Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Buried treasure

So here's a book I never would have picked up on my own. But I needed something to read on our long plane trek home from Alaska, and my mother in law thought I'd like this 1940s-set gem. She was right. I looked for this book on Amazon since I'm trying to do this fancy-dancy Amazon Associates thing. It's out of stock. But you can read the whole book at Google Books! It's your lucky day, people!

Winter Wheat is in some sense regional fiction, very much about the wheat-growing country of central Montana, but it's also more universal than that. It's mostly about a daughter, Ellen, striving to understand her parents and their love for each other - something she doubts as she discovers romantic love for herself.  And it's about different Americans - urban, rural, immigrants, soldiers, zealots, children, teachers - and how they influence each other. Still pretty relevant things to think about, 60 or 70 years later.

One thing bugged me; the moment of epiphany for the protagonist practically had neon lights around it. I wish someone could have told the author (Mildred Walker) that we would have gotten it even without the caps and italics. But I just chalked it up to an Anne Shirley moment and moved on. Overall, I enjoyed the entire book. Not a hard read. Not a controversial read. Just a great story. I'd say it's an underrated classic, even.

The whole plains feeling of the setting and the great character of Ellen's Russian mother, Anna, kept me thinking of My Antonia ... an all-time fave for me, a high compliment.

Used to be home

We went to Fairbanks for our summer vacation.

There's some irony in hightailing it north just as soon as Montana gets habitable. But the Alaskan Interior is actually fabulous this time of year. June 17 we left a place that looked like Seattle (rainy, cold, and very very green) for a place that looked like ... well, I've never seen another place that looks like Fairbanks in June. It's also very green, but with big blue skies, light all night, flowers everywhere, and of course kajillions of mosquitos.

It's a strange feeling, visiting Fairbanks. I lived there from 1989 to 1992, then went back in the summers of 1993 and 4 after my first two years of college. And I've visited several other times. So for me, it is going back to a kind of home. Maybe a place that used to be home. But for Dr. G it is a very intense homecoming. He spent his whole life there until he left for Korea at age 19. He gets there and never wants to leave. I told him there is no place that is really like that for me. I've moved around too much. I guess maybe that means I'm wide open to finding my true home. That could be a good thing. (Montana is well on its way to proving itself. Right now it is spectacular!)

We stayed with Dr. G's parents (Dr. G the first, my enthusiastic, eccentric father in law who is a little like a 70-year-old version of my ADHD son, and his saint of a wife, my husband's amazing, sainted mother). We took it easy. We did little outings around town and the outlying area. Lots of river time. Lots of park time. Some great shopping and food. And lots of hanging out in G's childhood home with some fabulous pets. I really think we are going to have to get a dog.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Waking up

I had heard Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything mentioned several times. Read about it. When I walked by it on a Target endcap a little more than a week ago, I grabbed it.

Whoa. Game changer. I have been trying - well, supposedly trying - to lose weight for years. I have gotten pretty darn strong working out. I take a small amount of weight off, I put it back on. Bottom line: I am still chubby because I have never learned to manage my eating.

This book had me recognizing myself on virtually every page. Realizing that where I've always thought, "I don't have 'issues;' I just like food," I actually do have issues. The careening, careless food behavior I have taken part in for the last, oh, forever? It's not just me. And my inability to change it is not because I'm weak-willed; it's because I have not addressed my real stuff. I have never learned to embrace the life I have. I have been trying alternately to escape and subdue reality for a long time.

It's really been a case of "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." Between Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything and working through the LDS Addiction Recovery Program on an informal basis with some friends (on the premise that everybody has some addictions, whether it's to food or yelling at your kids, or something more widely recognized as illegal or destructive), and really getting hit hard by Julie Beck's talk from April Conference, I am learning a ton and really starting to change some things. Priorities. Judgments (of self). Behaviors. It's kind of amazing to be putting so much together right now.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


A week ago we went to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We lucked out and got a beautiful day amid all the rain we have had recently. The kids were good and the caves were fabulous. Seriously, this is a huge network of caves with fabulous formations. Best I've seen, and I've been in a few. I even got some cool pictures. (The scenery shots are for you, Lucy!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

For the kiddoes, some summer books

I'm going to do a catch-all book post; it's been a while, and there are a few I just must  get out of my system! (I'm also trying out the Amazon Associates program; thus the links.)

I've read a lot of children's and young adult lit in the past year. Ostensibly, to preview books for my homeschooled 5th grader. Really, because I like it.

Among the best of these, Elijah Of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. I picked it up several months ago because I knew we would be studying slavery and the Civil War at the end of the year. It seemed age-appropriate and I think a good historical novel can be a wonderful way to learn about history. (I still remember more about Across Five Aprils than about any other aspect of my own middle-school Civil War study.) Well, Elijah of Buxton fulfilled all my expectations. It gives a great view of a (real) settlement of freed slaves in Canada, as well as a cross-section of former slaves and how they deal with the ongoing problem of slavery in 1860. It's humorous, authentic, accessible. The characters - especially Mr. Leroy and the Preacher - are deep and complicated, just perfect for discussing with a kid who is beginning to understand that there are shades of gray in this world. An 11-year-old kid, like Elijah, like my son S. And the ending will blow you away. It was a put-the-book-down-and-cry kind of ending for me, but so beautiful. The whole family listened to Elijah of Buxton on CD in the car on our Memorial Day/A's birthday trip to Utah. Even Dr. G was captivated.

This spring, I have successfully sold my kids on Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Easy sell! When I want to get them started on books I think are great, all I typically have to do is read a few chapters aloud. Then the book disappears and I don't know where it is until I hear people start fighting over it. We were a little late to the party; as is my custom. I know everybody else has been reading Fablehaven forever. But by doing it this way, we've gained an important advantage: We don't have to wait months and months in between installments. We can just gorge ourselves straight through on the whole series. (We did Harry Potter this way, too!)

What we love about these books: a successful merging of fantasy into the lives of ordinary kids. Seth and Kendra could be in our family, the with sarcasm and bickering and everything. They're regular people, but when crises arise, they step it up and do what needs to be done. That's an eternal truth, right there. Happy to read that to my kids. I also love the themes about obedience, courage, loyalty. These books teach without being didactic - they're all about natural laws and consequences. Just like real life, except with fairies and demons and stuff.

I am lucky and only a little envious to know the author of Palace Beautiful, Sarah DeFord Williams. We met through our mutual friend Heather and did some hanging out in our BYU days. Viva International Cinema!

Palace Beautiful reminds me a little of a Lois Lowry book - maybe Number the Stars, in that it's about a girl with great courage at an extremely challenging time in history. And I do mean a comparison to Lowry as a huge compliment!

It takes place in Salt Lake City, where two sisters and a friend discover a diary kept by a young girl during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Learning about her life and her losses, they find the strength they need in their own.

I went with some friends to Sarah's book launch party for Palace Beautiful in Salt Lake in April. She said in her talk that this book is about what happens after the worst happens, and how we find a new OK after we think we're never going to be OK again. I love that.

My 9-year-old has devoured this book. He's a boy, by the way. Nice work, Sarah!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Our tea party

No guns. No threats. No crazy-loco ideas. Just cute little girls with cupcakes, strawberries, popcorn and pink lemonade. Thanks to my sister M for making it happen.