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Review: In Cod We Trust [Feb. 8th, 2016|11:05 pm]
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I once decided I'd rather read something other than travelogues for my media-from-other-countries project, but this title caught my eye, so I read Eric Dregni's In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream (2008). An American with Norwegian roots moves to Norway with his wife for a year to see what it's like (and write a book). The wife ended up getting pregnant before they left, and they had their baby there. The baby seemed to love the cold, the darkness, and getting bounced around a lot--it just goes to show how everyone's different! I learned loads of stuff about Norwegians, too. Note that the following are gross generalizations, of course.

It turns out that Norwegians do not open up to strangers right away; you say hi to your neighbor and they look at you like you're strange before they look away. The author says it's part of their Janteloven philosophy - don't show off, even to yourself. (That philosophy matches the main character's insistence in Broken that he was humble--so maybe it wasn't just about his own personality but also about what is expected in Norway.)

There's a Norwegian saying I like: "Don't go tramping in the salad." It means means don't show how dumb you are by opening your mouth. Another interesting one: "There's no bad weather, only bad clothes." They don't put heaters in the bedrooms because no one likes to sleep where it's hot. In Norway. Hot. At night. In the winter. Yeah.

They work 35 hours a week (or less) and are not into efficiency. They are into the welfare state, even the people paying a lot of taxes. One reason they haven't joined the European Union is because they want to keep up this tradition of taking care of their own. Similarly, they don't want to open up their waters to international fishing; they have rules to prevent overfishing.

They refer to Minnesota as "our colony in America."

I already knew they ate a lot of fish. They also love butter. In one cookbook the author found, half the recipes were for butter-laden pastries. There's a whole chapter for different kinds of porridge--which is not for breakfast, but for dinner. And they eat meat, but not many vegetables. There's a Saturday night tradition that kids eat as much candy as they want, there's porridge for dinner, and you hang out in front of the TV.

This made me wonder: how many kinds of porridge do I know about? Several actually. There's oatmeal of course. But also cream of wheat. And grits probably count. And I got a recipe from chikuru called Yulgrit which is rice pudding, so that probably counts. Norwegians also make something involving sour cream that you can't make here because our sour cream doesn't have a high enough fat content (35%) for it to work.

Their licorice is salty. And someone told the author "You know that the beef you find in Norway are old dairy cows that don't produce milk any more, not cattle raised just for food like in the U.S. That's why Norwegian hamburgers taste funny. You should really eat moose." Which apparently is delicious.

Boys are not circumcised except for religious reasons. Medical care seems amazing. For example:

After the birth, we were given a large room for the three of us with three meals a day (plus a snack and late-evening soup) delivered right outside the room. Many of the mothers, though, preferred that their husbands stay at home, so they could form a sort of girls' club while pushing their babies around the hospital in their little beds on wheels.

The midwives told us that we should stay at least three or four days in our family room to make sure that the breast-feeding was going well. In this large room with a view of the snow-capped mountains and meals delivered, why would we leave? We asked the head midwife, Sigrid, if they ever have trouble with mothers who won't leave the hospital. She told us, "Sometimes if we have too many people having babies, we have to ask mothers who have been here for a long time, 'so, how are things going? Do you have any plans?'"

Norway went from being one of the poorest countries in the 1880s to being one of the richest today, partly due to the discovery of oil offshore.

The author knew that his grandfather had emigrated from Norway when the country was poor. When he went to visit the place where his grandfather used to live, he met a shopkeeper who had the same last name. He jumped to the conclusion that they were related. Then he found out that back when his grandfather lived there, the laborers would take the same last name as the land owners. The store owner was a descendent of the land owner and the author was a descendent of a laborer, so they were not related. Oops!

Overall, it was an interesting read with bits of humor. Maybe I prefer travelogues where people are learning about someone else (in this case, the author's grandfather and other Norwegians) over ones where people are trying to find themselves.
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How to Try a Recipe: Biscuit Edition [Feb. 1st, 2016|11:12 pm]
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It's good to learn how to cook your favorite foods. Especially ones that you can't get in restaurants. Bizarrely, I have not been happy with any biscuits I've had in restaurants for a long time. Some are really rolls, some are full of sugar or otherwise trying to be really fancy. Also they should be served hot with salted butter that can be melted on them and this is hard for restaurants to do.

Unfortunately, on the way to finding that perfect recipe, there are, well, the other recipes. Some of them may even be perfectly good except for the user error. But, for the same reason I have only house plants that can handle being watered only once a week, I also collect only recipes that don't require me to do icky stuff that I refuse to do.

So, for your amusement, I submit my latest try, "Rolled Biscuits," from Prevention's The Healthy Cook. I've been looking for a good recipe for biscuits that is not full of a million calories. Because no matter how rich it is, I'm going to slather it in butter anyway. At first I was trying drop biscuits because they seem quicker than rolled biscuits. But they ones I tried were not quite right. So I've started trying rolled biscuits, which is what my mom makes, and they really aren't much more trouble.

The recipe will be shown below in italics and my thoughts and actions in regular font.

We cut the fat but retained the flaky texture of classic rolled biscuits by replacing butter and whole milk with margarine and buttermilk.

But margarine has the same fat as butter. Hmm, only 3 tablespoons, though. I'll try it.

2 cups all-purpose flour - which I don't have; I'll be using white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons nondiet tub-style margarine
- ick, no, I'm using butter
2/3 cup buttermilk - Robin keeps that--yes, he has enough for me to use some

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Can do. Coat a no-stick baking sheet with no-stick spray. - I mostly coated a regular aluminum baking sheet with no-stick spray. In case it's not needed, I left one end free of spray--it's good to experiment. I don't have a no-stick baking sheet but I love my aluminum baking sheet, so that's what I use for things.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder an baking soda. Medium bowl? I'm using my big bowl I use for mixing stuff. And a wire whisk.

Using 2 table knives or a pastry blender, cut in the margarine... Knives? I don't even know how to do that. I'll use a fork. Maybe I should try melting the butter first. No, I'll try that trick I heard where you grate the butter. Hmm, works nicely! Except that the butter that sticks to the grater does not want to come off. Well, this probably works best in winter. Wait! It IS winter. ...until course crumbs form. Course crumbs? That's not happening. I'll just stir it the same amount as I usually stir cookie dough, and that will probably be enough.

Gently stir in the buttermilk until a dough forms. Gently? Okay. Hmm, no dough. I'm going to add more buttermilk. And more. And more. Okay, that seems better.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead for 1 minute. How do you gently knead a dough? I'll just knead it normally until it's all nice and smooth. While it's still in the bowl, because it's still hard to get all of it together. And with no extra flour because it's barely moist enough as it is.

Using a floured rolling pin, gently roll the dough into a 1/2"-thick rectangle, or flour your hands and pat into shape. Gently roll? Again, I have no clue how to do that. I'm mashing it down with my unfloured hands on the unfloured counter until it's mostly flat, which turns out not to be a rectangular shape at all. Warning--I have very dry skin, so if you have normal skin, this strategy may not work for you.

Using a 2" biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, rerolling as necessary to cut 12 biscuits. I've heard that the more you handle the dough, the tougher the biscuit gets. But in the cookie-decorating class I took, the instructor said you could re-roll the cookie dough as often as you want with no bad side-effects because you're not adding flour, just rolling between parchment paper pieces. So, no flour. And I used a juice glass. It was pretty easy to get the dough off the unfloured counter top. I ended up with only 10 biscuits.

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Done. Lightly coat the top of the biscuits with no-stick spray. Oops, forgot. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the bottoms of the biscuits are browned and tops are lightly golden. Like I can see the bottoms of the biscuits. I guess I could use a spatula.

After 12 minutes the tops looked the same and the bottoms were lightly golden. After about 15 minutes, the bottoms were medium brown and the tops looked the same. I declared them done.

They did not stick at all to any part of the cookie sheet, even though they were made with so little butter. Score!

And they are a pretty good texture. Robin declares them yummy. I think they're close. They are the closest I've come to re-creating Mom's biscuits. But they might be a little boring.

When I couldn't get my oatmeal recipe right, it turned out it was because I wasn't including salt. And when I leave all salt out of my chocolate chip cookies, I merely quite like them instead of really liking them. So I decided to look up other biscuit recipes--they all have salt. Most have 1 teaspoon, one has 1/2 teaspoon. Next time I'll try 1/2 teaspoon.

Also, I'll try 1 cup of buttermilk (easy to measure), though maybe I won't pour it all in right away, just in case that's too much. And maybe I'll remember to spray the tops before putting them in the oven.

Hey, a victory for once! I really didn't think that would happen when I first stuck the biscuits in the oven and started on this entry!
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Review: The Ice Princess [Jan. 31st, 2016|03:07 pm]
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Due to an impending trip to Norway, I decided to read some books from Norway. But the first thing I found to help me find some was a list of recommended Nordic mysteries from my library, most of which are not set in Norway and most of which are not directly available at my branch of the library.

I did find Karin Fossom's The Caller, but the crimes are psychologically horrifying and the rest of the book is not enough fun. I only recommend it for criminals who don't understand just how much impact their crimes might be having.

But I also found Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess (2010), set mostly in a small town in Sweden, which had some really fun parts. Like this little conversation:

Writer: "Art and fine wine. Two areas that remain complete mysteries to me."
Art store owner: "And I can barly write a shopping list. We all have our specialities."

Another conversation, this one between two cops:

'You know better, Lena--he's not a "perp" before he's found guilty and convicted. Until then he's just as innocent as the rest of us.'

'I sure as hell doubt that. I'd bet a year's salary that he's guilty.'

'If you're so sure, then you would bet more than such a negligible sum.'

'Ha ha, very funny. Joking with a cop about salary is like tripping a cripple.'

And my favorite passage:

Inside the door he stopped short. Never in his entire life had he seen so many Santa Clauses. Everywhere, on every available surface, there they were. Big ones, little ones, old ones, young ones, winking ones and grey ones. He felt his brain go into overdrive to handle all the sensory input flowing towards him.

'What do you think? Aren't they magnificent!'

Patrik didn't know quite what to say, and after a moment he managed to stammer a reply.

'Yes, absolutely. Fantastic.'

He gave Mrs Petrén an anxious look to see whether she could hear that his words didn't really match his tone of voice. To his amazement she gave him a roguish smile that made her eyes flash.

'Don't worry, boy. I'm well aware that it's not really your taste, but when one gets old it involves certain responsibilities, you understand.'


'One is expected to show a bit of eccentricity to be interesting. Otherwise one is simply a sad old crone, and no one wants that, you know.'

'But, why gnomes?

...'Well, the best thing, you see, is that one only needs to put them up once a year. The rest of the year I can keep the place nice and tidy. Then there's the advantage that it brings a pack of children running up here at Christmastime. And for an old crone who doesn't have many visitors, it's a joy to the soul when the little creatures come and ring my bell to see the Santas.'

Interesting philosophy! All very well thought out!

If you were to pick out an eccentricity for yourself, what would it be? I'm thinking the idea I like best for me is dancing in public. Whenever there's good music playing at grocery stores, for example, you might find me dancing.

This is a long and complex novel that won Best International Crime Novel of the Year. So you get to meet lots of interesting characters, most of whom command at least a little sympathy. Not quite all of the lose ends were perfectly tied up, but they were tied up well enough that you could assume that things could work out fine if you wanted to. I figured out some obvious things before some of the characters who should have, so that was annoying, and sometimes the author would tell us that someone had discovered something without telling us what right away, but everything did eventually come out. So, you might like the book or it might be frustrating. I would read more by this author.

And did I learn anything about Sweden? Well, in the small town people sure did a lot of things to save face. Because what would people think? Ugh. They also invited in the police officer for coffee and pastries. Yum! Of course it was cold and snowy and can be hard to get your car started. Gentrification is just as annoying there as anywhere. And, I don't know if this is a cultural thing or not, but on two occasions a character would ask for a social visit when really they had business intentions that they sprung on their friend only after they came together. And they did it on purpose, knowing or feeling that it was mean.

And driving just before sunset yesterday, I found myself realizing: In these places where they hardly get any sun in the winter, the sun they do get is always low on the horizon. Is it the case that the only sun they get is the kind with the annoying glare? If so, that's sad.
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Not Quite Fixed Income [Jan. 25th, 2016|08:49 pm]
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I got an interesting letter in the mail today from my pension fund. It says that due to changes in the 2016 federal income tax withholding tables, my net pension amount will increase next year.

I guess that makes sense. Whenever the government admits there's inflation, they do things like raise the income levels for each tax bracket.

As a result, I'm bringing home an extra 23 cents every single month next year. Yeah, baby!

Blog Entry of the Day - Northern Expenditure's Fill-the-Bucket List - "Life is full of opportunities, changes, and unpredictability.... Instead of making a list of things you would like to see happen in your life, a fill-the-bucket list focuses on the opportunities you have had and the things you’ve taken a chance and done."

That fits in with my urge to add things to my bucket list after I've done them. Things that were never a goal, but the opportunity came up and I took it. We don't always know ahead of time what's going to be great or even what's going to be possible.

So things on my fill-the-bucket list include:
* teach someone to read - I loved reading, and as soon as I learned how, I passed on the information to my little brother, who was a handy victim
* learn embroidery (thanks, Mom)
* learn ceramics, canoeing, and how to make things by lashing (thanks, Girl Scouts)
* learn to ski (thanks Bill and Dave et al.)
* learn ballroom dancing (thanks Bill, Mary, and Richard et al.)
* visit cool places where family and friends have invited me

Happily, there were some additions to both kinds of lists last year.

Bucket list:
* retire
* learn more Spanish
* enjoy media from multiple countries
* learn how they make taco meat in such tiny pieces (cook it in liquid such as broth or water)

Fill-the-bucket list:
* re-write song lyrics to help with Spanish and share it
* learn to frost cookies using the flood frosting technique
* learn a better way to fold my knee socks
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Review: "Mike Tyson Mysteries" [Jan. 20th, 2016|09:02 pm]
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I still don't know what to make of the TV show "Mike Tyson Mysteries." This is an adult cartoon show featuring Mike Tyson, who has retired from boxing and now solves mysteries. Which he learns about using carrier pigeons.

This character is played by Mike Tyson as a stupid and ignorant guy, who still manages to get into fights in almost every episode, but somehow he is charming anyway. Sort of like Earl in "My Name is Earl." He's clearly having fun making fun of himself.

He has three sidekicks: his 18-year-old daughter, a ghost, and a talking pigeon. They also have a van. (And a nice mansion.)

It has a cheesy 1970's vibe, like "Scooby Doo," but with swearing and without the obsession with masks. (However, I tried to watch "Scooby Doo" once as an adult and couldn't take it.)

It also reminds me of "The Tic," in that it's a wacky cartoon, but there are no silly soliloquies. Also, everything re-sets at the beginning of the next episode, in an exaggerated way, whereas in "The Tic," I loved that they did not follow this tradition at all. (For example, the bad guy's writing on the moon in one episode remains in future episodes.)

I'm not sure what to make of this show. I can't really watch a lot of episodes in a row. But they are short. And for now, they are diverting.
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Reflexive Verbs [Jan. 18th, 2016|03:18 pm]
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One thing that is handled much better in Spanish than English is reflexive verbs. We learned a bunch back in the chapter on waking up and getting ready and are now learning more in the chapter on well-being. These are words for describing actions you take that are focussed on yourself, in other words, when the subject and object of a action are the same person.

The Spanish way to express these concepts makes good sense. They add a reflexive handle to regular verbs. For example:
llamar = to call
llamarse = to call oneself

So in English we can ask, "what do you call yourself?" This is so long that we usually ask instead, "What is your name?" (Or just say our name and hope they get the hint.) Fewer words are needed in Spanish: "¿Cómo se llama [usted]?" And the words for self are shorter than in English:
* me = myself
* te = yourself
* se = himself, herself, itself, or themselves
* nos = ourselves
* os = y'all's selves

Often, the English ways are wacky and random feeling. For example, sometimes we just add random prepositions to the verbs.
* to sit down = sentarse (to sit oneself)
* to lie down = acostarse (to lie oneself)
* to cool down or cool off = enfriarse (to cool oneself)
* to get up = levantarse (to raise oneself)
* to wash up = lavarse (to wash oneself)
* to warm up (before exercise) = calentarse (to warm oneself)
* to hurry up = apurarse (to hurry oneself) or darse prisa (to give oneself haste)
* to put on = ponerse (to put oneself)
* to try on = probarse (to try oneself)
* to dry off = secarse (to dry oneself)
* to go away = irse (to go oneself)

Sometimes we use the verb "to get" with a related adjective.
* to get ready = arreglarse (to fix up oneself)
* to get dressed = vestirse (to dress oneself)
* to get bored = aburrirse (to bore oneself)
* to get angry = enojarse (to anger oneself)
* to get sick = enfermarse (to sicken oneself)
* to get hurt = lastimarse (to hurt oneself)
* to get engaged = comprometerse (to commit oneself)

Sometimes we use some other kind of phrase.
* to go to bed = acostarse (to put oneself to bed)
* to go to sleep or to fall asleep = dormirse (to sleep oneself)
* to take a bath = bañarse (to bathe oneself)
* to take a shower = ducharse (to shower oneself)
* to put on makeup = maquillarse (to make oneself up)
* to be happy = alegrarse (to make oneself happy)

Or we just have a whole different word.
* to remember = acordarse (to remind oneself)
* to become = ponerse (to put oneself)
* to practice = entrenarse (to train oneself)

Or sometimes we just assume it's reflexive unless another object is indicated.
* to shave = afeitarse (to shave oneself)
* to stay, to remain = quedarse (to leave oneself)
* to stay in shape = mantenerse en forma (to maintain oneself in shape)
* to graduate = graduarse (to confer a degree on oneself)
* to retire = jubilarse (to put oneself into retirement)
To bathe and shower also fit in this category.

There's also another interesting difference when the object of the action is just a part of you. In English we say we do something to our body part as if the body part is something outside of us that we own. But in Spanish we say we do something to ourselves and then mention which body part is affected. Examples:
* to brush one's teeth = cepillarse los dientes (to brush the teeth [of] ourselves or to self-brush the teeth)
* to brush one's hair = cepillarse el pelo (to self-brush the hair)
* to wash one's hands = lavarse las manos (to self-wash the hands)
* to hurt one's foot = lastimarse el pie (to self-hurt the foot, to hurt oneself [in] the foot)
* to sprain one's ankle = torcerse el tobillo (to self-twist the ankle)
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Review: Crashed [Jan. 13th, 2016|11:44 pm]
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Robin recommended some novels based in Thailand by Timothy Hallinan. He'd just bought his own copies, so I started reading. But I accidentally started reading "Crashed" first, which is set in Los Angeles and turns out to be a whole different series (the Junior Bender mysteries).

The set-up is interesting--the protagonist is a thief who other bad guys call when they want the kind of justice they can't get from police.

And the writing is read-aloud quality. And he brings up interesting issues. This is from the first page:

"I think for everyone in the world, there's something you could dangle in front of them, something they would run onto a freeway at rush hour to get. When I meet somebody, I like to try to figure out what that is for that person. You for diamonds, darling, or first editions of Dickens? Jimmy Choo shoes or a Joseph Cornell box? And you, mister, a thick stack of green? A troop of Balinese Girl Scouts? A Maserati with your monogram on it?

"For me, it's a wall safe."

Do I have anything like that? If so, am I willing to admit it to myself?

Later, he's discussing a burglary job:

..."Is the door visible from the street?"

"It's so completely visible," she'd said, "that if you were a kid in one of those '40s musicals and you decided to put on a show, the front door of the Huston house is where you'd put it on."

"Makes the back sound good," I'd said.

"Aswarm with Rottweilers." ...

Burglars, of which I am one, don't like Rottweilers.

I recommend it.

So then I read the second one, Little Elvises. Also good, though I didn't enjoy it quite as much. Then I read the third one, The Fame Thief, which I liked better than #2. There are more, but I don't yet have access to them.

So then I started the books set in Thailand. Yowsa! I hated the first chapter, where one guy is scheming to steal from the other guy. The next chapter was great. But this book has torture in it. Well, what did I expect with the title A Nail Through the Heart?

This book covers some of the same themes as Bangkok 8. Torture. Prostitution. Cultural differences, like how Americans want to fix things and people, but what is in people's pasts is a part of what makes them who they are, and you can't make it disappear. It's a good book, but harder to get through.

Blog Post of the day

Miser Mom's Twisted Resolutions - Yes, this is how to craft a resolution. 'I love making really creative, convoluted resolutions that combine multiple goals in a sort of back-door way. One of my most successful resolutions of years past -- successful in the sense that I'm still happily incorporating them in my regular life -- combined my goal of wanting to get back into shape and also spend more time with friends: the resolution was, "Run gregariously".'

Read more for more great examples. I haven't figured out a way to this technique for myself yet, but I'm keeping it in mind.

Definitions of the Day

The wikipedia article for Kludge has my favorite definition of all time:

"An ill-assorted collection of poorly-matching parts, forming a distressing whole." It's redundant, but I love it.

And it has two other fun definitions as well:

"A clever programming trick intended to solve a particular nasty case in an expedient, if not clear, manner. Often used to repair bugs. Often involves ad-hockery and verges on being a crock." Ad-hockery. Verges. Heh.

"Something that works for the wrong reason."

(Thanks to Empirical Question for sharing that article.)
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How I Became a Texan [Jan. 10th, 2016|04:02 pm]

Part I: My Parents

My parents were born and raised in suburbs of Chicago. But my dad joined the Air Force, so I was born in Oklahoma then moved to Guam, Louisiana, and California before he got out.

Then we joined my parents' best friends from high school (they were each other's best man and maid/matron of honor) in Florida. My Dad worked on Apollo 11 while we were there. (The rest of us went outside into the yard to watch the launch--the rocket looked like an upside-down lightbulb to me.) Then he got laid off and we moved back to Chicago suburbs for a year and a half (two winters and one summer).

The second winter the high temperature never went above zero degrees Farenheit for thirty days in a row and my mom declared that she never wanted to live anyplace where that could happen again.

[I just learned that on my trip home last week. I remember it being cold. I remember having bare legs with my dresses and snow boots, but that must have been the first winter. I also remember having "leggings" (ski pants) and having on so many clothes that I couldn't hang my arms down straight (like a body builder). But I didn't remember it being "To Build A Fire" cold.]

So we moved back to Florida, then Dad followed a job to Houston (where it snowed twice the first year!). Later, when both my mom's brothers moved to the Dallas area, they moved there, too, and they're still there today.

Part II: Me

I went to college in Boston. I wanted a good small liberal arts college. I now know that I would have been perfectly happy at the large state university, but oh well.

I moved back home while I was job hunting and then applied to grad school. My top two schools (in Boston and California) rejected me, but my third choice (in Austin) accepted me AND they gave me fellowships and TA-ships AND my best friend moved from Houston to Austin, so I moved to Austin.

My boyfriend at the time graduated just before I did and found a job in Georgia. I followed him there until we broke up. Then moved back in with my parents.

By this time I had opinions about where I liked living:

a) Any place with good people is a good place to live. I learned this working at summer camp in Conroe, Texas, almost the middle of nowhere. And again in the world's second biggest dorm.

b) I do not like the cold. Even though I never had to shovel (in Chicago or Boston) and even though the three years I spent in Boston were milder than average.

c) I like college towns. They are full of smart people and have good libraries.

And so I moved to Austin to stay. A bunch of my friends from grad school were still here. It freezes only a couple times a year and rarely drops below 20, perhaps never below zero. Certainly the high temperature is never below zero! And UT used to have the second biggest academic library in the US. Plus there are three other other colleges and a big community college system.

Now some of my friends and relatives have moved away, but I've made more friends. In spite of global warming, it still doesn't get seriously cold. And the university library's not keeping up the way it used to, but we now have the internet.

And now another thing I appreciate is the very casual atmosphere. I am not expected to wear make-up or high heels (though with sandals, I think I'm expected to wear nail polish).

And I like that this town basically gets that gay people are made out of real people and that racism and segregation are bad even though we still have it.

An added bonus is that we have wild flowers. Boston has better dandelions - they only have the sunny yellow kind and not the lemon yellow kind. But we have more wild flowers. I only ever saw three kinds of wild flowers in Georgia (tiny white ones, yellow ones, and fuzzy maroon ones).

Another added bonus is Tex Mex food. I think it's ubiquitous now, but I sure missed it in 1980's Boston. (Though I did enjoy listening to someone's Mom say "nachos" with a Jewish/Yiddish accent.)

And so that's why I'm a Texan.
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Media from Europe 2016 [Jan. 9th, 2016|04:46 pm]
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And here is my last post in this series this year.



* Champion, Alexander. The Grave Gourmet (2010) - The author is not afraid of big words (First sentence: "With the consummate petulance endemic to opera divas and French chefs..."). And I hadn't even heard of the word "piaffing" (executing a cadenced trot on one spot, with a well-elevated leg action)--a woman's poodle was nerviously doing this on the banquette (booth seat) next to her. But he does often has a way with words that is super fun. "...a head that would have been handsome had the mousy brown hair not been roughly hacked off, apparently by the owner without benefit of a mirror." The police are meaner than I like, the bad guys magically talk a lot, and some of the characters are icko, but it's fun that the first and last chapter talk about one guy affected by the murder. Lots of talk about food and wine, some about cars.

* Champion, Alexander. Death of a Chef (2012) (sequel to the previous book (recommended by Robin after he happened to pick it up at the library) - This one is about food and some kind of pottery. Good writing, but with some icky people. I enjoyed a cop who ran off to pretend to be a writer and really got into it.


* "Death in Paradise" (filmed in Guadaloupe, France, in the Caribbean; set in the fictional St. Marie) (recommended by Sally's mom) - fun. Season 1 is great--you can actually try to guess who the killer is. You can't do that in Season 2, but they still do tie up all the loose ends. Season 3 brings it all home; finally you feel the horror of murder. More cast changes in season 4. Shows life on a small Caribbean island with people with British, French, and Caribbean accents.



* Nesbo, Jo. The Snowman: A Novel (2007) (translated by Don Bartlett) - Not a read-aloud book, but it sure gets exciting by the end. Pretty sick. Don't love the alcoholic detective. In this one, they figure out who did it--multiple times (they were wrong the first times). Moral: don't get the police to look into the case that interests you by pretending to be the criminal--the evidence they find will look incriminating.

(I accidentally picked up this book because it was next to the Nesser books (see Sweden, below). I enjoyed it more than many of the books I found recommended by strangers on internet book sites.)

United Kingdom, Scotland

Technically, Scotland is not a country but part of the United Kingdom. However, it's on my list of "countries" because I want to learn more about parts of the United Kingdom other than England.


* Smith, Alexander McCall. 44 Scotland Street (2005) - Written as a newspaper series, it chronicles the lives of some people who live in a small suburb in Scotland. Not too exciting, some interesting bits, love some of the characters, but not the main ones. The second biggest character reminds me of the bad guy in "Saved!" where he thinks he's doing everything right but is actually kind of horrible.



I've read bits and pieces of a lot of travel guides. Finally I found this children's book, which turned out to be really good. I'm going to check out all the other books I can find in this series at our local library.

* Somervill, Barbara A. Spain (Enchantment of the World Second Series from Scholastic Press) (2012) - There are fifty words for ham (might be exaggerating). Not a democracy until 1975, no constitution until 1978. They elect parties, not people, and the head of the majority party becomes the prime minister. There was a picture of a Visigoth church (San Pedro de la Nave) that's pretty--made with big blocks of stone on the bottom, smaller as you go up. And there's a picture of a Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, with "no mortar or any other material holding the stones in place"--yes, lots of arches. There are different "autonomous communities" sort of corresponding to earlier kingdoms. Basque Country is one of them, but they still want to separate. These autonomous communities seem to have more power than US states. For example, they have their own official regional language. "Euskara, the language of the Basques, is not related to other modern European languages." Most Spaniards speak two or more languages (besides Spanish and the local language, English and French are often studied.) Like "-son" and "-dottir," The Irish "Mc-" and the Spanish "-ez" mean "son of." Sanchez = son of Sancho, Rodriguez, son of Rodrigo. Jews were kicked out in 1492, but refugees were accepted during WWII.


* "Atame" aka "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" (1989) (recommended by Robin) - guy kidnaps gal to convince her to love him; this actually works somehow. I love her sister who makes everything work.

* "Pan's Labyrinth" - gal follows fairy into labyrinth and must pass three challenges to re-take her rightful place as princess. On the one hand, her mother really does get better when she puts the weird plant under her bed. On the other hand, it's probably just all in her head to help her get through her days in that horrible place in 1940s Spain. The bad guy is so terrible that I never want to watch this again.


* Vistas, Panorama, “El Festival de San Fermín” - In Pamplona is the running of the bulls. There are 17 bulls and hundreds of crazy people running through the narrow streets with only a rolled-up newspaper to defend themselves. The film shows them just moving to the side when the (faster) bulls come up from behind. There are also parades with gigantic figures.



* Nesser, Haken. Mind’s Eye, An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery (as are all of the following) (1993) (translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson, as are all of the following) - read-aloud quality writing, many very nice scenes, but probably not enough information to figure out the murderer since the inspector can just feel things. Don't love it, but will try to read more from this author.

* Nesser, Haken. Borkmann's Point (1994) (won the 1994 Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Best Novel Award) - more read-aloud writing; serial killer victims seem to have nothing in common, which messes with some of the usual assumptions. Van Veeteren isn't as good as in the first book, but other characters are and I'm glad one resisted cheating on his wife.

Here is the point in my reading where I wrote this review.

* Nesser, Haken. The Return (1995) - my favorite so far because Van Veeteren goes for surgery; don't quite understand how something could bother someone for “all the remaining nights of his life” when he has only seconds to live.

* Nasser, Haken. The Inspector and Silence (1997) - the one with the religious camp; I totally fell for two red herrings.

* Nasser, Haken. Woman with Birthmark (1996) - "Whatever you do, don't stand there bawling at my funeral. ... No, do something, my girl! Take action! Do something magnificent that I can applaud up there in heaven!" That leads to a mystery that the police never figure out until it's all over.
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Media from Asia and Oceana 2015 [Jan. 7th, 2016|09:01 pm]
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Once when my best friend from high school and I were bored over the summer, we made up lessons for each other. One of the things we taught ourselves about was Australia. It seemed all very alien to me. Southern hemisphere, so much desert, aborigines. But now I think my Anglophilia may extend to Australia.


* "Muriel's Wedding" (1994) (recommended by Tam) - loser gal steals money to follow her estranged friends on vacation. There she meets an old classmate who becomes a good friend. Character development ensues--after a whole movie of ickiness. She really wants to get married (because it will prove she's the sort who can attract a man, plus she gets to wear the cool dress), and ends up in a green card marriage but events show her that she needs to start telling the truth, paying her dad back, and living with her (new) best friend. Some good parts (including Abba lip-syncing) but it's hard to like most of the characters until the end, and one of the likeable ones commits suicide.


* "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" - reminiscent of “Murdock Mysteries” but set in Melbourne, Australia in 1927. Miss Fisher is shocking, but like the detective she works with, I come to know her better. Love so many of the characters. Um, we've watched every single episode. Twice. Highly recommended.


I already talked about what got me into reading about Bhutan. And I do now feel sated. However, I don't strongly recommend any one of the things I found, though I did like the first book I read. I needed all of these to get a big enough view.

I did read somewhere that the architecture of the University of Texas at El Paso is a copy of that of Bhutan, and looking at pictures, I can see a resemblance.


* Grange, Kevin. Beneath Blossom Rain: Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World (2011) - American takes month-long hike through mountain passes looking for answers in his life. He's kind of a whiner but does explain a few interesting things about Bhutan like Gross National Happiness, yak herding, and morning butter tea. Sort of like Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astair did backwards, there were people who moved all the supplies faster than the hikers to be set up with food for lunch and dinner.

* Das, Britta. Buttertea at Sunrise: A Year in the Bhutan Himalaya (2006) (set in 1999) - About a physical therapist in Bhutan. Sadly, I don't really like her. It seems like she doesn't try to learn much and isn't good at asking questions. It seems like if her patients can't do what she wants, there are never any other alternatives. This book was set in Mongar, in Eastern Bhutan. You get a closer look at the poverty and the medicine in a Basic Health Unit. And a hint about social life--people invite you for tea (butter tea with crispy rice), you say no twice before saying yes, make sure your feet aren't pointing to anyone or anything important, and pass shrines on your right. She had a picture of Chorten Kora, copied from a bigger Chorten in Nepal, but not an exact replica because (acc. to Lonely Planet), the carved radish it was made from had dried up and changed shape a bit.

* Imaeda, Yoshiro. Enchanted by Bhutan (2008) - Japanese student of Buddhism describes the reign of the fourth king when he got to hang in Bhutan. He says chili is a vegetable, not a spice. The head librarian hired the people who most needed the job, not those who were competent and efficient, who could get a job anywhere. They used to work only about five hours a day and talk mostly about family and neighbors; now that they work 7-8 hours a day, they talk mostly about work. Fun to read about Bhutan from a Japanese perspective.

* Napoli, Lisa [Jane]. Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in the Happiest Kingdom on Earth (2010) - a gal goes to Bhutan to help their new radio station; she not only witnesses Bhutan's fall from happiness, but helps with it. The goal to change slowly is not working--myths that the overdeveloped world is better is hurtling them to their doom. (That’s my impression, not her message.)


* Choden, Kunzang. Dawa: The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan (2006) - This is my favorite book about Bhutan. The runt of the litter is the only one who survives when everyone else eats the poison meat up before he can get to it. But he's a good singer and we learn about past lives, dog politics, and spirituality. Pretty good; excellently accessible introduction to Bhutan.

* Choden, Kunzang. Tales in Colour and Other Stories (2009) - Short stories set in Bhutan, each about an important decision or something else unusual about someone's life like the grown woman who decides to go to night school without asking her parents, the dwarf who everyone makes fun of most of her life, and the drunken lady who's just like that. There is a lot of jealousy. Some people treat weirdos well, but some don't.

* Phuntsho, Ngawang. Then I Saw Her Face (2012) - more short stories from Bhutan. Again, it's tragic how much time people spend coveting other people's stuff and wanting other people to covet theirs. Still a few differences appear from other poor cultures--different naming, ease of marriage and divorce, walking around chotens and other religious practices. The free health care often isn't effective and is a long walk away.

* Choden, Kunzang. The Circle of Karma: A Novel (2005) (Bhutan) - About a gal in Bhutan with bad luck in love (first husband ran away from his wife to be with her, then after she lost their baby, ran away from her to be with her sister; second husband was basically just using her, then ran away to a younger woman and treated her much better). But she travelled a lot (to the big city, then to other cities in India and Nepal) and had several kinds of jobs (gardening, weaving, road building, alcohol brewing, nun) and usually could make friends wherever she was. It was okay (though full of rape).


"Travelers and Magicians" (2004) - (Dzongkha with English subtitles), directed by Khyentse Noru, a lama) - Two stories. A guy wants to go to America where you can do anything--and make lots of money. He finally gets his chance but misses the bus and has to hitchhike. So this is a slow part of the movie. One guy who joins up with him helps pass the time by telling the story of another guy who wants to go far away from his boring town, but things don't end well for him. Meanwhile the first man falls for a gal who joins their party, stops smoking, and probably won't go to America after all. This movie showed me that I am pronouncing Bhutan correctly (Boo-TAHN). Finally got to see a gho--basically a double-sided bathrobe, but you always wear the patterned side on the outside and the solid inside. There was also a crazy-decorated bus and a vehicle that looked like a glorified lawnmower with a trailer.

I also read parts of the Lonely Planet guide in conjunction with relevant parts of the above books, which was fun.

At the end of all this, I realized I still didn't know how there could be refugees from here. I think it's the people who came from Tibet and aren't really welcome. Bleh, too depressing.



* Brackman, Lisa. Rock Paper Tiger: a Novel (2010) - set mostly in modern China (a bit in Iraq)--I often don't understand what's going on, as with many spy thrillers, though this is just a regular thriller. It becomes clear that interesting things have happened in the past, but they won't tell us. Until the present gets really interesting. Grr. The main character sure drinks a lot and I don't really like her at first, but there's character development. Gal still healing from war injury and divorce request finds friend in trouble. Now the Chinese and Americans are after her and they can always find her. Addresses the question of who to trust--I didn't want to trust any of them--but in a way that's not black and white! One bad guy was only testing her. Another bad guy got to stop being bad once he got the information he needed. A lot of good information on China (especially Beijing) (plus a little about Iraq).

* Brackmann, Lisa. Hour of the Rat (2013) - sequel to Rock, Paper, Tiger. I enjoyed this one more for some reason even though I still didn't know what was going on, there are still rich people who help her for unknown reasons, and she keeps figuring out the wise thing to do and then not doing it. Unlike the first book, this one clearly needs a sequel--and one is in fact coming out soon (Dragon Day). This one is about GMOs and how creepy the GMO companies are. And making a difference, even if it's only a small one. Many fun parts.



* "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" - hilarious heartwarmer about a hotel in India for outsourcing old people. Shows the color (and hints at the aromas) of life in India. I really liked this movie and now own it. I also recommended it to my mom, who also liked it. The beginning tries to give you a quick intro to all the characters--if you can't remember it all, it's okay; the rest of the movie is still good. There's also a sequel, but I can't remember if I've seen it.



* "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (2011) - documentary of guy who supposedly makes best sushi in the world. He says the key is to choose a job you love and then always improve yourself. He was a bully as a kid and might still be one. Definitely a workaholic. He was kicked out of the house at 9 or 7; he let his kids go to high school and only kicked his youngest out when he felt he was ready to open his own restaurant. Beautiful, but still makes me want to be more vegetarian.

Korea, South


* "This is Law" aka "Out of Justice" (2001) - Action movie. Turns out it gets bad reviews. (One guy who really hates it loves "My Wife Is a Gangster" with the same actress.) So, I learned that South Korea is not a third-world country. I liked the phrase "Everybody, go do your own jobs." Mostly it was too confusing--first there were lots of rapes and murders. Then we figure out that because a lot of the perpetrators are getting off scot-free, somebody is killing them.



* Rathbone, Julian. With My Knives I Know I'm Good (1969) (see Turkey for main description) - I learned that Lebanon has some of the best Roman ruins in the world.


* [I Didn't write down the name of the article] 2015 - Lebenon is recovering from its civil war and has not had a president in over a year. Although its population is only 4 million, it has accepted 2 million Syrians. Most Lebanese learn English in school, but Syrians do not.

So Lebanon is now a Middle Eastern country that I am looking forward to learning more about.



* Kay, Mara. Masha (1968) - children’s book about a Russian girl who goes to an overnight school in Russia after her father died in war. She is so devastated to leave home that she doesn't appreciate the trip at all. Her mother dies right before she's going to visit. Her nurse goes crazy she she leaves, then dies after her mother dies. Magical happy ending.


Robin is fascinated by Thailand, partly because he likes the food. I, on the other hand, find that Thai restaurants are the one place where I can't find anything that I like. However, students I met in the Business School who were from Thailand were super fun.


* Burdett, John. Bangkok 8 (2003) - Yowsa. Definitely a look at (the seemy side) of an alien culture. We see police graft, prostitution, smuggling, extreme tourism, religion, traffic, spicy food, sex change, jade. Totally unexpected ending as well. I still love my rational world and spending time trying to protect myself. But it does introduce you to the idea of accepting some things that you could change as well as things you can't. I read this book twice and plan to own it.

* Burdett, John. Bangkok Tattoo (2005) (sequel to Bangkok 8) - Ugh, starts out gruesome, then the main character spends the whole book haranguing his farang readers. I actually did not like him in this book and have no interest in continuing the series. Still, there were a couple of really good passages, mostly hitting us farang on the head. Westerners worship money, which is not satisfying. The US wants war so they can easily get away with abuses. It seems like Buddhism is about how to live with things how they are and not even feel pressure to fix things--plus you don't worry about death because it's just another phase.



* Rathbone, Julian. With My Knives I Know I'm Good (1969) (recommended by Robin) - Russian dance troop member from Azerbaijan with roots in Turkey gets a chance to defect, but all is not what it appears. "Really it would be more difficult to employ you were you not Russian: you would be under contracts, and contracts are less easily changed than nationalities." It's hard to figure out who's telling the truth and what they really want at first. Lots of foreshadowing since he tells the whole story from the perspective of someone who has already lived through the whole thing. I immediately read it again to be able to figure out what was really happening. I also learned that Syria even in the 1960s was depressing.
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