‘Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness’

Last week I bought an early copy of the newly released “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” by one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Fuller. I am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one because on Monday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. she will be at Powell’s in Portland on her book tour. Since it was a book reading a few years ago that first introduced me to Fuller’s work, it will be a treat to see her again.

In “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” Fuller revisits Africa and gives us a prequel to her first book and memoir, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.” In it she makes her quirky mother Nicola Fuller the star of the narrative, and I’m sure it will be equally insightful and humorous. Fuller has a way with words making the ordinary seem extraordinary and shining light and meaning on universal issues.

I reviewed her book “Scribbling the Cat” last year. Read it here.


Mother and child

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the life of my sweet little baby to contribute much to the blogging world over the last, oh, say, a year. My daughter Annika was born on May 12. As I have prepared for her, my inspiration has been women from around the world – from rural African women who wrap their babies on their backs while doing their household chores to urban professional women who make time for their families while still tending their careers.

One book that really inspired me during my pregnancy is “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn. In it, Kristof and Wu Dunn reminded me through well-crafted stories from throughout their journalism careers that investing in development efforts that aid women and girls makes the most impact for a community.

Through reading “Half the Sky,” I became so much more appreciative of the quality healthcare that I was able to receive from the midwives at Oregon Health and Sciences University. Unlike many women in developing countries, I had access to a good hospital within a 15-minute drive from my house, healthy food and vitamins to ensure that I and the baby were well-nourished, support from educated medical professionals during delivery and pediatricians to help me know how to care for my infant.

I was also 28 when I had my first pregnancy. I had a chance to finish high school and college before becoming a mother. I was old enough and under such quality care that the word “fistula” would never have to be used.

I have a job and a 90-day leave of absence protected by law. My finances are by no means perfect from an American perspective, perhaps, but my husband and I have a savings account and plans for how we will continue to provide for Annika.

It also reminded me that as a woman, I am not alone. There are millions of women worldwide who have a similar experience no matter how varied our backgrounds may be. With that thought in mind I came up with a simple way to help just one mother and child in another country – one to one.

At my baby shower, my best friend made donation jars for each baby name my husband Jory and I had selected from our list of possibilities. Then I asked my friends and family to vote with their money for the name they thought we should name our new child. The money raised went to purchase a World Vision New Mother and Baby Kit, which provides infant education for new mothers as well as key baby items.

I loved the significance of giving during one of life’s rites of passage. Jory and I also gave a gift through World Vision after our wedding. As Annika gets older I plan to encourage her to participate in giving. For example, we could sponsor a child’s education beginning the same year that she starts kindergarten.

So, I encourage anyone who reads this: find someone of a similar experience and celebrate life’s best moments with him or her by giving out of your blessing.

In my queue

I’ve got a number of films on my radar to watch. Some are based on my attempts at learning Spanish, and others are based on my desire to learn about the world. Here’s what’s on my radar and how I plan to watch it.

Black Gold (2006)

Since coffee is a drink I consume (perhaps) too often, I’d love to learn about the inequalities in the coffee industry. This documentary is set in Ethiopia and follows an indigenous fair trade crusader as he works to bring change to policies of the World Trade Organization.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix


Como Agua Para Chocolate – Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

This is reputed to be one of the best Spanish-language films. Set in Mexico, Tita is forbidden to marry Pedro because according to tradition her older sister must marry first. When Pedro marries her sister, she is heartbroken and throws herself into her cooking.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other Spanish-language that I’d recommend: Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Maria Full of Grace (2004), Under the Same Moon (2007)


Beer Wars (2009)

Since I hail from the microbrew capital of the world, why wouldn’t I like to see the David and Goliath story of the beer industry? This documentary portrays how independent breweries compete with huge beer corporations, such as Budweiser and Miller. The story is told by two independent brewers who are crafting more innovative, better tasting beers.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other films that I’d recommend: Fast Food Nation (2006)


The Garden (2008)

In this documentary, a group of low-income families struggle to protect an urban farm from real estate developers in the middle of Los Angeles. Farmers go from relying on food stamps to growing their own food. Yet the farm’s location in the middle of the urban landscape is also a prime spot for the city of Los Angeles to plan warehouses.

Where I plan to watch it: Netflix

Other documentaries that I’d recommend: Food Inc. (2008)


Zanzibar Soccer Queens

Women who play soccer in Zanzibar, an island in East Africa that is predominately Muslim, are challenging the traditional role of women. This documentary follows the team Women Fighters, who are determined to shape new identities for themselves.

Where I plan to watch it: Portland Community College library collection

For more information visit: http://www.zanzibarsoccerqueens.com/synopsis.html

Other documentaries that I’d recommend: Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008)

Improving education in Afghanistan

I love it when my work at the Review intersects with my aspirations in the purest way. Hopefully, someday I’ll be writing about topics such as these all the time. But for now, I’ll showcase these gems on my blog. For this story, I met a professor of education at Lewis and Clark College, who is originally from Afghanistan. Zaher Wahab has lived in the U.S. for the last 41 years. He has gone back to visit family over the years, but since 2002 – when the Taliban was toppled – he has gone back to help in his area of expertise. He’s worked with the Ministry of Higher Education in Afghanistan, and now he teaches graduate-level courses to education faculty from the county’s 16 teacher’s colleges. For the whole story, read here.

Piece by Piece

I may not own an old home (yet), but I found this whole process of deconstruction fascinating. I’m hoping that I can write about it again in bureaucracy time if the city of Lake Oswego chooses to move forward to incorporate sustainability in the development code. It did also bring some questions to mind regarding new LEED certified buildings (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design). How “green” is it to tear down a building and construct a newer building with environmentally efficient  technology? How do we make it easier to preserve a building instead? Read my article here.

SUMMER PRODUCE: Raspberries and blueberries

I am just barely recovered from another weekend of berry picking at Sauvie Island Farms, followed by a day of preservation. First, I made some kick-ass blueberry jam. Low sugar, I should add. Only 1/2 cup of sugar in nine jars, and it still tastes amazing. I also bought some raspberries and made vinegar. After letting the jar sit in a cool, dark place for two weeks, I’ll attempt to make vinaigrette. Then, I dried some raspberries in a borrowed dehydrator. Eventually, I’ll use those to mimic Trader Joe’s Nuts about Raspberries and Chocolate trail mix. They’re not as sweet and sticky as the ones in the trail mix (how do they do that?), but they have a nice full flavor. Next I may chase down a good deal at a farm in Canby and go marrionberry picking. If I do, though, I may just pick enough for a pie and call it a day.

Tomatoes and Avocados

I just have to rave about how incredibly cool it is to see progress being made in just one person’s life because of you. At Christmas time, a few people in my family pitched in to give a loan to Julián Solóranzo Espinosa through World Vision Micro. I wanted to give to a farmer because my dad grew up on a farm in North Dakota. Julián farms tomatoes and avocados in Mexico (I also love tomatoes and avocados).

With $300, he purchased 100 avocado trees and 600 tomato plants. It will take the trees a few years to start producing fruit, but the tomatoes are paying off right now. He has already paid off 56 percent of the loan, and when it is paid off that money will go to fund other loans for more entrepreneurs in developing countries.

I am definitely doing this again this Christmas! Hopefully, more people will join me. Check out his profile at: http://www.worldvisionmicro.org/show/131 and sign up to give your own loan.