Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Babysitting Triumph

I babysat The Goose tonight and, even though she'd been really fussy the rest of the day, she didn't cry once! She was happy the whole time, even when I wouldn't let her eat my food, which she desperately tried to sneak out from under my nose. We watched Hebrew singalongs and played with her toys, and she chewed on a baby toothbrush on my finger--which, may I say, hurt like the devil. That little girl has a strong baby jaw! Luckily Mommy and Daddy weren't gone too long, and got home about five minutes after she starting losing interest in her toys and began verging on fussy. I hereby declare this evening a success!

And now, some pictures from her visit so far: 

The end! More pictures to come, but they'll be on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire--8/10

This book was a huge surprise to me.

To begin with, I did not want to read it. I have heard several of the songs from the musical and I hate them, so I've been kind of prejudiced against it from the beginning. (Sorry, Wicked lovers, of whom I know many--I guess Movie Tunes ruined it for me. Listening to "Popular" over and over while cleaning theaters is maybe not the best first exposure to a musical.) But my sister Talia told me I should try it, and since I do have a category for recommended books in my 10/10/10 challenge, I decided I would check it out. 

The first fifty pages or so were not promising. My impression was that Gregory Maguire is a weird, vulgar, and slightly pervy author, and it looked like the story would be even stranger than I'd thought. But I kept reading, and in the second section of the book I found my interest growing. 

Elphaba--the Wicked Witch of the West--is an amazing character, and in fact is one of the least "wicked" people in the whole story. She's cared for her younger, crippled sister since she was born, and as a teenager she fights a campaign to stop the discrimination against Animals (sentient, talking beasts who function in society and are seen as the lowest class by snobby people. Under the Wizard's tyrannical rule, the rights of Animals are being slowly taken away in an attempt to relegate them back to the status of animals (lower-case a) and remove them from society.)

The story is really interesting. It's infinitely more in-depth than I'd have thought based on The Wizard of Oz (the movie--I've never read the book). In appearance, the cultures of Oz are strange and fanciful: miniature Munchkinlanders, orange Quadlings, talking Animals, Arjikis with blue diamonds on their skin. They have tiktok robotic creatures and practice magic and sorcery. But underneath those things, the people of Oz are not so different from people in our world... which may be why this story is a tragedy.

Elphaba is strong and sarcastic and passionate and a teensy bit macabre, and I love her character, especially compared with the others--Glinda is vapid, conceited, and willingly shallow, and Nessarose (Elphaba's sister and the eventual Wicked Witch of the East) is demanding and judgmental. The tragedy of the story is that Elphaba is really a wonderful person whose life is bitter and massively misunderstood.

So that is Wicked. Incidentally, my impression of the author didn't change as I read, and the story was significantly stranger than I'd expected--but it turns out I loved it. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dear Blogger:

Could you tell me why the feed to my blog has stopped updating? All of my friends' blogs that link to mine say that my last update was two weeks (and several blog posts) ago. What is this about, and can you please fix it? That would be great.


A Revelation

I discovered something the other day. 

I heard someone mention political correctness, and I was reminded of a conversation that I had about it, once upon a time and long long ago, with roommates. This time, though, I have a new piece of information to add to my perspective about it. 

Like I said in that original post, I do believe that political correctness and respect are not the same thing, and that the one is being used where the other should be instead.

I do believe that political correctness is, in many cases, often used to infringe on one group's rights in the name of liberating another group. 

But I have also now realized that when some people talk about "political correctness," what they really mean is just "what someone else thinks is right." 

There are some people who refuse to accept that someone else's beliefs are as valid as theirs are. There are people who are so blind and narrow-minded that they can't see how it's possible for someone to believe differently than they do and still be a good person, or have good intentions. These people think that anyone who fights them must be doing it out of, if not actually evil intentions, then a desire to be PC--not a belief that what they're fighting for is actually right. 

So what I have learned, then, is that when these people are the ones condemning political correctness... Well, perhaps we should take it with a grain of salt.

Remember--Whatever Happens, Hang On to Your Bucket.

There has been a lot of exciting news in the past 48 hours. My mom turned 51... My best friend got engaged... My husband got a new job. Talia and my mom got to Greece safely, and have probably seen Daniel by now. They'll all be home in two weeks. One half of a big family mess has been reconciled. We got an unexpected $63 in the mail, and I got a late birthday present from dear Lindsey. My cousin is pregnant... My brother-in-law Dan turns 29 today. And in two weeks, he and his family are going to be coming to visit and stay with us for a week (although we already knew that weeks ago). So it's pretty exciting news all around. Yay for July, apparently the month of good happenings!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Contest!

The Lovely Blog is having an essay contest!

The topic is "Lesson Learned"--tell us, in approximately 700 words, about an experience that sticks in your memory as having taught you something. It can be about absolutely anything you want. 

The prize is one of these beautiful fabric posters, specially designed for us by Annie:

The deadline is August 7, so you have about two and a half weeks! We want lots of submissions, so go write something for us!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stuff You Thought You Knew

I have been reading a fascinating book called The Book of General Ignorance. It's a trivia book, basically, about all the things that people think are true, but aren't. Some of it is random silliness, but some of it is of actual historical significance, and I just cannot believe some of the things that are being taught in schools that simply aren't true. 

For example. I bet you think Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, don't you? That's what I learned in school, so I don't see why you wouldn't. Well, he didn't. 

The telephone was invented by Antonio Meucci, an Italian who'd moved to the United States, in 1860. He obtained a caveat (the book calls this "a kind of stopgap patent") in 1871. Then he was injured in an accident, and in 1874, when it was time for him to renew his caveat, he was living on charity and didn't send in the required $10. His sketches and working models were at the lab at Western Union--where Alexander Graham Bell also worked--and they had mysteriously disappeared by 1876, when Bell registered his patent. Meucci was in the middle of suing Bell when he died, and so Bell gets the credit. 

Other interesting things I bet you don't know:

The capital of Thailand is not called Bangkok, and hasn't been for over 200 years. Its current name is ridiculously long, but is generally shortened to Krung Thep. Only foreigners still call it Bangkok.

The naming of Nome, Alaska, happened by mistake--a ship's officer noticed a point of land in Alaska without a name, and wrote "Name?" next to it on his map. When the map was being copied, the cartographer thought it said "Nome," and wrote that down as the name.

Baseball was not invented in the United States--it was invented in England, and has been around since at least the mid-1700s. The only sport that was entirely invented here is basketball. 

George Washington's false teeth weren't wood, they were ivory--mostly hippopotamus, and some elephant.

America is not named after Amerigo Vespucci! It's named after Richard Ameryk, the primary investor in the voyage of John Cabot, who came to what is now Canada two years before Vespucci did. Amerigo Vespucci never reached North America, only South; he never used the name of America for his discovery; and according to the way new lands were named at the time, if he had discovered America, he would have named it Vespuccia (or something like that). New countries were never named after a person's first name, only their last.

Camels store fat in their humps, not water. 

Most of the tigers in the world today live in the United States. Some scientists estimate that there are only between 5100 and 7500 wild tigers left in the world--and yet there are approximately 4000 tigers living in captivity in Texas alone. 

Also--tigers can't stand the smell of alcohol, and will viciously attack anyone who has been drinking.

The hippopotamus kills more people than any other African mammal. Hippos kill lions by holding them underwater and drowning them; they kill crocodiles by biting them in half; and they kill sharks by dragging them out of the water and trampling them. (Hippos are vegetarians, so they do this in self defense.)

The guillotine was not invented by Dr. Joseph Guillotin, and in fact it wasn't even invented in France. It was invented in Yorkshire, England, and was in use as far back as 1286 (about 500 years before the French Revolution). 

Chicken tikka masala was invented in Glasgow (in Scotland). 

The closest relative of the bear is the dog. 

Chameleons don't change color to match their background--they change color based on other factors (when they're frightened, when they beat another chameleon in a fight, when a member of the opposite sex shows up, etc.) and if they happen to match their background, it's a total coincidence.

Men are struck by lightning six times more often than women. 

Amazonian Indians invented rubber boots by standing knee-deep in liquid latex until it dried. 

The largest known earthquakes in North America were in the Mississippi River valley in 1811-12. They were so strong that they created entire new lakes and completely changed the course of the Mississippi River. Tremors from the quakes caused church bells to ring as far away as Massachusetts. 

Um... Apparently sperm have noses. And love the smell of lily of the valley. Which is now being used in fertility treatments. Who knew?

The Canary Islands are named after dogs--the canary birds are named after the islands. 

Magellan made it only halfway around the world before he died--the first man to go all the way around the world was Henry the Black, Magellan's slave. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dafni and Jaylee are here! They are on their way home from the airport and should be there any minute! And I will be off work any minute, so probably by the time anyone reads this I will have seen them already! Yay!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Well, Crap.

Or: Why Whole Foods Isn't as Good as We Thought.

From The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan:

I'm not prepared to accept the premise that industrial organic is necessarily a bad thing, not if the goal is to reform a half-trillion-dollar food system based on chain supermarkets and the consumer's expectations that food be convenient and cheap.

And yet to the extent that the organic movement was conceived as a critique of industrial values, surely there comes a point when the process of industrialization will cost organic its soul (to use a word still uttered by organic types without irony), when Supermarket Pastoral becomes more fiction than fact: another lie told by marketers.

The question is, has that point been reached, as Joel Salatin [a self-professed "beyond organic" farmer] suggests? Just how well does Supermarket Pastoral hold up under close reading and journalistic scrutiny?

About as well as you would expect anything genuinely pastoral to hold up in the belly of an $11 billion industry, which is to say not very well at all. At least that's what I discovered when I traced a few of the items in my Whole Foods cart back to the farms where they were grown.

I learned, for example, that some (certainly not all) organic milk comes from factory farms, where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced "dry lot," eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. The reason much of this milk is ultrapasteurized (a high-heat process that damages its nutritional quality) is so that big companies like Horizon and Aurora can sell it over long distances.

I discovered organic beef being raised in "organic feedlots" and organic high-fructose corn syrup... words I never expected to see combined. 

And I learned about the making of the aforementioned organic TV dinner, a microwaveable bowl of "rice, vegetables, and grilled chicken breast with a savory herb sauce." Country Herb, as the entree is called, turns out to be a highly industrialized organic product, involving a choreography of thirty-one ingredients assembled from far-flung farms, laboratories, and processing plants scattered over a half-dozen states and two countries, and containing such mysteries of modern food technology as high-oleic safflower oil, guar and xanthan gum, soy lecithin, carrageenan, and "natural grill flavor." Several of these ingredients are synthetic additives permitted under federal organic rules. So much for "whole" foods...

I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the "free-range" lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old--for fear they'll catch something outside--and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later.

Monday, July 12, 2010

1984, by George Orwell, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood--8/10

I knew very little about The Handmaid's Tale when I started it, so I had no idea how similar it would be to 1984. The fact that I read them back to back was a coincidence, but the fact that I am writing about them in the same post is not.

I have been meaning to read 1984 for a loooong time, and have even started it twice before. When I finally buckled down and got into it, it went pretty quickly--except for that section in the middle where you read the book along with Winston--which was interesting, but just stopped the action for too long. I was ready to find out what was going to happen. 1984, in case you don't know, is about a society in the future in which everything everyone does is watched by Big Brother and the Thought Police; where children are encouraged to turn in their parents for "unorthodox" behavior, and do so willingly; where every home has a telescreen out of which they can be watched at any time, which talks constantly at them, feeding them Party propaganda, and which only the highest members of the Inner Party can turn off; where they all wear the same ratty blue overalls and eat pinkish gray mush every day for lunch; where they are constantly at war, but their allies keep changing; and where the news is rewritten every day so that there is never even one shred of evidence that the Party was not always, 100 percent right about everything. The main character is Winston, and the story follows him as he secretly rebels against the Party. 

The Handmaid's Tale, as it turns out, follows a similar story. I liked Wikipedia's description of the society: 
The Handmaid's Tale is set in the near future in the Republic of Gilead, a country formed within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America. It was founded by a racist, male chauvinist, nativist, theocratic-organized military coup as an ideologically-driven response to the pervasive ecological, physical and social degradation of the country. Beginning with a staged terrorist attack (blamed on Muslim terrorists) that kills the President, a movement calling itself the "Sons of Jacob" launched a revolution under the pretext of restoring order, ousting Congress, suspending the U.S. Constitution. Given electronic banking they were quickly able to freeze the assets of all women and other "undesirables" in the country, stripping their rights away. The new theocratic military dictatorship, styled "The Republic of Gilead", moved quickly to consolidate its power and reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsorily-Christian regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious orthodoxy among its newly-created social classes.
The main character is a Handmaid, a woman who is assigned to the house of a Commander who hasn't been able to produce a baby with his Wife. Once a month, during a pretty awkward ceremony, the Commander sleeps with the Handmaid in the presence of his Wife. Handmaids are given names based on the name of the Commander to whom they belong at the time--we never learn our main character's real name, but she goes by Offred. Everyone is color-coded in this society: Commanders wear black uniforms; Wives wear pale blue dresses; Handmaids wear red habits, with white hat-type things that come forward to create a tunnel for their vision; Marthas (the maids, basically) wear green smocks; Aunts--older women who instruct the Handmaids--wear brown; the Guardians--basically the police, men who are either too young, too old, or too stupid to be Angels (the elite soldiers)--wear lime green uniforms. The lower class of women are called Econowives, and they wear multicolored dresses to represent that they are responsible for all the many domestic duties of a woman, as opposed to the higher class women who are relegated to one task. Women who were widows, political figures, lesbians, nuns, or unable to have children are called Unwomen, and sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste until they die. Everyone is watched by the Eyes, similar to 1984's Thought Police, and when someone is caught in the slightest misstep, they are taken away in a black van and never seen again.

It's impossible to describe all of the ways women--and men, for that matter, men who don't fit in well enough to be Commanders or Angels--are controlled and degraded in this society without going on for several more paragraphs. Both of these books are fascinating, infuriating, and terrifying, the more so because they are not impossible futures. Margaret Atwood's novel was published in 1985, one year after George Orwell's book was set to take place, and that is only where the similarities begin. It was a coincidence of timing that I happened to read The Handmaid's Tale immediately after I finished 1984, but I'm glad it happened that way, and I recommend that you read them that way too. To me, both of these books are a horrifying commentary on the evils of fanaticism, especially religious--there is nothing more dangerous than a lunatic who believes God supports him.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy--8/10

I am so glad that someone wrote this book. 

In case you didn't know, raunch culture is basically what our culture is today: the whole Girls Gone Wild, Hooters, Paris Hilton gets made popular by a sex tape, porn-stars-writing-books phenomenon. The fact that ads for shoes are now just as slutty as ads for underwear. That kind of thing.

And this book is about how people mistakenly believe that the rise of raunch culture is a sign that feminism "worked," that women are liberated, etc. etc. etc. Ariel Levy points out that this is, in fact, not the case. 

It's a really interesting read, and I definitely recommend it to all the women I know. It's not a bad book for men to read, too, although it may be awkward (parts of it are kind of explicit). I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Am on a Quest...

A quest for better hair products.

For years I've been using different kinds of gel, and while that works pretty well, I've been wanting a lighter hold than gel gives. For a while now I've been trying different kinds of mousse instead. But so far, I haven't found one I like. 

My regular brand of gel is TresEmme, so I started by trying the mousse equivalent. It works pretty well, but leaves my hands sticky, which I hate.

Dafni recommended Herbal Essences, which I tried and loved; but after a few uses, it started being less and less effective. I tried the gel equivalent of that brand, and I like it pretty well, but again--the point is to get away from gels. 

Two days ago I bought Garnier Fructis mousse, and I hate it. It smells gross, to begin with. But the big problem is the stickiness. It feels absolutely awful on my hands. In fact, this morning I washed my hands three times before I finally went and used the dish soap, because my normal Bath & Body Works soap wasn't feeling strong enough. Once I used the dish soap, barely patted my hands dry, and then put some lotion on, my hands finally felt normal again. I will not be finishing this bottle of mousse before I try another one. 

And so... the quest continues.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Things to Consider When Apartment Hunting:

Shower head height. Life is just that much more awkward when the shortest person living in your apartment gets in the shower and has to crouch to get her hair wet. 

Cupboard space--not just how much there is, but how accessible it is to the person who will be using it the most. Everything in our kitchen is either by the ceiling or practically underground, meaning that I have no good place to store 1) dishes or 2) food. Also, the midget refrigerator comes up to my chin. Our kitchen is a bit of a dilemma at the moment.

Thus far we actually love all the living spaces in our apartment: the living room, the bedroom, and the second bedroom/reading room/parlor, when we're finished decorating it. But the functional rooms--the kitchen and the bathroom--are putting forth some storage issues. Thus are the joys of living in an apartment that was probably built before we were born.

Monday, July 5, 2010

So one day Mike and I are walking along, and he suddenly stops and does a little dance move. I say, "What the heck was that??" And he says, "I was bein' fancy!"

Scientific Socialists

There is nothing inevitable about the fast food nation that surrounds us--about its marketing strategies, labor policies, and agricultural techniques, about its relentless drive for conformity and cheapness... During the past two decades, rhetoric about the "free market" has cloaked changes in the nation's economy that bear little relation to real competition or freedom of choice. From the airline industry to the publishing business, from the railroads to telecommunications, American corporations have worked hard to avoid the rigors of the market by eliminating and absorbing their rivals. 

The strongest engines of American economic growth in the 1990s--the computer, software, aerospace, and satellite industries--have been heavily subsidized by the Pentagon for decades... The Internet at the heart of today's "New Economy" began as the ARPANET, a military communications network created in the late 1970s. For better or worse, legislation passed by Congress has played a far more important role in shaping the economic history of the post-war era than any free market forces.

The market is a tool, and a useful one. But the worship of this tool is a hollow faith. Far more important than any tool is what you make with it. Many of America's greatest accomplishments stand in complete defiance of the free market: the prohibition of child labor, the establishment of a minimum wage, the creation of wilderness areas and national parks, the construction of dams, bridges, roads, churches, schools, and universities. If all that mattered were the unfettered right to buy and sell, tainted food could not be kept off supermarket shelves, toxic waste could be dumped next door to elementary school, and every American family could import an indentured servant (or two), paying them with meals instead of money.

The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power. The great challenge now facing countries throughout the world is how to find a proper balance between the efficiency and the amorality of the market. Over the past twenty years the United States has swung too far in one direction, weakening the regulations that safeguard workers, consumers, and the environment. An economic system promising freedom has too often become a means of denying it, as the narrow dictates of the market gain precedence over more important democratic values.

Today's fast food industry is the culmination of those larger social and economic trends. The low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost--and should. The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society. The annual cost of obesity alone is now twice as large as the fast food industry's total revenues. The environmental movement has forced companies to curtail their pollution, and a similar campaign must induce the fast food chains to assume responsibility for their business practices and minimize their harmful effects.

Fast Food Nation, p. 260-262

Friday, July 2, 2010

Some Serious Whining

I have been seriously fighting the green-eyed monster lately. 

Mike and I are in kind of a rough patch in our life, and it seems that everywhere I look around me, people I know are getting all the things I want. While I am thrilled for them, it just kills me to be constantly reminded of how much I want these things, and how far I am from any possibility of having them in the near future.

Basically, what I want is this: To be living in a house, near lots of family, with a baby of our own and lots of cousins for that baby to play with. I know I'm just a little ahead of myself in this department; I am the oldest, after all, and my siblings aren't really there yet, so the fact that I don't have this right now doesn't mean that I won't in the future. 

But there are other factors besides my siblings, and they are ones that I am far less certain about. For example, we want to live near Mike's family just as much as we want to live near mine; when we were in Utah it was horrible being away from Texas, and now that we're in Texas it's horrible being away from Utah. Either way we're missing out on kids growing up. And the big problem is that I have no ideas as to how we will reconcile both our families in the future, when we are deciding on somewhere more permanent to settle.

 Then there's also the fact that I have a lot of family in Arizona, and as much as that has been a complicated area in my life, I still always feel this draw to Mesa, and an intense jealousy of my cousins who do live there. They live really near each other, and whenever I see pictures of them doing things together with their kids I just want it so bad for myself too. 

Then, of course, there's the fact that every other person I know seems to be traveling right now. This is my other biggest thing. My cousin and his wife are living in Italy, and a guy I knew in college is there too; a couple former roommates recently went to England, and one was on some kind of tour of the Mediterranean; my brother is in Greece, and my mom and sister are about to be joining him and then going to Israel together; my aunt was just in Israel last month; a college friend is in Russia; two cousins are in China (separately); an old friend from EFY is on her way to Norway; a girl from my ward is in New York; another former roommate was in Chicago a few months ago; a cousin just went to Washington D.C.; and so on. You see what I mean. 

Traveling has always been one of my top most super-ultimate desires, and yet I've never been out of the country. I went to Chicago my junior year in high school and Las Vegas in college, and that is about the extent of it (besides some trips to California when I was a kid, which don't count, because I hardly knew the difference between California and Arizona; oh, yeah, and a trip to Nauvoo several years ago). Those were great trips, but they aren't what I want. I am dying to see Europe. I know it will happen for me sometime, but I just can't imagine it, and in the meantime it is just really hard for me to see everyone else doing it. I've been trying so hard not to whine about it, but oh well. I have limits.

Okay. I feel better for now. Thank you, blogosphere. Resuming normal programming... now.