Monday, January 31, 2011

Netflix Movie Monday - January 31

It's Monday!  And time to bring you a movie I found streaming on Netflix that entertained, enlightened, or enthralled me in some way.  Today's choice:

One feature I LOVE about Netflix is the 'Movies You'll Love' recommendations.  The site tracks what I watch, and suggests other movies that go along the same lines.  When 'The Parking Lot Movie' popped up on my 'Movies You'll Love' feature I just had to try it, based on the title alone.  I mean, who would seriously name a movie 'The Parking Lot Movie'?  It had to be a gag.

The Netflix synopsis reads, "Over the course of three years, filmmaker Meghan Eckman tracked the comings and goings of a solitary parking lot in Charlottesville, Va., chronicling the lives of the attendants who were working there. This inspiring documentary is the result. Hanging tough as they navigate the range of human emotion -- from hope to frustration, from a sense of limitless possibilities to stagnation -- the film's subjects embody the pursuit of the American Dream."  Even with this incredibly boring intro, I still watched it, because of my faith in the title.  

The Corner Parking Lot is located across from the University of Virginia, behind some seedy bars that cater to the endless college hooligans.  Chris Farina, proud owner, is a recovering hippie / world traveler.  Defined by his employees as "more of a guru than a boss", Chris relates fondly of how he once came across an orange juice stand operator in Morocco.  The Moroccan owner spent his life simply sitting and interacting with people who passed by, something that Chris tries to emulate in the running of his parking lot.  

Not just anybody gets to work at the Corner Lot.  The employees relate with pride that you have to "know somebody" to get hired.  Employees have Master's degrees, are professors and graduate students, a "ragtag group of fractured poets," and "otherwise unemployable misfits."  They spend their time at the Corner Lot, "considering the existential implications of the job, which were what does it actually mean?  Where does it fit in? ... Which is the problem with having an insanely over educated group of people working a service sector job.  They have plenty of time to think about it."  

That existential thinking highlights the inevitable "power struggle with humanity" that the attendants engage in.  One worker describes his job this way:  "The parking lot attendant is the tollbooth operator on the expressway to the weigh station of the American dream."  The group of misfits who populate the Corner Lot have found a little fiefdom where they can finally have a measure of power over the better looking, more socially adept and richer class of people who have bullied and dominated them since grade school (explains an attendant wickedly as he passive aggressively sets the parking brake on a Beamer).  

With its endearing cast of characters and hilarious quotes, this film will have you rolling in laughter and cheering for the underdogs who finally gave the bird to society and created their own world where they are kings.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thinking About It

Today I have another guest post, written by yours truly, age 11.  I thought after a slew of extremely long posts, I'll spare you guys the verbiage and post something short, for a change.  (I know, don't choke on your coffee, people.  Turns out Danica can make it short and sweet when her feet are to the fire.  And talk about herself in third person.  Which is kinda weird.  Isn't it a sign of some kind of disorder?)

Anyways, back to the point, presenting thoughts by ME:

Thinking About It
by Danica, Age 11

Sometimes, when I think about it, it is so weird that we are missionaries, that we are really living out here.  We are those people living far away that your Sunday school teachers make you write letters to.  When I get old I am going to write a book titled, "One of the Family."  Because that's who I am here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ghosts Don't Talk

It was dark.  The kind of dark when even the stars are intimidated and the trees reach up to blend unendingly with the sky.  The entire village had settled down for the night, coming in to roost in respective huts.  Bits of light pushed defiantly through pin point holes in the woven walls of huts, creating the reverse effect of twinkling stars at eye level.  Bits and snatches of conversation could be heard from each hut, murmuring, sometimes raised voices, some laughter.  A child crying.

Anna was accompanying me on an emergency expedition to the beach.  Nature had called, with no respect to what time of day it was, or how inconvenient it would be for me to walk clear through the village to get to the women's beach (where the female half of the village all did their 'business').  We knew the road practically by heart, since we walked it several times a day, every day.  But still, things seem different in the dark.

We didn't take a lantern with us - imagine finally getting down to the beach, and then being surrounded in a halo of light you can't just make go away.  Talk about conspicuous.  We did take a flashlight, but kept it off for anonymity because, frankly, I didn't want everyone whose hut was on the way to the beach to know about my evening urges.  Because you better believe they paid attention to who walked past their huts at night.  Whenever any of us went anywhere after dark, we'd hear from every hut, "Is that you, David?  Nathan?  Anna?  Hello?"

My brother asked a friend why all the night time shout-outs, and the answer he got was, "Well, they want to make sure you're not a dead person."

"Why would they think I'm a dead person?"

"Because when people die, they get pale ... like you."

"If I WERE a ghost, who's to say I couldn't just pretend to be one of the white skins and answer to the name they call out?"

"Don't you know dead people can't talk?"  A 'stupid white skins don't know anything' look accompanied this last remark, and my brother let the conversation drop.

So, we all got in the habit of talking very loudly whenever we went anywhere at night.  On this particular night, however, Anna and I kept quite and hurriedly made our way towards the women's beach, lava lavas wrapped tightly around our shoulders against the slight evening chill.  A light breeze blew against our faces, bringing with it the soft rumble of low-tide breakers.  I knew there were clouds in the sky, because I couldn't see the stars.  No friendly Orion guarded my path on this night.  Anna's presence was comforting beside me.  Although she was close enough to bump into if I turned the wrong way, she was barely distinguishable against the deeper shadows on that moonless night.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, something smacked against my face, sending a sharp arrow of pain shooting from the bridge of my nose, up around the back of my skull.  My nose found it first, but half a breath later my entire body was wrapped around the trunk of a coconut tree.  I muttered a muffled, "Ugh."  I had somehow gotten slightly off the path and walked full speed into a tree.  Anna burst out laughing at me, and a voice called from the nearby hut, "Matthew??"  We held hands and took off down the path.

Nearly at the beach, we were about to break through the last bastion of growth onto the sand, when I heard two voices talking beyond us.  "Shhhh,"  I whispered to Anna.  We crept up to the edge of the undergrowth, and saw that two girls were standing on the beach, having just finished their business and ready to head back to their huts.  I don't know if it was my still stinging nose, or just the bewitching darkness of the night, but an idea took hold of me and I acted on impulse.

I grabbed the flashlight from Anna, wrapped my lava lava over my head like a cowl, and tiptoed over to the low pandanas bush growing a few feet from where the girls were standing.

One of them heard my footsteps.  "Hello?"  she called.  They were both very still and quite now, trying to discern what was behind that bush.  I grabbed hold of a branch and shook.

"Kitty, kitty, kitty... "  Her voice trembled.  I rattled the leaves again.

"You know, maybe we should just get out of here ... "  Knowing the do-or-die moment had come, I flipped on the flashlight under my chin, shone it up over my face and grinned maniacally.  Lurching, I growled as I stumped towards the two girls, who stood paralyzed in fear.  Clutching at each other, they began screaming.  Adrenaline shot off of them in almost tangible waves.  As if the sound of their own voices unlocked their legs, they simultaneously tried to run in opposite directions, both still with a death grip on the other, almost falling down in the process.

That was when I began to feel sorry for them.

I let the lava lava fall from my head, and lowered the flashlight so that it no longer cast my face into skull-like shadows.  "Hey, guys, it's just me."  They stared at me in disbelief, the whites of their eyes showing completely all around.  "It's Danica,"  I went on, taking a step towards them.  They both lurched back.  Seeing that there was really no way to easily talk the two of them down, I just spoke a few more words of consolation, apologized, and let them get on their way.

Anna scolded me severely for this prank.  But to this day there's a little maniacal part of me that still relishes it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fly Away Home

Julia Gentry was my grandmother.  She had large, brown, doe-like eyes and a gentle touch.  She always wore skirts and dresses in pretty pastel flower patterns.  She came to the Lord later in life, together with her husband my grandfather changing direction mid-stream and thus altering the lives of her five children.  She was a faithful Sunday School teacher, played bridge weekly, and knew how to speak the language of the Southern lady.  She collected cook books.

Even while we were overseas, Grandmommy was faithful in supporting our spiritual and mental development.  She would buy story tapes for us to listen to:  'Ants'hillvania' and the Odyssey series, spiritual principles broken down for a child to understand.  She was the one who built our vast Lego and Playmobil collections, sending a new set for every birthday and Christmas.  She was the gentle background figure at family gatherings, cooking, caring, creating the environment for us all to connect with one another.

Twelve years ago, at my high school graduation, Grandmommy was busying herself as usual taking care of us all.  But something was a little off.  She couldn't remember where she left her purse - was it at the hotel, or had she brought it to the party?  She filled a cup to drink, and then came back to get another one, the first cup still standing full on the counter.  Her hands shook just a little bit.  Most of us didn't know what some had begun to suspect, to discern hanging on the horizon of her life, ominous and looming, a threatening dark thundercloud.

Four years later, Scott and I attended my brother's graduation and saw for ourselves what had been whispered about at recent family gatherings.  "Grandmommy's forgetting things."  "She can't remember ..."  She knew me, but didn't recognize my husband of two years.

As the years continued to slip by, Grandmommy's memories began to trickle from her brain like sand through a sieve.  She forgot her friends.  She forgot her grandchildren.  Eventually she didn't recognize her own kids when they came, with grey hair and wrinkles and reading glasses.

My aunt took over the primary care of Julia, placing her in a nursing home close by.  Aunt Peebs would go visit Grandmommy every day with a little gift.

"Looook what I have for you, Mom!"

Grandmommy would say in delight, "I love surprises!"  And open the gift.  Thirty minutes later it would sit forgotten again on the bedside table, where Aunt Peebs scooped it up, hid it, and brought it back the next day for her to open again.

Julia Gentry's mind completely left her about two years ago.  The doctors told us that it would be a matter of time before her brain regressed to the point where it stopped controlling her major organs.  So we loved her, and prayed for her, most of us from afar as we lived our own lives.  And she would walk, around and around the dementia ward at the nursing home.  She, who had been the connecting center of the family, was now adrift and lost and alone, unable to find a safe harbor to rest.

This week, Grandmommy finally sailed home.  After years of not recognizing the faces of those she loves, she beheld the face of the One who loves her most.

"Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away.
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, oh glory,
I’ll fly away.
When I die
Hallelujah bye and bye,
I’ll fly away."

I'll see you soon, Grandmommy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Netflix Movie Monday - Jan 24

Hello, folks!  It's Monday, and you know what that means... today's the day when I bring you a movie that I found streaming on Netflix that inspired or interested me in some way.  Today will be a double-header, two for the price of one, back to back features, two very special films I would recommend you watch together.  Or, at least, consecutively.

Here's what Netflix says about this movie:  "When Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones) and Nasira (Francis Benhamou) -- an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim, respectively -- meet as new teachers at a Brooklyn school, co-workers and students expect friction. But the women discover they have a shared expectation of entering into arranged marriages. As they experience tension between their traditional cultures and life in contemporary America, Rochel and Nasira form a special bond."

Sounds interesting, right?  You meet Rochel, an Orthodox Jew, on her first day at a new job teaching in a public school in New York.  I identified with her character right away because 1) she has a name nobody can pronounce, and 2) she is set apart from her contemporaries by her dress, mannerisms, and culture.  Rochel is assigned an aide for her classroom to help assist her students who have disabilities, and the teacher assigned to co-teach with her is (bum bum bummm...) Nasira, a young Muslim woman.  The women strike up a friendship after a student makes the comment, "You're a Jew and she's a Muslim.  Aren't you, like, supposed to hate each other?" 

Rochel and Nasira find that they have much more in common than they initially thought:  They are both separated from the other teachers and staff in the school because of their devout adherence to their religious beliefs.  They both come from cultures where their families are extremely tight-knit (in fact, they both still live at home).  Neither of them really know at first how to relate across cultural boundaries.  They are both experiencing prompting at home to enter into arranged marriages, and both find the process extremely uncomfortable, as neither have had much contact with the male sex outside of immediate family. 

This film could very easily become preachy, sanctimonious, or sappy.  Instead, it stays true to the characters and the cultures they come from, opening the door for the viewer into a world not many have experienced.  As a TCK, I identified with the two main characters' experiences of trying to assimilate into mainstream America for the first time.  I also love the delicacy with which Rochel and Nasira's characters were painted, giving faces with personality to what had previously been nameless stereotypes. 

The movie made me curious about life as an American Orthodox Jew, which is why I watched the second film:

'A Life Apart' is an in depth view of the history and modern day life of American Hasidic Jews (did you know Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism are two different sects?).  Netflix says, "It took seven years to make this intriguing documentary about the world of the Hasidim, who exist in an insular universe (one that few outsiders ever get to see) and uncompromisingly adhere to Jewish ritual. Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker narrate this illuminating look at a people who speak Yiddish and dress distinctively yet cherish family, community and a life of meaning that coincides with most Americans' core principles." 

This movie is a little dry (don't watch on a night you're looking for pure entertainment and mind candy), but a very thorough and, in my opinion, interesting, look inside the culture of Hasidic Jews.  I found that I could relate with the Hasidic lifestyle, as it parallels in many ways with the third-world culture I grew up in - the role of women in the society, family structure, and the undercurrent of tension between 'old' and 'new' ways of thinking.  This one will be sure to stay with you long after you watch it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Do you remember a time when all was right in your world?  When not one whisper of discontent or worry interrupted the tranquility of your mind? 

I remember a few magic hours stolen, alone, floating in the lagoon beyond our island.  With my eyes closed, my other senses took the reigns of awareness.  Buoyant on a bed of salt water, I could feel the ocean breathing around and beneath me.  Each tiny wave pushed a little against my arms and toes, then retreated, leaving the tiny hairs in my skin standing straight up at attention.  Push, retreat, push, retreat, a gentle cadence that slowly carried me along the shore.

The water fingered my scalp.  My hair fanned itself out around my head, clumping gently at the surface.  My clothes, too, floated on their own accord, drifting away from my body in the warm water that cradled me.  The sun beat down through my eyelids, creating bright patterns of orange and pink and scarlet veins against the thin membrane.  I turned over from my back and let my feet fall.

The sand was course and clean, bits of broken shell and crushed coral bleached a brilliant white by the sun.  It puffed slightly as my toes set down, then settled again on top of my feet.  Ribbons of seaweed waved greenly in the gentle current.  Push, retreat, push, retreat.  Sinking down, I submerged myself to my neck and closed my eyes again.  Hugging my knees up to my chest, I allowed the ocean to completely take me, becoming for a few magical seconds wholly a part of that world of push and flow and gentle embrace. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Mouths of Babes

This week I took the long drive down to El Paso, TX.  It is the closest 'big' city near us, and also the location of my doctor.  Scott couldn't come (some one's gotta do the 'real' work in this family!), so I was on my own with both kids for the 1 1/2 hour car trip.  I had resolved to myself to take advantage of this excursion out of our little town and knock out Goal #2 while we were at it.  So, with picnic lunch packed, we headed from the doctor's office to the zoo, with a stop on the way at a gas station for drinks.

I am always very aware of my whiteness when I'm in El Paso.  It is right on the border (you can see the Rio Grande from the interstate), and I'm guessing about half the population come over from Mexico every day to work in and around the city.  I double checked that the car doors were locked when we pulled into the Valero station downtown, and held tightly to both kids' hands when we went into the convenience store.

After we had picked out our drinks (orange juice for Sophie and Gatorade for Xander - they were super pumped), we were standing in line to pay and this woman behind us started cooing at the kids.  I don't know Spanish, but it sounded like, "Awww, what cute kids!"  She reached out to touch Xander's white-blond hair.  This happens all the time when we are out and about down there, so I let it go.  Plus, I was used to the same thing happening to me as a kid in the Solomons. 

By the time we got to the zoo, we were all very ready to get out of the car and run off some steam.  We meandered through the African section first, king and queens of the zoo on this deserted Thursday afternoon.  The animals were as curious as the kids, trotting up to say hi as they poked their little heads over the low grating.  I strolled along behind, letting Sophie and Xander choose our course, reveling in the simple joy of them, while the kind winter sun kissed us all with a gentle benediction. 

Eventually we came upon the elephants.  The kids had been especially excited about finding them.  The two great, grey beasts stood with their backs to us, swaying in unison to some ancient, primal jungle beat. 

"Look guys, they're dancing!"  The elephant on the left turned its head ever so slightly to give us a 'I know you're there and am choosing to ignore you' look.  Sophie stared for along moment, then:

"Mom, what's that hanging down on that elephant?"

I glanced at where she was pointing, "That's its trunk, sweetie." 

"No, there, hanging down in the back of it."  I had a little sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized that this was very obviously a MALE elephant. 

"Um, that's his penis, Sophie,"  I said, trying to keep my voice normal.  We use the anatomically correct words for body parts in our household.  I glanced over at a young couple standing a few yards from us, hoping they weren't cued in on the conversation. 

"Oh!"  When Sophie gets excited, she gets loud.  "That's the daddy elephant!"  She looked quickly over to the other one, her forehead wrinkled in thought. 

"LOOK, MOMMY!"  Sophie shouted.  "THAT ELEPHANT HAS A VAGINA!!!"

I about died.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


You could hear the commotion clear from the rain tanks to the well.  First, the angry female shouts cut like a breaker against the stillness of the village afternoon.  A brief period of hushed expectation followed as each hut pricked its ears to ascertain if this was a show worth getting up to watch.  Then came the flocks of pikininis, all heading to the point of contention.  When the kids started to gather, that was your sign that it was going to be good. 

Not knowing what to expect, I followed the crowd and my ears.  The woman was still screaming, her voice shrill and sharp above the excited squawking of the spectators.  Rounding a hut, I came to the main thoroughfare that ran the length of the village.  The sand, beaten beneath thousands of feet, millions of times, was as hard and smooth as a city sidewalk.  'Keala' (the road) stretched the width of a hut, about 4 yards, and connected the entire village, running parallel to the sea from the northern bush to the church.  Huts lined both sides of it, their low, dark doorways now punctuated with curious faces and watching eyes.

I became part of the stream of onlookers, and as we approached the nexus I made out the main players in this little drama.  A woman was striding down keala, screaming, "Do you see?  Do you see?  Look and see!  She is innocent!"  The whites of her eyes were showing all the way around her dark irises and her kinky hair was tucked back in a frizzy bun.  With one hand she kept readjusting the lava lava that covered the top half of her body, stretching under her armpits and across her large chest.  Her other hand clutched the arm of a teen aged girl. 

As the pair of them swung around towards where I was standing, I gasped in shock.  The girl was naked from the waist up, her fully formed breasts bare, beautiful and round, for all the village to see.  Embarrassed, I looked down.  Teenage girls usually kept their top halves covered, until they got married and started nursing babies, at which point breasts were seen by the community as functional, not sexual.

The woman shook her daughter, her tight grip causing the girl's entire body to tremble.  "Look!"  the woman demanded.  The girl's hair curtained her face, and she raised up her free arm to cover her chest.  Her mother slapped it down.  "Show them," she screamed.  "Show that they are light!" 

By this point I was very confused and slightly nauseated at what I was seeing.  "What does she mean?"  I asked someone standing nearby. 

"The girl has been accused of having sex, and it has been said that she is pregnant.  Her mother is showing the village that her breasts are not dark, proof that she cannot be with child."

I turned back with one more look of pity at the girl, and then was overcome with shame to be witness to the scene.  I left then, filled with grief, remorse, shame, as if I had been the one standing there exposed, for all the village to see.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Netflix Movie Monay - Jan 17

Welcome to Netflix Movie Monday!  The day of the week where I bring you a streaming, Netflix movie that I have found interesting, humorous, or just plain good.  This week's review is technically a TV show:

Dexter, according to Netflix, is a "macabre drama about a likable forensics expert who channels his violent tendencies into knocking off miscreants."  I wasn't too thrilled about this Showtime original, and ignored it in the 'Movies You'll Love' suggestions for several months.  After finally taking a chance on it this week, I am completely won over, and plan on many Dexter marathons until I've consumed both seasons that are offered streaming on Netflix (seasons 3 - 5 are mail order, with season 6 coming soon).

The title character, Dexter Morgan, is the adopted son of a Miami police officer.  After discovering the young Dexter compulsively killing off annoying neighborhood dogs, his father embarks on a lifelong mission to help Dexter channel his 'urges' in productive ways.  Together, Dexter and his father create a code to kill by.  Dexter becomes a vigilante serial killer, seeking out other killers who have evaded law enforcement and giving them their just due. 

A dark twist on the superhero theme, Dexter lives his entire life as a mild-mannered introvert, the Miami police department's blood spatter expert (ironic, right?).  What I love about this show are the monologues Dexter has with himself, which often have me laughing out loud as he pulls the wool over the eyes of everyone he knows, including his commitment phobic girlfriend and his butch (yet gorgeous) sister, who also works for the Miami PD as an undercover prostitute. 

The character development is surprisingly deep and thorough.  You find yourself rooting for Dexter, through his little triumphs and failures.  It's a great show for anyone who has felt on the outside of society.  As a TCK, I empathized with Dexter's detached musings, as he attempts to understand the people around him, and fakes a 'normal' that he has never known.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mean Girls

Kala was beautiful, even compared to the rest of the stereotypically good-looking Polynesians who populated our village.  She had long, slightly frizzy black hair, a straight nose and razor sharp cheekbones.  Her eyes were quick and brown, and words came easily to her light tongue.  Her family lived in a group of huts just across the rain tanks from ours.  Her mother was beautiful, too, with the sad, faded thinness of a woman who life has disappointed.  Her grandmother and aunts, along with Kala and her mother, all shared a certain aloofness, an indefinable mark that held them apart from the rest of the village.  I never learned the back story to that family, or why there were no men living in their group of huts, besides the patriarch.  Kala's grandfather was quite literally the village idiot, and we were all afraid of his crazy eyes and the way he stumbled around muttering nonsense, especially when he was drunk, which was often. 

Kala ran with my group of peers, but was always just a little removed from the core.  She was part of our volleyball games, hopscotch and occasional picnic forays to the neighboring islands, but wasn't invited to the hours spent on the shady beach with a ukulele and songs, or group trips to the well to haul back buckets of water and gossip.

As we slowly started to make the transition from children to teenagers in the eyes of the community, I became aware of a subtle undertone of animosity emanating from Kala.  I would catch her looking at me with a mocking glint in her eyes.  Her mouth would smile as it uttered her honeyed words, while her face remained as hard as the reef that protected our little atoll from the deep ocean's swells.  As unsophisticated and inexperienced as I was, the change in her confused me and an unacknowledged resentment began to grow inside me.

There came a time when the popular game sweeping the village was foot racing.  Kala and I were both the acknowledged queens of the footrace, because of our tall statures and long legs.  We had never raced just the two of us, though. 

One day, Kala came upon me as I was ambling home from a friend's hut.  "Let's race."  The challenge was in her eyes leveled at me beneath half-closed lids. 

"Um ..."  I stood indecisive.  There was no typical audience to cheer us on.  We were alone.  No set course.  And the look in her eyes frightened me.  I didn't understand the animosity in her stance and in her poisoned intonation.  Some instinct told me to watch out, but I didn't know what to look out for.  Or what to do once I spotted it.   

Before I could respond to her challenge, Kala lunged across the few yards that separated us.  Her eyes captured mine with a wild, delighted rage, her mouth opened in a snarl and her outstretched fingers reached for my hair.  Without a seconds thought, I turned around and took off as fast as I could run.

I won the foot race to the beach, to the open place where Kala had to stop under watching eyes.  What I lost was a little part of my dignity, my pride, my confidence in my own ability to defend myself.  I relinquished to Kala a piece of myself.  My surrender-and-run, tail-between-my-legs retreat at the moment of truth revealed something about myself. 

But I still haven't decided if I'm a peacemaker, or just a pansy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Case of the Missing Tooth

Today we have a guest post from:  Me, at age 14.  I wrote this in 1995 (OK, I know you're all doing the math, and yes, for the record, I am actually HAPPY that I am finally 30!), for our family newsletter.


"Yes, that's right.  It's the third, bottom, left-hand molar .... over."

"Roger, roger.  Was that the first molar?  Your transmission is a little garbled.  Over."

Dad pressed down the button of our radio microphone, "That's third.  The spelling is Tango, Hotel, India, Romeo, Delta.  THIRD, over."

"OK.  Now, you're telling us that Danica's molar is ... broken in half?  What do you plan to do about it?  Over."  Dad was talking to someone in the capitol city of Honiara, 250 miles south of us, about my tooth which had decayed and finally cracked in half earlier that day.

My mind flashed back to the beginning.  It had all started with a swollen, painful area around my tooth a bit after Christmas.  I decided to show it to 'Doctor Mom'.

"Well," she said, peering into my mouth, flashlight in hand, "It looks pretty red.  Better brush and floss really well."  I hoped she'd finish her examination because my jaws were starting to ache from holding my mouth open so long.  "OK, you're free."  I let out a thankful sigh.

For the next two or three weeks, I carefully brushed it and tried not to chew with the left side of my mouth.  Then, one day as I was reading, I was absent-mindedly chewing on a pen when I felt it go through the top of my tooth.  "Hey," I thought, "that's not supposed to happen."  I decided to ask Mom to look at it.

This was during our scheduled short-wave radio time, and it was taboo to even look at Mom from noon to 12:30 while she stood by the radio, trying to hear messages for us from Honiara.  Finally, I heard her say, "SITAG Luaniua, out," and approached her.

Armed with a flashlight, she took me into her room.  Another session of poking and prodding with my mouth stretched open to the limit.  "Danica."  Oh, oh.  I knew that tone.  "Danica, have you been messing with your tooth?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Danica," she sounded upset, "There's a hole in your tooth."

"Uh, yeah, what about it?"

"Oh, Danica," she set the flashlight down.  "David," she called my dad.  "Will you come and look at Danica's tooth?"

I heard Dad click a couple more keys on the computer and push his stool back.  Once again, I tilted my head and forced my aching jaws apart.  Dad peered in.

"We'll have to fill it.  Do we have any filling compound?"  It was not an option to simply go to visit the dentist because there is no dentist, or doctor for that matter, here in the outer islands.  We do every fix-up job ourselves.  We kids have become pretty skilled at handling tropical ulcers, but broken teeth are a different matter.

Mom swabbed my tooth first with antiseptic cleaner, then alcohol.  She poked in this grey, pasty stuff.  I bit down on the piece of cotton which she placed in my mouth.  "Will it stay in?"  I asked doubtfully.

"I hope so," was her reply.

It didn't.  After three brushings, my filling was totally dissolved.  Oh, well.  Another three weeks went by.  The next disaster happened when I was reading, as well.  This time, I was chewing on a bit of plastic when I felt it crack.  "Hey," I thought, "what was that?"  I gave another two experimental chews to see what would happen.  Crack!  This time, I felt something smooth and hard and tiny in my mouth along with the plastic.  I spit it out.  Oh, oh.  That looked suspiciously like ... I put my tongue to the back of my tooth.  Instead of feeling a smooth, round surface, my tongue encountered a rough, jagged hollow.

I dropped my book and ran to the small mirror hanging over our kitchen sink.  I tilted my head forward and forced my eyes up to the mirror.  Yep.  My tooth was cracked.  The back half of my molar was laying in my hand.  I took it to Mom.

"Guess what this is?"  I said.  She glanced at it, did a double take and demanded that I open my mouth.  She peered in, then sank into a chair.  "David," she called my dad.  He came in and the three of us had a conference about what to do next.  That is, the two of them had a conference and I sat quaking, half pleased about the commotion I had created.

"We'll have to send her to Honiara," Mom was saying.  "There's no way we can fix it here."

I broke in.  "You mean, by myself?  Who would I stay with?"

"Oh, we'll find someone," said my Dad.  "Well, it is almost radio time.  I guess I'll tell the people in Honiara what happened."

As Dad talked, I mused.  Go to Honiara by myself!  I was dazed.  I imagined the trip there - boat to Auki, then plane to Honiara - alone.  I imagined being picked up by friends at Henderson Field and driving into town, then staying at another translation family's house.  Sure, I knew the people who I would be staying with, but ... travel alone?

I heard Dad's voice again.  "All right.  Yeah, it's good that this happened just when a ship is coming out here.  Don't know what we'd do if it was between ships.  Thanks for everything.  This is SITAG Luaniua, out."  Dad shut the radio off and turned to me.  "Well, Danica, you'd better get packed.  The ship should appear on the horizon sometime tomorrow morning."

I lost my stomach somewhere in the future.  I stood up and managed a smile.  "Well," I said brightly, "This is an adventure!"

Dad smiled at me, "We'll miss you."

For the rest of the day, I lived in a flurry of getting ready.  Mom came into my room and gave me a talk about behaving myself.  I was given a shopping list, money, and a whole lot of do's and don'ts.  While we waited for the ship to come, I tried to go about my regular routine:  choir at night, church the following day, Sunday School, and a game of basketball afterwards.  Through it all, my stomach felt like a whole family of butterflies had moved in and had brought relatives along.

Eventually, I tried sitting down with a book.  Maybe that would be relaxing.  I poured myself a cup full of granola and found a comfortable place to curl up.  I was well into the second chapter when ... crack.  I knew that sound.  I fished out the other half of my tooth, washed it off and called out to Mom.  "The other half of my tooth broke off!"

I opened my mouth for her to see.  She peered in.  She emerged with a funny look on her face.  "Danica," she said, "are you sure that molar was permanent?"

"Pretty sure," I answered, "why?"

"Because," she said, "what we thought was the dentin looks suspiciously like a new tooth coming in!"

We contacted Honiara radio at 5:00pm.  "We have good news and bad news.  Over."

"Roger, roger, go ahead."

"Well, the bad news is that the other half of Danica's tooth cracked off.  The good news is that there is a whole new tooth coming in underneath!  Over."

"Well!" came the reply, "That was an adventure!  Over."

And it was.  "This is SITAG Luaniua, over and out."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We're a week into potty training Xander.  Every time he pees or poops in the potty, we reward him with an M&M of his choice.  It's very motivating.  Sophie gets a candy, too, because it makes it fair, and I also want to motivate her to encourage him to go.  The more people in this house cheering Xander on, the better. 

So we keep the M&M's in a little cup up in the cupboard of our bathroom.  Yesterday, when I went to get one for Xander, I noticed that about half of them had disappeared since the last time we had used them.  Sophie wanders in for her candy, and I see (on closer examination), that she has some suspicious looking brown smudges across her cheek.  Busted. 

"Sophie, did you eat the M&M's without asking Mommy?"

Sophie looks down.  "Yessss." 

"Sophie, don't you do that again, you hear?"

"Yes, Mommy."

We get dressed for church, pack into the car, and head down the road.  In the church parking lot, I'm unbuckling Sophie from the back seat when I notice she has the tell-tale smudge on her face again.

"SOPHIE!  Did you eat M&M's after I already told you not to?!" 

She starts to cry.  Scott and Xander are already half-way to the front doors of the church by now.  He hears her crying, stops, and looks back, "What's going on?  Is she ok?" 

"Well, Sophie has something to tell you about NOT obeying Mommy..." I say.  Scott turns to her. 

"Sophie...?"  She cries even louder. 

"I ... ate ... the .... M&M's .... " she gets out, between sobs.  By this time, we're almost walking in the doors, and (call me a chicken) I didn't want to have a sobbing almost-4-year-old on my hands in the church lobby.  We shush her up, get our Sunday faces on, and head into church. 

After service, lunch, and nap time, I'm puttering around getting our house picked up when I find some tissues on the bathroom counter - smeared with a suspiciously chocolaty-looking material.  Quenching my initial urge to go into def-com-five-red-nuclear-alert mode (and taking a big breath), I head to the living room to find the culprit. 

I find her reading with her daddy. 

"Sophie, what were you doing during nap time?"  A loaded question, I know.  I wanted to see if she would go straight for the truth, or decide on evasive tactics.

She looked up at me with huge eyes.  "Mommy, I opened the cabinet and saw the M&M's.  I wanted to eat them, and I put them in my mouth, but then I changed the plan.  I changed the plan!  I didn't want Mommy to be mad at me, so I spit them out in the sink. I didn't eat the M&M's, Mommy."

I have to say.  I was floored.  I am so proud of my little girl.  What more can I ask, but that when she encounters temptation, she will know that:

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Netflix Movie Monday - Jan 10

Welcome to Netflix Movie Monday!  This is the day when I review a movie that I have watched in the past week which I found interesting, though provoking, or just plain funny.  This week's pick: 

Willowbrook School was an institution for the mentally and physically handicapped back when segregation was in full swing in America.  Parents who had children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome were advised by doctors, priests and the community at large to place their kids in the care of institutions such as these.  In 1972, Geraldo Rivera, at that time just a promising local reporter, did an undercover expose of the place.  His cameras revealed children sitting naked in the dark, surrounded by their own feces, staring blankly and with hopeless eyes past the camera.

The film catches up with several individuals who were residents of Willowbrook, and their families.  It was fascinating to hear the story from siblings' perspectives, and gave me a new compassion for, and understanding of, families who institutionalized their children during this time period.

Luis, who had some sort of physical handicap, used a walker when at home as a child.  After being placed in Willowbrook by his Puerto Rican immigrant mother, he lost his mobility and now has little to no gross motor control.  The story of his caring older brother, who acted as translator for his mother on their weekly visits to the school, is moving and beautiful, and you fall in love with Luis' unquenchable personality.

You first meet Sal in an interview with Geraldo back in '72 at Willowbrook.  He was mistakenly diagnosed as mentally retarded, but only has a form of Cerebral Palsy.  His story is heart wrenching and inspiring, as he gives a voice to all the residents of Willowbrook who might not be able to articulate the experience for themselves.  Sal describes living in the school as similar to life in a concentration camp, and when asked if better things are down the road for him, responds, "Damn straight!" 

As difficult as these images are to watch, they foster anew a compassion, understanding and empathy for individuals with disabilities and their families.  'Unforgotten' is an inspiring story of familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit.  A must see, and important reminder of where we have come from as a society.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

1000 Pageviews!

Being relatively new to the blogger world, this is exciting for me.  My little blog has acquired 1000 pageviews!  It amazes me that anyone would actually want to read my random ramblings, and it amazes me even more that somebody would want to keep coming BACK to read them. 

The coolest part about all of this to me is the countries around the world I have hits from.  Here are a few:

United States
Solomon Islands
Zambia (thank you, whoever you are!  I notice that you come often to check the blog, and I think it's absolutely wonderful)
United Kingdom
Saudi Arabia

If you guys don't mind, I'd love to learn more about you --- post a comment and say hi!  Are there any stories / themes you want to hear more about?  What do you most like to read?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Scent of the Past

Ever notice the connotative power of scent?  I can be going along my merry little way, when a sudden, single whiff hitching a ride on a rogue zephyr assaults my nostrils, and transports me years into the past, brings tears to my eyes, or gives me a deep feeling of sudden security.

Baby powder.  It transports me to my parents' bedroom and watching my dad get dressed for work back before we went overseas.  I can still see him putting on his brown dress socks - left foot first, scrunch the sock up into a smooth disk, then pull over the toes, arch and heel in one smooth motion.  His shoes, slightly scuffy, with their delicate brown laces, worn and familiar. 

Lumber.  Also connotes my dad.  I can't walk into a hardware store to this day without feeling like he's right beside me.  The scent of sawdust brings his swift, sure movements as he measures, cuts, and hammers in nails with confident accuracy. 

Kerosene.  A dark hut, low hanging eves coated black with the soot of innumerable cooking fires. Contented, happy faces brown and smiling over steaming mugs of tea so sweet it makes your teeth hurt.  Community, togetherness, belonging. 

Rotting vegetables.  The hot, sticky streets of Honiara, decorated red from the betel nut stained spit of countless pedestrians.  Wary brown Melanesian eyes, dented trucks chugging billows of black exhaust, all encompassed in puffs of yellow dust. 

Clinique make-up.  My grandmother in her old yellow kitchen, with its fluffy curtains and dark wood cabinets.  Her kind smile as she hands me a glass of milk.  Skittering matchbox cars across the pea green linoleum.

Plywood.  The house my parents built on Devereux Street, in the Texas hill country.  Its squeaking floors and ancient wood stove, resting peacefully among the cedars and live oaks.  Childhood safety and warmth.

What smells take you back?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dirty Mouth

Guadalcanal is a volcanic island, a ripple mountains and hills that push right up to the sea.  The city of Honiara is nestled in a wide bay on the North side, with houses and buildings climbing up the steep rolls of land and into encroaching jungle and acres of tall elephant grass.  Build something in the desert, and it will be there for perpetuity.  But in the tropics, structures can only hope to rent the land for a short while, until the hungry greenness claims back the ground. 

The missionary group we belonged to owned several houses on one such hill, and also a few at the base of it.  SITAG kept the houses for teams to stay in when they came in from their village assignments.  If we were lucky, our town visit (about 3 months to every 6 spent on Luaniua) coincided with those of other families.

We called all the other adults 'Aunt and Uncle' So-and-so, which seemed very strange to me when we first arrived.  But soon we became part of the tight knit SITAG family.  All the kids ran in packs, played together, fought together, ate together and sometimes did home school together.  We got along better with some families more than with others, and there were the little rivalries, break-ups, arguments and general dysfunction among children and adults that inevitably comes when you get a group of individuals together. 

Anyways, during one particular village stay, my mom had chopped off all my hair (another story for another day, but I'll give you a hint:  it had something to do with this).  By the time we got back to Honiara, it had grown in somewhat.  It stood out from my head in frizzy ringlets, poking in all different directions and it was impossible to tame.  I was very self-conscious. 

I was making my way up the hill to a SITAG friend's house, when two local kids fell in behind me.  Now, I have to explain, in the village, everyone knew me.  They knew I knew the language, I was sort of everyone's little adopted white kid.  In Honiara, though, there were more ex-pats, most of whom did not know the local language or customs, and didn't interact much with the Islanders.  So these kids following me now assumed I was 'that kind' of white person, and started to discuss me (literally) behind my back.

"Look at that arokuao,"  the first one said.  My spine stiffened at the derogatory word - the Island equivalent of 'whitey'. 

"I wonder where she's going."

"No, I think she's a he,"  the first kid replied.  "Look at his hair."

"You think so?  I don't know..."

At this point I stopped dead in my tracks, spun around, and screamed, "Kaikaiem siti bilong dadi bilong iu."  Quite literally, "Eat your dad's $h*t."

It was the worst I'd ever sworn in my life.  The two kids stood there staring at me dumbstruck, their faces clearly saying, "This arokuao has gone completely off his or her rocker." 

I then high tailed it the rest of the way up the hill, weaving my way past clumps of tall grass and up the cinder block steps sunk into the steepest parts.  Bashful mimosa growing low along the path closed its leaves to my flying flip flops as I leaped over a thick red patch of spit, ejected from the mouth of some betelnut user.  I'd never had that dirty of a mouth up till then, and I don't think I've ever had it since.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Big Boy Froggy Potty

I am a hostage in my own bathroom.  Picture this:  Danica, rocking the cubic zirconium earrings, sequined top and skinny jeans, blogging on the floor of her bathroom with a naked 2 year old.  Yes, this is my life.

Rewind five hours: 

The kids and I were doing our weekly WalMart run, and as I stood in front of the diapers trying to decide whether to go with a size '4' or bump up to a '5' for my son, a little something inside me said, "Danica, man up and potty train the kid, already."  Now, I know there are lots of different ideas about potty training, and he might not be ready, but in this moment of (in)sanity, I had just about enough of diapers.  So we picked out a cute little froggy potty and continued on with the shopping. 

Xander was very interested.  The packaging had a picture of a little boy sitting, grinning as he pee peed on the big boy froggy potty.  As Sophie picked out her weekly allotment of Kool-Aid, I talked it up with Xander. 

"Wooooowwwwww, see the big boy?!!  HE'S going pee pee on the BIG BOY POTTY.  Look at that, Xander!  What a big boy!  Do YOU think YOU could make poo poo in the big boy froggy potty???"  I looked up to find that I had blocked the aisle and the man waiting impatiently to get by had.  Heard.  The.  Entire.  Thing.  My cool-mom image grew wings and flew up to the rafters where it could hide.

Fast forward to after nap time:

With Goal #1 of my New Years Resolutions in mind, I busied myself picking up the house while the kids watched a movie.  A bottle of wine was chilling in the fridge, a roast cooking in the crockpot, and operation 'Celebrate Scott's First Day on the Job' was in full swing.  Right before 5:00, I changed out of my comfies - a '98 Westlake Cross Country tee (donned in hopes of motivating myself to get up and run sometime in the near future, see Goal #5), and the 'fisherman pants' my parents brought me from Thailand.

Enter 'Cool, Sophisticated Mama Danica', with my cubic Z earrings, cute top, and (not so skinny) jeans.  At this moment, Xander calls to me, "Mommy, I go potty!"  We rush to the bathroom.  Strip him down, and low and behold, he manages to produce .... nothing. 

I've never potty trained a boy before.  So I didn't anticipate sitting for minutes on end staring at my son's 'twigs and berries'.  I mean, I only have second hand knowledge of that hardware, and I am paranoid that when he does go, it's going to spray all over my bathroom like a sprinkler hose in the summer time.  So you better believe I'm keeping pretty close watch.  In the village the kids just run around naked, and when they 'have to go', they just pop a squat wherever they happen to be at.  An obliging older sibling then scoops the solids up in a coconut husk and tosses it in the bushes.  I've even seen a kid whizzing away as he ran after a friend.  Drive-by-peeing.

The thing is, Xander loves candy, and he also loves being in his birthday suit.  He's never been allowed to run free before (for obvious reasons), so he's totally digging this.  He's not about to leave the bathroom, because 1) if he pees he gets CANDY, and 2) he gets to be naked. 

So for now I'm stuck watching Xander climb in and out of the tub singing, "I NAAAA-ked".

Good thing I have a laptop.

Netflix Movie Monday

In case you missed it, here is an explanation of what NMM is, and why I started it.  And now, on to this week's installment!

Jean-Michael Basquiat:  Radiant Child

I absolutely love the way this documentary begins:

This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can -
Lest the song get out of hand.
Nobody loves a genius child.
Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?
Nobody loves a genius child.
Kill him - and let his soul run wild.
~Langston Hughes

It was this preface that kept me watching after the first 15 minutes gave me doubts and almost had me clicking the 'back' button on my browser.  The movie was shaping up to be an over-indulgent, snobbish look at the life of 1980's artist Jean-Michael Basquiat.  I love art, and grew up with a fair knowledge of the major painters throughout history, but I know next to nothing about the turns that more recent art has taken.  Apparently, Jean-Michael was supposed to be THE most influential artist of our generation.  After being introduced to some of his paintings, I wasn't so sure:

Call me uncultured, but it looked like something my 4th graders could produce. 

But, fortunately, I kept watching (with the Hughes quote in mind).  Amazingly, the more I saw of Basquiat's art, the more I liked it. It's like listening to an orchestral piece that seems simple enough, but after hearing it time and again, you begin to pick out all the intricate, subtle undertones. 

The film did an excellent job of telling Jean-Michael's story, while simultaneously showcasing his artwork.  Interestingly, the artist started out doing graffiti, but not just any graffiti, mind you.  He would spray paint cryptic sayings and lines from poems on the sides of buildings.  He later used his art to celebrate black culture.  Here is a work from his line of 'king' paintings, where he honored black talent.  Can you guess who this is?

Another thing I find interesting about Basquiat, is that he was equally influenced by street culture, and by classical artists.  These seem to be two completely opposite aesthitics to me, but he incorporated them together beautifully:

Recognize Van Gogh's self portrait?

The reason why I decided to review this movie is that it grabbed me and refused to let go.  Even now, almost a week later, I cannot get Basquiat's gripping images out of my mind.  This documentary is a must see for any art enthusiast. 

And now, off to find some Basquiat prints for my walls ...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 Resolutions ... or Goals ... or Whatever

Everyone else is doing it, I might as well do it, as well ... OK that didn't make sense.  I must be tired.  With a nod to my sleep deprived state, I will not be posting anything eloquent, descriptive, particularly witty or thoughtful.  Instead, in list form, I'll post my goals for myself for 2011.

You see, I'm a goal oriented person.  When I become interested in something, I go after it whole hog.  The problem is, the past few years I've been going whole hog after things that are outside the home:  leadership, the campaign, moving, organizations ...and my home, family, and internal personal needs have been put on the back burner. 

So, in light of all of this, I hereby declare that this year I am going WHOLE HOG after rebuilding, restoring, and deepening (OK, couldn't find a 're' word for that one) my family, my marriage, and myself.  With this end in mind, here are some sub-goals to set myself on track for achieving it.

*** Disclaimer (can you tell I'm married to a lawyer?) *** These are simply goals, not rigid rules. If I can at least live with a few of these guidelines in mind, I'll be happy with myself.

1.  Focus on Scott.
Both of us have been climbing life's mountains together, so we've grown closer as partners over the past few years, but it's time to put the focus back on the oo-la-la. (if you nowudImean)

2.  Focus on Sophie and Xander.
I want to consciously slow down, and really take time daily to celebrate my kids.  I feel that I spend my days finding ways to keep them busy, so I can get my work done.  How completely backwards and upside down!  This year I want to discover more of who they are, and help unlock the gifts deep inside them.

3.  Focus on my family.
I want to spend time with Scott and the kids, creating meaningful family memories.  The past year our family activities included driving around for hours putting up campaign signs, shopping at WalMart, and going door-to-door.  Yeah.  Not too inspiring.  This year, I want to go on walks, fly kites at the park, take day trips to the mountains, zoo, and museums, and go on one or two extended family vacations.

4.  Focus on my writing.
This is a goal for ME.  I owe it to myself to be disciplined enough to refine my craft, find my voice, and practice, practice, practice.

5.  Focus on my body.
What New Year's Resolution list would be complete without a weight loss goal?  I want to reach that magical region of 1*5 - 1*0 (um, you're crazy if you think I'm actually going to post the numbers here.  I have boundaries, you know).  Let's just say I'd like to look good in a yoga outfit.