Book Duel: The Kitchen God’s Wife

The-Kitchen-Gods-Wife

I just finished Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife. I picked it up at Pioneer Book, remembering how much I had liked The Joy Luck Club in high school, and I was not disappointed. This was quite a good book.

The basic idea of the book is that a Chinese mother and a Chinese-American daughter don’t get along. So when their relative threatens to spill all their secrets before she dies, they have to go tell each other their real life stories, before Aunt Helen tells them all wrong and makes a mess out of it.

The daughter has Multiple Sclerosis, and is afraid to tell her mother. The mother has an entire previous life and marriage in China that she’s kept hidden, ashamed of how abusive her ex-husband was, and the kind of garbage she went through. Most of the book is the mother’s story, telling how she escaped her horrible marriage, and how she slowly came to the realization that she couldn’t endure it any longer.

This book was exactly what I expected: a heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching story of women’s lives and strength. I would recommend it to nearly any grown woman. I would hesitate to recommend it to a man, however; it’s all about women. The men are either villains or side-characters, and nearly all of the conflict is emotional. I tried to describe the book to my husband, and he asked what the conflict was. “Well… this woman doesn’t get along with her mother.”

“And?”

“And that’s it so far. But it’s good.” So, men, if you’re looking for a good, solid, driven plot-line, this is not your book. But if you’re looking for character change, yes. It’s great. ♦

The Death of a Spider

I was in the bathtub the other night, when I suddenly realized I had seen a spider in the bathroom earlier that day. A really creepy spider. I cast my eyes around, trying to make sure it wasn’t, say, right behind me, or in the bathwater, or dangling above my head. I was clear.

I don’t consider myself arachnophobic. In fact, I feel much the same way about spiders as I do about sharks: if it’s nowhere near me, I’m just fine. As long as it’s not in any of the movies I’m watching. And I’m not in any water that might potentially have sharks in it. Or any smaller fish…. I might have a small phobia of fish and/or spiders. But it’s not generally a crippling fear – just a jolt and a typical found-a-spider dance.

So as I lay naked and vulnerable in the bathtub, I took comfort when I saw no big, brown house spider anywhere near me. And then something caught my eye, just under the sink, on the handle of the water valve. I saw a long, thin, delicate black leg extend like a ballerina’s and slowly creep forward, followed by another spindly leg. I couldn’t see the body, but the legs were long, and the whole operation just seemed too sneaky for my taste. I yelled for Ethan.

Ethan compassionately came to my rescue, first bringing a shoe, and then realizing that the spider had chosen a very difficult spot to reach. As Ethan pondered the best means of killing the spider, the fiend slowly crept up the pipe and hid underneath the sink. After ratcheting about a bit to get at the thing, Ethan left the bathroom and returned with a cigarette lighter and a can of cooking spray.

With a few well-aimed puffs from his improvised flamethrower, Ethan cleverly toasted the fiend. The smell of hot, burning oil filled the air. The remains of the spider flew up, then floated to the ground, still intact but delicately roasted. The bathroom smelled a little like a Chinese restaurant. Ethan puffed out his chest, proud to announce that until he grew a mustache, he had never before killed a spider with a flamethrower. Clearly, his mustache was enhancing his raw manliness.

Upon further inspection, Ethan found red markings on the spider’s front and back. This was no ordinary spider. This was a black widow – a deadly spider! Ethan’s chest swelled yet again. He had saved his naked, helpless wife from a venomous fate by rushing to the rescue and torching the beast! And all thanks to his new mustache.

He burned the body outside as a warning to the rest of its kind. Then he came back inside to groom his ‘stache. Happy Movember, everyone. ♦

Motivation Has a New Name: Eggo

Last night, I was craving tater tots so much I would have killed a potato to get them…. if I thought I had a clue how to make them. Instead, I went to Wal-Mart late last night and wandered the frozen breakfast foods, debating whether it was a wise decision to buy the 5-pound bag. It was cheaper per ounce, after all. And I was so sure I could eat that many. Maybe at one go.

Instead, I made a responsible, adult decision. I decided to spend the extra 3-pounds-of-tater-tots money on a box of Eggo waffles and some breakfast sausages. Just look at those waffles, said my brain. They need a warm, welcoming home.

This morning, my husband and I woke up at 6 and started getting ready for the day. I poured him some cereal, then realized the Wal-Mart waffle box was in the laundry room freezer. I thought for a moment, considering the options. I could stay inside, warm and snug, or I could brave the cold to get to the laundry room next door.

Some things are worth the cold. I put on some pants and a hoodie, braced myself, and ran out the door.* I shivered my way to the freezer, shivered in front of the freezer, shivered my way back. But I had waffles! Beautiful, golden, toastable waffles! Oh, the joy. They were delicious. ♦

*When I say “run,” I actually mean that I meant to run. And then my body said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but you’ve got a growing baby in here and very little energy. No.” So substitute “run” here with “shuffled slowly while pumping my arms.”

Your Seven-Year-Old is a Racist, But Iggy Azalea is Hilarious

It’s the day after Halloween, and all the world wants to know is: who did my favorite celebrities dress as?

Okay, maybe not, but that’s what the media’s obsessed with, anyway. So one of the current trending stories is Iggy Azalea’s costume. In response to a derogatory tweet by Snoop Dogg, who claimed she looked like a character from the movie White Chicks, she decided to go ahead and use it as her costume. And if I may say so, she did a pretty dang good job. The internet is eating it up – it’s a hilarious response to Snoop’s “bullying” comments.

white chicks

But compare that reaction with posts like this:

3 Ways You Can Promote Inclusiveness This Halloween

Flowchart: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Everyday Feminism: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think we should be offensive. But I also don’t think we should be hyper-sensitive – and I feel like a lot of these claims of “racism” simply aren’t. I don’t think a Lil’ Wayne hat is just as racist as black-face (as the third article claims). Because you’re not making fun of Black people. You’re making fun of Lil’ Wayne. I also think it would be more offensive to show up trick-or-treating in authentic, ceremonial Native American dress than in a fake Indian costume. Because it’s a costume, and it’s supposed to be fake and silly. If you’re dressing up in something authentic and sacred, wouldn’t that be more of a mockery?

I’m a Mormon. If you showed up on my doorstep dressed in ceremonial temple clothing, I would ask you to change. But if you showed up with a fake beard and your five sisters, dressed as Brigham Young and five of his polygamous wives, I would laugh my head off. It’s a silly holiday.

As a White woman, I know I have no right to decide what is and is not racist when it comes to other cultures. But I feel like the message being sent here is, “Don’t make fun of anyone – except White people. They deserve it. They don’t have a real culture, anyways.” I mean, if my neighbor’s seven-year-old dresses as a geisha, people might get the wrong idea about Japanese people. But when Iggy Azalea dresses as a Black man dressed as a White woman, it’s hilarious. If my Navajo friends come to my doorstep dressed as a “Basic White Girl,” with leggings, Uggs, and a pumpkin-spice latte, everybody’s gonna laugh their heads off. But if I dress like a “Basic Black Girl” or put on an inauthentic, generic “American Indian” costume, people are gonna tell me to go home and change.

I don’t think I’m hyper-sensitive. (I think Iggy’s costume is brilliant, for the record.) I guess I’m just tired of my race being considered the perpetrator of every “hate crime.” I’m tired of being the butt of every joke because nobody dares joke about anyone else. And I’m not pretending “White privilege” doesn’t exist – but so does White pain. We’re people, too. I’m just looking for some consistency: if the media wants to be culturally sensitive, they should be sensitive to all cultures. If they’re going to lighten up and take a joke, they should be willing to do that across the board. ♦

In Which We Accidentally Prove My Father Right

Over the summer, while I was going through the wonders and delights of my first trimester, the temperature shot up to the high 90′s and low 100′s. Our apartment does not have air conditioning. My dad, concerned, asked what we were going to do about it. “Set up a fan,” we said. “Sleep in our underwear, and spray cold water on ourselves before bed.”

“What about moving?”

“Not in the budget,” we said.

I lay on the couch fighting morning sickness while Dad relayed information to Mom. “They’re probably going to rent month-to-month until they can find another apartment with air conditioning.” That’s not what I said at all, I thought. What I said probably just came out as moaning. It’s hard to win an argument while you’re trying not to throw up.

So we set up a fan and slept in our underwear and soaked our clothes and managed to survive the summer. It was hot, but we did it. And now it’s cooling down, and we’re very happy about it, and we’re looking around, saying, “Hmm. We need to make room for a baby.”

A few days ago, some friends told us they were selling their contract for a two-bedroom apartment. Hmm. Two bedrooms would be nice. We went to take a look at it. This is much bigger than our current apartment, we thought. This would be nice. We took a look at our budget. We can afford this. And, since our landlord still hasn’t gotten around to writing out a year-long contract for us, we’ve been renting month-to-month. Almost in spite of our best efforts, we have proven my father’s words correct.

But hey – we’re moving! As of next month, we’ll be living about a mile east, and with significantly more space. Hooray! ♦

Book Duel: To Kill a Mockingbird

to kill a mockingbird

This is quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Ever. It’s definitely topping the charts for this year (sorry, Old Testament), and I can’t think of a more wholesome, refreshing, honest look at life. It’s simply fantastic.

Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is the story of a 9-year-old learning some harsh truths about the society she lives in. Scout lives in southern Alabama, during the Great Depression. Her new schoolteacher won’t let her read, because she’s not supposed to learn that until 3rd grade. Her classmates often go hungry. Her father is appointed defense attorney to a Black man accused of raping a White woman, a crime that can carry the death penalty, and Scout’s neighbor Boo Radley is rumored to be a madman who haunts the streets at night. Scout encounters all these with a childish candor that blasts through the layers of complication grown-ups add to everything. To Scout, there’s just one kind of folks: folks.

This is not only a beautiful depiction of childhood, it’s also a beautiful depiction of the fight for humanity. Scout’s father Atticus Finch spends much of the book defending Tom Robinson, a Black man, even though he knows the White jury will convict Tom. Atticus already knows the cause is lost, but does everything he can to change the minds of the jury, considering it at least a “baby-step” when a juryman considers acquitting. Atticus is one of the only people in the state, it seems, who considers all human beings worthy of respect. He doesn’t allow his children to disrespect anyone, or to grow up with prejudice – but he also doesn’t become bitter in the face of opposition. He allows that everyone has their faults, and gives everyone – Black, White, learned, or ignorant – the benefit of the doubt.

I would recommend this book to anyone mature enough to understand what rape is, and to recognize that there are racial slurs in the book for the purpose of pointing out their ignorance. The writing is beautiful and hits home, making decent human behavior look like the obvious course of action. ♦

Book Duel: The Old Testament

old_testament_law

Woof. The Bible is not easy reading. I don’t even remember when I started in Genesis – but I just finished the Old Testament, and I’m super proud of myself, and of course I’m counting it for this year’s book count.

Now, how does one go about summing up the entire Old Testament? It’s complicated. And not just “1200 pages” complicated (although it is). It’s that the book is actually a collection of much smaller books, written by various different prophets and historians, and many of them out of chronological order. So the best I can hope to do here is to find some kind of running theme.

old testament organization

My dad knew someone who had read the whole Bible, looking for a thesis to the whole work. I think her conclusion was that the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was supposed to be answered, “Yes, you are – or at least, you’re supposed to be.” (In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland: “…although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother…”)

Anyways. I’m not going to spend an eternity here dissecting individual books of the OT – but I would say the most prominent (and relevant) theme I found to connect to my own life was the question, “Do you want a God or not?” Most of the prophets who contribute to this work ask, in one way or another, why the children of Israel keep contradicting themselves. When the Israelites aren’t following God’s commandments, they tell the prophets to leave them alone and find other “gods” who will condone the lifestyle they want. But when the Israelites are in trouble, suddenly they want a God of vengeance and justice, and they get mad that God isn’t being consistent. And the prophet’s like, “Well, do you want God to follow His own rules or not?”

Basically, everybody wants God to take their side – but they don’t want to have to take God’s side. They want a God who will back them up, no matter what they decide to do, with no demands in return. So… they just want to be God.

I thought this pretty accurately described our society today. I’m not saying it describes everybody – but let’s face it: most people just want to be accepted for who they are. Even if who they are is a total jerk. And while I think we should certainly be accepting of people, that doesn’t mean everybody  has the right to be a total jerk. It doesn’t mean everybody’s doing the right thing, just because they say they are. And it doesn’t mean we have to be okay with every decision people make. On the flip side of that, we should take a good, hard look at the way we’re living our own lives. Are we mad when the cops pull us over for speeding? And if we are, do we have any right to get mad at the other drivers on the road when they ignore the law? Basically, I feel like the Old Testament draws a connection: if you want protection, you have to follow the rules. If you want God to defend you, you have to pattern your life the way He asks. ♦