Monday, April 28, 2008

book review: The Gods Grew Tired of Us, Movie: the Kite Runner

I picked this book randomly off a shelf in Barnes and Noble and started reading. Couldn't put it down! It's the memoir of a Sudanese man who was one of the "Lost Boys" - war refugees from southern Sudan. His village was attacked in 1987 (when he was 13) and he fled with other refugees, got separated from his family and spent the next several years fleeing, starving, and surviving in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He eventually makes it to the US in 2001, courtesy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the US government, just before the number of immigrants was sharply decreased after 9/11.

Despite the grim subject matter, the story is really well told. For me, it made the whole desperate situation in Sudan and Darfur more personal, and gave me new insight into the lives of the Sudanese families we have encountered here in Utah. For a few years we were peripherally involved in helping recent immigrants from Sudan as they settled here in Salt Lake. The book filled me in on more of their cultural customs and what it must have been like to go from that society to this one. There are some quite funny stories actually, so don't make the mistake of thinking the book is all one long horror story. The author's attitude and spirit shine through.

I highly recommend this one if you get a chance to read it. The author is John Bul Dau.

This weekend we also saw The Kite Runner. I had read the book a couple of years ago. The movie was extremely well done, and as faithful to the book as any movie I've seen. I heard that the kid who played Hassan had to go into hiding with his parents as they feared Islamic (fundamentalist) backlash - I'm not sure if it was the subject matter, or the negative portrayal of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, or what. Oh well. Kudos to this movie - some sad/serious subject matter but the element of redemption in it came through.

Other random news: today is mom's birthday. Happy birthday MOM! I think she is in Italy on vacation. Hope she is having the time of her life.

Last weekend I took Alex to a birthday party where they had a magician who performed for the kids, mostly 3-5 years old. It was a riot. The magician was silly and knew just how to appeal to that age group's sense of humor. He had them rolling on the ground. At one point he had a little house with a Cookie Monster that moved around in it, then disappeared, only to re-appear later peeking out from his belt in back. Alex keeps talking about the man who had "Cookie Monster in his pants" and while I know what she is referring to, I'm sure it sounds very odd out of context!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Malaria Awareness Day

Tomorrow is Malaria Awareness Day. Frankly, I have to admit that most of time I don't think about malaria at all. In my small corner of the world, it's not much of an issue. But worldwide, it's a big big deal. I copied this info from Malaria No More, which collects donations toward bed nets and otherwise promotes cost-effective ways to limit malaria. I think it's pretty cool that $10 can save a life.

"... Last year, for the first time, the United States officially commemorated Malaria Awareness Day, celebrating progress and highlighting opportunities in the fight against malaria. To underscore the U.S. commitment to ending malaria related deaths, President Bush embraced the urgency of the cause by designating April 25th, 2007 as Malaria Awareness Day.

... Here are five things you can do to stop malaria in its tracks:

Donate bed nets for families in Africa: Each long-lasting insecticide-treated bed net protects a child from malaria. When a child dies every thirty seconds from malaria, a moment of your time can save a life.

Plan your own malaria event: a great way to celebrate World Malaria Day is to celebrate with friends and family. We have everything you need to make your event a success.

Dance the night away: By joining our youth outreach program, Stayin' Alive, your school can take an active part in the fight against malaria.

Learn more about the disease: Take five minutes on World Malaria Day to learn about this disease.

Tell your friends and family to take a stand against malaria today: send an e-card and donate a bed net in honor of a friend or loved one.

Join us in the fight to end malaria deaths. World Malaria Day is your chance to make a difference on a global scale. So choose today to save a life and change the world—and remember that, together, we can make Malaria No More.

In the daily grind, sometimes we forget to see the bigger picture. Stuff like this helps put things in perspective for me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sleep chronicles

Alex is a good sleeper - off and on. At 3, to our chagrin, she still has some intermittent nighttime sleep issues, which translates to interrupted sleep for us (usually me, as Bryan sleeps through noise better than I do). I've been up briefly with her 3 of the last 4 nights. Last night she woke me up twice, at 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. She will occasionally cry and then stop on her own, but more often now she will cry until someone comes to her. I have tried letting her cry for up to 15 minutes, but that means I lie awake the entire time and Sam wakes up too, so lately I've just been giving in.

Sometimes she loses her da-dosh (special washcloth she sleeps and cuddles with), and can't seem to even attempt to look for it on her own. Last night (the 5 a.m. awakening) she fell out of bed. She is fully capable of getting back in, but she cried until I came and put her back in. Other times she has some somatic complaint: her tummy hurts, or she says, "I can't breathe." Gotta love that one - I've never seen a hint of asthma or breathing difficulties, and she says this frequently, not just if she has congestion or a cold. Very often she can't describe any reason for her crying, but just says "Hold me." After a minute or so of holding and rocking, she's happy enough to be put back in her bed and goes back to sleep without protest.

She's also quite resistant to settling down to go to sleep in the evenings, especially if she's had a good afternoon nap. If we stay up talking in the kitchen or our bedroom after putting her to bed, she will get out of bed to come and tell us we're being "too loud." Or she will say she heard "a noise." The other day we asked if it could be her heater vent and she went back into her room, stuck her finger into the vent and said, "It was my heater! No wonder I couldn't sleep!" (The low-level blowing noise has never been noticed/commented on by her before.) :-) We've found her awake at midnight in the recent past, and it's not uncommon for her to play in her room until 10:30 at night. Bryan says this (difficulty getting to sleep/staying asleep) predicts anxiety in later life, and I wonder what we're in for. I don't see her sleep issues as being severe, at this point, but I do worry a little. can we as parents best respond to these sleep issues? Ignore her at night? Refuse to let her nap (and deal with the crankiness around 5 pm)? Reward her the next morning if she stays quiet all night? My instinct is to check initially when she cries, make sure there is truly nothing wrong, and then get out quickly to minimize the "reward" of having mom's company. I debate whether to hold her when she asks, especially when she seems to have no apparent reason for getting me out of bed. If these behaviors continue, I may tell her that holding and rocking can happen any time of day and always at bedtime, but nighttime is for sleeping. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 21, 2008

book review: Saving Fish from Drowning

I have greatly enjoyed several books by Amy Tan, but this one really didn't do much for me.
I listened to it on audio, and it was read by the author, and she is a very good reader as well as writer. But...I'm not sure why...I just didn't get into this one.

It was told from the viewpoint of a dead person whose "ghost" (I guess) accompanies the tour group she had planned to lead through China and Burma before her untimely demise. The group goes missing and the reader gets to see what actually happens during their disappearance into the jungles of Burma. I had a hard time caring about any of the characters and there seemed to be a lot of gratuitous sexual stuff that IMHO didn't add any value to the story. The bigger issue was that in the end, it didn't seem there was any real movement or change or transformation that came out of the whole experience for any of the characters. Actually, the ending was kind of depressing, not in a "tragic" way that makes you think, but more in a mundane way that probably mimics the way life really is. I can get that from reading the newspaper. I want more profound take-aways from fiction. Maybe that is too much to ask, but I've gotten it from Amy Tan in the past.

I LOVED A Hundred Secret Senses and the Bone-Setter's Daughter, and the Joy Luck Club was pretty good, but this one was a disappointment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Somewhere...out there...

Today Sam turns TWO!

His babyhood is disappearing even faster than Alex's. It's been harder to focus in on all his endearing little traits, to keep track of all his milestones, and just to be completely present in the moment with him every day as I felt I was with Alex when she was my only one. I suppose it's a natural thing that happens when you go from having one child to two, and it's not as if I can't pay enough attention to each of them (most of the time). It just takes more conscious effort.

Sam's Korean mom is really in my thoughts today. I admit that most of the time, what with the constant demands of working and keeping up with the kids, I don't think so much about the fact that somewhere in Korea are a man and a woman who have a direct biological connection to Sam. But today I will let my thoughts go there...what are they doing today? What does his mother remember about this day? Did she hold him when he was born? Did she cry when she had to put him in the care of another, or was she more numb, or perhaps feeling a mixture of relief and regret? What does she think about on this day? I wish I knew whether she has ever showed up at the agency to see his pictures or read our letters. I wish I could see her face, and the face of his Korean father. I wish I could take a peek at his dad's hands and feet and see if that's where Sam gets them! I wish I could know a lot more about them. Maybe someday.

Happy birthday, my precious little Samwise. We love you immensely. And we wish the best for your Korean mom and dad, whoever and wherever they are.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

angst over school choices

Man - who knew I would feel so conflicted over where to send our kids to school?

And - who knew I would be agonizing about it 2 years ahead of the actual start of school? Not me!

The catalyst for all this was that my friend and my brother both have daughters who will be 4 in the fall. They both applied to put their daughters in private preschools in the area and were both told the classes were already full (!) and put on a waiting list.

Actually, I wasn't even really considering private school for our kids, but it got me thinking and I decided to check out the schools, public and private, in our area. I got a dose of reality when I saw the statistics for our local public school: 95% white, 2% black, 2% hispanic, and 1% Asian. Hmmmm. Of course, the private schools are also 95% white, so if we have any more hope of greater diversity, we will either have to move or hope to get in to a school closer to the city. There is a school with nearly 20% Asian kids (the highest it gets in Utah) on my way to work, but rumor has it there are 500 applicants for about 6 spots at that school every year. (It's public, so preference goes to kids living in that district.)

The other schools with any kind of diversity are mostly filled with Latino students, which is fine, but how much does that really help you if you are Korean? Also, the test scores at these schools are considerably lower than those near us - not the biggest factor, but it seems I have the choice of either good academics (and generally better environments, more extracurricular activities, more parent involvement, higher parent ratings) - or more diversity. It may be impossible to get both.

The other big factor - and the one that pushes me closest to considering a private school - is that many public schools are dominated by one religious majority (LDS). Our kids are already minorities, and they will feel this more and more as they grow up in white-dominant Utah. If they are also in the religious minority - will they feel like TOTAL outsiders?

Ugh. Part of me wishes the world really was "color-blind" - and I think race issues really aren't very big in Utah - but how would I know? I'm in the racial majority and always have been. I do know that if I were the only one of my race in my elementary school class, I would feel it. I don't want to put my kids in that situation.