Monday, March 30, 2009

Family Value Meals--Food Snobs Stay Out!

On another blog, I ran across this article from the New York Times. Now, granted, it is the Times, and I understand that yes, there are people that live very differently than I do. People have different incomes, and different priorities. But I was a bit put out to say the least. An excerpt:

I HALF expected tuna casserole. That’s not to say I don’t attribute extraordinary culinary prowess to my colleagues and dear friends...But less than $8.50 a person for a full dinner? I didn’t see how this budget allowed for much strutting, not even from home cooks as gifted and resourceful as these two kitchen goddesses.

So. I don't like tuna casserole, but I don't feel it needs to be (metaphorically) thrown back in my face. And what does a "full dinner" mean? And am I showing my ignorance by asking that question? I would imagine it might include hors d'oeurves, salad or soup, and dinner, maybe dessert. And $8.50 per person for dinner? Read on:

Both Kim and Julia realized that the best way to disguise a limit and leave guests feeling pampered was to present a long sequence of treats. At both dinners there were more than three courses, if you counted canap├ęs, and the diversity obscured the absence of any great
luxury at the center of the meal.

The only was for me to "disguise a limit" would be if I wore a bag over my head and shopped midnight, away from those discerning eyes that would be averted in horror at my coupon envelope, the shocking display of me reading labels and comparing prices, or the ultimate affrontry of bulk shopping. Apparently, it's also very important to keep up appearances, by leading people to believe that I live a champagne and caviar lifestyle and hiding any evidence to the contrary.

I guess my bulk chicken breasts and off-brand cereal give me away.

The carnitas was Kim’s answer to the central budget-meal challenge: what to do about the meat. Kim cooked, seasoned and served her pork in a way that rendered the quality of the low-cost cut almost irrelevant.

"Low-cost cut". That describes my meat, my haircuts, my clothing, my whole life. I guarantee you if you come to my house and I don't have to address you as "Your Highness" or "Mr. President" you're probably getting a budget cut of something. Or, maybe I'd really go bargain basement and serve a pasta. Heaven forbid.

I love (metaphorically speaking) this writer's "budget-meal challenge", though. Let me tell you what a challenge is, and it won't be serving a meal for $8.50. On a rough estimate my family eats 15 meals per day (5 people x 3 meals). Over a month that equates to 450 meals in a month. My grocery bill is about $800 per month. That works out to a whoppingly extravagent $1.77 per person per meal. SUCK ON THAT, FOOD SNOB. On that budget, I manage to serve tacos, fajitas, fettucini, spaghetti, homemade pizza, fantastic parmesan breaded chicken, Cantonese pork tenderloin, and Swedish meatballs. I somehow manage to get vegetables and fruit on the table, as well as cereal, bagels, and muffins every morning. I can even make taco soup, something that everyone raves about and asks to have the recipe. AND, get this--I'm not a great cook! Yet somehow my children don't have rickets, or scurvey, or kwashiakor.
They don't know truffle oil from motor oil. They express a preference for neon-colored macaroni and cheese. They seem more drawn to iceberg lettuce and chicken nuggets than arugala and ceviche.
I just didn't care for the snarky amazement. I would bet it's a lot more than half of the people when we talk about the "other half." What about all of you? What's your budget for your family size when it comes to food? Am I the only one who takes lower cuts of meat? Am I the only one who is just now realizing that I never thought of it as a "lower" cut but as "affordable dinner"?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Um...I have to Admit...

Bless me Father, for I have sinned.

First of all, I'm not Catholic, so I wouldn't really know what to do in an actual confessional. I am, however, a darn decent Lutheran (don'tcha know), which counts for A LOT.


I confess I like going places where lots of people speak English. Like cabdrivers. And waiters. But saying that may be a desperate attempt to mask the slowly dawning realization that I'm NEVER going to learn Chinese.

I confess also that I like going places where people use the same letters we do in America. I suspect that if that were true in China, the odds of me learning it would dramatically improve.

I confess I really really really love warm weather. And I'm discovering that I even love very humid warm weather. As I was standing at a cocktail party last night, clutching a practically perfect G&T (no skimping on the G part--AND it was free. As was the one before that.) I stock stock of myself. I was hot, sweaty, and a bit disheveled, all from walking 200 yards to said cocktail party. My clothes were sticking to me and the humidity could only be described as oppressive (Malaysia could jump on the ceiling fan bandwagon. I'm just sayin'), and then I thought of Beijing. Cold, gray, square, smelly Beijing (everywhere I go in this hotel, everything smells like frangipani, ginger, and citronella--it's heavenly). And I thought...I've changed. My kvetching about weather is well-documented, and I've always felt I was not a humidity person, but given the humidity vs. the cold, I would choose hot and sweaty.

I confess I had more than 2 G&Ts that night.

I confess that when it's this hot, I might drink them for breakfast.

I confess to loving to eat dinner food for breakfast, and by extension loving places that serve dinner for breakfast. So I confess that I ate curry prawns for breakfast this morning.

I confess that confessing out loud is possibly kind of cathartic. Maybe I should open or something. Maybe that's my new theme!

I confess to calling the front desk last night asking if I could get American Idol on my TV. And then asking them to check the 5 bars around the place to see if any of those TVs might get that channel.

I confess that that confession is the most embarrassing.

Wow...I feel better already! Anyone else have anything they want to get off their chests?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SO Not Innocent.

OK, I’ve already gone out on a limb with my opinions about Mama Mia (to repeat: despite Meryl Streep and delightfully bouncy music, one of the WORST movies I’ve ever seen and don’t comment on that to me because that ship has sailed), so I have few reservations about expressing my opinions about the move Twilight. Notice that I did not say “the book” which I haven’t read and probably won’t get around to it (another ship that has sailed). I knew the general premise of the book, and I knew that one of the big draws was the “romantic and chaste” relationship between Edward and Bella. The secondary draw, I presume, is the idea of forbidden love, of him wanting to protect her, of her being drawn to a family and life that she can’t realistically be a part of.

And here’s where the problems start. I’ve heard it compared to Romeo and Juliet, a romantic story of forbidden/denied love. I wonder how many of those people who make those comparisons remember that THEY DIED. HORRIBLY. They were not victims of unrequited love so much as of impulsive adolescence, of impetuosity, of a failure to think of the “what ifs” in life. Obviously, R and J is far more complex and it is unfair to reduce a masterpiece to such a simplistic explanation, but I saw many of the same behaviors in the movie. How quickly Bella is willing to give herself to Edward. How ardently she claims to want to be a part of his world. How she “just knows” they are destined to be together forever. A love for the ages—or reckless impulsivity?

And as for chaste—HOLY HELL. I found very little about that movie to be chaste or innocent. Many of their tender moments take place lying down. Together. On a bed. Alone, because her father seems to have beer and gun cleaning on his mind and a misplaced assurance that his daughter is mature enough to manage her own life independently. Over and over Edward claims to restrain himself so he doesn’t hurt Bella. The recurring theme between them seems to be “how far can we go before we go too far?” You sure don’t need to date a vampire to know that playing against that line is a recipe for danger. How many teens play that game—with drinking, or drugs, or with relationships with the opposite sex, “knowing” they are in control, “trusting” someone because they “know” that other person loves them.

I’m sorry, but this is not a movie my daughter would be seeing anytime soon. This is one of those movies (and books) that are pitched to the young adults but are being read and watched by 5th graders. It’s simply way out of line. And for those young adult girls—those girls (read: 99.9% of them) who want, romance, want to be taken care of and protected, to be wanted—what message does it send? That it’s romantic to repeatedly place yourself in a position of vulnerability, to test the waters over and over to see how close you can get that forbidden zone and still be safe? That is one dangerous message.

I suppose that the visual spin the movie puts on the story may be different from the book. That would certainly be the explanation for her acting skills (which seem to primarily consist of very little affect—she’s more dismal than the vampires—and a fluttering of the lips as if she’s trying to search for the right word—which is employed during passion, fear, uncertainty, or ordering at a restaurant. In fact, everything about the movie was dismal—I understand Forks gets a lot of rain, but even if you’ve been alive for a hundred years, you can’t find anything to crack a smile about?

I’m taking a pass on any more of this series. Am I being a little over-Amish or something? I mean, I am the person who lets her 10 year old (ok, fine, he was 8) watch Lord of the Rings. And X-Men. So sometimes I surprise myself by how some things really alarm me. Maybe it's that one is fantasy and this is a thinly veiled metaphor for hot teen sex. I don't know.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

What the Heck?!

After reading those last 2 posts, can ANYONE doubt that this is blog desperately in search of a theme?

Puberty is Much Better the 2nd Time Around

Warning: Anatomical puberty vocabulary coming up!

A couple classes (grade 5) are wrapping up their puberty unit this week. It's a very gentle introduction to body parts and changes and presented very well.

Today one class had to complete the final page in which they wrote definitions for the terms they had learned. I learned a penis is "like an organ or your liver." It can also be termed "the boy part." Sperm are "little specks inside a boy" or "the bits that sometimes come out." An erection is "when a boy tests out the sperm." Breasts are "the front of a girl" or simply "girl parts". Something that I didn't know (and boy am I glad I know this now) is that a vagina is "the cleanest part of a woman's body." Needless to say it was very hard to review the worksheets with a straight face. Thankfully, any misconceptions were easily cleared by uttering that timeworn phrase "Is that the definition from the chapter?"

It only got more fun when the teacher asked them to combine their poetry lesson with their newfound knowledge and write some puberty poems. They were encouraged to use hyperbole, alliteration, onomotopoeia, and metaphors for effect. Now, writing is a BIG deal here...and these kids know how to write. They were funny, enthusiastic, prolific and really pretty at ease with the task, with several offering to share their limericks about BO or a particularly well-written cinquain on zits.

I just never thought I'd hear "I don't know what rhymes with penis" in a classroom.

I suggested "genius." With all sincerity.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Friends we have just met are leaving Beijing this summer under circumstances we are very familiar with, as they are very similar to the situation we found ourselves in when we made the decision to leave Tanzania. They will be heading back to the States--they have no job as yet, no house, no car, no idea where they are going to go to start the next phase of their lives. I am feeling (selfishly) sad because I really like her and her family and I think we would have become very good friends. She is one person that I felt I really connected with here.

When we made the decision to leave Tanzania, we did so not knowing what we were going to do. We didn't want to return to the States, and we had passed the optimum time for Mark to look for work. Our house was rented out and we didn't have a car. It was a very frightening time, thinking of a very unkown future. Then, ISB sent an unsolicited email. Another round of uncertainties ensued as Mark worked through the interview process. It was the only contact for a job that we received, a job that also had a job for me. It was a blessing.

We have met some more new friends here from all walks of life. Missionary kids who grew up overseas, people who have suffered neglect, dysfunction, and pain in their lives. Some were raised as Christians, others fell away and then have returned. What we all have in common is a set of experiences that have led us to our spouses, to jobs, to opportunities that brought us to a place in time. I guess they could be called serendipitous, or coincidence, but those words fall flat in the face of the stories I've heard. How else to explain how doors have opened, how obstacles have been overcome, how life has evolved?

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I wish I listened to this verse more. I have been reminded again and again that I have never been promised an easy life, a life free from hardship or pain. I have been promised a path through difficult times. I have been promised that I will not be forgotten during those times. I have been promised a way that will bring blessings and joy and peace--if I can let go and simply lean on God, rather than relying on my own imperfect way.

I know my new friend will not have an easy time these next few months. I know that she wishes with all her heart that there was a different, easier path. I know she also knows that it's OK to be angry and sad and scared and that it's possible to feel all those things and still trust God to show her the way. I know because I've been there. I know because in those times when I had nothing to fall back on, I realized that "nothing" was whatever I could muster on my own. I have always had "something", and that something has been far far greater than what I can do on my own. I'm a poor witness those those that would snort or say "Well, that's all well and good for her to think that way..." I'm a poor study as well--I struggle with daily, even after the things I have heard and experienced. I suspect it does not come easily to most people, this idea of letting go. I am amazed and humbled when I hear stories of events that should not have happened, of situations that should have been devastating. I have no other explanation--it is the hand of God and His love that guides us along the way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Kids in Concert--This One's for the Grandparents

Simply Strings and Simply Band are great concert events. They start off with the beginniners and progress through to the high school programs. It's a great way to cling to hope when your own children are practicing--you can see such dramatic improvement in a year's time! Cameron, Noah, and Ava have all really enjoyed playing this year.

It's hard to see Cameron in his clip. Look towards the back and center. He is sitting next to a boy with long very curly hair. Noah is at the right of his clip. Ava is the blonde in the middle in her clip.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ewwwww...With a Side of Phlegm

Today's weather conditions, while sunny (I guess, not that I can see anything) and warm, received an air quality rating of 4. That means no outdoor recess and no outdoor sports or activities after school. We are encouraged to keep all windows shut and turn up air filters if we have them and stay indoors until the rating drops.

That is so disgusting.


Just What Do You DO?

Yesterday two emails showed up in my inbox that were just too coincidental to be coincidence. The first was one of those typical "glurge" emails that are supposed to brighten your day or make you feel good. I usually don't read them, no matter who they are from. For whatever reason I read this one:

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, 'What's akid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?'

He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. 'To emphasize his point he said to another guest; 'You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?'

Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, 'You want to know what I make? She paused for a second, then began...

'Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor. I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube, or movie rental.

You want to know what I make?' (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table.) ''I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.

I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn't everything. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brains, not the man-made calculator.

I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe. I make my students stand, placing their hands over their hearts to say the Pledge of Allegianceto the Flag, One Nation Under God, because we live in the United States of America .

I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.' (Bonnie paused one last time and then continued..)
'Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn't everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attentionbecause they are ignorant...... You want to know what I make? I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make Mr. CEO?'

I didn't think much about it, really. It was nice that someone thought of me when they sent it, but it was very likely going to be binned in a day or two when I sorted through my inbox. Then, this morning this letter showed up. It was from former student of Mark's--he taught middle school from 1987 through 1999 or 2000, to give you an idea of the time that has passed.

...I was reading an article on farm subsidies and developing countries and thought of you. I usually do as I distinctly remember your lecture on the subject in eighth grade (1997/8? I’m thinking it was for the Aral Sea project). I remember not understanding it completely at the time but being consumed by the idea. You can rest assured however, I would eventually ‘get it’: I explored the subject in my dissertation on agrarianism in developing political systems.
I wonder if this will be a bit tiresome for you, but all the same, I am writing because I had wanted to thank you for another moment.

In seventh grade, you were leading a discussion on China’s One-Child Policy. I raised my hand with something to share. I stated the idea and you stopped me. You then asked me to repeat it, said it was a good idea and began exploring the implications of the idea with the class. Later you told me I was a smart kid.

The reason I write is because a teacher had never done anything like that for me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to recall a moment of equal significance to me in the ***** school system. I had always and would continue to be told that I was lazy, disruptive, trying to do too much, etc. In a way all that wouldn’t matter; a teacher I respected had inspired some belief in me. I’ll never forget it.

And so, thank you. Thank you for making the difference.

This is 3rd or 4th time a student has contacted Mark as an adult, thanking him for his time, his patience, his kindness. I'm not sharing it to toot his horn, although he was and is a teacher of the very highest caliber. All of live our lives and encounter people and we never know the impact we have on them. I think teaching is a tremendous act of faith--most of the time you will never see the true impact you have had on someone, because it won't be about that lesson on adverbs or factoring or photosynthesis. It will be that imprint you leave as a human being. Never doubt that you have made a profound impact on someone's life at some point. I find that both humbling and frightening in its magnitude.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fourteen Years Ago...

D'you call life a bad job? Never! We've had our ups and downs, we've had our struggles, we've always been poor, but it's been worth it, ay, worth it a hundred times I saw when I look 'round at my children.

The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and tortuous.

What children take from us, they give...We become people who feel more deeply, question more deeply, hurt more deeply, and love more deeply.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The very best reason parents are so special . . . is because we are the holders of a priceless gift we received from countless generations we never knew, a gift that only we now possess and only we can give to our children. That unique gift, of course, is the gift of ourselves. Whatever we can do to give that gift, and to help others receive it, is worth the challenge of all our human endeavor.

Here's to one we practiced on.
The one we loved first and who taught us to love better.
The one who started it all.
Happy birthday, Cameron.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Demise of Boo Radley.

My latest Newsweek (3/9/2009) had an article entitled "Rethinking Race in the Classroom." While books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn and Of Mice and Men have always been controversial, apparently the argument that it's time to stop teaching books that use the "N" word. A (white) teacher who wrote an editorial in support of this said, "...we have this very articulate, smart, and intelligent black man running the country, we don't need to reinforce the same negative stereotypes...I'm very tired of having to explain to black parents and white kids why these books use the "N" word over and over again..." A professor at USC said "I think there is a certain sector of the country that now feels racism is over, let's move on."

Um...well, if that were the case, then why did we celebrate the election of the BLACK president? Why is race such a factor when candidates push for the black and Latino voters? I'm not a big fan of Black History Month, in part because I think it's a bit like tokenism, but I don't think I'm naive to think that we do not carry the legacy of our past today. We are all of us shaped by our past, even if it's a past that we don't feel like we can "relate" to anymore. That's where literature comes in. I can read about any event in history and learn all about it. The only way I can even begin to emphathize or get any glimpse into what it was really like is through the arts, and that's literature for me. It's those words, those images, that we are so fortuneate to have received, that show us what those historical events mean, what they did to people. Do they perpetuate negative stereotypes? Or do they show us how far we've come, show us where we may still need to go, and why we do and see and feel the things we feel today?

Do these stories portray African-Americans as inarticulate and unintelligent? Yes, at times, (although I would strongly debate that point in Mockingbird's Tom Robinson). But let me step out on an very un-PC limb and ask if those portrayals weren't rooted in the reality of so many people? Not because they were inherently stupid or genetically deficient as they were told and so many believed, but because they had been denied education, or culture, or any kind of a voice that would allow them in large part to be anything else but uneducated. In the case of Tom Robinson, is that really the message? Tom Robinson is a family man, a man of integrity and compassion, a man whose only crime was to feel sorry for a white girl. How is this man not worthy of our respect as a heroic figure? Wouldn't we be better served to examine those portrayals from an historical perspective? What past historical event isn't hard to relate to? Should we stop teaching about the Holocaust? or Native Americans simply because it involves sensitive or painful or unpleasant vocabulary or themes?

And to deny us Tom Robinson, a hero of character and virtue, a man victimized by racism, would be a great loss. To deny us Tom Robinson is to deny us Atticus Finch, a man who risked his life and that of his children to fight against the tide of hatred. To deny us Tom Robinson would be to deny us Boo Radley, a man every bit a victimized by the circumstances of his time, who taught us all a lesson about acceptance. Can't we learn lessons from them in this day and age, as we struggle to come to grips with our attitudes towards immigrants, Muslims, and anyone that doesn't fit our neat and tidy packages? And Huck, and Lenny, and George--characters that are the essence of our American culture, flawed, yes, products of their times, yes--as we are products of our own. I have learned more, felt more, and grown more from these men than I have from any history textbook. I'm sorry that the teacher is "tired" of difficult themes and difficult conversations. I believe that it's our jobs as teachers to be in those difficult situations, to push the envelope--and in the case of literature, to continue to make it relevant. If that's the litmus test, we can consign algebra, poetry and chemistry to the rubbish bin. The vast majority of us have little active use for it in our daily lives. You don't find those kinds of lessons in Cliff's Notes. They come from the heart. And kids will rise to the challenge--they are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

And Just for the Record...

Rich or Poor?

Once we lived in America. It was a very comfortable suburban existence. Everyone was pretty similar. Lots of Lutherans, lots of white people (OK, mostly white people). When we looked around most of the people were pretty much like us. We knew a few who were quite a bit better off financially, and we knew a few that were struggling much more than we were. But on the whole, we saw ourselves mirrored in our community.
Then we lived in Tanzania. It was a safe bet that we were some of the wealthiest people in the country, just by virtue of the fact we were there. EVERYWHERE we went, we were surrounded by abject poverty. In every situation, in every action, we were reminded of the blessings and privileges we carried. We were very conscious of wasting. Our children were very aware of the gap between us and the rest of the country and felt that same responsibility toward sharing and helping however we could.

Now we live in China. Wasting or conserving is not on any menu in here. People are rich in ways it is hard to comprehend. At recent birthday parties, cakes that cost $100 (and would cost $29.99 at Rainbow) were served and gift bags that cost more than the presents we gave were passed out. Their classmates often fly first-class to ski trips in Switzerland, the beaches of Rio, and the tropics of Bali, all in a school year. Not every Hermes bag, Prada suit, or Jimmy Choos are fake.

So...Minnesota aside (because we rarely saw either end of the spectrum in our daily lives), is it better for children to grow up privileged but surrounded by poverty, a very real reminder about how most of the rest of the world lives, or surrounded by wealth that they will likely never achieve, thereby learning lessons about the values and choices they will make in their lives knowing they will always be around the "have mores"?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Fa ra ra ra ra...and other Chinglish Festivities

Monday was a hell of a week. Tuesday was not much better and Wednesday pretty much cemented the tone...

My mind is paralyzed. I just wish this weren't so cheerful looking. It would be more descriptive if it had a rotting skull or something--something that gave a sense of this week's gloomy fog I'm in. That's the Chinese for you, though. They love this tween-y stuff and irrespressibly cheerful tones to their signs and t-shirts.

Unless, of course, they think you're a whore. And they don't mess around with just you--they'll slap that label on the whole fam-damily. You remember Mulan--"Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family! Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow..." It's a lot of responsibility.

Oh, if only Charles Dickens had been Chinese. How different Christmas might have been!
"God bress us, every one!"

sigh. This goes a long way toward explaining my children's constant clamoring for Subway or Pizza Hut.

Then again, a hot dog's always good. I get so sick of people (honey, you know who you are) kvetching about what's in hot dogs. OK, first of all, if it's all ground up, then it's not really that big of a deal, is it? And B, it can be considered generally a safe food because it's loaded with preservatives--so less change of spoilage. AND, just so you all of you know--that tuna you buy? Even the albacore packed in water? IT'S THE HOT DOG OF THE SEA. Fish lips and bums and other unmentionables packed all neatly together. You can eat your parts in a tin or in a tube. I'm just sayin.'
I have no idea what the Chinese are trying to say.

"...and I thinking to self, what a wondering of word.."

(more crazy stuff like this can be found at