May Books

This month was light on reading and heavy on work.

When the Emperor was Divine ★★
A short novel about Japanese-American detainees during World War II; it certainly sheds some light on a topic we don't like to talk about much.  The novel itself is a little incohesive and detached, but I can't tell if that was intentional because that might accurately reflect the experience for some Japanese-Americans.

A Fatal Grace ★★
A fun and light murder-mystery read.  (I'm trying to lean toward reading light stuff instead of watching light stuff.)  One small aspect of this book has been bothering me: it's too superficial.  One of the characters we are not meant not to like is frequently described as not having any style, to the extend of her having a fleck of egg on her sweater is a mark of poor character.  The protagonist, a humanist and usually a very likable person, secretly wishes he could give her his credit card to go shopping, which strikes me as incredibly condescending.  Aside from the way this one character is handled, the book is quite fun.

Also: I've been trying to scour the Amazon lending library for good things to read. Viewing their listings on a computer (rather than a Kindle) is tricky, but can be done.


garden hands

In general, I prefer to work without gloves in the garden, unless I'm doing some seriously muddy work.  I just worry about the clumsiness of my hands handling tiny seeds and pulling weeds whose roots are intertwined with those of my flowers and veggies.

This preference, combined with my desire for clean hands when returning to our apartment, means that I've spent time thinking about some good hand-washing strategies.  I used to just wash my hands repeatedly and carve out the dirt meticulously with the nail-file end of a pair of fingernail clippers, and then wash some more.  But, Lo! There is a better way: use a brush.

I just lather up my hands, and then use my bath brush to get at the fingernails, and rinse.  (If I had a mudroom with a sink or something fancy—namely multiple bathrooms—I'd get a fancy nail brush.)  I'm not for advocating unnecessary stuff, but I feel like I have clean hands all the time and don't spend nearly as much time washing them as I did before getting my brush.  However, I refuse to feel silly that it took me this long to figure it out; there are always tricks like this lurking for any hobby.

Also: why is my spinach bolting in May?  It should at least have the decency to wait a few more days until June.

baked rosemary chicken

This week I was able to use some of the rosemary from my garden in baking some chicken.  I've been slowly expanding my meat repertoire, and was delighted to discover bone-in chicken breasts recently.  I'd imagine most grocery stores don't have them, but we've been buying meat from local Cartilage's recently, thanks to a friend.  Anyway, they cook up with the feel of whole baked chicken, but they're much faster and serve two better—a whole chicken would be a little much for us.

Baked Rosemary Chicken
Serves 2

1 bone-in chicken breast
2 large carrots
1 large onion
4 medium potatoes
fresh rosemary
olive oil

Set oven to 425F.  Drizzle olive oil generously in a 9 inch square baking pan (I love my Le Creuset). Place chicken breast in pan and turn to coat.  Chop onions, carrots, and potatoes into bite-size pieces and throw them in the pan.  Dice rosemary and add, with salt to taste.  Mix everything with your hands, making sure vegetables, salt, oil, and rosemary are evenly distributed.  The pan should be fairly full, so nestle the chicken into the vegetables, skin-side up.  Bake until golden and temperature registers 170F and potatoes are cooked through.


buttercups at Valley Forge

I spent last night in an angsty range against my bike as I tried to fix it up after a winter of dormancy.  It looks nice and works well now, but there are still some grease streaks on our kitchen floor.

It was worth it because this morning nwc and I biked through the Valley Forge Historical Park in Pennsylvania. I wish I had taken my camera, because the views were lovely: rolling fields dotted with buttercups and a crisp blue sky.  We punctuated our ride by reading the historical descriptions along the way.  I chased frogs with leopard-like speckles and nwc wore a medium blue shirt which from a distance made him look like a piece of the sky floating along the road.

We're going to try to go someplace new at least every other weekend this summer; there's so much around here that we haven't seen.  I'm plotting a day trip into Philadelphia for our next adventure.  For that, I'll remember my camera.



I tried making meatballs for the first time back in August. And, in my typical fashion, I couldn't get myself to actually follow the recipe. Brown and then bake? Too many dishes and too much work. Soften onions? Sure, it would probably be tasty, but for a meal that takes a good chunk of time, the last thing it needs is an extra ten minutes.

So, after manipulating the poor starter recipe until it was unrecognizable, I finally had my meatballs. My husband's response to them? That I should open a restaurant—he knows exactly how to stroke my ego. After trying it a few more times to make sure they weren't a fluke, I thought I'd share.

Serves 4

1 lb ground beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoons powdered onion
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
2 fistfuls spinach
Toss the spinach in a pan with a teaspoon of water and let it wilt while you measure out everything else into a medium bowl. Stir the spinach between measurements, and by the time you're done with everything it should be ready to drain and chop. Add the chopped spinach and mix everything together—I just use my "monster hands."

Roll into balls--mine have a diameter of about 1-1.5 inches, which makes around 40. Oil a jellyroll pan (the edges help them not roll off) and bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Once they're in, you can start the water for the pasta. Serve with the classic spaghetti or angel hair pasta and marinara sauce, topped with parmesan cheese to taste.


forgiving vs. condoning

Elder Holland's General Conference talk in April struck me with the following passage.
At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” [John 15:12] To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” [John 14:15] and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:19]  Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others.  Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).
I have often supported or encouraged in others things that I would not accept for myself. Sometimes I feel like this is okay, and sometimes it falls into "condoning sin."

Let's start with a softball example: pierced ears. Paul taught that the body is a temple (among lots of other crazy stuff), and the LDS church has discouraged piercings and tattoos, with the exception that it's okay for women to have one earring in each ear.  I don't have any piercings, nor do I want any, but I have no problem buying earrings for people, or complimenting earrings.  Honestly, I think non-traditional piercings and tattoos can also be very tasteful.  Simply put, I'm condoning things that I wouldn't accept for myself.  But the things I'm condoning aren't really a sin, I just have a weird thing against body modification for myself.  It's one of the thing I'm compulsive about: I can't even draw on myself with pen and not be scrubbing it off within a few minutes.

Alright, so the easy stuff is over; let's move right on over to the difficult and sensitive issues: gay marriage and sex outside of marriage.  I'm supportive of gay marriage rights. I'm also supportive of my friends who have sex outside of marriage.  But should I be?  I have no idea.  I don't really know what is sinful and what isn't—this is the crux of the problem.  On some level I just don't care about the details of personal choices my friends are making.  Mostly, I don't want them to feel judged constantly whenever they talk about their partner and I want to keep being their friends.  If I don't say anything supportive, they might very well presume I'm stewing in religious judgement, which I'm not.  For me, it really is as simple as the pierced ears example: I'm not going to do it myself, but I think other people can be happy with different choices.

For less complicated issues, I might think that people could be happier with alternative choices.  If they asked my advice, I'd probably guide them according to my personal morals.  But on socially charged topics, it's really hard to disentangle the "sin" from the "sinner."  If a dear friend is gay, how can you possibly tell them in love that you disapprove of them having any kind of romantic relationship?  Are you just supposed to let it sit there awkwardly?

I can't forgive friends for certain things (like being gay) because there is nothing to forgive.  They haven't wronged me in any way and it's not my place to pass judgement. For this same reason I cannot condone or condemn their actions.  I trust people to choose the best path for themselves.  I will give advice when asked and will try to be supportive of them as individuals.  If I am guilty of condoning sin, it is because I think everyone should have the choice to determine for themselves what qualifies as sin.  I'm certainly still figuring it out for myself.

While I seem to be dismissing Elder Holland's remarks, I still am rolling them around in my mind and heart.  In particular, there are certainly times that I fake approval of other people's choices (trivial or otherwise) because I'm a people-pleaser.  The real thing that I've internalized from his comments is to stop that behavior; I should just be honest about my reactions to things.  If I don't like the way that skirt looks, I shouldn't say I do and encourage my friend to buy it because she likes it.  If I don't think a particular couple should move in together, I shouldn't fake my support because I'm worried that they'll think I'm being judgmental otherwise.  I should have confidence in my opinions and stop trying to say what other people want to hear.


needing a mother and a father

While it feels like gay marriage is well accepted by most American society, official LDS doctrine does not tolerate it.  A common argument against gay marriage is that having both a mother and a father is best for children; they "need" one parent of each gender.  If that's true, then mothers and fathers play truly different parts, and that gender roles are a real and important aspect to the parenting triangle.

Obviously, the LDS church is pro-gender roles, advocating them in teaching children and in the general structure of the family.  But the roles are not well defined: in the eight-thousand-plus word chapter on teaching gender roles, roles are defined as mother/wife and father/husband, and then implied elsewhere along the lines of "each child is learning how to be male or female and about what being male or female means about their relationships with others."  Nur?

In the family proclamation, we're given a sliver of insight as to what they actually mean: men are responsible for providing and presiding and women are primarily to nurture, but that men and women should be equal partners as parents.  This has been picked apart from every perspective, but it's still pretty opaque.

The message I'm getting is that gender identity is important, even if we really have no idea what accompanies gender.  And this brings me back to my original point: if gender defines very little about a person's personality and parenting style, then why is having both genders represented in parents important?

Admittedly, it would be harder for a girl to have two male parents, or vice versa, because there would be social and biological questions that may be more difficult for an opposite-gender parent to answer. Harder, but certainly not impossible.

The irony here is that in the LDS church, we only really have father figures, or male spiritual role models: Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  There are stories about more men and women, but we're supposed to become like these two figures.  We're not supposed to be like Mary the mother of Christ.  I mean, we are, but only in as much as she is like Christ.  And we're not supposed to try to be like the only-whispered-about Heavenly Mother, since we have no idea what to emulate.

You can't have it both ways.  Either you need both parents, especially for spiritual guidance, or else gender in parents doesn't matter.  Either we have a Heavenly Mother and Her role is clearly defined (preferably with an accompanying Matriarchal Priesthood), or gay marriage is okay.  Which one is it?

An addendum: I didn't talk about single parenting, which is another situation that the LDS church doesn't handle as well as it could.  No matter the doctrine of the church, alternative family structures need to be more welcome, which is a job for the members and not the hierarchy.


solar powered tree

going green

This weekend, I bought tomato, pepper, and herb plants at the Trenton Farmer's Market. The plants went directly into the ground and have been faring well despite the recent strong winds.  I also put the rest of my seeds in the ground, and spent some substantial time weeding.  The unused plots are starting to be more green than the occupied ones, and NWC has offered to track the greenness of the plot via earth-science satellite data voodoo.

Aside from weeds, my first plantings of lettuce and spinach are up, along with the peas.  The kale has a tiny trail across its row, but everything else is pretty freshly planted.  This year, I'm focusing mostly on greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, and swiss chard), legumes (peas and snap beans), nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos), and I'll also have zucchini and cucumber.  I'm trying to make it more fun and less work than last year by keeping my plot size down and only growing things I've grown before (except kale, but I think that should be easy).

Last year was just too much, with too many new species and too large of a plot.  If I'm feeling adventurous again after this year, I'll stick to incremental experiments, and not try to grow a year's supply of garlic.  Actually, last year's garlic was pretty successful, and I'm still using it! So maybe not try a year's supply of carrots?  I didn't get a single full-sized carrot last year.  Roots are beastly.

Lettuce sprouts!

An albino pea plant.