Wrapping Up the Week

It’s Saturday so grab a hot drink, sit in your most favorite spot, and spend time reading and relaxing!

On the woman behind Roe v. Wade: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Roe. I found this an interesting look behind the curtain. Every law suit has a person with a story behind it. Norma, the woman who is ‘Jane Roe’, has an interesting story and a bit of it is told in this article.

On Egypt: The second anniversary of Egypt’s Uprising was yesterday. There was a massive demonstration in Tahrir Square with police and anti-Morsi protesters but otherwise, a country that occupied everyone’s thoughts and all the media spots two years ago remained almost off the radar. That seemed sad to me. In the midst of this I read a blog post from January 7th (Coptic Christmas and Epiphany) written by a friend of ours. It will give you a perspective you won’t hear in other places. Take a look at A Remarkable Sign of Hope During Christmas in Egypt by Ramez Atallah.

On Grace: The Lesson of Grace in Teaching is an essay written by a Professor of Mathematics, Frances Su. The essay is the text of a talk he gave. If you’ve followed this week’s posts, you’ll know that I’ve needed Grace. My favorite quote from the article:

The Lesson of GRACE:

  • Your accomplishments are NOT what make you a worthy human being
  • You learn this lesson when someone shows you GRACE: good things you  didn’t earn or deserve, but you’re getting them anyway.

first they killed my fatherOn What I’m Reading: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is a memoir from a Cambodian woman that covers 5 years of her life. For fifteen plus years I’ve worked with the Cambodian population in Massachusetts, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I remember a few years ago sitting with one of my Cambodian colleagues over lunch, asking her about the Khmer Rouge and her journey from Cambodia to Lynn, Massachusetts. Her story had my throat catching and I wanted to weep. This memoir is long overdue for me and while I’m partially dreading it, it’s important that I read it. And yes, Crime and Punishment is still on my bedside table……

What about you? What are you reading and how is it affecting you? Join the conversation through the comment section! 

For the Love of Libraries



It was my sister-in-law who taught me to love libraries. I can see her to this day, curled on the cushions in the children’s section of the Cairo American College Library. She had a toddler on her lap and a pre-schooler beside her and she was reading Miss Rumphius. I was glued to the scene. I wanted to be her. I wanted to sit curled up on those cushions with my kids reading library books forever. I don’t know why it took me so long to love libraries, but once I learned I never looked back.

Not surprisingly Miss Rumphius became one of my favorite children’s books. Years later, one of my close friends became the librarian of that section of the library. She found her niche among Miss Rumphius, Stargirl and many more excellent books for younger audiences.

Periodically I would receive notes from one of my kids “going to the library after school” – it wasn’t a place of punishment, it was a place and space of comfort.

In moving from Cairo this year, my daughter Annie had ‘Get a library card’ at the top of her to-do list. It was crossed off quickly.

So when Room for Debate in the New York Times asked the question “Do we still need libraries?” Scissors went through my heart.


Who would even ask that stupid question?

Of course we need libraries. Libraries are necessary to a functional community. Libraries are reading places, meeting places, resting places, learning places, writing places, necessary spaces!

If you want to question the importance of libraries just talk to people who have lived for long periods of time in countries without a public library system. They’ll tell you what it’s like to long for that space, those shelves of books, that quiet. They’ll tell you how they begin their own forms of libraries through borrowing the books of friends, through developing small loaning libraries in a tiny room in a church, they’ll tell you how they bought the Kindle, NOT because they like electronic media, but because they love books and had a limited luggage allowance that had to include baby paraphernalia and other essentials, leaving some of the essential books behind.

I was told once that the biggest consumers of the New York Public Library system are immigrants. I believe it. For when you’ve lived without, you don’t take for granted a system like libraries.

So why is it even a question?

Because libraries, though free to us, are not free. They take upkeep, good staff, an incoming supply of books. They may be public, but they are not free. And judging from the various perspectives in the Room for Debate article, libraries have had to reconsider their function. They have had to address the need and importance of computer and internet access, speak into the digital world of e-books. In many ways they have had to be reinvented.

Luis Herrera, city librarian of San Francisco says this: “Libraries are more relevant than ever. They are a place for personal growth and reinvention, a place for help in navigating the information age, a gathering place for civic and cultural engagement and a trusted place for preserving culture. While the technology for accessing library materials has changed and will continue to change, our mission – to inform, to share and to gather – will not.”

It is Matthew Battle, author of Library: An Unquiet History, who worded it best in Room for Debate:

“In their long history, libraries have been models for the world and models of the world; they’ve offered stimulation and contemplation, opportunities for togetherness as well as a kind of civic solitude. They’ve acted as gathering points for lively minds and as sites of seclusion and solace. For making knowledge and sharing change, we still need such places — and some of those, surely, we will continue to call ‘the library.'”

So what do you think? What is your experience in and with libraries? And do we still need them? Discuss!

Finding My Summer Book

Every summer one book emerges as “the book” of the summer. Last year it was The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and the year before it was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. These books cut through the ordinary and take me to a world where I sit, grow, laugh, cry and emerge wishing they would last longer.

It’s not that these are the only books I read during the summer, rather they mix in with several, but while others may fly past my eyes and through my head with a laugh, blink and smile, these captivate my mind and capture my heart.

And this summer, without reading a page, I think I may have already found “the book”.  Called Novel Destinations, this book looks like a reader and traveler’s delight. It promises to take me through the homes, places and spaces of authors like Mark Twain and Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and the Bronte sisters. It sounds like the perfect marriage for those who love both travel and literature.

The web site gives this invitation: Embark on the literary grand tour of a lifetime with Novel Destinations as your guide to the famed haunts, homes, and watering holes where beloved authors, from Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters to John Steinbeck and Mark Twain, sought solace and found inspiration. Sure to spark the imaginations of armchair bibliophiles and seasoned travelers alike are the hundreds of literary-themed activities featured in the pages of Novel Destinations,

I’ve ordered mine so stay tuned for a review. I look forward to immersing myself in Novel Destinations and dreaming of my next trip while basking in a space where it is always ten minutes before two in the afternoon.

So….during a season where we can traditionally kick off our shoes and sit awhile, what’s on your reading list? Do you have “a summer book” or do you fly through books, one after the other without needing to settle on a favorite? Would love to hear through the comments!

For more information on this book, take a look at the blog http://noveldestinations.wordpress.com/

A note about So.Many.Stories – if you have submitted an article to So.Many.Stories – please forgive my delay. I’ve received some great submissions and will be in touch with people as to when they will post. Thank you for your patience!

“Who ‘Kindled’ Your Parents??”

“My parents got a Kindle for Christmas”, I said to my husband. It was, I thought, an innocent statement.

“WHAT??” Who ‘kindled’ your parents?” He demanded indignantly. “Let it be known that I will never, ever have a Kindle.”

The Kindle is not a popular concept in our house. Books pile coffee tables, night stands, and book shelves. The feel of a book, the turning of pages, the cover pages with their enticement to look inside – all of it, all that represents a physical book, is loved. We are all avid readers, but my husband is the most avid of all.

My parents love books as well. As much as us. But they have progressively moved into smaller homes where too many books, instead of comforting, can suffocate. So they have slowly and I might add, painfully, had to get rid of books. They have parted with them a bit like they would a beloved pet, hoping they will find a good owner, sometimes even handpicking the owner. This is what inspired the idea to give them a Kindle. A place where they can still read and enjoy those beloved books, without the space and difficulty in moving them.

But the indignation the Kindle raised in our house last night was strong. Family members had Kindled my parents and they were now on the dark side of technology.

Worse yet, living with a bunch of haters, how can I admit that I really want one?! What about you? Kindle lover? Kindle hater? Neutral (if there is a neutral, which I doubt!)

It’s a Blog Party!

It’s a blog party and you’re invited!  I’m celebrating the birth of this blog and over 50,000 views in less than a year. I’m celebrating 312 posts, 2,289 comments, 65 categories, 674 tags, and 533 followers! Most of all I’m celebrating writing and communicating with people through the medium of a blog, and I’m celebrating you, the reader, for being willing to read, give feedback, email encouragement and be a part of this process.

In honor of the celebration (besides the mandatory Proseco that I am committed to) I am giving away three books. But to get these books I ask for something in return….

I am inviting you to do one of two things:

  1. Comment on this post giving the title of your favorite post, perhaps a reason why it’s a favorite and suggestions for future posts…..or
  2. Invite someone to read Communicating Across Boundaries who you think would enjoy the blog.  Make sure they comment and let me know that you recommended the blog. If you choose this way to participate, here are some of my favorite posts that you may want to recommend – A Sun Dial and a Swiss Watch – The Story of a Relationship; Learning to Speak Coffee; Meet me at Terminal E and Hookah Hypocrisy.

I will put the names of those who take part into a hat and randomly select three. Those three people will have their choice of one of the books I love and have talked about on this blog.

Here are the books you can choose from:

You have until Tuesday, December 20th to participate. I’ll send out a couple reminders as a way to tell you how much I want you to participate!

Please join in the fun. No one wants to party alone so if no one participates I will cry myself to sleep on my wee pillow!

(Notice that Digging to America and The Day the Chicken Cackled are missing from the photograph. They are on loan to friends!)

A Moment of Truth from “Digging to America”

Digging to America” by Anne Tyler is one of my favorite books. It tells the story of 2 little girls from Korea, both adopted by people in the United States. They arrived in Baltimore, Maryland on the same plane, an evening flight from San Francisco. I can picture the scene in my mind having been at many airports as they are slowly shutting down, only one or two vendors still open along with sleepy janitors slowly moving their mops across floors that carry the world back and forth during the day.  The “Caution Wet Floor” signs are evidence of their effort. During those times, airports, usually the best places for people-watching become a tad lonely and people often sit with only their baggage, their thoughts, and an evening summary of the news in subtitles on overhead screens.

The baby girls are adopted by two very different families, and as they grow they give proof that culture is not genetic. The first family is a comfortable, friendly, homey, liberal couple whose hearts were as big as their appetites. They arrived at the airport to greet their new daughter with a number of loud and excited relatives, described like a “gigantic baby shower”.  The second family is an Iranian American family, striking with their beautiful olive skin and aquiline features, an air of aristocracy surrounding them like perfume.  They were quieter, just three of them, a beautiful young couple and an elegant grandmother, Maryam-jon. The two babies looked like they were custom-made for the couples, one being chubbier and actively awake, the other petite and quiet.

In the book, Ann Tyler gets at the heart of cultural difference as she explores the growing, and sometimes hesitant, connection between the families. Throughout the book, the author weaves two perspectives – one of a family who is completely at home in the U.S having never known life anywhere else, the other of a family that feels “other” and is confronted with their sense of difference and being “outsiders”, even as they are continually welcomed by the born and bred “American” family. Ann Tyler’s skill is clear as she takes us inside the head of the Iranian grandmother, and gives us an intimate look at the struggle to belong, yet hold onto the things we cherish the most.

The book will strike a chord with anyone who has felt other, whether through life experience, or living cross-culturally. Maryam has her moment of truth, where she realizes she loves this other family. For all their differences, their loudness, their “in your face” concern, she belongs.

I think a moment of truth comes for many third culture kids, where we suddenly realize that it’s ok for our lives to be upset and overtaken by what we considered foreign and alien, suddenly realizing that we belong. It’s ok to evolve, and learn to love a country and place, understanding that we are not betraying our past, but rather, living up to how we were raised. And that is as adaptable and flexible, ever willing to try something different.

Jin-Ho was quiet a moment, rhythmically kicking the passenger seat in a way that would have been irritating if anyone had been sitting there. Then she said ‘Remember when me and Susan were digging a hole to China?….So the kids in China, are they digging to America?

Bloggers Note: For those who have followed the story of the American hikers jailed in Iran, breaking news is that they have finally been freed. Take a look @ CNN’s Live Blog for details.

Identity and the Girl From Foreign

Cover of "The Girl from Foreign: A Search...

I finished reading The Girl From Foreign by Sadia Shepard over my vacation last week. To capture this book in a post will be difficult. At heart it is a book about identity, not just identity of body but identity of soul – spiritual identity.

The author grew up in Chestnut Hill, a village to the west of Boston center and known primarily as home to Boston College. Her mom is a Pakistani, a Muslim and her dad is American from an Episcopalian background.  Sadia’s grandmother, Nana, was originally from India and headed to Pakistan with her husband during the time of partition when Muslims living in India left for the new Islamic state that was Pakistan. Although married to a Muslim her grandmother was Jewish, descended from a small group of Jews who were shipwrecked off the coast of India in the 1800’s and struggled to keep a faith alive with barely a Torah left to remind and sustain them. I write about this background because therein is the story.

Sadia has a Fulbright scholarship to go study the Bene Israel Jewish community in India from which her grandmother came. In her study of this community she is really searching for her role within the three faiths. Can she embrace all of them? Must she choose? Who is she as an American who grew up with three faiths and the inevitable cultural trappings that accompany a faith? Added to this is her struggle with cultural adaptation. She knows America well as her childhood home. She has visited Pakistan several times but, by her own admission, was kept within the safety of her Pakistani family. In India she is alone, struggling to find the community that is the focus of her research as well as her identity as a foreigner.

Woven between her childhood memories in Chestnut hill with frequent trips to Pakistan, to a history of her grandmother that she has discovered through family stories, letters and research in India, and then on to her current quest in India the story alternates between being about her grandmother and being about her. The reader takes a journey into her world, and struggles with her, as she tries to find out who she is, who she can be.

The ultimate question – Could she embrace all three faiths? This critical question emerges in conversation with one of her new friends – A Jewish man from the Bene Israel community named Sharon. The conversation as written in the book goes like this:

You think she has to choose, Sharon?” Sharona asks...

“I think she absolutely has to choose….

Sadia, may I speak frankly, as your friend?’…”I think, Sadia, that if you are not going to go into depth, then you can be quite comfortable with all three religions in your life. There are certainly a great number of things that Judaism and Christianity have in common, and a great number of things that you will find similar in Islam and Judaism. But if you look at all three in depth, I think you will see that there are also a great number of contradictions. So that, if you believe fully in one, you cannot believe in the others.

I won’t tell you the outcome. That is neither fair to the author or to you! But as you read this and think about identity, spiritual and cultural identity, have you chosen? Do you think you have to choose? What’s your story and where has your faith journey taken you? Sadia’s journey took her to India. Mine has taken me from a small missionary community where big questions seemed easy to a world where big questions are not as black and white, but where my faith is the lens through which I view all of life. Feel free to add to the discussion and share a bit of your journey and by all means – read the book!

Autographed at Eight Bells

8 Bells, Rockport, MA

On Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Massachusetts is a shop called 8 Bells. The shop mixes a vintage charm with a beach feel and has everything from uniquely designed vintage door-knob bouquets to pictures in weathered frames. Old window panes stenciled with lacy white templates are beside vases and signs showing off the talent of an inspired artist. Despite the small area, 8 Bells is a shop you can stay in for hours just for inspiration.

On the front desk in a container are copies of  a book called Night Swimming” holding their own inspiration. Inspiration for making life happen when you believe you don’t have much to lose. The author of the book, Robin Schwartz, is also the owner of the shop and is as unconventional as her created character, Charlotte.

The first time we visited the shop, Robin looked at us as we left and said “You’re not going to buy anything?”  She was incredulous and her incredulity was guilt-inducing.  The next time we didn’t leave until I had picked up a copy of “Night Swimming”. Robin autographed the book for me that very minute. The autograph reads:

Dear Marilyn, Thank you for coming back. I think you will enjoy Blossoms blooming. And as she swims, may you get lost in laps of laughter and reflection. I hope you come into 8 Bells again and again and I hope Night Swimming rings your bell. xoxo Robin Schwartz

On this rainy weekend, as I read the  book in two sittings while curled up on a couch,  I did get lost in laughter and reflection. It is a delightful account of a woman living a boring, quiet, predictable life in a small town in New Hampshire. The protagonist Charlotte Clapp, who is eating her way into oblivion, gets bad news from her doctor. Actually terrible news. Her blood test results show that at 36 years old she has cancer and only a year to live.

Her response to this news is to promptly go into the small town bank where she has worked for 15 years and quit her job. Following this she robs the bank and cleverly disappears from town with two million dollars, reinventing herself along the way in her last year of life.  What the reader knows that Charlotte doesn’t is that the physician got the blood test results mixed up with another woman by the same name from another town in New Hampshire. She’s not dying. But even as the FBI becomes involved in searching for her, she is busily oblivious on the opposite side of the country, spending the two million dollars and living out her final year of life so she has no regrets. The reader leaves behind any predisposed views on justice and punishment and prays that the FBI will come up empty-handed as they go alongside Charlotte rooting for her.

So why does the book resonate with me? For two reasons. One is that it makes me wonder what I would do if I was told this was my last year of life. It wasn’t a morbid thought so much as a healthy self-reflection. The other is recognizing that we all get to points where we need new beginnings. Charlotte, although her means were unconventional, actually went for this. Deciding that she had nothing to lose, she bought a luxury apartment in Hollywood and began discovering who she really was.

In Charlotte’s character is something that will resonate inside many women. That deep desire to develop our true potential and learn how to love in the process.  So if you go into 8 Bells, make sure you tell Robin that you read about her book here!~