Monday, July 28, 2008

A few of my favorite BBC articles

I like to read BBC world service news. Here are a few of my favorite articles from over the last two years. I don't have permission to link to them directly, but as far as I know, there are no rules against listing web addresses.

This is a little video clip about a social worker in Iraq who started a boys' orphanage, the members of which form the Iraqi Junior Diving Team.

Lesotho is a teeny tiny nation in the middle of South Africa (no, really; it's in the middle of South South Africa in the same way that The Great Salt Lake is in the middle of Utah) which, like much of the rest of the world, is facing food shortages these days. This article is about how they are making "keyhole gardens" to deal with this problem.

This is another video clip, about a baby tiger who was adopted by a dog.

This next is a story about an Iranian man who had to pay a 124,000-rose dowry to his wife after she took him to court for it. The thing is complicated to explain, and the article does a creditable job of doing so.

I must say that the Iranians seem to hold an unnatural fascination for me; I was also intrigued by the article titled "Marry or lose job, says Iran firm". The title really does say it all, but I put the link down there anyway. I think that they should talk to CES (the only other entity in the world which I know of which also requires its employees to be married).

[CES is the Church Education System of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, of which I am a member. Employees of CES teach mostly teenagers and young adults (18-30). CES requires male employees over the age of 25 to be married, despite the fact that Brigham Young really never did say anything about single men over the age of 25 being a menace to society.]

And finally, a story about how the world's tallest man (at the time) saved the lives of some dolphins in China by pulling shards of plastic out of their stomachs.

OK, ok, so I like animals and heartwarming stories. So sue me. You want depressing news, read BBC for yourself.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A request for pictures

Dear Everyone,

kjh has made the very sensible comment that this would be a better blog if it had pictures.  If anyone wanted to draw some, I could scan them in and use them (with attribution, of course (if you wanted attribution, of course)).  Meanwhile, I will keep saving like mad for my camera.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Princess Amethyst, Part 1

(An Amethyst is a name for a light purple quartz stone; it is “semiprecious”.)

[This is a story I have told a couple of times to my niece, EM (who is seven and highly enamored of fairies), and which I promised her would be the next thing to go up on the blog. As usual, I’ve embellished as I’ve written it out, and I am looking for help with various bits and pieces—I’ll say exactly which ones at the end.]

ONCE upon a time, in a tiny kingdom by the sea, there lived a beautiful princess named Princess Amethyst. Actually, the kingdom was so tiny that the only people in it were Amethyst, her parents, and the servants in the castle where they lived. There was a huge forest which grew right up to the castle gates, and there were houses in the forest—actually, it was strange, because more than a few of the trees were growing right through the rooftops of the houses. But none of the houses were inhabited, and none of them had been inhabited since before Amethyst had been born.

Now, Amethyst loved to read, and as she grew older, she especially loved to read stories about other princesses in other lands, and she quickly noticed that every single one of these princesses had a kingdom which was larger than one castle. She was not a naturally envious girl, so at first this did not bother her at all; but eventually, she began to wonder if there might not be some other explanation for the fact that hers was the tiniest kingdom, people-wise, that she had ever heard of. Finally she asked her parents.

“Father, why are the only people in our kingdom the people who live in the castle with us?” she asked at dinner one night.

Her father looked at her mother and raised his eyebrows, and then turned to answer her. “Well, actually, the people in the castle aren’t the only people in the kingdom.”

“They aren’t?”

“No. Three years before you were born, an evil witch came to our kingdom. She wanted our court magician to give her a spell for growing a special kind of fruit which would kill many people very quickly. When he refused, she started to fight him. The battle lasted for many hours. At the end of it, she cast a spell that would turn every person it touched in to a tree. The court magician shielded himself and the people in the castle, but he wasn’t able to protect the people outside of the castle. They all turned in to trees.”

Amethyst was riveted by this story. “What happened to the witch?”

“The protection spell which our magician cast also turned the witch’s spell against her. She turned in to a tree along with everyone else. The tree she turned in to is the only tree we have chopped down in the last twenty years. We chopped it down and we burned it, and we dug out the roots and burned them. It made a terrible smell, but we wanted to be sure the witch would be really gone.”

“What about the other trees?”

“Didn’t you ever wonder why the gardener position was the most important one in the kingdom? Do you remember that when our old one retired, we brought in a new one from another kingdom, one who had been university-educated in taking care of trees? He is in charge of taking care of our people. You also know that we have a rule that we don’t chop down any wood to make fires with. We only take wood which has fallen from the trees by itself.”

Amethyst had wondered why, in the very cold winter, her parents were always so careful about this rule. “Why didn’t you tell me before now?”

This time her mother spoke up. “Because we knew that once you knew about the curse, you would try to break it. That was part of the spell that the magician cast.”

“So, how do I break it?”

“We don’t know. You should probably ask the magician.”

The next day, she went to visit the magician. He told her that he didn’t know either, and that the only thing he could think of would be to visit the dragons who lived on the end of the archipelago which went out from their little castle-kingdom, and ask them. There were six other islands between the edge of the kingdom and the island of the dragons.

Amethyst went back to her parents and asked for a ship so that she could go out to the island of the dragons, so that she could ask them how to break the spell. At first her parents refused, because she was still so young, but she pleaded with them for a year and a day, and some time shortly after her eighteenth birthday (on which she had, very strangely, received no presents), her parents took her to the harbor and showed her a ship which they had bought with all of their savings, so that she could go visit the island of the dragons.

The very next morning, Amethyst set sail on the ship.

The first island they came to was the island of the queen of the fairies.

[Very sorry—I’m just going to have to post this, uncompleted. What do you think the name of the court magician should be? There are seven islands, but I don’t remember what is on five of them (this part of the story is approximately loosely based on The Odyssey)—what do you think there should be? I think that the gardener’s handsome son should come along, but I’m not sure what his name is or what role he plays. I also think that he might be younger than Princess Amethyst, but I’m not sure.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Religious Blog: Ruth

Since I have written several things lately for this blog, I decided that it is about time to write something religious. Since I don’t really feel like writing a structured essay right now, I’m just going to list a few of my favorite scriptures, and why.

My Favorite scripture story: Ruth

As far as I know, this has been my favorite story for a long, long time. The other day, I slept over at my sister’s house, where my niece T is always the first one up besides me, and since 1) I always do my scripture study in the morning, and 2) I have an extremely difficult time just ignoring any child who happens to want to talk to me, I ended up including T in my scripture study. I read the book of Ruth aloud to her, with commentary.

The thing is, I think that I first loved this story because it is the only (romantic) love story that is in the scriptures, just as a love story; as in, the love story part is the main event, rather than a side event in the long saga of someone’s life. And then one day, some teacher told me that the Book of Ruth is completely full of people who aren’t thinking of themselves: Ruth is taking care of Naomi, Naomi is seeking happiness for Ruth, and Boaz is looking after both of them. I must say, I don’t think that this interpretation is entirely untrue; but I think that even when we are looking after other people as much as we should, there is a way of taking our own desires in to account which is right and proper, and focusing on that interpretation doesn’t bring this fact to light so much. Specifically, my niece, T, interpreted all of Boaz’s actions as “so romantic” (I should mention that she is eight, and really likes romantic things; if memory serves, she clasped her hands together, laid them next to her tilted head, and sighed at least twice while making this, her own commentary on my favorite scripture story). As I read along, I found myself being pulled in to T’s point of view. I mean, OK, sure, you figure that you should be good to this, a woman who is clearly in the class of “worthy poor;” but there are accepted avenues of doing that which don’t include telling your servants that they should give her all the food she wants at lunch, besides on purpose dropping extra for her as she is “gleaning” (now more like “harvesting along side”). But the one that really got me was this: so, it is harvest time. You are busy. You may or may not be short on sleep, but in any case, at some point before 6:00 in the morning (probably) someone wakes you up, and says that you are in line to marry them, and somehow in your groggy state you IMMEDIATELY know that no, actually, someone is in line before you.

I mean, does it really seem to you like Boaz hadn’t ever thought of this question before?

So, that’s my new interpretation: Boaz really did like Ruth—you know, in the romantic sense-- but he was being really proper about the whole thing (if I had to guess, because there was that other guy before him, and because he was evidently somewhat older than her).

Incidentally, I was thinking about chick flick movies the other day, and I wondered: is there one where the girl is really proactive? I have known of several couples (OK, just a couple—er, of couples) in real life where the girl was the one who proposed, but I don’t ever remember a movie with this in it. But now I have found at least a written example, and it IS romantic (as just described), and it is scriptural to boot.

Here’s hoping I haven’t damped anyone’s spirituality with the above.

This blog seems quite long enough as it is, without going on to other topics. I've written more, but I'm going to save posting that for another day, when I've had more of a chance to edit it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pineapple Upside Down Cake that I made for my Grammar 4 Class

I teach ESL. Last week, I made a pineapple upside-down-cake for a couple of student birthdays, and they asked me for the recipe.

To Buy:
1 plain (I used Western Family) cake mix
1 16-oz. can of sliced pineapple (in rings)
1 small container of Wallaby Organic Vanilla Yogurt (picture is on the left)

Also, if you don't have them, buy brown sugar and butter and eggs.

Note: I bought the Wallaby Yogurt at a store called The Good Earth; the one I went to is on State Street in Orem. The last time I bought the small size, it was $1.05, which is kind of expensive for yogurt, but on the other hand, it really does taste very good. If you don't want to go to Orem or spend that much money on yogurt, you will be happy to know that I tried this recipe with the much cheaper and more easily available Western Family brand, and everyone seemed to like that, too.

First, melt 2 T of the butter and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar together in a pan. Mix them while they cook. When this boils, pour it in to one small cake pan. Spread the mixture around a little, until it is kind of evenly spread over the bottom of the pan. I always end up with little parts that aren't covered, and it always works out fine.

Next, melt two more tablespoons of butter and another 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and then pour that in to another small cake pan, and spread it out.

Next, open the pineapple. Pour as much of the juice as possible in to a measuring cup (and don't drink it). Put half of the pineapple slices in the bottom of one pan, and half of them in the other pan. Arrange them so that they are not on top of one another.

Now you make the cake mix. Follow directions on the back of the box, but instead of water, use the pineapple juice, and instead of oil, use the vanilla yogurt. If you don't have quite enough pineapple juice, then just fill in the rest of the cup with water.

Because in Provo, we are at "high altitude," (I believe that the city is about 5,000 feet up-- no, I just looked, it's 4,500), cakes rise faster here than they do elsewhere. This means that you may want to make a "high altitude adjustment" to the recipe. You do this by adding a little bit of extra flour and/or liquid to the batter. This dilutes the leavening (the stuff that makes the cake rise) a little bit, so that the cake is in less danger of over-rising and then falling.

Pour the cake batter in to the pans. You can divide it evenly by using a measuring cup. First pour one cup of batter in to one pan, and then another cup in to the other pan, and then one in the first pan, and then in the other pan.

Bake the cake according to the directions on the box. (The box I got said to bake it at 325 degrees centigrade, for 35 minutes, for the size of pan I was using.)

Once it is done baking, you are supposed to turn it out, upside-down, on to another surface (like a plate), which is why it is called "upside-down cake." I sometimes skip this part, because I am lazy, and because it tastes just as good that way.

Good luck! If you have any trouble with these instructions, please make a comment so that I can make the recipe better.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A quote from last night at dinner

Last night, I was at dinner at a friend's house-- a friend (this is relevant) who is old enough to be my mother, and who had invited to this dinner some people old enough to be my grandparents-- and they were talking about a woman whom they all knew, who is approximately my age. J (the one who did all the inviting) said, by way of introducing this woman's character, "She went in to labor while kickboxing!" and someone asked who she had married, and D, who is (I think) old enough to be my grandfather, said "Someone who could keep up with her." He said that she had dated several young men who hadn't been able to keep up with her, and that he was sure that she had finally found someone who could.

For about thirty seconds, it made me want to be someone like that-- someone whom others have to keep up with, physically-- but after that thirty seconds it wore off, and I realized that I'm pretty content with the gifts I have. But it is fun to think that such people do exist. It somehow seems to make the Universe a place where superheroes-- or maybe just heroes-- are more likely to happen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

How I Would (Maybe) Do Christmas if I Were in Charge of My Life

No, no, it isn't that I really believe that I'm not in charge of my life. It's just that I get busy and don't get around to planning, and if I do get around to planning, often enough I don't get around to doing. Since this is July, I thought that a tentative plan was in order. No, I didn't. Now that I think about it. I just wanted to write one. But I like it so far.

(By the way, if anyone sees a nice picture of a Christmas tree, please let me know. All the ones I can find have either been taken over by the tungsten glow of the living room, or else there isn't enough light, period, in them.)

As a reader of my own blog, I must say that I find direction #2 to be the most interesting of the four, and #3 to be the most useful (and #3 is short, so if you don't have much time, you might just read that one).

Please, please comment.

How to prepare for Christmas:

1. Have a list of people you love and want to get presents for. Well, first have a budget. Then make a list of the people you want to get presents for. Then add stuff to the list about their preferences: colors, actual stuff they’ve asked for, categories of stuff they always like. Have one for yourself, too. Use this to look out for stuff that other people might like, which is in your budget. Also use it to help other people who ask you on the spur of the moment what you or someone you know might want.

For me:
At the moment, I don’t have anywhere to keep anything, so I shouldn’t ask for anything. But if I could:

I like china with white or cream background and blue floral patterns. I also like fancy dishes of most kinds, especially the kind with metal edging and which can’t be microwaved or dishwashered (go figure). Also, lately, I have been wishing for a more permanent home for my stuff (e.g. a hope chest, for my linens and china). I found one that I like online, but it costs A LOT, so I'll just post the picture, soon.

By the way, the following website makes me happy—it is a list of basic kitchen equipment which I basically agree with (and believe me, I’ve read a few of them-- basic kitchen lists-- in my time):

I also love excellent stories, and especially beautifully written and illustrated children’s stories.

2. Also, decide what you want to do in terms of decoration. I like a Christmas tree, with some of my own decorations; I also possess some stockings, which I like the thought of hanging. I am particularly partial to tiny Christmas trees, but they seem to be rarely available around here. Next year, I may have to buy a full-sized tree and chop off the bottom, use the top as my tree, and then use the rest of the branches to make a wreath or something. Also, I may buy some of those pretty blue glass bulbs. Or something else, because blue glass breaks, and maybe I could make something out of blue satin. And silver. Blue satin with silver starry things really appeal to me. I like the idea of presents on the tree, but have never really pulled it off. More thought necessary…

I want to have a reason for the decorations.

Here’s something I am thinking about from Wikipedia's article on Christmas Trees:

"Another early reference is from Basel, where the tailor apprentices carried around town a tree decorated with apples and cheese in 1597."

That isn’t bad.

I think that trees should symbolize the gift of God to His children in the form of His Only Begotten Son; and I think that we can remember Him and His gift by giving presents to one another. I also think that only giving sugar is not a very nice symbol of Christ, because (straight) sugar really whacks out my system. The suggestion of apples and cheese is exciting to me, because it is still yummy, but not so awful an hour later. I suppose that hanging pancakes on the Christmas tree would be slightly less decorative than the look I am going for. And, now that I think about it, they would probably—no, definitely—dry out within about an hour, in this desert in which I live. But maybe I could make something more substantial, which is also less likely to crumble off the tree approximately 3 seconds after I hang it?

[The following was written after some research-- this is edited stream-of-consciousness writing you're reading here, if you hadn't picked that up by now.]

I’m just going to include a bigger chunk of the Wikipedia quote I put up earlier—it’s really interesting, and it solves my hangable-grain-product problem:

...The first officially recorded Christmastree ever was erected in Tallinn, Estonia, in year 1444. It was erected by the Brotherhood of Blackheads (local merchants guild) to celebrate the birth Christ. It was decorated with red and white roses. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers, and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas day.[5] Another early reference is from Basel, where the tailor apprentices carried around town a tree decorated with apples and cheese in 1597.

By-the-by, the footnote [5] leads to NOTHING useful. So.

Thus, I think that apples, pretzels, maybe nuts, and some sort of cheese would be really fun for tree-presents. Well, I’m really not so sure about the apples. I mean, how would I hang them? And visually, I’m not so sure how they would fit with the whole blue-and-silver-spheres thing. Maybe I could use the blue-and-silver to make things to hold the apples in, which I would then hang them with. Maybe I could think about doing a whole bunch of work but then not do it. But it is fun to think about.

3. Decide what you want to do. Include some service (which I have yet to do, which is probably why my Christmases keep turning less well than I wish). Include time spent telling little ones—telling after some manner, including having a pageant or making a book—about the Christmas story. Also, include singing.

4. Decide on festive, non-decoration things to add spirit, among them:
  • Two extra-special foods for Christmas, such as: brie, smoked salmon, molasses candy (this is what my ancestors in Orderville finagled for their children—I’ll try to find that story some time and share it), artisan bread, or whatever else is just too expensive to justify normally but won’t break the Special Christmas Food Budget. Consider making wassail, not only for taste but for the nice smell it brings to the kitchen.
  • Speaking of smell, boil old, dusty-tasting (sweet) spices in a pot at the back of the stove. They make the house smell nice; they are getting rid of with out wasting old spices; and they add humidity to the air and therefore make you less likely to get a cold because you have been getting so little sleep because you were up late typing papers. Not that I have ever done this, personally. Speaking of which, add orange juice to the Christmas Food shopping list, whether you are going to make wassail or not. [For the uninitiated, sweet spices are things that you would put in to sweet foods, normally: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, etc.]
  • Remember recorded music and movies. My personal movie recommendation is Muppet Christmas Carol, which I have loved for years.
  • Be sure to appreciate snow, if you get any. Also, appreciate how beautiful the moon looks when the night is cold—I really do think that it looks more beautiful then. Also, appreciate any alone time you get, because we often run short on it (along with sleep) during December.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Story With A Princess

[Note: for privacy's sake, I will refer to my relatives by their initials, and not even always by their real ones.]

A month or so ago, I was asking my five-year-old nephew, E.E.H., what kind of story he wanted me to tell, and he said that he wanted a princess story. I asked him what kind of princess story, and then he proceeded to tell me basically the story you find below. I have added to the ending, with the help of E.E.H.'s mother, as well as another of my sisters, K.H., and her daughter, T.H. Even now, as you can tell, I'm not so sure about the ending. Comments (especially in the form of suggestions about where to take the story from here) are welcome.

ONCE upon a time, there was a princess named Princess Nice Girl (because her parents couldn’t think of anything else to call her, and she really was a nice girl).

One day, when Princess Nice Girl was walking in the woods, she saw Santa Claus. “Hi, Santa Claus!” she said, but Santa Claus didn’t answer back because just then a dragon came and ate him up, and then flew off to his mountain!

Princess Nice girl saw that Santa’s sleigh was sitting there, with the sack of presents in it, and the reindeer all hitched up to it. Oddly enough there was a Santa Claus costume inside of the sleigh, complete with a fake white beard and white hair. Princess Nice Girl talked to the reindeer, and they agreed that she would pretend to be Santa Claus that night, so she put on the costume and flew all around the world, giving presents to everyone, and no one knew that it was her instead of the real Santa Claus, because she had the costume on.

Actually, one person did know, and that was her best friend, Minerva. Minerva thought that Princess Nice Girl should get a present, too, so when Princess Nice Girl got back, Minerva gave her a magical suit of armor and a magic sword. Princess Nice Girl put on the armor and took the sword, and then used the reindeer and sleigh to get to the mountain where the dragon lived.

She had been planning to fight the dragon, but she didn’t have to; unbeknownst to her, the dragon had started feeling sick almost as soon as he ate Santa Claus, and right as she was flying up to the cave, he threw up Santa Claus, a fish, and a pony.

Now, Santa Claus really is a very nice person, and as soon as he had washed himself off in a nearby stream and thanked Princess Nice Girl, he asked the dragon what had made him do such a horrible thing as eat him. The dragon explained that he really was a nice dragon, and he didn’t like to eat people because they tasted bad. He usually ate sheep. Lately, however, the people who owned the sheep had been getting better and better at defending them, and the dragon ate fewer and fewer sheep, and then finally he wasn’t able to catch any at all to eat, so he had gone crazy with hunger and had eaten things he almost never ate: a fish, a pony, and then finally Santa Claus.

As I said, Santa Claus really is a nice person, and he felt sad for the dragon as he listened to his story. He decided that he would give the dragon all of his spare Christmas chocolate for then (which was a lot of chocolate); and then every year after that, he would bring the dragon food to eat as a Christmas present. However, he could not allow the dragon to go around eating people, even if he was very hungry, so he asked the dragon to promise not to do it again (which the dragon was happy to do). Santa Claus also suggested to the dragon that if he was Princess Nice Girl’s servant, then Princess Nice Girl would have to pay him enough that he could eat.

Princess Nice Girl said that she would have to ask her parents if she could keep the dragon. The dragon decided that he would like to give her a ride back home, and she agreed. When she got there, her parents decided to let him stay, if he would agree to help evaluate Princess Nice Girl's suitors, of whom there were many. I know that you would like to know more about that, but you will just have to wait until another time.