Friday, June 29, 2007

Blue Moose and SHAKE!

Thursday: The F ladies all go into town to eat breakfast at the Blue Moose and to discuss Three Cups of Tea. We had a great time selecting the book by email 6 weeks ago. We all suggested books, and then worked to winnow the list to one. This book was K’s suggestion. It is a fun outing, and I prefer this to the shopping that follows. Not that I hated it, I just got tired and wanted to leave sooner than we did. We did pick up Breckenridge t-shirts for the whole clan for family photos later in the week.

On the way back to the Sweet Mountain House, we stop by the grocery store so I can get food for our dinner. We make pork chops with adobo spice paste, our potatoes packets on the grill, and yummy grilled vegetables. It is a big hit. We follow up with the banana packets on the grill. I love doing a full grilled meal.

I think Thursday was the Rook breakthrough too. We had been playing Rook all week, and each time, with each partner, I lost. Time and time again. In probably 20 hands, I was dealt the Rook once. I was having some terrible luck, and was getting agitated about it. This time, I was partners with AJ and playing against C and E. After a few lousy hands (the first being the worst where we got set and they got 95 points!), I had a temper tantrum, complaining about my crappy luck and saying that I was going to keep on playing until my luck changed. Almost immediately, things changed, and I got dealt the Rook 4 out of 8 hands, I think. We ended up winning after an awful start. I didn’t play Rook again that week.

That evening, we all thoroughly enjoy a dance showed, billed as Shake! by MJF. MJ and W have selected the perfect music for a costume completely covered in fringe. I can’t believe her moves and am in tears from laughing so hard. Luckily, Em gets some video on her camera—not the best quality, but at least some documentation. T also joins in the fun with a pink shiny metallic shirt and some pink velvety pants, complete with a green furry hat. This goes perfectly with his break dancing moves and high kicks. They do a number together, then T and finally MJ get a solo. There is a small meltdown at the end when T tries to horn in on MJ’s solo, but AJ does a great job helping her calm down.

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14,265 Feet

Wednesday: All of the F kids, except for AJ, plus me and C leave the house at 6:30 to go to the trailhead for Mount Quandry, the 13th highest mountain in Colorado at 14, 265 feet. We spend the day hiking to the summit and back to the car. We make it home by 2:30. It’s a long day, and we spend the most time scrambling up rocks.

I am the slowest by far, but am relieved to summit before the others decide to turn around and come back. I turn on
my iPod to listen to some of my Amy Tan book to keep my mind occupied. When that runs out, I start counting my steps, forcing myself to put one foot in front of another. By the time I finally make it to the top, I have counted 1,134 steps. I figure that a big part of the reason for my laggardness is that I live in a city that is 300 feet above sea level, but CC and Em are far ahead of me too. I call AJ from the summit. Awesome reception!

On the way down, the rocks seem to go forever. It isn’t a pretty hike since we are above the treeline for most of the time, but I’m glad we were able to all do it together. The picture to the right isn't me or anyone I know. The pictures from our trip are on Em's camera and I haven't gotten them yet. I didn't bring mine because I thought AJ would want to take pics of the kids up on Copper Mountain. Too bad that he totally forgot to take it. But, it gives a sense of the rock fields. At this point, the summit looks so close. It took me so long to get to the top of that thing from this same point!

An aside from the trip report: E has climbed quite a few of the 50+ fourteeners in Colorado. As it turns out, Colorado is the highest state and has more mountains reaching 14,000 feet than any other state. I think it's an awesome goal to summit all of them. Perhaps if we lived in Colorado, I would climb a few more of them. This got me thinking about the individuality of place and geography. Each of our residences has had unique features--in some places more than others, I've embraced the uniqueness and tried to appreciate it.

I decided a few things based on this hike and the other mountain walking we did:

1. I need to take my kids on more nature walks/hikes around our area

2. In general, we need to do more outside. (I am resistant to embracing the outdoor winter activities in Minnesota. Maybe we can work on that a bit.)

3. I want to find the fourteener equivalent (or its slightly less arduous counterpart) in Minnesota. Maybe this means we should start canoeing and eventually do the boundary waters. Certainly, it suggests that I should start researching the state geography and unique environmental features.

Back to the trip report: After the hike, I enjoy a refreshing diet coke and sandwich and then take a relaxing steam shower in the steam room. K and C make delicious bruschetta and spaghetti for dinner. I think this is the night that we watch The Recruit.
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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mine Tour and White Elephants

Tuesday: We have waffles with strawberries for breakfast. Yum! Thanks, K.

That morning, we go over to a mine opened in the 1870’s and closed in 1946 and take a tour. It’s cool and wet inside, and we didn’t come prepared, but with the hardhats and slickers, it works out pretty well. We get some great family photos of us outside the entrance. And we get to try the steep tunnel slide. The kids love it. There are also miniature burros to feed, and some try their hands at panning for gold.

We eat Thai take-out for dinner, and AJ and I get a nice after dinner walk in. After dinner, we have a white elephant exchange, organized by K. This year, we came prepared. We pulled out the carved wood owl bank that BigT and C got as a wedding present. It’s been making the rounds for a while now. We also found a pair of BigT’s old Madras style patchwork pants that AJ has been holding onto. They are quite popular right now—too bad E couldn’t fit into them. CC was quite excited about them. I also found a few things at garage sales right before we left. I honestly don’t know how anyone could really sell the junk I picked up. The best item I found was the Top Gun soundtrack on record.

Em was very excited to see her HappyBobs again, a pair of rubberized shorts with a hard rubber seat. Perfect for sliding down a snow hill. Em also had a few treasures to distribute collected from her mother-in-law. T got a great present: some Peeps bubbles. He was happy.

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Easiest Hike

Monday: We get up and have breakfast. We decide to pack a lunch and go for a little hike. All of us. We drive over to Wal-mart to get T a quick pair of new shoes. His tennis shoes are too small, and we didn’t realize it until then since he has been wearing sandals non-stop.

We start up the hike. T is fascinated with all the rocks and picks them up, one after the other. He finds a big rock with some sparkly parts, his eyes get really big, and he says, “I just discovered gold!” CC gets a little anxious that we are going so slow, despite our requests to him and the others to just go ahead. AJ puts T on his shoulders, but I have to hold back with MJ. She complains most of the way up about how tired she is despite my efforts to distract her with all the sights of the hike. I bribe her with a prize if she can make it to the “top” without being carried by E or AJ. We eat a picnic lunch near a stream probably ¼ to 1/3 of a mile up the trail. The kids have fun dipping their feet in the ice cold mountain stream with dad and uncles, but I pass. AJ then takes the kids back down the trail along with nana and papa and the rest of us hike up a little further. By the time we get to the mountain pasture, it’s just me, K, and papa.

Dinner that night is amazing: CC&Em are in charge and we eat fajitas and a jicama and grapefruit salad, with crème puffs and raspberries drizzled with dark chocolate for dessert. We spend the night playing The Great Dalmuti, one of Em’s favorite games. I don't do too bad, and get to be the dalmuti for a few rounds.

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Getting to Breckenridge and the Sweet Mountain Home

Sunday: The kids sleep in a little bit, but I wake up at 6:15 thinking it’s 8. No clock on the side table in our room. I get to read a lot of 4 Zinas and decide I need my own copy. What a great book! We putz around the house and the kids take a bath. I decide not to take T to church so that he can get a nap before we go up to the mountains. Everyone leaves for church a little before 1 and T goes to sleep. I then go out to the three-season deck and start Three Cups of Tea so that I will be ready to discuss it for the F book group. I sip a diet coke while reading. So lovely. After church, we have dinner and get ready to go. We load the van with all our stuff plus the Costco goods and leave around 7 for Breckenridge. We get there by 8:30 or so, and wow—the Sweet Mountain House is amazing. It’s CC’s sister’s house. They’ve had it for about 2 years now, but it’s beautiful, huge, and isolated in the mountains. We unpack and get the kids into bed. We are sleeping downstairs in a great room with two deliciously comfortable queen beds, our own bathroom, but also right next to the bathroom with the steam room.
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Getting to Denver

Friday: I spend the day getting everything ready for the trip: gizmos for the kids in the car, suitcases, food, etc. I have the oil changed in the mini-van. When AJ gets home at 4:30, he packs the four suitcases, three backpacks, cooler, and everything else in the van and we have a sandwich for dinner and we’re off. Not even to the freeway yet, and T is asking over and over for some water. I don’t want him to drink a lot because I don’t want to have to stop for bathroom breaks every 30 minutes. But, after a slightly tense start, we whiz down to Des Moines (250 miles) in about 3 ½ hours. Total stops before our hotel? Zero. We stay at a Marriott Courtyard for only $50 because of Priceline.

Saturday: We all sleep in until 9:00. Shoot. We were going to leave the hotel around 9. I shower and then take the kids to Target to get some yogurt and milk for our breakfast. AJ has to send an email for work. We pull out a little before 11. Ugh. Long day ahead. But, overall, the kids do GREAT! They color pictures of state flowers and birds, they play, they watch a DVD. We stop for lunch in Lincoln, Nebraska. AJ’s hamstring is strained, so I drive most of the way to Denver. In total, it’s about 700 miles. We make it to AJ’s parent’s house by about 9:00 local time. T hasn’t napped at all in the car, yet it is still a challenge to get him and MJ to calm down enough to go to sleep.
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Our trip to Colorado

We spent last week in the glorious mountains of Colorado with AJ's family. What a wonderful week! I wanted to document what we did, so the next few posts will chronicle our trip.
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Friday, June 22, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

“Here, we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family and for our family we are prepared to do anything—even die.”

Three Cups of Tea is the remarkable story of Greg Mortensen who has devoted his life to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After a failed attempt at summiting K2 in the Himalayas in 1993, Mortensen barely survives his descent off the mountain and ends up recuperating for 6 weeks in the tiny village of Kophe in the remote Baltistan region of Pakistan. He is graciously hosted in the village elder’s home, Haji Ali, and grows to become good friends with him and other members of the village. Just before returning to the United States, he asks Haji Ali to show him the village’s school. Embarrassed, Ali takes him to an open field where children sit with no teacher, scratching out figures in the dirt. Mortensen is moved, and though he has hardly a cent to his name, he promises to come back and build a school.

Thus begins the life mission of Mortensen. Up to this point in his life, he has worked as a nurse because the flexibility allowed him to pursue his passion as a mountain climber. Now, something else has taken its place in his heart. He returns home, living out of his car to save money, and laboriously types letter after letter to celebrities and anyone else he thinks could be a possible donor to attempt to fund raise the $12,000 he has estimated it will take to build a school in Korphe. He finds his break when a wealthy mountaineer turned scientist reads about Mortensen’s quest in a mountaineering newsletter and sends a check for the entire amount with a stark note attached: “Don’t screw up. Regards, J.H.”

The story is inspirational. Here is a common man with no specialized training and very few personal financial resources who is attempting to change the world. And in the villages where he has overseen the erection of a school, the world there has surely been changed. I wondered how someone can find their own passion like this. With Mortensen, a personal experience with individuals in the village of Korphe started the fire of his passion. He was single-minded in his quest to build this one school, but to then return to his “normal life.” But, along the way, and with the funding from one particular individual at first, and then from many individuals, he discovered that this was a mission he wanted to dedicate his life to. He learned new languages, he studied books about the area, but most importantly to his success and survival, he loved the people and built relationships with them. By building personal relationships and then using those connections, he was able to get introductions and tap into powerful elders’ networks. He was fully immersed in the village life and Islam. He respected who they were and sought to help them on their own terms. And he found villages that wanted desired education for their children and were willing to dedicate time and labor to construct schools. Mortensen also showed perseverance in setback after setback and an amazing willingness to forego personal comfort. He had no problem sleeping in primitive conditions, in eating and drinking local foods that seem terrible to my Western tongue, and in adapting to all of life in rural Pakistan.

So, with Mortensen, a personal experience combined with unique personal characteristics led him to the path that he is on now. On a smaller sense, I wonder how I can find a passion to dedicate energy and resources to. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.

He had a few choice things to say about the American involvement in Afghanistan. If the Pentagon could count and report the number of top Taliban leadership killed, why could they not estimate the number of civilian casualities? And if the US could carry in huge suitcases of money to pay Afghanistan warlords to support their cause, why was the excuse used that the inefficient bank system prevented the US from sending the aid money promised? Mortensen also believes, and I agree, that the consequences of the US largely abandoned Afghanistan to fight a war in Iraq have been devastating to the country.

Just a few other things to say about this book. K suggested it to AJ’s family for the first ever F family book group. I had a great time yesterday going to breakfast with AJ’s sisters and mom to discuss it. I hope we can do this again.

With a major donation, Mortensen started the Central Asian Institute, that was overseen by the board of directors. But, one problem that I saw revolved precisely around Mortensen’s dedication and desire to personally see to and control every initiative. He was unwilling to hire an American assistant with the same passion to help unload some of the heavy burden Mortensen carried. Without training others in the work that he was doing, the organization would largely be symbolic in nature, but would remain dependent on Greg Mortensen and his charisma and connections. I also wondered what thought has been given to creating a permanent, income-generating endowment so that the finances are on stable ground and that the future financial well-being of CAI is largely secured.

Mortensen was in Pakistan on 9/11 and although his traveling companion quickly left the country, he stayed there for several more weeks with the protection of some local men. Movingly, many women in small villages presented eggs, tokens of grief and mourning, to Mortensen for him to pass on to women in New York whose children had been killed. In the midst of the aftermath, Mortensen acts a voice of moderation stating what now seems to be the obvious: “All Muslims are not terrorists.” And based on his experience in the region, he argued for the need to fight terrorism with not just military action, but with the education of Muslim children. For this he received death threats.

And one more thing: someone in the book commented that Greg’s wife Tara is every bit the hero that he is. She supports him completely in his work, enduring months long absence without being able to be in communication with him, wondering about whether he would make it out alive, caring for their two children alone. Knowing myself, I would have a hard time—a very hard time—with such an arrangement.
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Monday, June 11, 2007


The first couple of weeks after the season finale of Lost, I was depressed. Wednesday evening would come and go and I would have to fold the laundry, but there was no Lost on to watch. The first week, I re-watched the season finale. I don't remember what piddle I watched the second week. Thursday's lunch times had also turned into Lost time for me. I would spend time reading a couple of awesome columns about Lost. So, now I didn't have that to look forward to either.

Then, I fixated on how to get a copy of Lost Season 1 on DVD without spending much money. Everywhere I looked, copies were expensive. They were not selling them at Costco here or Sam's Club in GF where my mom checked for me.

Then, I got an email from B&N advertising "Buy 2 DVDs, Get One Free." I just had to find two other people who wanted to buy something comparable in price to Lost. There were no takers in my family, but I persuaded my mom and my Lostie friends here to go for it. I needed three copies of season 1. My local store didn't have three copies in stock. I special ordered them, but when I called for an update on when they would be coming, the guy said July 7. JULY 7??? Are you freaking kidding me? That was a month away. Forget that.

So then I called all the stores in the area to see if anyone had three copies. No one did. Some had two copies. Finally, one very helpful and resourceful young man told me that I could come to a store and buy two copies, and then have the third copy shipped elsewhere and would qualify for the special deal. So last Wednesday night, I dragged the kids to a store about 15 miles away to get two copies of Lost Season 1 and to have the third copy shipped to my mom.

Want to know a dirty little secret about B&N? At least in this instance, they jacked up their store prices compared to their online prices. The supposed reason is that they have higher overhead costs in their bricks and mortar store compared to a warehouse. I also think that they're making you pay a premium to get your hands on something the moment you want it rather than waiting the few days for it to come in the mail. And it's also easy to look at and see that their prices are lower and to just order from them.

So the kicker is that with the free shipping for my mom, it cost me more to drive up the freeway to a B&N and buy the DVDs there than to just sit waiting comfortably in the privacy of my own home and have them delivered to my door step. Oh well. We got to watch the Lost pilot that night. Awesome.

My other financial resourcefulness? I took back the nice hardback Friedman book I got AJ for father's day last year (because he had read "enough" of the library copy and wasn't interested in reading any more. It hadn't been cracked open, and happily, I didn't inscribe it), and got $22 in store credit at B&N. My total out of pocket costs for Lost Season 1, then? $15. Yee-haw! That's coming on vacation with me.

Hmm. What do I have laying around the house that I can trade in for Season 2??
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Monday, June 04, 2007

Books and Book Groups

Book group meets tomorrow. We are doing Wild Swans, based on my recommendation. I was a little nervous that some members of the group would be intimidated by the size of the book, and all the Chinese names and geography. But, from the feedback I've already gotten back so far, a lot have read/are reading it and they really like it. I'm happy about that. My fear was that, for whatever reasons, everyone would come to book group, but no one would have read the book.

A while ago, there was a guest post on FMH about reading and book groups. There's something so great about reading a book and then talking about it. I wanted to post the comment I made there here because I've thought about it a lot since then. It summarizes my experiences with reading and book groups.

I have always loved reading and books. I have lots of books, and I always look at other people’s bookshelves when I’m in their home to see what they read and what they choose to own. Reading is a litmus test for me in some regards too.

But, it wasn’t until my last ward in Pittsburgh that I read with a book group. It was an amazing first group. Although all Mormon women, nothing was off limits. Everyone was brilliant and there were also lots of strong feminist voices. We read widely and talked late into the night. I cherish the perspectives that I gained from that group. It was the first time I really started to appreciate the talking life of books. I loved what we could share about ourselves through our relating to the books we read. I loved the safe forum for talking about questions in the church and for our lives as women. I miss that group!

When we moved to our new ward in suburbia, the group of women in the ward was much more traditional. A fledging book group had started, and I helped it take off and become more regular. There are a lot of things they wouldn’t want to read, and a lot of things that we wouldn’t talk about. But, I still find that books give us a ground on which to get to know each other in ways that we wouldn’t have otherwise. This past month, we read Chaim Potok and talk about Jewish orthodoxy. There were a lot of issues that resonated into Mormon life. On occasion, though, I have left the group feeling depressed.

Blogging, as much as I like it, is a poor substitute for real-life interaction for me. It’s hard for me to keep track of different voices in the bloggernacle, save for a few, and I am not active enough to feel like anyone knows who I am. It is a good outlet, but I long for personal relationships. On my own blog, I have been writing about the books I read, and I love the process of writing to lay out my thoughts and focus myself. I find that, at times, writing helps me find myself in a book and I love that.

Personally, one of the best things that’s happened in recent past is the development of a friendship with a woman who is a fierce feminist, intellectual, but committed and believing Mormon. Just my type of friend! And we have decided to spend the summer reading together about Mormon women’s history. I’m so excited!
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Last Week of School

I can't believe MJ has almost finished kindergarten. Her last day is Thursday. And it will be the last day I have to drive her, because next year she will be able to take the bus both to and from school. Yeah! I find it hard to believe, though, that she will be in first grade next year.

In the NYT this weekend, there was a big article about the age that kids are starting kindergarten. In affluent areas especially, more parents over time have been holding their kids back so that they are entering kindergarten when they are turning 7. In some areas, a full quarter of children have been held back a year. This trend has cleverly been labeled the greying of kindergarten. The author of the article cited quite a bit of research about how important relative standing is in a class. It made me wonder if we made a mistake putting MJ in kindergarten early. She has a fall birthday, and we felt like she was ready for K. Due to a district provision, there is a window where early fall birthdays can be considered for early admission. She was tested by the school pyschologist, and she felt that there was no question about it: MJ could go to K and do just fine. She has done well this year, and I am really pleased with her school experience. I wonder, though, what the benefits of keeping her back a year may have been. She would have certainly been reading quite well by the time she started K and would have been at the top of her class. And being in a Spanish immersion program, she probably wouldn't have gotten bored. I don't know. I think it was a good decision for her. We have exactly the same situation with T who has a September birthday.

Today, the three kindergarten classes put on a dance show. They each have been practicing a latin flavored dance, and then presented it today. MJ's class did El Baile Gorila. . The music had a modern feel to it, and there were great gorilla type grunts thoughout. The kids did a great job. They dance in boy-girl partners, and MJ was very into it. I especially loved the clapping over the head. MJ wasn't great with the shimmy shoulders. It was so fun to see what they've been learning. I love the cultural side of the immersion school. They had cute costumes for the kids. The girls had a simple bright pink skirt that they wore over black leotards and then these fancy pink sleeves that they pulled up on their shoulders. They had to wear buns and had a silver bow in their hair. It started at 1:15, and was completely over by 1:27. Unfortunately, AJ got there after MJ's class was done. Fortunately, they repeated the entire program because there were quite a few parents who came in late.
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Friday, June 01, 2007

I Don't Like Other People's Babies...

I've never really been a kid person. I liked babysitting when I was young, but mostly because it provided me a legitimate way to get out of my house, be on my own, and earn a little money, not because I liked taking care of kids. I remember Pam, the babysitter my sisters and I loved. She brought her babysitting kit and always had lots of fun things planned for us to do. I was certainly not like her. I was, and still am, something of a minimalist when it comes to kids.

Today, for only a short while, I took care of a neighbor's 3 kids. Part of that time, they were all strapped in the car as I was driving MJ to school. Then, we played outside until their mom came to get them. They have an almost one year old, and he has gotten a lot easier to take care of. In the past, he has freaked out without his mom and spent the whole time crying. Today, he only cried for a while, but I have a hard time dealing with crying babies. And he doesn't really like me, so my picking him up only aggravated it.

Then there's the craziness. For lunch, there were 5 of them sitting at the table--ages 5,5,2,2 and 1. They all need something from me. And there's a lot of noise. I just don't do well in those situations.

I know it's different with my own kids, but it's still unnerving to think about the possibility of having a baby. Can I handle it? Will I be stressed out all the time?
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