Monday, August 25, 2008

ZamFam Road Trip: Part 3

After getting to Baltimore around 3:00 a.m., we went that Sunday afternoon to an Orioles game at Camden Yards, or as the locals say, "Dah Yahds." I'm not sure if it's always as hot and humid as it was the week we were there, but all week was in the nineties and it was close to 100 degrees at the ballpark. We had a great time anyway, even though the Orioles lost to the Detroit Tigers. Most pleasant was how easy it was to get to the park and how clean and gorgeous it was. Other highlights were the air conditioned gift shop and the free hotdogs after last call in the seventh inning!

Here's Bean keeping cool at Dah Yahds.

Here's Bear trying to keep cool.

Again here's Bug having a rockin' time. He loved every outing, as you can tell!

Bear kept asking, "Why are they called the Oreos?"

Here's our godson passed out on his daddy's shoulder. A good time was had by all!

Don't Drink The Kool-Aid

At the risk of sounding like a wet-blanket, a curmudgeon, or you can insert your own insult here, I am interrupting the report on our ZamFam Road Trip to opine on the Olympics, specifically China hosting them.

I look forward to the Olympics every two years, mark the opening and closing ceremonies on my calendar, and lose tons of hours of sleep in between. (I am so looking forward to a Winter Olympics in our hemisphere if only for it being closer to our time zone!) But it was with mixed feelings that I thought about China hosting the games this year. Actually to be totally honest, my feelings weren't/aren't that mixed. Actually, I feel pretty strongly about this great "coming-out party" for China, and I have to say, "DON'T DRINK THE KOOL-AID!"

To be sure, the opening and closing ceremonies this year were phenomenal, incredible, jaw-dropping spectacles of which I enjoyed every minute. Fantastic, bravo, well-done! The venues are architectural wonders, marvelous to behold. The Bird's Nest is spectacular, and the Water Cube defies description and invites cliche.

When you have over a billion people at your disposal (literally--as in they tap your shoulder and you goose-step, er skedaddle, as fast as your slippers can take you) and a government machine with over $40 billion dollars to throw in Beijing's direction, this is what you get. I feel bad for London having to follow in Beijing's footsteps and yet, I will revel in whatever a free and democratized society has to offer the world because it is much more than an uber-controlled display of power, ahem, Olympic stage show.

While the Games went off without a hitch and NBC gushed about all things Chinese and Barack Obama said he could understand why businesses would see this Olympics and the sanitized Beijing and want to move there, don't be fooled. Pick your poison. Whether you are liberal or conservative, you can find a bone to pick with China in the human rights category: China has no freedom of speech, the press, religion or movement; China admits to executing about 10,000 people per year (the figure is almost certainly higher and is the 7th highest per capita in the world after the likes of Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone); the one-child policy causes gender imbalance, forced abortions and sterilizations and untold heartache--think of the parents who lost children in the recent earthquake--they were all one-child families; the annexation of Tibet; the saber-rattling toward Taiwan, a free and democratic Asian nation which cannot compete in the Olympics as "Taiwan" but rather as "Chinese Taipei;" the organ harvesting and "extrajudicial" execution (read MURDER) of religious prisoners that has recently been confirmed by both Sky Television and Christian Science Monitor. And that's me just getting warmed up, but I'll stop for now.

Sadly as I watched the closing ceremonies last night with the spectacular five-story human tower, I couldn't help but think about the biblical Tower of Babel and man's arrogance in the face of God. This was China, a godless society, shaking its fist in God's face and saying, "See what we can do without You. We are powerful. We are sovereign. We are mighty." A fearsome sight to behold, indeed. But what can you expect from a country that venerates a man responsible for the deaths of 40 million countrymen, who was willing for up to half of China to die for the cause of Cultural Revolution and technological advance? Of course I speak of beloved Chairman Mao, the man whose visage graces every street corner in China. Holding the Olympics in Beijing is akin to holding them in Germany if Germany were still the Third Reich and Hitler a beloved grandfather figure.

Yes, I know that the Olympics were held in Munich in 1936, with Hitler as Fuhrer, but please go back to your (un-revisionist) history books. As they say, "Hitler made the trains run on time." This man, inventor of the Volkswagen ("car for the people"), lifted up a depressed and repressed German people after the punitive effects of the Treaty of Versailles virtually guaranteed a future conflict with an awakened Germany. I am not defending Hitler by any means! We have 20/20 hindsight; prior to the 1938 Kristallnacht attack on Jewish businesses, the world was woefully blind to the true nature of Hitler (although he spelled it out rather clearly in Mein Kampf!). Time Magazine was so dense, they declared Hitler "Man of the Year" in 1939. Just a short nine months later, he would invade Poland and start World War Two. Bravo, Time!

All this to say, can you imagine if Hitler had won (the horror!), we're now 60 or so years later and holding the Olympics in Germany with pictures of good ol' Adolph smiling benevolently from every corner? The venues would be spectacular to be sure. Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich (he was Hitler's architect) shows the grand plans that Hitler envisioned in a revived Roman Empire. Gorgeous buildings, gridded streets, broad avenues, parks, gardens, monuments, zoos, beautiful homogeneous people everywhere. . . .

The people's Republic of China was established in 1949. Mao died in 1976 -- thirty two years ago. Needless to say, as much as I like Bob Costas, I wanted to gag every time I saw him sitting in front of the background that had Mao smiling down over his shoulder. And kudos to President Bush. Hey, I'm disappointed in him too. (Some of you hate him, I know.) At least he had the, um, guts, to speak out about Chinese human rights. And China told him to mind his own business. Well, we should be minding our business, by not sending it China's way. We are arming our enemy. Yes, enemy is a strong word, but I am old enough to remember when Communists were considered a threat, not cozy bedfellows, and people who loved freedom would not dream of sugar-coating the truth to swallow a lie. To borrow a description from Jesus, China is a "white-washed tomb" clean on the outside with a dirty secret inside.

Look, I enjoyed the spectacle of the ceremonies, marvelled at the architecture of the venues and revelled in the competition of the Games. There were just too many "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" moments for me. Please don't accuse me of being xenophobic. I'm just saying, let's not be fooled by the eye candy we were meant to see. There was a special protest area set up by the Chinese government for people wanting to speak out at the Olympic Games (far away from venues or international camera crews). Seventy seven groups filed applications, none were granted. That says it all.

So, now back to regularly scheduled programming until I go off on something else. I actually have a political piece I have been developing for several months. When it hits my blog, it will probably hack off so many people, my readership will be cut in half. So here's to the two people who read me. I'll really miss one of you in the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Road Trip: Part 2

As you can tell by the smiles (Bean and cousin), we did get tickets for the Maid of the Mist boat tour. The crowds were crazy which was a little nerve-wracking with small kids. People were shoving, jostling for position, even little old ladies were elbowing past. And they say Americans are rude . . . The heat was brutal, but just as we arrived at the gangway and donned our nifty rain slickers, it began to rain. We didn't care! We were going to get soaked anyway! It was a welcome relief from the heat. (The only drawback was the gross smelly shoes, ahem El Guapo, when we got back to the car and had to ride nine hours with the damp kid, moist clothes, soaked shoe smell.)

Apparently, the ZamFam guys are too macho to wear glorified garbage bags, but we all had a blast! And we got soaked! It felt awesome to get so close to the Falls and to just be on the water in a boat. For someone who prefers sailboats to power boats and a few people to a large crowd, I was surprised at how much this moved me. I guess it just goes to show what a water dog I am and also that in the face of awe-inspiring creation, one cannot help but have your own moment even if you are in a crowd.

After our brief interlude in the Great White North, we headed for Rainbow Bridge and the USA. The border is in the middle of the bridge and US border patrol is at the opposite side. This is all well and good except that we had to wait an hour on the bridge to get through. I am very afraid of heights and rather nervous crossing bridges. Matters were not helped with El Guapo saying every few minutes, "Whoa, did you feel THAT? Can you feel the bridge moving? That felt worse than the one before." Other helpful observations included "I wonder what the weight limit on this bridge is? I mean, there are two lanes of traffic all at a standstill plus the other two lanes in the opposite direction. I'm just saying . . . ." I just made like Magellan and kept my nose buried in the maps.

The view from the bridge was incredible. And see that tall, green tower jutting out from the left side of the picture? That's where totally insane people on the American side go out to get a better view of the Falls. I'd have to be sedated and in a straight jacket before you got me out on that thing!

This picture is probably illegal. MY SIL TOOK IT! So please, Homeland Security, please do not haul me away.

Back in the good 'ol US of A. Except that you enter the armpit of America -- Buffalo, New York. No offense to Buffalo, but good grief! I remember visiting Niagara Falls as a kid and being so ashamed at the New York side because the roads were all pot-holed, the buildings run down, the city half-dead. After seeing the manicured grounds, show-stopping flowers, gorgeous stonework and beautiful parks in Canada, it was appalling to see the American side. I thought that after twenty plus years, maybe something would have changed. I'm disappointed to report that it is still as bad as I remembered. This is tragic because people come from all over the world to see Niagara Falls and their first impression (hopefully not their only one!) of America will be of a gritty city that has lost its pride. Buffalo, you may be named after a mangy beast, but do you have to look like one?

I hate to end on a sour note. We had an awesome time at Niagara, and El Guapo and I would love to go back, maybe in the off-season. The Falls as ice is too amazing to contemplate. There is also a light show every night, as well as the occasional fireworks show. That would be something to see.

Who Are They KIDding?

If these girls are sixteen (one is supposedly twenty!), I weigh what it says on my driver’s license.

Thanks, Shawn & Nastia! We stayed up many late nights rooting for you and it was well worth the lost sleep! Thanks for showing the world the meaning of the word “class.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The ZamFam Takes a Road Trip: Part 1

When I lived on Grand Cayman, we used to get what was called "rock fever." Living on an island only 7 miles wide and 32 miles long, you couldn't get very far. A few toodles around in the black blazer and you were just seeing the same flat ironshore and scrub brush you'd been looking at for the past several months. Most people living above the subsistence level, which was everyone except ex-pat teachers and Jamaicans, would take advantage of $49 fares to unwind in the chilly northern climes of Miami, but we poorer folk were left to languish on some secluded Caribbean beach, perhaps in a hammock slung between two palm trees, faithful dog and good book in tow and dream of a road trip. As with so many things in life, the dream is often better than the reality. In fact, I once read a book called The Art of Travel whose entire thesis was that the anticipation of travel was better than the reality of it. I'm not sure I agree completely, but the author may have had a point.

We did take the longed-for road trip and was the dream better than the reality? Did the ZamFam survive Routes 94, 80, 72 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike? What about the dreaded border crossing? Well read on, armchair sojourner, and you can venture to some of the most touristy places in North America with a most un-touristy family. So strap in and imagine yourself hurtling down the highway in a ubiquitous mini van with two girls, ages 6 and 3 and a little guy 1 and 1/2 strapped in the back. Girls are bickering, whining, coloring themselves with marker. Said little guy is squawking, throwing toys, kicking the back of your seat. This can all be tuned out with practice. You get plenty of practice during a fifteen hour ride. At one point imagine peace and quiet. Girls watching charming Madeline movie, Bug peacefully sleeping. Chica is reading a tear jerker to El Guapo, both adults choked up a little. . . Flash to the next moment, Bean hollering, "Bear just wrote on the DVD screen with pencil!" Mother flying through the air to the very back of van in a single bound, shrieking, "Why did you do that?!" Bug waking up screaming. Welcome. You are now in your very own mobile pod of hell. Welcome to the ROAD TRIP.

We loaded up the ZamFamVan (ha ha, I'll stop -- maybe or maybe not. Dear K just returned from Zambia and said they joked ad nausea about things being "zamtastic," etc. I just might commandeer that and drive my whole universe insane. waaahhhhhaaaaaaa!) and headed out with El Guapo's sister's family to visit El Guapo's other sister who lives in Baltimore. We decided to caravan along a northern route and see Niagara Falls on the way. We hit the Canadian border, identification in sweaty palms, around midnight. We drove right up to the guard booth and were greeted by a crisp young Canadian woman. We were toying with the idea of saying we were "Just oot and aboot" when asked the nature of our visit, but with our hearts thumping in our chests, we spoke through gritted teeth that we were just wanting to visit Niagara Falls. Our Canuck was all business as she went through each of her checkpoint questions, and we breathed a sigh of relief when she said everything appeared in order and to enjoy our visit. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, El Guapo said, "The car behind is with us . . ." Before he could finish asking where we could pull over to wait for them, the guard said with a mischievous glint in her eye, "Do you want me to give them a hard time?" Awesome. Who knew Canadians were so much fun? She was obviously not French Canadian . . .

Aaaahhhhh. The next morning we headed to the long-awaited vista. The destination of honeymooners from around the globe. The Wisconsin Dells meets Branson AND Gatlinburg. All for some water falling over some rocks. Some gorgeous bottle-green water rushing past and plummeting 170 feet down into an 180 foot deep pool at a rate of 6 million cubic feet of water per minute! Incredible. As I must have said a thousand times, much like the Grand Canyon, no picture can do it justice. It is so grand and amazing, one must experience it in person.

Spectacular, isn't it? It doesn't look as big in pictures as in real life, but trust me, this is just amazing up close . . .

Ok, Ok, just kidding. This is what it looks like approaching the giant drop of Horseshoe Falls. What is really funny, is that in a slide show (real slides in a projector), my dad played this same (lame) joke back when I was a kid, and I didn't remember it until just now. Insert cliche here about the apple not falling far from the tree, great minds thinking alike or both eating the same retard sandwich!!

I snagged this picture online, but it shows just how beautiful the water is. That is one of the things about the Falls I love best, the color of the water -- almost Caribbean blue, almost. . .

If I would have sent you a postcard, it would have looked like this.

Here are Bean and Bear with a real Canadian Mountie of the non-French Canadian variety. How do I know? Because it was almost 100 degrees that day and this woman was wearing a full-on wool uniform and was not sweating a drop! Amazing, and definitely very un-Frenchlike to be able withstand such hardship with grace and aplomb.

Here's Bug's impression of Niagara Falls. It was so moving, he was driven to tears.

My own little maids of the mist. Here's where I was having a heart attack and a stroke. See that tiny little rail? It's about 170 feet down into Maid of the Mist Pool directly back there (a difference between the US and Canada -- if this were in the US, you would have to look at the Falls through a telescope. They would never let you get that close!) Can't you tell they were having a great time, though, at "April Falls?" (Bear-speak for Niagara Falls/April Fools which somehow got smushed together in her brain!)

Speaking of Maids of the Mist, all afternoon, "We want to do that!" was ringing in our ears. We're on a budget, we're not real touristy, we need to head down to Baltimore . . . . Did the ZamFam 5 make it onto the Maid of the Mist? Were their plans foiled by a lightning storm, a Canuck run amok or a hairy, smelly Frenchman? Stay tuned.

And all that talk about the dreaded border crossing? The guard did joke with us, but we weren't nervous. I mean c'mon, it's CANADA.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Au Contraire

What was that, Mr. Bernard? Could you please speak up? I think you said, "The Americans? We're going to smash them." Did I hear you correctly? Ummmm, I think when you trash talk, you're supposed to actually be able to back it up. So Mr. Lead-Croissant-In-Your-Speedos, what's it like to taste defeat? Oh wait, you're French. That's the feeling you live with everyday. . . .
Thanks for bringing home the gold, guys!! Victory is always sweet, but even sweeter when it's against trash-talking Frogs!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

August 2008 Recap

Summer sunset -- outside my front door.

Happy Seventh Birthday, Bean!

Bean's first day of Second Grade.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bean!

Seven years ago today at 5:00 a.m., I became a mom. I remember it so vividly because it was like a literal switch was thrown inside my soul. I suddenly realized not only how much my own parents loved me, but also began to understand how miraculous it is that God calls us his children and how that just begins to touch the depth of His love. I remember envisioning a mother lion defending her cubs and thinking that I would do anything to protect you.

We gave you a first name that means "peace" because through your birth, we made peace with God. Your middle name means "undeserved gift from God" because you are such a precious gift. Your dad and I are so proud of you, Bean! We love you, even when you look like a silly jack-o-lantern with no teeth!