RANT: Izzy on the Banister

In case it's not obvious what's going on here...Izzy is walking along the banister that overlooks the lower level of our condo (where she could potentially fall a story and a half).

Why can't she be more like her brother?...

RAVE: Flowers in December

Granted, this isn't the best picture. But I thought I should be truthful, and not just pull a flower picture from the internet. When my mom visited Philly last week and I excitedly told her about how flowers survive here - even in December - she replied (rather matter-of-factly), "Well, Pansies are made to withstand cold climates."

So, I guess these pansies aren't that exciting. But, I know for sure that I never saw them living in Minnesota in December! :)

RAVE: The Middle of Everywhere

“The purpose of freedom is to free someone else.”
Toni Morrison

If every American read The Middle of Everywhere, which captures some stories of refugees in America, our country would be a more understanding, tolerant, and united place. Read it. And if you absolutely can't, at least read the rest of this post.

I learned many lessons from this book - some of which are captured in the list of myths and explanations shared by the author, Mary Pipher. Please take the time to read them. Let's stop these myths from spreading as truth.
Myth 1: Regugees are ignorant and have no formal education.

This is not true. Many were doctors, professors, engineers, and journalists in their native lands.

Myth 2: The United States takes in most of the world's refugees.

We actually take in less than 1 percent of the world's refugees. Many countries take a much larger share than we do. And many host countries are much poorer than the United States.

Myth 3: Newcomers are taking American jobs.

In fact, they are filling jobs that Americans won't take and thus enabling businesses to prosper in a time when minimum-wage workers are hard to find. They are a tremendous boon to our economy, especially our rural economy. Furthermore, relations between newcomers and old-timers are not a zero-sum game. Refugees buy groceries and other products in our stores and introduce innovations that ultimately help all of us.

Myth 4: Newcomers do not pay taxes.

In fact, refugees pay taxes, including property taxes. Even though they pay taxes, newcomers cannot vote or receive many government benefits. They are taxed without representation.

Myth 5: Newcomers don't want to learn English.

It seems ironic that we expect people to learn our language rapidly when so few of us speak any language but English. However, people who haven't struggled to learn another language have less empathy for how difficult it is to succeed with a new language. The fact is, most refugees, many of whom speak four or five languages already, are desperately trying to learn English.

Myth 6: Why don't they go back where they belong?

Refugees are here because they had no choices but to be here. They couldn't say where they were. I want to respond to this question by asking, "Would you stay where your children saw people being killed if they looked out the windows? Or where you were made to participate in your parents' torture and execution? Or, where you might be beaten until you could never work again for the crime of speaking to an American? Would you stay where your daughter could be raped and shot by soldiers?"

I wonder how many Americans think these myths are true?

RAVE: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

One word:


Written through letters, I was a bit skeptical of the format at first. But after just a few pages, I was instantly hooked. An ecclectic cast of characters and clever writing earns this heart-warming novel a truly deserved spot on the New York Times Best-Seller list. I'm not sure I'd call it a must-read, but you won't be disappointed if you do pick it up. Happy Reading!

RANT: The Sisters Antipodes

The Concept:
When the Australian author, Jane Alison was 4 and her sister age 7, her family met an American Diplomat and his family with two daughters of similar ages. The couples were fascinated with each other, and soon the marriages realigned and the father's switched places.

Fascinating read, right?


The concept of this book was so intriguing that I should have wanted to read it in one sitting. Yet reading it was like pulling teeth - I started it in August and it was only out of pure stubborness that I finally finished it in early December. The author was incredibly self-absorbed and wrote as if she was trying to win some kind of I-was-able-to-use-a-metaphor-on-every-page award. The book was absolutely directionless.

As the book nears its end, I am finally lead to believe that I will receive some semblence of satisfaction... For the first time in 30 years, Alison confronts her parents about "the switch" that has never been openly discussed:

...as the light faded and the city began glittering. It slid into a dark, mirrored labyrinth, during which two more bottles of prosecco were popped, a labyrinth in which a monster was needed, a monster that might well lurk behind any troubles with fathers and men I'd spilled at the table...
blah, blah, blah...I'm sorry, what?!?!? I did not read 300 pages about your crazy and poorly described childhood to be given that description as the lame, and hardly-recognizeable, climax of your story.

In an interview, the author mentions this was her second attempt at her memoir. I can only imagine what the first one looked like. I also heard a rumor she has written several other fiction novels. I'll be avoiding those.

RANT: Consumerism

I know, it seems a little funny that I would be one to rant about consumerism. Anyone that knows me knows I love to shop and find that great deal! But after reading Stolen Lives, and a few other books soon to be brought to this blog, it's tough to want to spend money knowing so many are out there with so little.

Consumerism seems to have heightened considerably over the years. Gone are the days of Christmas being contained between the day after Thanksgiving and New Years. Now Christmas starts before Halloween, and even Labor Day. In one department store, I actually saw the Christmas display go up in August this year! And don't even get me started on Black Friday.

It's all so excessive.
But yet, so easy to give into.

So this year...I'm trying these tricks to keep in check:
  • Only go shopping when absolutely necessary (no window shopping!)
  • Use a list, and stick to it.
  • Don't buy anything on sale or clearance, unless I'd be willing to buy it full price.
My hope is that these tricks will help me to spend less, give more, and avoid having to donate several trash bags full of hardly-worn clothes to goodwill again this year.

RAVE: Stolen Lives

Malika Oufkir's story is truly amazing. She and her family spent 20 years in prison...in some of the most unimagineable conditions. It was truly difficult to read at times, but it was so good.

Good in that it helped me to think more globally.
Good in that it opened my eyes to human rights' injustices.
Good in that it made me truly thankful for my privileged life (that I was born into!).

The author of Malika's story explains in the preface that she writes this story because this could have been her. It's easy for me to go on with life thinking there's nothing I can do about situations like Malika's...these things are happening so far away. But if it was me in her situation, would that same thinking be acceptable? No.

So, what to do? It's tough to know. I've signed up for Amnesty International. Now, I recognize that this International Human Rights organization is definitely not without controversy. But, it does give me the opportunity to participate in "Call to Actions" for people like Malika who are being imprisoned unfairly and treated inhumanely. I may not have the money or prestige, but I can write an email of support. If you're interested in joining me, check out their website and sign up...

I was so stunned by Stolen Lives that I searched for more on Malika's story. In an interview after her memoir was published, she was asked if she often saw the family that she survived with for so many years. Her response:

"No...the reason is because of my younger brother [who was 3 at the time of imprisonment]. Each time we are all together he feels so sad about that..and he asks us, 'please I cannot see you all together because each time I see you I am in prison, and I remember the worst moments of our life.'"


RAVE: Napa Valley

It only seems right that the first post of this blog would be a rave - and a monumental one at that! At the end of October Mike and I visited Napa Valley and it was truly something to rave about. When asked, "How was Napa?" We both get smiles on our faces and say with confidence, "We want to live there." So, that's the plan: Retire in Napa and get there sooner if we can.

If you get the chance, GO! And be sure to keep in mind our raves (and one minor rant):

Silver Oak Winery is a must see - great wine and the most beautiful grounds...

Be sure to stay in the quaint city of Yountville - it has the best food, charm, and morning view...

If you get the chance, head off the beaten path to the O'Shaughnessey Vineyard for a private tour of a beautiful, up-and-coming winery...

Only visit Nickel & Nickel Winery if you want an overpriced and pretentious experience (don't let the pretty vineyard pic deceive you)...

Luckily, we followed up our visit there with a trip to our new favorite winery, Hope & Grace. There you'll find truly delicious wine, a fun atmosphere (with cute dogs!), and really good people.

(I just LOVE their label!)

And every trip to Napa is better when you can meet up with great friends like Christa & Dave!

We're excited to go back soon. And, if you have a rant or rave about Napa - please share!