Tuesday, 30 September 2008

To Fish or Not To Fish

Similar to my organic produce dilemma, I am confused about how much and which fish I should or shouldn't be eating and/or feeding my children. This question has become particularly astute as I decided during my weight loss journey as I have tried to fundamentally change what I eat and what I feed my children.

Marc does not eat fish. Well, he sort eats fish. He'll eat sushi. And he'll have me taste fish to see if it is fishy and if I say it isn't he will try it. I'm not sure how I decide if fish is fishy but it seems to work.

I made a decision a few months ago to feed my family fish at least once a week and harking back to my Catholic upbringing this has somehow morphed into Friday's as being fish night. It isn't the best choice because the children both have fish and chips at school on Friday lunchtime but that's my approach for now and I'm sticking with it. They don't seem to mind that they get fish twice a day.

But then I started worrying about the how much fish is too much mercury. And what fish shouldn't be on our table at all due to environmental factors. And then I found this website with an exhaustive list of the fish that are ok, so so ok and not ok under any circumstances.

There is some trouble with this list.
  1. It appears to be North America focused. Imported fish seems bad. Does that include imported to the USA or just imported to anywhere? What if it is imported from the UK? Does that mean it's not imported to me and therefore is ok?
  2. The list is very specific about where and how the fish is caught. That's not always on the package labelling here in the UK, especially since I do most of my shopping online at 1 in the morning. I can't imagine trying to figure out if it is line caught or wild Alaskan.
  3. The list is long. I'm not sure how workable this list is during my weekly shopping trips.

The good news for me is mackerel is a good fish. I love mackerel. My children love mackerel. My husband hates mackerel. Kippers are not listed. Does that mean this is ok? Or is there another name for kippers? Tuna seems to be ok and seriously not ok. Ug, I love tuna. Does it count if I put it into my world famous tuna noodle casserole?

I think I'm more confused than I was when I started this quest.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Good Result

A few weeks back our dishwasher broke. That's not entirely true. The leaking had been happening sporadically for quite some time. It's just that 2 weeks ago it started happening every time we ran the dishwasher. My husband loves a challenge and fancies himself as a bit of a DIY man and decided he could do the fixing without any professional repairman intervention.

I shuddered. My house is littered with half done or badly done DIY projects attempted by the amateur hubby repairman. The children's bathroom on the first floor has had painting equipment in it for almost a year now. It's still not complete.

But who am I to deprive this man of a challenge? He took the dishwasher out to the back garden and proceeded to take it apart. I knew there was trouble when he put it back together and we had a clear plastic part hanging about that he claimed he didn't quite know where it went. He ran it and it leaked.

He ordered a new door seal and I did the dishes by hand until the new part arrived. He dutifully fitted it and ran the dishwasher. It leaked.

He thought maybe he fitted it the wrong way round so he took it apart and refitted it. It still leaked.

So he pulled it out from the wall and watched sitting on the floor as the dishwasher ran its whole cycle. He discovered that there were 3 pipes at the back of the wall and the 2 that weren't being used were over flowing and the 1 being used seemed to be backed up.

He capped the two that weren't being used and got some drainer unblocker to pour down the 1 that was being used.

And then disaster struck.

My husband is a bit of a klutz. Not not a bit. A lot of a klutz. He drops more dishes than the children. He trips over his own feet on a regular basis. And he spills the drain unblocker all over my wooden varnished counter top, which proceeded to eat through the varnish at lightening speed and leave a very unsightly big brown stain all over the counter top. OK, so the counter top wasn't in the best of shape in the first place. It probably needed re-varnishing 4 years ago when we moved in. And there are some Easter egg dye stains which occurred a few years back. But it certainly didn't have an ugly brown stain in the middle of it.

I had nagged and nagged at him to sand and re-varnish the counter for years but it just never seemed to be at the top of his To Do list.

I was outraged. He was afraid. I stopped talking to him. He silently went and got a sander and proceeded to spend the entirety of Saturday sanding the counter top. Then we silently went to the hardware store and picked out the varnish.

Whilst Seb and I handed out plastic cups of water to the weary runners in the Windsor Half Marathon as part of Seb's Beaver Scouts duties, Marc varnished the kitchen counter top.

And I have to say it looks beautiful. And feels beautiful. Much better than it was before. A good result. Now, what do I need to do to get him to finish the bathroom?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

RIP Paul Newman

Paul Newman has died.....as if you hadn't already heard that. I'm sure you don't come here for breaking news.

CBS News has a very good video tribute to him. I'd love to put the link directly on the blog but my html skills are causing me some challenges. Click here for the text and then watch the video on the left hand side.


If you are registered to vote in the USA, you have a responsibility to listen to this and every debate which follows.

If you are not registered to vote in the USA and are eligible to vote, get yourself registered.

If you are not eligible to vote, sit back and enjoy the madness of the next couple months as the population of the most powerful country in the world elects the most powerful person in the world. It may startle you. It may frighten you. It will certainly entertain you.


An interesting perspective.

What exactly does a dirt farmer do?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

To Be Organic or Not To Be Organic

I hate feeling like I'm getting ripped off. And the prices of organic products seems to me to be a bit of a rip off. And my family certainly can't afford to buy everything all the time organic. And I'm not sure we even need to be.

This website lists the various produce items and rates them according to their pesticide levels if they are non-organic.

I guess that means peaches and apples will be organic in my home. But I'll skip right past those organic onions next time!

Where is the Second String QB?

Friday, 26 September 2008


I’ve had a few…..

1. I never visited New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina. Now I could go. But I know it is not nor will it ever be the same. Pity.

2. I never flew on the Concorde. I watched it fly over my home for years in Windsor. I ever got to tour the inside of one when I was working for British Airways. But I never got to jet set the ultimate experience. And now they don’t fly anymore. Bummer.

3. I will never visit Yankee Stadium. OK, so I don’t like the Yankees. But just like the day when I went to watch my beloved Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, I was more interested in the history of the stadium than the baseball game. The NY Times does a brilliant job here taking about how much history I have missed. Wish I could have been there!


I didn't do well in economics. I took both micro and macro economics in university and barely managed a B. The only good thing about macro economics was this really fit boy who always sat a few rows in front of me. He had the most gorgeous hair in the world. After one disastrous date with him though I realised the only thing good about his head was his hair. Everything in between was empty space. There was nothing good about micro economics.

But I think he did better in economics than I did. The trouble was it was all theory and the theory always got proved wrong. Or so it all seemed to me. I thought saving was good and spending was bad. Economics seemed to be saying this was not necessarily so. Which may be what has gotten us into all this trouble.

The recent financial crisis rumbling throughout the world is bringing back seriously bad memories for me. it makes me wish I had done better or tried harder.

I've just recently happened upon the Economix blog from the NY Times which tries to make sense of all that theory and how it relates to what is currently happening in the financial markets and how that relates to you and me who are just trying to make ends meet. Give it a read. Let me know if it makes any sense to you.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A Bit Sore

I had two lumps removed from my back last night. I'm a bit sore and can't find a comfortable position to rest but am relieved to have them gone.

The two lumps appeared quite a few years ago and because I was overweight they weren't really causing me any problems. Now that I've dropped the weight the one on my left side was causing me considerable discomfort when I sat back in a chair or sofa.

The consultant diagnosis was that they were benign lipomas, which is just a fancy word for fat growths, apparently common in women between the ages of 40 and 60 and have nothing to do with being obese.

After some local anaesthesia (which hurt the most and brought tears to me eyes), the surgeon made 2 incisions above the lumps and popped them out like spots. One was about double the size of a pea and came right out. The one on the left side was larger and required a bit more oooomphs and digging but eventually came out as well. I was then stitched up and have some shower proof bandages on for the next week. Stitches are all on the inside. I should have some small scars which will stretch and the lumps will be sent for biopsy but they looked pretty benign to me (just like chicken fat). I'll check back with the consultant in about 3 weeks.

All in all I was at the hospital for 1.5 hours and other than some shaking caused by the shock of being sliced open, I was fine until the anaesthesia wore off about 2 am this morning.

I have to say thanks to all the offers of help I have gotten. My colleagues at work have been extremely supportive and the mums at school were little angels. A big thank you goes out to Jane Andrews who finally convinced me that driving myself to and from the hospital whilst Marc took care of the children was not a good solution. She turned up at my door just before 6 pm with a load of magazines and a chocolate bar. She went with me to the hospital and diverted my attention sufficiently before the procedure to keep me from freaking out. She was there waiting patiently when I came out and sat with me after my cup of tea whilst I stopped shaking and then dutifully delivered me safe and sound right back to the bosom of my home and family. Gratitude is really an insufficient expression for the calm she brought to me and my husband last night.

Sebastian had waited up and wanted to care for me. My husband has made me endless cups of tea and coffee and even brought me my breakfast in bed.

I am in bed resting and am hoping that I will be back on my feet by tomorrow. I may even feel like going for a run this weekend! A weight has been lifted from my shoulders and despite the short term ache, it feels good.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Like the Wind

OK, so I didn't run exactly like the wind but I ran. And I completed the race without needing to stop to catch my breath, collapse or flag for oxygen, first aid or rescue.

2 years ago I participated but walked about 1 mile of it and I was considerably heavier. I had done some regular training in the 12 weeks leading up to the race but had never managed to do even closest to the full distance in a training run. I finished but was VERY slow. Embarrassingly slow.

Last year the race was cancelled due to the foot and mouth infection for which I personally breathed a sign of relief. I had done NO training. And I was even heavier than I was the year before. I don't think I would have survived.

When I started the weight loss journey in March I set myself a goal of finishing the 8k this year and improving on my time in 2006. Shouldn't be all that hard, right? I'd be 50 pounds (or so) lighter and I would have months and months to train.

I lost the weight and diligently trained. Right up until the school summer holidays started. I woke up this morning with a knot in the pit of my stomach as I faced the reality of not having done any running since 18 July. However, I had done several runs that were nearly the same distance I was about to do.

As you can see I started off the run with a broad grin full of optimism and hope. I finished the run looking decidedly worse for the wear. It took every ounce of determination I have ever had in my body to get me round the course.

But I did it. I didn't walk any of it (although my pace was slower than some walkers at times but we won't talk about that). I don't have the official race results yet so am not dead positive about my time but I was carrying my own stop watch and I am sure I improved on my time from 2006. In fact I reckon I improved on it by over 20 minutes. I missed my goal of finishing within 60 minutes but not by much.
Sebastian and Abigail were waiting for me just before the finish line. They both breached the barriers and ran towards the finish line with me. As we neared the end Seb told me to run, run as fast as you can, run like the wind. And so I broke into a sprint. And nearly collapsed once I had crossed the line.

I can do better next time and there will be a next time; when my very large blisters are healed, when I can get up off the sofa and resume normal walking speed, when I don't moan when I sneeze, cough, go wee; when September rolls around again.

Today's Run

Today is my 8k run. If you haven't sponsored me already (and you can) please do!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Last Harvest

We've brought in the last of our summer harvest. The biggest success this year without a doubt are our tomatoes which last year were a complete washout. The potatoes are still in the ground and I am hopeful.

Monday, 15 September 2008


How bizarre is this?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Spending Money

This is an informative interactive graphic (courtesy of The New York Times) about how people spend their discretionary income around the world. Check out the different headings (electronics and household goods are a bit of a shocker) and roll the mouse of the boxes to see the precise amounts and names of countries.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


In the run up to the US presidential race I thought it might be interesting to look at what awaits the loser, if only because there is always a loser.

There are 9 people still alive who have fought hard and lost the longest job interview of all time (unless you count my sister who is currenlty undergoing the most excrutiatingly long job interview of all time!).

George McGovern was the Democratic candidate in the 1972 election. America was divided over the never ending saga in Vietnam. He fought hard and won millions of young voters with his notion of peace and hope and change. His campaign was wildly successful until it was revealed that his Vice Presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, had been treated for depression in the 1960s. At first McGovern stood behind Eagleton but then accepted his resignation and took on Sargent Shriver as his running mate. It was a PR disaster. McGovern looked flaky and disloyal not to mention indecisive. Not good for a future president. He never recovered.

A few of the candidates lost as incumbents: Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush (Sr) and are still hanging around.

Jimmy Carter was generally regarded as one of the worst presidents of all time when inflation and interest rates caused a short recession during his presidency despite unprecedented employment levels and a massive decrease in the national deficit. To make matters worse the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis happened on his watch. Reelection would have been a tough sell. Jimmy Carter is still active in politics (more so than some think he should be) but his biggest post presidential contribution, in my humble opinion, would have to be his involvement in Habitat for Humanity which helps families build their own homes. He won the Nobel Peace in 2002. He's the second oldest living president.

And we all know what George Senior is up to......

One candidate, Ralph Nadar is a candidate in this year's race (again) although why remains a mystery to me. His participation in the 2000 race probably lost the election for Al Gore. I sure wish he wouldn't do that!

Walter Mondale was Vice President for Jimmy Carter and failed in his bid for the presidency. His post presidential career included a stint as US Ambassador to Japan during the Clinton Administration. Other than that he maintains a low profile (read off the radar).

Do you ever ask yourself what ever happened to Mike Dukakis? I mean I love his cousin Olympia. She's a great actress but Mike slipped into obscurity much the way his Massachusetts miracle slipped from the fingers of the citizens of MA. He splits his time teaching political science at universities in California and Massachusetts. Not sure he's got much to say other than to serve as an example of what not to do.

Bob Dole is 85 and maintains a staff for his very own web page. You can read all about his latest activity on his web page. Forewarned is forearmed: it is pretty dull.

Al Gore has been very busy banging on about all this global climate change stuff after he lost his bid for the presidency (and we all know he didn't really lose, if only Florida would learn to count). He even won the Nobel Prize!

So far John Kerry hasn't done much but it is early days.

And what do you think McCain will be up to next year at this time?

Friday, 12 September 2008


Before I lived abroad I would have fought passionately against nationalistic stereotypes. Having travelled and lived all over the world means I get to form some fact based opinions about what I have seen. OK, they are still my opinions but they are based on extensive observations.

1. The British drink far more than they should, especially when on holiday. Heck they drink far more than anyone else put together.

2. The Americans are the loudest and most uninformed and insensitive about the local culture. They wear white trainers (tennis shoes) everywhere they go.

3. The Germans really need to give up the sun beds. The fake tans are not attractive. And the whole notion of getting up insanely early in the morning to reserve a deck chair next to the pool for the entire day whether they use it or not really pisses me off. And no one looks good in mustard coloured suits.

4. The French are always over dressed. Or maybe I'm just always under dressed. I'm just jealous because their women always look so dang sexy and elegant. Unless they are under the age of 20 in which case they are woefully under dressed for doing anything other than taking out the rubbish. Where do those youngsters get all those scarves?

5. What do the Japanese do with all those photographs and why must they travel in large groups of at least 50? And why stop in the middle of the street to take photographs of STOP signs?

6. The Polish are no longer tourists in England.

7. Mexicans rarely travel to Europe although there were a busload of them on our plane when we flew to America. They were carrying loads of bags from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce and Gabana, Chanel and assorted status designers. Business south of the border must be good.

8. The Italians are rude and arrogant with an undeserved air of superiority. The men generally frighten men as I am convinced they have xray vision and can see through my clothing. The women wear the biggest sunglasses you have ever seen in your life. They look like bugs, with very long dark silky hair. No kidding.

9. The Spanish never come to England. Why would they? They have sun. We don't. I'm not sure when they eat when travelling as most civilised restaurants close by 10 pm which is when the Spanish typically eat dinner. They must be the only culture to lose weight on holiday.

10. Canadians always end their statements like a question. I can only conclude they are incredibly insecure. They hate people thinking they are Americans and can become rather belligerent when innocently mistaken as one.

I'm sure more will occur to me but as we are nearing the end of tourist season in Windsor and the end of the holiday season I hope to have a break from them for a while.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


Marc & I had spent early September visiting my family in Colorado and Missouri. Sebastian was 3 months old. Tyson had just gotten married and we had flown to Colorado for his wedding. then we drove with Nanny across the plains for 14 hours (stopping to breastfeed every 3 hours) to my fathers home in Ford City, Missouri.

This was the first time my father and the father of my child had really gotten to know each other. This was the first time Marc had really seen the heartland of the USA. We had glorious weather for the entire trip and we had such a fabulous time. I felt like a real grown up: a mother with her very own family.

We were flying out of Kansas City airport to Chicago to get a connecting flight to London on 9 September. Dad & Elaine dropped us and our not inconsiderable load of luggage off at the airport in plenty of time. We weren't the seasoned traveler's (with children) that we are now. Much to our dismay, the flight was significantly delayed (over 4 hours) due to bad weather in Chicago. No planes were where they needed to be.

Our plane eventually took off and we knew there was a distinct possibility that we would miss our plane in Chicago. This was not good for several reasons. 1) We would have to stay in Chicago overnight. 2) We did not have a enough nappies for Sebastian for that long and would have to find nappies in Chicago near the airport late in the evening. 3) Marc was meant to fly to Princeton, New Jersey on 12 September for business. We had one set of luggage and Marc has one suit (which was in the set of luggage) and when you miss connecting flights your luggage tends to go missing, at least for a couple of days. This would make that turnaround VERY difficult. Little did we know how insignificant these inconveniences would become.

We disembarked at Chicago O'Hare and ran like crazed parents across down the concourse to the international departure terminal. Miraculously, the plane was just pulling away. Ridiculously, because they had just closed the door they could not let us board.

We stood there inches away from the plane with a small baby. Due to my possession of a platinum frequent flyer card (which I was waving around like a mad woman), United Airlines found us some nappies and put us up in a hotel at the airport. We inquired as to the location of our luggage and no one could tell us where it was but assured us that it would be on our flight with us the next day. We were booked on the first flight to London (United had 3 flights/day at that time) the next day!

We were tired and hungry and grumpy. We went to the hotel, checked in, gave Sebastian a feed and relaxed in the hotel restaurant having a couple drinks and some dinner.

The morning of 10 September was a beautiful day. Chicago is one of my favourite cities and Marc had never been there. We took the L train into the city and rode around on the upper deck of a double decker tour bus. We grabbed some quick lunch and headed off back to the airport. We checked in with time to spare and boarded our flight uneventfully checking and double checking with the airline agent that our luggage was definitely on this flight.

We landed at Heathrow airport in London at 6:05 am on the morning of 11 September. We went through immigration, entered the baggage hall and waited. And waited. And waited. After 50 minutes of waiting and a crotchety baby beginning to wail, I approached the desk to inquire after our luggage. They explained that our luggage was still on the ground at O'Hare and had in fact never been loaded on to our aircraft. Since the last flight to London had already left Chicago the earliest we would be reunited with our luggage would be the next day (12 September).

I was furious. I had checked and double checked with the airline staff that our luggage was in fact on the same plane we were. They had assured and reassured me that it was. Now I know they were lying to me, just saying what they needed to say to get me off their desk.

We went home and showered and tried to figure out how we were going to repack for Marc's trip the next day to NJ. We called a friend who had a spare suitcase. We found a couple pairs of underpants in the back of the drawer. We cobbled together some bits and pieces he could wear. And of course, he was going to have to find some time to go shopping (or do laundry whilst there).

Just before 2 pm (GMT) we loaded Sebastian and ourselves into the car and drove over to the doctor's office where Sebastian was scheduled to get the first of his immunizations. I was nervous like any other first time mum. As we were parking a news announcement was made that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. I made a comment to Marc that some air traffic controller would lose his job but that it wouldn't be serious because they had designed the WTC to withstand a plane flying into it.

Sebastian got his jabs and we got back into the car. The airwaves were awash with the fact that another plane had crashed into the other tower. I looked at Marc and said "Oh my god, someone is attacking America."

When we got to the house I ran in and turned on the TV. It was at this moment that we realised we no longer had CNN on our cable and I was so frustrated I could just scream. I tried frantically to ring my family who knew that our flight had been delayed but did not know that we had arrived safely. I didn't want to wake them with the time difference and all.

The phone lines were jammed and I couldn't get through.

And then I began to cry. And then the tower collapsed LIVE on television in front of my very eyes. My neighbour, Karen, came over and I collapsed. I had never felt so far away from home in my life.

Marc and I had been to NYC a couple times before we had children. I was working for JP Morgan in Manhattan and Marc would have occasion to go to NJ for the company he worked for at the time. He would come into the city to come out and play with me. We always had so much fun together. On one of our sight seeing trips Marc had suggested we go up to the top of the WTC. I had done that on my first trip to NYC (with my friend, Kerry) and told Marc that I much preferred the view from the top of the Empire State Building and that we should do that instead. He didn't argue, for once.

My perspective of the horrible events of that day and how it has changed the world around me is very different from that of my friends and family. I was not subjected to the constant news coverage of the USA 24x7 news programmes. I was adequately informed on the nightly news and when I read papers or news online. I have watched the aftermath of the war on terror through the eyes of the foreign press and Europeans which are far more critical of the Bush administration and their actions, particularly in Iraq. My opinions are shaped by being an expatriate rather than a resident.

I know that American culture has changed dramatically since that day. I feel it when I visit. I am not a part of that cultural shift. It's almost as if a bit of America's optimism is gone or maybe just shadowed. I know what America used to be but I'm not sure what it is now. It breaks my heart.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

First Day Back to School

Yesterday was the first day back to school. It was a big transition day for everyone involved.

Abigail started full days. She arrives at school at 8:10 am and doesn't come home until 3:30 pm. Some days she won't come home until 4 or 4:15 due to school activities. She eats lunch in the dining hall and is responsible for filling and carrying her own plate. She is responsible for undressing and dressing herself for school activities like swimming and gym. She was excited and I was anxiety ridden. I am sure she didn't give me a second thought whilst I managed to work yesterday with my stomach of knots.

Sebastian transitioned to Middle School which means he has to wear a tie and carry bags which weigh more and are bigger than him. He started his violin lessons and assumed an air of confidence.

Both arrived home last night full of stories about their day. They were so excited as they slip that little further away from us. I am so proud of what we have accomplished!


I read an excellent article in O Magazine the other day about the possibility and associated fear of failure. It talked about how failure is the best teacher and we should embrace it.

That ain't a lesson I get too easily.

I hate failure. I hate not being perfect. Although it doesn't happen often (LOL), less than spectacular always befuddles me.

Which means I spend a lot of time befuddled.

But here was this article telling me I needed to take more risks and embrace the failure that inevitably follows doing something you've never done before. The lessons I would learn would make me more resilient, more knowledgeable, stronger. In short it would make me a better person.

I disagree. I say I would learn that failure doesn't feel good. It would damage my confidence and my self esteem causing me to doubt myself even more. I don't stand up and brush myself off very well. I like to wallow for a bit. And no one wants to wallow.

Not right now, I say. I'll keep doing what I'm assured I can do until I feel I can handle the setback, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Mean Moms

Stolen from my sister's blog who stole it from another blog......do not know who wrote it originally.....wish I did!

Mean Moms

Someday when my children are old enough to
Understand the logic that motivates a parent,
I will tell them, as my Mean Mom told me:

I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom,
And what time you would be home.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.

I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that should have taken 15 minutes.

I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes.
Children must learn that their parents aren't perfect.

I loved you enough to let you assume
The responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.

But most of all, I loved you enough to say NO when I knew you would hate me for it.
Those were the most difficult battles of all.
I'm glad I won them, because in the end you won, too.
And someday when your children are old enough
To understand the logic that motivates parents, you will tell them.

Was your Mom mean?

I know mine was.

We had the meanest mother in the whole world!

While other kids ate candy for breakfast,we had to have cereal, eggs, and toast.

When others had a Pepsi and a Twinkie for lunch,we had to eat sandwiches.

And you can guess our mother fixed us a dinner that was different from what other kids had, too.

Mother insisted on knowing where we were at all times.
You'd think we were convicts in a prison.
She had to know who our friends were and what we were doing with them.
She insisted that if we said we would be gone for an hour, we would be gone for an hour or less.
We were ashamed to admit it,but she had the nerve to break the Child Labor Laws by making us work.
We had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, empty the trash and all sorts of cruel jobs.
I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for us to do.
She always insisted on us telling the truth,the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
By the time we were teenagers, she could read our minds and had eyes in the back of her head.

Then, life was really tough!

Mother wouldn't let our friends just honk the horn when they drove up.
They had to come up to the door so she could meet them.
While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13, we had to wait until we were 16.

Because of our mother we missed out on lots of things other kids experienced.
None of us have ever been caught shoplifting, vandalizing other's property or ever arrested for any crime.
It was all her fault.

Now that we have left home,we are all educated, honest adults.
We are doing our best to be mean parents just like Mom was.

I think that is what's wrong with the world today.
It just doesn't have enough mean moms!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I've had this book for a while and it was in my read soon pile but every time I found it at the top the teeny tiny print on the pages scared the living daylights out of me and I moved it to the bottom. After reading yet another article about what an amazing book it was, I dove in and have never regretted for a moment taking that leap.

The book is set in Nigeria during the 1960s to early 1970 when the locals rose up and fought the Nigerian military in what is now referred to as the Biafran War. The book begins by painting as exquisite picture of the life of ordinary, middle class citizens living a peaceful and comfortable life. They are well educated, well travelled, and well off.

There is no one main character although the story does revolve around the lives of the people associated with 2 twin sisters, Olanna and Kaneine. Ugwu is a boy from village who is fortunate enough to find a job as a houseboy with a university lecturer, Odenigbo, who also happens to be Olanna's lover. Richard is an English expatriate captivated by Kaneine but hypnotised by Olanna.

As Biafra declares independence from Nigeria, their normal lives descend into chaos: starvation, bearing witness to murders, rape, torture, the selfishness and selflessness of war time.

They all love. They all hurt the ones they love. They are all just struggling to survive that minute with a shred of dignity.

I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about the Biafran Wars before I started this book and at first it was hard to remember the African names. But the style of Adichie's writing is straight forward and blunt. Her descriptions are not melodramatic or over the top. I had the most vicious visions of the events and characters.

The story is heartbreaking and I can't even now bear to write about the ending (besides I wouldn't give it away)! It's not what you think it might be. But then nothing in this book is as you think it might be. Not unlike The Kite Runner.

Highly recommended. (433 pages)

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun

This piece of non-fiction was the May/June book group selection. It details the trip Sun Shuyun takes in the footsteps of the ancient Buddhist monk, Xaunzang. It's taken me quite a while to write this review only because the book bored me and my review bored me so I put it off.....very unlike me!

Xuanzang is a legendary figure in Chinese culture. As a Buddhist monk he travelled from China all through India and back to find the true Buddhism sometime during 600 AD. It was an epic journey full of surprises and danger. I loved the book when it was talking about Xuanzang's adeventures.

Many of the places that Xuanzang visited along the Silk Road, however, could not be visited during Shuyun's return visit due to political unrest and there were entire chapters dedicated to her standing in museums looking at items that may or may not have been viewed by Xaunzang. Many of the places have been destroyed by treasure hunters and colonists including but certainly not limited to the British and the Germans. What annoyed me most is that she seemed to want to make herself out to be a modern day Xuanzang. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sun Shuyun escaped from China during the cultural revolution and later attended Oxford University in London. She was deeply influenced by her grandmother with whom she shared not only a room but also a bed. Part of the trip is a quest to find the meaning behind her grandmother's forbidden Buddhist prayers. I found it contrived and not at all insightful.

To top it all off, absolutely no one in the book group read the book except me. Quite frankly I would have preferred to spend my previous reading time on another more worthy choice.