Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Life of Baba Segi's Wives

I just finished reading The Secret Life of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin.  I found this book as I was searching my library's electronic download list and it was one of the few novels that was available.  The title intrigued me.  I've had some guilty pleasure reading a few of the Alexander McCall Smith books set in Zimbabwe and wondered if this book might be similar.  Well, no, not at all, but it was a good book that drew me into a world completely foreign to me.

The book is set in Nigeria (where the author is from).  It is a tale about a man and his four wives, their children, and secrets.  In real life, I am not a big fan of keeping secrets in families--for reasons too complicated and personal to get into here--but for this story, it works really well.  The point of view shifts with each chapter.  A few chapters are written in 3rd person, but most chapters you see from one of the characters' viewpoints.  It's a fun way to experience the story, as though if you were watching a movie of it, the camera would shift quickly between different characters' eyes.  It is a gritty journey with this family, for sure, but not gratuitously violent or sexual (but, be warned, there is definitely sex and violence).  It wraps you in with an element of mystery and you are privy to the secrets before some of the characters in the book are.  It gave me that edge-of-the-seat feeling as I read, waiting to see what would happen when the characters would find out what I already knew.

I really enjoy thinking about other cultures and social structures.  The polygamous life fascinates me, though I would never, ever, (ever, never, ever) want to be a part of a polygamous family.  I'm very curious about how people can live in such an arrangement and can even see why, from a functional perspective, it could be efficient.  I'm safe, though, because my J assures me I am all the wife he can handle. ;)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Last night I stayed up past my bedtime to finish Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.  Not only was my library download about to expire, but I also was really enjoying the book.  I read Blink, another of Gladwell's very popular books, in 2009 and was fascinated by it.  I'm a social science geek at heart and I love to see human behavior explained through the lens of culture and social dynamics.  Fascinating stuff, if you ask me. :)

Outliers talks about the conditions that can help to explain why seemingly atypical results occur and what goes into success beyond hard work and ingenuity.  He unpacks how doing well can sometimes be as much a product of when and where you were born, the kind of work your ancestors did, or the culture you are raised in as it does in personal achievement.  What Gladwell isn't saying is that people who are successful are simply lucky, but he is unpacking the myth that grit and determination are all that it takes to make it big.

I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in culture or social sciences or in business.  I think it has a lot to say for anyone looking for unique perspectives on human success.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Music: Aradhna

(image borrowed from aradhnamusic.com)

When I was in Holy Yoga instructor training, my sweet friend Dianne told me about a band called Aradhna.  They are westerners raised in Asia who sing primarily in Hindi, using traditional bhajan/kirtan styles, playing classical guitars, sitars, some killer drums I can't remember the names of--and their songs are about and dedicated to Jesus.  Really, really unique, right?  I was completely intrigued.

It's safe to say that Aradhna has become one of my favorite bands of all time.  Like, up there with U2 and Counting Crows.  I'm serious, people.  I love their music...it is so worshipful and beautiful.  I use it for teaching Holy Yoga a lot.  Some of it is really soothing, other songs completely rock.  Even my kids love it.

This summer, J and I had the opportunity to see Aradhna live in Charlotte.  It was a tiny show, as in we were two of thirty people there.  It was simply amazing.  J had not listened to their music much.  After seeing the live show, he was an instant fan.  During the show's intermission, we got to chat with both Pete and Chris, the singers and pillars of the band.  They were so kind and humble.  While talking with Chris, he mentioned he saw me singing along and how unusual it is for them to see guests who knew the words--completely embarrassing since I know precisely one phrase in Hindi, but he was right--I was singing along to Aradhna!  We really hope they come back through Charlotte again soon.

We own Satsang. Amrit Vani, and Namaste Sate.  My top three favorite songs are: #1 Namaste Sate, #2 Narahari, and #3 Bhajo Naam.  Check them out.  Powerful, beautiful music.

New Recipe/Gluten Free Baking: Golden Sweet Cornbread

Ok, I'll start by being honest.

I have made this recipe a number of times before, but I discovered it after I started eating gluten-free.  Every time I made it, my family/friends had this reaction: mouths full, crumbs falling out "oh-my-goodness-this-cornbread-is-SOOO-good!" crumbs, crumbs, mmms, smiles.  I'd stand there wistfully, saying "thanks," wishing I could try a piece.

So, this version of the recipe is new to me. :)

I substituted the wheat flour with Bob's Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour.  (Some people don't love Bob's AP mix because it includes a lot of bean flour, but I am not bothered by the beans' taste.  In fact, I appreciate the additional protein/iron).  When I have made it gluten-full, I've used King Arthur White Wheat flour.

I added an additional egg.  I've read that adding an egg can be a good choice to help hold your baked goods together if you are trying to avoid xantham gum in your GF baking adventures, which I am.  And I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Cornmeal.  I'm new to baking in a GF manner, so I had no idea what I'd end up with.

What I ended up with was something my gluten-loving husband declared to be the best cornbread I'd ever made and the thing my 4-year-old woke up asking for for breakfast this morning.  I have to admit, it was really, really good.  I might try dropping the baking powder down to just 1 T. and substituting some of the sugar for honey/maple syrup/cane juice next time.  But it was yummy.  Sweet, moist, held together.  I felt accomplished in my experiment and it boosted my GF baking confidence, even though I was using a pre-mixed flour.  Baby steps and grace.  And delicious corn bread.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Read a book about contemplative prayer

This summer I read Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things.  I bought the book a few years ago, got about 20 pages in, decided I was bored out of my mind, and stuck it on the shelf. This summer, I felt drawn to it, started reading it from the beginning again, and fell in love.  I'm not sure entirely why I had such a different reaction to the book this time.  Maybe it's because I've learned the practices of mindfulness and meditation through Holy Yoga that the idea contemplative prayer resonates with me more now than the me of three years ago.  At any rate, I greatly enjoyed the book.

Ford uses the scaffolding of the monastic ritual of praying "the divine hours" to frame the book.  He talks about each of the "hours" in a literal way...how it is observed at a monastery or convent, how we can practice in our day-to-day, but also how it relates to different seasons of our lives.  The book also has a lot of personal story and reflection and several poems written by Ford, giving it an almost memoir-like quality.  It feels a little like you are reading his personal spiritual journal, but in a way that you know he wouldn't mind you doing it.

My take-away from the book is what an opportunity I have to be present to God and others no matter what I am doing.  If I am teaching Holy Yoga and telling people about how to find full life in Jesus, be present to my work there--teach great yoga and share Truth.  If I am folding laundry for the 16th time that week, acknowledge that I am folding the clothes of the children of the Most High.  When I am sitting in the sun, I can reflect on the beauty and warmth present, as well as the beauty and warmth that created it.  It's about being tuned in to what really IS and allowing our prayer lives to be dynamic with the living God.

Great book.  If you want to learn about being attentive or deepening your prayer life, check it out.

Babies

It's been one of those weeks.  A lot of friends and acquaintances had babies this week. My Facebook news feed was full of little newborn photos and thrilled-parent status updates.  And while I am always super happy for anyone who welcomes a new little life into the world, the hurt over losing Matthew is still fresh enough that it brings back the sting when I think about how we never got to do that with him.

Yesterday, J's sister gave birth to her fourth living child.  She's a sweet little cherub looking baby.  We're so excited to have her in our family.  Yet, as I was looking at the pictures of her, I had a streak of jealousy that my sister-in-law gets to have her #4 live baby.  I hate that I am not just happy for her.  I hate that mixed in with my happiness is envy.  I hate that I can't just set my experience aside and have a purity of heart for others.  Ugh.

This morning at breakfast, I told my 6-year-old JL "You got a new cousin yesterday!!"  She said, "yeah, I know.  Daddy showed me last night."  I looked over at my usually sunshine-faced girl.  She was staring into her cereal bowl.  I said, "she's really cute, isn't she?"  "Yeah..." gaze fixed on the granola.  I sat down across from her.  I said, "are you kind of happy for them and kind of sad for us?"  Teary nod.  "Yeah," I said.  "It's hard sometimes for me, too, when other people get to have their baby and we didn't get to have ours."  "Yeah," she said.

One of the things I hate most about Matthew dying is the way that it has stripped my girls of their naivete.  They learned at ages three and five that life can be really cruel and unpredictable.  As little, little girls, they had to deal with the reality and finality of death.  They've had to learn to cope with their broken hearts and how to miss another little brother they really wanted.  And as I watch them navigate this, it hurts me even more.

I want to be the kind of person who is able to be happy for others when they have healthy babies, without being bitter that Matthew wasn't.  I want to be the kind of Mama who teaches her girls that it is ok to mourn, but also to share in others' joy.  And mostly, I want us to be a family where life is valued and honored and never taken for granted, even when it is far too short.

Blogger Wannabe

A few weeks ago, my family spent a lovely week at the beach with several other families we really love.  Among this group of lovely people are my dear friends CSO, who blogs at My Convertible Life and JT, who blogs at Simplify Your Life.  Their blogs have purpose, they write on a consistent basis, they do catchy things like Ten in Ten on the Tenth and Friday's Five.  They have Facebook pages for their blogs.  They tweet their posts.  These women are the real deal--bonafide bloggers, for any of you O, Brother, Where Art Thou fans. :)

It got me thinking...what kind of blogger am I?  I write sporadically, about whatever is on my mind.  I go weeks and months at a time without posting, though I think about posting a lot--does that count for anything?    I think blogging can be a really neat window into someone's world and perspective.  I read several blogs--blogs of friends, blogs of strangers who happen to share similar interests, passions, or just make me laugh (have you read this one?).  I love what JT and CSO do with their blogs.  Writing is one of my hobbies and passions.  It ought to be easier for me to be a blogger.  But, as I've thought about it, a writer and a blogger are not necessarily one and the same.  I've decided I'm a blogger wannabe (--n.  informal a person who desires to be, or be like, someone or something else).  But, if I'm going to be a wannabe, I may as well set my sights high--CSO and JT are pretty fabulous people to want to be like.