Friday, November 21, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 93


My husband just surprised me with tickets to a benefit concert for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital featuring Maddie & Tae and Kelsea Ballerini on Saturday, December 13!  Tickets are only $10 and it goes to a good cause if anyone wants to join us to hear some young up-and-comers that are singing some great country music.


And here's Kelsea Ballerini's single:


I love TED talks.  This one - presented by a Long Island EMT - is only 5 minutes long, but really touched me with his stories of sitting with the dying.  Make sure you have tissues close by!


This.  I want this for Christmas.

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With this as a close second.

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"Good for sodium watchers since the salt shaker has bad aim."  (Hee hee!)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 92


A while back I checked Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature out of the library.  I was interested in its premise that violence has declined and we are today living in the most peaceful time of history.  Unfortunately, I didn't get very far into the tome (800 pages of tiiiiiiny print) and couldn't renew it because of the long list of requests, but the statistics I've seen and what I've read from other sources is compelling.  Someday I'll get back to the book and finish it off.

I don't know about you, but I hear a considerable amount of doom and gloom about how bad the world is and how it's trajectory is going downhill fast.  There are definitely horrible things going on all over, but this week I saw this article titled "It's a cold, hard fact: our world is becoming a better place" and I appreciated the perspective.

Life expectancies, literacy and education are way up, violence and poverty are down. Democracy is gaining ground all over the world.  Of course, there's still a lot of work to be done, but it's good to be reminded that there are wonderful reasons to be optimistic.  (Make sure you click through to the "Our World in Data" presentation with all the data.  It's fascinating!)


Speaking of our changing world, I linked to this presentation by BYU history professor Craig Harline almost a year ago, but I love it so much I'm going to link to it again!  "What Happened to My Bellbottoms?" traces the process of change throughout history, particularly with things that were previously thought to be immutable, and how earlier generations react to the changes that occur in younger generations.  I especially appreciate his perspective on change from an LDS angle:
Speaking as a historian, change seems to be one constant we can count on. Speaking as a believer, maybe that's the way it should be. How dull it would be and how little we would learn if the point of life was only to jump through hoops already set up for us rather than for us to help create life. There's nothing wrong with having a system of right and wrong, obviously, and old systems should be casually discarded just because they're old. There's nothing even wrong in liking our particular system or disagreeing with others over what changes should occur, but seeing the big picture of change over time should make us more inclined to disagree humbly with an attitude that we might be wrong and others right rather than with so much certainty that we're right...

Mormons don't officially believe in inerrancy and change doesn't necessarily mean errancy anyway. In fact, the belief in continuing revelation could make Mormons in theory more radical believers in change than most others. But even to us change can feel threatening as was evident in probably our two most radical changes: the ending of polygamy and the priesthood ban.
Professor Harline goes on to tell his personal experiences with the priesthood ban as well as President Spencer W. Kimball's process toward issuing the second Official Declaration extending priesthood and temple blessings to worthy members of African descent.
President Kimball was the hero in this whole matter not because he stood up for his beliefs but because even at his age he reconsidered them.  Unlike the cardinal who wouldn't look through Galileo's telescope, President Kimball was willing to look and to ask.  He later wrote about the incident, 'Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired.'
Really a fabulous talk.  Take 45 minutes to listen it!


My ebook copy of Altered Perceptions from Robison Wells's indiegogo project just arrived!  I'm glad to have been able to contribute to a worthy effort and I can't wait to dig in!


On Monday, the New York Times published an article about the essays that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been posting on for the past year or so.  I had several people ask for my take on both the NY Times article and on the essays themselves, so if you'd like to read what I have to say, go check out my post at SpokaneFAVS.

Of course, there's a whole lot more to say and discuss on each of the essays than I could fit in a blog post of reasonable length, but I think the key with all of them is to read, study, learn, pray, ponder, and - most of all - be patient and kind with yourself and with others.  Reactions to these often difficult topics run the gamut and everyone's emotions - both positive and negative - are valid and deserve to be treated with respect.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 91

I read a lot of very interesting articles on various topics over the past few weeks, so I've linked to several of them here for this Friday Four.


School (usually) looks a little different now...Photo credit
In this article, a woman who had been teaching for 14 years got a job as a "High School Learning Coach" charged with helping "teachers and administrators to improve student learning outcomes."  As part of her orientation, she shadowed two high school students - a sophomore and a senior - for a day each, completing all the same work as the students: sitting in class, making notes, doing homework, taking tests.  She ended up with three "takeaways" and several changes she would make in her classroom based on her observations - like mandatory mid-class stretches, starting every class with time for questions from the students, and instituting a "no sarcasm" rule.  Read her entire write-up of the experience here.


I loved this photo essay by a "self-described male feminist" in Africa.  His aim is to "change the narrative around African women where they are often portrayed as victims of circumstance".  He photographed dozens of beautiful, strong, resilient women from Africa (including Leymah Gbowee, a woman I greatly admire) in different settings.  Women as business owners, activists, students, mothers, writers, leaders.


This brief article on NPR outlines recent findings about ADHD that really make sense to me and jive with my experience raising a son with ADHD.
The researchers used two different databases looking at the connections in brains of 576 children with ADHD and normally developing children. In particular, the scientists assessed 907 known points across the brain and calculated how strongly linked each unique pair was in both groups of children.
They found that one neural network in particular lagged behind when it came to children with ADHD. This area, called the default network, is responsible for your stream of consciousness, or daydreaming. It turns on when you're not actively engaged in tasks and turns off when you're busy.
"The default network is maturing very rapidly between youth and adulthood," says Sripada. "It's neither a hero nor villain — you need to be able to turn it on appropriately and turn it off appropriately." Without this ability, researchers suspect that children can't focus on tasks or think further into the future. Their daydreaming network interrupts the area of their brain working on tasks, causing a loss of attention.
It's a pet peeve of mine when people think that either a) ADHD isn't a "real" condition, or b) that it's just an excuse for badly behaved kids or lazy parents, or c) that kids with ADHD can "act normal" if only they have enough willpower.  I love reading about the science that explains what happens in the brain of a person with ADHD and using that to figure out how to better help my son cope and thrive.


And I'll finish off with a couple of collections of quotes I liked.

This first one includes excerpts from female authors either explaining what feminism is in their own words or a quote that demonstrates their view of women.  I particularly like the quotes from Claire Messud and Adrienne Rich, and the story J.K. Rowling tells.

And this collection is of feminist quotes with a hint of humor.  I like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's quote about intimidating men (#2), Rebecca West's roundabout definition of a feminist (#4), and Amy Poehler's quote which rounds out the list nicely at #15.  But Anne Hathaway's takes the cake for me:
A man told me that for a woman, I was very opinionated.
I said, ‘For a man, you’re kind of ignorant.’
As one of those "opinionated" women, I have to say "Thanks, Anne!"  I might have to steal that line some time...

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 90


First of all...

Happy Halloween!


Disney characters seem to be a perennial favorite for Halloween costumes, don't they?  Elsa from Frozen is a big one this year, for sure.  I love this (minor) reimagining of Disney princesses with something approaching normal waistlines!


Continuing along with the Disney princess theme, check out this tongue-in-cheek method of using Disney princess movies to indoctrinate your toddler as a feminist.  Start 'em young, I say! ;)  I like step 4:
Praise Belle for her love of reading, but segue into a discussion about the Stockholm syndrome as it relates to women, and how that might shed insight into the phenomenon of women who stay in toxic relationships.

And then, on the flip side, I really like how this article, "Disney Princesses Are My (Imperfect) Feminist Role Models", looks for - and finds - the feminist messages in Disney movies.  Brings to mind that quote paraphrased from Voltaire: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Taken as a whole, the Disney princess line offers a surprisingly diverse view of the female experience, ranging from the traditionally feminine Cinderella to the more traditionally masculine Mulan. These women are powerful, strong, and rational, but they are also emotional and sensitive. Most importantly, they are the main characters in their own stories. Too few well-written female characters can claim the same thing.
Perhaps the most important skill parents can teach their children is how to consume media critically. The generation-spanning Disney princess line is full of successes and failures when it comes to female representation. That makes it the perfect starting point for conversations about history, gender roles, and representation. With a little parental guidance, children can learn to separate the positive qualities of these female characters (kindness, empathy, bravery, intelligence, ingenuity) from the gender stereotypes they promote. And that’s an invaluable skill for young girls (and boys) to learn.

Lots of good food for thought in that article, including both the problematic and progressive aspects of Disney princesses.  It's definitely worth a look...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Reviews: The Black Cauldron and The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander's saga, begun in The Book of Three, continues in these two books.  Life has been getting busier, so again each of these books took a good two months for us to get through reading aloud, and required some recapping and reminding each time we managed to pick them up.

The Black Cauldron was one of my favorites of the series growing up, likely because of the high action plot and possibly because of the animated Disney version.  (Though even in those tender years I recognized that the book was way better than the film and bristled at the changes made to adapt the story to the screen.)  My boys had a similar response, having seen the movie a while ago.  I think having a general idea of the storyline beforehand helped them stayed focused especially through the breaks in our reading. 

Gurgi is a favorite, of course, and in an incredibly magnanimous statement, the boys allowed that my "Gurgi voice" has improved as the series has gone on.  High praise, indeed.

Ellidyr, the proud youngest son of a noble, joins the quest for the Black Cauldron and rubs Taran wrong from their first interaction, but he also provided some great material for conversations with my sons about people's motivations for rude behavior, the importance of withholding judgment until you know all the facts, and how people who make bad choices - even really bad choices sometimes - can make good ones, too.  This was particularly evident when contrasting Ellidyr with Morgant whose trajectory leads in the opposite direction.

As for The Castle of Llyr, it's the most Eilonwy-centered of the books, which I appreciate.  However, on this reading through I was disappointed to feel that she is presented as almost a caricature of herself yet again, at least until the final chapters.  Taran's feelings for Eilonwy are more apparent to both him and the reader - and less interesting to my boys than just about any other aspect of the story.

Glew is an interesting addition to the cast of characters and my boys were very interested to meet him and learn his story.  And that of Llyan as well.  I love the changes in Achren and am excited to re-read the next books as that journey continues.

The Black Cauldron
by Lloyd Alexander
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

The Castle of Llyr
by Lloyd Alexander
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 89


Jennifer Garner
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I've been a Jennifer Garner fan since the first season of Alias. Not only is she a fun actress to watch whether doing action, drama, or comedy, but she seems to really have a level head on her shoulders.  I love what she had to say recently at Elle's annual "Women in Hollywood" event.
The fact that there even needs to be a Women in Hollywood event is a little bit sad...I mean, the men in Hollywood event is every day—it's called Hollywood. Fifty-one percent of the population should not have to schedule a special event to celebrate the fact that in an art that tells the story of what it means to be human and alive, we get to play a part.

The disparity between men's and women's roles on the big screen has been a topic I've mentioned before.  But it's not only the treatment of women on screen where inequality is seen.  Check out this comparison Jennifer pointed out during her speech:
I told him [her husband Ben Affleck] every single person who interviewed me, I mean every single one, and this is true of the red carpet here tonight Elle, asked me, ‘How do you balance work and family?' and he said the only thing that people asked him repeatedly was about the tits on the ‘Blurred Lines' girl [Affleck's Gone Girl co-star Emily Ratajkowski]...As for work-life balance, he said no one asked him about it that day. As a matter of fact, no one had ever asked him about it. And we do share the same family. Isn't it time to kinda change that conversation?
Yep.  It's past time to change the conversation.


Another woman I've admired for years is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a brilliant scholar, feminist, Mormon, and writer who coined the famous phrase:

First of all, I loved this book.  Laurel teaches at Harvard, has won a Pulitzer Prize, and generally just says brilliant things about women and history and religion.

So I was excited to see this in-depth interview with her on Harvard's website.  Great insight into how she got her start and her early influences as well as what she's up to now.


It's a week before Halloween, so I'm seeing lots of the obligatory posts about awful "sexy" costumes that objectify girls and women.  There's really no excuse for "sexy nun" or "sexy crayons" or "sexy French fries" or "sexy Darth Vader".  I mean, really.


Language warning:

This.  So much this.

A whole lot of people are hollering about the First Amendment lately, so I thought a little refresher course appropriate.  The First Amendment does NOT mean that you can say and do anything and everything you want without any consequences.  It simply says that the federal government can't make laws that prohibit free speech.  (And even then, there are still some limitations: libel, slander, fraud, the infamous yelling-"Fire!"-in-a-crowded-theater example.  But I digress.)

It does NOT say that other people have to agree with you or that if other people express their disagreement they have to do it nicely or that others have to support what you say, or even give you space to say it.  And it doesn't absolve anyone of the requirement to follow other laws, like, for example, anti-discrimination laws that govern for-profit business operations.

People are acting like these issues are all cut-and-dried, black-or-white, but this is the real world and things are messy, particularly when one person's exercise of their right to free speech or religion starts to encroach on someone else's exercise of their right to free speech or religion.

To sum up, the First Amendment is not a blank check.

/rant over


(Happy birthday to my favorite sister in the whole wide world!  Our mutually supportive rants and raves have gotten me through the rough parts of life more times than I can count.  It's wonderful to have a partner in heretical thought and pot-stirring who's unfailingly got my back.  Love you, Dith!)

Imma have to get this book...
We totally could have written it ourselves.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 88


So Gene and I decided to join a gym.  Now, I'm not the kind of person who just drops in and pumps iron or jumps on a treadmill; I need a scheduled time and a specific purpose to get myself motivated to get into workout clothes and actually go.  Fortunately, the gym we joined has classes: weightlifting, step, kickboxing, and...Zumba!

In my younger years I danced - ballet, jazz, and Latin ballroom - so it's fun to get back to those roots in a small way.  Of course, I'm not in nearly the shape I was back then, so this is pretty accurate:



It's fall premiere season and I've been getting sucked in to waaaaaaay too many shows.  Some are old favorites - like Castle and Modern Family and Person of Interest and Parenthood - and some are brand new this year - like Gotham and Scorpion and A to Z.

What are your favorites so far this year?  If you could only watch one - ok, let's say one drama and one comedy - what would it be?


This is the stack of books that taunts me every time I pass by my kitchen table.  All read, just needing to be reviewed.

That stack doesn't include two more books that I read on my kindle and haven't reviewed yet or the new children's book that's on my kids' bookshelf.  How is it possible that I feel more behind now with all three kids in school for six hours every day than I ever did when I had kids at home?  Sigh.


That's really all I've got for you this morning.  I woke up with a stuffy head and sniffles, so I'm going to take a hot shower and try to clear my head.  Here's hoping that's all it takes!