Sunday, December 30, 2007

Borgiallo Families: Nicolao and Margarita (Ghiglietti) Trucano, Giuseppe and Caterina (Malano) Trucano, and Martino and Caterina (Reverso) Trucano

I finally made it to the temple this weekend to finish off most of the sealings of the Italian names I have been working on. Unfortunately, AJ didn't come with me because we couldn't find a babysitter. And the night we had planned to go with another couple, something (camping with the scouts in the dead of winter--grr) came up.

There were three main families that I have been working on and I wanted to just jot a note about them to help me remember where they fit in the family tree.

Maria Domenica Giustat (b. 1840) is a direct ancestor. She was born and married in Salto, Italy. Her mother was from Borgiallo, as was her paternal grandmother, so the Borgiallo line splits into two with her. When I first looked at the Borgiallo microfilms back when we still lived in Pittsburgh, I started with her grandmother, Maria Caterina Trucano Giustat (b. 1787) and quickly found the marriage record of her parents. All of Maria Caterina's work had been done because my dad had access to her marriage and death records in Salto, but I was able to find her siblings and parents. There are still two brothers, Giovanni and Giuseppe, that I need to look for.

Maria Caterina's parents are Nicolao Trucano (b. 1754) and Margarita Ghiglietti. I haven't been able to find Margarita--I don't know where she was born and I haven't run into her surname in the records I've been combing through. But, I found the birth record of Nicolao, giving me the names of his parents--Giuseppe Trucano (b. 1728) and Catarina Malano (b. 1730)--and was able to find their marriage record and 5 of his siblings. My sister A and her husband were able to do some of the work for these sibs.

Back to Maria Domenica (b. 1840): Maria Domenica Giustat's mother Anna Maria Trucano (b. 1821) was born in Borgiallo, but married and died in Salto. Her parents--Martino Trucano (b. 1776) and Caterina Reverso (b. 1784)--were both from Borgiallo, and most of the family's work had been done because they all migrated to Salto. Although the birth dates were not known, there was enough information to estimate birth dates and to submit their names to the temple. I went through all of the birth records in Borgiallo during this time period to fill in the actual birth dates. Most satisfying was find three children who we didn't know about. Two died as infants and the other one either died young or didn't move to Salto.

To connect Maria Domenica Giustat back to me: she is the grandmother of Mable Viano, my grandfather's mother.

I have been trying to figure out a research method that works for me in combing through the microfilms. When I started, I tried to gather a lot of information quickly. Thus, I would look for births for several families in the same time period. And I also started to do a generalized extraction of all Trucano names thinking that I could put the pieces together later. These methods are both workable, but I have decided that for me, it's better to focus on one family and try to put as many pieces together as I can for them, being as through as possible. When I have all of the direct ancestors that I can find, I will start to go back and fill in the other pieces.

I am really grateful to have these microfilms. It's amazing that I can look at the records that were written by priests in the 1700's who had personal contact with my ancestors. It will be even more amazing when I am able to do the research online after the church has completed its massive microfilm scanning project.

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Three Days, Three Movies

After going to see such a disappointing Golden Compass last week, AJ and I have spent the last three nights watching three great, but very different movies.

Thursday we rented Bourne Ultimatum. AJ really wanted to see it when it was in the theaters this summer, but we never quite made it. It is all action, very fast paced (a little too much for me). Matt Damon looks like a bullet with dark circles under his eyes throughout the movie. There were some pretty cool parts. I like the con-artist, scamming aspects better than the chase scenes.

Friday we watched Amazing Grace about the outlawing of slavery and the slave trade in Britain and her colonies. The starring historical figure is William Wilberforce. I wondered how closely the writers stuck to history, but it was a great story and I thought the movie was well done too. I wondered if the woman who became his wife was as interested in his political causes as he was and if she was truly the intellectual equal as portrayed. However, this is what it says in Wilberforce's entry on Wikipedia: "The couple were devoted to each other, and though Barbara showed little interest in Wilberforce's political activities and tended to narrow-minded possessiveness, she was very attentive and supportive in his increasing ill-health." Interesting. I'd like to do some more reading about him. And William Pitt was only 24 when he was elected prime minister. I liked that actor and character.

And last night, we watched Stardust, a whimsical fantasy as AJ described it. It reminded both of us of The Princess Bride, combining drama and humor. It was fun to watch.

We haven't watched movies like this in a long long time. It was Christmas vacation week. Our choices were very much shaped by new releases that were available at Redbox. But, we've been staying up too late and I am feeling it today. Next up will be A Mutual Friend, recommended by my mom--an adaptation of a Dickens book-- and Wit starring Emma Thompson. I need to watch that before book group next week.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way

I have such high hopes for this book. I heard Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on NPR discussing the ideas behind this book with a panel and it sounded so interesting. I took her comments to mean that the book was about the Democratic party's ceding of religion to the right and the need for the left to reclaim religion. It was somewhat about that. But, it was as much a memoir of her Catholic faith and her vision of the application of Catholicism and Christianity in general to policy decisions. The historical perspective and political analysis was shallow, I thought, and I did some scanning. She had some interesting tidbits about women's status in the Catholic church and the rise of personal morality evangelicals.
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The Ghost Map

I read The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World this week. It started out as a gripping recounting of the 1854 outbreak of cholera in London and in its wake, the two men who unraveled the mystery of how cholera spread. Steven Johnson includes fascinating contextual details about the London of the times, including graphic descriptions of the sanitation situation and the early problems of dealing with a large urban center that I had to skip over. YUCK!

I was most intrigued by the story of John Snow, a practicing physician who also pioneered early methods of epidemiology by combining geographical data and the physical spread of cholera compared to the location of water sources----the precursor to our modern day GIS. His battle against the proponents of cholera spread by miasma--the airbourne spread, mostly indicated by foul smelling air--was based in the scientific method. Prior to the 1854 outbreak, he systematically attempted to show how the water supply was responsible by conducting an experiment. He was able to find several individual neighborhoods--thus controlling for poverty, foul smells, and other supposed causes--that had two different suppliers of water. Because residents had no clear idea who provided their water, Snow went door to door collecting samples of water since one company's water had four times the salinity of its competitor. Johnson characterizes him as utilizing skills not as a physician, but as a sociologist and demographer. The logic of his approach to the problem of cholera spread was so clear and perfect. I loved it. To design a study like that!

During the outbreak, he collected data on the deaths, location, and their proximity to the Broad Street pump, the source of the cholera bacteria. He persuaded the local council to remove the handle to the Broad Street pump to prevent the spread of cholera, and then spent time after the outbreak documenting all his analysis.

This map is the lynchpin of Snow's analysis which shows the proximity of the outbreak deaths to the Broad Street pump. Later, he expanded his map to show distances not just as the crow files, but the walking distances to water.

Where the book becomes disappointing is when Johnson deviates from the historical story of the outbreak and starts to draw too many, too far- reaching applications to the modern day. I thought the application to contemporary water problems was fine--cholera has not been eradicated in the world at large and urban centers in developing nations face the same problems that London did in the mid-1800's. But, he went too far. Talk about whether or not the world would turn into a city-planet--what scenarios would cause people to migrate to either the cities or rural areas. I lost interest at the end.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Other Christmas Stuff

We have had a lot of snow this season. There have been at least 4 good snow drops so far and there is probably about a foot of ground outside. We had a big storm on the 23rd and shovelled out on Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas day we had more snow. It was lightly snowing for most of the afternoon and was beautiful. I didn't make it outside to take photos, but here is one from our front window. Unfortunately, it is hard to see the falling snow unless you zoom in.

We also had a great time with D and M. They came over in the afternoon bearing dinner deliciousness--funeral potatoes and strawberry dee-light--and we had a great meal. Ham and potatoes, strawberry dessert, I mean salad, (pretzal crust, cream cheese middle, strawberry jello top), rolls, salad, and cranberries. Yum. T insisted on sitting mere millimeters away from D, and he was a good sport about it. We were all lethargic after dinner, but D and M rallied and played some games with the kids. After a sufficient rest, we had derby pie for dessert. And we have been enjoying the leftovers since Tuesday. The kids really grasped onto M's "hamwiches", which are ham and funeral potatoes on a roll. Unfortunately, the potatoes are now gone.

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Christmas 2007

Ahh--I am currently enjoying one of my Christmas presents from this year. AJ's sister E gave me a set of 800 thread count sheets. I am sitting in my bed, in the lap of luxury. I definitely don't want the kids to touch them with their grubby hands, and even felt a little twinge of initial reluctance to let AJ share them.

Christmas was great this year. T didn't wake up until 7:45 and MJ around 8, so it wasn't too early. The kids were so excited and fun, but they really didn't go crazy with presents. We enjoyed a relatively calm morning being together, eating breakfast, and spreading out the presents over the morning.

Fun things from Christmas:

MJ was so concerned about how her good behavior weighed against her bad behavior for the year. "Santa thinks we were really good this year. We must have been really good this year." She seemed to think that they didn't deserve the presents they had gotten. Later she said, "I just keep thinking about all the bad things I did this year." And the next day she talked to me about it again--"why did Santa bring me all those presents when I was bad?" I felt a little bad myself that she was feeling so much guilt. I tried to talk to her about how we all do things that aren't right and then we try to do better. I think that a lie she told a lunch room aide "I am allergic to peanuts" was weighing especially heavy on her mind. It happened recently and kind of ballooned for her as we tried to figure out what actual events transpired and what the cause of the lie was.

Another thing she said. "I didn't even send my note. Santa always picks out just the perfect presents. He knows just the things that we like to do!"

T is really into singing Rudolph this season. My favorite part of his song is "Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say (Yo ho ho),..." A kind of quasi-pirate Santa. Last year, he would gruffly say, "Yo, ho ho! What do you want for Christmas?" And if we didn't answer, he would say, "I SAID, YO HO HO! What do you want for Christmas??" I'm glad that the Yo ho ho carried over to this year.

Both MJ and T got scooters and helmets for Christmas. MJ's is going to take her some time to learn to ride it since it has just two wheels. But, T's has two back wheels and he has been riding it around the house non-stop. Towards the middle of Christmas day, he started taking his scooter everywhere--downstairs to watch a movie and then later, up to his room when he went to bed. He parked it in the doorway of his bedroom when he got into bed, with his helmet hanging off the handlebars. A little bit later, he told AJ that he needed to go the bathroom, and AJ said ok. So, he jumped out of bed, ran over to his scooter, grabbed his helmet to put it on, fumbling with the chin strap, and then scooted over to the bathroom (5 feet from his doorway). Then he parked his scooter in the bathroom doorway and took off his helmet, carefully hanging it on the handlebars. When he was done in the bathroom, he ran back over to the scooter and began to repeat the whole process until AJ told him to get into bed.

He also had a great time dressing up and playing with the awesome cape that Grandma made. It's two sided-one side red and one black so that he can alternate between good and bad roles. When he has the black side out (almost always), it has the look of a magician or a vampire. When he opened it, he swished the new cape from Grandma on and off his shoulders saying "I can fly with this outside in the wind". He got some other dress up accessories. His favorite outfit was to put the neo-prene Batman mask and black cape on, and then use the new foam sword and shield set he got. He has found us a lot more willing to play fight now that he is using foam sword and shield rather than his wood one and now that we have a means of defense: happily, the set came with two swords and two shields so that he can play with another person.

And a blast from the past: when T opened his fleece blanket from Aunt E with his name on it, he said, "I can't bee-lieve it!" This is exactly what MJ said when she opened a princess quilt for her third birthday.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Advanced Maternal Age All the Way!

When I talked to my dad on my birthday on Sunday, he said that 36 is a great age. Old enough, but young enough. I'm not sure I agree with him. Personally, I think I will come into my own a bit more in my 40's when my kids are older.

Sunday was a great day though. If we had to have church all year at 1 pm, at least it was a year when my birthday fell on a Sunday. I lounged about in bed reading until my family brought me breakfast on one of our Target cafeteria trays--no flower in a vase, but yummy eggs, fruit, and hot chocolate. Then I enjoyed my breakfast in quiet while they went and wrapped presents. They all came back and we opened presents. This year was the best book haul I have had in a very long time. My mom picked out 3 books off my Amazon wish list, including a book to fuel my Lost obsession (season 4 premiers on Jan 31st!) and two books for my book group this year. AJ got my a bio of Virginia Woolf and one of my sisters got me a book edited by Ira Glass (I love This American Life) called The New Kings of Non-Fiction that she read and really liked. Getting books made me so happy. I love new books!

MJ and T each picked me out some jewelry, and although I don't often wear jewelry, I was pretty excited about their presents. I wore some thin silver bangles (I had a set almost identical to them in the 80's) and a black shiny necklace to church on Sunday. MJ picked me out a silver chain with a cubic zirconium pendant that I wore yesterday, but best of all is the big chunky bracelet with big plastic yellow rectangles. AJ said that both of them were going back and forth about what to get me, switching one item for another. But, this item was always T's top choice, and no matter what AJ said, T needed to get that for mommy. I love it. I had it on yesterday with a black top--it looked like I was rooting for the Steelers.

AJ also picked me out some new pj's. I guess my beloved Old Navy pajama pants are headed for the dust bin--I've had them for probably 7 years and I love them. They are so comfy and perfect, but they are starting to fall apart.

My sister with the curliest hair also framed a quote for me: "Life is curly. Don't even try to straighten it out." I agree! For the most part, I've always thought that I've been given curly hair, it's not really made to go straight, and I should take what I have and make the best of it. Three of my sisters that also have curly hair have betrayed their roots by straightening. I refuse to do it. Even in the late 90's when NO ONE was wearing their hair curly, I refused to straighten. And I like the generalization to life too.

AJ was excited that his mom got me a book light--I often lay in bed reading after he's going to sleep, justifying it by saying that it doesn't bother him. But, I'm sure it's not the same as going to sleep with it completely black.

I had to leave for church a little early since I was playing the organ. I was happy that the music chair let me talk her into replacing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day with Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It's not that I dislike the first (which I somewhat do), but it's that she has a preference for the peaceful, solemn Christmas hymns over the exhuberant, joyous ones (that need a trumpet stop). We didn't sing Hark last year, and she didn't put Far Far Away on the docket this year (she said it's too hard for the congregation to sing). Anyway, at least we got to pair Silent Night with a more upbeat, vigorous song.

I actually liked Gospel Doctrine on Sunday. That was a plus.

And then, despite a lot of snow falling and wind blowing, we made it up to Maple Grove to eat dinner with K and D and family. We had a great time as usual and super good food.

By the time we got home, the kids were really tired out and went straight to sleep.

A good day. Good family time, fun presents, tasty food, and time with good friends.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Gendered Division of Labor and the Specialization of Roles

Since I am currently not working outside of our home, I have the lion's share of responsibility for all things domestic. I take charge of meals: meal planning, grocery shopping, and making dinner. I do all the laundry, save for folding socks, hanging up shirts, and putting clothes away. I am primarily in charge of tidying up the house and doing the heavier cleaning: vacuuming, bathrooms, etc. I do the day to day maintenance.

During the Christmas season, I have taken on most of the Christmas tasks: I have thought through all the kids' presents and done the research to find them, and after getting a "that sounds good" from AJ, ordered them online or purchased them. I have planned the Christmas meal and Christmas week meals and done all the grocery shopping. I got the family photo into a card and ordered it and picked it up. We did collaborate on the writing of the Christmas letter, but I bought a new printer cartridge and printed all the letters and address labels. I personalized the majority of the Christmas cards. AJ set up the tree with the kids and put the lights on the tree. He did most of the tree with them at the beginning of the month. I took take of almost all of the extended family gifts that we gave this year, with the exception of AJ's brother, whose present he ordered and had shipped to his house. I made 5 batches of cranberry salsa to give to all the neighbors and our visiting/home teaching families. AJ has started to deliver them.

And then, in addition to all this, I was in charge of our RS enrichment dinner and program.

I don't think of myself as particularly good at any of these tasks. Although for the most part, I don't mind doing them, but I don't particularly love doing them either. I have done them because they need to be done. When I don't take charge, things slide. We have scrambled eggs for dinner. The house is a mess. This has happened in the past. And this year, we would not have done the same things for Christmas if I didn't do them. And, this is understandable. I stay home. I have all this flexible time that AJ does not. He is working full time.

And the fact is, AJ does do a lot at home, especially with the kids. Every day, I am grateful that he can help get MJ ready for school and onto the bus before he leaves for work. His hours are reasonable--he is almost always home for dinner by 5:30, and he doesn't have to travel a lot. He often puts the kids to bed. MJ and T absolutely love being around their dad and spending time with him.

My problem is not so much what AJ and I do at home . What I have been thinking about lately is how a lot of what I do could fairly easily be done by just about anyone. I could hire someone to clean my house. I could have my groceries delivered. Another person could cook meals for my kids. My domestic skills are, frankly, nothing special. The only thing in the domestic sphere, really, where I feel I could not find a substitute is the things I do with my kids. And that goes for AJ too as a dad. But, I can outsource some of the childcare. It's true. And T has recently started preschool. I can see how things will be quite a bit different when my kids are in school.

At the enrichment dinner last week, we had a conversation at dinner about staying at home as a mother. One person, whose youngest child will be in 1st grade next year, said that she is so tired of people asking her if she will work next year and what she will do with her time. She says that she will do the same thing as she does now. (Obviously, this is not entirely true. Her child will not be there. She will not have to worry at all about what he is doing and taking him with her wherever she goes.) She mentioned going to the grocery store as an example. The shopping will still have to be done. I admit, I often wonder what the days of stay-at-home moms whose kids are all in school look like. I'm sure that good things are done, I just can't really imagine what the rhythms of that life would look like.

The only thing keeping me home right now is my kids--and even then, I daydream about working. I hope to find a part time job with a flexible working arrangement in the near future. I can't imagine choosing to stay home when my kids are in school. I don't really like domestic life. I really don't know what I would do with my time all day. Clean my house? Do my grocery shopping? Add a few volunteer activities? Be the super-involved mom, planning out everything for my kids? I can't think of anything I would like less.

Anyway, back to my problem. My problem is that I don't want to specialize in domestic management. But, it's what I'm doing right now. I resent that the tasks I do on a regular basis--what I am specializing in--could be easily done by many other people. I want to specialize in being the mother of my kids, just as I want the same for AJ as their father. But, I also want to specialize in something else where I can use my human capital built up by many years of education, where I can contribute to my family income. It's what AJ is doing. I see his career stretching out years into the future. The ways that he is learning, the growth and trajectory that he can expect. He is specializing and it is benefitting our family. I am grateful for what he does. I just wish that we could share the domestic and economic spheres more. I don't really want to be in charge of the domestic stuff. I don't really want to be the household manager.

At this point, I am tired of the extended domestic lifting I have been doing. I am tired of doing the dishes and sweeping the floor yet again and doing the Christmas planning. I don't want to bend over to pick up the Uno cards again and all the other stuff on the ground at 30 weeks pregnant. It seems that the things I do at home are seldom recognized, and that within a short time of me doing tasks, the floor is messy again, T has written his name on the wall again, the laundry room floor is messy and dirty. I really dislike that. But, Christmas is around the corner. If the house is messy for Christmas, then I will be cranky. I know that about myself. So I will probably go back to picking up and doing the dishes later tonight. But, I am also going to strategize for how I can find a job. And I am going to finish reviewing that paper for EEPA.

This is all a big jumble. I know that. I just needed to get some thoughts out. I was hoping that it would make me feel better.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Last week after Enrichment was over, I needed something very easy on the mind to read. I didn't want to read any of the non-fiction that I have on my list right now, just a nice children's/YA fantasy escape kind of book. I picked up Inkspell from the library and then took it with me to Barnes and Noble on the morning after to start reading it while I sipped some hot cocoa. It was the perfect read.

Cornelia Funke is a wonderful writer. She weaves a tale in a beautiful way, developing intriguing characters and scenes, with beautiful words. I don't feel empty after reading her book, as I do with some escape literature. Under each chapter title is a quotation from some other great work of literature, and I loved reading those before starting a chapter. I don't know if she did that in Inkheart as well, since I listened to that one. By the way, as I was reading, I couldn't get Lynn Redgrave's voice out of my head--she was an amazing narrator for Inkheart. I started listening to Inkspell but couldn't get over the jarring new narrator.

Part of the reason why I loved the Inkspell is that it is a book about books. Funke develops the idea--in a fantasy way--of the power of books, of the worlds that books create and take us to, and of the throbbing vitality of words in books. That all resonates with me of course. One of the main characters is a book binder and he and some of the other main characters have a deep reverence and respect for books. There are many great quotations about books--in Inkheart too.

Like, when Meggie was packing for her voyage into Inkworld. "She had thought hard about what book to take. Going without one would have seemed to her like setting off naked." I always think a lot about what kinds of books to take with me when I leave home too. I hate the thought of being somewhere without a book I want to read, and without being able to get my hands on my easily. It bothers me to no end when AJ goes on a business trip, and doesn't take anything to read and then ends up spending $10 on some plot-driven, never-want-to-read-again paperback.

And Mo's description of paper back books. "Books in beach clothes, badly dressed for most occasions, but useful when you're on vacation." I have a great many paper backs on my shelf. Hardbacks: too expensive for me most of the time, but a great sentiment from a bookbinder.

I love the Meggie has a special box for all her favorite books.

But her old friends, the books Meggie had already owned before they had moved in with Elinor, still lived in the box, and when she opened the heavy lid it was almost as if half-forgotten voices met her ears and familiar faces were looking at her. How well worn they all were..."Isn't it odd how much fatter a books gets when you've read it several times?" Mo had said when, on Meggie's last birthday, they were looking at all her dear old books again. "As if something were left between the pages each time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells...and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower...both strange and familiar."

I did find the budding romance between Meggie and Farid to be somewhat strange. I couldn't really see their appeal to each other. And I wondered about the Fenoglio-God who is trying to keep Inkworld under control with his writing and words. I have no idea if Funke was making any kind of larger commentary on God and his ability (or not) to control his creations. It was interesting to think about after reading Pullman's Dark Materials.

I also think that playing with death is only bound to get everyone in trouble. Why try to bring Dustfinger back to life? I thought it would have been better to let Farid stay dead. I wonder where she's going with this. I don't know when the third book is supposed to be out, but it's clear this book is a transition with lots of loose ends.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Remembered

This is a fun book of Tomie de Paola's personal reminiscences of many Christmases thoughout his life. I heard him interviewed last year on the radio and he was so charming that I decided to read this book. It features of few de Paola-esque drawings to accompany the charming stories. Since I love quite a few of his children's stories, it was fun to read.

He describes a magical Christmas in Santa Fe and attending Las Posadas there. I think it was here that he decided to write a children's book about Las Posadas. Next year, I am going to take MJ and go to a local reenactment.

Compiling a book of family Christmas stories like this would be a neat family project.

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Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal:Building St Peter's

I saw this book when I was in Italy and decided it was worth a read. Although we didn't make it to Rome this trip, I loved seeing the Vatican Museum and St Peter's when we there before. It was one of my favorite things.

The book. Eh. I learned quite a bit. I didn't realize how long it took to build St Peter's, the number of popes that were involved, and Michelangelo's large role in helping the basilica to progress along. I learned about Bernini. And just about the historical context of the times. I didn't realize that Rome was sacked in 1527. And how the church reacted to the Reformation.

But, I felt like Scotti swerved around a lot. There were too many names, too many snapshots of people that I will quickly forget, too much deviation from the story of St Peter's. And none of the main actors was really made memorable. I also wish that more photos of all the things she discussed were included. I'm glad I didn't buy it while I was there.
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Enrichment Dinner Over!

Last night was the annual Christmas enrichment dinner. Thankfully, it is over. I am relieved. These events are always so stressful for me. I was grateful to have two other women whom I delegated quite a bit, so while I oversaw both the dinner and the decorations, they took care of the details. Unfortunately, one is probably moving and the other will have a new baby (with me days away from my delivery) when the next enrichment is scheduled to happen. We need to figure out a way to handle that.

I ended up making three trifles for dessert and my kitchen was a total disaster when I left. I came home a little after 10 to find AJ mostly through the dishes. What a good man. I didn't take photos of my trifle. I dyed the whipped cream for chocolate one pink and sprinkled crushed peppermints on top and throughout. AJ took care of its aesthetic aspect by decorating the top with mint leaves.

The dinner was delicious and I think people enjoyed it. I was in charge of the program. I think it went pretty well. Next year, if I am in still in charge of enrichment, I will find someone else to accompany the musical numbers. I felt like I was doing everything in the program. I had a major problem finding women to say a few words for this part of it. Lots of people had conflicts so they couldn't attend. I ended up speaking a lot. (It made me want to teach.) I enjoyed doing research into Las Posadas and into the origin of the carol Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella. My main thought was about how the Christmas story is not just historical, but the ways that we can be part of the nativity, just like the peregrinos, just like the milkmaids.

But, I'm tired. I had a hard time winding down to sleep last night and then never felt completely settled into slumber all night long. I don't know if it was just the build up, or if it was the chocolate mint trifle I indulged in mere minutes before getting into bed. This morning, I enjoyed some time by myself finishing up Christmas shopping and then sitting at Barnes and Noble sipping Godiva hot chocolate while starting a new book. This afternoon, I tried to work up energy to get my house back together and managed to make some progress.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Golden Compass and the Smearing Email Campaign

A few weeks ago, I finished the final volume of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Although the first book has been made into a movie and is coming out next week, the impetus to read them came when AJ found The Golden Compass and brought it to Italy with him. He was so taken with it that we combed Florence to find the second book, in English of course, and then he tried unsucessfully to find the third when we were in Venice. He wanted me to read them too, so I took a break from other stuff to read The Golden Compass, also while in Italy, and then read on The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass on and off since we got home.

Also interesting is the email that has been forwarded around Mormon circles about the forthcoming movie. After being forwarded ad nauseum, I have no idea who the original author was, but here is the complete text:

A kids movie coming out in December starring Nicole Kidman, called The Golden Compass, is based on a series of children's books about killing God (it is anti-Narnia). The hope is to get a lot of kids to see the movie which won't seem too bad - and then get the parents to buy the books for their kids for Christmas. The quotes from the
author sum up his atheist point of view. I hope the movie totally bombs because we choose to not support it.

I have a few problems with this email (and with emails and arguments like this in general). First though, how can I take this seriously when the author can't even properly use apostrophes? "kids movie" should be "kids' movie." Yes, it's a nit-pick, but it bothers me. Another problem I have with the email is the generalization that the books are about the children killing God. Not really true. (I wonder if the author of the email has read the books. And I doubt that the majority of people who are forwarding the email on to all their friends have actually read the books either.) I am bothered about the conspiracy theory statement made in the email. "They" (who are they? Phillip Pullman? The makers of the film? Hollywood?) are trying to convert all children into atheists by using a seeming innocuous movie as a lure in order to get them to consume the hard-core material. To me, it seems unlikely. Pullman has publically denied this sentiment.

But, in general, what bothers me most is that well meaning individuals take this email at face value and make decisions about the movie, the books, Phillip Pullman's motivations, and the general value of these books and ideas based only on the ideas presented in the email. Somehow, the idea that Pullman is an atheist seems to be dangerous--as if nothing good could come from someone who doesn't believe in God. Part of Pullman's critique of The Magesterium in his books is that this dominating church manipulates people into thinking what it wants them to think and that they lose their ability to question and think critically. And ironically, this is what I think some people are not really digging below the surface of the email, but are just unquestioningly accepting what it says.

There was a discussion on my extended family's web site about The Golden Compass and this email. After three women who didn't have any basis for discussion other than the email and some web references to Pullman's atheism, I decided that I had to comment. I had no idea how my family would react. We mostly chit chat about family happenings, and I honestly don't know most of them well enough to predict how they feel about such things--I have basically painted the majority of them (perhaps unfairly) as a conservative, predictable Mormon family. There were two avid readers who piped up, who agreed with what I said, and that made me feel a bit better and not so much of an outlier.

This is what I said there:

Andy and I both just recently read Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy and really enjoyed them. We will go together to see The Golden Compass and are looking
forward to it.

My kids are not old enough to see the movie or even think about reading the books, but if they were 6-10 years older than they are now, I think my approach would be to preview the movie and then make the decision about whether or not to take them.

I have also gotten the emails that have been passed around Mormon circles and I don't really like them. I think that probably most people who have been forwarding them to their friends haven't read the books and are relying on rumor and propaganda to fuel questions about the movies. I have no idea if the movies will be any good, and don't know if I would take my kids, but as for the books, I think that they would be great for an advanced adolescent to read--say 15 or so. I hope that if my kids ever choose to read these books that we can have conversations about the nature of God and religion.

The God and the church that Pullman portrays, to me, are completely unlike any God or church that I believe in. The church he portrays is truly an evil, deceptive, and power-mongering institution. God is a doddering frail angel without any real power. Setting aside the question of whether Pullman's descriptions of God and religion in his books are what he actually believes about God and religion, to me they represent an alternate universe and fantasy. Even if Pullman actually believes his portrayal (and he is an atheist, so this is assuredly not what he believes), I still think there is a lot of redeeming value in them. I found that a lot of the negative things about his church are things that I also find offensive and disagree with. I found a lot that I agreed with him on, and I don't think that the things that I disagreed with him on are too dangerous or too scary to discuss or let my kids think about and talk to us about. But, again, these are not books that I would want my 10 or 12 year old reading, especially the third book.

I am also very suspicious of any kind of conspiracy theory, just by my nature. I don't like the sentiment that Pullman is trying to turn the world into a bunch of atheists and that this movie will be the bait to lure in innocent children. Perhaps that's true, but I personally am doubtful and won't make decisions based on speculation like this.
One more thing--The whole bit about the kids "killing God" is inaccurate. I had heard this before I finished the third book, and this brought to mind them using their knife, viciously attacking God, knowing who they were killing. Instead, they find an
old, frail, about to die angel stuck in a box, and they let him out to try to help him. It turns out that this person is God. They have no idea what they have done. The God that dies is happy to die, and is nothing like the God I believe in. Again, I think such ideas would make for fruitful conversation.

I want to write some more about the books, but I think I will postpone and put in a separate post.

Read more . . .