Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Book Review: Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat

This past year, there was a student in my 20th Century Studies class who fell horribly behind and failed the second quarter of the course. Mom was upset naturally and wanted to fix the problem---one week before school ended (approximately 3 months after said problem initially occurred). It's a long, ugly story that does not have a happy ending but, instead, a compromise. You read a book, write a paper, and we'll see what happens. Since we were studying immigration during most of the period in question, and later the Arab-Israeli Conflict, I asked Laura, my friend and MRH librarian, to recommend some books about those two experiences. Tasting the Sky was the book that I chose.

Much of what we know about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the US comes from the point of view of the more Western Israelis. But what about the Palestinians? Especially the average, powerless Palestinian? Without assigning or accepting blame, Barakat, who is Palestinian, begins her powerful memoir in Surda, in the West Bank, when, as a teenager, she is detained at a check point by Israeli soldiers. Extremely descriptive and vivid, Tasting the Sky is an important read for several very strong reasons. First, Barakat's writing. I gotta love an author that loves the prepositional phrase as much as I do. Secondly, Tasting the Sky does indeed remind us of the importance of point of view and experience in shaping an individual's reality. And, lastly, Barakat's memories, especially her early childhood ones, sadly reminds us that while war may sometimes seem justifiable, it is always tragic.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Turtle, Turtle, Turtle

If you've driven on Highway 40 in STL City and passed under Tamm Avenue you have probably seen Turtle Park. The park is a kid magnet during the day. And, that's not surprising since it is a cool park. But, my preferred adult visit would include the following two ingredients: a no mosquito early evening and a cooler full of beer. Find a turtle, sit, drink, and watch the sun set as the cars pass by.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Yesterday, Bill called my attention to the new frog in our pond. Our tadpoles had metamorphosed! I wasn't even sure that they were still in the pond, especially after the fish died (long story). I also noticed for the first time that the lily pads in the pond were in bloom too. Grover ruined what I'm sure would have been the most awesome photo ever by scaring away the frog. But, I did get a photo of the new flower. Also, our grapes are in their third year and are finally producing fruit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Miss Saigon

Every couple of years Miss Saigon runs at The Muny. I'd never been very interested in seeing it because I'm not a huge fan of this kind of musical (i.e. the kind that go from song to song with no actual spoken dialogue like opera--as opposed to say Grease which goes from song to dialogue to song). And, I knew absolutely nothing about Miss Saigon except that it probably had something to do with Vietnam. But, last night, we had free tickets to see it at the Muny and I reluctantly agreed to go.

It turned out to be a beautiful night! The weather was awesome--a cloudy 77 degrees! That almost never happens at The Muny. And the show. Where do I start? Acting = great. Singing = great. Set Design = great. Yet, I was kinda bored. I found myself voluntarily closing my eyes. But, then something happened....I got hooked! The story was awesome--heavy, cruel, wrenching. I started crying last night and I still haven't stopped. It's just so powerful in so many different ways. I want all my 20th Century Studies history students to see this. And you should too. Thanks for the tickets Mom Henske!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Little Mexico on Cherokee Street

If you haven't been to the "Little Mexico" section of Cherokee Street, you're missing some great fun and food. Although it felt like 100 degrees, Bill and I walked the neighborhood the other day. Good smells everywhere! We decided on lunch at one of the taquerias. Bill had a steak burrito and I had a cheese quesadilla with a side of beans and rice-- both were excellent choices. Then we wandered into a Mercado and bought some Mexican goodies-- candies, gum, and a couple of saint candles.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cheese: The Perfect Food

Wisconsin = Cheese. It's just that way. Like Florida = Sunshine. Like Missouri = Anheuser-Busch (oops! my bad) . Like Utah = Mormons. You get the idea. So no trip to Wisconsin is complete until you've done a couple of things--and two involve cheese. One, you gotta drink Wisconsin beer. It just tastes better in the Badger State. Maybe it's the low humidity and cooler summers that make the beer taste extra clean, crisp, and refreshing (that sounds oddly like a Hamm's commercial). Two, you gotta eat fried cheese curds. I prefer my fatty cheese nodules dipped straight into Ranch but not everyone is as willing as I am to risk sudden cardiac arrest. BTW, cheese curds are best enjoyed with a WI brew. Cuts the fat in half I hear. Third, you gotta stop into a cheese store and buy some hometown cheese. You have your mild cheddar, your medium cheddar, your sharp cheddar. It's a cheddar windfall.

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Deborah Rodriguez became a beautician, in part, because of her mother but she never intended to make it a career as her mother had. Instead, she hoped that it would be a temporary stint whose financial fruits would help to pay for college. And, it did--even if only for a short time. But two kids and two bad marriages later, she was a college drop-out and a full-time hairdresser in native Michigan. So, to avoid bad marriage #2, Rodriguez signed on with a humanitarian group headed for Kabul. Once she arrives in Afghanistan, she realizes that her skills as a beautician were more valuable to the locals and, especially, foreigners than her ability to bandage a wound or check blood pressure. Rodriguez also realized that a career in beauty was something reasonably acceptable that would tremendously improve the lives of Afghan women. So, she opens the Kabul Beauty School. Of course, there's much more to the story--suspicion, corruption, happiness, abuse, success, terrorists, love, failure, and good old fashioned American bullying--but you had to read it for yourself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Big Top Chautauqua

On the final night of our trip, we went to see Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet play at the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua. The music was perfect--experimental bluegrass & folk & Mandarin lyrics all in one stop. Amazing. Awesome. Really.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Lagoon

Bill and I and Grover used to canoe a lot more often before our trio became a quartet. But, now that Willa is finally getting old enough to canoe, maybe we'll see more river time. We gave it a try on our last full day on Madeline Island. We rented a canoe to explore the Madeline Island Lagoon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Big Bay State Park

View of the forest from the trail (above)
View of Lake Superior from the trail (below)

If you listen to the locals, they'll tell you that Madeline Island is the only one of the Apostle Islands that the NPS "didn't have enough money to buy." Here, on Madeline, are the summer homes of the Maytags and Bristols and, oddly enough, some dude from St. Louis who bought 600 acres of forested land, cleared it, and built two huge greenhouses from which he grows and sells stock plants. And, while what he did with his property did initially shock the old summer families and locals, the fact that he "does well" seems to have made up for his environmental faux pas.

Bill's drizzle-style sandcastle (above)
Willa's fish egg (below)

So, the NPS controls all the islands but Madeline and maintains the Apostle Island National Lakeshore (which I still hope to explore day). But, the folks of Madeline, or at least the Wisconsin DNR, are concerned too with preserving the natural beauty of their island. Big Bay State Park is one such area that you can find a healthy dose of nature. We spent a couple of half days there, walking the trails and hanging out at the beach.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fishing in Lake Superior

Bill wanted to do some fishing while we were up north so I arranged a 1/2 day charter with Nourse Sport Fishing. Captain Laurie Nourse picked us up early Tuesday and took us to a few hot spots known for Lake Trout. The fish weren't biting much at first so we spent some time in silence, observing the beautiful scenery of Lake Superior. We also spent some time, eventually, getting to know our Captain. Soft spoken and reserved, Capt. Laurie began to share storied with us about his life: his career with the Wisconsin DNR, his fishing business, his family, wintering in Harlingen, TX. Finally, a fish bit! And, despite his aforementioned demeanor, Captain Laurie moved lightning fast toward the pole, grabbed it out of the down rigger, and handed it to Bill. Bill reeled the fish in like a pro, Capt. Laurie scooped it up in the net, and WHACK! Killed that fish dead with a seasoned, precise smack to the head with a wooden mallet. Talk about unexpected. Wow. And, then total silence until Willa said, "Is that blood?" I guess we should have expressed to Capt. Laurie prior to this moment that all we wanted was a photo, not a feast. Needless to say, we had Lake Trout for dinner that night...and the next....and the next.....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Madeline Island Ferry

The trip to the Apostle Islands was awesome! We never made it to any of the smaller islands beyond Madeline (bringing along a 3 year old tends to plant you) but we still a great time. I'll update the site as I get more photos ready for posting but here are two from the Madeline Island Ferry.

Book Review: Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

Here's the run down:
Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian who immigrated to the US in the early 1970's. Dumas' collection of biographical essays examine her life in the US, specifically California, from the time she arrives until she marries, starts a family of her own, and writes the book.

Here's what I liked about the book:
  • Her reflections humanized Iranians
  • Her reflections were often amusing, especially those about her father, Kazem
  • Her observations about how Californian geography determined how well, or not, Iranian Americans were received -- I would like to know more about this
  • Her observations about how the treatment of Iranians in the US negatively changed after the Iranian Revolution and American hostage situation -- I would like to know more about this
  • Her discussion throughout, albeit superficial, about Iranian culture
Here's what I didn't like about the book:
  • Dumas completely ignored the opportunities she had to go deeper (e.g. with Iranian culture and history, the treatment of her family who spoke little to no English, her mother) -- but I guess that wouldn't be funny either
  • I never found her writing to be "laugh out loud" funny as some of the positive reviewers at Amazon claimed it to be. Instead, I found it smile worthy but lacking the ability to pull off "laugh out loud" funny
Final thoughts:
Farsi was a good, not great, read. I do plan to read her new book, Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, at Home and Abroad when it comes out in paperback.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Apostle Islands

The Henske Three are heading to the Apostle Islands for a fun-filled family vacation.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Barge O' Fireworks

I'm no fan of fireworks but I am a fan of spontaneity, adventure, and photo opportunities. So, when Bill suggested that we go to Compton Hill Reservoir Park to catch the Fair STL fireworks I agreed. We grabbed the kid and a blanket and were on our way. Even though this idea came to us late - around 9pm - we decided to take our chances that we would be able to find a spot to sit. While the east side of the reservoir, which faces the Arch, was mostly full, the northeast side still had open spaces. It ended up being a great spot since you could see firework displays from both Webster Groves, which were the earlier of the two, and STL.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Fave Restaurant

On Wednesday, my friend Laura and I met for dinner at Sameem's to celebrate her birthday. Sameem's also happens to be my current fave Grand Avenue restaurant. The main man, who is the presumed owner, is a super friendly guy who is quick to greet and seat. It has great ambiance, an attentive wait staff, excellent food, and, on the weekends, a belly dancer who dances with a snake and gigantic sword. Who could ask for more? Then, we walked down the street to The Gelateria for gelato--I had 1/2 cappuccino and 1/2 chocolate. Awesome choice.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Interesting Scenery

One of the best parts about living where I do is that there is usually something going on, and it's usually within walking distance. The best part of getting out is that you get to take in a lot of interesting scenery. Yeah and we have a lot of it too: the green variety (parks), the old variety (history and architecture), and the business variety (the restaurants, bars, and shops on South Grand and Morgan Ford, and not to mention those in the neighborhoods of TGE, TGS, and Shaw). But, we have some interesting scenery of the homo sapien variety too. Most notably there's the cross-dressing "Can you spare a gal some change" man (a.k.a. "Don't be afraid of me because I'm black" cross-dressing man) and the two men and a story late-night duo doorbell ringers (money for gas, money for the phone, money because I'm stranded, money for my broken car, money for....well, you get the idea). Ah, gotta love em'.

I always notice other things too. Like these Bill McClellan Motherfucker stencils. I guess they are/were a band. If you know anything about them (aside from winning RFT's "Best Band Name"), I'd love to hear about it.

I also saw this little cartoon stapled on a few random utility poles in the area. It's a photocopy of the cartoon which has then been cut out and glued to a paper plate. Again, would love to know what it's about. So, if ya know, please enlighten me.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Where Did You Go to High School?

It's been said, all too much I might add, that the act of asking a person where they went to high school is a behavior uniquely St. Louisian. And, maybe it is. Although I really doubt it. It reminds me of the time when I used to think that the "you know what they say....if you don't like the weather in STL, just wait 5 minutes cause' it will change" was a STL statement. Then I moved to Texas and heard on their local news "you know what they say....if you don't like the weather in Austin........." I felt so gullible at that moment.

But, I digress.....So, the high school question has definitely come up a lot in my post secondary lifetime, but only in the context of a conversation something like this: "Me: A lot of kids in my high school smoked cigarettes. It wasn't a big deal. Other person in conversation: My school was like that too. Where did you go to high school?" That scenario is fairly ubiquitous. You ask because you're curious or maybe you're trying to find a commonality. But, I think, that the STL version of the question is usually posed as a way to learn about a person's class and/or socioeconomic status. Either way, it never meant much to me for a couple of reasons = #1 I don't put off a "talk-to-me" vibe in new social situations, #2 I'm not usually in new social situations, and #3 it seems to be irrelevant once you've hit a certain age.

But, having a kid that's entering pre-k in the fall means that school talk has entered the Henske vernacular. What's been so surprising during our researching and evaluating and visiting in the last year is how important it is to get your kid into the right school, right away. Well, at least that's how you're made to feel.....whether it's truly important is obviously debatable. But, seriously, parents of kids entering elementary school are already thinking about secondary schools! I thought that only happened on TV. Maybe on the Coasts or in big cities like Chicago, but never the Mid-West and never STL. So imagine my surprise to not only find it in STL but to also find myself getting sucked into all of that drama and competition. For example, I was cool when Willa was wait-listed for school choice #1. Lots of competition, very few spots. Wait-listed was actually expected. But, I was emotionally and intellectually devastated when she was also wait-listed for school choice #2. That was the safety school! What now? It was like, "Well, I guess the kid will just work in a glue factory." And, that mindset continued until we found out in early May that we made it off the wait list and were enrolled in school choice #2. Naturally, I'm happy but I've also had time to go back to what-does-it-matter-anyway thinking. Of course, I say that with the confidence of knowing that at least we got into school choice #2. But, does it really matter? I suppose that the answer to that question is somewhere in that great big gray area--the same place where you find most of the answers to life's little quandaries.

Willa enjoying the Dragon at St. Margaret's of Scotland School