Thursday, December 27, 2007

In the Genes

Roger just sent me a link to this bit about my Grammie buried somewhere in the Mt. Holyoke College website as proof of genetic heritage. I love all of the same little joys in life that she did!

I have often thought through the years about what I've inherited from both of my grandmothers. I definitely inherited wanderlust from my Grandma Jan, but I also inherited my Grammie's propensity for sleeping in (another little joy). The two don't always work so well together!

I was so pleased that our travels earlier this month allowed me to show Jack the campuses of Amherst College (Dad's alma mater) and Mt. Holyoke College (both Grammie's and Mom's alma mater). Mom and Dad met in college at a fraternity party where they were matched up according to height. Mom was the tallest girl and Dad's roommate was the tallest guy, but he didn't want to be matched up with the tallest girl so he switched dates with Dad.

The result? My unique combination of genes. And my genes have been especially loving that toast and jam lately.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Obi-Wan Joseph and the Wise Guys

Thursday night Jack and I went to our ward Christmas party at church. (Roger was attending his last MLS class of the semester. Yay!)

Usually ward Christmas parties are loud, raucous affairs with lots of joyful children running wild. Somehow the organizers pulled off an elegant, magical event. Dimmed lights, beautifully arranged buffet tables, the high school madrigal choir dressed in black tuxedos and red gowns. We even had that perfect, gentle, barely accumulating snow for the ride home.

The evening culminated in a still nativity scene with a children's choir singing The Nativity Song. The night before the boy who was planning to play the part of Joseph decided he'd be more comfortable playing a more anonymous wise man and his mom asked if Jack would play Joseph.

All we needed to prepare was a costume. Not really my strong suit. But this time I had a brain wave. He wore his burlap Obi-Wan Kenobi robe from the Halloween before last tied at the waist with a length of hand made rope. It was perfect, and Jack made a wonderful Joseph, holding a staff that he swore he would not turn into a weapon ("as long as the wise men don't say anything rude!").

Friday night we went to see Jack's good friend Rex in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Springville Playhouse. The whole production was fun and very well done. I was familiar with the story, but had never actually seen the play.

Rex did a great job playing David, one of the boys in the pageant who had to play a shepherd because his mom wouldn't let him be a wise man. When the pageant director asks why, he shrugs and says, "I don't know. She just always says 'Don't be a wise man.'"

This afternoon we're off to find a Christmas tree--the third one we'll decorate this season after helping Aunt Linda and Nana and Gramps decorate theirs in Massachusetts. And tonight we're off to a neighbor's holiday party.

I think the Christmas season is well underway.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

School Daze

For thirty years I pretty much ignored elementary schools (except as some of our best customers at the bookstore!). Then Jack started kindergarten three and a half years ago, and I've slowly but surely gotten sucked into elementary school culture. Being a helper in the classroom once a month, doing the newsletter for PTA, taking my dutiful shifts at the book fair, helping out in the library, etc.

This past week has felt like full immersion!

Last Thursday Jack and I were in Massachusetts, and we had the privilege of meeting my sister Linda's third grade class at Central Elementary School in Stoneham. Linda thought it would be fun for her students to have pen pals in the wild west. Jack's teacher agreed, they paired up the students and now they're at least two rounds of letter writing into the project.

Jack was especially looking forward to meeting his pen pal Adrianna, who was very nice and who helped us pass out the salt water taffy treats that we brought from Salt Lake City. And we bought salt water taffy treats in Boston that we'll be sharing with Jack's class here!

While we were visiting Linda's class we all sat in a circle and the kids asked Jack questions about their pen pals, about his school and about living in Utah. The very first question someone asked was "Why did Sam [name changed] spell hockey wrong in his letter to me?" Linda quickly said, "We need to ask Jack questions that he knows the answer to." Later in the car Jack said, "I knew the answer to that question, you know. It's because Sam is an idiot!" It's important to note that Jack knows better than to call people idiots. He and Sam are actually friends. Jack was kidding, but I'm sure glad he didn't say it in Linda's class!

The day after we got back from our trip, I helped out with a third grade class field trip to the planetarium in Salt Lake City. The only reason I signed up to help was because Jack wanted me to. I'm just very relieved that after three hours of wrangling kids we didn't lose any of them.

Ah, but my adventures do not end there.

Last night I got my very first call to work as a substitute librarian at one of the elementary schools in town. I signed up well over a month ago, but only to work in the libraries at the half dozen schools in our area, so I'm only expecting to get a handful of jobs over the course of the school year.

Checking books in and out and reshelving is only a tiny portion of the job. I had to teach six different classes for 45 minutes each, and do recess duty for half an hour! The regular librarian had planned a reader's theater based on the book Who Will Pull Santa's Sleigh?--just the thing to wind kids up!

Except for all of the shushing part, I actually enjoyed myself. Which is good because I need to go back tomorrow and do it all over again with six more classes.

But it's definitely not something I want to do every day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jar Cheeses

I'm here, I'm here! I've just been very busy getting ready for a trip, taking the trip (Boston, 10 days!), getting home from the trip and now catching up on everything after the trip. I promise I will write a bit about our adventures, but for now the following minor observation.

The grocery store we usually shop at has been recently renovated and now has new aisle signs indicating the type of items found in each aisle. I had no idea that "jar cheeses" was an important enough product category to be given its own billing on an aisle sign. Who knew?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Out of the Rut

Today was not an ordinary day. Nothing really exciting, but it took me to places I don't usually go and I found it all extremely pleasant. Especially because it was warm enough today to be out and about without a coat.

Jack woke up on his own this morning and got dressed before my alarm went off. That has happened maybe twice before. Maybe.

I had an appointment with one of the sixth grade classes at Jack's school to interview them for the next issue of our PTA newsletter at 9:40 (when recess was over). When I got to the school I discovered that all of the students were attending an assembly. Could I come back in half an hour?

So to kill a bit of time I took my guitar to get new strings. I bought the guitar in a small shop on Center Street in Provo--The Great Salt Lake Guitar Company--so I took it there. It's one of those small businesses that reflects the owner's passions: making guitars and making people happy by selling them guitars. (Just for the record I don't have a hand-made guitar; he sells factory-made guitars as well).

He said my guitar would be ready in an hour so I drove back to Jack's school to meet up with the sixth grade class. Perfect timing; they were just coming in from recess after the assembly. A really great group of students and a really neat teacher (I hope she's still teaching sixth grade when Jack gets there). Six of the kids in the class are working on redesigning the school website. They actually had to apply for specific "jobs" by submitting resumes and interviewing with the teacher.

After I was done with the sixth grade, I stopped by Jack's math class to give him a hug (he's still okay with that, but would have seriously protested if I'd tried to kiss him too) and then spent way too much money filling up the gas tank in our Jeep.

I had a bit of time to kill before my guitar would be ready, so I stopped by the Waldenbooks at the mall. I found both of the books I was looking for (Peter and the Starcatchers and Three Cups of Tea). I also made a very satisfying impulse buy: Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd who wrote The Secret Life of Bees. Firstlight is a collection of some of her early autobiographical spiritual writings.

Back to the guitar shop just in time, and the new strings sound fabulous. I spent half an hour talking to the owner about the best and worst parts of being a small retail shop owner. We both love developing relationships with customers and hate paying property tax on fixtures and supplies.

Then I stopped at the grocery store for some provisions and to satisfy a new craving I bought really good bread and tomatoes along with some mozzerella to make paninis.

After lunch I picked Jack up at school and took him to Representative Chris Cannon and Senator Bob Bennett's offices in Provo to do some research on a trip we're hoping to take to DC. I don't think either office was used to having constituents drop by. They were very nice to us, but mostly referred us to their website and their DC offices. Did you know that you now have to arrange a White House tour six months in advance and get a security background check? Luckily, visiting the White House is not on our priority list.

On the way home we picked Johnny and Benny up from the China Cafe, but instead of going home we went to the park. Who knows how many more coatless days we'll have?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pajama Day

Jack went off to school in his pajamas today. The school is having a big pajama party in conjunction with a read-a-thon.

What's especially funny is that Jack did not go in the pajamas he slept in. He thought it would be a bit embarrassing to wear his regular Spongebob pajamas. And he wanted to wear something clean and fresh. So he wore his black pajama bottoms that look like sweats and a comfy red long-sleeve t-shirt.

I also had to promise him that I'd take him home to change into regular clothes if we didn't see any other kids dressed in their pjs. Luckily we saw lots of kids looking like they just rolled out of bed.

Ah, he's growing up and becoming more self aware. Pretty soon it will be excrutiating for him.

I was talking to one of my friends this morning about how I read to Jack just about every night, sometimes for up to an hour. It's been such a good thing on so many levels, but I especially love the way the books we read spark discussions about really important stuff.

For now Jack is addicted to our nightly ritual. In fact, he'll step up and do just about anything (like, say, brush his teeth) if I threaten to send him to bed without reading time.

But one day he's going to grow out of it. That will be excrutiating for me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Vote!

It is with a bit of a heavy heart that I will be tuning in to my little secret pleasure tonight--Dancing with the Stars. Yes, I'll confess I was curious about why it is such a big hit, so I started watching it at the beginning of the season and am now completely sucked in.

Since I'm not a voting viewer, I can't really complain, but last week the person I thought would win it all--Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan--was voted off. I was outraged. Really outraged. You can ask Roger. But even so I probably won't become a voter. I don't want to be that caught up in it all!

But I will be voting in the "real" election tomorrow. I've done my homework on the people running for our city council, and I think I've made up my mind on the whole voucher issue. At the end of the day, I've got to base my decision on my firm belief in the value of separation of church and state. So I'm going to vote against a program that would use public money to pay for tuition at religious schools.

And regardless of the outcome, may schools across Utah--both public and private--have a moment of silence in honor of the not-so-honorable battle.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Still Undecided

I'll let the subject go after this, but I just had to laugh when I got the mail and there were two anti-voucher program mailings in the box today.

So for equal time on the issue (see yesterday's post), here are two bewildering statements from today's mailings.

Quote 1

"Should Utahns fund unaccountable voucher schools instead of improving our public schools?" This question is misleading for two reasons.

(1) Voucher schools would not be entirely unaccountable. For example, students would be required to take annual performance tests. The anti-voucher campaign could claim that they don't think voucher schools would be accountable enough, but of course that is too subjective to be persuasive.

(2) The statement sets up a false dichotomy. Funding voucher schools and improving our public schools aren't mutually exclusive, and in fact voucher advocates argue that the voucher program will actually help improve public schools. Plus, I'm guessing that if the legislature matched the voucher program funding with an equal amount of additional funding for public education, that wouldn't resolve the issue.

Quote 2

"Referendum 1 would divert $429,000,000 of our tax dollars away from public schools, according to the State's Impartial Legislative Fiscal Analyst."

My understanding (based on a conversation I had with a neighbor who is a public school counselor) is that this statement refers to the $429,000,000 that would be pulled over the coming years from the state's general fund and put into the state education budget specifically to cover the costs of the voucher program. And if Referendum 1 doesn't pass and the voucher program ceases to exist, that money will go back into the general fund.

So the statement could be technically correct if it read that "Referendum 1 would divert $429,000,000 of our tax dollars away from the state education budget." But even then it's misleading, because the only reason the money is there is to fund the voucher program. It can't be used for anything else.

The bottom line for me? I'm still undecided, but I'm also not sweating the outcome of the vote. I think both sides have very compelling--albeit mostly theoretical--arguments. It would be interesting to see if the voucher program does pass how things actually play out--no one really knows at this point, it's all conjecture.

I just wish both sides would have trusted us voters enough to put their arguments out there in a straightfoward, honest way. Instead we got a whole lot of emotional manipulation and half truths. Blech.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Truth of the Matter

Aaagh! I have been spun silly and now I officially believe that it is impossible to know the truth about anything in our society anymore. Take this article about the Jena 6, which basically reduces that whole situation to a media frenzy with little substance (and this is off my topic today, but it drives me crazy when we aren't careful about the battles we pick--it ends up being very counter-productive, working for the very things we are fighting against or vice versa.)

Anyway, today my beef is about all of the spin surrounding the school voucher program Utah voters will be voicing an opinion about on election day. Let me just preface my remarks by saying that I'm undecided about how I will vote. While I'm an avid supporter of public schools (does that make me a socialist?), implementing the program could be an interesting social and economic experiment. And using our tax dollars this way could pry open people's minds to consider, say, seemingly radical solutions for our health care crisis (yes, apparently I am a socialist).

That said, I'm going to quote from two pieces of mail I received today, both of which happen to support the voucher program. I'd quote a bewildering statement from an anti-voucher mailer too but the dozens of mailers we've received in the past few weeks have gone the way of the recyle bin.

Quote 1

"In addition to saving taxpayers thousands of dollars per child, vouchers do not take one penny from public schools. Instead funds from the voucher program comes from the state's general fund--leaving all money for public schools intact, but reducing the number of students to be educated." I'm sorry, but I don't understand how you can save all of those taxpayer dollars and increase actual spending at the same time.

The point about taking children out of public schools without reducing spending per child is well taken, but to start the sentence out with the phrase "saving taxpayers thousands of dollars" is extremely misleading. On the other hand, I do believe that the program may ultimately save taxpayer money because in my mind there is nothing to stop the Utah legislature from reducing public education outlays in the future or failing to increase education outlays as the population in our state grows.

Quote 2

In a letter from former Miss America Sharlene Wells Hawkes, she delivers one of the emotional arguments I've heard many times over these months: "Unfortunately liberal east coast unions are spending millions to ensure that parents don't keep this ability to choose."

It really gets under my skin when people use the word "liberal" to (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) imply "bad." (It also bugs me when people use the word "conservative" the same way.)

While I have issues with the role unions often play today, they have played an important role in making America a better place for many workers. And darn it! Public school teachers need and deserve to organize and advocate for frivolous things like, oh, a living wage and adequate health insurance.

And don't even get me started on the east coast bashing. Personal issues aside, whether anyone likes it or not, public school teachers all over the country have a vested interest in the outcome of Utah's vote. We're naive if we think we're living in a vaccuum.

So I wasn't even listening to her by the time I got to the last part of her sentence about a parent's ability to choose. Which is actually the main strength of the pro-voucher movement. (Do you think voucher supporters would mind if I started calling them "pro-choice"?)

I don't want to leave you all feeling as despondent as I do at the moment, so here's a tiny bit of light. For anyone reading this who will be voting on this issue here in Utah, I recently heard one seemingly rational discussion among local journalists who have been working hard to get to the truth of the matter (click here).

Jack's Fall

Jack has completed his first term in 3rd grade! His first report card of the year was fabulous--all top grades except for math, in which he got a very good (he had a 98% average on tests, but managed only to get half of his homework turned in--we're going to work on that!). I'm so proud of him because he'd rather not be in school, but he's stepping up to it.

His PE teacher gave us his scores on the Presidential Fitness test. They'll administer the test again in the spring, so we're going to work on boosting his numbers. Every night when we get in pajamas, we're both going to do situps and pushups. I think Jack will be surprised at how much he'll improve with consistent daily effort. And it won't hurt me a bit to do it alongside him!

Here are some fun fall pictures, including some with his good friend Rex. It's already snowed twice so far, but we've also had many days of spectacular autumn weather.





Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Through Amber Colored Glasses

I've misplaced my sunglasses and have been using a pair of Roger's that I found in the Jeep. The lenses give everything an orangey-pink glow. I tell you it's been fabulous driving around looking at all of the autumn leaves.

Years from now I'll be saying, "Remember how vivid the colors were in the fall of 2007?" and everyone will just stare at me like I'm nuts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Theme of the Day

Within the last 24 hours, I've read two amazingly similar ideas in two dramatically different books.

From Fahrenheit 451, written in 1950 and which I'm reading for a book club discussion later this week:

"If only they could have taken her mind along to the dry cleaner's and emptied the pockets and steamed and cleansed it and reblocked it and brought it back in the morning."

From Peter Pan and Wendy, written in 1940 and which Jack and I are reading aloud:

"It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered through the day."

I can certainly see the appeal. I've got a lot of stuff crammed into my head, and it would be fabulous if someone could go in there and organize it all for me!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

State Stats

The other day at Jack's Cub Scout Pack meeting we had an activity to get to know the leaders. One of the questions was "how many states have you been to?" I was very suprised that only one of the eleven leaders had been to more than half of the states (40), and even more surprised that only three of the leaders had been to more than 15 states. Four of the leaders had visited less than 10 states! (In their defense, however, two of them grew up in other countries--Brazil and Canada.)

Maybe it's just me, but don't these numbers seem awfully low?

I suspect part of the reason people here haven't visited that many states is that out west there just aren't that many states. And they're huge--it takes hours and hours of driving to get out of Utah!

Or maybe I'm the odd one out with a lifelong goal of visiting all 50 states.

Both Roger and I have only got one left--Hawaii. A few years ago it came down to two--North Dakota and Hawaii. So Roger and I made a point of going to North Dakota. Hawaii seems like a much more exotic place to finish up (although we did enjoy our drive through North Dakota!). And Jack has officially visited more than half of the states so far!

P.S. I just have to share a related incident that still makes me laugh when I think about it. One of our employees at the bookstore was a student at BYU and she spent a semester studying in Nauvoo, Illinois. The program was administered through the study abroad office, and so naturally the students referred to going to Nauvoo as "going on study abroad." Maybe crossing the Mississippi River counted?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It Is Done

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" (JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

After eight months, Jack and I have finished reading aloud the entire Harry Potter series. It was a rainy, gray day yesterday--the perfect weather for a marathon read of the last 120 pages in book seven. Except for a bath break, we read from 5:00 to 11:00 straight.

Whew! It was a great ride! It made me laugh and it made me cry. It made Jack pull the covers over his head whenever someone snogged.

JK Rowling gave us so many great, complex characters to think about. She gave us lots of opportunities to talk about what it means to have courage, how we can make good choices even when it's hard or scary or counterintuitive, how there are consequences for our actions, and how we can gain wisdom through reflecting on our mistakes and changing our course.

And as Jack gets older, I expect I'll bring Harry Potter up every now and then. How we need to be careful about rushing to judgment about people when we don't know the whole story. How we need to be careful about how we gain and exercise power. How we need to understand that sometimes following the rules and doing the right thing are not always the same. How loving others makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Building a Lego Wife

Friends my age have children who are getting married! It's a little crazy entering this new phase of life, but I'm enjoying learning from their experiences. One of the challenges is having no control over who these children are marrying, despite all of the planning and scheming through the years.

My friend Linda, whose daughter Shelley got married last summer, said that she never realized that she'd been imagining her idea of a perfect husband for her daughter through the years--picking and choosing traits and putting them together in a nice package. Sort of like building a Lego husband she said. Then of course, Shelley brought home a completely different boy! But it's all good.

I wonder if I'll do the same for Jack. Or if I'll be one of those moms who picks out the "perfect" girl for him when he's, say, eight.

I must say that it's very tempting to do just that with Jack's bff Gracie, who moved away from our neighborhood a couple of years ago. We arranged for them to spend the day together on Saturday, and neither of them could sleep on Friday night. I swear it felt like Christmas Eve.

I like the idea of Jack and Gracie ending up together. They have an amazing relationship. Even when they have a rare disagreement, they work through it together with a great deal of civility. They genuinely enjoy each other and they're instinctively on the same page. And the silver lining is that I like Gracie and I like her family.

Gracie's mom, Diana, and I laugh about the possibility of them getting married someday. We're not really serious about that, but we think the connection they have is pretty rare and special.

What I hope for Jack is not necessarily that he'll end up with Gracie, but that he'll end up with someone that he can connect with so well. And it won't hurt at all if I like her too.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chile

Photo by Tamara Trivino Ibar
I have been procrastinating writing my report on Chile. No reason other than that procrastination comes naturally to me.

But the time has come because the week of September 11th is nearly over. And September 11th is a pivotal date in Chile's modern history. September 11, 1973, is the day Augusto Pinochet, in a coup d'etat backed by the CIA, toppled President Salvador Allende, a socialist who was democratically elected. Pinochet established a military dictatorship and stayed in power for the next 17 years.

So maybe he wrangled Chile's economy, but at what price? Pinochet's name is virtually synonomous with human rights violations. And as I've dug, I've gotten the impression that the societal instability in Chile that apparently scared the U.S. enough to help overthrow a democratically elected leader was actually stirred up, in part, by opposition funded by the CIA.

Ah, but I do not want to make this report about how horrifying it is when U.S. foreign policy is shaped by fear, arrogance and greed.

I'd rather write about how wild it is that Chile is nearly three thousand miles north to south, but not even 300 miles across at its widest point (unless you count Easter Island, 2,000 miles west).

Or that the northern part of the country includes the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on earth.

Or that the literacy rate is higher than 95% and that Chileans call their country país de poetas, land of poets. Chile has had two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971. If I ever go to Chile, I want to visit Pablo Neruda's three homes.

Or that the Ceuca is the national dance (click here to see a video). How cool is that to have a national dance? Although I suppose if we had a national dance, it would probably be the square dance, and I had my fill of that in fifth grade p.e.

Next stop? Bali. I have made a pact with my friends Linda and Lisa. Within five years, we will have traveled to Bali together.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I'm Here, Really

I'm still here, just not apparently getting around to blogging. I keep thinking of all sorts of things to write about, but I don't sit down and do it. I'm still, for example, thinking about what I'm going to write in a report about Chile. And since I've already picked my next country to research (I'll let you all anticipate that one!), I'd better get going on my Chile report.

Lots of tennis this week, mostly watching US Open matches. The other night, though, I was all set to watch the Venus Williams match I recorded, then accidently saw the final score on the internet. So I half heartedly fast fowarded through it. I'm going to be more careful about my browsing until the tournament is over!

But I've also gone to the courts to play twice this week. We're trying to get a regular group to meet at a regular time every Tuesday morning, but I was the only one who showed up this week. There was another group of women, who are league players, at the courts and they invited me to play with them. I was intimidated at first because I have zero experience with competitive tennis, but I think I played as well as some of them!

This afternoon Jack and I made it to the courts after several days of trying (we kept forgetting to get our rackets and balls out of the car Roger was taking to work). We hit the ball back and forth (he's hitting them more consistently, and got several really good shots). Then I practiced my serve and he tried to return them. He did hit them a few times! Then one got him in the stomach. We kept playing. Then one got him in the forehead. Yikes! He may possibly get a bruise. But I don't think it was as bad as when Uncle Greg whacked him in the head with a Wii controller playing tennis doubles!

I also attended my first ever PTA meeting this week. What a slice of middle American life that was! I'm very happy that I volunteered to do the newsletter (I took my first issue to the district copy center yesterday). I can sit in the monthly meetings feeling absolutely no guilt whatsoever about not volunteering to help with the holiday parties or the fundraisers.

After the PTA meeting I ran into Jean, the school librarian I helped all last year (entering all of the books into the database). She had some thorny computer questions that I helped her out with. It felt good help out. She wants me to substitute for her when she needs a substitute. That isn't often, but it would be a fun thing to try. And a tiny bit of money would be involved, which is always nice.

Last but not least, Jack and I finally finished Harry Potter 6 and are now several chapters in to Harry Potter 7. I'm so afraid that I will hear something I don't want to know before I finish it--especially since Jack took a sneak peak at the epilogue.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Worth Reading

I just came across this blog story (click here) today that reminded me how important it is to remember that we are all connected in significant and meaningful ways.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Gender Preferences

I spent a good part of the morning sitting on the couch watching US Open tennis, including watching relative newcomer Agnieszka Radwanska beat defending champ Maria Sharapova in the third round--a big upset. I believe watching tennis at the grand slam level qualifies as a good workout (heart rate up, jumping off the couch at tense moments, etc.).

I don't usually watch sports, but I do get sucked into the elite competitions--grand slam tennis tournaments, golf majors, NBA finals, and, of course, the Olympics.

Over the years, I've discovered that I have a definite gender preference in most of the sports I watch. But my preferences vary depending on the sport.

I like watching women play tennis better. I like watching men play golf better. I like watching women gymnasts better. I like watching men dive better. I like watching women play soccer better. I like watching men play basketball better. The main exception is swimming. I am quite content watching either sex glide expertly through the water.

Is this normal?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back to School

Summer isn't officially over, but it may as well be. No more long lazy days at the reservoir. School is now back in session. Actually, it has been for over a week here, and we've been busy! Jack is adjusting fairly well, except for the occasional "Mom, I'm just not used to going to school all day and having to get homework done, too!"

Because they completely rebuilt Jack's school last year, the school district had a ribbon cutting the day before school started. We went to get photographs of the event--I've volunteered to do the PTA newsletter this year. And we had a surprise guest at the event! Here's a picture of Jack with U.S. Congressman Chris Cannon.

Not only have we been busy with school,* but we've also had houseguests (Aunt Cindy came with cousin Sarah to get her settled into her new apartment and her junior year at BYU) and a family wedding (congratulations to nephew Jordan and his bride Cali!).

*I need to qualify this statement about being busy with school. I haven't actually been busy with school, only Jack has. But I've been very busy with lots of things I put off doing because I've had Jack at home with me (this summer was the first summer I've ever been a stay-at-home mom with a husband off at work all day). So I've been busy getting together with friends, running on the canyon trail, visiting the art museum, etc. And I really ought to get busy getting the oil changed in the car, grocery shopping, etc., etc.

Monday, August 20, 2007

At the Lake

Here are just a few of the fabulous moments we had at Lake Geneva!

Heading to the pier:

Jumping in:


Yikes! It's a water bomb!

Hanging out with new friends Elise and twins Jack and Lulu:


Hanging out with cousin Sarah:

Hanging out with cousin Ben:

The need for speed:

Watching cousins Tim and Ben sailing (we also enjoyed some sailing, but don't have any pictures of us!):

Light saber battles on the raft:


Cousin Oliver on a wave runner (his first solo adventure!):

Cousin Jean and the kids:

Noodling around:

First catch (and we're afraid this fish and the next both met tragedy, which pretty much put an end to our fishing adventure):

Feeding time:

Hanging out with Elise:

Squeezing as much swimming into the day as possible:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

There and Back

On Friday July 20th Jack and I left at 1:00 p.m. and headed east through Wyoming (after Jack’s last day of a summer space camp program and last minute haircuts that I had procrastinated scheduling). I was worried about where we’d stay that night. I was hoping we’d get to Cheyenne, but checked online that morning and couldn’t find an available hotel room (Frontier Days was just starting). So I called Roger from the road and he did some research for us. He booked us into a room in Laramie at a hotel with a great swimming pool that we enjoyed after a long afternoon in the car!


The next morning we got up early, planning to get all the way to Des Moines for the night after stopping to visit friends in Omaha. It turns out that two of my good friends—Sara from Omaha who I’ve known since I was twelve and who now lives in Florida, and Wade who I know from college and who now lives in Manhatten—were both going to be in Omaha for the weekend!

We ended up spending the night in Omaha instead of Des Moines. Jack totally bonded with Sara’s two boys. Her younger son, Richard, who is going into third grade just like our Jack, said that he was so happy to know Jack because “he lives in the same world I do.” We’ve already started plotting other joint vacations with them.

On Sunday the 22nd, we got up early but didn’t take off until 10:00 because the boys were having so much fun together. We stopped at Wade’s hotel in downtown Omaha for a short visit with him and his partner Jay. Then back on the interstate!

We got to the lake just before sunset and had a wonderful swim. Just when we got back to the cottage, Mom, Dad and my sister Linda arrived from the airport.

Three blissful weeks at the lake that I will write about later . . .

Last Saturday we packed up the car and headed west through Minnesota to Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the Corn Palace) where we shared a hotel with many, many bikers heading home after the annual rally in Sturgis.

On Sunday we visited an old prairie sod home, where Jack made friends with all of the chickens living there.

We drove through the Badlands, where we especially enjoyed the prairie dogs (there really is a prairie dog in the middle of this picture!).

We stopped at Mt. Rushmore (I am totally smitten with the Black Hills).

And then we high-tailed it to Devil's Tower in northwestern Wyoming before the sun set. I should've been a bit more careful about the high-tailing—it resulted in a speeding ticket just after entering the park (40 in a 25 mile an hour zone, $100 even). From now on all major purchases in our household will be measured by whether they cost more or less than a speeding ticket at Devil's Tower.

We bedded down for the night in Gillette, Wyoming. Jack and I headed to the pool for an evening swim and were totally overwhelmed by a family with six children who were completely out of control shoving each other in, doing cannonballs in the hot tub and otherwise wreaking havoc. We left the pool area before they did. I hope they all survived.

On Monday we drove west to Cody via Sheridan, choosing our route based on the words "closed during winter" on our atlas. Wow, was that ever worth it. The mountains we traveled through were spectacular!

In Cody we discovered that the east entrance of Yellowstone was closed due to wild fire, so we had to drive to the northeast entrance of the park. While it added nearly 75 miles to our trip, the silver lining was that we drove into Montana, boosting Jack's official state visit tally to 25. It also added extra time—there was a huge line of cars and campers trying to get into the park. But again, a silver lining—I finally got to talk to a couple of bikers who had been to the rally in Sturgis and who were in line ahead of us.

A very, very quick (though obedient to the speed limit) drive through Yellowstone. But we did take the time to stop at the upper falls of the Yellowstone River, visit the mud volcanoes and see a mama bear and four cubs!


Just before midnight we snuck into my aunt and uncle’s house in Jackson Hole and had a great night’s sleep. In the morning we visited with them and drove to Teton National Park to see what we’d missed driving through in the dark the night before.

We were lucky enough to see two moose and to ride on the ferry that crosses the Snake River.

The five hour drive home from Jackson seemed to take forever, but we made it!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Back!

I am back in the world of Internet access, tv, bills to pay, and lawns to mow. It feels good to be home and "productive" again after Jack and I (and Roger who joined us for the last week) had a fabulous nearly month-long adventure!

We took three days to drive almost 1,500 miles (a stop at a hotel in Laramie, then with good friends in Omaha) to my family's cottage on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. There we spent almost three full weeks swimming, hiking along the shore path, playing tennis, sailing, riding wave runners, tubing, eating ice cream, hanging out with some of our favorite relatives and making new friends.

I'll be posting pictures soon!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Out of Time

Bad time management this week! I'm out of time before I lose our Internet connection for a few weeks. I should be back online in mid-August. Will report on Chile then!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Pollinator

One of my very favorite things to do is to connect people--with ideas, with information, with books, and especially with other people. A couple of my friends even dubbed me The Pollinator because it's such a compulsion.

The other day, for example, my friend Linda was lamenting the fact that her daughter, Shelley, who will be living in their basement with her husband while she's in grad school, wanted her to paint the walls in the basement red. "Aagh!" Linda said. "Almost any color but red!"

I immediately thought of my friend Virlie, who finished her basement a few years ago and had it painted red. And it looks fabulous! So I called up Virlie and asked her if we could drop by to see it. Linda left with the can of leftover paint to try it out. Her basement walls are now red.

I take full credit, and I believe Shelley owes me one!

Last week I had an amazing time at the BYU Books for Young Readers conference. One of the authors I was especially glad to meet was Newbery honor author Suzanne Fisher Staples, who spoke about her experiences as a war correspondent in Afghanistan in the late seventies.

Someone in the audience asked her how we might help Afghanistan move forward, and the first thing Suzanne suggested was to go to the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which I mentioned in my report on Afghanistan! I almost made a donation to the foundation when I was doing my research, thinking that would add a valuable dimension to my project, but had second thoughts about using my credit card to donate to an organization I really don't know much about. No second thoughts now--they'll be getting at least a little something from me. A valuable connection made.

The theme of Suzanne's presentation--and a key reason she writes--was the importance of knowing peoples' stories as we strive for a more humane world. We're more likely to get along with people when we see their faces, learn about their lives and get to know their loved ones.

As she talked, I thought about my friend Laura, who is taking a sabbatical from the English department at Utah Valley State College to spend nine months in Jordan, recording the stories of Iraqi women refugees there.

I think Laura and Suzanne ought to know one another. And I've got their e-mail addresses!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fast Forward

This is a picture of Jack and his good friend Gracie dressed up as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger one Halloween. I'm pretty sure they're four years old in this picture.

Jack and I are still plugging along on our Harry Potter book marathon, determined to finish book five before seeing the movie and to finish book six so we can read book seven after it comes out (Roger's got first dibs though).

Last night we got to the part in Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix where Cho Chang kisses Harry Potter under the mistletoe.

While we were reading, I thought about how Gracie--who moved away when she and Jack were in kindergarten--called Jack up yesterday afternoon. They spent at least half an hour on the phone.

Jack gets a special look in his eye when Grace comes up in conversation. So I was relieved when I asked Jack if he knew why people hang mistletoe at Christmastime and he answered, "when they want to make people run away."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Estonia

Õnne Pärl, who I "met" through her blog while I was researching Afghanistan visited my blog and left a comment. Cool! And I am behind on my report about Estonia, which was inspired by Õnne. I've actually already moved on to researching Chile, chosen because we are reading an Isabelle Allende novel for my next book club meeting.

But first, my Estonia report, which I will begin by saying that I've put Estonia on my official "I want to visit this country before I die" list.

The other day I was talking with one of favorite people, author Ann Cannon, who told me she'd once spent a day in Tallinn, Estonia's capital. She echoed my surpise that Estonia's culture is quite nordic. For some random reason, we'd both made the assumption that Estonia would be more slavic. My heart, with my Scandinavian blood pumping through it, quickens at the thought of another country I can feel connected to on a primal level.

Photo by Andrey Grinyov

It seems fitting that I was researching Estonia the same week that we were celebrating our independence here in the U.S. Estonians have never stopped fighting for their independence, even through some of their darkest years. They learned to take advantage of the fact that more than half of Estonia is forested, providing them with great cover and enabling them to keep occupying forces on their toes with strategic guerilla strikes against them.

Estonia actually celebrates its hard-won independence twice a year. Every February 24 they celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the declaration founding the Republic of Estonia in 1918. After the signing of the declaration, the Estonians successfully fought a two-year War of Liberation against Soviet Russia.

Every August 20 since 1991, Estonians celebrate the Day of Restoration of Independence, which came about with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There still exists a bit of unease due to the fact that a third of the population is Russian, a result of so many years of Soviet occupation. The lack of cultural integration is reflected in the school system. According to the Estonian U.S. Embassy's website, 503 comprehensive schools are conducted in Estonian, 80 in Russian, 26 are bilingual Estonian and Russian (there are also a couple of English and Finnish schools).

I get the impression that people enjoy peace despite cultural divides, and that things only heat up over specific events, like the relocation of a Soviet war memorial earlier this month.

But the country has definitely been moving forward! As an architecture junkie, I was especially excited to see this forward momentum reflected in cutting edge urban renewal projects.

Photo by Joao Paiva

Last, but absolutely not least as my soul always longs to be near the water, Estonia has more than 1,200 natural lakes and more than 1,500 islands along its coastline!

Photo by George Rumpler

When can I book my flight?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Life Has a Soundtrack

If you've got the volume on your computer on, you'll notice that my blog now has a soundtrack (and wouldn't it be cool if life really did have a soundtrack?).

The player is set to shuffle, so you should hear random selections whenever you log on. If you don't want to hear the music (like maybe you're already listening to some of your own favorite songs), just hit the pause button on the player just below my profile to the right.

Whenever I find a song I really like, I'm going to add it to the play list. And if you like any of the songs I have on my playlist, you can follow links to download them to your own computer or mp3 player.

PS: I take no credit for all of the typos in the titles of the songs and the names of the artists. Maybe I'll figure out if I can fix them someday.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Which Way Is Up?

Every once in a while, life sort of turns on its head. Not necessarily because of anything dramatic, but because of slight changes that make everything seem a bit off kilter.

Like after weeks and weeks of waking up when we please having to set an alarm clock for Jack's 8:00 a.m. departure to a school space camp program that started this morning. It will run for two weeks and will apparently include making an edible solar system!

And when I drove to pick them up in a borrowed truck (our Wrangler is going in for repairs this week), I could barely make out the mountains across the valley for all of the smoke from the state's largest wildfire ever, burning about 100 miles south of us.

Lately I've been listening to a lot of Diane Rehm Show podcasts, pulling from the archives. Last night after Jack went to sleep I found a 2002 interview with Thomas Friedman about his then new book Longitudes and Attitudes. The interview was conducted shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq, when popular opinion wasn't yet sold on the idea. He articulated with such clarity so many of the issues that we are now facing. I will never, never, never understand why we invaded Iraq. And it feels like we're in a thick cloud of smoke, our vision obscured, rendering us incapable of finding our way back out again.

Maybe my life will turn on its head once more and when the alarm goes off tomorrow morning I'll wake up and find we're back in 2002 with another chance to prevent the war.

Damn linear time!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Let the Professionals Handle It

I went with my friend Rebekah to get my very first professional pedicure the other night. I'm totally sold on having someone who knows what they're doing take care of my feet for me! I think I can justify doing this once or twice every sandal season.

Maybe I have pretty toes after all!

Friday, July 06, 2007

High Adventure

Last week we had a fabulous day trip to the High Uintas. We spent hours on the flat rocks of the Upper Provo River having a picnic and wading in the shallow water. We hiked on the trail around Mirror Lake. We scrambled on the Provo River Falls. Perfect weather. Perfect company. And except for a few scrapes and bug bites, a perfect day!