Friday, November 27, 2009

A Bit of Burnout

So today we were interviewing survivors in Poutasi village. We had to navigate this narrow strip of hastily thrown together 'road' ( a very pretentious term for a load of gravel and sand dumped into the sea) to make it through to the actual village. Or whats left of it.
The whole village was built on/near mangroves. Which means its actually right at sealevel. Which means when its high tide - as it was today - then the sea is very best friends with the land. And today it was raining. And the sea was high. And lapping at my tires as we carefully drove over the road. And the broken shells of homes looked vaguely threatening. And frightfully depressing. And as i looked out over the ocean, I could totally envision a wave. Coming to engulf us. And i didnt want to be there.

Then we met with a lovely family at the end of the 'road'. The mother was washing laundry at a broken pipe outside. Two daughters and a son welcomed us cheerily, running to bring a mat for us to sit on while we interviewed their father. They had to sit beside him and shout our questions because his hearing was damaged in the tsunami. He ran to warn people at the end of his 'road'. He helped a 75 yr old man climb up a poumuli tree to safety by having him climb up on his back. Then he was hit by the wave and the debris and almost had his arm ripped off. And he was sad that he couldnt reach the woman screaming for help with her children. Because his arm wasnt working properly. And there was blood everywhere.

And while Im listening to his story, my eyes are drawn to the ceiling. Where the cement beams are cracked. And crumbling. And half the roof is caving in above us. And the reinforcing is gaping through the fragmenting cement. And the ocean is right outside the door. And it looks like just could rear up and smash us to smithereens at any moment...And i could totally envision the roof deciding to give up its final gasp. And collapsing in a heap of dust. Right on top of all of us. And i didnt want to be there.

I was desperate to leave Poutasi today. I felt panic claw its way up through my chest as i drove back over the narrow road. Thinking about waves. Strong enough to roll cars. Like tumbleweed. We only did three interviews today. But it was enough.

Its been three weeks now since i started working fulltime on this project. I have met with survivors from Saleaumua. Satitoa. Lalomanu. Saleapaga. Malaela. Lepa. Vaigalu. Vavau. And Poutasi. I have seen children who were saved by parents who held them above the water while they were submerged. I have touched trees that people climbed up to evade the waters. I have taken photos of the wooden cabinet a 5 year old boy sat on and floated to safety. I have met frail old ladies in their 80's who were carried on the backs of their grandsons to safety. I have listened to mothers weep because they could not save their little ones. I have felt the anger of fathers who could not fight against a tsunami.

And I want to listen. And record their stories. And honor their experiences.

But not today. Because today I was afraid. Of the sea. And imaginary killer waves out to get me. And imaginary roofs falling down. And I am sorry that i wasnt up to it today.

And I am ashamed too. Because I didnt have to live through a tsunami. And i dont have to still live in a broken house with a fragmenting roof. So what the heck is my problem!?

I shall take a breath. And go back next week.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Your Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Theres been a lot of grief in the news lately about tsunami relief NOT getting to where it should. About people NOT getting help. While Im sure that there are many instances of wonky, misdirected aid efforts and while I know of other instances where some people are receiving - and then lying about it so they can get more....I also see and hear everyday, tsunami relief that IS getting where it should. To everyone out there who's fundraising, collecting food and clothing, buying building materials, sending money and generally giving blood, sweat and tears to help tsunami Samoa survive and rebuild - this notes for you.

I have seen - * a young mother in a wheelchair, her still-healing bandaged leg. So grateful to the plastic surgeon and the medical team from NZ and Aust. that did the skin graft, that ensured she WOULDNT need an amputation. 'They were so kind. So careful. So nice to me.' she said, voice thick with emotion.
* families living in tents in the rainforest bush. Tents donated by the Red Cross, the NZ Army and countless others. A child regards me with solemn eyes through the netted doorway of his familys tent as mozzies buzz and hum. And rain trickles down my back. And the fresh cut bush is thick and heavy around us. A 74 yr old gentleman says to me with tears. 'We dont want to become people of the bush. We mustnt become people of the bush. There - at Satitoa by the sea - that is where our homes are. That is where our grandparents are buried. That is where we should be.'
*Truckloads of wood and other building materials chugging their way over Le Mafa Pass. The first houses being built by Habitat for Humanity and Caritas and so many others.
*Huge containers being opened and distributed at various village points along the route. There are crowds of people. Patient and calm. Sitting in the sun waiting while the pulenuu unpack and give out. Boxes of clothes. Canned food. Mosquito nets. Outside one container a team of helpers are building careful stacks of for you, one for you. More than 30 stacks. A shiny new pot. A kettle. A gleaming frying pan. A handful of plates. Rows and rows of new cookware anticipating their new owners. (Dont underestimate the power of a new pot. I have one miserable broken frying pan and it drives me insane everytime i need to make pancakes.)
* A mother of 8 children say thank you for the blankets and clothes they were given on Wednesday the day after the galu lolo. At her breast is a chubby one year old with mischief in her eyes who keeps trying to grab the MP3 recorder off her mum and put it in her mouth. 'We spent the night in the bush. We were wet and cold. We had nothing. I didnt care about me but I only wanted to find a way for my children to be warm. Thank God for the clothes and blankets we received.' This is the same mother who's 4 yr old son was asleep in a galu lolo submerged-smashed-to-bits house. And then found still breathing under a pile of debris several hours later. And today, I cant grab him to take a photo because hes too busy pestering the AUST army team who are busy cleaning up cement rubble by the beachside. He skips on golden sand. And laughs by blue water.

If you had any doubts about whether or not your donation was needed. Utilized. Appreciated. If you were wondering whether or not the people of the galu lolo still need your help. Whether its a pot. Some planks of wood. A can of fruit. Your prayers and thoughts.
This notes for you.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Frangipani Trees Line a Tsunami Shore

I am in quiet awe. There are frangipani trees in bloom along the shore of the tsunami zone. Gnarled grey barked trees reach heavenward with delicate white blossoms. New green grass at their feet. Lining a shoreline scattered with heaps of twisted corrugated iron, jagged wood planks and the fast rusting carcasses of once-beloved new cars.

In spite of the salt. And the ravage of eight foot waves that sounded like "the crashing roar of a hundred heavy duty machines". The panicked desperation of those who clung to tree branches to escape the leeching swirl of the receding water.

In spite of the desolation. Spindly shelters where families guard their meagre belongings against the ongoing thievery as both young and old pick through the remains of everyone else's lives. Even the hub caps on your truck are not safe.

In spite of the grief. A woman sits by the road crying on a freshly poured cement block. Her mother's grave. I miss my mother she sobs to us, complete strangers driving by on a sun filled afternoon.

There are frangipani trees in bloom along the shore of the tsunami zone. I am in quiet awe. Of the father who surveys the nothingness that once was his store and no less than 'five fale palagi'. From the shade of his tarpaulin hut. And tells me. 'It is like I am at the beginning all over again. When i was just starting out and we had nothing. All our hard work is gone. But none of it matters. My wife and children are alive. We are still here together. Possessions come and go. They mean nothing. I thank God for our lives.' He smiles to tell us about the turtles, the fish, the sharks that came in with the wave. 'We shared the water. Together we all searched for safety. For escape. We had no fear of each other.'

The smiling laughing teenagers out from school,making their way back to the makeshift camps. In a week they will take their School C and PSSC final exams.

The houses still standing are newly painted. Glorious loud colors. Pumpkin orange walls with a hot pink trim. Sunny yellow and fuschia. Electric green and purple. Curlicues and twirls. Lacy curtains blowing in the breeze. Family photos with cracked glass carefully hang on the wall.

Children scuffle by the roadside. Smiling.

There are frangipani trees in bloom along the shore. They are beautiful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Announcement.

Ive been commissioned to write a book. On the tsunami. And Samoa. The before, during and after. And the long term future. What does this mean?
* That there will be significantly fewer blogs on this page from here on out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who's an Addict?

Today is Day 18 of sobriety. For Darren. Who WAS a Diet Coke Addict. Two weeks ago he announced he was quitting diet coke. I laughed. Disparagingly. Mockingly. Doubtfully. The man downs at least 8 cans a day. Haha I said, whatever! He didnt appreciate my reaction. I mean it, he said. Im quitting. Totally. Right now. But why i said? To save money, he said. We're buying a house in NZ and we should stop spending money on Diet Coke.
Diet Coke is 2.60 a can. 8 cans a day is 20.80. 7 days a week is 145.60. Thats a lot of money to be sure. But while that did cause me to pause, still i was unconvinced. You'll get headaches, you'll be a nightmare to live with. Please dont quit diet coke i begged. But like the staunch man that he is, he was unmoved. No. Im not drinking anyore.
He had headaches. His kidneys killed him for 9 days straight. He popped Panadeine every 4 hours. He slept upright because his back hurt so much. And yes, he was a tad bit bad tempered and short with us. And when we arrived home after running away from a possible tsunami - he showed me his trembling hands. I patted him comfortingly - "Yes darling, I know...I was scared too. Its okay to be afraid. We're alright now." He looked affronted. No wife ( in parentheses...numbskulled dodobrain ridiculous wife) - my hands are shaking because of the diet coke withdrawal. Oh. Okay.

But now its official. Hes off the drugs. Hes a pollyanna bubble of positivity to live with again. He can sleep straight. And the headaches have stopped. The impossible has been realized. Darren the diet coke addict - has quit diet coke. I am very proud of him. And our bank balance will continue to thank him. But it means...

I have to drink my one can a day secretly. When hes not home. TO hear the click of the can opening. The hiss and fizz of the bubbles as they rush out. The chink of ice in the glass. The swirling splash as the refreshing black liquid foams over the lid and into your cup. Or to see the adorable way the bubbles embrace a sliver of lime. Or how i close my eyes as i savor the first sip. Then take a deep breath and exhale...all my tension and stress. Awash with a glass of diet coke on the rocks and a twist of lime. Yes, i have to drink in secret now. To help maintain and protect his self control. Just in case he cant handle it. Because HE'S an addict. And we all know that once an addict - always an addict.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to Make Cold Process Soap

Step 1: Weigh all your ingredients super carefully. Especially the caustic soda.

2. Mix carefully according to your recipe. Always remember to add caustic TO the water. Never the other way around or else a volcano eruption could blow your face off.
3. Assemble your soapmold BEFORE going any further. We use box molds lined with thick plastic.
4. Plastic mold insert ready for the soap mix.
5. Adding caustic mix to the coconut oil.
6. Mixing up the soap, waiting for 'trace' stage

7. Pouring soap into the mold. Work fast because saponification works quickly.

8. Adding the insert dividers.
9. Soap sits for several hours. Covered for insulation.

10. Soap ready to pop out. Firm but not too hard.
11. Soap bars will now sit for several weeks to 'cure'.

12. Boxes of soap ready to sell.

How to Make Handmade Soap that Doesnt Burn Your Skin off.

Boxes of Frangipani Coconut Oil Soap.
I used to make soap the lazy,impatient way. I followed a recipe. But with lots of creative license. I threw in things as the fancy took me. A scatter here. A pinch of this and a pinch of that. I'd eat something and be struck with inspiration...oatmeal cinnamon cookies yummy - that would make yummy soap! Which was how glorious soaps like the 'Oatmeal Cookie Bar' was born. And quite by accident my friends would rave that soap inspired by a batch of cookies was healing their eczema. Which would send me scurrying to the internet ( the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom.) where i would read about how oatmeal soothes irritated skin. And cinnamon was anti fungal. And a muscle soother. And coconut oil was wonderful for eczema. And I would be amazed with my creative genius. And create some more.
Most times I would end up with beautiful, luxurious soap. All-natural, all-good for you. And such a delight to bathe with. But i would also end up with lots of creative 'failures'. Lumpy soap. Exploding soap. Bubbly soap. Soap that never got hard. Soap that sludged. And fudged. Soap only good for scrubbing my floors. And some nucelar meltdowns that went straight into the rubbish bin. Double sealed in plastic. To protect the rats from mutation.
So yes, in the beginning, i made soap MY way. It was thrilling living on the edge, never sure what you would make next. Or what part of my body i would burn skin off that day. But then my wonderful husband stepped in. He revolutionized the soapmaking operation. He built a workroom. With two tubs for scrubbing equipment. And miles of benchtop space. And shelving for storing soap while it 'cured'. And best of all, he replaced my little blender which made 12 soap at a time - with a power drill set up that made 40+ soap at a time. Where once i had slaved for hours making lots of maybe good and almost perfect soaps - he used engineering precision and science to make buckets of brilliant soap in minutes. I was in awe. I was worshipful. I appointed him Director of Soapmaking for Coconut Queen Products. (and gave him lots of kisses for his end of yr bonus.) What was his first act as Director of Soapmaking? He fired me. Condemned my creative fluffheadness to outer darkness.
I was bereft. And a little miffed. How could i make 'Chocolate Rum Fantasy' soap confections now? (the idea came to me while watching a movie set in Jamaica...rum cocktails, sweet treats on a moonlit beach) Darren refused to allow me to indulge in anymore wild fanciful soap ideas. No. From now on we make soap that sells. Soap that people actually want to buy. Soap that works. (So if you were one of the two people on the planet who was dreaming of bathing with choc rum fantasies...Im sorry)
But because Im not a total idiot I have slowly but surely been won over by efficiency and precision. And i must admit its soooooo nice to sit and watch HIM make soap. And only have to worry about what labels to make. And what words to use on the brochures. And breathe deeply of boxes of perfect handmade soap. No more sludge soap. Fudge soap. Exploding soap. Coconut Queen Products makes guaranteed WONDERFUL soap everytime now. Only problem is - now theres no dud soap to scrub my floors with.

When I Die.

I was thinking about dying the other day. Because it was on my list of 101 things to think about and plan. And because i was procrastinating the other 100 things that came before it ( tawdry meaningless stuff like...prepping the overdue GST report for Inland Revenue, helping Zach and Zion learn their parts for the Childrens Primary Sacrament program, finish the application letter to the bank begging for a loan, and maybe make my bed. ) So I made a list. Of stuff i want done and NOT done when i die.
1. If i die in a country with real medical facilities ( ones with toilet paper in the bathrooms. And pillows on the beds.) Then i want to be an organ donor. I like the thought of people running around energetically thanks to my heart. Lungs. A couple of kidneys. Maybe a liver uncorrupted by alcohol. (i confess a scan done 5 years ago revealed the aforementioned liver was a tad on the 'fatty' side. Can you even fathom how small and worthless one feels when a scan stranger tells you your liver is fatty?!) I dont want to give up my eyes though. Im quite fond of them. Owl eyes. Mata omo. The eyes that caused so much angst and suffering as a child because kids had nothing better to do than make me cry about my deepset Wendt-woman eyes. The same eyes that became 'deep pools of midnight' and 'eyes stars could lose themselves in' when a semi-drunk and infatuated male was staring in them. ( and stars) are all in the eye of the beholder!
So organs. Donate them.
2. I absoloutely refuse to go into any freezers. Even the very best very arctic coldest of the cold freezers. Even freezers that Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen in. No. And i refuse to be embalmed. Save that for King Tut. And Cher. Bury me immediately.
3. I dont want a coffin. Horrible things. Who wants to rot in a box that lasts forever? With windows to look out what? The worms diggin through eager for a snack? No. Wrap me in siapo. An ie toga.
4. There is to be NO heavy food served at my funeral. NONE. ZIP. NADA. Nobody gets a free feed at my farewell. Give everyone a drink of water. And maybe a cookie. Better still - a banana and a piece of coconut. Much healthier. And cheaper.
5. I'd love lots of singing at the funeral. Stuff like Ave Maria. And U2. And some primary songs by the children. And maybe derek would play the piano. And Elijah would sing. (Pleeeease u rock Elijah!)
6. I dont want a free for all speak fest at any time where anybody can get up and say stuff. Far too risky. Goodness only knows what state secrets and trash talk grief stricken random acquaintances will spill - especially if theyre bitter about only eating a piece of coconut at the funeral. No. Only censored and pre approved people can say things. I'll have to check my list of who Im on speaking terms with to see who fits the bill for 'Appropriate Speaker for Lanis Funeral'.
7. Dont dress me in white please. Its such an unflattering color. I like red. Purple. And of course black is timeless. And so slimming...

Pickles for Lazy, Impatient People

So heres the second installment of cooking for lazy, impatient people who still want to get that deliciously self-gratifying feeling of making ( and eating) complicated food made totally from scratch WITHOUT risking a stress prompted aneurysm. And WITHOUT sacrificing catching that oh-so-important episode of Desperate Housewives. (Not that i watch such trash. Ever. Really. I totally dont care to clutter my life with details of Bree's obsession with cleanliness and control and how her husband is resorting to kleptomania just to punish her. OR wondering how life will go on without Idi and her endless stream of men, men,men. )

Back to pickles. I have memories of my mothers breadnbutter pickles. Sweet. Tart. Satisfying. Perfect on a hunk of bread. With a scoop of melting margarine. ( we couldnt afford butter) But I always thought that making your own pickles was something Martha Stewart did on her day off. Or seriously super Utah Mormon mothers did before baking bread and milking cows on the prairie. (Im not sure why because my mother is none of those things.) I of course never envisioned i would one day have the techno-know-how to make pickles. Let alone the desire to join the ranks of the Pickle Perfect Homemaker. But then I got a calling in the womens organization that required me to not only plan cooking and craft activities for lots of women - but to actually attend them and pretend like i was learning something. (As opposed to only going to talk/gossip and eat the refreshments like i usually did.)
There I was doing my organizer thing when the demonstrater whipped out a bowl full of breadnbutter pickles. They smelt divine. They smelt like childhood. They tasted divine. Like I was 8 years old and only had to worry about how i could torment my kid sister ( who was spoilt rotten and it was soooo unfair) without her trying to stab me with the bread knife. ( i exagerate you not. Come on Pele - verify it! Embrace your past! Acknowledge your violent childhood!) After sampling the pickles, i was flabbergasted when the teacher then proceeded to make another batch. In 5 minutes. With nothing but a pot, some ice cubes, a gas burner. Various spices. A smile. A few effortless stirs. And voila! Pickles. I was hooked. That could be me. Chopping, stirring, spicing, smiling and then eating pickles...every darn day if i pleased. I got the recipe. I came home abuzz with excitement. I made pickles. And it was easy. And quick. And i rejoiced on behalf of lazy and impatient cooks everywhere. We have a winner folks!

Ingredients:(give or take whatever's in your cupboard)
- cucumbers. As many as you like. Maybe 8. Or 15. Or 25. The sauce in this recipe will pickle any number of cucumbers. And come on, how can one really say a defn number? Because everyone knows cucumbers are all different sizes. And shapes. So however many you have - then thats how many you need.
- 2 onions
- 3 tspns of minced garlic from a bottle. If youre obsessed with purity and suffering then go ahead and cut your own fresh garlic. 3 cloves of it. And try to catch up with the rest of us who are smart enough to buy a jar from the store for a couple of bucks.
- 1/3 cup salt
- 5 cups sugar
- 3 cups vinegar. I use white vinegar because its the cheapest. Pickle perfectionists use cider vinegar.
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp celery seed ( dont be fia poto like me and try to chop up fresh celery instead. Trust me, it aint the same thing!)
- 2 tbsp mustard seed
Slice the cucumbers. Thin. Slice the onions. Thin. Throw in a bowl. Add the garlic. Sprinkle the salt over it all. Mix it with your hands gently. Crack a tray of ice cubes on top. Cover the bowl with a teatowel. Put in fridge for a few hours. I forgot about it the other time and left it for 2 days. Still turned out okay but i wouldnt recommend you push it too far.
Take out of fridge and rinse the salt off in running water. Put aside. In a pot, combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices on the stove. Medium heat and stir it to dissolve the sugar. Let it boil a little. Add the cucumber stuff. Stir it. Simmer it a bit. Turn it off. Wait for it to cool then eat it quick before the kids find out and all your pickles disappear before you have a chance to gloat over them

Cucumbers all cut up and covered with salt and ice.

Pickles in a pot. Simmering. Prepare to gloat.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Operation Budget

So we might be getting this huge loan to buy this smallish house in the semi medium country of New Zealand so that we can and will eventually make the hughmungously huge step of moving our selves and our medium size family of five hugely amazing children in pursuit of life, liberty and unlimited access to no less than TEN different kinds of drivethru fast food. ( As opposed to the seriously meagre ONE drive thru option available in Apia.)

But i digress. What i wanted to say was - a loan means the launch of 'Operation BUDGET'. It means no more livin it up in the high flying, high roller life of excessive consumerism and disgustingly extravagant wastefulness. Thats right - the Youngs are going to get serious about money. Saving it that is. We had a 'family meeting' yesterday to tell the FIVE about the new Operation. The need for teamwork. All hands on deck. Inviting ideas for frugal living. Now i dont call them the Fabulous Five for nothin...

Sade's Tips for Thrifty Treasure - Turn the tap off when youre brushing yr teeth. Dont take 30 minute showers even if youre trying to avoid doing the dishes by running the tap and secretly reading a book in the bathroom. Dont turn the fan on because you claim "Bellas hot and needs the air" when really you want the fan on for yourself. Only feed the dogs once a day.

Jade's Nuggets of Financial Wisdom - 'I dont know. Ummmm...I dont know.' When pressed upon to 'think of something or else your mothers gonna get extremely upset and forget you are made of easily bruised flesh and blood' he then furrowed his brow and expended a few more brain cells. We could eat less. And i could run to school to save petrol. Or how about we just dont buy the house in NZ?

Zion's Pearls of Great Price - Mum could sell more soap. Dad could build more buildings. Zach can only have one sandwich instead of two. Sade can go to bed early and turn off the light early to save power. What about the money machine? We could get more money from there?

Zach's Gems - None. He was asleep.

Bella's Bounteaous Suggestions - On the Beast's behalf we suggested she could...take greater more COMITTED effort to be toilet trained thereby reducing the need for $40 pack of Huggies diapers. Stop playing with the water cooler. Sip her water instead of taking huge mouthfuls to then run to the bathroom and mimic vomiting into the toilet with huge peals of laughter at her cleverness. Eat all her food instead of leaving a trail of Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs all through the house. (Encouraging the mouse to forage under the sheets in my bed. )
So there you have it. I am terribly excited and hopeful of our future success at saving based on the wonders of the above lists.
In honor of our first day of Operation Budget I very virtuously engaged in frugal activity all day. I made 60 solid beeswx perfumes to sell. I turned a 8 dollar bag of cucumbers into a pot of sweet bread and butter pickles. I used the last of the hand ground rice flour to make a loaf of GF bread. I ransacked the fridge and cupboard to make a 'soup of creative ingenuity' using all the odds and ends that normally would end up stinking in the trash. But that wasnt all. On a roll, i baked 5 dozen GF sugar cookies that theoretically will last the week. (HAH yeah right. Im eating one right now.) And two absoloutely amazing meat loaf...glazed in a cinnamon, sugar, tomato sauce, honey sauce.
After all that industry i was ready to deport my family. And burn the house down. And run away to join the circus. All that homemade heaven was driving me up the wall. So armed with the iPod i went running on the seawall. Which felt good.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peles Photography: Tsunami Samoa

Tsunami Samoa

Samoa. She smiles.

Its 10:30pm and the house is asleep. Im trying to ‘debrief’ my brain from today. Spent the morning cooking. We went out to the Tsunami area at about 12:30. Took 45 min to get there. Tai Tauilili drove our dyna with Sio – loaded with coolers of hot chicken soup, drinking water, 70 loaves of bread, 250 hot dog sausages, paper cups etc. Peta, Henry T, and two other friends rode with them. I had Kristen T. and Sade in my car. People wanting to help helped cook the food. Mum. Kristen. Rebecca Lolo. Peta. Another one of my dream teamers, Tania Mitchell. Henry Tunupopo, Kristian Scanlon, Sita.

It was eerie. Up until right before the aleipata zone – Samoa looked totally and completely ‘normal’. People playing volleyball. People gardening etc. One minute we were in tropical paradise. The next it was hell. Im sure you’ve seen the footage on tv by now. Its truly horrific up close. The road is clear all the way round the island – lots of big machinery has been working overtime to clear roadway thru wreckage. The sea has claimed the land right up to the road now. Houses, shops etc that once lined the road are a mass of rubble. In some sections they are trucking in loads of sand and stone to reinforce the road so cars can fit thru safely. We only drove a few 100 meters into the zone before pulling over and starting the first serving out of soup and sandwiches. That was the pattern for the rest of the afternoon. Drive a little ways. See people. Stop and offer food. As soon as they heard we had hot food, people came from all directions. We were feeding EPC crews trying to put up new poles and restore power, police teams searching through mess for bodies, people looking for family members, health workers. A woman sitting under a tree on a broken bucket – waiting ‘for them to find my baby. O lo’u sister ma lana tama. All dead.’ she said. A man who wolfed down two hot dogs and refills of soup before describing their escape in the hilltop behind the mangrove swamp, climbing trees, hanging on. Now searching for his wifes family. Cousins. A brother. Only a handful of ragged children around to give the candy and Petas homemade choc chip cookies to. My brain kept screaming – ‘The children? Where are all the children?’Reminded me of the child catcher scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They’re gone. All gone.
There was a distinctive smell all along the route. Not immediately one of decay. More a stale, dank wet seaweed smell. People wearing masks in pickups going past with cloth covered shapes in the back. Everywhere there were anomalies. Oddities. A cement foundation – smashed brick house on its side beside it. The insides splayed everywhere. Right next door – a open Samoan fale. Still standing. TV sets half buried in the sand. A land cruiser crumpled in half. A boat sitting high in the mangrove trees. Just a month ago, I ran past the new LDS chapel at Malaela where primary children lined the road beside the basketball court and clapped for me. “Go, go, go fa’amalosi!” they cheered. Today theres nothing but rocks and sea where the basketball court was. All that’s left of the chapel is a crooked roof balancing on broken walls. The children? What of the children?
Considering the extent of the damage, I was surprised not to see more crews searching – for the dead, for the living. I never saw any boats checking the water. Only bedraggled pockets of people shifting through the wreckage. My bossy/control freak/manager/know it all - self wanted to back up to those villages with volleyball games and mobilize everyone to get their happy cheerful butts down to the hell zone to start cleaning up and looking for people. Probably just tied into my general feeling of overall helplessness and frustration at how little we could really do to help.

The dusty road was very busy. Trucks piled high with sacks of rice and clothing. Vans filled with health workers. Diplomatic cars inspecting the damage. TV crews galore were at the beach fale stretch at Lalomanu, just past Boomerang. Or whats left of Boomerang. Theyre still trying to establish how many tourists are missing. Unsure how many there were staying at different places to begin with. The first group of survivors flying out tonight. All they want is to go home. To get as far away from here as possible. Hurt and afraid in hospital. One tells of her experience. The wave tore the clothes off their backs. Cut and scraped all over. Survivors found naked and bleeding. At one surf resort, the owner didn’t wait for a warning. As soon as the earthquake hit, he alerted the resort and got everyone out. Also told the village to move as well. How many lives he has saved.
In this climate, decomposition is of course setting in quickly. Searchers say they are finding body parts in places. One body decapitated. Force of waves and debris ripping people apart. Said they will need to bring in DNA experts soon. The bossy/control freak/knowitall in me wanted sniffer dogs. And thermal heat imaging equipment. And all that other stuff they have on CSI. And James Bond movies.
I was humbled by our peoples attitude. I think I would have been cursing the heavens if it had been me digging through my house to find my children. I was almost afraid to offer people food in case they lashed out at me. I imagined ‘Are you crazy! Of course I don’t want a #@&*%# cup of soup – I just lost my entire family here and you want me to have a cookie?!’ Instead, we got nothing but appreciation, gratitude. Blessings. ‘Faafetai mo lou agagalelei’. May the Lord bless you. Thank you so much. You’re so good. Thank you, thank you.’ Everything taken away in one swooping wave and there they were giving thanks. And asking God to bless ME.

People desperate for water. To drink. To bathe. To cook. Big truck from Craig construction went past with 3 vast rota tanks of water. Many people there to help. Two vans - seats piled high with tarpaulin and canned food sat patiently outside a shell of a church. Looking for a congregation to receive it. Pickups loaded with water bottles and masi, sheets and towels. Everybody wants to help.
The nights here have been very cold lately. Im shivering under a blanket and I hope the people of Aleipata have something to keep them warm. The soup is finished. We left the last of the bread and curry at a makeshift hospital at Poutasi. And the rest of the lollipops. They looked rather dismal in their surroundings. Sade said – it feels good to help. Did you see how happy they were to get some food? Im glad she came with us. But im not sure about the happy part. I keep thinking about the woman sitting on a broken bucket under a tree. Waiting. I gave her a cup of soup. Then went back and hugged her. I cried. But her eyes were dry. Do you think shes still waiting there?

Finally some children to give cookies to.
Soup crew at work.

Disaster Zone Images

Things I wont forget...
* The mother sitting on a upturned bucket in the shade of a crooked tree. Meagre belongings scattered around her. Waiting. For searchers to find the bodies of her children.
* The little girl in ragged clothing, a dirty face. No shoes. Eagerly reaching for soup and a bag of candy. Then taking a call on her cellphone. And telling the caller about standing in line for hot soup and hot dogs.

* The LDS chapel at Malaela. That got totalled. The basketball court that is no more. Where a line of children stood and cheered me on as i ran in the perimeter relay. I wonder, did they all make it out?

*How sad and happy i felt when we shared food with the first group of people. Their disbelief that we were giving out fresh food for free. Ice water.

* The smell on day four. Like driving past a dead dog on the side of the road. The fish everywhere. Dead under your feet.

*The aqua blue sea. A silken cloth of shimmering strands, strewn with diamond surf. Did it really rear its ugly head and wipe out entire villages? Rage and storm and rain upon so many? Sweeping away all and sundry in its path?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One of us MUST Live

I need some Humor. If youre NOT in the mood for a lighthearted take on tsunami warnings then dont read this note.
Today there was a tsunami warning. Again. And with so many people 'hit' in so many different ways LAST week - it was nervous chaos as people evacuated the low ground. Gotta say though - it certainly puts a lot of stuff in perspective when youre (supposedly) outrunning/outdriving a tidal wave with yr husband and thinking abt the fact u have 5 children at home. And no will. Or life insurance.
We were at wesley arcade when the sirens went off. And then we were stuck in the nightmare traffic crawling at snails pace along the main road. And all around us people are walking and trotting along waaay faster than the cars. Women teetering on platforms and high heels got me thinking - we totally need to carry running shoes in the car at all times.
Told darren - no matter what happens one of us MUST live cos of the kids. He said, if wave comes, I will carry you and run to safety. I said - dont be ridiculous. You mst run and not even look back for me and my slow self cos i will kill him if kids end up with nobody. So then he takes my words farrrrrrrrr too much to heart and tells me - well one of us must drive the car and the other has to get out and start running NOW. I say - but its hot outside! And I'll feel silly. He says - youre not taking this seriously enough. You come drive then and Ill run. I say - but that means you'll leave me behind all by myself how could u abandon me like that!? And he says exasperatedly - hello didnt u tell me one of us must survive and of course it will be me since i can run a mile in less than 5 minutes flat? And my romantic princess to be rescued bubble bursts and i grumpilly get out of car and start walking home. And he calls out to me as i walk off - hey just make sure your clothes dont get swept off in the wave hahaha. And im thinking - fine then...just leave me to get swept away to a horrible death then... And he fnally catches up to me when i get to Moamoa. ( hey im a prety fast walker at least!) And we get home safely. And there is no tsunami. And all is well.
But now the truth is out. My knight in shining armor CAN and WILL run like the wind to safety and solo parent our children if need be. Which is a good thing. For the five children with parents who have no wills and no life insurance. BUT where does that leave me? Swimming in septic sewer water. Hanging on a satellite dish on top of the TV 3 building. Surfing to Palisi on a coconut frond?
Clearly - theres 3 things I must do before the next tsunami warning.
1. Get a will. 2. Get life insurance. 3. Run harder and faster so i can get fitter and then I can run a mile in less than 5 minutes flat.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Extraordinary People: Tsunami Samoa

Today in the zone, it was blazing hot. And dusty with sea silt. And it smelled. Bad. Very bad. Not just wet, dead fish smell. The air was thick with what i can only describe as lots of dead things smell. It seeped through the windows. Into your clothes. Your hair. Making you want to cover your nose. Or hold your breath for the three hours it took to drive the zone and give out soup. But you didnt. Because it felt rude. Disrespectful. To all those picking through the pieces of their lives. Pushing a wheelbarrow with a rice sack and a water canteen. Sweeping sand out of a spindly hut thats surrounded with hills of tsunami trash. Asking politely if theres a spoon to eat with? while wearing one jandal and sitting on the cement foundation of your swept away home. Announcing with a sigh of relief - 'No, theres nobody missing from our houses here. Everybody is found. 18 bodies all found yesterday. Nobody missing anymore. '

The zone is not an easy place to live. Or to work in. But extreme circumstances require exceptional effort from ordinary people.
People like EPC linesmen. - The day after the tsunami they were putting up new power poles. Clearing away fallen wires. Today, they were still there. The same teams because lots of them recognized the soup truck and greeted us like long lost friends. I will never flip a light switch again without a greater appreciation for the work that goes into shining light in darkness. Amazingly, power poles are up. Lining the road clear through to Lalomanu.And as we drove away at 5pm, still the linesmen labor on. I doubt theyre calculating their overtime pay. And certainly none seemed to begrudge their hard work. As the lights start to go on at Aleipata - we say thank you.
People like - the road crew. Immediately after the waves hit, a call went out on the radio for all and any heavy duty equipment companies to please, please come help clear the roads so rescue teams could make it through to the disaster zone. They came. Bulldozers. Diggers. Dump trucks. EXcavators. And with them came the machine operators. The truckloads of road workers. They cleared the road. They started trucking rocks and sand to fill in the holes so cars could make it through. They're reinforcing the seawalls. Moving rubble. Shifting concrete blocks and fallen bricks. Helping to find the lost. You can drive smoothly and pothole-free right from disaster zone start to finish. I got home at 6pm, eager for a shower to erase the grime of the day. I wondered - what time will the road crew get to sleep tonight? As the relief trucks roll in on beautiful strips of road - we say thank you.
People like - the Samoa Police force. On the eve of tsunami day, the radio called for 'all police to report at 4am in work boots and heavy duty gear.Bring a change of clothes because you will be swimming and diving to recover bodies. Come ready to work.' And they did. On Tuesday, police were everywhere. Doing everything and anything. Today, they're everywhere. Doing everything and and anything. At Boomerang over 60 of them are scouring the ground for the 7 people still missing from those beach fales alone. They found one crumpled 4 year old today. They'll be there till late tonight. And they'll be back again tomorrow. Until they've found them all. We got to them at 4pm. They were tired. But cheerful. As the relief effort continues, organized and orderly - we say thank you. Extreme circumstances require exceptional effort from ordinary people. And the results? Extraordinary.

EPC take a soup break.

Police pause for soup.
Road crew take a break. Road warriors.
Police stay positive.
Soup crew at work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some Times I dont Like Living in Paradise

1. When you wake up with a shiver because a millipede is crawling on your face. Ewww. Could be worse though. Could be a centipede. Or a GIANT millipede like this one...

2. When you go the grocery store and theres only five things in your cart and the total bill is $125. EXCUSE ME?!
3. When you go to the movies and the people behind you talk about the movie. Really loud. With a blow by blow description of the action. And then their cellphone rings. Really loud. And then they talk on the phone and tell the caller all about the movie. Really loud.
4. When your daughter comes home from school and asks - "Is hitting kids part of Samoan culture mum? Because it always happens during Samoan period."
5. When you go to the doctor and he wants you to take amoxil. ALL THE TIME. Your kid has a sore throat? Amoxil. An infected cut? Amoxil. An earache? Amoxil. A rash? Amoxil. A broken collarbone? Amoxil. Chicken pox? Amoxil. Oh - and mother has a headache? She should take amoxil too. (Is he a shareholder in Amoxil Assoc? Or maybe he's cut a deal with the pharmacist so he knows what drugs are over ordered and about to expire.)

The Many Faces of the Fabulous Five

Wall runners.

The Artist.


She rules.

He sews.

He thinks.

She smiles.

She reads.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lost and Losing It.

(Because the eye eats first)
I am thirteen kilos lighter than i was in January of this year. I am twenty eight kilos lighter than I was two years ago. People who havent seen me for awhile say - "You've lost weight." Or if theyre very nice people, they say - 'wow, you look great. You've lost weight.' While it can be a buzz to get positive feedback on one's size, I do take issue with this concept of weight being LOST. If its lost - where did it go? If its lost - that implies Im currently searching for it? And missing it? And wanting to find it again!? Or that I absent-mindedly misplaced it. Like a favourite pen. Or a two dollar note. Or my car keys on a crazy day. This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. One which i want to rant and rave about.
While there are many things I am unsure of in this universe, I most definitely am certain that unlike brooding hot Jack and the misunderstood (but equally HOT) Sawyer - I do not wish to find my LOST island of fat kilograms. Indeed, far from being LOST, that spare tyre (or two) that used to keep me company was forcibly evicted. Banned. Rejected and ejected. Those kilos were uninvited guests that slipped in the door disguised as a double scoop of rumnraisin ice cream. Or hitched a ride with the fa'alifu taro. And the bowl after bowl of steamed white rice. Masquerading as comforters, they wooed me with promises of happiness, stress release and plain ole boredom alleviation. Home baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Fried rice from the Chinese takeaway. Hunks of rye bread dripping with honey and gooey peanut butter. Honey soy chicken. A driveby cheeseburger snack. Three servings of coco pops. Yes they were all my friends. Its not their fault they over stayed their welcome. Or left behind nasty linger-ers who needed deporting. So for the record, please note fact number one - fat isnt LOST. And nobody (in their right mind) is out looking for it, putting up Reward posters for its return or wistfully reminiscing about the good ole days when fat was ones best friend.
Fact number two - I havent LOST any weight. I kicked its butt outa here with power walking. Running. Lots of rest. Healthy eating habits.At 5am when sane people are in bed, I was stumbling in pitch black darkness around the Sports complex hoping and praying that all the drunks were asleep in a ditch rather than waiting for a silly woman to huff past. Instead of staying up till 2am to write in the peace and quiet of a sleeping house - I had to go to bed early. Instead of eating everything and anything i wanted - I had to schedule my food - six small meals a day. Can you even grasp what a nightmare that is when you have a family of 7 to feed? I did Nina's Challenge...again...and again...and again for the extra motivation. I sought out good friends to run with. To commiserate with. To do a 100 km relay with. I (for once) listened to my husband when he told me how to train. How to recover. How to prevent injuries. Make no mistake about it - getting rid of unwanted weight is hard work. Old habits are hard to break. Especially when theyre so delicious and relaxing! You dont LOSE weight. You get rid of it with pig-headed stubbornness and determination. And it doesnt go until you face the facts. ( to paraphrase the wicked Xtreme Performance trainer...) 'Aint nobody else responsible for your fat but YOU.' Step up and claim responsibility for the state of your health. Your life. Your thighs. Your cholestorol.
Thats right. Its not my five fabulous babies fault. (Although they sure do owe me big time...) Its not my husbands fault...just because he domesticated me, and made me give birth to these children, and made me think of other things besides myself. Its not MY mothers fault...just because she was a yoyo dieter and exerciser and squirrelled away tubs of chocolate pudding to eat all by herself when we werent looking and that is now my fave treat. Its not my works fault...the soap business, the construction company, the office, the home-management. Its not homeschools fault. Its not three ceasareans fault. Or three near death experiences with toxaemia. Nope. Im not unhealthy because im too busy, too tired, too stressed, or too frantic. Im unhealthy because I choose to be.
Oprah ( who of course knows EVERYTHING) said that we get unhealthy because we "dont love ourselves enough". Women put themselves and their needs last. Behind kids, spouse,extended family,the next door neighbor, the random stranger on the street... As usual - I agree with Oprah. (does that take me one step closer to being disgustingly rich i wonder?)
Its a long hard slog - but Im slowly learning to love myself better. And how to choose good if i could just figure out what the heck the latest plot line is on 'Lost' then i would be truly happy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Twilight Series for Dummies ( and totally desperate Mormon Guys)

I love this guys take on Twilight. This blog had me chuckling. Have a read and then check his writing out at
I used to roll my eyes when I would hear women lament about how hard it is to be female in today's world in which feminine "beauty" is generally measured by dress sizes, inches on the waist, and letters of the alphabet. I have heard 1,968 women say, "How can you grow up as a girl who plays with Barbie dolls and then develop a healthy self-image once puberty begins? If Barbie were a real-life woman, she would be 5'11, weigh 128 pounds, have a 16-inch waist, and don't even get me started on her...(edited for content)." Another favorite complaint from one of my female friends in the early 1990's was, "Why is Cindy Crawford's facial mole considered a 'beauty mark' but people tell me that my mole makes me look like a witch?" The correct answer was technically because Cindy Crawford did not have several 1 1/2 inch-long hairs sprouting to life from her mole, but sometimes it's just better to say, "Yeah, that's soooo totally unfair. Wanna watch Saved By The Bell?"I could never empathize with the "It's Impossible to be Barbie" complex. After all, I grew up as a kid playing with He-Man action figures. If He-Man were a real person, his pecks would be so powerful that they could legally be given Super Delegate status by the Democratic party. Assuming, of course, that He-Man were a registered Democrat. (Those of us who faithfully watched the show know that He-Man has to be Republican. At the end of every episode He-Man would present a short "moral lesson" in which he used a portion of the episode to illustrate right choices from wrong. As a person who believes in absolute morality, He-Man would be ineligible to join the Dems. But I'm pretty sure Man-at-Arms was a Democrat, Battlecat was an Independent, and Orko a Communist, so the show was pretty balanced.)While I grew into a fully-functioning adult male with a healthy self-image despite my boyhood He-Man obsession, I have recently become more sympathetic to the women of the world who know that they will never look like Tyra Banks. This added measure of sensitivity has been thrust upon me by one person:Stpehenie Meyer.For men who are unfamiliar with Stephenie Meyer, she is a 34-year old BYU graduate, active Mormon, and stay-at-home mom. A few years back she decided on a whim to write a book about teen-aged vampires called Twilight and it rocketed to the top of the NY Times Best Seller list. New Moon and Eclipse soon followed and they were both best sellers as well. As to her personal fame, Stephenie Meyer recently knocked out Orson Scott Card in the third round of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event to become the undisputed most famous living Mormon author in the world. (The most famous dead LDS author is obviously C.S. Lewis, who had to have been a member since he is quoted in General Conference more often than all of the New Testament apostles combined.)I like Stephenie Meyer for a lot of reasons. It is wonderful to see somebody who is about my age and a BYU graduate make it big. Her books are worth reading and she keeps the language and content clean. She also allows every husband in the church hold out the hope that one day he'll come home from a horrendous 10-hour day at CompUSA and be greeted by his ecstatic wife who says, "You're not going to believe this, but Creating Keepsakes wants to buy my scrapbook template pages for $1.8 millon!"

While most of the Twilight phenomenon is undoubtedly positive, we as men have an obligation to begrudge Stephanie Meyer for two reasons:1. Edward.2. Jacob.Or, as I like to call them, Jerk Face #1 and Jerk Face #2. If you have not read the books, Edward is Bella's deep, intense, passionate boyfriend. Jacob is the funny, charismatic, forgiving friend who would do anything to make Bella his. They both possess magical powers that are far superior to any of the tie tricks that LDS guys learned on our missions (except for blowing on our tie to make it wilt like a flower, that's classic!) In other words, both Edward and Jacob are much, much more interesting than any of the husbands or boyfriends of the women who read the Twilight books.LDS men should feel as much contempt toward the two main characters of the Twilight series as a woman recovering from her fourth c-section in seven years feels toward Barbie. Approximately 97% of all Mormon women between the ages of 16 and 42 have read Sister Meyer's books and I'm guessing that 92% of them wish their husbands/boyfriends were more like Edward or Jacob in some way. The other 8% have a crush on either Jack, Sayeed, or Sawyer from Lost. If you happen to be dating a young woman and she reveals that she has a crush on either Sawyer or Sayeed, your in pretty good shape. It is highly unlikely that she will ever meet a surly con artist or a former Iraqi Republican Guard torture expert, let alone be swept off of her feet by them. But if your significant other has the hots for Jack, be very, very afraid. There are a lot of divorced, desperate 30-something doctors out there trolling outside of Bath and Body Works looking for vulnerable women whose husband/boyfriend just did something incredibly rude, such as forgetting that today marked the 1,000th day since your first date.Since most women would like their men to adopt at least a few of the Edward/Jacob qualities, I'll lend a hand to my male readers who have not yet read the books but would like to make it sound like they have. If you ever find yourself in any of the situations below and your wife/girlfriend is a Twilight fan, the following quotes will be pure gold:LADIES: PLEASE HELP US OUT AND POST COMMENTS TO LET US KNOW WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING QUOTES YOU LIKE THE BEST:-
If she thinks that you drive too recklessly: "Honey, please trust me as much as Bella trusted Edward when he had to break all known traffic laws to get her out of Forks and away from Victoria. If he can drive Bella's pickup truck that recklessly, then I should be able to steer with my knees while texting with my right hand and using my left hand to hold my Slurpee."
-If she ever says on a very warm day, "I feel so hot right now" you should respond with, "My body always feels hot to the touch....kind of like Jacob's." You can then raise your eyebrows like Magnum P.I., flex your pecks, and put your arm around her.
-If she ever says on a very cold day, "I feel so cold right now" you should respond with, "My body always feels cold to the touch....kind of like Edward's." You can then raise your eyebrows like Magnum P.I., flex your pecks, and put your arm around her.
If she says that you have a fear of commitment, tell her, "I just can't rush into a relationship right now. My heart's been broken before and I would like for our relationship to take the next step, but I often feel like Edward did when he left Bella for Italy. His heart was with her, but the timing wasn't right at the moment." Note: This will buy you approximately 3 1/2 months. You will then either have to put a ring on her finger or change your name to Miguel Sanchez and live in Panama for a year while things die down.
If she wants a relationship but you just want to be friends, just say, "I am so glad that we both agree that we can have a fulfilling, close relationship like Bella and Jacob enjoy."
If you really want her to back off and stop bothering you, tell her, "I'm really a creepy, soul-less recluse who thirsts for human blood. I have killed before and have to restrain myself on a daily basis from killing again. I'm not talking about in a heroic, romantic Edward-like way. I'm talking in a really deranged Jeffrey Dahmer way." Note: You will never, ever, EVER see her again at this point, so only bust it out when absolutely necessary.
If you are on a date and there is an awkward lull in the conversation, get a pensive look on your face and say, "I was reading on that the next Twilight book is going to be told from Edward's point of view. I can't wait to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the emotional trial it must have been for him to be away from Bella for so long during New Moon." Note: If you say this, your female companion will get down on her knee and propose to you on the spot. Only use this line if you are seriously considering taking this young lady to the temple one day.
If she is insecure about her looks and repeatedly asks you if she is pretty, stroke her hair and gently say, "Sweetheart, you always look a Bella sort of way." Note: If you've never read the books and try this line, please post a comment with how this one works out for you and how long it takes for the bruising to heal.
Once you are married, write the following in your next wedding anniversary card, "I am eternally grateful to know that we can be together forever. I am even more grateful that I did not have to sink my vampire teeth into your neck and suck out all of your blood to make it happen." Believe me, she'll dig that one.
Just Added (see comments): After numbing your lips by sucking on a Popsicle, ask her, "Have you ever wondered what it feels like to kiss Edward?" Note: She will be utterly helpless when you close your eyes and lean toward her.
Well, guys, there you have it. Be sure to check the comments to see which of the quotes will score the most points with your wife or girlfriend. In the meantime, do everything possible to act like an undead vampire and/or a teenage werewolf while keeping the love of your life away from Jack from Lost. And women think they have it hard trying to live up to the Barbie standard? If they only knew how hard it is to be a man!

Friday, September 18, 2009

His First Dance.

Its 9:30pm. One more hour till i go pick up my teenage son from his very first 'dance'. I wasnt ready for this. Not emotionally. Or mentally. Or any other kind of '-ally'. He said he wasnt interested in going. Then half an hour before it started, he wants to go. He gets dressed. And hes so tall. And handsome. And grown up. And vaguely irritated with my fussing. And nonchalant as he waves goodbye and strolls into the building. Past a googling gaggle of girls. And i sit in my parked car and watch him go. And i want to cry. And be happy at the same time. Because hes a confident and outgoing young man. With friends. (and not a tangled mess like his mother was when she went to her first dance) Because hes just taken another huge step into the big bad world. Without me. And thats as it should be. But it still cuts. For a brief wild moment - I wished fervently that he was just a teensie bit socially inept. That he had bedraggled self-esteem that trailed behind him in tatters. Tripping him at every turn. Then maybe he wouldnt go to dances. Ever. And then girls wouldnt google. And gaggle. And he'd stay home. With me. And listen raptly while i read him Harry Potter. Again. Or watch Barney. For the millionth time. Or beg me to take him to McDonalds. Or hug me and say "Im going to be your little boy forever mum. I never want to grow big."
He made dinner before he went out. And worked on his Geography project. And played with his little sister the Beast. And told me i should definitely NOT make any excuses but get my butt out the door for my afternoon run. He's all the words you want to read in a school report card. 'Mature, responsible, hard working, serious,a natural leader, great at sports, a pleasure to teach...' Im not quite sure how he turned out so well. Considering he was our first. The guinea pig in the experimental laboratory of 'Darren and Lani Young's Parenting'. Surprisingly unscathed.

I wonder. Whats he doing at that dance? And who is he doing what with? At my first dance...I 'borrowed' a red shirt from my mothers closet so i could be like the woman in my fave song - "Lady in Red'. A denim skirt and LA Gear Hi-tops from aunty Lu completed the ensemble. Ewww... i think i wore orange bobble socks. What a hideous thought! It was on a Pesega compound street. Under a Samoan starry sky. With songs from the 80's. There was a first crush. A first slow song dance. A first time holding hands....OKAY that does it...ENOUGH REMINISCING - There'll be none of that at that dance tonight...Im going to pick him up right now!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When Homeschool Works.

So some days homeschool bombs. Im tired. Or uninspired. Or just plain ole lazy. But then other days everything just works. And they're learning. And Im learning. And theyre having fun. And Im having a blast. And Im so thankful i can homeschool. Today was one of those days. Got a neat art lesson off an awesome art teacher site. ( will post the link when i find it...) All about dimensions and perspective and layering and....well, its called 'looking out the window' and heres some of the results.
'Harmony' by Zion. Age 7. She says - "I would like to sit in this room because its so peaceful. And the view out the window is so pretty."

'Living the Dream Life' by Sade. Age 11. I especially love the chic high heels in the corner and the animal print rug - like i stepped into the pages of Vogue house magazine!

'Midnight Swim' by ....Unknown.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spontaneity:the state of being spontaneous. Swept away in the moment. Able to live, love, breathe and act without thinking. Without planning and foresight.
Ahhhhhhh....doesnt that sound glorious? I cannot rememeber the last time i did something truly spontaneous. But then - can one be spontaneous when one has five children? Two of them with special dietary restrictions? And one of them a teenager full throttle in teenage cares and concerns? And a construction company? A home-based soap making business? And four dogs? A church calling ( or two.) And one is (supposed to be) following a rigorous training program that requires getting lots of sleep and lots of vegetables. ( do u know how much time it takes to peel all the carrots i need to eat to keep me from eating the entire bag of corn chips?!) Hmmm...

So there we were, Darren and I, discussing ( for the millionth time) whether or not we should buy a house in New Zealand. We've been planning it for going on a year now. Perused countless real estate internet sites. Looked at numerous houses - from dream mansions to almost ghettolike extreme makeovers. We've even gone so far as to almost buy not one, but two different houses, halted only by hidden asbestos and faulty electrical wiring. So you cant really fault our cautiousness. Or studying and pondering. But sitting there analyzing all the pro's and con's just one more time - I just couldnt take it a minute longer.

"Let's do it" I said. (Darren looked surprised and gleeful.) "No" I clarified "Lets go buy a house. No more talking about it. No more thinking about it. Lets get on a plane tomorrow, Look at the 4 houses we saw online today and just buy the best out of the 4. What the heck - lets just do it!"

The full glory of spontaneity dawned upon us. A fly by night trip to Auckland? Without our children? Throwing caution to the winds? Where we could then throw our life savings at a stranger in exchange for a house? And sell our souls to the bank on a whim? It was daring. It was foolhardy. It was exciting! And of course the thought of eating at McDonalds peacefully without five hangers-on...or sitting on a plane and being able to eat the horrible food. Because you dont have a wriggly, screaming toddler sitting on your lap. And being able to watch the lame movie. And actually listen to the headphones. Or (heaven forbid) even shut one's eyes and sleep if one so desired?! Or go to the mall and only look in stores that carry adult clothing. And books. and NOT have to stop at a single playground? Heck - i was feeling positively giddy...

But then - as it so often does. The rollercoaster ride of spontaneity came to a shuddering halt. Leaving one feeling slightly let down. And sick. I started thinking - WHAT IF?
*theres a tidal wave while were gone? Who will drive the kids to safety?
*theres a cyclone. And its so bad no planes can come here for weeks and we cant get back home in time?
*We both get swine flu on the plane and get stuck in intensive care?
*The plane crashes and we both die and our five children are left orphans?
*One of the Fab Five chokes on a piece of apple and nobody here knows how to do the Heimlich maneouvre as wonderfully as I do?
*Zach falls out of the tree. Again. Only this time he doesnt just hit the ground and laugh uproariously. Instead, he lands on the swingset, breaks his back in four places, ruptures his spleen and needs to be airlifted out?
*Somebody gets overwhelmed with RHD despair and too many James Bond movies and takes over the government with a stick of dynamite ( disguised as a pencil). And there is mass rioting. And confusion. And Fiji-coup-like-craziness?

Once I got going with the what-ifs, that was it. All spontaneity fled. Replaced with worry. And guilt. And frantic self-doubt. And a desire to hug ones children tightly ( in case just me thinking about the above stuff made it come true...) Is it just me? Or does every parent suffer from an over active imagination coupled with over-hyped-worry syndrome? How do other people do it? Go on holidays without their kids? Let them run to Kickboxing class without praying they wont get hit by a car. Or attacked by a gang street thugs? You'd think that with five children - I'd be a pro by now at "letting them go....and go...and go...please just go!" Instead, Im flipping out at the mere thought of jetsetting to Auckland for 4 days without them. I need help. From 'Psycho Overanxious Parents Anonymous.'

Monday, September 7, 2009

To the Left, To the Left

We awoke from deep slumber at 6am to the blaring sound of horns chorusing...road switch, road switch! I didnt hear any of the promised church bells ringing ( or herald angels singing for that matter) But nevertheless -its official. Samoa is now driving on the left-hand side of the road. Whether you like it or not. Whether you protested it - or rushed out and started importing cheap cars from NZ. Whether you damaged road signs in some misguided attempt to delay the switch. Or painted the words "KILL TUILAEPA" on a speed hump. Its here.

I have been deliberately neutral on the road switch since its inception. Because Im a 'typical' ignorant housewife too busy with potty training a 2 yr old and unable to process weightier matters of international import? Or because on the scale of scary issues facing families in Samoa in this day and age - what side of the road we drive on ranks pretty low. Paltry stuff like the shocking state of education ( even in the most expensive private school in the nation)...or the fact that teenagers are dishing out suspicious white powder in schools...or the matter of all those pesky kids who keep trying to sell me matches at the McDonalds drivethru..or how about healthcare? How shockingly expensive private hospitals here can charge the earth, dole out HORRIBLE prenatal care, babies can die and nobody gets in trouble for it?

Enough of my soapbox. Back to the roadswitch. There was a carnival atmosphere in town at 6 this morning. Roads were lined with people there to watch and cheer and call out reminders to vehicles...."itu agavale!" Everybody beeping their horns as they drove ceremoniously around the town clock. Barbara Dreaver from TVNZ was there. Hoping for catastrophe and calamity. Sadly she didnt find any (today anyway). She'll probably have to slip someone a few tala so they can crash their RHD car into a banana tree on purpose - just so she can catch it on camera. There was no mass protests. No blocking of roads. Machete wielding matai marching on parliament ( or wherever it is that machete wielding matai march.) Thanks to all the new speed bumps, people are driving slower. (thank goodness). Thanks to all the new road markings, people are driving with more awareness of where and how they should drive. Thanks to all the emphasis on the death and destruction warnings, people are a little freaked out and paying more attention to what theyre doing on the road.

Thats right folks. After months of tension and precipitous anticipation and debate. ( and dire threats of doom and gloom...the sky is falling...the sky is falling) It happened. We woke up. We drove on the left side of the road. And that was it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sade's Words of Wisdom

Sade dressed as Cruella deVille for Book Parade. She actually fit my knee high black boots and that made me a little sad to see how grown up she really is. When she was little, she used to crack me up with her snippets of deep thought, uttered at the strangest moments.
Did you know that…
*Babies sleep a lot because they’re thinking about heaven…
*When you get old – you die.
* When you die, they put your body in the ground and the worms and the bugs come and eat it.
*Babies can see spirits AND talk to Jesus all the time because they just came from heaven…
*The tooth fairy isn’t real – its just your mum and dad giving you money…
*Girls can’t be prophets – because they don’t have the Priesthood ( announced loudly during the movie Whale Rider.)
*You shouldn’t pick your goobies out of your nose because they stop the blood from coming out of your brain…
*You should only kiss the person you’re married to because if you do that’s called adultery. So if you go somewhere and you feel like kissing someone – then you should run home really fast and kiss your husband quick.
*When I grow up I’m going to look just like my mum and we will be twins.
* When I grow up I’m going to be a artist, and a cooker, and a mum because girls can be lots of things – like my mum – she’s a teacher and a good cooker, and a office boss and a writer and she’s a mum.
* Hmmm…mum I don’t think cooking is one of your talents…(after sampling one of my new dishes)
*When Jesus told the Nephites he had to go and visit his other sheeps – he said that because the Nephites didn’t know that sheep lived in other countries as well, they thought there were only sheep in America and so they were surprised. That shows us that Jesus loves ALL the animals in the world – not just the ones in America…

Weird and Wacky Facts

Darrens team had the time and energy to pose for pics at a restroom stop...unlike us. They went on to win the relay.
About Running Long Distance Relays
1. When you’re an all womens team with a combined total of 25 children amongst you, then a 13 hr relay becomes all about the nearest bathroom. Indeed, one can rename the event: “The Great Restroom Hunt”. We used the toilets at Sinalei Resort BEFORE we started running at 3am. Then for the remainder of the day we employed a variety of bathroom tactics. Relatives homes. Complete strangers homes. Backpacker beach fale bathrooms. And of course, au natural jungle bathrooms. Relay organizers had asked permission of the LDS church to use their chapels restroom facilities. They had graciously acquiesced and so ten different chapels were opened in the wee hours of the morning for runners to use. I can (proudly?) say, that I have used every single LDS church bathroom from Siumu to Apia. Some of them more than once. Indeed, our team video seems to be about six women OBSESSED with the location of the next restroom…’how far is it?’ where is it?’ how much longer till we get there? I just finished running - I need to go bathroom... Im running next - I need to go bathroom first...
2. For a distance relay,you need a vehicle to transport the team. And all their STUFF. Youve heard about women and all the STUFF they cram in their handbags right? Well, thats nothin compared to six women and how much STUFF they can cram in their van. Riddled with nervous anticipation, each of us (of course) overpacked. Over stocked. Over supplied. Over prepared. All that much overdoing it equalled one heck of an overloaded van. We had enough ice for a small army. And then some. We had gallons of gatorade.Buckets of water. Everybody had three changes of clothes. ( at least). And two pairs of running shoes. Spare socks. Towels. Sponges.Toilet paper ( the very finest). Three first aid kits. (we could have provided rescue services to everybody in the race)And the food! Darren said "take high powered quick energy snacks, like a banana. A chocolate bar. A spoonful of honey." HA. Together we six had a BUNCH of bananas. And bags of candy. And forget the spoonful of honey - maybe such meagre stuff is fine for skinny elite runners, but we mountain climbing/baby feeding/desperate housewife types required more adequate replenishment. Like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ham and cheese. Ritz crackers. Twizzlers. Licorice. ( cant get much more energy than that) Trail mix. Dried fruit assortments. (We should have set up a quick stop grocery shop along the way and scored some extra cash for the after race party.) There was barely enough room in the van for the runners. And their cramped aching legs to stretch out. NEXT time? We're taking a bus. Or maybe a container truck.

Samoa Perimeter Relay - Final Report

We ran thru beautiful scenery. Heres Pualele running thru Lalomanu beach, the flattest section of the route.

One die hard individual - Dave Edgar the Ironman, ran the whole thing by himself. Heres Kristen, getting some tips.

At 3am Sinalei Resort, before we start.

Lama runs beside us in the dark - scaring away dogs!

We get warmed up. (and think about ways we can turn back while we still can...) Our rental booking fell thru at the last minute so we had to use a long suffering taxi van. The driver was supremely patient and helpful.
The Morning After.
Its 3am Sunday morning. Im stiff, sore and wishing my fairy godmother would appear with a pizza. Or a huge steak and lobster. Instead Im munching on Bella's gluten free cereal. ( what a letdown) Well, its over. At 3am Saturday morning, our team of six women took off from Sinalei Resort. At 4:24pm in the afternoon - 13 hrs and 24min later - we crossed the finish line beside the Govt Building in town. While Im in no shape to write an official impressive blog, I can say this:

1. The Lord hears and answers prayers. And Hes not too busy to care about six (vaguely crazy) women while they attempt something as mundane as try to run around the island. . Great friends put our names down on the temple roll. We asked the Relief Society to pray for us. And you just know at least 25 diff children with mothers out there, were praying ...please dont let our mum die on the road/fall down in a ditch/get bit by a dog/embarass us by collapsing right in front of the TV3 cameraman. Not to mention there were probably several husbands praying their wives wouldnt get killed and abandon them with some of the aforementioned 25 children.

*We had prayed for good running weather. By good I mean - NOT sweltering sauna sun and heat. And NOT tropical storm and wind either. And the conditions we were blessed with could have been sent straight from a runners textbook on 'perfect weather to run in.' The day was overcast and cool. Breezy to the point of almost being cold. Time and again as I stumbled along trying not to cry cos it was 'just too hard and i was just too tired to go any further' - the wind would blow, giving me the extra lift i needed and a reminder about how Heavenly Father had blessed us all with wonderful running weather and so of course you can keep going because Hes watching out for you. Thank you Lord for the beautiful weather.

*Several of our team were terrified of being attacked by dogs. Especially as we ran in pitch darkness through a coastal village. There had been a lot of angst and soulsearching about what each of us would do if we got attacked. WE took a golf stick to run with. And stayed close to the support car. And we prayed. Fervently. Especially fervently when the dogs started barking all along the road at 4am, sending messages to each other up and down the coast...alert alert, silly women attempting to run through our territory...get ready here comes breakfast...and probably lunch and dinner too. But prayers were answered again. Dogs barked. Dogs ran at us. Dogs thought about us. But not a single dog went into a mad frenzy and attacked us. It helped we had an amazing support team ready and able to jump out of the car and do a mafia faceoff with roving canines. Thank you Lord for protecting us from dogs.

*Probably the best way I can express how wonderfully Heavenly Father took care of us yesterday, is to list all the things that could have gone wrong - but didnt. Nobody got injured. Not even when it was dark and the road was a moving mass of loose gravel and potholes. Not even on the coastal road when traffic was screaming past ( hasnt anybody told these bus drivers that a narrow rural road at Fagaloa? is NOT a super highway?) Nobody collapsed or had to quit. Kristen had pneumonia and we thought we would have to airlift her out. But she powered on and even mustered enough energy to show us some cheerleading moves from her high school days. Pualele didnt sleep the night before. At all. She had two papers due at varsity. And shes giving a talk today in Sacrament. She was decidedly dismal when we picked her up in the van at 1am to drive out to the starting line. But she powered on. Manu had to breastfeed her baby several times during the relay - taking away some valuable energy there. But she powered on. EVerybody finished the relay safe and well. All the support crew finished the relay safe and well. Thank you Lord for keeing us safe.

2. No athlete can compete without a support crew. Not even 'fake' athletes like the Dream Team. As i type this I want to cry ( again) as i think about all the people who helped us to make it to the end. Thank you Darren for sponsoring our team and planting the seed of the idea that a group of ''ordinary' women could even attempt something so extraordinary. Thank you to all the spouses and children who encouraged us to train. And to eat healthy. And took on extra responsibility at home so we could each prepare for this race. Thank you to Johnny for driving a hungry baby all the way so she could be fed - and her mother could still run. Thank you to Tai for finding us a van at the last minute when our rental booking fell through. Thank you-*Samantha and her husband Lama who drove behind our runners from 3am till midmorning. The road was somewhat spooky that early in the morning. We ran through forests that echoed with the sounds of night. But always, their car stayed behind us, highbeaming the way. when dogs barked Lama jumped out to run beside us. When we tired and stopped to walk, Lama jumped out to run beside us. When we got lost and almost lost hope - Lama jumped out to run beside us. When we wanted to quit on a steep hill, Lama ran beside us and encouraged us...just 200 more meters, you can make it, just one foot in front of the other... Basically I think Lama ran at least half the perimeter relay just to keep us motivated! We couldnt have made it without you guys. And Samantha is a superwoman - after being up half the night with us, she then drove back to town in time to play in a netball game. *The Arp family replaced Samantha as the support car. And what overwhelming supporters they were. Each of the Arp children took turns to run beside us - up Le Mafa Pass...and down again. All the way from Piula to town. EVen Sig took a turn to keep us company on the tarseal. They gave us water. And ice sponges. And didnt get offended when we maniacally kept bugging them..."how much further to the changeover? What do you mean u dont know?! Go run ahead and tell me if u see the car u hear me!" Its not easy to drive at super slow speed without going insane. Or 'accidentally' running over the woman staggering in front of you. Thank you Kathy and Co.*Our taxi van driver who transported us the whole 102km. He was patient. And enduring. He drove fast when we needed to get to bathrooms. He drove slow when we followed a shuffling runner. He politely ignored us when we had to use the 'forest au natural' restrooms. He turned a blind eye when we changed sweaty wet clothes. He didnt turn up his nose at a van of perspiring athletes. He was a dream driver.The 2009 Perimeter Relay is over for the Dream Team. We didnt cheat ( like some OTHER teams) We didnt quit. We made it. We 'realized' our dream. And maybe, just maybe we'll do it again next year?