Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. ~Andrew Carnegie

Yesterday we took a trip to the local library. I felt that sense of reverance and awe that I always feel when I enter a library--so many books, so many possibilities, so many adventures. I remembered my lifelong love with libraries. As a teen I remember settling in for a long afternoon tanning session, a giant stack of books by my lounge chair. I love to read and a good book comes before just about every other chore or obligation I have. I have no restraint for pacing. I start and read until I finish.

We have lived now for 4 years without a library. In Tanzania, there simply weren't any books really anywhere. In China, books are available at the few English-langauge stores, but they are not convenient, the selection is limited, and the prices are high. Our school has a great library for the kids, with some adult books as well.

"Mommy, are you buying these books?" asked Ava as she watched me take out a dollar.

"No, honey, just a card. You get to take as many books as you can read in 10 days for free."

"You just get to take them for free?" What if people just take a whole bunch of them and don't bring them back and then they could sell them or something!" (We would sometimes see books from our school or church library for sale on the street in Tanzania).

"Well, I guess that doesn't happen here. If you lost a book you need to pay for it, and if you don't return them, they don't let you take any more books. People love their library and so they take care of the books so they can keep coming back."

"Wow. This is great!" said Ava, skipping off to find just one more.

She's right, of course. The blessing of a public library is something that can't be ignored. NEVER take it for granted. DEMAND that public libraries are funded. SCREAM when they aren't. RIOT to get the powers that be's attention. The ability of anyone to walk into a library and come out with a book--on the honor system, for free--is something I know I took for granted until I no longer had that opportunity. Irrespective of education, race, culture, or economic status, you can get a book or a magazine, or a movie. That's incredible, really it is. There's just nothing like it in the world.

My friend Calandria has a sister, Ave, who works at a public library. She occasionally posts about the trials of working at a library in a small town. I've decided I spend too much time actually in the books--next time I visit, I'm going to pull up a chair near to the circulation/information desk and commence people watching and eavesdropping!

I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries. ~Carl Sagan

Sunday, June 21, 2009


These are my very favorite shoes. Dansko clogs are sooo sooo sooo comfortable. I bought my first pair with money from heaven--you know, the kind that once in a very great while falls into your lap and the planets align in just such as way so you don' t have to use that gift to pay for new tires or a payment to the ortho...you can just spend it on something you would never ever normally spend that much money on. Which is how I got my first pair, and I have loved them every. single. minute. of every. single. time. I've worn them.
But like all good things, they slowly come to an end. During that time I decided that there are a very few things that every person should spend money on, for whatever reason. It may be manicures. Or a great salon. Or the extra cable package so you can watch 47 sports channels. Whatever it might be, it's something that you don't have to justify because at whatever age you are at, it becomes worth it. For me, it was these clogs.
Not that I wasn't hyperventilating when I walked into REI today. They retail at $120.00 which is a LOT, even for shoes I love that I will wear for another 7 years. So how thrilled was I to find a pair in my size and color at the "scratch and dent" sale going on right now at the Bloomington location? Quite thrilled. They were a lovely 30% off, too!
Of course, when you get a gift horse, it only seems right you should pry that guy's mouth open and take a look. And it did seem to me that there was the tiniest scuffs on the front. And wasn't that a bit of wear on the outside of one heel? Why, yes, I think it was. And so, armed with a whole load of "I now have no shame when it comes to bargaining" I marched up to the counter and sweetly proclaimed these shoes which were really practically perfect in every way were simply too worn to give only a 30% discount.
Which is how I walked away with a pair of practically perfect black Dansko clogs for only...$39.97. WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

And for the record...I believe the scratch and dent stuff will go to an extra 50% of the marked price tomorrow. Some barely used...some others a bit more, but if you could get that kind of deal (not to mention the loverly ballet walking flats I picked up for $19.99 instead of $75) then it's definitely worth the combing and examining.
Life is good!
Now...if Blogger believed in paragraphs today, life would be as practically perfect as my new shoes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

God Bless America...and yet...

America is an amazing place. Really, it is. Lord knows we have a lot of room for improvement, but honestly, coming back is such a revelation. There is so much of everything! How many different kinds of wheat bread does one person need? How many varieties of tomatoes, or apples, or cereal? I still have this sense of embarrassment, knowing how little most of the rest of the world has, knowing that all of this choice doesn't make us really more satisfied, but still...the abundance we have is astonishing. I was so happy to see Cub and Rainbow selling canvas grocery bags! And the prices...I bought $240 of groceries (7 bags)...in China that would have run at least $100 more for all the imported food. Things like grapes and strawberries and raspberries are far more expensive, as is any food not made in China.

Space is one of those abundant things we have and take for granted. I'm not talking about major inner cities or urban areas like New York...for the most part America is WIDE OPEN. I drove home in traffic from the Como Zoo, through construction, and it was a breeze compared to a regular drive into Beijing. Everywhere there is just room to breathe and relax. I've mentioned the number of green spaces in Beijing, but make no mistake--there are hordes of people everywhere and I find it very stressful. Even our compound has very little green space. And we're really pretty clean, too! People go out of their way to put trash in a bin. The sky is blue, the air smells fresh, the grass is green...every yard is surrounded by a green apron and bursting with flowers. Thanks to communism, China is mostly gray...streets, buildings, and all...with splashes of red. No one has a house with a yard. Life is lived mostly indoors.

Somewhere we got the reputation for being blunt and outspoken. I agree that we Americans are louder, but I still say we can't hold a candle to most Europeans when it comes to being outspoken! As for overall politeness, however, I think we must lead the pack. People let someone go ahead. They hold the door. They slow down when someone crosses the street. They queue up patiently, and address those that budge in. They drop back when someone signals a lane change. It's insanely easygoing. God forbid you are standing in front of the door on a subway or in an elevator in China--you'll be immediately crushed by the mass behind you pushing out and the crowd in front of you pushing in...at the same time! When the plane first touches down (and is still hurtling down the runway), people start unbuckling, calling, and standing up. It's crazy. I know life moves fast here--every radio ad screams out products and plans to do things more efficiently so you can do more and more, we are slackers compared to China. And I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

It's interesting to contemplate all these emotions and ideas...after all, we made a conscious decision to go overseas and to stay there when we had the opportunity to return "home". Why put up with all the angst and irritations that go along with living outside of your own culture, whether it be Africa, China, Italy, Spain, or even English-speaking England? There's a line from Under the Tuscan Sun that reads something like, "...although I'm susceptible to the known, I'm just slightly more susceptible to the pull of the unknown..." and I'm surprised to realize that that does apply to me. I've always been a person who craves routine--I loved going to Montana every summer and hiking the same trails every summer. I don't crave funky foods, or music made past 1989, and I can reread books and rewatch movies ad nauseum. In Tanzania we vacationed 3 times a year at the same beach spot. I married a guy I met when I was 16, I suppose because I didn't like change then, either. Yet, I look at the street I lived on, the schools my kids would attend, the stores where I would shop, and think, nope, I'm glad I'm over there for now. Even though I crave routine and sameness there, too, even if it means feeling slightly abashed when I admit that I haven't been to the Forbidden City (yet). I'm grateful that I feel right now I have the best of both worlds--one foot anchored in Minnesota while we explore what the other side of the world has to offer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lights, Camera, (Kung Fu) Action!

I know that many of you have already heard this, but I think it's gone far enough that I can blog it. There is a remake/adaptation of the 80's classic "The Karate Kid" being made. Filming starts in Beijing this summer and will star Jackie Chan and Will Smith's son Jaden (The Pursuit of Happyness and The Day the Earth Stood Still) as the the "kid." Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) will play the mom.

This spring they had open calls for 3 parts for the friends of the main character. All had to be white, and 1 is an American. Cameron went to the open call and then went back 3 more times to meet with different people and audition. Last week (the week we were leaving Beijing) he was offered a role in the movie. It's a supporting part, but at this point it does have 8-10 lines, which is quite a lot (I think!) for a newbie! Of course, that could change, but he's been guaranteed 20 days of work and will get paid a nice sum for that time. Of course he's very excited--and so are we! What a great opportunity--one that we were willing to adjust our summer plans for. He and I will probably leave around July 4th to head back to Beijing (we are still waiting to hear). He'll have a couple days of work that week, and then start up around the 23rd of July for about 4-6 weeks. He will end up missing some school that first month--we have a friend who teaches with us whose husband tutors but doesn't work (a former Montana smoke-jumper from Missoula, if you need a small-world reference!) who will be onset with him to watch him and tutor him when I'm at work. It will be a lot of work for us to make sure it goes well for him, but it's such a great opportunity to meet interesting people and get a glimpse into movie making that we are certainly willing to do that for him.

There has been quite a bit of kvetching and moaning about on the 'net about how this movie just canNOT be made, that it will violate the perfection of the original, blah, blah, blah (although now that the title was changed to "The Kung Fu Kid" and it appears to be more of an adaptation rather than a remake, people seem placated). But to those people, I have only 1 thing to say:

Because, DAMN--that movie was bad. Even if Hilary did go on to win 2 Oscars. But then, I got to thinking--even people who appear in completely sucky productions can go on to big things. Case in point:

From this:

To this:

So I figure the opportunities are endless! Get out your old pics and video of Cameron so you can say you knew him when!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things About Minnesota...

Fewer Chinese. I know, go figure, right? For some reason, no one wants to look for gung-bao chicken or a pagoda made of fried port fat. Sheesh. What's up with that? Even the idea of egg rolls won't tempt them.

Nope, nothing wrong here folks. There is the possibility that I may try to eat something here every. single. day.


God Bless free refills on Diet Coke, wherever I can get 'em, too.

Space. Minneapolis really does have the most beautiful green areas and they are everywhere. There's just so much space! Wide open roads. Wide sidewalks. Big stores. And so so so clean. Beijing is actually very clean in that you don't see garbage and junk around very much. But I didn't see anyone spitting, peeing, or pooing, either.

TV. It's all in English. And we are committed to not watching anything that we might see in China, including the history of porn movies (hosted by a completely naked young woman with clearly loads of "experience"), even though it'll be many moons before that bit of history ends up on CCTV.

This really is Ava hugging the television.

GREAT friends. Lisa, whom I saw for 10 minutes while she was jumping in the RV for her Montana trip. Laurie, whose son and Noah pick up as if they only saw each other 9 hours ago, not 9 months. Karen and her new friend Brian, who are great in ways I can't begin to describe--well, Karen is, and since she has exquisite taste (look at her friends, after all) so I assume that Brian will be equally very cool. Lindsay, who is making me insanely jealous because she's moving to SPAIN (that's is so unfair, why can't I move to Spain?) Ann, who is the perfect Barnes and Noble/movie date. SIGH. The truth is, it takes me forever to make friends, really it does. I've known Lisa since I was 10, but the others it took me 20 freakin' years to find. Sigh. I miss them all the time!
Happy to be here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

We're Outta Here!

Saturday night 9:30 pm we touch down in Minneapolis and I can't wait. It's been a terrific(ally long) year. I remember vaguely that we had this idea of hanging out here this summer and traveling, but HA to THAT. Our home visit will be a bit shorter than we had planned (more on that later) but puh-lenty of time to catch up, kick back, and hang out!

So...after 13 hours on a plane, 4 hours in Chicago and another 90 minutes to Minneapolis, we will be BACK! And I'll need a stiff drink if anyone wants to join me.

As I signed yearbooks and said goodbye to teachers and students who won't be returning next year, I am profoundly grateful that I am--no big transitions, no movers, no ginormous life changes.

Now, here's hoping that China will let us back in. Just in case, I'm packing a quarantine kit--toilet paper, food, cigarettes to bribe the guards...you know, the essentials.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Laws of Life--From a Very Wise Young Man

Cameron won an essay contest with this "Laws of Life" essay he wrote this year. He is somone who plays his cards close to his vest. It is hard to know what he thinks or feels about life. It has always been difficult to get him to share with us what's in his heart. I'm not sure what more can be said after reading his essay, except that we are truly blessed to be able to have this young man in our family and in our lives.

Has life been good to you? It seems that, whenever people are asked that question, they always look at the bad things that have happened to them, and never the good. They look at how bad they might be doing in school or job, or how much money they have lost in the failing economy. Never do they think of the difference they’ve made, maybe in the life of a child, how well off they are compared to others, how truly happy they are. And they would, if they would think of how many times someone has smiled at them today, thanked them, or just said how happy they are to know them.

I was at my friend’s house; it was time for me to leave. When my dad left to get me, he had left a plastic cutting board on the stove, which he had left on. The board had caught on fire, and flamed up, melting a lot of our kitchen, and making our house uninhabitable for the next 8 months. It was our second house fire in less than five years. After it, all our family could think of was how terrible it was, that we had to live in a townhouse. How much it would cost to repair it, what if someone was hurt? But looking back, it was almost a blessing. Before the fire, my mom had wanted to remodel the kitchen, but she didn’t know how we could afford it. But we got the entire kitchen remodeled for free, because of our insurance. And because we had a brand-new kitchen, when we moved we were able to rent out a thirty year old house at a price of a ten year old one.

That is mainly why people think of how bad off they are. It is because, however much we want to, we can never see beyond the now. We cannot see what the outcomes of something will be, whether they are good or bad. If we could, we would be so much happier.

When my parents first told me that we were moving to Tanzania, in east Africa, I was fine. But as the weeks ticked by, and it seemed that it was inevitable, that my parents weren’t joking, I started to mope. How could they do this to me? I was happy here, I had friends, and so are they, why did they want to move? And why to Africa? But moving to Africa might have been the best thing that has happened to me. It was amazing. It really opens my mind to the world, taught me so much, and helped me to develop into the person I am today. In Minnesota, I was pretty much no one. I was homeschooled, so I didn’t get to mix really with anyone. I only had four true friends, and I wasn’t really tight with them. But in Tanzania, I was somebody. With only 20 people in a grade, you can’t afford to push somebody out, to exclude them. I still didn’t have many friends, but for a while I was happy. And then we were robbed.

The night we were robbed, I clearly remember what I was doing. I was on the computer, searching up the lyrics to my new favorite song. I went to bed, and it seemed that I had just fallen asleep when I was woken up by my dogs growling, which scared me. They never acted like that. Then I heard my parents. ‘We know that you’re out there. We have called the police, and they are coming. Leave now.’ As the robbers demanded money, my mom woke me up and told me to get my brother and hide. As I did that, the robbers had gotten into our house, at least 8 of them in our house, with probably six more outside. They had huge pangas, or machetes, and probably would killed or seriously hurt my parents. They couldn’t find their wallets, so I grabbed mine and ran out to give it to them. It probably had a hundred dollars in it. So I got my brother and we hid in my closet. I don’t really remember anything else. We were saved by our neighbors, who we had called before they had gotten into our house.

This wasn’t the first time we had been robbed, but it was defiantly the scariest, and the worst. We had lost thousands of dollars in items. And that was the beginning of the end of our stay in Tanzania. We never lived in that house again. It just never felt safe. We stayed in a hostel for a while, and then got another house in town. But it was never the same. It was about four months after the robbery that I was told that we were going to move again, this time to China. And again, I was angry and sadder this time then the last. It was only one robbery. We could get over it, we could survive it. Please don’t make me move again. I couldn’t see past the present. I knew how happy I was, but I couldn’t see how amazing China would be, how much of a godsend it was.

And now I’m here, and I think that I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I am so much more different than that 11 year old, crying myself to sleep on the long plane ride from my old life to my new. I have more friends than ever. I think and act differently. I am, I think, a better person. And I am because, partially because of the good things that have happened to me, but mainly because of the bad. Without the bad, I would still be in America, just plain old Cameron.

So has life been good to you? I can say without a doubt, that despite all of the hardships and heartbreaks that I’ve had, that it has. And everyone can say that. Because no matter what, it has been. If nothing else, we have been blessed by God to be alive, to be His children, and to live in His grace. So when something bad happens to you, stop and think about that, and think about how you may be given opportunities that will change your life because of it. Because no matter what may happen, something will good will come of it.

Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness, and purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Monday, June 08, 2009

Chicken A-la-Carte

How much would this world have if those of us who do have were more intentional about their choices? I have noticed an astonishing amount of waste, particularly in food, here in China compared with Tanzania. China has a culture of excess--that to show wealth and respect is to provide far more food that anyone can possibly eat at a meal (imperial dinners could run into 100 courses) and not to worry about wasting it. HUGE buffets are very popular at hotels--where unused food is tossed.
And I'm struck and humbled by the thanks the family shows for what they have received. Would that more of us, myself included, see the blessings in our lives more easily.