Monday, October 28, 2013

Last Five Books I've Read

Per a blog topic request I did a bit ago, one suggestion was my five favorite books this year. I'm not sure I've read enough books to choose my top five, so instead I'll put the last seven books I've read:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I'm not quite finished with this one yet, and I don't even know how to evaluate it exactly because of that fact. It is more literary than I usually read, and it's discussing books I've never read, but I am rather captured by it. I'm listening to the audio, which has a great reader, and I probably have another week or so before I finish. I have determined that I will never read Lolita, and I've learned some very intellectual evaluations of some other classics, and I am more grateful than ever to be an American. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir from a former English Literature professor in Tehran before/during the revolution that turned a relatively progressive country into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Fascinating look at a culture different than my own, but also very interesting in light of different groups I see in our own country trying to control the actions of everyone else. I have heard that the end is intense, and I have a feeling I know what happens so we'll see how I feel when I finish it. Right now I would rate it a PG 13 but that might change by the end.

Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell

This is a book about four different moms--different types of moms--and the struggles each of them are facing within their roles. The chapters switch between the four characters and I liked the way it showed such differing women and different problems. I liked that it wasn't a 'man hater' book nor was it a 'super mom' book. It was more like 4 women's fiction novels put into one, showing each woman and what she was up against. The stories were good, though most of these women live a more cosmopolitan life than I do and so there were some portions that I did not relate to well. And, at the end of the book I found that while I liked each woman a bit better than I had in the beginning, there wasn't a single one that I felt I really related to; that I felt approached the role like I did. Not that I do it right or they do it wrong, but I think because my lifestyle is different and my motivations are different, I didn't 'fit' within the relationships of this story. The writing was good although the author had a tendency to use adverbs in dialogue tags like "she said sarcastically" "He said loquaciously" "she said energetically" "He said darkly" "she said humorously" "He said charmingly" and I did tire of all those adverbs. This was a rate R book.

Come to Zion Volume 1 & 2 by Dean Hughes

This is a story about English converts to the Mormon church at the time of mass immigration to Nauvoo. The first book follows the individual characters through their processes of converstion and then their crossing of the ocean to come to Zion. The second volume shows the life in Nauvoo as the church is still trying to figure itself out and then loses its first prophet. I love Dean Hughs and I have the other LDS fiction series he's written and have enjoyed this one just as much. One of the things I love about Hughs is how much I learn through the stories he writes. He does a fabulous job of showing the details of times and places. I feel that I better learn the facts through seeing people live through these times. One of the things I loved, loved, loved about this story is the imperfections he allows us to see in the early saints. We so often put early saints on pedestals and believe that they were these amazingly perfect people of faith and character. I have never believed this was the norm. Yes, they had great faith. Yes, they made great sacrifice. Yes, they paved the way for so many of their posterity to benefit from both of those things. But they could not have been perfect. They had to have had doubts. And they had to have been taking their journeys for their own growth--not ours. That meant it was hard for them, it means they struggled, it means that some of them were jerks. I like that Hugh shows this. I'm a bit nervous about the next book because it will involve polygamy which is still a difficult thing for me to deal with, but I trust Hughs and am therefore willing to take this journey with him. These books are rated PG.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This is a memoir about a girl who got lost in the Florida foster care system in (I believe) the late 80's--before many reforms were implements. The book covers her story from being a toddler taken from her dysfunction mother, to a child living in a variety of homes that were not equipped to truly care for her, to young woman finally in an adoptive family. It did not sugar coat anything but neither did it feel gratuitous. It was shocking to see how many times the system failed her, frustrating to see how ungracious she was when she got an adoptive family, and humbling to see those people who gave Ashley a chance to really change her course. My husband and I have recently become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and this book was required reading in our training. Since then, our appointments have become official and we are working together with a child whose family is involved in a DCFS case. It is our job to report to the Guardian ad Litem about how they are doing, what's working and what's not. I've reflected on Ashley's story many times, looking toward those things that made a difference for her story. I listened to the audio version which was read by Ashley herself. For me, this was a paradigm shifting book and I highly recommend it. I would rate this PG 13.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I am not a Sci-fi reader, and I'm not a big YA reader. But the movie is coming out, I have heard about this book for years, and I decided to listen to it during a long road trip. I was reminded why I don't like science fiction, and yet I do agree that this book is more than that and it crosses that genre line. It's a story about a boy being trained to be a military commander in an intergalactic war. There were parts that were hard to listen to because of the fact that it was a little boy in the story, there were also parts that I would have liked more clarification on, but all in all I liked the story. My favorite part was toward the end, after the climax and many changes have taken place. Ender reflects on the fact that in order to know people well enough to beat them with his military tactics, he has to know them so well that he loves them. Which then leaves him torn between the feelings of empathy for his enemies and loyalty to his side of the war. I found that absolutely fascinating and for me it made the story both complete and important. The writing is fabulous, the story was easy to follow, and I am glad I read it. I listened to this on audio and liked that as well. If I were sitting and reading I'm not sure I could have stayed with it simply due to the genre not being one that I like. I listened to the first chapter of the next book, Speaker for the Dead, and determined that I will likely not read any other books in this series. Not that it's bad, but it's just not my thing. I would rate this book PG 13.

Farenhieit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this book many moons ago in high school and remembered liking it. I have talked about and heard about it many times since then. Recently, after mentioning a part of it in a presentation, I realized that I had heard about that part I quoted from someone else--I didn't remember it on my own. I decided to read the book again and I am so glad I did. I've heard people say that Bradbury is overrated--I disagree. I love his use of words. I loved the depth of this story, the reflections it made to our time right now, and the connection it gave me to the time when I had read this book the first time. I listened to it on audio and the reader was excellent but I want to get a new copy of the book and highlight some of the ways Bradbury used words. For me this is a beautiful story and made me want to seek out more Bradbury in the future. It also reminded me that while there are only so many words out there, the way they are put together can make them feel brand new. Included at the end of this audio were some thoughts from Bradbury about the book and some very interesting cases of censorship that had taken place with this book in the preceding decades. What irony. I loved hearing Bradbury's comments and learning how this story came together for him. I would rate this book a soft PG 13, more from ability to understand content than from anything of a sexual or violent nature.

As you can see, I am moving more and more toward audio books as the time to sit and read seems to be a more and more fleeting experience for me. It has allowed me, also, to 'read' books I likely would never have read if I had to sit down to do it. Sitting to read, for me, is an experience of intimacy and visualization--I will continue to reserve it for those books who are best enjoyed in that situation.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Questions From Dina, Answers From Josi

I put out a request on Facebook a couple of weeks ago regarding blog topics. I've just finished a book and that gets my fingers itching to blog, but sometimes I don't know what to talk about. I had several fun responses and I'll be covering them for the next little bit. Today, I'm going to answer several questions that Dina asked--I fully expect everyone to be wowed by my answers! :-)

How to keep three teen boys fed and full on a tight budget?

I do not have three teen boys--but I do have one and just keeping him fed and full can be a challenge. I had four brothers growing up (Those are my brothers in the photo) and I was amazed at how much food they could pack away. AND, I am one of nine kids raised on a school teachers salary--so home economy is in my nature and my nurture. So here are my suggestions and though I like to sound like an expert, I may very well have this wrong but I'm trying :-)

-Growing up my mom always made a lot of food for dinner so that we could have leftovers. She then somehow trained us to like leftovers for snacks. This kept her from having to prepare food over and over again and there was always something yummy in the fridge. It was usually something more healthy than traditional snack food, too.
-Years ago I bought this book, The Tightwad Gazette, which was published by a woman who was on Oprah as the biggest tightwad on the planet. I am amazed at the penny-pinching methods she used, but more than that I was really impressed with how dang happy she and her family were. They had made it into a family goal and they had fun with it. I haven't employed all of the tips, but several of them have worked their way into my lifestyle and the toffee recipe she makes at Christmas, is awesome! (and cheap)
-Fat and protein make people feel fuller longer. Not the kind of fat in a twinkie, but the kind of fat in meats, dairy, fish, coconut oil and olive oil. Try buying meats in bulk and freezing it, teach kids how to make a hamburger on their own, keep lots of canned tunna and chicken around which can easily be made into a casserole, sandwich, salad, or wrap. One chicken salad sandwich can do the job of six pieces of toast with jam. I've been working on helping my son recognize the need for protein with every meal--string cheese, hard boiled eggs, meat of some kind or another. He's gotten a lot better at it and admits that he is fuller longer--for instance I used to do Oatmeal for breakfast but he gets to 10:00 and is "starving his face off" so now I make sure I make some eggs too. Luckily, I really like cooking breakfast. When he starts with good protein, he doesn't seem to be hungry all day long. I also buy protein shakes and bars in bulk at Costco so there are quick grab things for him to take.

There you go--that is the gammut of my expertise on feeding teen boys :-)

 Things to do with exchange students for free?

We had an exchange student last year (pictured left), it was a lot of fun. I realized that while I had assumed he'd want to go to movies and bowling and that type of thing, he was as interested in just our 'community' as he was anything else. So, my suggestions would be go to different playgrounds--teenage boys always seem to be able to enterain themselves at those. How about Frisbee golf courses, hikes, and national monuments in your area. Going to state capitols, historic buildings, museums, and churchs can be interesting. Often we are so used to the things in our area that we forget how interesting they can be to someone else. I would never plan long trips because it might be 1) boring for them 2) overwhelming for them.

From the comments you made it sounds like you're already doing a lot of expos and things--those are awesome. You could also look into car shows, community theater, and local libraries that have events. Do you have friends that would give you guys a tour of where they work? Maybe call the news stations, sports arenas, and animal shelters for tours there too. And the more excited you are about something, the more excited they will be. And take lots of pictures!

Do you have Grandchildren? If so, what do you like and what don't you like about it? If not, what do you think about that time in your life?

I kind of have grandchildren (pictured left.) My husband and I raised his niece for several years and she has two boys. They are our grandchildren in the way that my husband and I are parent figures in my niece's life, but I don't think it's like a real grandchildren relationship in other ways because several family members helped to raise our niece and when she and her family married, his parents took that central role as grandparents for the boys and are quite close to them. She and her husband have divorced and he has primary custody now. She lives several hours away, so we don't get to see them very often. I have loved watching them grow up and it's always a treat to see them, but because of circumstances we aren't in their lives very often. 

I anticipate that things will be different with actual grandchildren, that I'll be more involved with their parent's lives and therefore more involved in theirs. I don't want to be the grandma who is constantly babysitting--I don't' know how I ever did it with my own now that they are past that point--but I'm looking forward to that time and plan to enjoy them very much. I'm getting closer to that point of life every year so it is something I ought to ponder on a bit more. :-)

What's your favorite color? Has it always been your favorite color? if not, what other colors have been your favorites and why?

My favorite color is black. It has been my favorite color since junior high. It's probably my favorite because I look good when I'm wearing it and it matches everything. I am a bit color-disabled. I'm not good at visual arts, which makes clothing and home design not a natural fit for me. For many years 90% of my wardrobe was black or white, then I added some gray (I know, craaaaaazy) and then some red. In the last few years I've gotten all colorful and have one item of almost every color, but I still love black best of all. I go back to it over and over. If I were to boil it down, it would be because black is an easy color. I have plenty of other things about me that are complicated, so it's nice that this one thing is not. I do remember being in elementary school and my favorite color changing all the time--usually because I wanted a favorite color that no one else had. Black might have served that purpose too.

Thanks Dina, I hope the answers were satisfying :-)