Friday, August 30, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 29


We've had our first eggs from the pullets (the new chicks, now about six months old)!  With nine chickens, three of whom have been laying for a while, you might wonder how we know for sure that it was one of the young ones that actually started laying.  Behold:

The egg on the left is from one of our older layers.
The egg on the right is noticeably smaller, from one of the pullets.
I think we'll be drowning in eggs soon.  Lemme know if you want on the list for a dozen "farm" fresh eggs!


Last night we attended our last Spokane Indians baseball game of the summer.  It was a loooooooong game and we ended up leaving at 9:00 when it was only the top of the sixth inning.  (We've been to games that were over by 9:00 before!)  The Indians were up 12 to 2 and we'd already won coupons for free pancakes at IHOP and free Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell, so it was time to call it a day.  Anyway, it was great to have one last night at the ballpark.  And it was nice that my complaint about the Reese's was resolved to my satisfaction, too.

Tired boy...

Brothers at the ballpark

One last picture!

Gene is rarely out of town for work, but this past weekend he attended a continuing education course in Billings, Montana, leaving Friday at noon and not getting back until after midnight on Sunday.  So of course, Sunday evening we have a rip-roaring windstorm that I thought was going to tear the roof off of the house and send debris crashing through our windows (it didn't - the only casualty was a plastic spray nozzle for the hose that got crushed by a brick that fell off the windowsill).  What followed was one of the more impressive lightning storms I've seen in quite a while.  The power went out just as I was getting the kids to bed, and so they were all scared of the sudden dark and needed some extra snuggling and reassurance in order to calm down enough to sleep.  I'm grateful to have had a sufficient supply of candles, flashlights, and batteries and that our animals were all ok.  (I also had to chase a coyote off Saturday morning.  It was circling the chicken coop trying to get in and the birds' frantic cackling woke me up.)


This past week I have attended Buddhist meditation class at the Unitarian Universalist church, served lunch to low-income families with the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), chaperoned a temple trip with LDS youth from my ward, and debuted my "Ask a Mormon" feature on SpokaneFAVS.  It's been quite a religious/interfaith week!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Here Goes Nothing...

A couple of weeks ago, the editor of Spokane Faith & Values approached me, asking if I'd be interested in running a new column on the website.  They'd already had some success with similar features, "Ask a Buddist" and "Ask an Atheist", and she thought that an "Ask a Mormon" column would be a big hit.  I took a deep breath.

Now, I've been fielding questions about my faith for a good 25 of my 35 years.  I remember getting a letter in the mail from a friend in 4th grade that was all cheery and chatty until the postscript, when she added a whole list of statements, thinly veiled as questions - complete with scriptural references - about how Mormon beliefs conflict with "traditional" Christianity.  I later found out that her pastor had recently held a seminar for kids on how to "save" their Mormon friends and encouraged them to confront their LDS peers by writing a letter.

I don't blame my friend, or hold any ill will toward her, of course.  She was just following the guidance of her spiritual leader and worried about me, her friend.  And that certainly wasn't the last time that people of other faiths tried to tell me what I believed (and got it very wrong) rather than engaging in a conversation to truly understand me and my beliefs.

Over the years I've had some phenomenal interfaith interactions that have helped me grow, learn, refine my own articulation of my beliefs and find common ground with others.  I've also learned that some conversations simply cannot be productive or uplifting and I've reluctantly learned not to waste too much time with those.

It seems to come down to the true motivations of those involved.  If the intent is a better, clearer, more respectful understanding of other people, who are God's children just as much as I am, and their beliefs, the conversation usually goes pretty well despite disagreements and differences.  If the purpose is simply to prove the others wrong, or even to prove yourself right without regard to others or, worse, at their expense, the conversation usually goes badly, regardless of any similarities in belief.

And I've found this to be true not only with people of other faiths, but even within my own faith.

So, recognizing that there may be some whose motivations are not pure, but desiring to further the opportunities for positive interactions, I let out that deep breath and said, "Sure.  Let's do it!"

Here's the introduction.  Feel free to submit a question!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

This thoroughly enjoyable young adult novel is set in the suburbs on Long Island during the Vietnam War.  Holling Hoodhood is in seventh grade and is not Catholic or Jewish.  Consequently, each Wednesday afternoon when every other student in his class goes to either Hebrew school or catechism, he alone is left behind with his teacher, Mrs. Baker who, he is sure, hates him.

At first Wednesday afternoons are filled with unpleasant chores like pounding the chalk out of erasers and cleaning the class pet rats' cage. Wednesdays gradually become more bearable, though, when Mrs. Baker starts Holling on reading Shakespeare: The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth, to name a few.  It turns out that Holling, despite initially believing that this was a new torture Mrs. Baker devised just for him, comes to love Shakespeare, even starring as Ariel in a community theatre production.  Meanwhile, Shakespeare is also a mechanism for Mrs. Baker to teach Holling about how to navigate life, and how to better understand other people.  She explains: "He wrote to express something about what it means to be a human being in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written...That we are made for more than power...that we are made for more than our desires.  That pride combined with stubbornness can be disaster.  And that compared with love, malice is a small and petty thing."

Holling objects, and rightfully so, that in middle school malice is not always a "small and petty thing" as illustrated so clearly by cruel events that would definitely be labelled bullying today.  There is standard middle school meanness, and some heart-breaking indifference from Holling's parents.  Holling's father is focused on the success of his architectural business.  Holling's mother is emotionally distant.  Holling's older sister, Heather, is a trying to find her place in the world, largely by pushing against everything her parents are.

The Vietnam War provides a sobering backdrop looming behind every scene.  Mrs. Baker's husband is deployed, as are the spouses of several other teachers at the school, and is categorized as Missing In Action.  The tension is exacerbated by atomic bomb drills the school is required to do, and the occasional announcement of another deployment or death.

There is also great kindness and heroism demonstrated by several characters, notably Mrs. Baker, but also Holling's friends and fellow students, other staff at the school, and people in the community, even professional baseball players.  Holling himself adds to the sum of goodness in the story as he saves Heather at least twice in dramatic ways, and begins to develop a sense of responsibility not only for himself and his sister, but also for the world at large.

Mr. Schmidt deftly captures not only the upheaval of the late 1960s, but also the general trauma and tumult of middle school and difficult family life.  But he balances this recognition with an awareness of the abundance of good that people are capable of. The Wednesday Wars is filled with hope for - and a love of - humanity.


The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
ISBN: 9780618724833
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).

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 28


A few months ago, a couple of my friends started a "movie club" and invited me to join.  The four of us each pick a movie, we watch the movies over the course of the month, and then we meet via a Google hangout at a prearranged time to discuss the films.  This month the films were:

A documentary called Man on Wire about Philippe Pettit, the French high-wire walker who crossed the span between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.  I'm not sure I breathed during the last half of the film.  Insane, I tell you.  Absolutely insane.  But I couldn't look away.

In The Way, Martin Sheen stars as a man whose estranged son dies while hiking the Camino de Santiago in France.  He takes up his son's walking stick and starts on the 800km trail, meeting odd characters along the way, each with his or her own reasons for making the journey, who help him come to a place of acceptance. The movie was a family affair with Sheen's son, Emilio Estevez, directing it and acting in it as, you got it, Martin Sheen's character's son.  Sheen's daughter Renee has a small part as well.  The film kind of reminded me of the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, though I found Martin Sheen's character a bit less annoying and naive than I found Cheryl.

I'd seen the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint several times before, but it had been years.  I love, love, love me some Cary Grant!  (My husband's "Cary Grant" cleft chin was one of the first reasons he caught my eye.)  The cropduster scene, and the scene when they climb on Mount Rushmore, get my heart racing every time!

Young Elle Fanning is exquisite in Phoebe in Wonderland as a troubled girl trying to figure out how to navigate a world in which she doesn't fit neatly and the fantasy world she has created for herself.  The real world and Phoebe's fantasy world collide when the school's new drama teacher puts on the play of Alice in Wonderland and Phoebe decides to audition.  Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman are perfectly cast as her parents who are fighting their own struggles to keep their family intact.

Man on Wire, The Way, and Phoebe in Wonderland are all available on Netflix, and I got North by Northwest at my local library.  Seriously, if you haven't seen these films, I highly recommend any and all of them.


I'm still running the Couch to 5K program.  This is week 8, so I'm up to running 28 whole minutes straight, which at my slooooooow pace is about 2.5 miles.  I'm on track to run the 5K Labor Day Family Fun Run that the North Spokane Stake has sponsored for more than 30 years, and a friend just informed me about the first annual Chocoholic Frolic this November (that will definitely keep me running after I'm done with C25K!).  Any other relatively short races in the Spokane area I should look up?


I love Oreos.  The ones with the mint-flavored creme are a definite favorite, but I'll take a Double-Stuf Oreo (or several) any day.  With a big glass of milk.

Then I saw this article.  And I feel cheated.

Why, Nabisco?  Why?!?!?!

(Read my sister's take on Nabisco's inane response here.)


We went to our second to last Spokane Indians baseball game of the summer tonight.  The Indians lost miserably, but we had a good time with friends and family, as always.  I was mightily disappointed to discover that the frozen Reese's Peanut Butter Cups had jumped in price from $2.50 to $4.00.  To make matters worse, they hadn't changed the price on the brand-new-this-year sign, so the poor volunteers at the food stand had to be the bad guys and tell everyone about it.  I declined to purchase them when they informed me of the new price.  Not cool, Indians administration team.  Not cool at all.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Eva Kor in 2011
Photo courtesy:
OberRanks via wikipedia
I recently watched an astounding documentary called Forgiving Dr. Mengele.  Eva Kor was a twin.  She and her sister, Miriam, were subject to unspeakable experiments by Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz during 1944 and 1945.  They were liberated in 1945.  After the war, Eva emigrated to Israel where she met and married another Holocaust survivor.  Eventually, they moved to the United States and Eva became a successful realtor in Indiana.

Years after the war, Miriam died due to lasting effects from some of the experiments, particularly the injections, Dr. Mengele performed.  Hoping to find some answers regarding her sister's death, Eva met with Dr. Hans Münch, a German physician who had worked with Mengele at Auschwitz, in 1993.  Dr. Münch had been acquitted of war crimes in 1947, the only one out of 41 staff from Auschwitz who was not convicted, after many prisoners testified that he had saved them from being killed.  He also had refused to participate in the selection process, deciding who would go to the gas chambers, who would be the human lab rats, and who would be put to work.

After their meeting, Eva wrote a letter of forgiveness to Dr. Münch.  Two years later, Eva and Dr. Münch met again in Auschwitz on the fiftieth anniversary of its liberation.  Eva, speaking only for herself and standing on the grounds of that death camp, read a declaration of amnesty and forgiveness for all Nazis.

This was not well-received by every Holocaust survivor.

Even for Eva, it was not a given.  In the documentary, Eva stated that "if you'd told me ten years ago I'd forgive the Nazis, I'd have told you to find a good psychiatrist!" but that for her, "the word is healing more than forgiveness."  She felt it was necessary for her to forgive in order to live her life to the fullest, to remove the last vestiges of power that the Nazis held over her.  Forgiveness empowered her.  In relating the moment when her son suggested that, since she had forgiven Dr. Münch, perhaps she should consider forgiving the rest of the Nazis, she described a feeling of amazement.  The Nazis, and specifically Dr. Mengele, had held such complete power over her, but now she could exercise complete power over them by extending forgiveness.

Other Holocaust survivors objected strenuously.  It is not your place, they said, to offer forgiveness for the crimes committed against millions of people.  You do not have to power or ability to forgive them for what they did to other people, the people they killed.  These actions are beyond forgiveness, especially when those who committed these evil acts are not penitent.  Her response was passionate.  "Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator.  It has nothing to do with any religion.  It has everything to do with the way the victim is empowering himself or herself in taking back their life."

In a fascinating coda to her story of forgiveness for the Holocaust, the latter portion of the documentary shows Eva traveling back to Israel.  There she agrees to meet with a group of Palestinians who have suffered under Israeli occupation.  Her interactions with them were a startling contrast to her forgiving words about the Nazis.   Eva was obviously uncomfortable in the meeting, fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, stone-faced.  Finally, she said, "I do not want to hear your stories.  I've already heard them and I do not want to hear them again."  One of the Palestinians lamented, "I hoped the Jews would learn from the Holocaust and not let another catastrophe happen."  It must have been so disappointing to them to have this spokesperson for forgiveness refuse to even engage in a conversation, recognizing their humanity.

It seems rather harsh of Eva to extend forgiveness to one group and not the other.  All I could think to explain it is that everyone has blind spots, everyone has a breaking point.  Eva later tangentially commented on the difference when she said, "There must be a space between the action and forgiveness."  She was able to forgive the Nazis 50 years after the fact.  Perhaps it will just take time for her to be able to extend that forgiveness to the Palestinians as well.

Forgiveness was not the only empowering step Eva made.  She describes "using my experiences as a springboard for action."  In 1984, she opened a museum about the Holocaust, particularly to share the story of the Mengele twins, called the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  Today, at the age of 79, she still travels around the country and world talking about the Holocaust and about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing, as Eva states.  It is about the victim reclaiming power and control, refusing to be held down or limited by anger or fear any longer.  It may take fifty years, it may come instantaneously for some, there can be no schedule imposed upon a victim's intensely personal journey.  But it is an end worth reaching toward in order to become whole again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

In Left Neglected, Lisa Genova once again tackles the personal impact of a difficult neurological disease head-on. (Oh, dear.  That was an entirely unintentional pun, but far too good/bad of a wordplay for me to erase.  I just don't have that kind of willpower.  Forgive me.)

A car accident leaves hard-charging, high-powered, way-too-many-irons-in-the-fire Sarah Nickerson with a traumatic brain injury that prevents her from seeing or recognizing anything on her left side, including people, objects, even her own body.  This "hemispatial left neglect" requires Sarah to participate in intense rehabilitation and also to completely reevaluate what is both possible and desirable for her life.  As in Still Alice, which dealt with Alzheimer's disease, Ms. Genova manages to keep the focus on the humanity of the affected person, as well as the effects of the injury on those who love her.

Genova paints the nuances of real relationships beautifully - between Sarah and her husband, Bob; between Sarah and her estranged mother; even between Sarah and her co-workers.  The relationship between Sarah and her three children, and Sarah's own feelings about balancing a fast-paced career with being a good parent, rang particularly true.  Sarah remarks on observing her oldest, Charlie: "He's suddenly so old and yet so young all at once.  Old enough to have homework and two adult teeth and be on a soccer team.  Young enough to want to play outside every day, to still have baby teeth and missing teeth, and to care more about spinning and catching snowflakes than winning the game."  I frequently have that sense of seeing the baby my child was and the adult he is becoming superimposed on each other and it takes my breath away.  At the risk of sounding cliche, time passes so quickly.  My eleven-year-old occasionally still holds my hand when we walk side-by-side.  I treasure each time he puts his hand in mine because, though I don't know if this one will be the last time, I know it will be soon.

Sarah's injury also gives her sympathetic insight into her son's struggles with ADHD.  Well after the accident, Charlie is having trouble with his homework and Sarah sits down to help him.  She discovers that by letting him stand up while working, he's able to stop fidgeting so much. And then by cutting the math worksheet up so only one problem is on each piece of paper, he can focus on each problem singly and solve them quickly. Simple adaptations, specific to his needs, made a huge difference.  "Our brains are wired differently, and we have to figure out how to make them work," she tells him.  Watching Charlie deal with his difficulties helps Sarah be kinder to herself.

Towards the end of the book as Sarah has made great strides in healing, but has also found that some limitations are not going away, she takes a big step and stretches herself.  While not exactly the same as before the accident, she is able to participate again in an activity she loves.  She asks herself an insightful question that many other injured people (or parents) have asked before: "Is this accommodating or failing?"  When is an accommodation helpful, even necessary, and when is it a crutch or a sign of failure?  And how do you tell the difference?  Genova doesn't answer these questions explicitly, and I suspect that there is no one universally right answer, but she allows the reader to explore the possibilities in the multitude of shades of gray that exist between black and white.

Beautiful, heart-warming book about family love and unity, core values, and overcoming challenges.


Left Neglected
by Lisa Genova
ISBN: 9781439164631
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).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda

Mr. Yagoda's How to Not Write Bad reads as a modern update to Strunk & White's classic The Elements of Style.  The conversational tone, with liberal dashes of humor thrown in, feels like a friend offering writing advice - straightforward, common-sense advice on how to, well, not write badly.  He includes easy guidelines for avoiding common grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes, but also provides some more general suggestions gleaned from his "twenty years of teaching advanced journalism and writing classes at a selective university."

First of all, don't aim too high, he warns.

"Most students, I've found, can't handle writing 'well.'  At this point in their writing lives, that goal is simply too ambitious... You have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.  And you have to be able to put together a clear and at least borderline graceful sentence, and to link that sentence with another one, before you can expect to make like David Foster Wallace... What I'm talking about here is good-enough writing.  As with parenting, it isn't necessarily easy to achieve, but it's definitely achievable.  And it's a decidedly worthwhile goal."
So, he urges, let's start with the very basics.  The simple, one-word prescription for improving your writing is read.  Invoking Malcolm Gladwell, Yagoda states that "in order to become an outstanding practitioner in any discipline, you need to devote to it roughly 10,000 hours of practice."  (If that's true, I'm a reading guru several times over by now!)

Reading improves writing through a wide exposure to the writing of others.  "It's the very best and most painless way to absorb the rules of the language" including spelling, punctuation, and style.  "Trying to be a not-bad writer without having read your share of others' work is like trying to come up with a new theory in physics without having paid attention to the scientists that came before you, or writing a symphony without having listened to a lot of music.  It's possible, I guess, but extremely difficult."  So if you want to write, read.

Reading also gives you a broader base of knowledge from which to write.  "If you are un- or underinformed about your subject, you will hem and haw, engage in the passive voice and qualifiers, and overgeneralize.  If you take the trouble to fully research it--and, equally important, think hard and rigorously about it--you'll be specific, precise, and authoritative.  In other words, knowledge leads to good writing."  So if you want to write not-badly, read some more.

One idea I need to take to heart (as I sit here typing on my laptop with nine browser tabs open, including Facebook) is what Yagoda calls "mindful writing."
"I am convinced that multitasking--either the act itself or a multitasking state of mind--promotes the mindless writing I am confronted with every day.  Without a doubt, if you have several things going on at once, you are perfectly capable of expressing an idea along the lines of Dude, where should we eat? or OMG, did you see what she's wearing? But anything more complicated than that--and anything you would want to write for a broader public is more complicated than that--well, it just can't be done."
Okay, okay!  Point taken.  The tabs are all closed.  For now...


How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them
by Ben Yagoda
ISBN: 9781594488481
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
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, August 16, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 27


Last Saturday was my Aunt Tanya's funeral.  They'd delayed it a while so that all but one of the injured grandchildren would be able to come.  (Joshua is improving, but wasn't ready to be released from the hospital yet.)  My mom and my brothers who live on the east coast were able to be there, though I couldn't make the cross-country trek.  By all accounts, the well-attended funeral was an uplifting celebration of Tanya's energetic, kind and generous life.

Tanya Lee Evans (May 30, 1946 - July 14, 2013)
Photo courtesy Mike Evans

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to the Hodsons' medical expenses fund.  I know I've mentioned it before, but if you are willing and able to help out, here's the link one more time.


Yesterday was Gramps's funeral.  It was a wonderful time to pay tribute to an incredible, tough and tender man.  Good ride, cowboy, good ride.

William Eugene "Gene" White
(August 25, 1913 - August 9, 2013)
Photo courtesy Amanda Atwood via facebook


Our garden is producing!  We've harvested a wagon full of potatoes, bags and bags of green beans, several green onions and beets, lots of cherry tomatoes of various varieties, a few peppers, summer squash and zucchini up the wazoo.  The winter squash, including pumpkins, and larger tomatoes are getting there.

In fact, we had a meal this week that used produce from our garden, corn from my in-laws' garden in eastern Oregon, and locally raised pork.  Only the butter and salt and pepper weren't locally sourced or grown.  I was pretty pleased about that.


I just started a six-week meditation course taught at the Unitarian Universalist church by Buddhist nuns from the Sravasti Abbey near Newport, Washington.  I loved the first class, which was a basic introduction to a couple different forms of meditation, both focused and guided, and I'm looking forward to the rest.  The presentation and meditation this week focused on kindness, interdependence, and compassion, which the nuns defined as truly wishing happiness for others.  Deep thoughts...I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: The Excruciating History of Dentistry by James Wynbrandt

My oral surgery is finally all done.  After six months, a dozen appointments (some stretching as long as six hours), significant (but appropriate) use of painkillers, and more money than I like to think about, I have a brand new smile.  With teeth that stay in my mouth and do what teeth are supposed to do.  Hallelujah!

I will admit to more than a little trepidation before and during this long process.  Because of the car accident 22 years ago that started this whole mess, I've become fairly familiar with multiple dentists, other dental professionals, and dental offices.  I certainly don't get nervous about a simple cleaning or even a filling here or there.  (Good thing, too, since I have to go back next month to have a couple done!)  But this extensive process was several steps above normal and I was, frankly, nervous.

So, to alleviate my concerns I read--Standard Operating Procedure for me.  I always had a book in hand at each appointment so every free moment I could dive into the written word and get my mind off of the injections and grinding and mold-taking and other fun and games I was experiencing.  For the two interminable appointments, six and four hours long respectively, I needed to be reminded of just how grateful I should be for modern dentistry.  I had to pull out the big guns, and The Excruciating History of Dentistry was it.

Mr. Wynbrandt starts chronicling the history of humankind's dental woes in the ancient world. I'm grateful that we don't still believe that little maggots in our mouths cause cavities and that we don't use a large blunt object to knock out troublesome teeth.  I'm beyond grateful that we've moved past using urine as a "medicinal mouthwash."  Wynbrandt states that in Rome during the first century A.D.,"the first urine of the morning was advised as a medicinal mouthwash and the urine of young boys was considered best."  All together now...Ewwww.

Dental offices have certainly come a long way since the Middle Ages when extractions and other procedures were performed on a public stage surrounded by chattering monkeys and joking jugglers to distract the audience, and loud horn-and-drum music to drown out the patient's screams.  (Our pediatric dentist does have video games and several large-screen TVs in his waiting room, which serve a similar, though not identical, purpose.  I'll have to turn down the volume next time to make sure.)

I learned of some interesting literary contribution dental practices made to the vernacular. Medieval criminals were sometimes sentenced to tooth extraction - specifically of the upper incisor and canine or "eyeteeth" - as punishment for their crimes and so, "the trade-off between possible illicit gain and potential tooth loss was always at the top of their minds when planning a caper.  thus, objects of great desire ultimately were referred to as things for which one would gladly give an eyetooth."  Shakespeare himself mentioned teeth in 35 of his 37 extant plays.

I'm grateful that dentists today are thoroughly educated and credentialed.  For a good portion of history, dental work was performed by "a variety of unqualified people from unrelated professions" including barbers, butchers, and an alarming slew of quacks and charlatans.  Of course, this led to an abysmal success rate and a shocking number of deaths.
"London's weekly Bill of Mortality of August 15-22, 1665, recorded 5,568 fatalities, with "Teeth" holding the no. 5 spot on the chart.  Take out the 4, 237 dispatched by the plague (the no. 1 killer of the week), and the 111 souls who succumbed to complications from dental procedures accounted for almost 10 percent of all deaths.  Most died from 'mortification'--infection--that set in after botched operations or as a result of unsanitary practices."
It struck me over and over again reading this book that before the mid-1800s when nitrous oxide and other painkillers (including opium, cocaine, and other substances no longer in use), a vast swath of the population must have lived in constant pain and, likely, fear.  That abscessed tooth sure hurt, but having it extracted without anesthesia would hurt, too.  And then after words, it was very likely to get infected and hurt all the more, perhaps even kill you.  The blessings were getting easier and easier to count.

Another highlight of this dental history is the atrocious dental poetry.  Here's an excerpt from "The Dentologia--A poem on the Disease of the Teeth" by American dentist Solyman Brown (1790-1876):
"...her lips disclosed to view,
Those ruined arches, veiled in ebon hue,
Where love had thought to feast the ravished sight
On orient gems reflecting snowy light,
Hope, disappointed, silently retired
Disgust triumphant came, and love expired!"
This book helped me power through the last of my extensive dental work, replacing the apprehension with overwhelming gratitude for living when and where I do.  I have access to competent, trained dental professionals who use sterilized equipment and anesthesia.  And I don't gargle with my sons' pee.  Life is good.


The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales & Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces
by James Wynbrandt
ISBN: 9780312185766
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, hardcover)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden is a charming pseudo-gothic novel, transparently drawn from Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.  (Mrs. Burnett even shows up as a character in the flashbacks of Kate Morton's book, with the context implying that the idea for her classic story was born during her time at Blackhurst Manor.)

The story spans several generations and alternates between four or more time periods. It can get a bit confusing sorting them out; I resorted to drawing genealogical charts about a third of the way through the book to keep them all straight.  I'll try to keep it fairly simple here.

We first meet Nell as a young girl abandoned on a dock in Australia in 1913.  The dockmaster and his wife take her in when no one comes forward to claim her.  At her 21st birthday party, the man she believes is her father tells her what little he knows of her true origins and it shatters her world.  She withdraws from the only family she has ever known and starts searching for more information about her birth family.

Years later, Nell's daughter Lesley arrives with her own daughter, Cassandra, in tow.  Leaving Cassandra in her grandmother's care, "just for a week or two," Lesley traipses off with her latest beau.  Lesley never returns to reclaim Cassandra and Nell ends up raising her, abandoning her quest to learn more about her past.

Fast-forward again, and Nell has just passed away, bequeathing everything she owns to Cassandra, including the small suitcase found with her on the Australian dock.  Cassandra begins her own search for her grandmother's roots, travels to England, and discovers family secrets unknown for decades.

Of course, in the midst of all this, there are flashbacks that slowly reveal details of Nell's earliest years, her parents and grandparents, and the tragic sequence of events that led to her isolation.

Several themes thread their way through the various plotlines.  For example, many of the characters struggle with living healthy and fulfilling lives when something they desire greatly is denied them.  (Trying to stay spoiler free's hard!)  Their desperate wish for the unattainable taints their perception of the world and poisons all their relationships.  In the modern day, one of Cassandra's new friends in England tells her, "You make a life out of what you have, not what you're missing."  If any of the characters had followed that advice, it would have changed the course of the novel.

Another example: an adult Nell tells herself, "There were none immune to poor judgment when their certainties had been pulled from under them."  Again and again, characters in the story made questionable decisions, but almost always it was shortly after learning some unexpected and traumatizing piece of information.  The Forgotten Garden seemed to urge both caution when making choices in the wake of difficult discoveries, but also patience and compassion for others' poor judgment in light of their recent experiences.

(Oh, and I know they were supposed to be full of deep symbolism and all, but I found the original fairy tales written by Eliza Makepeace scattered throughout the book to be a bit too heavy-handed.  It was so glaringly obvious that they were supposed to be meaningful, that it was just annoying.  And "The Crone's Eyes" was downright creepy, and not in a good way.)


The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton
ISBN: 9781416550556
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, hardcover, 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).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Those "Nasty," "Violent" Mormons "Without Moral Principles"...

AMC's series "Hell on Wheels" is set during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1860s.  Its third season premier was broadcast this past weekend.  I'd actually never heard of it before yesterday when another writer for Spokane Faith & Values asked my opinion of the episode's portrayal Mormons.  So I sat down, watched the episode online, and typed up my thoughts for SpokaneFAVS.  Keep in mind that this is the only episode of the show I've seen, so I don't really have an opinion on the whole series, the main recurring characters, or the overall thematic elements of the series.  My response is a reaction specifically to the way Mormons as a people are portrayed and discussed in this episode.  Here's an excerpt from my post:

"While I certainly don’t think Mormons are the only religious group shown in a negative light in popular media, I’ll freely admit to being sensitive to the way my religious heritage is portrayed. Perhaps that’s because the depictions are so rarely positive...

"Making the reprehensible Mr. Hatch a Mormon was lazy storytelling and added nothing of value to the plotline. It was the writers’ shorthand attempt at a nefarious backstory for the episode’s antagonist, based on caricatures and stereotypes. The history of Mormonism provides a treasure trove of fascinating people like Martha Hughes Cannon, Emmeline B. Wells, my own illustrious ancestor Cornelius Peter Lott, and, yes, even a few scoundrels like Porter Rockwell. I’d love to see someone in popular media brave enough to delve into the richness of these imperfect and compelling real human beings and use them as patterns for a character who happens to be a Latter-day Saint, instead of settling for the tired old “evil Mormons” trope."

You can read the whole post here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 26


Gramps and our family at his 100th birthday celebration
We traveled to eastern Oregon this past weekend to celebrate Gene's grandpa's 100th birthday.  William Eugene White, affectionately known as "Gramps", will officially hit the century mark on August 25.  His granddaughter Amanda wrote this tribute to him last month and I thought it so perfectly captured him that, with her permission, I'm reposting it here word for word.
My Grandpa is just 30 days from being 100 years old. In the last century he has seen drastic changes in our world, been a sheep farmer, horse trainer, farmer, rancher and dairyman. He has seen small towns grow up into big cities, he has seen our government fail, presidents be impeached and many other injustices in the world. But, in a century of life he has also been there to witness a million miracles. He raised 5 kids with my grandmother, watched 12 grandchildren grow up and graduate from high school and only has myself and Ray [Amanda's brother] left to graduate from college. He also has 23 great grandchildren. How many more blessings can you possibly ask for in a lifetime? Grandpa has been a huge influence on my life and has taught me so many things. Between him and my Mom, I have learned to be tough and to stand up for myself, I was passed down his superpower of being able to walk up to just about any animal and calm them down and I was taught never to give up on my dreams. I will continue to work towards becoming a veterinarian this fall; a dream that came about with some help from him. Above all else, he taught me to love people unconditionally. My heroes will always be cowboys, and this cowboy will always be at the top of my list.

While in eastern Oregon we trekked an hour or so to the east one day and visited Zoo Boise.  It's a respectable zoo for a smaller city, and had lots of shade, which I appreciated on a sunny afternoon when temperatures hit 98 or so.  The boys had lots of fun in the prairie dog exhibit, sticking their heads up into plastic domes from tunnels underneath to get a real prairie-dog's-eye view, and loved the petting zoo where they hand-fed already obese goats and sheep.  They marveled at the beautiful and stately Indian Sarus Crane, and then jumped about ten feet off the ground when the six-foot-tall bird let out a loud trumpet-like call while we were right in front of it.  I saw some animals I'd never heard of before, including the binturong (also known as the bearcat):

Binturong at Overloon, NL
Photo courtesy TassiloRau via wikipedia
and the kinkajou (also known as the honey bear):

Kinkajou in Volcanicito, Panama
Photo courtesy Dick Culbert via flickr
But the absolute highlight was a pair of black crested mangabey monkeys (my boys loved their "mohawks") with their energetic little youngster, who was born June 12.  The little one would explore and swing and frolic further and further away from mama until she would whoop and chatter and scold him, chase him down, grab him by the tail and haul him back to her platform.  And then he'd try to escape again and mama would snag his tail just in time to keep him close.  I couldn't help thinking how handy it would be to have tails on all my children, too...  I loved watching this little family; I could have stayed by their exhibit all day.

Black crested mangabey
Photo courtesy Ltshears via wikipedia

We're up to reading Little Town on the Prairie, the seventh in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the summer of 1881, the town of De Smet, South Dakota, celebrates the Fourth of July and Pa starts singing part of the chorus from "Marching Through Georgia", a song that commemorates Sherman's March to the Sea during the Civil War.


I'm getting quite a backlog of books I've read but haven't yet written the reviews for.  It seems so much easier to find time to read than to find time to write.  Or maybe it's just easier to block out the distractions when I'm reading.  Any suggestions for getting more writing time in or for making my limited writing time more productive?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Set in central Washington near the turn of the twentieth century, The Orchardist explores the definition of family and the extremes of human depravity and compassion.

William Talmadge has cultivated his apple and apricot orchards for decades.  After becoming an orphan as a young boy, and then losing his only sister under mysterious circumstances, he has spent close to fifty years alone on his land with only occasional interactions with neighbors, including a local midwife, Caroline, who helped care for his mother before her death.  One day two starving, almost feral, teenage girls steal fruit from his stand at the weekly market.  He declines to chase them down and they later show up on his property.  Slowly, miraculously (given what they've been through) he gains their trust and learns their story.

Jane and Della are both pregnant and recently escaped from a brothel run by a man named Michaelson, a violent opium addict.  Still mourning for his sister, who disappeared when she was the same age as these girls, William offers them a place of relative safety and peace, a shack in the orchard, and provides them with food, bedding, and a quiet companionship that doesn't demand or pry.  When the girls go into labor at the same time a few weeks later, William helps Caroline deliver the babies.  Jane's baby girl lives; Della's does not.  As they deal with this additional sadness, they settle into a new normal until Michaelson shows up to reclaim the girls and tragedy ensues.

When William chooses to open his heart and his home to these two lost girls, he changes their lives and his own as well.  In some ways, the girls' presence and then absence dredges up painful memories from his past of losing his sister: "The only thing worse, perhaps, than knowing for certain that she was abducted was not knowing.  That was the sad truth.  And Talmadge lived in that uncertainty, he had made his home in it, and there was no possibility of him resting--truly resting--ever again."  At the same time, he feels a fatherly care for the girls without the advantage of any fatherly experience and stumbles his way through trying to help them heal from their traumatic childhood and move forward.

Della discovers her ability to ride and break horses and with that, "transform[s] herself from someone powerless to someone powerful," leaving the orchard to join a group of men who hunt wild horses to train and sell.  William worries about her, though Caroline tries to remind him that "She doesn't belong to you...You cared for her for a while, she said.  That's all you can do, Talmadge."  Jane's daughter, Angelene, becomes the focus of William's care and grows up loved and showered with affection, only dimly aware of her roots.  William, Caroline, and Angelene form a familial bond of care and concern just as valid as any formed by blood, while the trauma Della experienced by stunts her ability to recognize and create those bonds, despite having people who care about her and want to help her.  In a moment of realization, an aging Caroline at odds with her earlier self declares, "We do not belong to ourselves alone."

As Della notes early on, William "had one of those complicated faces that one had to consider at length to understand how emotion lay on it, to understand it at all.  It was like a landscape: that wide and complicated, many-layered expanse.  She wanted to study his face: because it was different in an important way, but she did not know, exactly, how."  Although Della is understandably wary of people in general and men in particular, she is drawn to William and his different face, following him at a distance as he works in his orchard.  William's "difference" is at the heart of the story.  His compassion and kindness, his willingness to put himself in harm's way to protect and help the girls, are in stark contrast to the evil abuse they suffered under Michaelson and the morbid, dehumanizing curiosity of the townspeople.

Ms. Coplin's writing is beautifully evocative.  Though it may occasionally border on plodding, there are also moments of intense and frantic action, such as when Jane and Della deliver their babies, that I had to reread several times to follow what happened.  The descriptions, particularly of the landscape and orchard, are stunningly simple and striking, and the setting becomes as much a character in the story as any of the humans are.

Ultimately a hopeful book, though only after passing through some arduous and fatalistic turns, The Orchardist tells of the effect we can have on others and the effect that loving others can have on us.


The Orchardist
by Amanda Coplin
ISBN: 9780062188502
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, 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).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Killing Floor by Lee Child

My husband and I recently watched the crime thriller Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike.  It was a fun and entertaining film, not unlike many other Tom Cruise thriller vehicles.  Jack Reacher is an ex-military policeman who, despite a desire to be left alone, gets drawn in to solving a high-profile crime involving a military sniper and five random victims.  As a civilian, he works with - and sometimes against - the local authorities.  The film is based on the book One Shot by Lee Child; interestingly it's the ninth in the Jack Reacher series, not the first as you might expect.

Anyway, I was intrigued enough by the character and set up to go looking for the first book in the series, Killing Floor.  Jack Reacher, just a few years out of the military, is enjoying his freedom, keeping a low profile and traveling around the United States.  He decides to get off a Greyhound bus near the town of Margrave, Georgia, when he recalls that his older brother mentioned a blues musician, Blind Blake, who died there.  While eating breakfast at a diner in town, he's arrested for a murder he didn't commit, and sent to the state prison over the weekend until his alibi can be confirmed.  His innocence is proven in short order and he's ready to leave Margrave far behind him, but then he discovers his personal connection to the case and becomes determined to solve the murder and bring the killers to justice.

Reacher has a deep sense of loyalty to his family and a drive to protect the innocent (children, bystanders, etc.) and those he cares for, as well as a healthy sense of self-preservation.  While he would prefer not to get involved, his personal ethics won't allow him to walk away when innocent people are in danger.  He demonstrates little sympathy for criminals and those who prey on the weak and defenseless.  He's the stereotypical honorable and principled loner, with deadly hand-to-hand combat skills.

The pacing of the book is quick and even.  It rarely slows down from the time Reacher is arrested until the climax when he solves the crime, rescues the innocents, punishes the bad guys and narrowly escapes the widespread destruction.  There's a love interest, of course, a police officer who helps confirm Reacher's alibi and ferret out the dirty cops.  There are twists and turns, many of which were predictable and standard for a crime thriller, but a few that caught me off guard.  And Mr. Child also manages to insert some commentary on the supposedly "post-racial" state of our society, particularly in the Deep South.

Killing Floor, like the film Jack Reacher, was an entertaining diversion for a few hours, and there's nothing wrong with that.  It's not destined to find a place on my shelf of favorites, but I may pick up the next one in the series when I need another crime thriller.

(Note: At first, I was pleasantly surprised by the comparative lack of foul language, gory details, and explicit sex scenes in this book, as crime novels go, at least until the end, when there are a series of rather gruesome and violent episodes.  So be aware of that if you decide to pick this one up.)

Killing Floor
by Lee Child
ISBN: 9780515141429
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, hardcover, 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).

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 25


I'm all done with my oral surgery!  I have a pretty, new set of teeth!  And they don't come out of my mouth!  Yay!  As with every other time there's been a change in the geography of my mouth, I have to re-learn how to talk without lisping, but that's manageable.  I'm so glad to have all that behind me for (I hope)at least twenty years or so...

Thanks for all the sympathy, support, and slack-picking-up while I was going through all these less-than-pleasant procedures.  I truly appreciate it!


Last week I ordered two boxes of mangoes from Bountiful Baskets.  They're finally ripe, so I'm going to cut them into cubes and freeze them, but I need some more ideas of what to do with mangoes.  Smoothies are a crowd favorite around here and I need to look for a canning recipe for mango salsa, but any other thoughts?

This past week I went on another movie-watching tear, this time all checked out from the library.  I watched a documentary called Forgiving Dr. Mengele that was recommended to me by a friend after she read my recent post on forgiveness.  (I'm working on another, so I'll talk about my thoughts on the film then.) I also watched three feature films: Contagion. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the classic All About Eve. I'm now fanatically paranoid about washing my hands and not touching my face, I desperately want to visit India, and I'm in awe of Bette Davis.   And all three of those movies met the Bechdel Test!  Good week for movies!


Speaking of the Bechdel Test, Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency just released the third video in her series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  This is the third in a three-part examination of the "damsel in distress" trope:

A couple of excerpts:
"Mass media entertainment doesn't just reflect our culture; it also works to create it. Sexist jokes in particular serve as a form of cultural permission, which help entrench toxic preexisting attitudes and opinions."
"Now I’m certainly not arguing that all stories must include completely fearless, hyper-individualistic, heroic women who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and never need anything from anyone. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with offering or occasionally needing assistance. The human impulse to help others in need is certainly not a negative thing. It only becomes a problem when acts of altruism are repeatedly presented in heavily gendered ways that are bound up in harmful myths about women as perpetual victims and men as paternalistic saviors."
I love the thought experiment "The Legend of the Last Princess" (the intro for it starts at about 19:00). Here's hoping somebody makes that game!