy that get you thinking. It's not what you'd call a churchy book--not at all--but it's a book about religion and what that means in relation to our lives and livelihoods and place in the world.  Five stars.

And finally, next week I'll be a guest on the local radio program "Kids These Days" with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids talking about helicopter parenting. At least we're taping the show next week, I'm not sure when it will air--I'll have to update this when I learn more. It ought to be fun, I'm sure I'm bound to shock a least a few with my dangerous parenting antics like letting my children play with chainsaws and all that (you know I'm kidding, right?) See you there!

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Thumbing Is Greening As We Speak

I'm getting SO ready for spring. Usually the pattern is as follows: I hate the thought of spring cleaning, then I despise the idea, then I wonder if maybe I can just ignore it this year (who but me will care anyway?) then one day I wake up and it's sunny and beautiful and 50 degrees and it hits me. I go for the bucket and rags and I'm off on a germ-killing spree. Room by room for about ten days until I have one beautifully clean house.

I just wish I could take each of you on a personal tour of my dust-free corners. I'd point out the previously filthy yet now pristine shelves in the kids' rooms, I'd beg you to inspect my light fixtures and under my dust-free bed. I'd even offer you to join me for lunch in my gloriously clean kitchen.

Yes I'm aware that I'm not normal but I get my kicks where I can.

Anyway, Saturday after cleaning a room I went out and raked the yard, washed my windows and cleaned out the flower beds in the front (there's still too much snow in the back to tackle yet) and it thoroughly put me into the gardening mood.

I'm thinking of trying something new this year: raised vegetable gardens.  In Anchorage it can be advantageous to have your vegetables in raised beds so that the soil warms faster and you can plant earlier than if it's in the flush garden beds.  I'm considering making some beds now that the kids are older and need less grass in the back yard--I'll keep you posted.

But here are two great links I've seen recently that I think I'll also try. Above you see the indoor water gardens Martha made and then there is this amazingly clever idea for making terrariums--recycling old light fixtures.  Genius.

And if plants aren't your thing I offer you an Easter treat: roasted peeps.  I'm not a peep fan but I'm seriously thinking of buying up a crate of the bunnies and saving them for summer camping. I can only imagine how great the smores made with these guys would taste.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Your Fault, You Know

Why I haven't posted this week (I mean). It's your fault because in my last post I asked for recommendations on good podcasts and got some wonderful tips. Which means, of course, that I have walked around plugged into my iPod all week long until my ears are starting to get a little sore. No, I'm serious.

I think I might need to take a break from it all, because last night I found myself simultaneously cooking dinner, listening to the piano practicing going on downstairs with one ear and then listening to a podcast with the other ear. The phone rang and when I went to answer it I'd forgot I had a podcast going and as I hurriedly answered I kind of jammed the ear bud into my brain with the phone receiver like some pneumatic drill on a rivet. It wasn't pretty.  They should put a warning label on it or something.

So thank you--and curse you--for your great recommendations. At least I have two ears, right?

But I thought I'd at least share something that I found quite moving from one of the most recent listens. Thanks to Chocolate on My Cranium's recommendation that I listen to Conversations on the Mormon Channel, in between my history and science and NPR podcasts I heard an interview with Julie Beck who heads the women's organization for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It happens to be the largest women's organization in the world (and one of the oldest) and she's an amazing person. They interviewed her and her two adult daughters, Gerilyn Merrell and Heidi Shin, and they all spoke of their thoughts on motherhood and raising kids today and some of their own family experiences from years past. Here are a couple of the highlights as I've been able to transcribe them:

About her daughters and the role of a mother:
Julie: They came as they were . . . unique and wonderful and my blessing was to just unwrap the package, to see who they were and to help guide them to who they could be. I didn’t have to mold them or make them into someone different from who they were because they were so great when they came. It was a fun discovery to learn who they were.
On helping her children develop of a love of reading:
Julie: One of our favorite family activities when these children were growing up was Breakfast with Books. I just loved reading myself so I figured out a way to get my children to read and that was to get my children to bring a book to the breakfast table. I didn’t care if they dripped syrup on their books but we’d read. That was the usual Saturday morning breakfast, breakfast with books.

Gerilyn: I think I’ve been ruined, I don’t think I can eat without a book anymore. [Laughing] My father asked me once, “Why do you drink out from the side of your mouth?” I figured out it was because I could look at my book while I was doing it. So, it has created a few little problems but it’s a life long habit now. In fact, my husband calls it a Reading Dinner and occasionally he’ll ask us to bring our books to the table. I usually know it means he wants some peace and quiet at the table but everyone will run and get their books and bring them to the table and we will have a very quiet, peaceful meal.
On helping her children develop a love of music:
Julie: I needed a way to teach them to work. We didn’t have a big family, we didn’t have a big home to keep up, I knew they were bright people, they needed to learn a discipline—taking responsibility for something that was theirs to do every day. They needed to learn winning and losing, thinking, problem solving, relationship building and the bonus was that they also got a little music and got some talent and ability.

The motivator for me to keep me going through the hard days—and there were hard days, the children called it “combat piano”—was my grandmother, Duella Hamblin, who had a real love and aptitude for music. She didn’t have the opportunities my children had. I felt like they were the generation where the opportunity and the talent met and that I would be accountable to her if I let it go.

I just thought, some day Grandma would say, “Why did you give up so easy when I would have given anything for this chance?” So I’d think, “Well, I won’t give up easy. We’ll just keep at it.” And if you have a hard day, tomorrow’s a better day.
On how the family views children:
Gerilyn: Grandma Bangerter always said, “Children are people,” and that to me is a profound statement because it’s so easy to see children as their own subgroup that have no relation to people but she had a love for people and individuals . . . and we’ve learned that these people can be appreciated from when they’re born to when they die. . . . Grandma Bangerter knew every single grandchild and great-grandchild by name, by middle name, by birthday, by likes and dislikes because she doesn’t see them as a group, she sees them as people.

Heidi: Your relationship with your children changes when you look at them as people. They have feelings, they have emotions, they have needs and they have bad days and when you think about that and not just say, “Well, you’re acting up” and think of them as individuals who may be having a hard time it gives you perspective during a temper tantrum.
On her Grandmother's life:
Heidi: When I was in high school there was a project where I had to learn about my oldest living relative. My cousin picked my grandpa so I said, “Oh, I guess I’m stuck with Grandma” but I did this interview with her and the more I got to know her I was fascinated with her life. . . .

For instance, her story of heading down to Brazil [to work as a missionary] when she was nine months pregnant with my Aunt Peggy. They got there right as she was ready to have this baby and another family was still living in the mission home, so she was trying to settle her family, she didn’t speak the language. She was homesick—homesick—and she recounts this experience of looking out the window and the rain coming down on all the cloth diapers that she’d just hung on the line to dry and she said, “All I could see out there in the jungle was the mountains. All I could think about were the flea bites on the children, the rats in the yard that I couldn’t get rid of and the fact that I couldn’t speak the language, I couldn’t even go grocery shopping.”

“It looked bleak," she said, "I didn’t know how I was going to do it."
Then Grandpa came skipping into the room, totally excited that he was back in Brazil, and he said, "Isn’t this beautiful? Aren’t you excited to be here?"

She said, “Honey, I don’t see it. I don’t see what you’re seeing,”

And he said, pausing, “Well . . . we can either enjoy it now or we can come back to the United States in five years from now and laugh about these experiences and enjoy it then. So which way shall we do it? Shall we enjoy it now or enjoy it then?”

A lightbulb went off in her head and she said, “You’re right, I’m going to enjoy it now, today and laugh about my soggy diapers hanging out on the line and the fact that we have fleas.”

“You’re a smart woman," he said, "You can figure out all these things. You can find a way to fix the vacuum that’s broken. You’re a nurse, you’re can heal the flea bits on our children. You can find a way to get rid of these rats. I have every confidence in you.”

And that’s the kind of person she is. She takes difficult tasks and says, “Well, let’s just enjoy it now instead of laughing about it later.”
And on raising her own three children:
Julie: I wanted to raise people who would be my friends when I was old. That means we had to do some things when they were young that would build them into the people I would enjoy being with when I was older.
We had to teach manners--you have to be clean, you can’t be stupid, you have to have something in your head we can talk about. I wanted to be around thinkers when they were older and people who could laugh and enjoy life and do some fun things. That meant I had to be a parent when they were young so I could be their friend when they were older.
It is difficult to parent on a day-to-day basis with precision. You’re never perfect at it, it takes a lot of revelation and help to know how to get through a situation day by day and know the needs of a person--a unique person--who is developing and you don’t know who they really are inside and how to get that out but you’re working toward building somebody you want to know when they’re older.
If you can’t build those characteristics in them when they’re young then you won’t like them when they’re older.
 Anyway . . . I enjoyed the interview and if you're interested in hearing the whole monstrously long 1 1/2 hours of it you can download the mp3 file here. They also have an interview with Stephanie and Christian Nielsen who you might remember were severely burned in a plane crash a couple years ago. Stephanie's blog has famously recounted their story and continuing recovery and though I haven't got to that interview yet I'm sure it's good too.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Anyone for Podcasts?

I've had an iPod for quite a few years now but only in the last year have I finally harnessed its full potential--I've discovered podcasts.

I am completely in love with these guys, leaving me to abandon local radio stations for good, and now whenever I'm riding my bike or driving in the car alone or doing my housework I'm plugged in and listening to all sorts of crazy-yet-compelling information.

This morning after dropping the kids off at school I listened to a short biography on Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian actress from the 1940s who was considered by some to be the most beautiful woman in the world (and if this photo is accurate I'd tend to buy into that assessment) but not only was she gorgeous she was an inventor that produced a system of frequency hopping for World War II weaponry that has since lead to what we call "spread system technology" and is used in security systems in everything from wireless routers to cell phones.  Pretty and amazing.

Oh, and flaky too. But you'll have to listen for yourself--you can find her story on the "Stuff You Missed in History Class" podcast through the "How Stuff Works" website. They have something like 200 or so historical podcasts that are always interesting.  I listened to one on Antoine de St. Exupery yesterday and then one on Livingston and Stanley and then one on Victoria Woodhull, the clairvoyant-turned-first-American-female-presidential-candidate. And if that description right there doesn't get you I have no hope for you.

The How Stuff Works site is great (as many of you know already) and I first started listening to the "Stuff You Should Know" podcasts hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant who are not only interesting but terribly funny. We still laugh about a line they had in the "Rules of War" podcast on scalping. And if they can make me laugh about scalping you know it's good. I've got the boys hooked on their podcasts too, they love Josh and Chuck and have been learning about everything from the Black Death to nuclear reactors to art theft.  They're becoming little Cliff Clavens with all sorts of semi-useful information filing their brains.

So check out "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and "Stuff You Should Know" and then if you still have time I also enjoy NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and "Car Talk."

Are there any others you'd recommend?