Friday, September 29, 2006

Word of the Day

On my Google home page, it gives me a word of the day. Today it's

monomania: obsession with a single subject

Made me immediatly start thinking of what I am monomanic about.

Sometimes I gotta admit it's chocolate. Not Hershey's, but rich, European chocolate.

I don't know that I have ever been totally monomanic to the exclusion of anything else in my life ... though if I think about it for a while, who knows what I might remember ... but there certainly have been mini-monomanic phases.

When I was 13 I had to have a Panasonic tape player - a cute little bubble-shaped one.
When I was 14 I had to have horse-back riding lessons.
When I was 16 there was this certain young man at school ... never knew I was alive, I'm sure, but boy-oh-boy was I monomanic about him! My best friend and I used to yell greetings to him from the anonymity of the chairlift at the local ski hill (and then giggle so much we could hardly ski)

Lately? Well a few years ago I was definitely monomanic about saving a wonderful kindergarten program at our local school ... found myself getting up in the middle of the night with ideas and plans ... lost that battle, though.
Getting a dog? check
Homeschooling the boys? check

I wish I could be monomanic about getting in better physical shape!

What are you monomanic about?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Again with a book review

Since reading The Road From Coorain, I have found the next two books in Jill Ker Conway's autobiography. True North takes us from the time she leaves Australia to attend Harvard, through her wedding to John Conway, and to her role as Vice President of the University of Toronto. It ends when she is invited to become the first female president of Smith College, an all-women's college in Massachusetts.

A Woman's Education picks up there -- she is 39 years old, and discovering that she has made a name for herself almost without knowing it, as a champion of women's rights, specifically the right to a quality education and any job she is qualified for. I am not finished with this last volume yet, so don't know if there will be a fourth memoir (she is in her 80's now and lives in Massachusetts, still working as an adunct professor at MIT.)

As I read her words, about her life and her beliefs, I find myself thinking about feminism and how women today do take so much for granted. Ker Conway became president of Smith in 1975. Only a couple of years before I was thinking about college for myself. She writes about how the era of gender-segregated universities was ending, the bastions of male-only schools were becoming co-educational, and the majority of female-only institutions were following suit, suspecting that they would not be able to entice qualified students now that women could attend the elite Ivy League schools which previously had been off-limits to them. Ker Conway ruffled some feathers, but also gained a lot of admirers (particularly amongst Smith alumni) when she insisted Smith would stay a college for women only, and that she was confident they would never have admissions problems. She was proved correct.

She brought about programs to allow women on welfare to attend college (previously Massachusetts law said that if a woman accepted a college scholarship, she lost her welfare benefits.) She started programs to allow middle-aged women to attend college calsses part time on weekends and in the evening, so they could continue with their day jobs or take care of their families. That sounds so simple, so "well, of course!" to us now, in 2006. But only 30 years ago -- in OUR lifetimes - this was radical. Women were still not seen as worthy of an education across the board.

Everything she did was to help women advance. Every battle she fought and won, she did it for women. She made such an incredible difference in the development of women's educational rights - which, in turn, continues to make a difference in the development of women's rights in the world, period.

And she did it all while younger than I am today. I guess that's the part that keeps hitting me over and over again. Where did she get the confidence, the authority, the self-realization to give her the strength and ability to do all that at such a young age? Why am I still floundering for "what I want to be when I grow up" at my age?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Peace House Academy growing!!

You probably all know by now that I am a board member of Peace House Foundation, and that we are building a school in Tanzania. Well, today I got an email with this incredible aerial view of the construction site!

The square-with-courtyards-in-the-middle buildings at the bottom of the picture are dormitories. The oblong rectangle to the left of the dorms is the kitchen and dining room. If you follow the road that is in front (on top) of the dining hall to the left, you come to the whitish-looking buildings that area clustered together -- that will be the administration building and first section of classrooms.

The road that makes a loop in the upper central part of the photo is the housing area. The three buildings on the right are guest housing. The house in the middle of the loop kind of by itself, just left of the grassy area, is Hillman's house. The buildings above that house in the picture are staff housing.

This picture wastaken by a professional photographer who just returned from a trip over to Arusha - he volunteered his time and expertise for us. I had no idea he would be doing shots from the air! This is so cool!

After 6 years of planning it is so rewarding to see buildings going up and to know that we are getting really, really close to opening our school!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ty earns his White Belt

Ty has started Tae Kwon Do this year. It's something he has talked about for a while, and this fall everything lined up properly so that he could start lessons. After less than a month of being a "no-belt" he was able to successfully complete the very first level Tae Kwon Do exam and earn his white belt. I know he was proud of himself, but he didn't come anywhere near the level of pride his mother felt for him!Part of the test for white belt is breaking his first board. Apparently you have to break boards at several levels, each time doing it in a more difficult manner.

The look on his face when he actually broke it in class (this is a re-creation at home!) was so wonderful - I wish there had been some way to capture it at the moment it happened. I hadn't even known he was testing that day, so of course didn't have the camera. It was actually lucky that I even was there watching, as his studio is right across the street from the grocery store, and a Caribou - so I often do other things while he practises!

Tonight when I took these pictures he said "You're gonna put them on the blog, right, Mom?" when I answered with an "of course" he replied with a small sigh, "yeah, that's what moms do when they're proud of their kids."

He's got that right!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Got my camera back

I got my camera back from its trip to Russia. It had a great time, but was so pleased to be used to take this picture of Ben in his brand new Boy Scout uniform! He joined Scouts a week ago, and left this evening for his first weekend camp out. It's raining, but not too cold, so hopefully all will go well. He was so excited he could hardly contain himself! He has been reading his Scout Handbook all week long - even foregoing electronics time to read some more - and was very ready to go to the camp out. He is quite proud of his uniform and the new equipment he was able to get - a new sleeping bag & mat, a mess kit, a pocket knife, and he inherited Steve's old cooking kit from the days that he was a Scout (and Steve was a member of the same troup, #473, that Ben is in now! Ben was introduced as a "legacy scout.")

I can't wait until Sunday to hear how the weekend went! And as soon as it stops raining, I will take more photos to post here.


Last night was my neighborhood book club. We started the club about two years ago, and really have a fun time getting together to drink wine, eat goodies, and occasionally talk about the book! We are not too strict about actually requiring that you read the book in its entirety to attend the meetings, and we don't get too intellectual in our discussions.

Last night, though, we decided we should talk at least a little about the book, so those who hadn't read it asked for a synopsis. I confidently launched into a description of the characters and plot line, and everyone just stared at me.

Seems I read the wrong book.

This is the book I read.

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews.

Not a particularly difficult book or hard read, but a delightful story of a young woman determined to pull her life together after her cheating boyfriend steals everything from her (and did it legally so she had no recourse.)

I enjoyed it a lot, it didn't take long to finish, the storyline was fun and the characters likeable.


This is the book I was supposed to read. Savannah BLUES by Mary Kay Andrews. Easy mistake, right?!? The characters are the same as in the book I read - seems this book came first, and the one I read was the sequel. So now I just have to go back and read what led up to the events in my book, and I will know the whole story.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who is Nat D?

A couple of people have asked me who Nat D is ... honestly, I don't know much. Somehow she stumbled on to my blog and left a comment quite a while ago, and when I followed her link I found her blog, Natz Ratz, which is all about her pet rats, Timothy and Blaze. She looks like she is about 12, and I got very interested in rats as I read her posts, so she & I have started a pleasant little conversation on how to care for rats and why they are good pets.

So that's the story behind the mystery!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Words

I'm not gonna even try to be coy. I stole this from Calandria's blog. I just couldn't resist!

The Washington Post’s Style Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the 2003 winners:

Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

Beelzebug: Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

Caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Book Review

After reading Princess Academy, I reserved Shannon Hale's earlier book, The Goose Girl. This tome is longer and harder to get emotionally involved in. The plot is slow and drags a bit at the beginning, but eventually - if you stick with it - the pay-off is there.

I read somewhere that Hale had wondered about the fairy tale she heard as a child, about the princess who was living as a common goose girl, and has always wanted to know why the princess was in disguise, and "the rest of the story." Never finding a satisfying explanation, she ended up writing her own.

Of course you know in the end the princess gets her prince (there is a thinly veiled attempt at a misunderstanding of who the true prince is; astute readers will see right through that!) but the interesting portions of this story are the tales of how Isi, the princess/Goose Girl, ends up hiding to protect her life, and how she strategizes to get her rightful title back from the evil imposter. The side plot of her ability to communicate with animals would be, you might think, interesting and captivating, but it really isn't that central to the enjoyment of the book.

Not as good as Princess Academy, and definitely requires some patience early on, but nevertheless a good read.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Peace House Foundation


Colors of Hope

You may be aware that I am on the board of a non-profit organization which works to educate AIDS orphans in Tanzania. I helped found the organization 6 years ago, and my dear friend Carla Hillman, along with her family, moved to Africa in February, 2006, to construct and open a school for these children. Well, here in Minnesota it is time for our annual gala fundraising event, Colors of Hope. If any of you are free on October 28 and want to attend an incredible event, I urge you to join us! There will be live music (African drummers before dinner, a band afterwards), great food (by D'Amico), an auction (silent and live) with incredible items - come do your holiday shopping! - awe-inspiring video of what is happening in Tanzania with our project, a chance to meet Don Shelby (he's our emcee), and last but certainly not least, a chance to help with an important and worthwhile cause. For full info, see the PHF website or email me. I guarantee you will have a great time!

Book Review

Yesterday's read was The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway. I heard about it from Calandria, and her recommendation was enough to make me reserve it at the library. It's a fascinating look at growing up in the bush of Australia in the 1940s and 50s, the third child of a determined couple who chose a very harsh life style as sheep farmers. Ker Conway is thrust into the role of caretaker for her parents from a young age, and eventually found the strength to focus on her own well-being, which ultimately, I believe, saved her. She left Australia after college, and eventually became the president of Smith College in Massachusetts. I have to assume her mother died before she published this memoir, given the complexity of their relationship. Though Ker Conway came to terms with the mother-daughter ties, I don't think she would have shared such a frank and descriptive account of her mother's life while she was still able to read it. I just discovered that there is a sequel, True North, which I just reserved at the library. Coorain ends with Ker Conway getting on the plane to leave Australia. Apparently True North takes her all the way to Smith. I am looking forward to learning more about the life of this wise and determined woman.

(P.S. - I don't know why my last two pictures have been so grainy, I will try to fix that in upcoming photos!)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I'm happy! I'm singing! I'm dancing! I'm addicted!! LOL - what can I say, I LOVE Survivor. And tonight was the first episode of the fall season. I don't know many other people who watch (in my circle of friends and acquaintances - there are lots of us fanatics online and we keep each other company) but I can't help it. I don't answer the phone while it's on, I don't allow my children to talk to me (!) and Steve knows it's OK to work late on Thursday nights as I will be in front of the TV from 7 til 8. Gotta go to my favorite sites, now, to see what "my people" have written about the first episode ....

Mystery Cave Field Trip

Today we went on a field trip to Forestville State Park, in southeastern Minnesota, to the Mystery Caves.

Since I didn't have my camera, you have to make do with a photo I lifted from the website. It's such an amazing place, you would think they would have more photos for someone to "borrow" for a blog, but no, just this one.

The caves were discovered in 1937 and within 7 months the landowner was charging admission! The DNR bought the caves in 1988 and have done an incredible job making the caves accessible and safe without damaging the site. They have about 13 miles of caves totally mapped out, with another 2 or 3 partially mapped, but they think there are really closer to 20 miles of pathways and openings down there underneath the ground. We want to go back with Steve, maybe camp overnight in the park, and do a longer tour. And we'll take the camera so you can actually see our smiling faces!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Book Review, Part 1 of 3

Well, since I have no new photographs to share, it's time for another book review. This one I am not done reading yet, though, so this is part one of the review, I guess.

Eat, Pray, Love is the autobiographical story of the author's life over the span of one year. You are allowed glimpses into her past to better understand the choices she is making during this year, but mainly it is the chronology of her year of self-discovery and self-healing. (I know that sounds cliche-ish, but trust me, it's OK!)

A successful writer and journalist, the author goes through a drawn-out and ugly divorce, and decides to spend a year of her life exploring three countries she has felt drawn to during this tough period of her life - Italy, India, and Indonesia. The book is written in three distinct parts. I just finished part one, Italy, which (no surprise here) is also the "eat" section of the book. After I finished that part, I felt the need to set it down and digest (no pun intended but there you are) the first section.

This woman has a wonderfully wacky sense of humor that I relate to so very well. I tend to read pretty late at night, on the couch with the dog curled up next to me. I giggled, snorted and laughed so many times while reading this that Colby would frequently raise his head and look at me, clearly wondering what in the world was going on with his noisy owner.

Early on in the book she talks about praying for the first time as an adult. She found herself crying on the bathroom floor, night after night, while still married but trying to come to terms with the idea of divorce. One night she looked up, and through her sobs, and with tears streaming down her face, she thought maybe she should turn to God. It seems, she thought to herself, that she had heard somewhere that people did that in times of despair. OK, so I guess you have to read the book yourselves to get the full force of that scene, but here she is telling about the lowest point of her life but she still has the ability to see, and point out unselfconsciously, the humor in it.

I am truly loving this book. Hmm, I'm feeling a bit deja vu-ish here as I seem to remember writing "I love this book" once or twice before on this blog. This book is different, though. Yes, it's entertaining, but it's also thought-provoking and challenging in that you can't help but examine your own life and your own choices as you read about hers.

So, stay tuned for parts two and three, as I travel to India and Indonesia with the author.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Blogger Blues

I'm suffering. My digital camera is in Russia right now, with my parents, and I am amazed at how many times a day I find something I want to take a picture of to post here, and CAN'T. You know if I had the camera I wouldn't be feeling this way, it's one of those "wanting what you can't have" things.

Like our front walkway. I went to the Farmer's Market with a friend and found an absolutely wonderful garden sculpture that I had to buy. It's a duck, made of stone and iron. I named him Francis. He is so way cool, so full of personality, and he NEEDS to have his portrait here on line.

Not today.

Then, in the afternoon, Steve & I went to Bloomington Garden Center and finally started buying some perennials to plant along the walkway. I planted like mad yesterday, and would love to show off the fruits of my labors.

Not today.

Last Tuesday, Ty started Tae Kwon Do. I had such a wonderful time watching him as he bounced around, learned some kicks, did sommersaults, all the while beaming with excitement. We bought him his first uniform, and he looks so gosh-darn cute in it. A picture would surely speak more than 1000 words.

Not today.

The list goes on. And the real rub is, probably by the time my camera is back safe and sound, I will have moved on past thinking of all these things, and they may never get their moments to shine.

Oh well, at least you know I'm thinking of you today!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Wisdom of Maya Angelou

Words to live by, from Maya Angelou. Many are things you have no doubt heard before, but I find that sometimes it can be motivating to really read - think about - and apply - these sayings. I really try to be intentional and deliberate in the way I live, in the choices I make. I screw up a lot, I forget a lot, I have a ways to go. Reading lists like this one help get me back on track.

  • I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
  • I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
  • I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.
  • I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life."
  • I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
  • I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.
  • I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
  • I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.
  • I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone.
  • People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
  • I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.
  • I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More State Fair Food

For the record:

Eggrolls on a stick = YUM

Cold Sweet Martha Cookies = not so much

Friday, September 01, 2006

Another Book Review

On the recommendation of a friend, I just read Shannon Hale's Princess Academy. As you can probably guess since I'm writing about it here, I loved it!

It's the story of Miri, a young girl who has lived in a mountain mining town all of her life, but everything changes when a messenger from the King comes to the village and announces that all the girls between the ages of 12 and 17 must attend a "Princess Academy" for a year. At the end of that year, the prince will come and choose his bride from among the girls.

It's actually recommended for grades 5 - 9, but I really enjoyed it. It's a very fast read (took me just over 2 hours) and a pleasant story that doesn't require a lot of thought, but there are some strong messages about the power of education, strength through self-knowledge and self-confidence, the importance and rewards of loyalty and teamwork, and the healing power of love and friendship.

Oh, and there is a type of mountain ESP and telecommunicating that makes things interesting, too!

Highly recommend it!


Woo-hoo, Blogger finally let me upload more pictures. Here is our baby cow, about 3 hours old. Isn't he just the cutest thing you ever saw? And here is Ty on Machinery Hill.
And my boys and my parents, all munching on Pronto Pups.
And finally, Ty on the radio. That's the Human Calculater in the background with the big orange microphone.

(just pretend this was all part of the blog below.)

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

158 years of Minnesota Fun! We have been twice this year, and I will be going at least once more as Ben, Ty & I are all hopelessly (and willingly) addicted to the State Fair.

This year I have to say our favorite part of the fair was the newly-expanded Miracle of Birth Center. It's now a very large barn, next to the Hippodrome (which, Ben likes to point out is now officially the Warner Coliseum but I have been calilng it the Hippodrome since I was a kid and old habits die hard), filled with pregnant farm animals. Our first day (opening day of the Fair) we got off the bus, walked into the Fair, and saw a baby calf being born. It was incredibly awesome. Ty found it a little gross but was still watching closely. When the calf slid onto the hay, the entire building erupted in cheers! That little guy was the first calf born (there were a few lambs and several piglets born before him). I had a picture of him RIGHT HERE when he was about 3 hours old and standing steadily on his own 4 feet, but Blogger ZAPPED it away and now I can't bring it back. I am very frustrated!

When we went back to the barn one week later, 139 animals had been born in the barn in those 7 days! These little piggies were just a few hours old when I snapped their photo. Gotta love digital cameras that you can just hold out over your head (and the heads of the crowd around you), snap a picture, then immediatly see if you got what you were aiming for! "Our" baby calf was no longer in the barn - he was already too big and too old for that center. No doubt he was on to bigger and better things already in life.

The second time we went, the boys & I took Grandma and Grandpa along. Here we are outside the DNR building, looking lovely as always!Inside the new DNR exhibit we were thrilled to find our very own paver brick! About 7 or 8 years ago we got something in the mail saying the DNR was building a new exhibit and did we want to buy a brick. I sent off our money and eagerly went to the fair that year ... nothing. Next year, nothing again. I decided the project had been scrapped or something and forgot about it. So I was very surprised - pleasantly so - to look down this year and see our names!Of course there is the State Fair Food. What would a day be without mini-donuts, ProntoPups, French Fries, corn-on-the-cob, milkshakes, pizza, and Sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies!
After reading other blogs and chatting with those in the know, I decided to try something new this year -- a deep fried Snickers bar on a stick. Here I am after bite #1, note the powdered sugar sprinkling down my shirt front ...
And you know, it was good, but not the incredible, mind-blowing, life-changing event I was led to believe it would be. In fact, I didn't even finish it. So, now I can say I've tried it, and move on to other new things in future years.

Ben & Ty were special guests on the Eleanor Mondale & Susie Jones radio show (WCCO), talking with the "Human Calculator." They shared their birthdates with him and before you could even blink he told them what day of the week they were born on. This guy was incredible. He's in the Guinness Book of World Records. I hoped that his mathematical prowess and celebrity would inspire my offspring to achieve great things mathematically, but it doesn't appear to be the case.
Machinery Hill is more of a speed bump than a hill now, with only a very few machines larger than riding lawn mowers, but the boys still had to sit and try as many as they could.

On Saturday, Steve & I are going back for a Grandstand Show, and that will most likely be the end of my Fair obsession for 2006.

It's been a good year.

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