Sunday, April 28, 2013


And . . . I still haven't finished the Lusseyran book.

Maybe it's because I spend too much time on Mormon blogs.

Right now, the hot topic is ordaining women to the priesthood. It springs from an interview President Hinckley did with Mike Wallace years ago, in which he explained that Mormon women are happy. They have plenty of leadership and service opportunities. They aren't agitating to get the priesthood.

To which a few women have said, "Oh yeah? Well, we do want it. We've wanted it for years. And we start agitating now."

My thoughts on the matter?

1) It's a mistake for men to proclaim what women want, or what they like, or what fulfills their dreams. Ask the women.

2) It's not a mistake to ask questions about why things are the way they are or to ask God if they could be different. But if He says no, if He says A and B can change but C has to stay the way it is, we have to accept the answer. To do otherwise is apostasy, and Mormonism has always been about rejecting apostasy.

3) If He says yes to C, well then, cheers to you for your forward thinking.

4) I adore a rousing online discussion, where people are free to say what they think. I love finding out that I'm not the only one bugged by A and B, even if I'm not with you on C.

5) I don't long to perform blessings or ordinances or rituals. Ritual embarrasses me. But I am also embarrassed by people who call you names for wanting the priesthood. No, wait. Not embarrassed. Amused.

6) You tell me equality has a certain formula. You have read thinkers who say that anyone who doesn't agree with the formula is an agent of her own oppression. Thanks, but I'll decide how oppressed I am. If it's a mistake for men to tell me what I should want, it's also a mistake for strangers to tell me how to be and what trade-offs to make.

7) Otherwise, carry on. Your stories about what you have had to put up with in your lives embolden me and a few thousand others to not put up with the same. That effects some mighty change right there.

Now, let's bake bread:

Ranch French Bread

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Week of the Clenched Stomach

It started when I stayed up late last Sunday, reading some doom and gloom on the internet. Fortified by visions of a dire future, I trudged into a week in which:

Bombs went off. Chemicals exploded. The daughter crashed her car. Tech problems up-ended the husband's workweek. A friend's mom died. Thunder crashed. Streams flooded. The toddler got defiant. And finally, PMS.

You'd think I would appreciate a gentle book like And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran. But I avoided it. If it had been a book where bombs went off and thunder crashed, I probably couldn't have put it down.

Lusseyran grew up in Paris. He lost his sight in a childhood accident. After the initial shock and pain, he found himself endowed with something he described as "light." He gained a heightened sense of the objects around him, their smells, sounds, even the very pressure from the space they took up. His parents rose to the occasion, securing an education that fit him for the larger world. His friends held his arm and guided him along on their adventures. In short, God did not abandon Lusseyran to bleakness.

But I still felt no compulsion to read. His "light" was an intangible thing, harder to describe than smell. Really, how would you convey the scent of a carnation or of campfire smoke to someone who had never experienced it? If it's tough to describe, it's tough to read.

I've stuck with him now up to age eleven. I'll keep trying. World War II and his days in the French Resistance lie ahead, so surely I will stumble into suspense and adventure soon.

Look at me, wishing suspense and adventure on people in book-world, but not on people in real-world.

And furthermore, why don't stress-riven characters in books snitch Peanutty Chocolate Cookies, like I did all week?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oops, Mom and Dad, I Lost Her

Somebody in my writing group keeps handing us chapters of her novel about a family broken up by a fatal car accident. The narrator girl and her father struggle through the year after losing Mom and Big Brother. We get a lot of silence-at-breakfast scenes, losing-ourselves-in-competitive-swimming scenes and re-entering-teen-life-with-a-birthday-party-at-the-country-club scenes. (Where, naturally, a hunky boy appears. With an Aussie accent. And he's a swimmer, how handy!)

As she perfects her book, I'm tempted to suggest a look at Francine Prose's Goldengrove. I would mean it as a helpful gesture. I just don't know if it would be taken that way.

Basically, Prose already wrote the same story. Two sisters laze about in a canoe on the lake beside their rustic upstate New York home. The older one jumps out, as if to swim ashore. The younger one rows to the dock. In the house, the parents ask, "Where is your sister?" The answer is not good.

Prose walks us through the next year, as this family struggles up from the depths of loss. The book jacket promises a "risky relationship" between the thirteen-year-old surviving girl and her sister's boyfriend.

Oh, great! I thought, a bunch of unwarranted, highly anatomical sex scenes. And if anyone complains, they are told, 'Teenagers have sex these days. Get over it.'"

But no, Prose keeps it less about sex and more about head-games. It all rang quite true to me. I found this grieving family utterly captivating.

Not so for the next book I picked up. Brunonia Berry's Lace Reader is a tale about moms and aunts who can tell fortunes by looking at -- you guessed it -- lace. The story bolted out of the gate with a whole lotta characters (way quirky, of course)and a whole lotta details about nothin' that I quickly suspected I had fallen prey to an amateur author. When she finally introduced me to the second aunt, who greets the protagonist with a hug and acts quite normal given the family death they have all just experienced, I pictured a quite normal woman who, I found out a page or two later, is brain damaged.

"Foul!" I cried. "Game over."

Seriously, the Amazon reviews made far better reading.

Maybe somebody in Berry's writing group should have handed her an already-published masterpiece about fortune-telling women who come together after a death in the family and . . . oh never mind!

Anyway, to finish up with our Tex-Mex series, you can celebrate warmer weather with:

Tex-Mex Chicken Salad

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Go Home, Young Man

I once had an English professor who wrote a book on postmodern trends in fiction in which he proclaimed that many of us find the open road, and its escape from our hometowns, appealing. But ultimately, we have to re-embrace our past. We may be happier far away but, especially if we are writers, we have to return or we choke off the headwaters that feed us.

Plainly, I have resisted this notion of his. But then, my hometown lacks the spicy, Wild West past of his native Dodge City, Kansas.

However, the professor took his own advice. Succumbing to nostalgia about the dusty landscape from which he came, he has now published his memoir, Dragging Wyatt Earp.

Author Robert Rebein grew up as one of seven closely-packed boys in a Catholic family. His father was one of those handy sorts who had a hard time resisting major renovation projects on the house. He drew plans for new kitchens, or bricking the exterior, on some handy envelope and, before long, had the family camping in the basement, eating chicken noodle soup on rice for days on end.

For years, the father owned an auto salvage yard, providing a richly imaginative playground for the young Rob, not to mention a cast of hired help that limped and swore and came in late after sleeping one off.

Later, Dad Rebein sold the salvage yard and bought a ranch.

In Rebein's classes, he occasionally mentioned his Kansas-ranch past. I always wondered if his family regarded him as a fiddlehead who writes useless stuff, we have no idea what, and goes nutty for poetry. But when Rebein describes the chores he mastered, everything from repairing the sprinkler system to pouring concrete to herding cattle, I gotta admit, his family probably respects him, whatever they think of his profession.

His life-journey from fenced fields to bookshelf-lined professor's office reminds me of Black Earth and Ivory Tower, a book of essays written by former farm kids who ended up teaching at universities. Each essay muses on the tyranny of the agricultural life and the wide gulf between the parents who met its demands and the children for whom it holds no future.

For those I know in Kansas (and their book-clubbing friends) Rebein will appear at the Leawood Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, April 10th, at 7 p.m.

Since you'll be busy reading Rebein's absorbing recollections, you may look up sometime around dinner and panic over what to fix your crew. If you froze last week's Chicken Starter, you'll be well on your way to a meal of:

Tex-Mex Chicken Pasta