Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recent Reads (Nonfiction Binge)

If you're looking for a new page-turner to burn through next weekend, skip this post. 

Occasionally I like those books too, but for the most part what entertains me is what provokes me to thought.  Hence my latest batch of books.  I don't know exactly why, but right now I am consumed with a need to understand poverty and figure out what to do about it. I guess it's because a lot of the people I'm currently serving in my church work are in or near poverty.  And because I'm the daughter of two extremely hardworking people who didn't have two pennies to rub together when I was a kid.  And also because the poverty rate in the first city I served in as a missionary was over 30%.  When you see a mother and a son physically fight over a plate of food, it does something to you.

These first three books are the beginning of my personal study of poverty.  They provided confirmation for a lot of what I'd already observed, but they also added some valuable new insights. 

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Winne
I picked this up totally by impulse off of a display our library had up in September.  It's a fascinating look at the different causes of and attempted solutions for hunger and food insecurity in America.  Winne's main conclusion is that it is the federal government's job to end hunger and that a massive influx of money directed at the problem is the key.    

Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, by Noel Vietmeyer
I got this one as a free download to my Kindle, courtesy of a heads-up from Sierra. I have to confess that I didn't even know who Norm Borlaug was.  Seriously?  How did I not know about this man whose pioneering work in cross-pollinating wheat more than quadrupled the yield capacity of a single acre, saving the lives of hundreds of millions who stood on starvation's door?  He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.  Remarkable man. There are other works available about him, and the author of this one is occasionally too shmultzy, but the story speaks for itself.  I also found Borlaug's personal journey from abject poverty to educated, middle-class prosperity compelling.  He worked his butt off to get where he did, and certainly possessed incredible drive, but it wasn't without some public assistance.  A pattern?      

The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David K. Shipler
If you've never spent much time around poverty, this book is a fantastic introduction to the myriad of problems confronting those whose daily lives are less certain than the weather.  Every real person whose story Shipler tells reminds me sharply of someone I have known.  Very stirring.  But although he lays the problems out with grand precision, I don't feel like he gave as much emphasis on solutions as I was hoping for.  I thought the chapter on Skill and Will made some really salient points, but it still fell short.  The premise of this book is that it rejects both the "Republican Myth" (the poor are just lazy, stupid people taking advantage of the system) and also the "Democrat's Anti-Myth" (the poor are all just noble and virtuous souls who fall on hard times through absolutely no fault of their own).  I found Shipler's claim on that front to be mostly lip service.  He does acknowledge bad decisions made by the people he interviewed, but seems to mostly see those decisions as inevitable (i.e. people do drugs because there isn't another choice).  And also, he never really addresses what to do about abuses against the system (which really do occur in some cases).  Anyway, if you are interested in the subject, this is definitely worthy food for thought.   

And now, because not even I can be boring enough to read nonfiction all of the time, two fiction selections: 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
This is one of the fastest, lightest, perhaps most overtly humorous of Austen's novels.  I've read all of her novels before, but this was a first time rereading this one.  Worth it.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
My least favorite Austen.  I thought that when I first read them all, and twelve years hasn't improved my opinion of it.  I find the heroine to be somewhat weak and the center of the story drags.  But still, it's Austen.  Worth one read, but only if you've already read the others and still need a fix. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Warning: I'm Getting Political Here!

Do you ever get the feeling that if you watch the third presidential debate you will end up starting a write-in campaign for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, because you can no longer see yourself casting a vote for anybody actually on the ballot?  That's kind of where I'm at.  And I come from a long line of staunch Republicans.  The first time I took Kris home to meet the family, my grandpa walked into the room and (mishearing our conversation) growled, "Whose a democrat?"  Then he swiveled those icy blues of his in Kris's direction and demanded, "You a democrat?" All the poor love of my life had the courage to eek out was "Um, I don't think so."  It's a moment we replay often, when we miss Grampy and sit back for the highlight reel of his many hilarious witticisms. But Kris assures me that he later had to change his shorts.

So, am I a democrat?  Republican?  Let's put it this way.  If politics was religion, then I'd best be described as agnostic.  I have this kind of vague notion that there may possibly exist a time and place when some political platform aligns itself with all of my ideas and thereby becomes "right."  That one day politicians will really tell the truth and get in the game for the greater good instead of the personal glory.  Not that I particularly blame Obama or Romney, or most other politicians really.  They lie because we want them to and reward them for it.  And the issues are so far from simple that the candidates have to rely on other people to supply them with the "truth"; no one can be an expert in everything.  I also believe that both of these candidates do want what's best for our country (even though I find President Obama to also be arrogant and paternalistic while Governor Romney is so married to his talking points that he rarely says anything to further my understanding of what he plans).  A lot of their theories for improving the US of A are simply that: theories posing as certitudes, and my theory is that sometimes each is dead wrong. 

Anyway, that's all just context.  What I really want to talk about is this idea of who is better for women.  Let's do that, shall we? 

1) Contraceptives. Having "enjoyed" nearly five years of "free" contraceptives with no shortage in sight (hello infertility!), simply handing me a gratis NuvaRing doesn't make me think you understand the issues facing women. Now that's pretty selfish of me, isn't it?  So I acknowledge that there are benefits to expanding access to birth control for those in poverty and surely every Fertile Myrtle once paying for birth control is happy to spend that money elsewhere.  I get that.  But can we do something that will benefit ALL women during the middle thirty years of their lives?  Free tampons!  Show me the politician urging that from the stump, and I'll know we've found someone who truly understands me.  Dr. Quinn would do it. 

2) Lily Ledbetter.  I have not taken the time to research the finer details of this legislation (which Obama supports and Romney hasn't really said one way or the other) and so am no real judge.  But I'll spout off anyway.  My first inclination is to say that someone should get Lily (whoever she is) some counseling for the serious issues which must result from having been called Lily Bedwetter in her youth.  (That had to have happened, right?)  But as to the issue of making it easier for women to sue over discrepancies in pay...in general I am not in favor of making it easier for anyone to sue anyone.  I think we have too much litigation in our nation anyway. But all people should be fairly compensated for their work.  So...?

3) Binders, yes Binders, of Women. I've actually got Mitt's back on this one.  Object to his phraseology all you want, the point is that he actively sought to recruit women for his administration, and that's good for women. Isn't that what we ask the science and technology departments of our universities to do?  Recruit women and so open the doors for others?  Isn't that why we were so gaga over Gabby Douglas, because where one Black Woman went, others could have a better chance of following?  It's not the magic bullet for improving all issues facing women, but that doesn't diminish the inherent value of seeking out qualified women for powerful roles. I mean, look at the number of lady doctors these days.  That's right: THANK YOU, Gov. Romney and Dr. Quinn. 

4) Fertility Treatments.  Oh, wait.  No candidate is talking about help for those.  Why?  Because helping a woman create a life is expensive.  Helping her prevent or terminate one is cheap.  And therefore a cost-effective vote buyer.  Look, I'm not saying that women should have to have babies if they don't want to, or that we should punish the ones who can because I can't. I'm just skeptical of anyone who comes out and says, "I care about and understand women," but who only wants to help with the easy, cheap solutions.  It feels a bit like those events that have been cropping up at supermarkets lately, where they promise to give you a valuable free gift if you listen to their demonstration in the produce department (a thirty cent juicer, prelude to selling you a bunch of expensive knives...don't say I didn't warn you!).  I don't know if I think the government should make insurance companies help with fertility treatments or not.  It would certainly be a relief to the one in eight US couples (like Michaela and Sully) struggling to conceive, but it might not be the best use of government.  Or it might.  I don't know.  But I do know that no one is even talking about it, and that bothers me. 

Oh, dear, this is frightfully long. And (I accuse myself) completely inconclusive.  I didn't say who is better for women at all, did I?  Or, did I?  That write-in campaign is sounding pretty good!

What do you think about the coming election?
 Issues facing women?
Sully's ruggedly handsome mullet?          

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Corn Maze, Etc.

This last weekend we had a chance to spend time with my parents, my brother's family, and Kris's brother's family.  It was a blast! 

Eden loves her cousins.  The five we saw this trip were so sweet to share things with her and doted on her every move.  And (call me crazy) I think it's remarkable how much she looks like them.  Check it out:

Do you know what all three kiddos were staring at?  Me.  Jumping up and down in spread-eagle position, hollering like a banshee.  In public. The things you do to get a decent picture of kids!
Here's another case in point.  I was trying desperately to get Eden to smile and look at the camera.  Instead I caught her giving her very sweet (and completely undeserving) cousin the stink eye.  At least her uncle is handsome.  
One of the very best things about visiting Uncle C is that he gives amazing wheel barrow rides.  The kids liked them so much that each one insisted on receiving rides until he collapsed.  Then they impressed into service every other adult present until we were all a bunch of worn out old crones. 

Later, Nonna spoiled us with a trip to the local corn maze.  This place had it all, from a horse-drawn hay ride to a petting zoo.  Here the kids (plus Uncle/Daddy Kris) prepare for their 4-wheeler train ride.  See how Eden doesn't look like she's enjoying it, but Kris does?  Well this is how they both felt about it by the end:
Oh, to be young again!  When I was a kid we spent hours diving in the corn silo at Grampy's, burying each other alive and building mountains to slide down.  That silo is gone now, but it was so fun to give Eden a tiny taste of it as she dug around in the corn bin. 

Two wild best friends preparing to go down the longest ever slide and land in a pit of corn... 
Jumping on the bouncy thing-a-ma-jig... 
These last two shots (which are pretty poor, owing to haste and the harsh 10 am light) are of one of four golden eagles that nest on my parent's ranch.  Such cool birds!

Anyway, we had a grand time.  What a blessing it is to have family!