Friday, November 30, 2007

I'd Travel to Siberia to See This Orchestra in Concert!

...but I only need to travel a few miles, to downtown Seattle, to see them this weekend! This concert is Tom's and my holiday-season birthday gift (his is a few days before Christmas) to each other.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

How I'm Spending My Day

The deadline for the "early options" application for the University of Washington is tomorrow, but Kat is leaving for a trip to San Diego with her sister this afternoon (Elisabeth's birthday gift to Kat), so Kat's application is actually due today. The application consists of 12 pages of questions about academic courses, family income, and various other tidbits, along with a total of seven essays -- five short paragraphs about extra-curricular activities, a medium-length essay about cultural experiences, and a longer essay about how one event or experience has shaped the applicant. (Kat is writing about saving Steve's life and Aleks is writing about his decision to change his name from Alex to Aleks.)

Times two. That's 24 pages and 14 essays. Due today and tomorrow.

So guess how I'm spending my birthday? Which is fine, actually. They've worked hard on their applications, so my end-of-the-process review and edit is the least I can do.

Now cross your fingers for a positive outcome. The worst would not be if both are rejected; the worst would be if one is accepted and the other is rejected. That would be devastating.

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51 Memories on my 51st Birthday

Today is my (gasp!) 51st birthday. When I read those words, "my 51st birthday," I feel completely disconnected from them. They can't possibly refer to me because 51 has always meant old, ugly, washed-up, and pathetic -- and call me delusional, but I refuse to believe that any of those things apply to me.

To commemorate the day, I've decided to attempt an idea that I saw over at Mighty Girl's blog. She wrote a one or two-sentence description for each year of her life. The fact that my memory can dredge up 51 specific memories for 51 specific years means that I'm still young, quick and spry, doesn't it? (Or does the fact that I just used the word "spry" negate any and all claims to youth?)

So, to wit:

Age 1: I arrive 10 1/2 months after the birth of my brother. Guess who was a boo-boo?

Age 2: My oldest brother was pulling me around the garage in a wagon. Something caught his attention and he let go of the wagon, sending me down the steep sloped driveway and into the street, right into the path of an 18-wheeler, narrowly missing it.

Age 3: I became a big sister. I wanted a sister, but I got another brother. That made three boys and me.

Age 4: I started kindergarten, along with my brother who, at 5, was still young but a more appropriate age than me. I've always assumed Mom wanted us both in school ASAP. I can't believe they let me start school that young!

Age 5: Ricky, a family friend, gave me a ring from the Elmwood Dime Store and asked me to marry him. The "sizing" on the back of the ring pinched my skin so I took it off.

Age 6: My baby brother and I went to live in Sacramento with my aunt and uncle while my mother took my older brothers to Germany. Dad stayed in Berkeley. I later learned that Mom had an affair with a family friend in Germany, unbeknownst to anyone at the time.

Age 7: My second 2nd grade teacher (of course I ended up paying for starting school too young by repeating a year!), Mrs. Burnett, insisted that I hold my pencil way up by the eraser. Or at least that's how I remember it.

Age 8: I had an African-American third grade teacher, who I adored. I think she was the only African-American teacher in Berkeley, certainly the only one in our very white school, even though integration was on the horizon.

Age 9: I remember looking down my dress while the teacher was reading a book to us. 'I'm sprouting something,' I thought to myself. The teacher yelled at me, telling to get my "head out of my dress." I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Age 10: I started my period waaaay too young (I thought), in 4th grade. That day, Mom announced it proudly to my dad and brothers at dinner. I was mortified!

Age 11: I'd wake up early and sneak into my brother's room to steal not one but TWO white t-shirts from his dresser. They hid my bra strap under my white see-through blouse. Are you catching that I resisted my budding womanhood?!

Age 12: I was a serious flautist and very much into classical music. Just a typical 7th grader. NOT. I existed for Peter Jaffe, who never even spoke to me! My first thought when my parents told me that we'd be moving from Berkeley to the Peninsula, was that I'd never get my chance with Peter -- and I was right.

Age 13: I received my first kiss from Ken Johnson. (Many years later the story of that kiss was published by the Seattle Times, and also won a contest here.)

Age 14: My teen rebellion took the form of being very straight-laced and conservative because that was the most dramatic way I could rebel against very liberal Berkeley parents. Think Alex(a) Keaton!

Age 15: In continuing teen rebellion, I tried out for the varsity cheerleading squad at school (a high school extra-curricular activity -- how American!). When I made the squad, my first thought was that'll show them that I'm no hippie!

Age 16: Because I repeated 2nd grade years before, I was the oldest in my class, thus the first to get my driver's license. This was very cool!

Age 17: I joined Young Life asked my parents for a Bible for my birthday -- (organized religion -- how rebellious!).

Age 18: I graduated from high school in the Bay Area and started college in Santa Barbara. The beach and sun every day? And cute boys too? This was bliss!

Age 19: I met Tom, my husband, when he was an Resident Assistant in my dorm. He used to think it was funny to stuff me in cabinets and drawers. I think it's funny (looking back) that I fit in them! Lost of giggly girls had crushes on Tom, but I was definitely most persistent.

Age 20: I went to Disneyland for the first time, even though I'd lived in California all my life.

Age 21: I was taken out for my first legal drink at a restaurant called "1129" on my birthday, which falls on the date 11/29. I always felt a kinship with that restaurant on State Street in Santa Barbara and wonder if it's still there.

Age 22: I graduated from college with a degree in psychology and absolutely no clue what to do with it, except that I knew that I wanted to work with kids.

Age 23: I went to Germany alone for 8 weeks and fell madly in love at first sight. The romance lasted almost two years; the friendship has lasted a lifetime.

Age 24: I went to grad school at Stanford and got a Masters degree in education with an emphasis in educational media. This is still my "chosen field."

Age 25: I had my first career job, at Walt Disney Educational Media Company (WDEMCO), producing stuff like educational filmstrips and comic books for kids.

Age 26: Tom and I got married at the Wayfarer's Chapel in Palos Verdes, CA.

Age 27: Elisabeth was born! It was a crowded weekend at the hospital with something like 30 babies born over the long Memorial Day weekend, and OUR baby was voted "cutest on the ward" by the nurses! Cutest, yes. But they voted her fartiest, too (Some things never change!)

Age 28: Surprisingly (since I had a new baby at home), this was one of the most productive years of my career. I designed and/or produced three games with Sierra Online, two with Looking Glass Software, and TEN with Panasonic. The Panasonic games never saw the light of day because the company decided not to go down the personal computer road. We still have the prototype keyboard under Aleks' bed; it weighs a ton!

Age 29: We live in a rented house in Westchester, CA, less than a mile from LAX. The cadence of our conversations allowed for 747s to pass overhead -- talking, silence/waiting, resume... repeat. We thought $150,000 was just too dang much to spend on a tiny house that was built in 1946, so we didn't buy. (We also didn't buy because we didn't have a down payment.)

Age 30: Peter was born. Unlike Elisabeth, who was feisty, active and verbal, he was calm, quiet and reflective, right from day one.

Age 31: I opened my own business, Sandcastle Designs, and created games for The learning Company. But mostly I was a mommy -- and absolutely loving it!

Age 32: We bought a house in the 'burbs and moved from LA to North San Diego county. I quit all work and immersed myself in the joys of motherhood, from Mommy and Me classes to swimming lessons.

Age 33: After a crazy pregnancy, Aleks and Kat were born on the exact day and the exact moment that the Berlin Wall came down! Now we have four kids under the age of five!

Age 34: I have no clue. It's all a blur. But I do know that this was the beginning of being completely out of touch with popular culture -- music, fashions, TV shows, all of it. I did mommying and little else -- and I adored every minute of it, even in the throes of it all.

Age 35: I had surgery (an abdominoplasty) to repair the abdominal damage due to the twin pregnancy. They removed a bunch of skin, repaired the muscles, and stole my belly button, replacing it with a fake one. I had looked 6 (or more?) months pregnant until the surgery.

Age 36: We went camping at the beach with all four kids. I remember coming home completely exhausted, vowing never again. It took four days to pack and four days to unpack and do laundry for a two-day trip. (Think camping gear plus an incredible amount of kid gear, from clip on high chairs to cribs to strollers.)

Age 37: We moved from San Diego (sun, water, palm trees) to Eastern Washington (tumbleweed, dust, extreme temperatures). We buy our dream house, which we love, but when we open the door, we're greeted by -- well, by tumbleweed, dust, and extreme temperatures. Tom hated working at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where his masters degree in Environmental Engineering was touted and shown off to federal officials, but he actually did nothing and was bored stiff.

Age 38: I studied to become a Certified Childbirth Educator and I taught childbirth classes at the local hospital.

Age 39: We moved from what Tom calls "the armpit of Washington" (the dry Eastern side) to the lush, green Western part of the state. As soon as we closed escrow on our new house, Tom fell victim to a company wide lay-off at the consulting firm that had just hired him. Two weeks later a huge tree from two properties over fell on our house, rendering much of it unlivable and totaling both cars in the driveway, one of which contained all the kids' Christmas presents.

Age 40: I went back to my educational media career, working at Edmark, and designed a cute game called Carnival Countdown.

Age 41: I taught childbirth classes at the very progressive local hospital and certified to become a doula with esteemed educator and writer Penny Simkin (I'll bet she wrote the textbook for your childbirth class!), who was also on the board of the hospital's Family Maternity Center.

Age 42: I was the Lead Educational Design Consultant for the Blue's Clues computer games. Possibly as a result of working on such fun, youthful games, I was carded at Rite Aid! (Never mind that the sales woman wore glasses as thick as a Coke bottle... )

Age 43: I'm caught up in the Seattle start-up frenzy, hired over lattes and promised fame and fortune. In one year, I work for three different start-ups, each promising more than the last. In the end, I come out with nothing but worthless stock certificates and an unemployment claim.

Age 44: My mother and I plan a trip to Germany, just the two of us. It's the first time I'd leave my family for more than a few days. Two weeks before we're to leave, Mom is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We postpone the trip, saying we'll go next year. I secretly don't believe we will.

Age 45: Mom goes into remission and we go to Germany and have the most amazingly fabulous, wonderful time. We feel like sisters. I start work as a producer and product manager at a local health education non-profit.

Age 46: At my brother's wedding, a dear friendship from my childhood is rekindled and Luki and I share a wonderful e-mail correspondence. My husband thinks it's fine and supports my old/new friendship; his wife, however, forbids him to communicate with me in any way. I still miss him every day.

Age 47: I am the Executive Producer of FUEL, a DVD series for teens about body image, self-esteem and the media, as well as nutrition, activity and positive activism. My kids, teens by now, help by telling me what's cheesy and what works. It wins awards and I'm proud.

Age 48: FUEL's sister product, CHILL, which addresses teen stress, wraps production. I feel completely in my element and love producing. Who cares about the 2+ hour daily commute?!

Age 49: The non-profit decides to eliminate their product development department to focus on a new non-product-oriented venture. I am laid off and heart-broken.

Age 50: I work a contract job as a Program Manager at Microsoft. Odd place! Now that the kids are almost adults, we decide to take a family vacation to Hawaii. We have a blast!

Age 51: The kids are now officially grown (but thankfully often still around) and, after a short stint as a Senior Program Manager with a Gates Foundation partnership company, the year is spent mostly unemployed.

I'm glad for my hopeless optimism...

And now I think I'll take a long bubble bath, something I've done every single night for as long as I can remember -- most likely for all of my 51 years. I'll soak especially appreciatively in the gardenia bubble bath that Kat just gave me, well aware of the blessed life I have lived and the the wonderful family that surrounds me.

I absolutely dread the possibility that next year I might have to add "Age 52: Empty nest..."

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Refreshing or Disgusting?

What do you think?

Carol, size 14 (There, I said it...)

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I Stumbled Upon It

No time to post today, for I have discovered either the greatest time-waster or the greatest knowledge-seeking tool of all time -- Stumble Upon.

I had to pry myself away from that damn "Stumble Now!" button and I finally headed to bed around 2 AM last night after hours of clicking, each time bringing me to a new discovery, each time about something I'm fascinated with, thanks to Stumble Upon's customization tools.

Go ahead and try it, but I warn you, the end of the month is near and your NaBloPoMo standing -- not to mention your marriage, your job, and your personal hygiene, will be in great jeopardy if you do!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Seven Months

I've been unemployed for seven months now.* While I understand that the more senior and specialized one's career focus is, the longer it takes to find the right position, I'm just plum discouraged and exhausted at this point.

I have approached looking for work as a job in itself, spending at least a few hours each day networking, looking for listings, and applying for various positions. Other than "the age thing" (which I'm sure is huge and in two days I'll be yet another year older), I cannot for the life of me figure out why I haven't landed something -- especially the right thing. I have had gobs of interviews, most of which have gone swimmingly by all accounts, but it seems that I am consistently being told that the other guy -- the other finalist for the position -- was offered the job.

I have always felt that the right job is seeking me as fervently as I'm seeking it, and that the perfect fit looms right around the corner, but maybe that's the "hopeless optimist" in me. Still, I can't think of anything that I should be doing to find that job that I'm not doing now.

Maybe it's a bit like trying to get pregnant. You know those people who focus so heavily on getting pregnant, and then when they finally decide to just relax and back away for a few weeks, they miraculously become pregnant? (OK, maybe not miraculously...) Maybe I need to do that.

No, not the getting pregnant part; the relaxing and backing away part.

But first I need to send out one last "broadcast batch" of feelers to my hundreds of network contacts because, according to the many job seeking professionals who appear in my in-box daily (who are all practically my best friends by now), it's important to consistently remind people that you're still looking and available. (Geeze, what is this parallel with dating 'n' stuff?!)

And yet, all I can think of today is what I COULD have accomplished in the past seven months, but didn't:

  1. I could have written a novel.
  2. I could have lost weight and gotten in shape.
  3. I could have started my own business.
  4. I could have volunteered somewhere and made a difference.
  5. I could have nurtured personal friendships.
  6. I could have completed a few scrapbooks.
  7. I could have cleaned the garage -- and the house.
  8. I could have gone back to school and perhaps switched careers.
  9. I could have traveled. (Oh wait, I did! Okay, I could have traveled more!)
  10. I could have planted a vegetable garden.
I didn't do any of those things, but I could have -- and perhaps I should have. Why didn't I? What now?

*If you're wondering what became of the offer, well, that makes two of us. I requested the opportunity to meet the staff and suggested that we consider the option of a freelance arrangement to start, just to make sure it's a fit both ways. After that initial conversation, I heard nothing for a while and then this week was told that things were very busy and let's talk again in January. Odd, no?

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Further Misadventures of the Misguided and Insane Holiday Mall Shopper

You'd think I'd know better, wouldn't you? But nooooo! I had to head straight back into the throngs of holiday shoppers today. Why can't I just learn my lesson and shop online -- or better yet, get into the great "give adventures, not stuff" mentality?

My first stop (shhh -- don't tell Tom; he hates this store... and with good reason!) was WalMart. I couldn't stay in that store for more than 20 minutes. Know why? Because there seems to be some frikkin' contest for decibel level and cheerleader mentality among the "associates" using the store's public address system! I swear, every 20 seconds there was a loud, vivacious (no, maybe "obnoxious" is more descriptive), urgent announcement, mostly between WalMart Associates, but a few were even addressed to us lowly shoppers:




After 30 minutes I could take no more and I left the store empty-handed, thrilled at the relative peace and quiet of the WalMart parking lot (where I found Victor gathering shopping carts).

Don't ask me what misguided holiday shopping spirit (demon) got into me at that point but, stupid me, I headed straight to the mall where our misadventures had taken place on early Friday morning. You know -- in which I nearly died?! I approached the mall from an unfamiliar direction, since I was coming from WalMart instead of from home, but I had no problem finding my way to my favorite familiar parking structure.

As I walked from my car to the door of the mall, I remember seeing the Salvation Army bell-ringer at the door and I stopped to scrounge some money from my wallet, dropping it into his red bucket as I entered the store. I had an hour's worth of frustrating shopping experiences in the mall (you'd think I'd have learned my... oh, never mind!) before returning to my...

Oh my god, where's my CAR?! I paced the row of cars where I was sure I'd parked, but didn't see my car. I pressed the "lock" button on my key fob, which causes the car to emit a very brief honk, but I heard only silence. 'This makes no sense at all,' I thought. 'I'm absolutely positive that I parked right here!' I retraced my steps, even knowing exactly where I had dug money out of my purse and exactly where I had crossed the street. For 20 minutes I wandered the parking structure, clicking my key fob and shaking my head. By this time I was fairly certain that my car had been jacked! And it wasn't such an outlandish notion; we have a Honda Accord, one of the most frequently stolen cars in America. I called Tom, not sure if I should laugh or cry.

"So I'm at the mall..." I began.

"You didn't learn your lesson early on Friday morning?" he teased.

"Not only did I venture back here," I replied, "But I think the car was stolen!" I was still in total disbelief.

"Well, maybe you should just go back into the mall and grab a latte and relax. Maybe it'll come to you where you parked your car as you sip..." What good, solid Seattle-ite advice! (Or was he secretly snickering, confident that I the car was just fine and I was lost?!)

But I couldn't relax. I had to find the car!

I went back to the bell-ringer, telling him that I couldn't find my car and asking whether he'd seen anything funny right over there where I'd parked my car. "No," he told me. "But maybe you parked in the other garage; is that a possibility?" he asked.

"No way. I know I gave you a donation because I thought you were really friendly, opening doors for everyone and wishing everyone happy holidays."

"We all do that," he assured me.

"Well, but I remember thinking that you look like Santa with your white beard," I insisted.

"All of us at this mall look like Santa," he said. "And you did know that there are two parking mirror image garages, didn't you?"

"Um... nooooooooo!"

I thanked him and went back into the store, heading to the entrance directly opposite where I was standing, snickering to myself, almost breaking into a whole-hearted laugh as I walked.

As I exited the store, the white-bearded bell ringer held the door open for me. "All you Santa bell-ringers look alike," I said, by this time laughing. "Happy holidays, Santa!"

"Happy holidays yourself! Have a nice drive home!" He laughed with me. No wait -- I think he was actually laughing at me -- though I'm not sure how he knew what I'd been up to for the past half hour.

I walked directly to my car, clicked my clicker and greeted my car aloud. "Hello, you silly car! Very funny! Very, very funny!" And I drove home, never to return to the mall this holiday season! My shopping will be done entirely online from now on!

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fashion Advice (Tirade) From My Daughter

Why is it that every generation believes that their parents' generation consists of fashion-ignorant and completely clueless idiots who have no idea how to dress in style?

Our kids, who are quite up-to-date when it comes to fashion, and that means they know every nuance of every changing fashion (at least of fashions in the 20-something world -- and therein, I believe, lies the crux of the issue) have begged each other not to allow them to fall victim to the plague of their parents: something they refer to as fashion-decade-paralysis. In their minds, there's absolutely nothing worse than parents who are "stuck in the 80's," the decade in which we became parents. To drive home the point, the kids draw attention to their grandparents who, they insist, have a bad case of fashion paralysis of their own, stuck in the 50's, the decade in which they became parents.

To illustrate the point, Elisabeth showed me this:

Mom Jeans - More free videos are here

I must admit that I secretly thought to myself, 'I dunno... they're not so bad, are they?' And I heard myself asking aloud, "The vest is kinda OK, isn't it?" Elisabeth was horrified. "MOM! Please tell me you did NOT just say that!"

Now, I have to say right here that I dress in "approved" fashions, meaning that my daughters have deemed most of my clothes acceptable to be worn in public and even, in most cases, when I'm actually with them. (I know; I'm so honored!) But I fear that, if I didn't have daughters, I might actually find nothing all that horrendous about nine inch zippers, front pleats or even (shudder!) appliqu├ęd vests.

And we won't even go into something called a "camel-digit"! (OK, that's not really what it's called, but I can't post exactly what it's called because I don't want to invite porn searches to my blog...)

I reminded Elisabeth that when I was her age, I thought that nipple-hiding padded bras (which are fashionable now) were only for old ladies and that my friends and I chose to wear more racy bras that revealed some nipple because, after all, we weren't as sexually repressed as our parents were! So I guess that each generation chooses to flaunt something and hide something -- and make fun of other generations' choices of what to hide and what to flaunt!

I also reminded her that, in the same way that she makes fun of me for wearing underwear that consists of more than a skimpy string, her kids will likely harass her and her generation for wearing strings as underwear. ("Eeeeew, Mom," they'll say.)

And Aleks' kids will harass him about sagging his pants all the way to the top of his thighs, no doubt!

In the same way that the SNL Penny's commercial made fun of "Mom jeans" from the 80's, Elisabeth's kids might well make fun of her and her entire generation for wearing waistbands so low that little is left to the imagination, in much the same way that my generation's "camel-digit" jeans or unpadded bras apparently left little to the imagination. My kids' kids will show their parents pictures of thong strings peeking -- no, announcing themselves -- along the top of jeans so low that, well, that little is left to the imagination! And those siblings will beg each other not to allow them to fall victim to the plague of their parents: something they'll refer to as fashion-decade-paralysis. Oh, the hilarious irony!

And I, being an old granny by that time, will sit back in my cozy parachute pants and giggle silently as my grandchildren point to what I'm wearing and announce to their mom that "even Noni's (which is what I want to be called) pants are cooler than those no-waist/sagging pants you still insist on wearing!"

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

A House Divided

Next year Peter and Danelle are planning to attend Washington State University ("Wazzu") and Aleks and Kat are planning to attend University of Washington ("U-Dub"), so you can imagine the uproar today while we all watched the Apple Cup, which is the end-of-season match-up between the two teams.

It was a great game, with the lead going back and forth throughout the game. The score was tied at 28 for a while and then tied again at 35, and it was only in the last few minutes that the Wazzu Cougars made a final touchdown and won the game, defeating the U-Dub Huskies 42 to 35.

As a past cheerleader in my own right, I hereby nominate Danelle to be a Cougar cheerleader next year. What spirit she has! And Kat, a dedicated Huskie fan, is such a gracious fan of the losing team, eh?

Of course Tom and I had to be careful not to play favorites and cheer for one team over the other because at this point, that's even worse than giving a fancier Christmas present to one kid or taking one kid to Starbucks more often! I have both a Washington State and a University of Washington sweatshirt and if I wear one more often than the other, I definitely hear about it! So of course Tom and I put our enthusiasm into what an exciting game it was and let the kids do their own rooting for the specific teams.

In the end, Peter and Danelle were the ones who were a'whoopin' and a-hollerin' around the house and "drank" to the winning team -- with Martinelli's sparkling cider from Thanksgiving.

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I've Been Roared!

Swenglishexpat, of Fruits of My Mind, has been kind enough to bestow upon me the "Roar for Powerful Words" award. I'm honored!

I wish I were truly an accomplished writer, but all I can say is that I must write; when I don't, I feel like I'm suffocating! Of course, that doesn't mean that my writing is great by any means, only that I love it. And really, I think that's the one ingredient that all great writers have had at some point, so there's always hope.

In the movie Amadeus, Salieri is an aspiring musician with a passion for composition and music, but without the raw, natural talent that Mozart possesses. That's how I feel about my writing: I recognize and appreciate great writing and I aspire to it, but it's hard work and often a struggle and I'm so envious of those to whom great writing comes naturally. So when someone recognizes my writing as worthwhile, it more than makes my day!

So here are the rules:

List three things you believe are necessary for good, powerful writing and then pass the award on to the five bloggers you want to honor, who in turn should pass it on to five others, etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! (The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs.)

Three qualities I believe are important for good, powerful writing:

  1. A sincere voice. Don't try to be who you're not; it will only be glaringly obvious in your writing.
  2. IMs and casual e-mails do not exemplify good writing. (IOW, u shud pay att'n to spelling & grammar.)
  3. Make your blog your own, with your own words and your own personality, instead of just copying stuff from others' blogs or posting one-sentence drive-by entries. (And my own admitted pet peeve -- don't plaster your blog with obtrusive ads!)
Here are the bloggers I think deserve the "Roar for Powerful Words" award:
  1. Jonathan, of Flailing My Arms. Jonathan is an accomplished, published writer who contributes to a variety of parenting blogs. But my favorite blog is his own personal blog in which he writes about his own adorable and hilarious daughter.
  2. Susan, of A Slice of Life. Susan and I "met" in a totally bizarre way! I had posted about a garage sale we had and, in reading my random "northwest blog," she recognized our house! It turns out she lives just a few houses away from me! Susan is a wonderful writer because she follows my rule #1 beautifully: she has a very honest, casual, engaging voice to her writing. We keep meaning to get together; one day we will! (How about next week, Susan?!)
  3. Richard of German Diary. I adore Richard's very powerful writing and his stories about his son who he calls "His Highness." His writing is filled with beautiful imagery and deep, beautifully expressed emotion.
  4. Jen of A2EatWrite. Jen is another sincere blogger with a wonderful voice to her writing. I'm always happy to see her blog name bolded on my Google Reader because it's always a treat to read her entries. And she is an absolutely dedicated commenter, so of course I adore her!
  5. Jen of HeisseSheisse. Unfortunately Jen isn't posting as much as she once did because she had to go out and get a demanding job, but I absolutely adore her writing! I met Jen in Frankfurt last summer at the mini-blogger meet-up and I can honestly say that she is in real life just as she is on her blog: witty, friendly, feisty and fun! I love Jen's writing because it's filled with all those qualities.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen -- the i-Rack!

This kinda says it all:

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Midnight Mall Mob Madness!

It's 2:30 AM and I'm lucky to be alive!

OK, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but there really was a period of time between midnight and now when I wondered if I'd come out of this alive.

Out of what, you ask? Out of the MALL!

The day after Thanksgiving is called "black Friday" in the retail world because austensibly that's when most stores go from being in the red (in debt) to in the black (making a profit). In what's become more and more ludicrous over the past few years, stores have started to open their doors in the wee hours of the morning -- like 4 or 5 AM. As if those hours aren't crazy enough, our local mall decided to bring "wee" to the extreme, opening at 12:01 AM.

I repeat: 12:01. AM.

Tom had wanted to get his mom a specific Christmas gift that was advertised at one of the stores in the mall -- which also happens to have a store in our town, but that store wouldn't be opening until the oh-so-late hour or 5 or 6 AM. So we thought it would be an entertaining adventure to drive to the mall and quickly pick up the gift for his mother, expecting to see maybe a few other crazy late-night like-minded shoppers.

As we approached the long line of cars turning into the mall and saw giddy teenagers flocking toward the entrance from off-site overflow parking lots, we knew we had misjudged the situation. We laughed about crazy, materialistic Americans, realizing full well that we were among them! Did the crowds prompt us to turn around and go home?


Tom dropped Elisabeth and I off with the intention of parking and then meeting us at the store. We joined the crowd flocking to one of the few open mall entrances. That was the first mistake -- ours, as well as the mall officials who allowed only a few mall entrances to be open. As we zig-zagged toward the center of the mall, we again laughed at the density of the crowd.

At that point it was still funny.

We pushed our way through the crowd, intending to meet Tom, who had dropped Elisabeth and I off earlier, at the store that sold the gift for Nana. We suddenly found ourselves in a mass of unmoving bodies. The crowd had very suddenly gotten too dense in too small a space for anyone within it to move. In an attempt to escape the crowd (because, to be honest, I was beginning to panic; I've always had a problem with claustrophobia), we pushed our way into a small alcove where we had some room to breathe.

At this point, my imagination began to go wild and I imagined a variety of possible scenarios: a fire, a fight, a weapon, a riot... any of a number of situations that incur a mass mentality could have tipped the delicate balance from people laughing at the ridiculousness of the crowd (as most were then) to a sudden realization of the true helplessness of their situation, i.e., total mob mentality.

Elisabeth saw in my eyes that I was becoming terrified and she instantly became the mom, bless her heart! "Mom, this will balance out and people will leave," she assured me. But I didn't believe her and told her (calmly, I thought, but apparently not...) that I really just need to get out. At this point the crowd was becoming both stronger and more densely packed and we were being pushed further and further into the corner of the alcove, with nowhere to go. I was sure that within seconds we were going to be pinned to the wall with no possibility of getting out. Just then a woman appeared and told us to follow her because she was following "that big man who's pushing his way through." It seemed to be our only option -- and poor Elisabeth! At that point I think she was really worrying that I was gonna flip out!

I held Elisabeth's hand and we moved back into the crowd, staying close the "big man," whoever he was. After what seemed like forever, we found ourselves with room to breathe and to walk. We had called and texted Tom not to come into the mall, but he hadn't replied at all and we didn't know where he was. When we emerged from the mob and were finally able to call him to see where he was, we realized that he was right in front of us. He, too, had been gobbled by the throngs of people, but had fortunately found his way out too.

We fully expect to see a story on the morning news -- and we fully expect that there will be some corporate review of what happened tonight. I'm sure things could have easily gotten catastrophic!

Tom was still determined to get Nana's gift, so we walked around the outside of the mall until we noticed a few people exiting through an unmarked door. Turns out it was the emergency exit! We asked if the crowds were bad at that part of the mall and we were told that they had thinned considerably, so we let ourselves back in -- luckily right near the store we needed to go to.

We found our way to the store through (comparatively) reasonable crowds, made our purchase, exited through the same emergency exit and headed HOME. And now, I really should go to bed because you know, the stores will open in just a few hours and I intend to be there!

JUST KIDDING!!! (What? You think I'm that crazy?!)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

How to Wish Your Extended Family Happy Thanksgiving in 2007

My brother sent us iPhone photos of today's Thanksgiving celebration with my dad, Lou, my three brothers and their families in the Bay Area. I'm returning the greeting via a blog post. Are we, like, sooo 2007, or what?!

Happy Thankgiving guys! We miss you and love you! Here's a photo chronology of Thanksgiving celebration in Seattle:

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Memories of Thanksgiving Past

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I was digging into my photo archives to find a few pictures of various past Thanksgivings, but never made it past Thanksgiving, 2005, the year when Laura was with us, and when my dad ("Opa") shared the holiday with us.

What fun we had introducing Laura to this most American of holidays! We miss Laura so much this year. And my dad, too; he's spending the day in the Bay Area with my brothers and their families... I miss them all!

I won't even try to line photos up with text anymore (dang Blogger!), but here's a little taste of the preparations as well as that after-dinner triptophan-induced coma:

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An Open Letter to Margaret Crotty, President and CEO, AFS Intercultural Programs

Dear Margaret,

Thanks you for the holiday wishes. I know you would have extended your greeting to each AFS volunteer individually if you could. And, since I have a feeling this greeting doesn't come from your personal e-mail address, I can only hope that you get this!

AFS -- but especially the amazing kids we've met through AFS -- has been an important part of my family's life since late in 2004 when my father, my then 14-year-old twins and I returned from my a visit to mother's native country of Germany just months after she died of ovarian cancer. We returned with the strong desire to welcome a young German girl into our homes, perhaps (I now realize) to, in a very small way, bring a tiny piece of Omi -- or at least of her heritage -- back into our home.

Fueled by our desire to open our home, we called AFS in February of 2005, and requested information about becoming a host parent. Within a day we were sent the bio of Laura, a seemingly wonderful girl from central Germany and within a week, an AFS volunteer came to our home to "seal the deal." From that moment on, our family grew by one. We e-mailed and IM'd Laura regularly and, by the time she arrived in Seattle six months later, we already knew and loved her and she already knew and loved us. The six months before she arrived were, in many ways, as important as the ten months she lived with us and I can only equate that anticipatory time to a pregnancy: you know this person will be a huge part of your life soon, and you can hardly wait to welcome her with a hug. The waiting seems endless, but you are rewarded with the smiling face and long-awaited embrace of this new member of your family. You go home and begin to settle in, knowing that life -- at least for a year, but in actuality, forever -- will not be the same because you will forever be so much richer for this experience.

Needless to say, the year that we had Laura in our home was wonderful, and saying goodbye to her in June was excruciating for all of us. Fortunately, we were able to visit her in Germany this past September and meet her family, who we came to love as much as we loved Laura. And since welcoming Laura into our home for a year, I have been a liaison to two other AFS students, last year to E from Germany and this year to M from Brazil.

For us, the AFS experience was and continues to be full of joy and happiness and we are so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of the organization. But I'm beginning to realize that we might just be the lucky ones, for I know that not all AFS experiences are this happy and I think I might know why.

Whereas we initiated contact with AFS and asked to welcome an international student into our lives, fully aware of the financial, time, and emotional commitment that request entailed, many AFS students are not so lucky as to come to America (or any country) with someone on the other side waiting to greet them with open arms. I can't even imagine being the parent of an AFS student (or certainly the student him or herself) who steps onto a plane bound for an unfamiliar foreign country with absolutely no welcoming family. Whereas we already loved Laura by the time we met her, many students get on that plane with only fear, anticipation, and trust (all healthy emotions) but it's at this point that I feel that many AFS students (and their native families) are betrayed. For some reason that I can't fathom -- and I'm sorry, but I can only assume that it comes down to money -- more than a few students are allowed to come to their new country with no one other than an AFS official to greet them. They are put into a temporary home ( and sometimes multiple temporary homes) which, in many cases, is the home of a person or family that has only relented to continual pleading from AFS to open their home, if only for a week, and has no intention of being any more than a temporary placeholder for this poor, lonely international student who fully deserves (especially for the thousands of dollars their native families pay) to be placed in a waiting, enthusiastic family.

I have seen this repeatedly and it breaks my heart each time. Why can't AFS accept only the number of students for which it has families to wholeheartedly "adopt" them? For two summers in a row, I have been getting desperate e-mails, begging me to consider hosting a student again or to ask my family and friends if they might host a student who "will be arriving in just weeks." While I believe that family and friends is a wonderful way to recruit host families, this isn't a magazine drive or a puppy adoption; this is a very serious commitment that will change a family and require full emotional and financial dedication. By late July, the e-mails I get from AFS reminds me of someone who has a stray puppy to give away and begs someone to take it before it is sent to the pound.

It just shouldn't be this way! Don't you agree?

The solution doesn't seem that complicated to me -- though I'm sure it has financial repercussions that might be unpleasant to AFS. (Yes, I am curious what the many thousands of dollars students pay to go to a foreign country covers, other than insurance, since most AFS staff are volunteers and the host or native families cover almost all other expenses... but that's another letter.) Isn't it possible to MATCH UP STUDENTS WITH HOST FAMILIES WHILE THEY'RE STILL IN THEIR HOME COUNTRY and only finalize travel plans once that match is made? The commitment to take a student into one's home for a year is just as serious as the commitment to travel to another country for a year, and I believe that both should be approached with the same sense of dedication and with a strong emphasis put on a great fit for all. When you accept a student's money and then put them on a plane with no one to welcome them with open arms on the other side, as happened to the boy for who I am currently a liaison, I believe you are performing a disservice for all involved. The student certainly deserves better. Until AFS can find a willing -- no, an enthusiastic -- host family, I don't believe that the student's money should be accepted and I certainly don't believe that s/he should be put on a plane. This might mean that you can accept fewer students, but I believe that that is a justifiable and important trade-off to assure positive experiences for all involved.

I'm sure that there's a business-oriented explanation for why students are accepted for travel without permanent host families to greet them, but I can't for the life of me understand what reason might justify the loneliness and confusion I heard about as the student I'm currently a liaison for described his first few transient, lonely, and confusing months in America. Fortunately, he is now with a committed, loving family, thanks to a girl who was in one of his classes and took him home, begging her parents, "Can we keep him? Pleeeease?"

I know that, for each lonely, confused student who stands on foreign soil awaiting a committed host family, there are many more who have experiences like Laura and we had, and for that I thank you and AFS. But the question regarding pre-travel matching of students with families begs to be asked and I do hope you find the time and the interest to answer it. I know that I am not the only AFS volunteer who worries greatly about this issue.

Warm regards,


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Wordless Wednesday: Cat in Kat's Hood

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Three Kids Times Four Wisdom Teeth Each Equals Sheer Insanity

Elisabeth had her wisdom teeth extracted during her college winter break two years ago. It was a relatively simple procedure and, true to form, she embraced it with all its opportunities, such as conducting her own little science experiment in which she asked the doctor to tell her both a number and a color while she was under Versed anesthesia and she'd try to remember it when she came to. (Didn't work; she failed her own test!) Her recuperation consisted of one really bad day and a few annoying days, but she was able to go back to school within days of the surgery.

Now, it seems, Peter, Aleks and Kat ALL need their wisdom teeth out and winter vacation is the most reasonable time for this to happen. So I'm bracing for some surgical craziness on December 28th, followed by some whining and whimpering (mine!) that weekend.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Say It Isn't Snow!

I stopped at Target today to grab a few things and came back to my car to find this...

...then drove home to be greeted by this:

I am so not ready for another winter like last winter!!

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Two Posts in a Row about Death -- This Shouldn't Happen

Tom watched a portion of 2 Weeks with me and it prompted a short discussion about "the best way to die" (with the full understanding, of course, that there is no "good" way to die). His father died suddenly in a car accident in 2001, while my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and died four years (to the day) later, in 2004.

Ironically, shortly after we had that discussion, the phone rang. It was my father and I could tell in his voice that something was terribly wrong.

Our dear friend, Beatte, who my parents met in Germany in the early 50's before immigrating to America, and who followed a few years later and settled in Berkeley just a few blocks from my aunt Ulli, was like an aunt to me and was a huge part of my childhood. She was a healthy, active 70-something-year-old woman who loved her three children and numerous grandchildren, who traveled extensively, who loved to walk and ate healthfully, and who was an excellent and devoted classical violinist.

Yesterday, as Beatte was playing violin in a quartet in a friend's livingroom as part of a casual "concert among friends," she collapsed. She never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital. It was a massive heart attack.

This is the second time this year that a woman who is like family to Tom or me has died suddenly, with no opportunity for anyone to say goodbye.

I am so scared that this is how my father will die (though, after experiencing what Mom went through, I think he'd prefer to go this way). I guess the lesson here is to tell the people that you love how you feel about them, how much you appreciate them... and never to hold back.

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Art Imitates Death

A few months ago, a film called 2 Weeks, starring Sally Field and Ben Chaplin, lasted for about a nano-second in theaters. (Oddly enough, I can't even find an Amazon or IMDb link!). It was, very coincidentally, about the last two weeks of a woman's life as she succumbed to ovarian cancer (like Mom). The focus of the movie, though, was really on the relationships between Anita's four children, three boys and a girl (like my siblings and me), who came together from out of town (as we did) to be with their mother at the end of her life.

I never had a chance to see the movie in theaters last spring, but I rented it from Netflix recently. I watched it twice, once alone and once with my daughters. I am still just amazed at the similarities between what Anita's family experienced in her last days and what we experienced during Mom's last days.

The movie depicts quite a few similarities to what my brothers and I experienced (along with our dad) when we all met at my parents' house to "help Mom die." (This photo was taken during that time, a week or so before Mom died. She was completely enveloped in her children's and husband's unwavering love and, in addition to deep sorrow we all felt, there was an unexpected and inexplicable joy between us as well. I love this photo because it depicts all the emotions we shared that week.) It was the first time the six of us had been together alone, without spouses and grandchildren, for over 20 years and, similar to 2 Weeks, that time was as much a time for us siblings to get to know each other again as it was a time to say goodbye to our mother. The sister in the movie is in many ways the teacher and organizational soul of the group; she's the one who reads Death and Dying and who, in turn, suggests that her brothers "read up" too. In our family my dad and I shared that role, but the similarities were still striking as the sister organizes 2-hour, round-the-clock "watches" so her mom is never alone during her last days.

In the movie, Anita goes through some of the things that we witnessed with Mom. At one point Anita stared ahead and tears began to run down her face. "Hi Dad," she whispered and mumbled through a (seemingly one-sided) conversation with her dead father. Similarly, my mother asked my father at one point, "Who's she?" and a few minutes later she whispered to me, "My mother..." trying to continue but unable to form words after that.

In 2 Weeks, one of the brothers comments that his mother's soul seems to have taken leave of her body after she slipped into a coma and as she neared death. I remember thinking the exact same thing when Mom passed through that stage. In fact, I wrote about it: "She’s not my mother. She doesn’t look anything like my mother. She looks like a skeleton. No character, no spirit, no personality. Now we’re just caring for her body until it gives out – likely within hours."

After Anita died, her daughter did something that I did after Mom died, sure that I was the only one who ever did this and that I was being morbid and weird: we both took photos of our dead mothers. I can't tell you why I did it, except that it was the only way I could think of to hold on to her for a bit longer. (Similar, perhaps, to the dream I had during that week when I was severely sleep-deprived: "I had a thought/dream in the middle of the night: Miss Saum, my kindergarten teacher, used to pin “notes to go home” on our clothes. I dreamed that I pinned a picture of Mom at her most beautiful to her body so the mortician could see how beautiful she was before he cremated her. I wanted those who would care for her body to know that she was SO not just another skeletal cancer patient.")

In the movie, Anita's body is put into an unmarked car in the early hours of the morning, as the morning paper is being delivered around the neighborhood. Two of the brothers comment that it's hard to believe that regular life goes on, even after their lives have changed so dramatically. I remember thinking the same thing as Mom's body was wheeled down the path and into the very unspectacular white Ford Windstar.

I knew that moment marked not only the moment when I had to say my final goodbye to Mom's physical presence, but it also marked the moment when I began a new stage of my own life -- the stage in which I had to learn to be motherless. It's now almost four years later and I'm not sure I've learned yet how to be motherless.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Camels in India

My niece, Dawn (that's her on the sand dune below) has been in India for a few months, on a journey of self and cultural discovery. Her mother has been with her for a few weeks now and they have left behind the loud and dirty cities to travel the Indian desert on camelback. Dawn is an amazing writer and photographer and has been nice enough to allow me to share her thoughts and adventures on my blog. Here is her latest installment. (As with her previous writing and photography, please respect her copyright!)

If you are ever so inclined and your wildest dreams lead you to decide it would be a good idea to go on a four day camel safari, in the Thar Desert of India only sixty kilometers from the Pakistani boarder, for four-days with your mother and a young Indian guide, here are some things to keep in mind: 1) Never, ever, even for a moment forget to laugh at yourself (or the camels, or someone else). 2) Don't expect instructions; this is India after all. You are on your own, baby! 3) Be grateful that your mother is actually that incredible, that she, at the healthy age of 56, will think nothing of riding a camel around the Indian desert in 90 degree heat for four-days. 4) Pack your own TP, and if you find a rock, or a bush to hide behind for that matter, be sure to mark your territory while you have the chance! 5) Realize that saddle sores are real before you go, that way you wont be a complete mess when you can't walk for two days after. 6) Don't forget sunscreen. 7.) Try to be alright with sleeping in the camel blankets, because it is them or nothing at all.

What can I say, it was a blast! I think it is quite possible that a four-day trail ride is my idea of just about the most fun I could possibly ever have in my life. As a former rider, I can honestly say there is nothing in the world I would rather do than this. Now, let me modify this statement, just a slight bit. Riding a camel is, in actuality, quite different from riding a horse, but still I think, comparable. On a horse, you don't have the breathtaking seven-foot high view, however on a horse, you also don't have the never-ending stream of camel farts. (Yes it in NOT a myth, camels fart, burp and 'gargle' constantly.) The difference of Sonoma's grape vine covered hills is quite the contrast to the Thar's dunes and cactus shrubs. The camel safari was no first class trail ride through the comforts of California, but in all honesty, the desert was, strangely, monotonously beautiful and peaceful. After spending almost two months in the cities of India it was amazingly refreshing to hear silence and experience the slow rocking of the strangely clumsy camel.

Top 10 Best Things About Our Indian Camel Safari:

  1. Watching my 56 year old mother on a camel for four days
  2. Starry, starry nights
  3. Lots and lots of baby goats, sheep and camels. Lots!
  4. Realizing that I need to start riding horses again
  5. Sunsets over the golden dunes
  6. Grasping the importance of water
  7. Feeling the gratitude of the shade of one tree
  8. Warm, fresh squeezed goat milk (in our instant coffee) on the morning of the fourth day
  9. The constant background hum of Hindi songs as sung by our guide
  10. The shower when it was all over and done with

There really isn't a whole lot I can say that encompasses the entire experience, except that it was all around fun and just hilarious. Camels, and if you have ever been on one you know this, are quite interesting characters. They look funny, they do funny things, riding them they make you look funny, and they are just all around strange creatures. The desert and the people and the scenery in general was just exquisite. It was a very needed and helpful break to get away from all the mess and fuss of the world and see the simple lifestyles and everyday wonders that the village people experience. I found the quiet relaxing and revitalizing. Moving so slowly there is much to see and take in.

Although there were many great aspects of the trip I have to confess that the best part for me was escaping this ever-serious space of mind I have found myself so comfortably living in here in India. Forget the camels, it seems that I have been constantly struggling against my own reigns. I have begun to take life and everything so seriously here in India, opening myself to it all so profoundly and most of the time finding laughter to be a distant and forgotten memory. I have been caught in a net of seriousness and I have forgotten the humor and craziness of my own existence. The desert and the camels, the guide, my mom, or maybe just being on such a touristy exploration, I don't know what it was exactly, but somewhere along the way I forgot it all and let go. I relaxed and I didn't worry about the world or the people who inhabit it, or myself or anything. I was riding a camel, for crying out loud, how could I have? It was like breathing in a huge breath of clean air after being in Delhi for too long.

It was very much needed, but still, although after I feel better, I was left with a sort of guilt about it all that I had to examine. How could I have just let go that easily? Haven't I been affected? Don't I have a new outlook on things? Haven't I learned anything? Haven't I grown up at all? I don't know how this sounds to all of you, and I know it may sound ridiculous, but in all honesty it is a weird balance to have to sort out in oneself. I realize that it is very important to see and understand all aspects of the world and I intend to do so, however difficult that may be. It is, of course, important to be aware while being light, to be helpful but not obsessed, to be caring as well as being carefree, to be heartfelt but not a mess. Balance, I suppose, is the key and now I must tern my focus to that. It felt great to laugh and forget my prodding dissatisfaction with my own efforts, but I cannot abandon my drive to help or make light the issues of the world that have become such a concern for me.

So how do I enjoy the humor of a camel's company or the joy of a beautiful sunset and also feel the immense importance of the pressing issues of the world? I do just that I suppose, both. I enjoy, but I also hold the sadness in my heart along with the joy. I don't forget, not even for a moment, the beauty and the sorrow of the world. I see the whole picture, everything at once, and take it all in as it really is. Because, I think what it is, is just that – what it is. You know? There isn't much more than what there is right now, and right now, it seems to me, there is everything. So, I must try to live this way, I think.

Camels are funny and poverty is not. The young girls in the villages are wonderful, but the fact that there are not very many of them is not so great. The village men are nice to us, but perhaps some of them are not so nice to their wives. The world is continually beautiful and ugly, funny and sad, enlightening and restricting. So, I must remember that things are both this way, and they are that way too.

Mother India is perhaps the best place in the world to see this duality, as things can look very different from person to person. It all depends what you know and how you choose to look at it. Wow, this topic is far too great, and I have far too much to say about it to get into it at the moment. I do, however, have much to say about it though, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that we all live in our own worlds, believing whatever it is we choose to. Seeing India as an outsider who want to wiggle my way in, I feel this difference of perspective weighing on my own soul. Sorry, I absolutely cannot start babbling about this now. Maybe the next email… we'll see.

Love, love, love you - and I am starting to miss, miss, miss you!


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