I’m getting older. What should I read?

November 17th, 2006

I’ve been freaking out about getting older for my entire life. When I was a kid I wanted to be able to say a magic spell like the kids in Pippi Longstocking so I could stay a kid forever. As a teenager, I shared in the more popular feeling, among my peers, that we *were* adults, and that older adults were simply old. When I was 19, I panicked about getting out of my teens and becoming an adult. With each passing year of my 20s, I mused about which year would mark the year when I could no longer be considered “young.” In my late 20s, commercials started to play upon my insecurities the havoc that my 30s would wreak upon my skin. When I turned 30, I felt like I was lying when I told people I was 30. I felt like I was telling them that I was the Pope; it just didn’t sound possible.
Now I find that some dictionary definitions mark the beginning of middle age at 35. No way. You can’t have it both ways, society, if you want to extend adolescence into the late 20s or early 30s, you can’t start middle age at 35. We need some time to breathe somewhere in there.
I prefer to think of myself as “one-third-aged.” Now, the likelihood of my living to 99 is probably not exceptionally high, but in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, I think this makes sense. However, I feel I need to get ready for the second third of my life. I’d like to say I’m going to approach this by doing something really profound, like learning to repair my own car or finally getting some of my own opinions on music instead of borrowing those of my friends.
However, in the first third of my life, I’ve learned that those are not the sorts of things I’ll every actually carry through on. So few of the things I want to do, do I ever attempt, and of those; only a couple do I ever work at for more than a day or two. Finally, those which have proved to be long-lasting projects (as I’ve mentioned before, those are Christianity, graduate school, this blog, and my marriage, in that order of longevity) effectively take up all of my time. I’m not planning on giving up any TV or Sims time just to find out the difference between a carborateur and a distributor.
One thing I can do, however, is read. I would like to set up some kind of list of books that I want to read before I’m 35 or 40 or some other arbitrary deadline. So, I’m asking for suggestions! I’m particularly interested in theology and the history of Christianity, but I’m liable to get through fiction and lighter stuff and a faster rate. Anyone have any ideas on genres or specific books that everyone should read before they’re two-thirds-aged?

The Return of Historicity

October 31st, 2006

Happy Halloween!
Andy and I have started posting on Historicity again. We humbly request that you consider taking a gander when you have a spare moment or two.

theory of the day: humans as mythmakers

October 25th, 2006

If there is one thing that humans do, it is create myths. Humans tell stories not just to explain the natural phenomena they see around them, they do so to create a world out of the nearly infinite number of poorly-understood processes and relationships that surround them. They tell the stories to place themselves–just as mysterious as anything else in the booming, buzzing world of stimuli that surrounds them–into a world that is at least in part understandable, graspable, and livable. By telling stories, they take things that are inherently not graspable–birth, death, justice, love–and create a place for them within the rest of the world, so that even though they are not knowable, at least there is somewhere to put them.
Humans create their worlds through myths by pinning them on certain constants. In the past, one might say that pantheons of gods provided these constants. The world was understood according to the personalities and family relationships between a group of metanatural beings. These beings were dialogically understood by and explicated real personalities and family relationships, which made up the entire social world and through which the natural world was ordered.

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more fun with Turkish food

October 18th, 2006

Serendipitously, I just came across a good food quotation from The Instructions of Kagemni, who was a a vizier of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Snofru (27th-26th c. BC):
“He who is blameless in matters of food, no word can prevail against him. The shy of face, even impassive of heart, the harsh is kinder to him than to his (own) mother, all people are his servants.”
I think he’s overstating things, but maybe I’m just jealous because I’m far from blameless in matters of food, as my recent attempt to make Turkish desserts indicates.
We recently got together with some friends for dessert and to show off my Turkey pictures, and I decided to attempt some Turkish desserts. The one I really wanted to make was some interesting stuff I had there, the name of which I can’t remember but which we described as “cheese with Shredded Wheat, but sweet.” That’s exactly what it was like, so you can easily imagine it, but yet again, it’s much better than it sounds.
That’s the title of my second cookbook, by the way: “Much Better than It Sounds.”
Anyhow, I decided to make Mosaic Cake, Creamy Pudding, and Sekerpare. Mosaic Cake was extremely simple, although my ratio of chocolate to tea biscuits (which are basically graham crackers, as it turns out) was much lower than in the picture. Creamy Pudding was also easy to make, tasted good with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and combined nicely with the other two.
I had a little more trouble with Sekerpare. To begin with, I did not know what “semolina” was and couldn’t find it at Meijer (fyi, it’s Cream of Wheat), so decided to use the recipe in my Turkish Cooking cookbook instead of the online one, as it calls for flour only. However, in addition to having its measurements in European rather than American units, Turkish Cooking also uses some units of measurement unique to it: such as a “soup spoon” or a “glass” of something. Some of these it explains, others it doesn’t. So I found an online conversion thingy for the European-style measurements, and used my best guess on the others.
However, I hit a snag. The online conversion thingy indicated that I should use 1 cup of butter and 5 of flour for the cookies, which seemed like way too much flour and was way more than in the online recipe. So I began to triangulate between the book recipe, the online recipe, and the way the dough looked to me as I progressed.
Further, it suddenly hit me as I was in the midst of combining ingredients that even the seemingly clear-cut measurements–“tablespoons” and such–might be different from what I thought. Some googling indicated that indeed, European tablespoons etc. are different from American ones. Now, the Turkish cookbook would certainly use the European versions, but what about the web site? It’s Canadian–did it use British or U.S. type tablespoons, and if the former, were British tablespoons American or European sized ones? Here google failed me: some conversion sites opposed European Tbs to British & American, others had European & British vs. American.
So I just put in what seemed like a reasonable amount of different stuff and commenced to cookie-making; then dumped the syrup on the cookies as directed. However, the cookies didn’t soak up the syrup as they were supposed to. Upon further reviewing the recipe, I realized I’d made the cookies way too big, and had thus sabotaged their ability to soak up the syrup.
But, they were still good. Sort of good. Well, you could see how they would be good if somebody made them the right way. And, they didn’t go to waste…unless you consider my single-handedly consuming half a pound of butter mixed with some flour and sugar to be a waste. I didn’t.

a Trixie Belden for every occasion: food

October 9th, 2006

If I’m really going to start blogging about food and stuff, I can do no better than to begin with looking at the role of food in Trixie Belden books. There’s nothing like a good description of a meal in a novel; it gives the reader not so much a window as a door into the story, the easily imagined and universal multisensory experience of eating makes the reader part of the story. This works best if the food is in fact part of the story: if it’s simply an irrelevant detail (though “multiplication of irrelevant details” seems in my opinion to be the dominant literary style currently), it distracts, but if used properly it can establish an atmosphere for the story, and tells you a lot about the characters involved: do they cook for themselves, or does someone else serve them? Do they like eating or is some known or unknown plot point taking away their appetite? Is the food home-grown, ordinary, or gourmet?

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bumper stickers are good for the soul

October 6th, 2006

What is up with bumper stickers whose words are too small to read on the car in front of you while you’re trying to drive? They really annoy me, and I suspect are the cause of a number of fender-benders. Like lidless coffee, as President Palmer was warning me about just the other day.
Anyway, I saw one yesterday, and as best I could make it out read: “I’ve hunted nearly every day of my life, and every other day has been wasted.” At first I thought the second word was “hated,” but that doesn’t make sense, and I’d really prefer not to get involved in the thought process behind that if it was.
It’s not clear whether the guy was bragging or if this was some kind of self-analytical confessional device out there for all the world to see, meant as part of the healing process. Regardless, it got me thinking.
What, if anything, had I done nearly every day for say the past 10 years of my life, besides the typical eating, sleeping, tooth-brushing, etc.? After much soul-searching (well, as much as I could do in the next 3 minutes until I arrived at Meijer), I came up with two things:
1. Praying
2. Drinking Diet Coke
The mind reels. What, if anything, does this say about me? Should I talk to someone about this? Or maybe put it on a bumper sticker? It seems the positive message conveyed by the first item might be a little diluted by the second. Or maybe, just maybe, it would get people thinking about their own religious life. Or soft drink consumption habits. Or something. Never mind.

Oh no, not more about ECs

October 4th, 2006

I read a couple of good posts about emergency contraceptives recently and thought to myself: Here is an issue I don’t know anything about and never think about, I think I’ll post about it. This is mainly in response to the responses to the first link above. Here goes.

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October 2nd, 2006

For a long time now I’ve thought about doing a series of posts on cooking, cookbooks, and so forth. I’ve been a little nervous about doing so since many people who are much better cooks than I have been known to read this blog. But today I figured, what the hey?
While I did have plenty of opportunity to get tired of some aspects of Turkish food while in turkey (*cough*pilar*cough*), some of it was quite delicious. The grilled kebaps and fresh pide (pita) were always a treat, and I’ve mentioned several items that tasted a lot better than they sound, such as lamajun. A couple more such items were börek, pastries with cheese, potato, or meat inside; and ayran, which is a beverage consisting of thinned down, salted plain yogurt. See, the latter doesn’t sound good at all, but it actually was, and was quite refreshing on a hot day, as well as being good for you.
I bought a Turkish cookbook (in English) in Turkey, but it didn’t have a recipe for the green lentil soup I was craving. So I found a recipe on this site. It was quite good, though I did alter it a bit–and this is the part that will horrify the real cooks in my audience–I didn’t have any onions, so didn’t put ’em in; and when I tasted it it still tasted a little like lentils so I added more cumin, some garlic powder, and black pepper. Yum!
I also thought I’d try making pita using my bread machine. I used this recipe for whole wheat pitas from Allrecipes.com, but made the dough in the machine. It turned out fine, but wasn’t quite the right texture, maybe because of the machine, or more finely-ground flour, or because I forgot the “moist towel” step. But, it was still good.
I’m looking forward to trying some more Turkish food, although I don’t know where I’m going to get some of the ingredients–grape leaves, for example. I don’t think people in Turkey buy grape leaves, I think they’re just there. But, I’m all about creative substitutions!

my last days in Turkey

September 29th, 2006

I realize that the burning question on everyone’s mind is: what did Michele do during her last two days in Istanbul? At long last, here I am with some answers.
p.s. also, Istanbul pics up on flickr

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my bolt in the night

September 26th, 2006

I’m home! It’s wonderful to be back. Although I’ve spent the morning listening to my new Turkish folk music CD, putting Turkey pictures up on Flickr, and drinking Nescafe, so it’s almost like I never left. Except that I wasn’t awakened at 5:30 by the call to prayer, am not sharing a bathroom with 6 other women, and was not confronted by olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and other non-breakfast foods at breakfast. It’s good to be home!
Some superstitious feeling kept me from blogging about my journey through the night from Fevzipasha to Istanbul until I was safely in the U.S. again. But now I feel it’s safe to record the events of that night for posterity. Here it is, the story of my bolt in the night:

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