Monday, June 27, 2011

Women's World Cup Makes Me Cry

The Mister and I couldn't conversationally speculate about whether my niece will play soccer for Germany or the US this morning because I was crying so hard. Why? Because we were watching Mexico play England in the Women's World Cup.
The match was tied nil-nil at that time, I have no personal interest in either team, I doubt I've watched a women's soccer match since the Olympics, I hadn't yet heard the story about Maribel Dominguez*, and it's not just because I'm hugely pregnant and weep at the slightest provocation. It's that women's sports make me happy and sad and hopeful and proud, as does truly international competition. Equatorial Guinea has a team playing in Germany right now. My nieces could watch women from Equatorial Guinea play women from Brazil a few miles from their house next week.
In twelve years, the little Lion could be making her first World Cup appearance in a packed stadium playing for either the US or Germany. She probably won't and I certainly wouldn't encourage her, but she could. And even if she doesn't, some other young woman will. This makes me cry,
Thanks to my mother and the thousands of women of her generation who played half-court basketball. Thanks to all the women and men who realized that half a court wasn't good enough. Thanks to those of you who passed Title IX so that I could play soccer and volleyball in high school. Thanks to everyone who doesn't blame women's soccer when men's wrestling is cut to comply with regulations. Thanks to my parents for letting me play organized soccer at age six. Thanks to Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and all the Tiffanys and Abbeys of the world. Thanks to Maribel and Marta and Christelle Jumaria and Sinforosa and all of the women who play sports for the fun of it, without ever having a chance at a "cap", much less being a one-name wonder.
May my niece and I never truly comprehend how much we have to be thankful for.
Go Equatorial Guinea!
*Star of the Mexico team. Known largely for scoring lots of goals for the national team, but also for her heart-string pulling childhood (one of 9 kids in a dirt-floored household, had to sneak out to play football as "Mario") and her enraging failure to play with a second-tier men's team (Mexican officials okayed it, but FIFA in Zurich determined that there must be clear separation between men's and women's football, even in countries where there are no chances for women to play at a high level.)
“The women’s team of Equatorial Guinea are like the Brazil men’s team. The players are idols and greeted like stars after each match. After their last win, it took two hours before we could leave the stadium. There can be nothing else like it in women’s football anywhere in the world.” Marcelo Frigerio, Equatorial Guinea coach
Photo of Christelle and quote from the official FIFA women's world cup pages.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Books neither Star nor STIR

I have read a few things this spring that are neither about stars nor part of project STIR. Here are a few thoughts (I might claim, as I did here, that I'll write more about those you want to know more about, but the first time that assertion led only to this one review, so I make no promises now).
The Day of the Triffids John Wyndam SalSis and I read this classic (1951) sci-fi novel (which includes horrible plants that take over the world and may or may not be from outer space) together as an antidote to Breath, Eyes, Memory. Triffids first came to my attention as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that the Mister and I mocked until we learned that the book is still very-well regarded. Triffids fits in well with "old" apocalyptic sci-fi, like War of the Worlds (discussed on Wuthering Expectations here and the rest of that week) as well a taking a very modern approach to as escalating biological arms race and the consequences for civilization.
Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert A psychologist presents the experimental research that supports the idea that humans are terrible and deciding what will make us happy in the future. A fun read despite that.
The Elements of Style Strunk and White Mister (harassing me for reading Elements of Style as bedtime pleasure): "I hear that has a gripping plot."
Me: "No, but it's really well written."
And it is!
The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows and The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan Prompted by raych's glowing reviews (9, 8.5 and 9 caterpillars), I bought the entire Moorehawk Trilogy for the Mister. The Mister was not a big fan (although he did read all 1200 pages in a short while). I liked them considerably more than he did, (although I agreed that Kiernan could have used a better editor), perhaps because adding a few magical elements to an alternative history of Europe doesn't bother me or perhaps because young strong heroines in fantasy novels impress me more than they do him.
Medium Raw Anthony Bourdain I'm actually a little embarrassed by my family fascination with food entertainment, but after the Mister read Medium Raw in a day, I read it, we discussed it, and I passed it on to my mother after I kept quoting Bourdain to her. What I should be embarrassed by is not that I like Anthony Bourdain, or that I watch Top Chef whenever I'm somewhere with cable (pretty much just the Mister's parents' house) or even that I know most of the people that Bourdain mocks, but that the Mister and I returned from vacation and followed Medium Raw up by watching Eric Rippert's PBS food series, Avec Eric, and then becoming consumed by America's Next Food Network Star on hulu. And I can't even mock Next Food Network Star because I've already figured out my "POV"* for my food network show.

"Charlotte Collins is knocked up!: Why I needed to read Pride and Prejudice for the tenth time" was going to be the title of a post I wrote in November, when I first noticed talk of Charlotte's "condition". I read Pride and Prejudice again a few weeks ago and did not have any great plot insights this time, but I still love it, eleven-or-so times later.
I've started (and liked, but somehow dropped) Sea of Poppies and Stolen Lives, but plan to return to both one of these times, after The Secret Eleanor and perhaps some trashy romance or children's lit.

*My point of view would be the plants behind the ingredients. I'm also working on my readings for my fall Economically Important Plants class and keep bringing up food plant tidbits ("modern bananas are all asexually propagated" "despite being an African plant; South America, SE Asia and Central America all grow far more coffee than Africa does") to my tolerant or curious husband. Anyway, if only I were a faster cook, had a less irritating voice on tape, and the camera took off 50 pounds; my show could have potential.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Secret Eleanor and Summer STIR

The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland is Jennifer's pick for the June/July STIR. A historical novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Secret Eleanor looks to be somewhere between well-documented history and Phillipa Gregory-style romance. I've just started reading it and think it will be a fun read for those of us who enjoy both scandal and history (and whether or want them to be or not, such books are always strikingly educational because they lead me to look things up like "Where is Aquitaine? How about Anju? Which crusade are we talking about?").
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, a reputed-to-be-great novel from a reputed-to-be-great author from a time (mid-twentieth century) from which I have read very few "classics"* is Janet's July pick.
Juno's Daughters is on with Tracy for September.
August is still open for someone who wants to suggest a book easy to read while breastfeeding, or I might just suggest some YA Fantasy or a classic adventure story (Kidnapped comes to mind).

*At the moment, I can only think of Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby and As I Lay Dying are distinctly earlier and Vonnegut considerable later and many people would not consider Tolkein and Lewis among the "classics".

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Insight Insights (or lack thereof)

Partially because I was reading it just as I learned that Rutherford Robinia* had likely had a stroke in utero, my personal response to April STIR's My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor was muddled. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, the e-mail discussion of the book was some of the best we've had. Thanks to Jenny, Irene and Prairie Quilter for openly sharing thoughts.

A quick re-cap: Jill Bolte Taylor was a research neuroanatomist in her 30s when she has a massive stroke. After eight years she considered herself fully recovered and wrote My Stroke of Insight, a memoir of the experience, a call for compassionate assistance for stroke victims, a piece of inspirational self-help on using the right-side of the brain, a few chapters on brain anatomy and a testament to the wonder and the plasticity of the human brain. The book is short and covers a lot of ground in few pages.

I think the STIR readers unanimously thought the writing was uneven and fit some of the purposes better than others, but most of our comments were about wanting more: more about JBT's personal life, more about the intermediate steps in the recovery process, and more answers to things that Bolte Taylor couldn't possible answer ("if post-stroke enlightenment is comparable to meditative-religious enlightenment [and JBT is fairly convincing that it is], is it really possible to achieve just by desire, rather than major trauma or years of practice?" "would the brain of a stroke-sufferer in her 70s really be as plastic?") which suggests that JBT succeeded.

My Stroke of Insight is highly recommended for anyone who thinks they might become a caregiver for someone following a stroke (and, like many books about motherhood with newborns, I imagine that this book is better to have read before one needs it. If I were a frustrated care-giver, I could see MSoI being inspirational or exceedingly frustrating ['easy for her to say that the brain can completely recover. . .']) and fellow-biologists who know nothing about the human brain and generally recommended overall. If you do read it, I'd happily share more of the thoughts of the STIR readers with you.

In the meantime, take care of your brains.

*At the super-duper sonogram yesterday we learned that RuthRob has completely normal cranial anatomy and had the doctor been seeing me for the first time, would have sent me on my way with an ordinary "looks fine" report. RuthRob is also 5.5 pounds, so of nicely average size (57th percentile).

Stained glass brain by JBT, image found on her website,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Challenge for my Father-in-Law

I should make this perfectly clear: I do not believe that men are the same as women, biologically or otherwise, nor should they be.
But a few men have ruffled my feathers recently by suggesting that certain traits are inherently "boy" traits. Perhaps it is because I possess these particular traits (and was not raised as a tomboy) that the issue rankles. I love playing with legos (yes, that is present tense), I have always wanted to spend time outside (except when I did it for a living and gained far greater appreciation of air conditioning, heating and showers), and when compared to the Mister, MB or MBiL, would be the most naturally inclined to work on a ranch.
I don't think I possess these traits because I'm female, nor do I think it is my femaleness that makes me taller than the Mister or worse at math than the Mister (but better than 90% of the graduate school-attending population) or better at baking cakes. They are just part of who I am.
Dianthus currently wants to be outside all the time, follows his grandfathers into the pasture or garden, and is obsessed with trucks and lawn mowers. He also is a big help unloading the dishwasher and is fascinated by kittens, bubbles and hair clips.
His sibling, female or male, will certainly be different at age almost two.
She or he may not like being outside looking at insects, may not want to dig and may not make loud grumbling noises when pushing objects across the floor.
My challenge to my Father-in-Law is to put a cap on her or him, give her or him a dump truck, and take her or him out digging potatoes and bashing musk thistle and give her or him every opportunity to find out.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Upcoming STIR

I mixed up the June and July book selectors, so it turns out that the official July book has been chosen and June book has not. I'll announce Janet's now and Jennifer's next week and we'll discuss as the books are read.
Janet's book is The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. Janet and I were in the same book club in Denver over ten years ago. At that time, we read Travels with My Aunt and both very much enjoyed it. Somehow, however, neither of us has ever read any other Graham Greene (and despite him being one of the great and prolific authors of the twentieth century, neither of us could name another book by him). After much discussion of the many things we want to read (which was always the best part of our Denver book club), we settled on The Heart of the Matter because, among other things, it is listed as one of the TIME 100 best novels in English and we were much less likely to pick it up "on our own" than Treasure Island (which was our runner-up choice). Please join us for what we expect to be a great novel.

In other STIR news: soon, very soon, I will post the last of the Lark Rise to Candleford thoughts. Despite all of the issues with it, Marieke and I have found much to discuss in the March book.
The readers of My Stroke of Insight have been discussing it off-blog. I'll summarize once I've heard from everyone.
Many of us have finished Charles and Emma. If you've read it, let me know so that I can e-mail you the discussion questions.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Unexpected Stars, Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Mothers

One of the many pleasures of staying with my in-laws on "the ranch" in Central Kansas is doing nothing. While here, "nothing" often entails watching food television (for the Mister more than me, but we're both plenty guilty of sitting down to an episode of Top Chef and then staying awhile) and reading children's literature (my MiL was a school librarian for many years). I picked Lost Star: The Story of Amelia Earhart by Patricia Lauber, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech off the shelf for reading over the last three days. I chose the first because it is a "star" book and the latter three because they are Newberry Award Winners or Newberry Honor books.
I was startled to find unexpected themes in these books: families are ruined by alcoholism in three of the four, two of them speak a great deal about constellations, and mothers leave their families in three of the four (or possibly all four depending on which of the Earharts left the other). Since I was expecting a book about a pioneering aviatrix, a book about a dog, a book about middle school quiz bowl and a book about Indian mythology (all of which are accurate except the last), death and dysfunction among mothers shook me quite a bit.
Have you ever discovered yourself quite inadvertently in the middle of themed reading? Was it coincidence or message from the universe?*
All four books are very good, by the way, and all, except the Amelia Earhart book, manage to have happy endings without the unresolvable being resolved (i.e. the dead stay dead and the divorced stay divorced). Walk Two Moons is the only real tear-jerker or the bunch and The View from Saturday a bit too much Slumdog Millionaire**, but I like angst with my sweetness in children's literature, and therefore didn't mind at all.
*I'm fairly certain that this is coincidence; "It will hurt your family if you drink too much and leave them," doesn't strike me as a particularly relevant personal message at the moment.
**Quiz bowl answers relate directly to vignettes of sixth graders lives.