Friday, April 27, 2007

Teaching the Prime Minister to Read

You don’t get to be prime minister of Canada without knowing your ABC’s. However, since those who don’t read are little better off that those who can’t (at least according to Mark Twain), there is reason to believe that Canada’s prime minister is functionally illiterate. At least, Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) thinks so. Allow me to explain.

On March 28, 2007, Canada’s government held a reception celebrating the fiftieth birthday of the Canada Council for the Arts. Fifty Canadian artists (including Martel) were invited, one for each of the Council’s fifty years. It was supposed to be a meeting between the representatives of Canada’s artists and the representatives of its people, but less than ten percent of the Parliament showed up and only one member of the cabinet—the one who had to be there.

The prime minister was there, too, but he didn’t speak. In fact, he scarcely looked up. His mind was on things far more urgent and significant than art. As Martel reflected on the whole affair, it troubled him that a national leader—or anyone, for that matter—is so busy that they can’t take time to enjoy beauty and reflect on life.

So Martel started a one-man crusade to teach the prime minister to read. Or rather, to remind him to take time to read. Every two weeks for the rest of the prime minister’s tenure, Martel plans to send him a new book with a letter explaining why someone as busy as a prime minister (or a grad student, or a mom . . .) would benefit from taking the time to read it.

The book list, complete with Martel's letters, can be seen here. Presumably, it will be updated every two weeks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why I Like to Cook

Let's face it - for those of us who can't afford a personal chef or daily visits to restaurants, cooking is necessary for survival. And I'll confess there are days when it seems grossly unfair that a tired, stressed, and seriously overscheduled person like myself must labor to produce a nourishing dinner on top of everything else.

Most of the time, though, I like cooking. It's partly because I love good food. I enjoy eating tasty meals so much that I want to create them myself. I'd like to write a book someday for the same reason - reading is such a delight to me that I'd like to produce a book others might enjoy. We'll see if that ever happens - writing at length is not my strong suit, and I have no talent whatsoever for fiction. But I digress . . .

Another reason I like cooking is that it allows me to create something. I don't consider myself a terribly creative person - I don't paint, I was never very good at the piano, and we won't even discuss scrapbooking. However, if I follow a good recipe most of the creative work has already been done by someone else. All I have to do is follow the directions and not burn anything, and I can produce something that (hopefully) is a pleasure for the senses. It's kind of like those coloring books I drew in as a kid - someone with artistic talent could probably produce something cooler, but as long as I didn't stray too far outside the lines I was at least guaranteed a nice picture.

I've discovered, though, that I don't really enjoy sampling my edible art alone. In college when I was cooking for myself, I just did it to survive. I'd make a big batch of something and subsist on the leftovers for a week. It was only when I cooked for roommates, guests, or (nowadays) my little family that I'd get adventurous and really enjoy what I was doing. Perhaps it was because I craved their approval. Or perhaps I just enjoyed serving people I loved more than serving myself.

I suppose I feel the same way about my hypothetical future book - or this blog, for that matter. I wouldn't see the point in creating them unless I thought someone else might enjoy them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


This morning I read a blog post by Sarah Flake that really resonated with me. She talked about the bond created through physical touch, and how it’s rather sad that our society is uncomfortable with hugs and the like from anyone but family and perhaps close friends. It made me reflect on my own attitude toward physical affection over the years.

My roommate Cathy was a very huggy person, and though that seemed unusual to me at first, she eventually hugged me so many times that I became a compulsive friend-hugger myself, at least when they visit or I haven’t seen them in a while. Despite this change, though, I never imagined how important physical affection would be to me as a wife and parent.

I hug Phillip constantly, and hold his hand whenever we sit next to each other. When I walk past him, I can’t resist running a hand along his shoulders or through his hair. A few times when he has been sick and I wanted to avoid contamination, I rarely managed to stay away for more than an hour or two before I broke down and hugged him. Words and shared activities are important, but I think I need touch most of all. Husband hugs improve a bad day even better than ice cream.

I find I am very affectionate with Joy, too. In the early days of motherhood, when I was terribly stressed over my new responsibilities, I would sometimes hold her little sleeping form close like a child holds a teddy bear, somehow deriving comfort from her peaceful coziness. Those anxious days are long past now, but I still love baby cuddles, and avoid wearing lipstick at home because I love kissing my little baby so much. When I put her down for naps, I rub her arms, tummy, cheeks, and hair, partly to comfort her but mostly because it’s a natural outgrowth of the love I feel as I sing her lullabies.

Sometimes when I kiss my baby’s cheek for the tenth time in as many minutes, I reflect that such affection isn’t really acceptable in our culture outside families, and may not even be welcomed by her as she gets older. We’ll see. Since I couldn’t predict my current state I will make no attempt to predict the future. I do at least think that things like hugs and backrubs will remain common occurrences. I sure hope so.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"What's Your Deal?"

Phillip and I met a twenty-something guy named Graham today, and as we were getting to know him he said something I thought was well worth remembering. He told us that when he meets someone new, he likes to ask “What’s your deal?” He feels that inquiring specifically about a persons job or studies restricts how they can respond, but if you ask a more general question it allows them to choose what they’ll talk about. By letting them decide how to describe themselves, you can learn things about them you might not have thought to ask about. If nothing else, a person’s response could teach you a lot about what’s important to them and how they perceive themselves.

As I wrote the previous paragraph, I got to wondering how I would respond if someone asked me to tell them about myself. I would probably talk about new motherhood and my religious beliefs, since those two factors probably have the biggest impact on my life right now.
My education and the jobs I’ve had have contributed to who I am, but they aren’t a huge part of my identity.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Treats"

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."
-Iris Murdoch

Or, more specifically, the secret is recognizing all the little treats in your life. Every day is packed with them--baby cuddles, Gala apples, a smile from a stranger, a new flower blooming on the same street you walk every day. The difference between positive and negative people isn't the number of treats in their lives, but whether they've chosen to enjoy or ignore them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Liking"

"Getting people to like you is only the other side of liking them." - Norman Vincent Peale

I have repeatedly found that it is very easy to like people who already like me, and I'm sure the reverse is also true. As I interact with people, I want to focus on getting to know the best in them, rather than wondering what they think of me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Book Review - In His Steps

As I glanced through the many well-loved titles on my bookshelf today, my eyes fell on In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon. Written in the late 1800s, it explores the idea of what would happen in a town--and eventually the entire world--if a handful of people committed to always do exactly what Jesus would do in their place.

In some ways the book was very inspiring to me. It made me question whether I truly live my principles or just casually profess them. It also made me consider what I could sacrifice or uniquely contribute in Christ's service.

I have one big complaint about the book, though: None of the protagonists are wives or mothers. All the characters who embrace the challenge and experience a mighty change in themselves and their associates are married men of high position in the community, or single men and women. When married women enter the narrative at all, it is as naysayers who can't understand why a daughter turned down fame and fortune to sing for the poor, or why a husband quit his lucrative job with a corrupt employer. The only exception is the preacher's supportive wife, but she is scarcely mentioned; her individual experiences are never explored.

Since Sheldon's goal was to show how true discipleship could change the world, perhaps he left mothers out of the equation because he didn't see what they could contribute. A full-time mom doesn't have the time to manage a half-way house, run for mayor, or give cooking lessons all day in the slums. However, I would argue that if you don't have mothers involved in this sort of endeavor, your battle's already half lost. They're the ones who will teach the next generation what to believe and value. If you try to change the world through a career or politics, you may make an impact or you may not. If you raise a child, you will have an indelible impact, for good or ill, on that life and the thousands--perhaps millions--it will come in contact with.