Thankful Thursday: Tea Time

Image Courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute

Image Courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute

My summer reading blitz has begun, and nearly first on the list was Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. It’s been sitting on my shelf for about 18 months, despite good reviews from the members of my book club.  I gave it to my sister-in-law for her birthday, and now that she’s read it, I finally bumped it to the top of my list!

What an amazing story!  Back in the 90’s Greg Mortenson, a part-time mountain climber from the US, was rescued by Pakistani villagers after a failed attempt to summit K2. His hasty, gut response to their help and kindness is to promise the village a school building—a near impossibility considering his part-time nurse’s salary, precarious personal finances, and seat-of-the-pants approach to life. Once back in the US, Mortenson makes an unlikely connection with a wealthy benefactor who finances the first school project. Mortenson returns to Pakistan, to enthusiastic communities who are anxious for his help and grateful for his friendship and partnership. He builds that first school, continues working, and, to date, he and his Central Asia Institute have built 78 schools for children (including girls!) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While the book shows that it does take a special kind of impulsive/borderline irresponsible person to (almost) climb a mountain, start a school with no money, and marry one’s soulmate after knowing her for 6 days (all of which Mortenson did), it also shows, remarkably, that (with the help of God, I think) things can work out to great results!  Mortenson’s not a religious person, but his life bears testimony to the “godly wisdom is foolishness to the world” perspective. How anyone with his meager resources could be successful in this enormous endeavor makes no sense…and yet his work continues, in abundance.

I’m thankful today that there are people like Greg Mortenson whom God has chosen to get the real work of peace-making done. And I’m thankful that his efforts will reap the further benefit of giving otherwise disadvantaged and undereducated children in Pakistan and Afghanistan an alternative to terrorism. I’m thankful that he and his work are blooming in the unlikely place where he was planted—the rest of us should be so inspired.

“The Honour of Your Wallet is Requested…”


Ever since someone told me that one’s wedding gift should be equivalent in value to the cost incurred by one’s presence at the wedding reception, I’ve said, “Whaaaa?”

Somehow in my vast etiquette experience (the sum total of which amounts to the pre-prom polite-eating demo at my Catholic girls high school) I missed this little nugget. Still, I’m skeptical. How can the answer to one etiquette dilemma (“What do I spend on my gift?”) lead unavoidably and rather uncomfortably to another (“Yo, what’s the per head pricetag on this shindig of yours?”)?

Thankfully, as with most burning questions of manners and etiquette, one trip to New Jersey has cleared it all up for me—sort of. Yes, over Memorial Day weekend, while I was eating Boardwalk Fries at the All Things Fried stand under the rooftop Wacky Golf course, a sage 40-something woman in a camouflage warm-up suit gave me the last word on wedding gifts: “I’m from New Jersey,” she said. “We give caish.”

She’d once been shocked to see someone give a “cawfee pot” as a wedding gift, which didn’t fit at all into her “caish” only scheme. Here’s how she put it: “If you’re like single and aren’t real close to the bride and groom, you give like a hundred. If you’re married, and you know the couple better but aren’t related to them, then you give like two-fifty. If it’s family, then we’re talkin’ like five hundred.”

If she’d opened up the discussion to questions from the eavesdropping audience, I’d have asked what you’re supposed to do when you’re married, with 2 children, with all family members participating in the wedding, and you’ve already spent seven-fifty on clothes, shoes, hair, and accessories, plus you’ve booked a hotel to stay out of the fray that inevitably is a family wedding, especially one that’s happening in New Jersey.

Then again, I guess that if you got married in New Jersey yourself, you’d use all the money you raked in at your own wedding to pay for all the wedding gifts you’re expected to shell out in the future.

If you’re not from New Jersey and you’re still stumped about what to give or how much to spend, there’s lots of advice to be had; unfortunately some of it will leave you scratching your head. You can check out Smart Money’s very sensible Wedding Gift Etiquette Guide (“No, the gift is not the admission price to the wedding…”),’s Nine [Sort-of Oppositional] Tips for Nuptial Gifting (“If the couple says ‘No gifts, please,’ do not take them up on it!!), and the old-school sounding, shot in the dark-advocating (“It’s bad form to mention a gift registry on an invitation, or to hint for or recommend a gift.”).

I’m going to a wedding in June which, refreshingly, has no New Jersey connections whatsoever. The bride and groom have registered for gifts on (love that), which makes life easier and more interesting, considering that the groom is an aspiring screenwriter and there’s a Kill Bill movie poster on the registry. I was thankful for the tip, but as much as I appreciated the semi-sinister idea of a wedding gift reminiscent of a movie bride who dedicates her life to revenge after a bloody massacre takes place on her wedding day, I opted for the knife block instead.

The way I figure, the knife block should come in handy for both culinary and assassin-busting pursuits. Plus it comes with a bonus cheese knife, which is nothing if not good stuff.

Memorial Day Guest Posting – Liberty


Thanks to Jake for another poem, this one reflecting on the significance of Lady Liberty as a representation of the hard-fought freedoms that we Americans enjoy, freedoms brought to us by the men and women who have and do serve our country. If you are one who has served, then thank you.

Liberty by Jake Scheir, April 2009

My big, tall, towering statue
Brightening the world
Holding her torch on high, never to darken the earth
Her, defending us, protecting us
Guarding our life until she crumbles
Giving to them who have none
Protecting friendships of people
She is not a queen
She is an important person
She is one of the members of our history
She greeted our ancestors with a wink
She will greet our sons’ sons and our daughters’ daughters
Now, she is still holding her torch on high
Protecting us, protecting the world
Protecting our history
Protecting friendships
Lady Liberty still stands tall.

Who’s Your Favorite Book Character of All-Time?

flying booksHey, any of you book fans out there may want to ponder this one for the long weekend…

Literary agent Nathan Bransford recently posed the question on his blog: who is your favorite all-time character in a novel? (Answers from his readers can be found here.)

My favorites?
– Lee, the Chinese Servant from Steinbeck’s East of Eden
– Mr. Baer from Little Women
– Holden Caulfield (I know, I know…)
– Jughead from Archie (does he count?!?!)

I’m sure there are more, but I suddenly can’t remember any character from any other book I’ve ever read. What’s going on with that?

In any case, send me a comment with your answer–I’d love to know who your favorites are!

Thankful Thursday is Goin’ “Down the Shore”!

Seaside Park postcardForgive the Jersey-ism you’re about to read, but I think I speak for the whole family when I say that we are so thankful to be goin’ down the shore tonight!! Yup, we’re playing hooky on Friday and scoring ourselves a four day weekend at the Osiecki family’s bungalow by the bay!

Now before you go on getting all jealous, please keep in mind that the bungalow is tiny. Like a two car garage tiny. And it’s crammed right in there, not 10 feet away from the bungalows next door. And there’s no cable…or satellite…or TiVo.

But, that’s OK, because you know what? What the bungalow’s got is comic books, crab traps, boogie boards, and a whole lot of memories. It’s got character, it’s got charm, and it’s got location, location, location. 2 blocks from the ocean, half a block from the bay–could it get better than that? Tennis courts around the corner, Surf Taco on the main drag, happy people kicking back and taking it easy–it’s got everything I’d ever need.

You’re not jealous now, are you?

Thanks Mom and Dad for keeping the place afloat. Thanks Linda, for watching Wesley (our dachshund) while we’re gone. Thanks kids, for walking with me even when your feet hurt. Thanks Craig, for making my place yours too. Most of all, thanks Grandpa, for carving out a vacation place for us–4 generations so far (Happy Birthday, by the way–we sure do miss you, man!).

Braving the Garden Again

poison ivyBack in 2007 when my family was about to go on our 4th of July vacation, I innocently said to my poor husband, “Honey, can you just pull up that gigantic weed before we go?” 3 days later, while the rest of us were frolicking in our bathing suits and tank tops, he was miserably covered in a wicked poison ivy rash, the likes of which I’ve not seen except on reruns of The X-Files.

Never have I been so sorry to ask for help in the garden.

I’ve had no big reactions to poison ivy, but, boy, he’s crazy allergic to the stuff. And it wasn’t until the time back in college when he unwrapped his wrist and I gasped in rash-averse horror, that I understood the depth of his poison ivy anguish. It itches. It’s ugly. It oozes! Oh my!!

He was a trooper that summer week, even wearing long sleeves on the beach to shield the world from the bubbling turmoil that was his personal appearance. But, as upbeat as he tried to be, the spirit-crushing scratching, combined with the steroid-induced mania, was enough to make him swear off the garden for good.

A testimony to my husband’s love for me (or to his evaluation that our yard was completely out of control) was that this past weekend, despite numerous suspicious ivy sightings, he got back in the garden again. Armed with the poison ivy picture print-out that’s taped to our refrigerator door, he stayed alert and stayed away.

Well, mostly.

I’m happy to report that thanks to hyper-vigilance on his part (and a nice big helping of Tecnu poison ivy wash), he’s only got about a dozen bumps and, for him, that’s nothing.

I’m also happy to report that in braving the poison ivy, my husband has lived out a lesson that we’ve been trying to teach the children of late: that no matter what happens, whether we get poison ivy or the swine flu or the carpenter bee eats a hole in our house or even if the house burns down, we’ll still be OK. And, as I like to say, that is most certainly not nothing.

Things I’m Doing to Prepare Myself for Tonight’s Season Finale of 24

That's all folks

  1. Pre-addressing sympathy cards for the families of next season’s characters.
  2. Updating my vaccinations.
  3. Ordering background checks on my closest friends.
  4. Reserving spots for the children at Aaron Pierce’s DC-Based Super-Colossal Secret Service Summer Camp.
  5. Scrambling my cell phone signal.
  6. Opening a new kernel on my laptop’s communications socket.
  7. Making hourly threat assessments.
  8. Playing tennis…to clear my head.
  9. Donating to the Kiefer Sutherland Legal Defense Fund.

For Kiefer Sutherland’s thoughts on the future of Jack Bauer, check out this interview, with

So Many Reasons to be Thankful


On this Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for, well, Wednesday!

It was a beautiful day, starting with a bike ride with Hayley and ending with (forgive my TV geekdom!) the 2-hour season finale of Lost (some questions are answered…others spring up!). In the middle were several hours spent working in the yard with my husband, good because of (a) the results and (b) the company.

I’m thankful for the Comcast serviceman who cheerfully spent far longer than he planned at our house trying to diagnose a problem that must have been awfully frustrating for him; he was also really nice about the crush my dog seemed to have on him.

I’m thankful for Rex, the “bugman,” who came to my rescue when the ants came marching (and when I noticed sawdust raining down on my head, from the unbelievably enormous hole that a carpenter bee had bored/was boring into the brand new stained wood ceiling of my front porch—sorry bee, but you’re a dead man!).

I’m thankful for Stephanie, at Halpern Eye Associates, who knows how to help an 11-year-old pick out some new frames even though he’s really attached to his old glasses.

I’m also thankful that after dinner my children chose to eat their desserts outside, side by side, on our yellow swings. What a lovely sight.

Today, what are you thankful for?

No Children Were Harmed in the Making of this Post!


You’re not going to believe this.

Yesterday I’m in my den, folding laundry, and 11-year-old Jake runs in from the backyard yelling, “Mom! You’ve got to see this! It’s awesome!!!”

Knowing that the clock is ticking on comments like these (which will soon be replaced by comments like, “Mom, I told you make sure my bedroom door clicks when you shut it—jeeez!”), I abandoned the underwear and went out back. There, standing around a makeshift teepee which is draped in sheets from my linen closet and supported by an elaborate network of strings tied to my garden furniture, are the neighborhood kids, one of whom has brought a guest. Jake says, “Mom! This is so cool! Watch!!”

One of the boys (I kid you not!) takes a HATCHET and WHALES THE NEW KID IN THE CHEST WITH IT!!!!! I can’t tell you how wrong this is on how many levels, but, thankfully, the boy-victim was unhurt, proud, and anxious to show off the secret of his survival: a homemade suit of armor that his blacksmith brother cobbled together out of an antique snow shovel and some repurposed cookie tins.

The kid’s post-slam grandstanding was a good thing, as it gave me the perfect opportunity to spirit the (decidedly dull-edged) hatchet away into a little place I like to call “under the laundry baskets” (where, I’m sure, no one is ever going to find it).

Even as I write this, though, thoughts are coursing through my head. What kind of mother, I wonder, gives her children access to wood/bone-splitting hardware? What kind of mother sits idly by, folding facecloths and watching catfight #112 on The Real Housewives of New York City, while four eleven-year-old boys clobber another kid just because he says he can take it? What kind of mother isn’t aware that Fight Club is real, and it’s happening right in her backyard?!

While I talked myself down from my “the authorities are coming to get you” ledge, I tried to remind myself that accidents—spectacular accidents—happen all the time, even in environments where basic standards of safety are maintained and perfectly responsible individuals are standing by. Yes, the hatchet is prohibited from future kid use, but what can I do about a kid who wants to test his mettle (or in this case, metal) against an 11-year-old’s arsenal of stuff you just find in the backyard? And, more importantly, what can I do about the Y chromosome that makes cars, fires, Stratego, toilets, all things ninja, and just about everything dangerous so darn enticing?

What can I do? Not much, I think.

Or maybe this: I can set my children up in a protective plastic bubble, until they’re 20 (make that 40). I’ll stock the bubble with wholesome, enriching, non-warlike books and pipe in pastoral classical music. There will be no sharp, blunt, skull- or sternum-cracking instruments in reach. No toxic cleaning products, no TV or video games, and definitely no trans-fats either.

Then again, hatchet or no hatchet, a life without risk is guaranteed to make Jack (or in this case, Jake) a dull boy. I think that, within reason, I’m willing to take my chances.


Top 10 Rejected Alternate Titles for the James Bond Film “Quantum of Solace”*

Quantum of Solace

  1. Foot pound of Fortitude
  2. Angstrom of Assiduity
  3. Coulomb of Strength
  4. Microfarad of Melancholy
  5. Boson of Boraxo
  6. Parsec of Patience
  7. Isosceles Dodecahedron of Forethought
  8. Ohm of Understanding
  9. Microbe of Swine Flu
  10. Bucket of Peanuts from Texas Roadhouse

*now out on video!

Thanks to Linda O. and Craig S. for their contributed brainpower on this one!

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