Easter thoughts


Picture 2

The other day I ran across the talk that I gave last year in church on Easter. I thought I’d share it here.

I’d like to begin by sharing two stories that on the surface seem to have little to do with Easter.

The first story is from the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Lehi, a prophet in Jerusalem, is instructed by the Lord to flee in to the wilderness with his family because his life is in danger. As he and his family live in the wilderness for the next many years, two of his sons turn against the Lord, and there is much turmoil within the family, to the point that they have to separate so that they don’t kill each other. Family members die (of old age) and family members are born. One of these is Lehi’s son, Jacob, who grows up to be a prophet himself.  When is older, he teaches the people, and he uses some particular wording.

“Yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” 2 Ne 9:10

The use of the word monster has always struck me, and one day I figured out why. Monster isn’t really a prophet word, it’s a child’s word. A child’s word to describe the feeling of brothers fighting, brothers you loved but were also scared of. The feeling of parents being ill and dying. Jacob was born in the wilderness. His first experiences with death and sin were very personal, in the circle of his own family. But isn’t that word accurate? When it comes to people we don’t know, we can be detached. But when it comes to our own families, when we are afraid of losing them, being separated from them forever, don’t we see death and sin as monsters?

We are all on a similar journey, far from home, and surrounded by the prospect of losing our loved ones to death or sin. As mortal beings, we are subject both to physical death, and to spiritual death, or separation from God because of sin. And as mortal beings, there is nothing we can do to free ourselves or others from those prisons. But as Jacob bore testimony, there is a way prepared for our escape, for our rescue.

“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” 2 Ne 9:10

To illustrate the hope inherent in that escape, I’d like to share the story of a different rescue.

In the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there were a great number of converts who decided to immigrate to the US to join the Saints in Utah. Once they got to the US, they had to travel across the country. Most went in covered wagons pulled by oxen.

“There were not wagons enough to carry all who were converted in England and western Europe. If they were to come, they would have to walk, pulling a small cart behind them. Hundreds did so, and traveled faster than did the ox teams. But two companies, the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies in 1856 literally walked with death. They started late, and no one knew they were coming. Their carts were not ready. A few who could afford wagons were assigned to travel with them to give assistance. They started west singing as they went. Little did they know what lay ahead of them.

They walked beside the Platte River, ever westward. Near Fort Laramie their troubles began. Snow commenced falling. Their rations were reduced. They knew they were in desperate circumstances as they slowly crept over the high plains of Wyoming. Some 200 perished in that terrible, tragic march.”

There came a point when their situation was most desperate. They were caught in the snow, with little food, and very little hope. Oxen were dying. People were dying. All they could do was pray. Their captain went for help, and when word got to the prophet Brigham Young in Salt Lake he sent help.


From an account at the time, “Just as the sun was sinking beautifully behind the distant hills, on an eminence, immediately west of our camp, several covered wagons, each drawn by four horses, were seen coming towards us. The news ran through the camp like wildfire, and all who were able to leave their beds turned out en masse to see them. A few minutes brought them sufficiently near to reve
al our faithful captain slightly in advance of the train. Shouts of joy rent the air; strong men wept until tears ran freely down their furrowed and sunburnt cheeks, and little children partook of the joy which some of them hardly understood, and fairly danced around with gladness. Restraint was set aside in the general rejoicing, and as the brethren entered [the] camp the sisters fell upon them and deluged them with kisses. The brethren were so overcome that they could not for some time utter a word. ”

Their captain was able to bring help because he knew exactly where they were, and he knew exactly how urgent their need was. Can you imagine the joy of both those being rescued and those rescuing?

Jesus taught,  John 14:6  I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Because Jesus was born of both a mortal and an immortal parent, he was able to break the bands of death and sin through the sacrifice of himself.

Being sinless, he could and did suffer for our sins in Gethsemane. He could pay the price for them, to balance the scales of justice. We know that at that time, he not only suffered for our sins, but for every pain that comes from living in a mortal world- sickness, grief, guilt, anger, disappointment and so many more. All were experienced by him (some for the first time), and their power over us broken. The weight of that agony was enough that “[The] suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.”


Hanging in unbelievable physical and mental pain upon the cross, he suffered mocking and indignities for hours before voluntarily giving up his life to return to his father. In so doing, he broke the bands of physical death for all of us.

We know this now, but I think of how his disciples must have felt following his death. How they must have held out hope to the very end that he would majestically and triumphantly free himself from where he hung, possibly smiting some of his tormentors. But he didn’t. He died, and they must have been utterly heartbroken, devastated.

One such was Mary Magdalene, who went to the Savior’s tomb on the first day of the week to care for the body of the Lord. I presume she had wept through the Sabbath, and had prepared to say her last goodbyes as she did the holy work of preparing the Savior’s body for its long rest in the tomb.


That grief must have been compounded when she discovered that his body was gone. It must have been so much that the presence of angels and their words, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen” didn’t make sense.  It wasn’t until she heard her name, being spoken by the person that she had taken to be the gardener, that she realized the glorious truth.

He was risen, as he had promised.  He was there, not a ghost, not a vision, but a perfected, flesh and bone resurrected being.  He had given up his life and he had taken it up again. I can only imagine her relief, her tears, her hope, her shouts of joy, just as the pioneers- for not only was her Savior, her friend returned to her, she and all of the rest of us had been rescued. Rescued from the permanent loss of our loved ones. Rescued from our grief, our pain, our sin, our death.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

President Ezra Taft Benson said “The pain of death is swallowed up in the peace of eternal life. Of all the events of the chronicles of humanity, none is of such consequence as this.  Whenever the cold hand of death strikes, there shines through the gloom and the darkness of that hour the triumphant figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, He, the Son of God, who by his matchless and eternal power overcame death. He is the Redeemer of the world. He gave His life for each of us. He took it up again and became the firstfruits of them that slept. He, as King of Kings, stands triumphant above all other kings. He, as the Omnipotent One, stands above all rulers. He is our comfort, our only true comfort, when the dark shroud of earthly night closes about us as the spirit departs the human form. In the hour of deepest sorrow we draw hope and peace and certitude from the words of the angel that Easter morning, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:6). We draw strength from the words of Paul, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ … all [are] made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).”

Through the events surrounding that first Easter morning, we can have hope. Hope that we will be reunited with our loved ones. Hope that we and our loved ones can repent. Hope that we can be succored in our grief, in our pain, in our illness, in our weakness. Hope that we do not have to be bound by our mistakes or misdeeds, or those of others. Hope that we can be healed, physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. Hope that when we are lost, Christ will find us, because He has been exactly where we are, and He knows our name. Hope that we can be rescued.

Books I read this week: April weeks 1-2

I haven’t been posting because I haven’t been finishing a lot of books recently. I’m still in the middle of long books, and I’ve started and put down a number of other books because they just didn’t fit my mood. But I have managed to finish a few in the last couple weeks.


Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami has one of the most subtly creepy covers ever, which is fitting, because the book is insidiously unsettling.  Noriko is a young Japanese woman who has recently married into the perfect family. Though she’s not sure about living with the entire extended Shito family, and though they didn’t reveal that some of the family members may have deeper needs than were originally indicated (Grandfather is mute and bedridden, the brother is mentally challenged), the whole family welcomes Noriko with open arms and calls her their treasure. But when the home they are renting out to a poor family burns down in a propane explosion and Noriko overhears discussions about the family’s part in the explosion, she begins to suspect something more sinister is under the surface.  Reviews compare the book with Rosemary’s Baby and Rebecca, and I can definitely see the connection- a young woman struggles to sort out if what she is experiencing is just the normal adapting that everyone must do to a new life, or whether there is something more going on. Spoiler- there is something more going on, and the process of breaking down Noriko’s resolve, self confidence, and trust in her own instincts is fascinating and horrible to watch. This is classified as a horror book, and while the secret at the core of the book isn’t necessarily horrifying in the manner you’d expect, Noriko’s transformation into “one of us” is definitely disturbing.

The FabYOUList: List It, Live It, Love Your Life by Susan Campbell Cross is basically a bucket list story, without the spectre of death hanging over it. Cross is turning 40, and decides to make a list of 40 things that she wishes that she’d done before that point. Then she sets out to do them before her birthday. The strength in the book comes from her analyzing why certain goals are appealing to her, or how they help her work through lifelong fears or issues. Some of her experiences are life changing. Others, like “ride my bike again” are disappointing as a reader, as she has an attainable image in her mind of her family riding bikes together, and then tries for one day to ride her bike and decides that it’s just not for her because it makes her bum hurt and isn’t comfortable. You leave some of those thinking- if you’d just stuck it out a little longer! But it’s her list and her life.  The book itself was an enjoyable little read. It wasn’t life changing for me because the concept isn’t a new one to me- I make lists each year of things I want to do, mundane and crazy alike. But it was nice to read someone else’s take on it.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch was a bookstore buy- I totally judged this book by it’s cover, and I am an excellent judge. (EDIT- apparently the US version is called Midnight Riot and is available at that link. I think I have the British version.) Peter Grant is a probationary constable for the London Metropolitan Police until one night when, during a routine watch over a brutal crime scene, he interviews a witness who just happens to be a ghost. And in that moment, the reality of London cracks open. He is assigned to work with Inspector Nightingale in a department of two, where he learns that there’s a whole other world in London- Mother Thames and Father Thames are real, feuding beings, river nymphs and vampires and spirits and magic are real- and the balance between the two worlds is slipping. Something is taking over the bodies of perfectly rational people and turning them into rage filled killers, and he’s going to have to figure out what it is and how to stop it, while also keeping up with his magic lessons.

It’s urban fantasy but subtly done, and masculine in tone. Peter becomes an apprentice wizard but is always trying to understand the science behind the magic. He’s desperately attracted to his hard working, beautiful co-worker and to the lovely river nymph he meets during his investigations, but there’s no “romance novel” feel like there is in some fantasy series. There are no sparkles or  fairy dust- Peter would be played by Martin Freeman rather than Tom Hiddleston,  and Inspector Nightingale would be played by Christopher Eccleston instead of David Tennant, if that makes sense. (And now I really want to watch that show.)

The book is firmly localized in London, the geography and history and culture of the city playing an integral part in the story. Like American Gods and The Secret History of Moscow, it plays with how gods of cities (or countries) manifest in modern day life. This is the first of a series, and I’m excited to read the rest of them. PSA: There is some cursing, but it’s not gratuitous.

I also read a novel written by a friend, which I will only mention here to keep my count consistent, but since it’s still being worked on that’s all I’ll say.

What are you reading right now?

Lots of pictures of sakura, and even a couple of me

Here’s more cherry blossom pictures from this week. We went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden again and it was absolutely magical. That white stuff on the ground is cherry blossom petals, and when the wind kicked up, it “snowed” petals everywhere.









This whole situation just made me laugh. There were a few couples taking turns taking pictures of each other, the couple in the middle is getting ready to throw petals for the picture.









This is when it just got completely ridiculous.














This guy is seizing the day.






And we end with a ninja ballerina.



The other day, as we were talking about China during history, Z said, ” I want to visit China. I wonder if it’s like what I think it’s like. Japan wasn’t like I thought it was like.” I have to agree with her. In some respects, Japan is exactly what I thought it would be. Other times it catches me by surprise.  Having lived in Santa Clara, where there are cherry blossoms, I thought I knew what cherry blossoms were all about. I love them, and I was excited to see real Japanese cherry blossoms, but I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for.

I was wrong.

Like so many things here, they are so much more than I ever imagined. These are taken over 3 different days.

You don’t have to, but I suggest listening to this while you look.



Hanami, or cherry blossom watching, is a big deal. This was on a weekday during the middle of the day.





















Tiny’s trying to catch falling petals.IMG_1823



As I took this picture, Zoe was yelling, “I’m flying in the cherry blossoms! I’m going to remember this forever!”






And some non cherry blossoms:











Books I read this week: March week 4

I just realized that I didn’t do a post for week 3, because I didn’t finish anything that week. Oops. I was reading Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay over the week, but didn’t finish it, as it’s infinity pages long. I’m still working on it.

This week I reread The Translator by Nina Schuyler for book club. It’s a really breathtaking book, and I enjoyed it just as much this time through. It’s the story of a multi-lingual woman, Hanne,  who suffers a brain injury and loses her ability to speak all of her languages except Japanese. She can still understand the other languages, and write in them, but not speak them. (This is an actual thing that happens to people.) She decides to travel to Japan for a conference where she will be able to meet the author of the novel she has just finished translating. While there, he accuses her of ruining his book – a claim which devastates her, because she felt a great kinship with the main character. She goes on a quest to find the man the character was based on, and runs smack into her assumptions, her worldview, and how she has injured not only the author, but people in her life by her “mistranslations”.

This time around I was more interested in the issue of translation of languages, of trying to express something from on language in the words of another, and of the translator’s interpretation necessarily creeping into the translation.  I also was acutely aware of the parenting issues that arise — tying this book in with the Child Whisperer book I read earlier in the month, I kept wanting to show the book to Hanne as she mishandled situation after situation. Her daughter is similar to some people in my life, and I actually found myself thinking of her yesterday and dealing with a situation in a different way as a result.

A powerful passage:

What happens, then, when the soul is assigned its purpose, but is neglected? Forgotten? Or worse, thwarted? When someone or something comes along and tells the soul that its reason for being here is not wanted?

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente is a collection of bits and pieces by the divine Ms. Valente. Some of the pieces in here I already have, but I’m willing to have them again for new stuff. Like Valente’s other work, these are stories and poems that turn fairy and folk tales slightly askew so that they can be seen at a different angle. There’s science fiction and witch stories and coyote legends set in midwestern high schools and even 25 facts about Santa Claus.

The list isn’t about naughty and nice. If you think about it, coal is a very useful present. Santa Claus isn’t a monster. You can burn that coal and stay warm in the winter. Just because it is black and grimy and it isn’t a fantastical electronic intelligent machine with a kung-fu grip and a pre-installed game suite doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful and warm and formed over millennia in the heart of the earth and very occasionally the difference between life and death. The list is about whether or not you need to figure out the lesson of the coal.

I really can’t speak highly enough of Valente. She writes the way I wish I could write, about things I love. This collection is a great one.

Yoko Tawada’s Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation is an interesting book. The original book, Portrait of a Tongue, was written by a Japanese woman who lives in Germany and writes in German, for a German audience. German is her second language, acquired as an adult, which puts her in the “exophonic” school of writing. (Book introductions are educational things!)  The story is a stream of consciousness auto-biographical pondering of the author’s meeting of P, a German woman living in the US, whose German has been influenced by English. This book is a translation of that story into English, with the addition of the translator’s thought process during translating.

So you’ve got thoughts about English influencing the speaking of German, Japanese influencing the writing and understanding of German,   and the understanding of German and non-understanding of Japanese influencing the translation of Japanese influenced German into English. It sounds mind boggling, and it kind of is. I finished reading and kind of sat there wondering what I had just read. But it set my brain on fire, so that’s a positive.

A lot of the themes here tie into those in The Translator, issues of how the nuances of a single word (or differences in its meaning to the reader or translator) can make a huge difference in meaning.

“You divide up a piece of cake between you and your siblings, you don’t do it voluntarily, you divide it up with a sharp knife. If it isn;t divided equally, there’ll be an argument.” Would this sound different if I used the word “share” to translate teilen instead of “divide”?

This is another translation conundrum. The narrator literally says, “If you speak hotly, you quickly get dry lips/your lips soon dry out.” Heifs sprechen [to speak hotly] is not an idiomatic expression in German. J says there is an idiomatic expression like this in Japanese, and it means, “to speak passionately”.

This idea is fascinating to me- of taking a phrase or idea from one language and trying to make it exist in another.

There are also themes that tie into a story from The Bread We Eat In Dreams called Auromas, a futuristic story where the population lives in a cloud city and language is strictly controlled. A passage from it:

But I find I cannot say the word altimeter. I cannot say smoke. I cannot even say my father’s name. In the cypher I can indicate them, spell them intricately, in the diameters of my angstroms. I still know those words, and what they speak of. But I cannot make myself say them. I know that those sad mechanical faces handing on my father’s wall like game-trophies are called liars now. Smoke is gas. My father should be referred to only as redacted.

Meat is memory. Tiger is sin.

I wrote just before of tigers. Of concentrations. But only after that night with Pyotr Duda and the roast gannet stuffed with plums did we start calling them tigers. They were something else before. That dark red and black wildness, that sleekness, the teeth. Something else. Not Tigers. But the words is gone. Scooped away as cleaning as a mother. Everyone I knew started calling them tigers at the same time. The cafes were suddenly full of feline phrasing.

And from Portrait of a Tongue:

I and M, Prague ’68ers who fled to Germany after the Russian invasion, are examples of asylum seekers turned immigrants. In conversation with their adult son on a trip to Prague, they talked about how their Czech is very different from the Czech in spoken in Prague today. They suspect that this divergence did not come about through a gradual linguistic evolution but is the result of an overt attempt by the authorities to erase traces of the Prague Spring from everyday life by replacing the old radio and television voices with new ones in the early 1970s. M and I’s Czech was not subject to the purge, residing as it did in Germany at the time.

So that’s 3 this week for a total of 11 this month. (And 3407 pages, for anyone who cares.)  I did buy an alarming number of books this month, now that I look at it. A number of those are excused because they were birthday presents, and some were legitimately loopholed, but that loophole may have stretched a little far. I need to pull that back in April.

What are you reading?

Total random thoughts

Because sometimes you just have to empty out your brain.

I can’t stand the words “feels”. As in “That made me feel all the feels.” Or, “This got me right in the feels.” Can’t stand it.

I hate the rumba. (Not to be confused with the roomba. I think that little robot guy’s pretty awesome.) No, the rumba. It’s horrible and I hate it so much. I hate it more than anyone should legitimately hate a dance, and yet I do, legitimately, hate it that much.


The Japanese words for hospital and salon are ridiculously close to each other. (Byoin and biyoin.)  I can see the difference, and I can sometimes hear the difference, but I can not, apparently, speak the difference. (This came up in Japanese lesson, not in real life, thankfully.)

I try really hard not to judge other parents, because I know that everyone is dealing with their own situations that I most likely know very little about.  But every now and then, I see someone making a parenting decision that seems totally crazy to me. And then I wonder what parenting decisions I make that other people think are totally crazy.

I don’t understand people who don’t read. I mean, I understand it logistically, I just don’t get it.  Like those infographs that talk about whatever percent of the population hasn’t read a book since high school. How does someone do that? If there are books around you, and you know how to read, how do you not read a book?

Did you know that the phrase “ask out” as in, to ask someone out socially, came into being in the 1880s? It’s true.

Speaking of words coming into being, there’s a post somewhere on the internet (I saw it on pinterest) that is something like “the top 10 quotes attributed to Shakespeare that he didn’t write”. And not one single one of them sounds the least bit like anything Shakespeare ever wrote. They’re not even remotely close to sounding right. (And no, it’s not a joke post.) Why don’t people fact check things? For example, there was another thing that someone posted about how their life was a lie because they just found out that Mickey from Season 1 new Doctor Who and Martha Jones from later season Doctor Who are married in real life. And their proof was a picture of the two of them with a kid. They’re not married in real life! Mickey’s married to a woman named Iris. Two seconds it took me to fact check that. Two. The moral is, don’t believe stuff you read on the internet. Except that thing about “ask out”. Because that’s totally true.


Here’s the picture. Not married.

I wish that I was remotely interested in watching The Good Wife, because it has a great cast- including Alan Cumming, who I love in inverse proportion to my hatred of the rumba. I just have absolutely no interest in it at all.

I feel bad for Gwyneth Paltrow right now. She’s in a tough position. I roll my eyes at her GOOP-iness, but she’s living her life and her truth and whatever !Oprah. (That’s my new fill in for the words of wisdom Oprah would drop in there.)  I assume she’s trying to live the best way she knows how, no matter how insane or privileged that way looks to the rest of humanity. And I understand that people judge her and say that she deserves it since she’s put herself out there to be judged. But the woman is going through what I assume is a hard life situation (no matter how famous a person is, they’re still human, and no matter the underlying reason, your family breaking apart has to be difficult. I assume she is not completely cold hearted and horrible.) and people are joyous about it. They’re gleeful.  I hope she’s not aware of it. I hope she’s able to figure things out and get things settled without also having to deal with the knowledge that there are a whole bunch of people who are delighted that her marriage has fallen apart. Not because they thought it was a bad marriage, or dysfunctional or damaging, but because they think she’s uppity and snobby and deserves to suffer.

ANYWAY. That got a little ranty. I apologize.

My sister is a very sensitive soul, and cries easily. Because of this, we have a term for certain movies that have obvious “wallow in the ugly cry” kind of storylines. They’re “Anti-Liz” movies. Well Karen Gillian is in a new movie coming up, which I was really excited about until I saw what it’s about and now I’m running like Amy and the Doctor (see what I did there?) because it seriously looks like the ultimate “Anti-Maryanne” movie. Her brother is in jail for killing their parents, but she and he know that they were really killed by an evil entity that lives in an antique mirror in their house. And then they have to confront and get rid of said entity and mirror. I can think of very few movies that would terrify me more. I was uncomfortable just reading the description of the movie. So now you know, if you ever need to get information out of me, just use that movie. I’ll be handing over the secret files in seconds.


Out of all the websites in the world, I think I would be most devastated if imdb ceased to exist. I use it daily. Today I figured out that I recognized Gary Cole from both Suits and Talledega Nights. This is important to know.

I am ankle deep in editing a novel and I am drowning in plot holes and anachronisms. NaNoWriMo is a wonder for getting a story out of a person, but making that story comprehensible is another thing entirely. Did you know that most people don’t just show up for a chat at 2 am? Or that women weren’t admitted to Princeton until the 60′s, which makes one going there in 1917 very improbable? Or, and this one was my favorite, my utter “duh” moment, when I IMed a friend for advice because I was totally stuck:

I need your alcohol expertise, darling. What would bright young flappers have drunk? Something lighter and more girly than gin, preferably.
Um. Duh. Champagne. 
I need to rewatch Doctor Who, I think. I just went fishing around to find that picture above, and found such lovely things.
It’s lunchtime, so I must go make lunch. Funny thing about that. I also told the girls I’d make some cookies today, so I suppose that’s also on the docket. Then we’re making constellations by punching holes in cardboard.  Thank goodness for the internet and Amazon, they save me on a regular basis since we don’t have a library.  I miss the library. Go use your library this week, for me.

Spring is here!

Yesterday we went to Yoyogi Koen to meet up with friends, and it was the most beautiful day. It’s like Tokyo decided (like the rest of us) that it was tired of being cold and decided to be warm, RIGHT NOW. Sunny, warm, gorgeous. The girls and their friends rode bikes, climbed trees, kicked soccer balls around, and generally had a great time.  The flowers are starting to bloom, and they are stunning.









A blast from the past

I was going to post pictures of the flowers I saw yesterday- spring is blooming and it’s beautiful. But as I was going through the pictures to post, I ran across these, and decided to post them instead. It’s crazy how their faces are the same even as they’ve grown, and crazier that they were ever so itty bitty!




Zoe 12-26-2008 6-45-43 PM






Zoe’s hair used to be so light! It took me a few minutes to figure out if this was Z or Tiny. (They’ve both worn the costume.)

Zoe 10-31-2007 4-28-48 PM





Flower pictures tomorrow.


Books I read this week: March week 2

It looks like I read almost nothing this week, but I’ve just been very dilettantish about my reading. After I finished the only book I actually finished this week, I bounced around through about 5 others, finishing none of them. Ah well, it happens.

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia is the book I finished. As the title would suggest, it’s set in Moscow. A young schizophrenic woman is caught quite by surprise when her younger sister turns into a bird moments after giving birth and flies out the window. As she searches for her sister, her path crosses that of a detective who is investigating other missing persons, as well as that of a painter who can also see the flocks of mysterious birds that have begun appearing around the city. The painter is the one who leads them to an underground Moscow- literally under the ground, and figuratively, as the residents were all only able to reach the city by needing desperately to escape situations above ground.  The city is also occupied by other types of refugees- fairy tale and folklore creatures who have been run out of public belief through the modernization of Russia.

There are similarities in theme with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which is one of my favorite books and which does an incredible job of examining belief and what we worship. It also does an incredible job of capturing the spirit of America, the intersection of “old gods” that immigrants brought from their own countries that stay the same or transform to adapt to a new locale and culture and the “American gods” that tie into the American dream and the unique elements of the American culture.

The Secret History of Moscow taps into some of these ideas, and when it does, it does it well. The story that is there is great, I really enjoyed it. I only wished that there was more. American Gods is definitely bigger in scope- some of the biggest gods are smack in the center of the action, which makes the action big. The Secret History of Moscow is a smaller story. The gods are smaller gods – not because there aren’t big gods in Russia, but because all of the big gods are gone by the time of this story, which is a shame. (In reality, I suppose, as much as in this book.) The book could have benefited by being longer; I don’t know a ton about Russian folktales/mythology, and I’m guessing a lot of other people don’t either. The moments where the story digressed to delve into a character’s history were really well done, and there could have been more of them. The premise that the author creates is fascinating, and I would have loved to see it reach farther. But what is there is excellent, and I highly enjoyed it. I can’t really blame it for not being the book I wanted, when what it is is perfectly good.

As I said, I’ve been bouncing around from book to book since then. The only one I’ve been consistently reading is Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I also broke my resolution for this book, but it’s for research purposes, so I’m loopholing it. It’s also more than 800 pages, so I’ll be at it a while.  Her poetry is amazing- I don’t run to poetry as a rule, but I really like hers. Here’s a snippet if you’ve never read any of hers:

Few indeed! When I can make

Of ten small words a rope to hang the world!

“I had you and I have you now no more.”

There, there it dangles,- where’s the little truth

That can for long keep footing under that

When its slack syllables tighten to a thought?

Here, let me write it doen! I wish to see

Just how a thing like that will look on paper!

“I had you and have you now no more.”

O little words, how can you run so straight

Across the page, beneath the weight you bear?

That’s from the middle of a much longer poem called Interim.  She has another, titled The Suicide, that is just gutting.

Up next is a reread of The Translator by Nina Schuyler for book club. I’m excited to read it again, it was one of my favorite books of last year.

What are you reading?

Pictures from Shimo Kitazawa

Today we explored Shimo Kitazawa, a little area a bit northwest ( I think?) of Shibuya, where Bruce works.  It’s an awesome neighborhood, filled with little stores and restaurants. The girls got tired of exploring before B and I did, so we’ll have to go back again at another time. Here are some of the things we found.

For those who like New Order:


For those who like comics:


For those who aren’t terrified of life sized, bunny headed manikins. (Tiny calls them bunnykins.)


For those of you wondering if the youth of Japan ever dress like Russians.


A cute little lunch place.


A tiny shrine in front of a restaurant.


I’m strongly tempted to get my hair done the dark blue in that second photo on the top…


A little taste of Santa Cruz in Tokyo.


I do not think that word means what you think it means. This is a clothes store.


The Doctor could shop here.


Cute girl dressed up to go shopping.


Two crazy girls.


This hair salon is called Dude. That makes me happy. 


This hair salon has Spider-man in front of it. And naked babies. I don’t know why. But it also makes me happy.


And this one has a welcoming alien.


I am completely enraptured with this shrine, and it’s because that altar is crooked.  The imperfection is perfection.





This huge tengu mask was inside a building on the same lot as the shrine.  (I took the picture through a window, hence the reflection.) We think it’s a mikoshi, or moveable shrine, that is paraded through the streets during festivals, but we’re not sure. Either way, it’s awesome.


This is possibly my favorite piece of Tokyo graffiti, and I will probably use it as the cover for the book about our experience in Japan that I eventually write.


Although this one is pretty awesome too.