My little girl is growing up. She lost her first tooth yesterday!
After this picture, she promptly lost the tooth again, this time literally. Even Grammy’s thorough sweep of the kitchen floor failed to unearth it. So I gave her a pearl to substitute for the tooth under her pillow. And I suggested lamely (how could I not?) that she write a letter to the Tooth Fairy explaining the reason for the substitution. She laughed.
“Mommy, that would just be writing a letter to you!”
True. I confess that I try no harder to perpetuate belief in the Tooth Fairy than in Santa Claus. I figure it’s enough of a job to teach my children all the true things I want them to know, without adding in false ones that will be found out later.
And sometimes I don’t even succeed at getting across the true stuff. The other day at lunch, Axa said she liked the piano piece I’ve been working on lately (my Mozart sonata). For homeschooling, Tony has been reading them a book about Mozart as a child, so he remarked that the sonata was written by “Wolfie.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Raj delightedly, “that means Wolfie is real!”
Sigh. Yes, Wolfie is real. But really, when I think about it, what about him marks him as any more obviously real than Gluck or Dr. Dolittle or Sebastian and Viola? Are my children under the impression that everything I tell them is a fantasy? I flew into a mini-panic, and today at lunch I decided I needed to revisit the last several hundred years of British history with Axa. “Canute is real,” I told her, “and so so is Ethelred the Unready.” ”Yes, I know,” she responded promptly, “but Poseidon isn’t.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Well, no, Poseidon isn’t. Even though he did feature at the beginning of her history book, gifting the island of Britannia to his favorite son. I guess I haven’t completely failed at everything. Not quite.
But yeah, I’ll just stick to the facts when it comes to my kids, even if it ends up with them never experiencing the bliss it no doubt must be to believe in Santa. In my experience, it’s at least as magical for us all to give heart-felt gifts to one another, rather than writing greedy wish-lists to an eccentric old man whose entire raison d’être is to gratify our every material desire. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned, but to me a true gift is not an expected reward for being good, but a token of love to be graciously received.
Besides, I’d hate to end up in Ben Kenobi’s shoes . . .
December 6, 2011 1 Comment
When I was a kid, there was a minister who lived next door to us. He refused to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. Instead, they got little Christian tracts on how evil and satanic the holiday was. At the time, I just thought he was weird. But I could do without Halloween now.
In fact, not seeing spider webs, creepy masks, and gravestones all over people’s yards and store windows every October was one of the things I loved about living abroad. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have to either let my kids gorge themselves on candy for the entire first week of November or be the “mean” mom who takes it all away.
Unfortunately, this year we moved back to the U.S. just in time for Halloween. So I am faced with my Halloween dilemma.
I don’t know why this is, but Mormons in the U.S. really love Halloween. Most wards host a “trunk-or-treat” at which people decorate the trunks of their cars, park them in the church parking lot, and hand out candy to costumed children from them. The sugar orgy usually continues inside the church with additional games and treats. I remember being absolutely thrilled one year to win a hideous chocolate spider cake in the cake walk.
The “trunk-or-treat” concept was originally developed in response to all the concerns about Halloween safety. It was felt that it was important to provide a safe place for children to gorge on candy. However, since the church party was typically held a few days before Halloween, I knew many families who went trick-or-treating too, at least to the houses of family and friends. So in my candy-hating mother mind, trunk-or-treat actually makes the situation worse, not better.
We skipped the trunk-or-treat this year, but my kids got plastic gloves full of popcorn and candy corn today at church, and candy at library story hour yesterday. Still, I don’t want them to feel like they’re missing out on Halloween, so I’ve looked around for alternatives.
One of my Protestant friends recommended having a “Reformation party,” since Martin Luther nailed up his 99 theses on All Saints Eve. I love this idea, but I think I’ll wait until we’ve been through the Reformation in our history readings, and the children have some context.
Charlotte, a mom on one of the many homeschooling email lists to which I subscribe described her family’s Halloween tradition like this:
We live out in the country. We meet with two other families on a predetermined evening. The children, (5 in all), exchange gifts, (usually books or craft supplies). One of the moms, (the most organized of us 3), has our route planned. We visit 6 homes. The owners are aware that we are coming in advance. Two homes are widows, two are elderly and two are grandparents of our small group.
The children wear costumes and we spend 15-30 minutes at each stop. Some offer candy, others homemade treats, (safe because we’ve known these people our entire lives). One stop always serves us supper, another always has cake and ice cream for dessert. Sometimes, an activity has been planned at a particular stop. The children often have made drawings/ cards, or have picked bouquets of wildflowers to leave.
This has been a wonderful outreach. One widow in particular looks forward to our visit all year. She lives miles from town and can’t drive and feels isolated I’m sure. Before us, she never had trick-or-treaters because she lives on an untraveled dirt road. She loves decorating her porch and entryway for the children.
I loved her idea of turning Halloween into a service, family, and community outreach evening. Maybe sometime I’ll get that organized.
In the meantime, what we have planned is a family Halloween party with Grammy and Pampa. We’ll carve our pumpkins, bob for apples, decorate (healthy) cookies (with my honey-cream cheese frosting, nuts, dried fruit, etc.), and play games.
Yeah, I’m a spoilsport. At least it only happens once a year.
1. Our newlywed Halloween, back before I had kids and became such a wet blanket. If you look closely, you’ll see that the earring on Tony’s pirate pumpkin is his wedding ring.
2. My awesome brother Samuel, who when his firstborn son arrives in January will most likely be naming him Yoda.
October 30, 2011 7 Comments
I blogged today over at Times & Seasons about what Mormons and Muslims have in common. Pop on over and have a read: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/10/mormons-and-muslims/
October 24, 2011 No Comments
Words really can’t express how happy I feel for Tunisia and her people today. It has been ten eventful months since Ben Ali left the country, and most of that time I spent in Tunisia, breathing the heady air of new democracy and marvelling at events that seem almost miraculous, and continue to reverberate around the world.
Today brought to first fruition the promise of the Tunisian people’s revolutionary dream. The country voted today to elect a 217-member assembly, which has as its primary purpose drafting a new constitution. The body will also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections, setting Tunisia firmly on the path toward a stable democratic future.
I am in awe of the Tunisian people for accomplishing this, and so honored to have spent the months after the revolution as a guest in their beautiful country. I watched them day after day, week after week, as they kept close tabs on their slippery interim government, continuing to protest and demand change as necessary, often facing batons and bullets but never backing down.
Today their patience, determination and heroism were vindicated as they participated in what for most was the first real election they had ever experienced. Exceeding even wildly optimistic expectations, voter turnout reportedly came in at over 90%. The nearly universal blue-inked fingers today were a badge of honor, a tangible symbol of the courage and solidarity that have brought Tunisia to this historic moment.
Amid the bloody carnage of Qaddafi’s demise, Libya’s future continues to be uncertain. Egypt’s military power base remains difficult to dislodge. Syria’s peaceful revolutionaries press on despite horrifying casualties and crippling sanctions. But Tunisia shines steadfastly as a beacon of hope and triumph for a region and world that desperately needs to believe that ideals are worth something, and freedom and justice are not hazy pipe dreams, but attainable goals.
May they continue to achieve success in their noble endeavor, and may the new dawn they have ushered in spread its rays far and wide until the light of hope and freedom shines with equal brightness on the whole Middle East and all the world.
October 23, 2011 No Comments
Well, how about some movie reviews? I don’t watch that many movies these days. I was far too spoilt when I lived in Provo and could watch artsy foreign films for free just down the street from my house. But I do suffer through trans-Atlantic flights from time to time, so I do occasionally watch movies. Even (fairly) new movies.
On the way home from Tunisia, I watched two out of three. Sorry, but if you want a review of Pirates of the Caribbean #17 (or whatever number it was), you’re out of luck.
I did, however, watch Thor. And found it seriously underwhelming. Kenneth Branagh did a pretty fantastic job on the sets for Asgard, which were bold, dramatic, and panoramic. Plot and script, though, were a different story; silly, almost to the point of inanity, even on the lips of Natalie Portman. What really bothered me, though, was the painfully transparent political propaganda. I almost choked on my tomato juice when Thor actually came out and told the Department of Homeland Security officer that he and the U.S. government were engaged in a common fight against evil. In the movie, even an adopted baby from that evil “other” race can’t overcome his inherently demented nature. Since when have we decided that it is once again acceptable to invoke Norse gods in a crusade against an entire race and culture? This movie reminded me a little too much of a post-9/11 version of Hitler’s annual idealized Nordic art displays.
The King’s Speech, on the other hand, I loved. Prince Albert, Duke of York, is thrust unwillingly into the throne when his brother abdicates. A serious speech impediment makes any form of public address torture for him. As his country moves toward war, he enlists the help of a speech therapist to prepare him for a speech to rally his people. Colin Firth’s performance as the troubled monarch is masterful. Geoffrey Rush dominates the stage as the imperturbable Australian therapist. And Helena Bonham Carter is an absolutely delightful Queen Elizabeth. As in so many cases, I believe my enjoyment of this film would be even greater if I weren’t desensitized by my American upbringing to the glorious monarchism that pervades it. Still, it is a powerful, enjoyable, and stirring film.
I know everyone else watched Amazing Grace four years ago when it came out. I finally saw it, and I just loved it. This film treads the edge of sentimentalism (and yes, occasionally falls off of it), but it is so inspiring I couldn’t mind too much. I always enjoy a good historical drama, but this one was something special. William Wilberforce is my new hero. What an incredible story of courage, perseverance, and dedication. Wilberforce is a perfect example of standing up against an evil that is so entrenched that most people view it as necessary, and suceeding. I found the whole thing riveting. Next time I go to London and visit Westminster Abbey, I will make sure to pay my respects at Wilberforce’s grave.
October 18, 2011 5 Comments
I was thrilled to hear last week that Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger who was at the forefront of human rights cyber activism ahead of the revolution, is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded tomorrow. If chosen, she would most likely share the prize with one or more Egyptian bloggers.
Along with other activist bloggers in Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Ben Mhenni wrote on issues such as press freedom and women’s rights. But unlike many bloggers, who hid their identities to avoid harassment and detention by government officials, Ben Mhenni defied the press ban, blogging under her own name. For her, daring to speak the truth without fear was the only way to effect a change. As the revolution progressed, she traveled throughout Tunisia at considerable personal risk, documenting protests and regime brutality, and posting photos of young people injured or killed by police forces.
A prize awarded to Ben Mhenni would acknowledge her personal courage, and also in some sense honor all the Tunisians who braved batons and bullets to peacefully demand freedom and self-determination. It would be a symbolic affirmation of the importance of the revolution as a catalyst for the Arab Spring, and a gesture of hope toward the fruition of the dreams Arab youth throughout the region have proclaimed as their own. Coming just before Tunisia’s historic elections, a Nobel Peace Prize would re-affirm the world’s commitment to supporting fragile emerging democracies, and underscore the importance of this new dawn in the Middle East.
The Nobel Committee has a history of using the prize not just as a reward for those who have promoted peace, but as an encouragement for people and organizations they feel are in a position to make pivotal contributions in the future. A free and democratic Middle East would have the potential to dramatically move the world toward peace. At a moment when the Arab Spring has faltered in some areas, and continues to be brutally repressed in others, a vote of confidence and affirmation from the world outside would be a welcome breath of fresh, hopeful air, in an atmosphere that seems in some ways to be falling bleakly back into the long winter of despotism.
So I’m casting my vote for Lina Ben Mhenni and her colleagues of the Arab Spring. Whether she wins the Nobel Peace Prize or not, this is a wonderful opportunity to let the dictators of the world remember that we are committed to a future of peace with free and democratic equals around the world.
October 6, 2011 No Comments
Back when I was an entrepreneur, I had a hero named Steve Jobs. He founded and ran an amazingly successful company. He produced new markets out of thin air. But he was more than just a savvy businessman. He was an artist. A creator. I used to read a lot of books about management and business, and my favorites were the ones about Apple, and the way Jobs turned his unerring aesthetic sense into an empire, a worldwide phenomenon, and a whole new way of living with technology. He had an instinctive understanding of the importance of design, which he honed to sophisticated perfection. His distinctive stamp marked every product graced with the Apple logo. Instead of customers, he had lifetime fanatics.
Fortunately, when we hired a designer for our company, he idolized Jobs as much as I did. We were both in raptures the day he showed me our new “X” logo, over which he’d laid the exact same bevel and sheen as Apple’s latest updated logo.
As Tony and I tried to shape and grow a struggling young company, I gobbled up everything I could read about Jobs. One book described him examining the look and feel of expensive corporate stationery from Xerox, and running his fingers over the expensive cars in the parking lot, trying to figure out what were all the subtle but crucial details that differentiated a BMW from just a car. That obsessive attention to aesthetic detail was a significant component of his genius; the idea that design matters, not superficially, but as part of the essence of things. Jobs had a poet’s sense that form and function are ultimately inseparable. He imagined people touching and holding and living with his creations, not just using them.
And we do, and we love the experience he’s created for us. I’m typing this on my much-beloved MacBook Pro, which has been plugged into all different shapes of outlets, had several keys pulled off by children and painstakingly put back on by me, been dropped on carpet, tile and dirt, and still runs like a dream after four years of (ab)use. Sometimes, I admit, I take it for granted. But I can’t sit down at a PC without feeling the shock of clunky, thoughtless, even downright ugly design, and marveling anew at the cool, elegant artistry of every tiny detail of Apple’s hardware, and software.
In an interview with BusinessWeek thirteen years ago, Jobs remarked, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” From the ipod to the iphone to the ipad and beyond, we’ve got a pretty good idea now of what we want. Because Steve Jobs has been showing us all along. Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You will be missed.
October 5, 2011 No Comments
It’s the question of the hour. And if you forced me to choose between Huntsman and Romney, I’d have to say that a president who speaks Chinese would probably be more useful than one who speaks French. But eight long years of Bush and then a Mad Tea Party have almost completely sapped my patience with the G.O.P.
Fortunately, there’s another Mormon running for President. His name is Yeah Samake. Like the original Mormon presidential duo, he is clean-cut, wholesome, and charismatic. And his French makes Romney sound like an episode of Prairie Home Companion’s Guy Noir. Throughout his political career, Mr. Samake has focused on “transparency, public participation and strict financial accountability.” Sound good? Well, don’t get too excited. He’s running for President of Mali.
Until my college roommate spent the Christmas holidays one year in Timbuktu, I didn’t know it actually existed. I thought it was more like Shangri-la, or Atlantis, or the Lost City of Z. But the city that for us is synonymous with “the ends of the earth” is a real place in a real African country called Mali. Mali has a rich history and culture, but economically is one of the very poorest countries in the world. A look at Samake’s stand on crucial campaign issues gave me pause for thought:
Stand Against The Old Ways
- Provide Principle-Centered Leadership
- Insure Efficient Use of Scarce Resources
- Stamp Out Corruption
- Food Sufficiency – Irrigation, Clean Water Supply
- Education – Caring for Teacher, Active Learning Curriculum, Distant Education
- Health – Infrastructure building, Training, Telemedicine
- Economic Development – Security Guarantee, Promote Foreign Investment
Does it make our First World problems seem a bit less consequential to think that in some countries clean water and sufficient food are key campaign issues?
Samake was born to a poor family that believed in education. He and his family worked and sacrificed so that he could receive an education, and then go on to college. After moving to New York City, he found and joined the Mormon Church, and subsequently did graduate work at B.Y.U.
For many people from developing countries, achieving economic prosperity in the United States marks the pinnacle of a long journey. But for Samake, it was only the beginning. He chose to take his education and expanded world view back to his home country. When he was elected mayor of Ouelessebougou in 2009, the city was one of the worst-developed in Mali. Two years later, Samake’s principled leadership has brought it into the top ten in the entire country. His strategy is to work on the grassroots level by holding local leaders accountable and helping them to gain the trust of their constituents.
Samake’s approach combines firm integrity with practical solutions and boundless optimism. He has spent significant time campaigning among expat Malians in the U.S., as well as soliciting donations from his B.Y.U. and Utah networks. Here’s a great speech he gave at a fundraising dinner in Salt Lake City in May:
Just to be clear, there’s nothing mandatory in the L.D.S. Church about voting for Mormon candidates, so I won’t be breaking any rules by giving the cold shoulder to Romney and Huntsman. But I think I could happily vote for someone like Samake. If you could too, you can pop on over to his English-language campaign page. Best of luck to him, and may the best man win!
September 1, 2011 1 Comment
What is it with us and garbage problems? First there was the Italian fiasco, in which we had to evade law enforcement to get rid of our garbage. And next, we got in trouble for throwing bread to the birds, because I’m apparently the only one on the planet who somehow missed out on how taboo it is to throw bread on the ground in a Muslim country.
Now we have this problem:
This lovely little pile is located just around the corner from our house. It’s the neighborhood dumpster/garbage mountain, which happens to be sandwiched between the 4-Star Miramar Hotel and the main entrance to world famous Hammamet Beach. Nice, huh? And sadly, the beach boasts a similar amount of trash, although it’s more spread out, and tends to get buried somewhat in sand.
What you can’t get from the picture is the incredible smell, discernible from a block away in any direction. As well as the colony of nocturnal cats that is getting fat and sassy off these decaying delicacies. Is ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali reading this and laughing at how poorly we get along without him? I hope not. Are we all planning to vote for whichever of the 94 new Tunisian political parties promises to solve our garbage problem? Well, maybe.
But in the meantime, we fortunately have a problem solver closer to home. Our friend Jo Ann, a fellow-American and long-time lover of Tunisia has jumped right in (figuratively only, fortunately) and organized a grassroots organization to clean up the mess.
We’re planning a clean-up day for the beach next month. In the meantime, we have this, which collects all the plastic bottles people use to wash their feet and then strew all over the entrance of the beach. Since this photo was taken yesterday afternoon, it has already been completely filled and emptied. Score 1 for Hammamet Propre!
Jo Ann (who is also an accomplished artist) organized an information/mural-painting day yesterday, which we were more than thrilled to attend.
Axa and Dominique were recruited to lend their artistic skills:
Dominique painted the world (with a separate sky and sun in each country).
And here’s Axa showing off her painting:
Here’s to a clean beach and neighborhood!
August 24, 2011 3 Comments
Looks like months of desperate fighting and daily NATO strikes have finally paid off. The Libyan rebels are largely in control of Tripoli. We’re not sure where Mad Qaddafi is now, as he’s been missing for quite some time. Rumor had it that last week he’d escaped into Tunisia, but I haven’t seen him anywhere around here. Today he sent someone over to blow up an unspecified embassy in Tunis (the would-be terrorist defected instead), so it’s probably much more likely that Qaddafi will be landing in Cuba or Venezuela within the next few days.
However, his son Saif al-Islam has been taken captive by the rag-tag rebel army, and will soon be on his way to the Hague to face trial for crimes against humanity. Smooth, polite, bespectacled Saif looks and acts nothing like his father. On Libyan State T.V., while Qaddafi typically appeared bizarrely dressed, madly screaming and wildly flailing his arms, Saif was the picture of cool, collected reasonableness. Under his spell, it was almost possible to believe that the brave rebels really were just a handful of shiftless troublemakers hopped up on free drugs. And who but Saif could drop the slick Western veneer at a moment’s notice and suddenly grow out a beard and look perfectly Islamic when tactics changed.
Saif was prepared to carry on the Qaddafi legacy with a cold-hearted finesse that would have made his father proud, even if he couldn’t quite match the iconic paternal flamboyance. He was accustomed to living the high life in Western society and being wined and dined by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. But it’s over for Saif now. Rebel sympathizers in London watched the news of his arrest from Saif’s own ten million pound mansion in Camden, which they took over in March, absente reo.
Here’s the real kicker, though. The London School of Economics is currently investigating reports that Saif’s recent PhD thesis was plagiarized. How much worse can life get, really?
August 22, 2011 2 Comments