Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Girl with the Seven Names

Yesterday I finished The Girl with the Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee while on the way back from St. George. She is a North Korean defector who originally didn't intend to defect. This story has similarities to Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung, but it's not quite as exciting, and there aren't quite so many miracles, but oh so interesting to learn more about life in North Korea! I need to go look up her TEd talk now!

And a few quotes and thoughts:
"She liked to dress well because she thought this made up for plain and ordinary looks." (Chapter 1)
Perhaps I ought to dress better to make up for my plain and ordinary looks? I do try to smile to make up for my plain and ordinary looks, but my plain and ordinary personality causes me to wear generally plain and ordinary clothes. I did a research paper once on how better looking/better dressed people get treated better. but I'm still pretty plain and ordinary.
"If a couple loved each other too much, it would condense all the affection that should last a lifetime into too short a period and one of them would die young." (Chapter 1)
Oh that's a disheartening belief!

The birth of Kim Jong Il:
"His birth was foretold by miraculous signs in the heavens: a double rainbow over Mount Pectu, swallows singing songs of praise with human voices, and the appearance of a bright new star in the sky." (Chapter 4)
It's interesting that he would choose similarities to the signs of Christ's birth. Maybe that's why he didn't want them knowing anything of Christianity because they'd see that he copied parts of the signs of Christ's birth. It's like he thought of himself as a combination of Christ, Santa Claus, and an Egyptian pharoah. The author points out later in the book, that the only person with real freedom in North Korea is the ruler, not the people.

"Women had to be more careful than men in their attitude toward everything in life." (Chapter 17) Sad, but true.

The name she got when she was engaged to someone she didn't want to be engaged to: "My new name meant: the person who respects elders and makes a good wife by following her husband and listening really well to him." (Chapter 22) How insulting!

Lee experienced miracles in her life. A train worker helped them get away from another worker, and in a culture where people often turn each other in to authorities for crimes, no other passengers on the train exposed her hiding family (Chapter 6). In chapter 45, when Lee is helping her mother and brother defect, while in transport, after openly speaking Korean with one another, they are stopped by an officer at a checkpoint, and her brother and mother pretend to be deaf and mute and no one turns them in! In Chapter 48, Dick from Australia miraculously comes to her aid. He gives her money, lets her stay in his guest house, and accompanies her to the jail. She hadn't experienced such kindness with no strings attached. She says "Random acts of kindness had been so rare that they'd stick in my memory. . . . He showed me that there was another world where strangers help strangers for no other reason than that it is good to do so. . . .  From the day I met him, the worlds was a less cynical place. I started feeling warmth for other people. This seemed so natural, and yet I'd never felt it before."

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Girl Power from Where the Crawdads Sing

Yes, I've been listening to books lately. My friends have a book club that I don't really go to, but lately since my youngest is in preschool, I've been trying to listen to some of them so that I won't feel like such an intruder if I do decide to stop in at one of their meetings. Where the Crawdads Sing was good like many of the others, but I think I prefer nonfiction. It's hard spending so much time on anything not to have it be really inspirational. Anyway, I liked this empowering line from Chapter 17.

Upon entering womanhood: "...this ain't nothing to be ashamed of. It ain't no curse like folks say. This here's the starting of all life and only a woman can do it. You're a woman now, baby!"

I beg to differ about the curse part, but this is a job only we women can do, and I liked that.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Relationship Advice from the Tattooist of Auschwitz

I finished listening to The Tattooist of Auschwitz the other day. It's not a very long book, and about half way through, well even in the beginning, I decided I didn't really like it. I couldn't really stomach it. My patience for these things must have expired in my tween/teen years when I read all the youth books about World War II at the local library. I was annoyed with The Tattooist of Auschwitz because how on Earth could there even be a romance in a concentration camp??? What an oxymoron. It was so unrealistic. Then, I looked into it to see how much of it is based on true events.

If you didn't know, the author interviewed Lali/Lale to make his life history, but wrote it into a screenplay, then the book. So, it's probably more true than not, but you never know how accurate your memory is, but I guess to Lali/e, it is for the most part how he remembered it, accurate or not. So, I finished the book. Of course it was horrible and uncomfortable in parts, but I loved that Lali/e loved women as people. I loved that he adored his to-be wife.
After breaking up their fights his mother would take him aside and explain to him that he would find someone else to love and care for. He never wanted to believe her. As he became a young man, he would run home to his mother each day for the hugged greeting, the feel of her comforting body, her soft skin, the kisses she planted on his forehead. "What can I do to help you?" He would say. "You're such a good boy. You will make someone a wonderful husband some day." "Tell me what to do to be a good husband. I don't want to be like Papa. He doesn't make you smile. He doesn't help you. . . . I want the girl I marry to like me, to be happy with me. . . ." "You must first learn to listen to her, even if you are tired. Never be too tired to listen to what she has to say. Learn what she likes, and more importantly what she doesn't like. When you can, give her little treats: flowers, chocolates. Women like these things. . . ."  (Chapter 19, around 4:56)
Growing up, it was a very loving family life. The devotion my parents had to each other was total and uncompromising. When many in their circle of friends started getting divorced, I went to my mother and asked how she and my father had managed to stay together for so many years. Her response was very simple: "Nobody is perfect. Your father has always taken care of me since the first day we met in Berkenau. I know he is not perfect, but I also know he will always put me first." (Gary, their only child, Afterward, around 7:21)
And a bonus, but about optimism:
How can you just pack and sing? With a big smile on her face she said that when you spend years not knowing if in five minutes time you'll be dead, there is not much you can't deal with. She said, as long as you are alive and healthy, everything will work out for the best. (Said to Gary by his mother, Gita, when his father had to close his business and their house was auctioned, Afterward, around 7:24)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Self Image

I was deleting screen shots on my phone the other day while watching Willy Wonka with the kids and ran across quite had few little gems about self image; I guess it's a theme in my life, just like most women.
Because Satan is miserable without a body, he wants us to be miserable because of ours. - President Russell M. Nelson, "We Can Do Better and Be Better," April General Conference, 2019
. . . [A]re you more interested in dressing and grooming your body to appeal to the world than to please God?" - President Russell M. Nelson, "We Can Do Better and Be Better," April General Conference, 2019
If Satan can get us to fixate on our bodies, either in vanity or self loathing, then he has caused us to misunderstand completely the role our bodies play in salvation. - Tessa Meyer Santiago/LDS Living
Manage physical desires in a healthy way. - Youth Guidebook, Physical Goal Ideas, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 
How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension. - Prince Harry after Meghan Markle gave birth to their son
When we think we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love." - Tara Mohr 
Related to that last one, I didn't save it, but someone posted on Facebook recently about the myth of self-care. It basically said that rather than turning to pampering yourself, you just need to turn to God. Then, someone posted in the comments a link to something else saying that rather than feeling like you need to keep up with the Jones's, and needing all that self care because keeping up with the Jones' is so much work, maybe you just need to let go and give yourself a break! That's a total paraphrase of two posts/articles, btw. Anyway, good food for thought.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

I Read The Magnolia Story!

While browsing through my library app, I saw that The Magnolia Story by Chip and JoAnna Gaines was available. I can't say I've ever watched the show (maybe in a hotel room on a trip once, well part of it? Maybe an advertisement for it?), and I think I went to the Web site once? But even then, I oddly do know who they are and what they're about.

This was a fun, short read (well, listen). I loved how they openly talked of God and faith and listening to that Still, Small Voice. I was so impressed with Jo when she felt it was time to stay home with her babies and she DID!

I related so much to Jo's conservative personality and cracked up over Chip's craziness. My husband has a similar personality, but as a software engineer, rather than a DIY/RE/whatever guy, if that's even possible.

I love that they work so well as a team on their projects. I love projects too, but sadly, my husband DOES NOT! He is not handy and does not want to be. We do not work well together like Chip and JoAnna. I had to birth a son and raise him to work on projects with me. We work well together.

I was thinking about Fixer Upper and wondered why so many people are drawn to it. I wonder if its success is because the Gaines' are willing to share their faith along with their story. Earlier in the year, I listened to The Impossible (=>Breakthrough, the movie), the one where the boy falls through the ice and is DEAD, but he comes back to life after his mother's great faith and prayers. With that story, I also wondered if their family experienced such great miracles because God knew they would share them, and it would be a witness that would draw more people to Him.

And lastly, I loved this quote at the end:
Being on a farm is something we both dreamed about, and in the hustle and bustle of our busy life, when I come back here to this place I love it always takes me back to the basics. . . . There's something about doing things the way our ancestors used to do them that puts your heart back into the rhythm of this thing called life. It's why I think cooking for my family is important. It's why I love making things with my hands, designing with my hands, and gardening with my hands. (Chapter 15, 4:49) 
I agree that doing things with your hands keeps it so real! I feel a connection with those who have gone on before when I do things how they did it. I think it's a way to stay grounded.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I really enjoyed listening to Becoming by and read by Michelle Obama. I can't say I knew all that much about the Obama's before this book, but I can say, if I knew her in real life, I'd want to be her friend. I loved in the book how she so clearly identified the struggles of being a woman/wife/mother sometimes. We obviously have chosen different life paths with her being a career woman and me being a stay-at-home mom, but our thoughts and frustrations are often the same. I love that she had such a desire to be a mom! She loved her dolls as a kid, and helped kids in an after school program in college, and always knew she wanted her own children. If I'm completely honest, a big part of us having kids was we felt we should, so we did. We were so logical and practical, that it was easy to see that kids would make life harder. I wish I'd been born with more of those maternal desires like Michelle! (I am happy I'm a mom and wouldn't have it any other way, so don't think I'm miserable or anything :) We have great kids that bring us a lot of joy!).

I saved a few quotes from the book. I don't know if I got the punctuation right as I was typing what I heard, but you'll get the idea.

(Chapter 2 around 1:04) Now that I'm an adult, I realize that kids know at a very young age when they're being devalued---when adults aren't invested enough to help them learn. Their anger over it can manifest itself as unruliness. It's hardly their fault. They aren't bad kids, they're just trying to survive bad circumstances.

(Chapter 4 around 2:18/19) Just as I never wondered what it was like for my mother to be a full-time-at-home mother, I never wondered then what it meant to be married.  . . .My mother would tell me that every year when spring came and the air warmed up in Chicago, she entertained thoughts about leaving my father. I don't know if these thoughts were actually serious or not. I don't know if she considered the idea for an hour or for a day or for most of the season, but for her it was an act of fantasy. Something that felt healthy and maybe even energizing to ponder, almost as ritual.  I understand now that even a happy marriage can be a vexation and it's a contract best renewed and renewed again even quietly and privately, even alone. I don't think my mother ever announced whatever her doubts and discontents were to my father directly, and I don't think she let him in on whatever alternative life she may have been dreaming about during those times... I don't know [where she imagined herself], but I don't think it matters. . .  (about 2:22) [And then, as you're doing your spring cleaning year after year] . . . It allows you to think, to wonder if you've missed out on other possibilities by becoming a wife to this man in this house with these children. Maybe you spend the whole day considering how to live before finally you fit every window back into it's frame and empty your bucket of Pine-sol into the sink, and maybe now all your certainty returns because yes, truly it's spring, and once again you've made the choice to stay.

(Chapter 13 8:23) I wanted a family, and Barack wanted a family, too, and now here I was alone in the bathroom of our apartment, trying in the name of all of that want to screw up the courage to plunge a syringe into my thigh. I twas maybe then that I felt a first flicker of resentment involving politics and Barack's unshakable commitment to the work. Or maybe I was just feeling the acute burden of being female. Either way, he was gone and I was here carrying the responsibility. I sensed that the sacrifices would be more mine than his. In the weeks to come, he'd go about his regular business while I went in for daily ultrasounds to monitor my eggs. He wouldn't have his blood drawn. He wouldn't have to cancel any meetings to have a cervix inspection. He was doting and invested, my husband, doing what he could do. He read all the IVF literature and would talk to me all night about it, but his only actual duty was to show up at the doctor's office and provide some sperm, and then if he chose, he could go have a martini afterward. None of this was his fault, but it wasn't equal either, and for any woman who lives by the mantra that equality is important, this can be a little confusing. It was me who'd alter everything, putting my passions and career dreams on hold to fulfill this piece of our dream. I found myself in a small moment of reckoning. Did I want it? Yes. I wanted it so much. And with this, I hoisted the needle and sank it into my flesh. [Eventually we got pregnant] Suddenly the responsibility and relative sacrifice meant something completely different. . . now everything appeared perfectly in place. I walked around with a secret inside of me. This was my privilege, the gift of being female. I felt bright with a promise of what I carried.

(Chapter 14 around 8:52) [When their caregiver got a new job] Her investment in my family had allowed me to maintain my investment in my job.

(Chapter 14 around 8:57) Our afternoons [with her mom-friends] taught me that there was no formula for motherhood. No single approach could be deemed right or wrong.
[I think young kids do best with their own mamas, but I also believe everyone has their own circumstances to work with and their agency. I love that Michelle supports everyone in how they want to do it.]

(Chapter 14 around 9:13) I now tried out a new hypothesis. It was possible that I was more in charge of my happiness than I was allowing myself to be. I was too busy resenting Barack for managing to fit workouts into his schedule, for example, to even begin figuring out how to exercise regularly for myself.
[Oh the struggle is real.]

(Chapter 15 around 9:50) At least in some spheres, I was now Mrs. Obama in a way that could feel diminishing: A Mrs. defined by her Mr.
[My husband has gotten a new job, well two this year, affirming his value in the workplace. The longer I'm away from collaborating with others, and the more I give up my hobbies and thoughts, the less value I feel in myself. I'm trying to dig myself out of this place. It's crazy the opposition in how he can feel such value and I feel so isolated.]

The rest of the book is more into their terms in office, and it's fun to remember the events mentioned, well, except I'm still sad about the gay marriage stuff when you're trying to keep God's law. It really is true that when you know someone, you don't judge them so much. I bet if a lot of the haters read this book, they wouldn't be so harsh and would see the Obamas as people, which they obviously are. I didn't vote for Barrack back then, but I'm glad to know their family story and learn more of their struggles, goodness, and dedication.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Where the Wind Leads: A Book Review

So I'm a part of a book club. . . sort of. I think I really don't like being compelled to read things others are reading, so I don't usually go to the neighborhood book club. I guess my time is too precious to read books that I'm not really interested in. Since my youngest has stared preschool, I have listened to several books. Probably my favorite so far is Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung. It is a crazy, amazing story about some people of Chinese descent who became refugees from Vietnam, and the author happens to be just a couple older months than me! So, if I were to host a book club, here's where I might go with it:

Beauty
Chung mentions what is a "beautiful woman." In Chinese culture, it is more than just physical beauty! How wonderful! (A little before 1:03)

At 3:15 when they're on a boat overtaken by pirates who brought the threat of rape, Chung says "women who had spent their entire lives making themselves as attractive as possible were now frantically trying everything they could think of to make themselves unappealing."

Boys vs. Girls
At 1:08 Chung talks about how sons and daughters are different in marriage, well even how boys are looked at as good and girls as bad, generally in Chinese culture. This is one I'd always wondered about. In Chinese culture, it is favored to have sons because when they marry, you gain a daughter-in-law who helps with the household. When a daughter marries, you lose her to her in-laws, and that takes away from your family, which is bad. So that at least somewhat explains why sons are favored there and daughters are not.

Chung's family had a multi-million dollar rice and shipping business in Vietnam. Because of their wealth, his father felt he had some entitlements, like a mistress. At 1:36, Chung says: "having a mistress was acceptable, but still not right." How I love his morality! Just because something is accepted or even legal, doesn't make it right!

Attitudes toward Women
At 1:21, Chung talks about how his mother did so much work: Shopping, laundry, mopping, ironing, cooking, killing the chicken, and massaging grandma every day from 1966-1979. How incredibly exhausting! He says at 1:22 that serving your family and making a big contribution like this in traditional Chinese culture is a great honor. Despite the honor, at 1:31, his mother became depressed and suicidal. I'm afraid with that workload, I might become depressed and suicidal, too! We often hear the argument that if we honored women and service work more, then it wouldn't be so despised. However, here we have a culture where those things were honored, and yet, his mother was still depressed and suicidal. This is telling me that there's more to it than respecting women's work. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's sharing the workload?

Because Chungs mother did not kill herself, at 1:30 he says: "living can be a sacrifice, too. Dying might require more love, but living takes more endurance." The mother was SO STRONG in this book.
Miracles
Their family experienced so many miracles in their life/journey!!
  • mother being protected when she was separated, finding her family
  • The boat hadn't sunk, the rope of the pirates broke
  • the conversion of the Father, the praying by the father on the boat to bring rain and then make it stop
Proverbs
Chung shared so many lovely Chinese proverbs in this book. I didn't write them all down, but here's one:

"When you eat the fruit, remember who planted the tree." Don't you love it? There were so many more!

In the End
Chung leads out the following discussions at the end of the book:

Who do you think sent the boat?
God sent the boat
What does he expect you to do now?
Now that I'm safely ashore, he expects me to send the boat back for someone else

He goes on to another, but somewhat related topic:
  • How can I give my children all the things I never had without allowing them to become complacent?
  • How do I teach them that America is a land of opportunity that was never meant to be a place of entitlement?
  • How do I allow them comfort and ease, but instead instill in them the value of hard work?
Where we live, we are faced with so much those last three questions! I wish I had the answer!

I recommend this book to everyone! It was stirring to read such a personal account of this refugee family. I hope it opens our hearts to do and to give more.