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 both 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


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!

Monday, July 02, 2007


Welcome to my first country report, which will basically consist of random facts that I found interesting in my research. No dry historical accounts here!

I've been reading and learning about Afghanistan this week. I chose Afghanistan because it came first alphabetically, but I will not be going alphabetically. I will be selecting countries to study as the spirit moves me.

So, Afghanistan. As I searched for information I felt very compelled to find personal stories, and I also felt myself responding to anything that added color to the stereotypical pictures we often have in our heads of gray, dusty, unyielding landscape.

In addition to news and encyclopedia articles, I've been reading The Bookseller of Kabul and I've discovered a couple of blogs, including the blog of an Estonian photographer who is living in Kabul while her husband works there and the blog of an Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Army.

Here are some tidbits that have stuck with me:
  • Afghanistan is the place to find lapis lazuli. Jack, a budding geologist, was excited to learn that. He's got a special place in his heart for lapis lazuli.
  • By law, of the 102 members of the Upper House of the National Assembly, at least 17 must be women. And in 2005, 68 women were elected to the 249 member Lower House!
  • The tourist trap area of Kabul is on Chicken Street.
  • More than half of Afghans are under 18.

One of the heartbreaking, somehow symbolic remnants of so many years of war and unrest are all of the land mines still buried in the earth, rendering whole valleys unliveable. I read in a 2007 UNICEF press release that they provided "training for 50,000 primary school teachers with a 10-day refresher course on language arts, pedagogy and landmine awareness." How wretched to have to make landmine awareness an educational priority!

In The Bookseller of Kabul, author Asne Seierstad refers to the land mines buried in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul, “Over the death traps the ditches are full of wild, dark red, short-stemmed tulips. But the flowers must be admired at a distance. Picking them means risking blowing off an arm or a leg.”

What always astounds me when learning about people who have suffered war and oppression is how they adjust, so quickly create a sense of normalcy, and squeeze as much living as they can out of life.

The spirit of Afghanistan is bold and colorful, not bleak and hopeless.

P.S. I stole the pictures that I included in this post from Õnne Pärl, the Estonian photographer. One of the projects she chronicles in her blog is photographing an architectural restoration project in Kabul spearheaded by the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. In her honor, I will be studying Estonia in the coming week.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Meeting Julia

Yesterday I got to meet one of my favorite authors at The King's English bookstore. Julia Glass who wrote National Book Award winner Three Junes, was there to read from her her second novel, The Whole World Over, which is now out in paperback. I'm going to save it for our vacation to Lake Geneva in a few weeks. Ooh, it'll be a book to be savored!

I was so happy to be driving up to Salt Lake City to meet her. I'd just found out the day before that she actually grew up maybe 20 minutes from where I grew up in Massachusetts. I had also listened to a fabulous local radio interview with her, in which she talked about how important it was to her to see the ocean every day.

I don't usually idolize people or get all excited to meet them, but I confess I was a bit giddy! She seems like the kind of person I would so like to be friends with, to live next door to.

So as I'm driving past Ikea, one of my favorite old songs comes on the radio (Da Da Da by Trio. I was an early fan--I actually own it on vinyl!). Then all of a sudden I'm passing one of my favorite cars in the world--a mini cooper, pepper white with a black roof. In my mind the planets were totally aligned for me!

I got to the bookstore early to browse and chat with some of my friends there, including Shelley who used to work with us at the Read Leaf.

And they introduced me to Julia Glass before the reading started. She was just what I expected-- warm and intelligent, charming and funny.

But I felt like I was in junior high--hoping to make an impression on her so that she'd want to be my friend, too. Ah, well, authors meet so many people on tour. At least I have her books for company!