Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What to make for dinner when it's hot out and you've been leasuirely enjoying a summer afternoon...

...reading a book/messing around with photoshop/watching the newborn kittens or, __________ ; fill in the blank with whatever you'd rather be doing than cooking.

I call it Mediterranean Tortellini, so now it is an official dish.

Thankfully I had enough ingredients to make it up:

250 g. bag of dried tortellini (last one in the the cupboard)
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 past-their-prime zucchinis languishing in vegetable drawer of the fridge, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 tomatoes
About half a cup of sliced olives
A couple handfuls of fresh basil leaves, chopped
A couple handfuls of pine nuts
canola oil

Cook the tortellini and drain. Toss with a little olive oil to keep pasta from sticking

Saute onions and garlic in a little canola oil. Add zucchini and red bell pepper and continue to saute until vegetables are soft. Let cool a bit.

Add sauteed vegetables to the pasta and then use the same pan to lightly toast the pine nuts.

Add pine nuts, fresh tomatoes, olives, and chopped basil to the pasta and sauteed vegetables. Toss with addition olive oil and some salt--sea salt is best, if you have it.

Serves about four.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On the power of fine words and fine literature~

"Best to say we weren't a true literary society at first. Aside from Elizabeth, Mrs. Maugery, and perhaps Booker, most of us hadn't had much to do with books since our school years. We took them from Mrs. Maugery's shelves fearful we'd spoil the fine papers. I had no zest for such matters in those days. It was only by fixing my mind on the Commandant and jail that I could make myself to left of the covers of the book and begin.

It was Selections from Shakespeare. Later, I came to see that Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wordsworth were thinking of men like me when they wrote their words. But most of all, I believe that William Shakespeare was. Mind you, I cannot always make sense of what he says, but it will come.

It seems to me the less he said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire most? it is 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.'

I wish I'd known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them--and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words "the bright day is done and we are for the dark," I'd have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance--instead of my heart sinking to my shoes."

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gathering Up a Few Book Notes

I have a tantalizing stack of books I'd like to read this summer and I recently gave myself permission dive into it, however, I made myself wait until I finished the last book of our Great Books/Ancients class: Virgil's Aeneid.

The Aeneid

This was my second time through the Aeneid, and while I'm sure I yet have much to gain from this Latin masterpiece (read by me in translation!), a second reading brought greater understanding and appreciation of Virgil's epic poem. Particularly, I learned to appreciate the 'Virgilian Solution', a sort of Virgilian "Back to the Future" in which Virgil sets his narrative in the Homeric past while making illusions to future events surround the founding of Rome and the rise of the Empire under the Emperor Augustus. Brilliant!

And, the boys and I enjoyed discussing the themes of furor, irresistible fury and unquenchable passion, as personified in Dido, and pietas, or duty, as exemplified in the life Aeneas. Are the two qualities mutually exclusive, or can there be any furor in pietas? The two books below served to heighten our understanding, and appreciation of this great poem.

From Achilles to Christ

Heroes of the City of Man

In George McDonald's fairytale, The Princess and the Goblin, Princess Irene becomes distraught to the point of tears when her good friend, Curdie, can not see, and thus, not believe in the princess's magical grandmother. As she comforts the Princess Irene, her wise grandmother also advises her:

..."'But in the meantime you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary.'

'What is that, grandmother?'

'To understand other people.'

It is this humble position which Randy Newman, the author of Questioning Evangelism, takes in his practical and loving apologetic. Says D.A. Carson: "This book reflects a deep grasp of biblical theology and a penetrating compassion for people. How very much like the Master himself!"

Chapters 1-3 answer "Why ask questions?, chapters 4-10, address "What questions are people asking?", and chapters 11-13 explain why "Why are questions and answers not enough?" Newman demonstrates his winsome and way of answering such questions as "why does a God allow suffering?" or "why are Christians so Homophobic?" or "what is so good about marriage?" by asking further questions of his interlocutors, revealing presuppositions while at the same time engaging their hearts and minds. Highly recommended for all audiences and especially high school for college students.

Questioning Evangelism

The next book, a memoir written in the form of letters home by an graduate student studying Arabic in Jordan, was a light read I picked up just before our friends from Boise arrived for a first-time visit in Jordan. Since we've lived here for nearly 21 years I thought it might be good to get a fresh perspective of what is like to view life in Jordan from a new arrival. And while it might not be the first or only book I'd recommend to someone interested in Jordan, the author gave an accurate and readable account of life in Jordan just before the war in Iraq, and he insightfully summed up the concerns of the Jordanians he knew and talked with: the Palestinian Issue, marriage, and nationality.

Live from Jordan

The White Tiger was loaned to me by a friend who read it after watching the movie Slumdog Millionare. I haven't yet seen that movie, but I read this book, a first novel by Indian(raised in Australia) author, Aravind Adiga, which made it to the short list for the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

The White Tiger

I read this quickly--on a five hour flight from Amman to London. Exploring the social and class distinctions and inequalities of present day India by way of letters (hmm, I seem to be reading lots of books written in letter form. I'm reading another one at present) from a aspiring Indian entrepreneur to the prime minister of China, Adiga reveals more than a triumphant rags to riches story; he explores the darker side of Indian upward mobility as his protagonist ultimately justifies murdering his 'weak' employer in order to escape a life in which humans are not treated as such. This was an intriguing look at human nature in light of the changing social and economic landscape of contemporary India. Caution: some crude language and unsavory allusions. I wouldn't recommend this for my high school children.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Culture Shock Redux

This letter, from a dear friend who has lived and worked in the Middle East for about 17 years, is an (hilarious) answer to the question of whether or not one experiences culture shock even after living abroad for a number of years:

Haji on a Bike

If any of you suspected that I am close to cracking, this account may prove it. This Saturday afternoon, Raymond and I decided to do a bike run in prep for the triathlon two weeks away. Since we live on the side of a mountain with potholed roads we go over to the Jewish side to ride our bikes. On the way out of the Arab neighborhood, we pass an intersection that usually has a couple of professional begger boys who are more or less annoying. Anyway, today, the sight of a two foreigners on bikes was just too unusual for them. (Actually, in 17 years here, I’ve never seen a woman on a bike. I asked why and the answer was that it is considered a shame because maybe she is riding somewhere to have s*x. But since I was white haired, modestly dressed, and with my graying husband, I thought I could get by with it.)

Still, the younger of the urchins, probably about age ten, started chasing us and waving his plastic pipe. He didn’t catch Raymond in front but when I came by, he hit me with his pipe. This is terribly disrespectful here because of my gender, age, and guest status. I wasn’t hurt but I was mad. (Did I mention that we’d have a terrible week in our neighborhood). Also, while I may look like a white haired granny outside but inside there is this cowgirl from western Nebraska on her white horse raring to get out.

I told Raymond what had happened and decided to go back and confront the obnoxious kid. At first, when he saw me waiting for the light to change, he just laughed at me but when I started biking towards him, he started to run, still taunting me, dodging between the on coming cars. I just kept coming, dodging the same cars. Once we cleared the intersection, I had a clear path and started gaining on him. Now, I may be a granny but a 190 lb. old lady on a 30 year old metal Schwinn bike is a force to be dealt with. Going downhill, Raymond can’t even catch me on his light racing bike and lucky for me downhill is the way the kid decided to run.

The kid is not longer laughing and running as fast as he can. I’m getting closer and closer so he dodged into a side street but luckily it was still paved so I was almost on top of him by the end of another block when he darted to a side parking lot. Now while in my mind I was back on my white horse, the old bike didn’t take the sharp corner at high speed into gravel as well as my horse would have. I slid, skidded, and crashed. If the kid would have kept going across the field, he would have been free but in his panic, he jumped into a car waiting in the parking lot.

All of a sudden, this distinguished elderly gentleman dressed in suit and tie sitting quietly in his car has a screaming urchin in his back seat, a foreign woman on a bike crashing to the ground, jumping up, and jerking on his car handles. I politely asked if this was his son but he said that he had never seen the kid before. I explained that he had hit me. Meanwhile the kid is going into all the Muslim gestures for begging but I told him that he was a shame to Mohammed so he stopped and went back to begging the old man to save him from this wild lady with the flying white hair, the skewed bike helmet, the smoke coming out of her ears, the blood running out of her palms.

By now a crowd is starting to form. A car that had seen what had happened drove down and verified that the boy had hit me. (Raymond said later that they were Jewish security men and asked him “What are you doing letting her be here by herself?” Raymond joked that he was more worried for the kid.) Neighbors or passers by stopped. The kid’s big brother came. Raymond caught up with me and whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t take out on him what happened to Katrina’. That did sound reasonable but the school marm in me still wanted this kid to face the music for his actions so we wouldn’t have trouble from him every time we went through our intersection. I decided that I wanted to give him one whack on the backside like he had hit me. I am still very mad and teased him, “You afraid from haji (old lady)?” and “You shame your entire family.”

Finally his brother and the elderly man whose backseat was this kid’s fort forced his hands away from the lock and I opened the door, dragged him out, they held him and I whacked his bottom with the plastic pipe and then shook his hand. This was probably not the culturally appropriate way to handle this but needless to say, I had had enough. He was still calling me names but he was also shamed in front of the whole crowd. Later, we saw one of the self appointed negotiators and he said that the kid’s father had hit him which is much more culturally appropriate.

So I got back on my bike and with plenty of adrenalin left over, I put on a number of kilometers for the race which gave me plenty of time to think and ponder whether I am getting really too frayed from the stress here or whether this was just a symptom of being fifty and doing, saying, and dressing as I want. I’m still laughing at the kid who thought that he could outrun the white haired haji on a bike. Streaming down that hill I felt like the cavalry on my white horse coming to the rescue of right and justice with the William Tell Overture in the background. Raymond said that it could also be interpreted as the granny from hell on her Radial Flyer bike.

Whatever, this granny has a bent bike, bloody palm, sore shoulder, torn jeans and scabs on her knees now but it was worth it to catch that kid! I’ve made the street safe for old ladies on bikes. …even if I’m the only one.

Afterward: This "granny" is a true hero of mine. After raising three delightful children while running a bookstore with her dear husband in the occupied West Bank, she sensed God's calling to re-enter academia with a goal of becoming a university professor. She recently completed her MA at Jerusalem University College and is in the process of re-locating to Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband where she will be begin her Ph,D in medieval Middle Eastern studies. She is the recipient of The Maybelle Burton Graduate Fellowship, a three year grant offered to the most promising graduate student entering the Department of History's Ph,D. Program in any given year. I told her that this guy has nothing on her and that there is most definitely a book in this. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tottering in the Garden

My mid-winter vision of a pleasant summer garden in which I could work to create a small space of beauty, the kids could learn a bit about landscaping and gardening, and one could relax with a book or for a chat with friends, has been realized:

Seedlings were nurtured through cold winter months and as soon as the weather allowed, Active Son and Artist Son hauled in rocks from surrounding vacant lots to create a xeriscape flower garden in an area that was nothing but dirt and some fruit trees.

It blesses my heart to witness the inspiration Artist Son receives from the garden.

This year we have a garden cat. It is really very nice having a garden cat, and soon we'll have a few more as Kitty is expecting.

The Basil Garden provides enough basil for daily use--it's great on tomato, yogurt cheese, and olive sandwiches.

One of my favorite beds: salvia, petunias, bee balm, coreopsis, and lavender.

Tayta beautifully captured one of the many butterflies flitting around the Lantana.

Edit: A friend questioned my use of the word 'tottering' in the title as the word reminded her of toddlers or drunken people. Sure enough, an internet dictionary check yielded this definition:

a. To sway as if about to fall.
b. To appear about to collapse

I took the word from a favorite gardening memoir which I read years ago, soon after the gardening bug first bit:

Tottering in My Garden

The author, Midge Ellis Keeble, is Canadian so perhaps the Canadian use of the word denotes a meaning other than instability. Anyway, the her memoir is a delightful read as well as full of practical gardening advice. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Classical Music~So much more than Arts and Entertainment

A couple of posts ago I mentioned our willingness to fore go a clothes dryer so that Oldest Daughter can take advantage of a great opportunity to work on her music with excellent teachers and musicians this summer. Last spring I sold my gold necklace to help finance The Violin; this was not really a sacrifice as I am not much for gold. It was my token Every-Woman- in-Jordan-Must-Have-A-Substantial-Gold-Necklace, given to me by my Dear Husband years ago, but the the times have changed and when he told me what he could get for it in the Gold Souk it took me about two seconds to say, "Sell!"

Through the years God has generously provided for our family, but as is true of most families, there are financial choices to be made, and we have made as many as possible in favor of music and art. I recently read this address to the parents and students of the 2004 freshman class of Boston Conservatory, delivered by Dr. Karl Paulnack, Director of the Music Division, was bolstered in all our past choices, and encouraged to press on in our support of the musicians and other artists in our home and beyond. I hope you will read the entire address.

Though I don't ultimately agree with Dr. Paulnack's conclusion that musicians can save the planet, I do think that music is a unique gift from the Creator God to humanity which can enrich our lives and give us greater understanding about God, His relationship to us, and to the world He has created for us.

Below I've linked to the two music works Dr. Paulnack mentions in his inspirational address. The final link, if you are still listening, is the beautiful third movement of five that Violin Daughter will be playing at her Strings Master Class later this summer. Enjoy!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Active Life = Inactive Blog

At least for me. At least for now. After finishing the marathon race of spring activities, and the end of school, Dear Husband and I headed to England for a week of training and upgrading in our overseeing roles; valuable and encouraging sessions and we even managed an afternoon trip to the British Museum. Upon our return home (the kids did great while we were away, enjoying fun time together) we welcomed our dear friends from Boise and four of their five children for a long awaited visit. We are having a great time together as we tour the sites of Jordan and Jerusalem: today we head out to the traditional baptismal site of Jesus, the Dead Sea for a short float and mud bath, and Mt. Nebo, the traditional resting place of Moses. Whew! I look forward to contemplative summer days of reading and writing someday soon...