Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ejmiatsin, Armenia

Phin and I visited Vagharshapat, Armenia, about 18 km away from Yerevan. There was supposedly a marshrutka or bus that went there, but we couldn't find it and ended up taking an absurdly cheap old Lada taxi out there with a friendly taxi driver for about $2.50. The driver on the way back was less friendly and despite us agreeing on a fixed price before leaving, he tried to get more money out of us than agreed upon when dropping us off. Which we didn't go for.

The city was known officially during Soviet times, and unofficially still, as Ejmiatsin or Echmiadzin, after the name of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the central cathedral of the Mother See (spiritual and administrative headquarters) of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

I read that the original cathedral was built in the years 301-303 by St. Gregory the Illuminator, and the current one dates to 480, with a stone dome added in 618. The cathedral had scaffolding up when we visited. We went inside briefly, and continued to listen to the beautiful music during a church service from outside. It echoed around the courtyard and was my favorite part of the visit.

Here is someone else's photo when it wasn't under construction, from Wikipedia:

I wish we would have read more about it before we visited because there was very little information or guidance there on site for visitors. Even the bookstore didn't have simple tourist maps that we could find. We did meet a monk who had lived in the United States for a couple of years and was very friendly and gave us some pointers. And there's plenty to read on the Armeniapedia Echmiadzin Cathedral Compound article and the articles I linked at the beginning of this post.

Here are photos from our walk around the compound grounds:

This was someone's amazing house in town:

This is St. Gayane Monastery, built in 630:

As we often saw in Armenia and Georgia, people had grapes growing in front of their houses above the sidewalk:

This was a school, I think:

St. Shoghakat temple or church was built in 1694, on the remains of a 6th-century church. It had very nice grounds.

Phin loved these rain gutter drains with dragon mouths cut into them:

Watch out for the lion eating the snake:

This is St. Hripsimé Church, built in 618 and said not to have changed much since then. It was one of the nicest churches in Ejmiatsin for us to explore as visitors.

This is my last post about our trip to the Caucasus. It was very interesting and I would like to visit again, to see more of Georgia outside of Tbilisi (and in it), and more of Armenia as well.

A few days ago I read an article about "son preference" in the Caucasus, a euphemism for heightened sex-selective female abortion. I had heard of this problem in India and China, but it has apparently taken even stronger root in all three Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan despite their strong religious backgrounds in Christianity and Islam. It was very depressing for me to read. I don't understand it. Aside from the missing girls who could have been born to become women and rear families of their own to bolster these countries' population, it brings the additional curse on the surviving children of a gender imbalance that will cause trouble in marriages and has historically caused more wars.

Every place and every time has its burdens.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House Rules: Video Games and Music

Home Schooling Dream vs. Reality

Our initial home schooling dream had the kids studying Latin and Greek, speaking German fluently, finished with Calculus and starting college courses by the time they were 14, and running their own successful business selling artisan cheese made from the milk of our goat herd. Also, they would never watch TV or play video games.

Then the kids were born. It turns out that, in the interest of maintaining my sanity, I’m more of a Relaxed Home Schooler. This is also why I’m a Relaxed Housekeeper. We didn’t even teach the kids German, which both Jon and I speak fluently, although I maintain that the main reason for this is not laziness but our reluctance to give up our secret language. The kids are on track to do Calculus before they start college at or near 18. We never got the goats, although we have plans to get some when we return to the US, and we did have chickens for a long time. The chickens laid eggs for us, but we didn’t sell them. We just ate them.

Also, it turned out that the kids had opinions about stuff. They wanted to watch TV, and you saw that part about me and sanity? TV allowed us to sleep in every now and then and sometimes entertained the young’uns during what I call The Witching Hour — the 1 or 2 or 3 hours before dinner when you’re tired and cranky and so are the kids.

The kids also really wanted to play video games. We didn’t even have a video game console until Zed turned 8, but they had friends who had them, of course. The pull was strong for them, which Jon and I didn’t get, because neither of us has ever been into gaming in any serious way. I told the kids that video games would rot their brains. I said the same thing about TV. I still remember Zed saying to me when he was quite young, “But Mom, video games bring me joy.” Which was a pretty good argument from an 8-year-old, I thought.

We know plenty of perfectly nice, intelligent, and respectable people, adults and kids, who play lots of video games, and there are apparently studies showing that playing video games is good for your brain. I’d like to point out that most of the studies cited in the article I just linked to were done with adults, and I think it’s likely that there’s a significant difference between adult and adolescent brain response to video games. But here’s one study, done at BYU, showing that video games are good for girls when parents play with them. Interesting and specific! And here’s a TED talk by a neuroscientist about potential benefits of playing video games.

Alas, Jon and I still feel strongly about limiting them. And just to further annoy our children, we also limit music. So here’s how we do it.

Video Games

Our most successful scheme for video games has been Video Game Day: one day of the week is set aside for, yes, video games! This includes all games that involve a screen — game consoles, computer games, tablets and phones, etc. The morning of Video Game Day, I make a long and comprehensive list of chores for the kids and they spend the morning doing them. Also yelling at each other about doing them. If it’s a school day, they do school work first, of course. Eventually, usually around lunchtime, they finish the list, and after eating and cleaning up lunch, they get free rein with the video games!

I should mention that our selection of games and consoles is not vast. At home in Idaho, we have a Nintendo 64 and a GameCube, and our kids think it is cruel and unusual punishment that we don’t have a Wii. We don’t have any handheld gaming devices like the PS3 or Game Boy. While we are in Europe, we don’t have the game consoles, so it’s just computers and tablets. In case you’re interested, computer games they’ve played recently include League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, Runescape, Minecraft, Mount and Blade, Jedi Knight II, Civilization V, Dungeon Defenders, Castle Crashers, Don’t Starve, Torchlight II, Portal and Portal 2, and Realm of the Mad God.

There are some bonus days, usually birthdays and Christmas. And we are otherwise flexible when there’s a good reason. For example, while we’re here in Europe, eight hours ahead of most friends at home, sometimes the older boys get up at 6:00 am and play networked games with their friends who are playing at 10:00 pm the night before. Now that Zed’s at BYU, Jacob and Phin can occasionally play with him, too. It’s the modern social life, innit?


Our music rules are more complicated. Mondays and Tuesdays are Expand Your Horizon Days: after 1:00 pm, everybody can listen to music that is different from the contemporary music they’d normally choose to listen to. I’d call the kids’ music “popular” music, but they would get mad at me, because their music is obscure and cool, not popular! Expand Your Horizon music can be classical or swing or choral or something Jon and I suggest from our own favorites that we think they should know, which has included Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and Sting. It also includes anything in a foreign language.

The rest of the week — weekdays after 1:00 pm and Saturdays all day — everybody can listen to whatever they want. We try to have them turn it off at about 9:00 pm, so there’s quiet before bedtime, and we try to switch between listening to music on headphones and out loud. It bothers me when everyone is puttering around with earbuds in so I have to gesture wildly or throw something at them to get their attention. (I only throw soft things.) Sundays we listen to religious music or nothing at all.

So there you have it. We welcome suggestions for Expand Your Horizon music days! Not for video games, though, as we have no trouble with that.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Prague in mid-September

Here are some interesting buildings in the area we live. This one is the (Jan) Hus House, home of the Czech Brothers' Evangelical Church (or so the front says -- I'm not sure if it's still the case or not). There's a statue of reformer Jan Hus, to the left a bible, and to the right a lamb.

This extruded artwork I found interesting:

Around the corner from us on a building is a plaque noting the birthplace of Jaroslav Hašek, author of the famous novel The Good Soldier Švejk.

A classic example of standalone panelák apartment building:

The metro bridge leading to Vyšehrad:

A fun fountain in the middle of an intersection:

The relatively new, brick Church of St. Ludmila (Kostel svaté Ludmily) which dominates Náměstí Míru, which means "peace square", but which we also like for its play to our ears on Mira's name:

An outdoor piano for anyone to play! I think we saw one of these before somewhere else in Prague when we were here in the spring.

The kids in "Mira's" metro station:

The kids and I were on a trip to go see the Prague TV tower up close. At the square of Jiřího z Poděbrad is this interesting concrete fountain and a dog enjoying the water:

And there is also the even more interesting Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord (Kostel Nejsvětějšího Srdce Páně) which to me looks vaguely like a ship. To the left in the background is the TV tower that we walked to.

Note the babies climbing up it, which are easier to see in closer photos below:

A strange statue near the base of the tower:

The cornerstone of the tower:

And now the babies at closer range. They were first added as a temporary installation in 2000, then after being removed, people missed them and they were added permanently in 2001:

Right next door is one of Prague's Jewish cemeteries (not the huge one in the Jewish quarter):

We made our way to the Prague Castle across the river, and it was a beautiful clear day to look out over the city and see the TV tower from far away:

Lots of tourists were at the castle and walking around the gardens:

We got to see the changing of the guard again:

And we took another quick tour through the Saint Wenceslas Cathedral (Katedrála svatého Václava) which had some nice color inside with the bright sunlight shining through the stained glass.

Finally, last night Erin and I got to attend an orchestra concert at the Rudolfinum, which opened in 1896 with Antonín Dvořák conducting the orchestra! Our LDS Church branch president, Martin Pilka, had two extra tickets at work and gave them to us! These are photos before the concert started, as photography wasn't allowed during the concert:

We heard the Beijing Syphony Orchestra under conductor Tan Lihua. They performed a symphonic overture "Reba Dance" by contemporary composer Fang Kejie, then Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 10 and Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 13. Part of the program is online, and I found a recording of the Reba Dance on SoundCloud. Afterward the audience was very enthusiastic and lured them back for an excessive five encores! The auditorium, seating, and acoustics were excellent, and the orchestra was very good. It's such a nice treat to be able to walk less than half an hour from our apartment to a concert at the Rudolfinum.