Saturday, September 27, 2008

How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel

No, this is not really a how-to book. It was one of those for-women/by-women type books. Sometimes I enjoy these, sometimes not. But I always enjoy travel books, so I thought I would like this. And I did, for the most part: lots of those stories you always tell at get-togethers; "you thought that was bad, how about what happened to my sister's best friend's uncle" type stories.

The thing I didn't like much was how disconnected and different I feel than almost every women writing these stories. I had no need to prove to someone that my life wouldn't change after I had kids. I knew it would and welcomed it. I do miss those single days of being up late, travelling all over without thought of tomorrow, and generally hanging out and feeling cool and superior. But I wouldn't trade what I have now for that. It seemed to me most of these stories, especially the ones of people travelling to far away places, or doing ridiculous things with toddlers were an attempt to hold on to that feeling of coolness and superiority you have when you are single and still think everything you do will turn out all right and you don't have a lot of consequences.

Maybe I'm naive in my little home bound cocoon, but I enjoy my children and travelling with them is just too exhausting unless I'm willing to relax a lot of things. Like how clean they are, what my goals in travelling are and such things. Maybe I felt a disconnect because I have had the epiphanies these stories are describing a long time ago and they weren't surprising, but things I'd expected to find as I go along with my little parade of children. Or maybe I was just tired and cranky and these women seemed a bit self0absorbed with their children's effect on them. That is another belief of mine that makes me dislike a lot of "women's fiction". Looking at everything in the world, and everything your children do purely from the perspective of how it changes you is an extraordinary narcissistic way to live, or write.

How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel and Other Misadventures Travelling With Kids. Sarah Franklin (ed). Seal Press. 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bad Wife? -NB

I read this today. Now I feel like all women are crazy. Each in her own way, but we all do things because that is the way we are SUPPOSED to do them. Who told us this?
It took me a year and my husband gaining twenty pounds to finally hear him when he said I didn't have to bake goodies every Sunday to be a good wife. My mother did because my Dad works outside doing very physical things and he could eat brownies all week just fine. David, on the other hand was student, and then an audiologist, neither occupation known for calorie burning ability. He finally had to tell me to stop because we couldn't afford to buy him new pants every six months.
I don't even know how many other things are stuck in my mind, causing me trauma grief and most of all guilt because I think I am letting someone down. Just who I don't know, but someone knows and cares exactly how many times I've put the baby to bed with a half-full diaper, accepting the change of sheets in the morning as payment for no fight at bed-time. I'm pretty sure there isn't an angel recording ever time I'm not a perfect mother or wife or person, but some days, consumed in my own lack of ability I can see the ledger all written out, waiting to accuse me when I get to the other side. Why do I do this? Why does it seem women do this? And most importantly, why do men not have this problem (for the most part)?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Madame Secretary

Great Woman. I enjoyed reading about her more than I thought I would. I've decided to go through the biography section of the library. I enjoy history, so hopefully I will enjoy it as told through the story of someone who was there.
I learned about what the Secretary of State does and am grateful I will never have to do it. I've also added to my mental list of women who did great things after their children had grown.
There seems to be such a push to make women work and have careers and be successful by thirty, then they can take time to have kids because they will be able to pay a nanny by that time, right? We have so many things to do and if they aren't done in order, it becomes so much more difficult. Having children when you are young is so much easier. Your body is better at the whole pregnancy, go without sleep, chase kids thing, and it is easy to take off a couple of years from a career you haven't begun yet. And, especially now in this age of distance learning, school is always there, waiting patiently.
We live longer, we have more options. Trying to fight biology so you can have it all, RIGHT NOW!, seems futile and counterproductive. My children need me now. In a few years they won't (as much, in the middle of the day at at least) and all those things I put to one side will still be there. Hopefully I will have added wisdom to use and give at that point.
Or so I tell myself in moments of frustration. I am used to the "Mommy track" but it is still sort of boring sometimes. Quite the rant from one little book, huh? That is the purpose of this blog more than simple book reviews. I'm not good at those, I don't like repeating the story, but I almost always have an opinion triggered by a book.

Madame Secretary. Madeleine Albright. Miramax. 2003


I wasn't so sure about this one, but David suggested we try it out. I actually think this is the best book by Colfer I've read. I enjoy the Artemis Fowl books, but the series is running out of steam. The description of this one didn't sound that great, and I think it is misclassified at our library, being in the kids section.

Ever read Kidnapped? or Treasure Island? This book felt like The Count of Monte Cristo as done by Robert Louis Stevenson. A lot of "new science" at least for the turn of the last century and adventures and escapes. David laughed out loud at a couple of parts. I think a YA category would be more appropriate. The villain is pretty villainous.

As the hero is being taught by a jack-of-all-trades type he learns escape tricks, like Houdini. When he asks why his mentor replies,"Scientists are the enemy of tradition, but tradition holds all the prisons." I liked that line.

Airman. Eoin Colfer. Hyperion. 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The World is Flat

This was one of those pseudo-business books that normally I stay away from, but this one had an intriguing premise so I checked it out. It brought out a variety of feelings: one, I am far from most of what is happening in the world (thank goodness); two, the world is changing faster than I realized; three, our politicians are playing "bread and circuses" without really addressing what is happening in our world today (nothing new); and fourth, hope. I feel like there really are some things I can do to make life better, especially for my children in the future.
The things I can do include writing to my elected officials about things I think are important, but aren't on the news. For example, where is the SEC in the mess right now? They are the people who should have been regulating things before it got so bad. I can teach my children how to navigate in our new world, and how to keep the things that are truly important and don't change. I can also encourage my children to get the skills necessary in the world they will work in. An English degree is a fine way to learn more and all, but math will get you a job.
I see, especially on the news, a lot of despair as people are confronted with change that they don't like. I'm sure horse carriages and oil lamp dealers at the beginning of the last century felt the same way. We can't stop the changes coming, we must learn to adapt and help those who are suffering adapt as well.
There were a number of points I wanted to think about more, so I will list them here, so I can take the book back to the library.

1. Social change is highly destabilizing. The old boundaries are changing and we do not yet know what will replace them. But we do know that we are still human beings and we need boundaries--agreed upon norms of behaviour and rules of commerce
2. Colin Powell, while Secretary of State, said he was connected to all the other foreign ministers, he had everyone's cell number.
3. Our children will interact with each other, with the wider world and the Web without many filters. Therefore, teaching them how to navigate that virtual world and how to sift through it and separate the noise, the filth, and the lies from the facts, the wisdom and the real sources of knowledge becomes more important than ever.
4.When we got hit with 9/11, it was a once in a generation opportunity to summon the nation to sacrifice...But our president did not summon us to sacrifice. He summoned us to go shopping.
5. Almost all of the students who make it to Caltech come from public schools, not from private schools that sometimes nurture a sense that just because you are there, you are special and entitled. Nearly 90% of the kids who go to MIT come from two-parent homes, where both parents can help guide a child down the straight and narrow.
6. Companies are more transparent and customers more powerful.
7, Internet activism is so easy, so cheap, so readily available...If it's not happening, it's because you're not doing it.
8. Jetblue vs al queda. The same type of world that enabled an active LDS man to make Jetblue, an independent airline that uses stay-at-home moms to do its reservation and customer service and is dedicated to making life better for its employees and the world also generated Osama Bin Laden and all he stands for. In the book Friedman talked about individuals having more power than ever in a leveled world, and individual ideologies governing what happens. Being LDS I think more than ever of the power of the word of God to change people and the world. You can't make people behave better if they don't want to. Motivation to change and live for the better come from inside. No government program can give people the upward mobility that the missionaries provide.

The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. 3rd ed. Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2007

Friday, September 12, 2008

Desert Solitare

I think they will let me stay in Moab now. I now have read the patron saint of Moab, Edward Abbey. Actually I read The Monkeywrench Gang a long time ago, but Desert Solitaire is about Arches, and the desert area around here.

It is interesting to read something that you love and empathize with half of and strongly disagree with the other half. I love the desert, I always have. I love the red rock, the sun (though I burn horribly), the lack of people. When I was in college we came down all the time. It is one of the reasons I love living here. Just walking out my door is beautiful.

But I also think that a human presence in the desert doesn't automatically ruin it. And though Abbey tries very hard to refute the inspirational feelings the landscape inspires, I welcome and cherish those thoughts. I once read something, can't remember where, that there is a reason the world's great religions came from the desert. The solitude, the clarity of the desert gives your mind an opportunity to hear all that is to faint to hear through the radio, kids, bills and worries of the indoors.

Abbey was a ranger in Arches before the paved road comes through. He is unhappy about the change and equates one road into Arches with the eventual paving over of all the beauty in the west. He also wrote this book as Glen Canyon Dam was being built and Glen Canyon being drowned. I think he would be appalled about a lot of the changes, but perhaps relieved that Canyonlands, at least is still mostly accessible only on foot. The book is a lament for what he thought would soon be gone forever. It is still here, perhaps harder to find, but solitude is still possible in the desert and I love it.

Desert Solitaire. Edward Abbey. Ballantine Books. 1968

Thursday, September 11, 2008

World Without End

This book felt more like story without end. What is the deal with science fiction/fantasy that they feel they cannot tell a story in less than a thousand pages? I started this one once before and never got around to reading the other book in the series, Sea Without a Shore. This time I bravely struggled on, mostly because I put my back out a few weeks ago and need to lay down every so often to make the pain go away.

The story itself seemed interesting: a world once had mages and magic, but they had all died out, taking their magic and knowledge with them. The world is now having a sort of industrial revolution, but the secrets of the mages are out there, waiting to fall into the wrong hands. Sounds like it could be good. And the potential goodness kept me going long after the tedium was boring me to tears. It was like listening to someone (usually DH) tell a story but get so caught up in the details of "Was it three years ago or four? I remember it was after we replaced the water heater so it must have been when the storm blew down the big tree limb. Do you remember that storm? We were out of town at the time" and so on and so on until the original story is hard to remember and pay attention to.

World Without End. Sean Russell. Daw. 1995

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Things are Made

I originally got this for the boys, but then I had to go through it. I love stuff like this. That probably explains why I tend to win games of Trivial Pursuit. The more esoteric and useless a piece of knowledge is the more likely to stick in my brain.

A few tidbits from this book:

The pearly stuff in nail polish? --fish scales. They clean them, but YUCK!

YKK on every zipper you own? -- the name of the company is Japan that makes them, almost every zipper we wear comes from one place.

Most smoke detectors work by analyzing the ions coming off a very small piece of radioactive material. The smoke changes those ions and sets off the alarm. So what do all the people opposed to irradiated food think about having a radioactive device in every room in their house? Heehee.

And the main reason jet engines take so long to build is they have over 25,000 parts.

There you go, useless facts for your day.

How Things are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Sharon Rose & Neil Schlager. Black Dog & Leventhal Pub. 1995

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

So what is the deal with all the vampire books? I think it says something about how unhealthy our culture is that there is this current fascination with vampires. Of course, here I am reading them. But I do avoid the ones that are just soft-core porn, which seems to be most of them. I was actually impressed by these. There is a lot more plot and substance to these particular ones. Of course that is like saying Snickers is more healthy and substantial than cotton candy.

And they don't treat death as lightly as some do. The main protagonist is conflicted and agonized about death and killing and all that. I think it is the first of this type of book that even mentions the very real emotional cost of taking lives, even in a war or being a "good fighting evil" type of person.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy. Jennifer Rardin. Orbit. 2007

Red Mars

One of my lasting favorite books is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It tells the story of colonization and rebellion on a moon colony. This book is a good counterpoint to that one. It tells the story of colonization and rebellion on a Mars colony. Apart from the basic subject matter they could not be more different books. They both have a lot to say about the times they were written in. And how much our society has changed in those 30 odd years.

The role of government is pretty diffuse when you think about it. Despite all the hype, how much does the President actually affect your day to day life? the governor? even the mayor? You only really need government when you have a problem. The planning and zoning commission sounds like a dull, horrible job fit only for mindless drones; until your next door neighbor decides he wants to do stock car races in his circular driveway.

Red Mars is very much a study in leadership. The original 100 colonists don't have a government, they are "employees" or something similar. When there are a couple of thousand people on the planet, they have a treaty through the UN to regulate things, but still no government, and few problems. When there are close to a million people on the planet, the treaty is being ignored and many small groups start fighting and destroying things to protest, then the lack of a government is noticeable and at that point, nearly irredeemable.

How people organize themselves, look for leadership, and what happens when it all falls apart were examined very thoroughly. I enjoy reading books that feel like the author has thought long and hard about what they are going to say. I learn a lot, even though the basic facts are all fictional.

This book also had the most spectacular disaster scene I have ever read. Mars has a "beanstalk", a cable from a space station down to the ground. This is acceptable technology, I have read things describing how it would work. But I have never read a description of a possible catastrophic failure of one. It was very impressive. I found myself wishing they could make a movie of the book (which wouldn't happen I'm sure) just to have the visuals of a 38,000 km cord wrapping itself around the planet nearly twice.

Red Mars. Kim Stanley Robinson. Bantam. 1993