Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wicked Awesome Trip

NOTE: Photo was taken in Millenium Park during a "Wicked" publicity event. The green stuff on my face is sunscreen. Anna hates to pose for photos so she's trying to smile "wickedly"

Currently I'm traveling through Chicago with my 15 year old daughter, her two smart chick friends and another favorite traveling companion. We are enjoying the classic tourist sites plus some unique ones courtesy of traveling with teenagers. For example, how many times have you purposely tracked pigeons in a major city or deviated twice around the block so you could see the CUTE guy in the window?! You get my drift.

Yesterday Anna called me heartless because I scurried her away from an obvious street "hassler". She said she's rather be optimistic and naive rather than old and bitter. This was said in her typical I'm kidding you mom but listen to what I'm saying voice. It gave me some pause to think. Have I lost my optimism? Or have the Mamma Bear genes completed ruled out any chance for spontaneity?

Staying in our hostel is a woman who truly is certifable "CRAZY". It's a sad thing because she's obviously intelligent and got a great sense of humor. BEST NEW LINE: She commented that she talked to herself all the time and I asked her if she ever answered and she replied "Why would I want to do that? I know all the answers and that would be redundant!"

Life in a big city certainly makes one thankful for what simple pleasures small town living brings and also makes one a little sad for the many different types of opportunities that are available that cannot not be experienced in a village. It's great to have a chance to show my daughter and friends. I fully believe these three young women will run the country one day so I'm just planting a "few seeds" to help them understand a different lifestyle.

Watching them navigate in a big city makes my heart twinge as they are certainly not the little girls who played on the playground anymore. Yet watching them have the most fun on a big cement structure still made me smile. They are still "little girls"--only in bigger (scarier) bodies!

Here's hoping my little Peanutbutter will be successful in her new life in the Middle East. She'll certainly be able to handle what comes her way--I think. May Allah watch over her.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Power of "Secrets"

Has anyone read the book, The Secret? It's an interesting little read-about the fact that IF YOU THINK IT, IT WILL HAPPEN. The book goes into great depth giving examples of the power of positive thinking, re-arranging Karma, etc. Basically it's a lot of what my mom taught me "have a positive attitude and things will work out"

I was so depressed about what was going to happen to my littlest girl, Zowie. I even had the congregation of the Congregational Church ( a great gracious group) pray that all would work out for my dog. WELL.. we THINK we have a home for Zowie. I'm not going to jinx it by saying the name (again another piece of wisdom from my mom) but if everyone keeps hoping positive thoughts (yes that's from the book, too) this will work out. When it's a "Signed" deal. I'll let you know.

Nothing else much exciting except packing, giving away items, making arrangements to have play dates with people (why should that just be for kids?) and summer stuff. We've actually had 3 days of summer like weather-just in time for the Summer Solistice on Saturday.

Keep thinking positive thoughts for lil' Zowie. And, read the book. It seems to work.

PS This isn't really a picture of Zowie, I stole this one off Yahoo images. But it looks like her so..pretend!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More than just a gathering for Holidays

I've started to read a wonderful blog about Kuwait. The blogger provides great pictures and comments (along with fun recipes--I could be cooking yet!) Here is an interesting piece about family life in Kuwait. It sure sounds like this culture gathers for more than birthdays and the occassional dinner. How interesting...

Thanks Intlxpatr for the information--may we meet someday Inshallah!

Kuwait is a small nation, with population of one million, that actually has a large influence on people’s behavior; it makes the whole country like one unified family. In the neighborhoods, it is customary to see houses left open and without any security measures, always ready for visitors, which reflects the strength of the relations between neighbors, and the confidence they enjoy. The most distinctive customs are:

1. Large families; average size is eight members. The young generation is trying to minimize the family size. They live in rather large houses, seven to ten bedrooms, which is considered to be an average size house. The house provides privacy for the boys, when they grow up and have their own families.

2. Large family groups, either under one roof or in clustered dwellings, is noticable throughout Kuwait neighborhoods. That reflect the willingness of families and relatives to cooperate and help each other.

3. Newly married sons tend to stay in their parent’s house and share the cooking and dining, so houses have rather large kitchens and dining rooms.

4. Families and relatives visit each other on Fridays and stay for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. The number of visitors varies from 20 - 50 persons, depending on the size of the families. Men and women visit in separate rooms, since separation of males and females is part of the custom. (The author notes that he is talking about old habits and traditions that were prevailing in the old city.)

5.All houses have what is called “Dewania” which is a guest room. In well designed houses, two “Dewanias” were furnished, one for males and one for females, since separation between males and females is mandatory as far as the customs are concerned. The “Dewania” has its separate entrance from the rest of the house, which is to provide privacy for the inhabitants and prevent sudden interactions with guests. It is considered bad for a female to be seen by a male guest, and vice versa. In poorly designed houses, the “Dewanias” don’t have proper privacy and seclusion. The men have the habit of visiting the neighborhood “Dewanias” at night for socialization and discussion of daily matters. In the past the “Dewanias” were the only news sources for the people. Different “Dewanias” are known by the last name of the owners. Hot tea and Arabian coffee are served on a regular basis and in big events like celebrations, “Eads”, wedding parties, and so forth, big feasts held for families, friends and neighbors.

6. “Chay Aldaha”, or afternoon tea at which it is customary for women to visit each other and gossip. Hot tea and cookies are served for refreshment. “Chay Aldaha” is held in the female “Dewania” to ensure privacy for female guests and to prevent sudden embarrassing interactions with male inhabitants.

7. Women are dressed in conservative clothes when they go out; the face and the two hands are the only parts of the body which are exposed. (The author makes a note that he is talking about old habits and traditions which were prevailing in the city) Privacy for women inside the house is an important factor. They should not be seen from the outside while they are doing their daily housework, and should not be in the way when male guests are visiting in the house.

As you can see, the winds of change have blown through Kuwait creating many, many changes. This book captures a slice of time in Kuwait history, and a wealth of information you don’t even know you know. The ways Kuwaitis lived for generations have changed, just in the last 20 years. I was particularly taken with the author’s mention - several times - that women should not be seen tending to their daily housework - how many Kuwaiti women do you know who are doing housework?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

...One Season Following Another, Laden with Happiness and Tears

The above are sunrise/sunset photos from Kuwait and Lake Lida. I'll let you guess which one is from Lake Lida, PR,MN. The others are from Kuwait (thanks to the unknown blogger who "let" me steal the photos).

I enjoy taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. Many times in my life I have risen early at a travel destination just to photograph the sun coming up. It seems to have a special significance to say "yes this is the sun coming up over Lake Michigan at 600 am in Chicago" (something I've actually said). And sunsets on Lake Lida, well, there really isn't anything better. Sunsets signify for me the end of a good day and Sunrises are the promise of another day to "get it right". One is an ending yet always followed by a beginning.

Endings and Beginnings. Our life, as we knew it, in Pelican Rapids is ending. David has completed cleaning out his classroom and I will soon be able to hand over my job files to a fine new replacement. We will become "Lions" and wear blue and white clothing. We will become more comfortable saying Madahaba (hello) than Uffda. And maybe I will become tolerant of the heat.

Yes. life is about to radically change when we move to Kuwait. At times I can't believe when I hear these words coming out of my mouth "yes I am moving to Kuwait for two years to teach Drama". Like I was getting in the car and driving to McDonald's or something. This is a BIG DEAL ,according to my family who is still trying to get their brain around this fact ,(thanks for your love). Yet this move, so far, seem RIGHT for the Browns. Who knows...as I keep saying to David, " A year from now we're going to be a lot smarter".

As I live in Kuwait, I will see the sunrise about 8 hours earlier than most of you reading this blog, I will think of you and wonder if I will ever be able to explain what is truly happening in my life. Probably not. But keep reading. I will try and give details. And keep praying for us-for strength, for comfort, for humor AND for tolerance of the heat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Daddy's Day

Sunday is Father's day. Pictured above is Mr. Gordon Sanders, a man who has been like a "daddy" to me for the past 30+ years. He's the patriarch of the famously loud and laughing Sanders family from Frazee. He's pictured with some of his family and yes,there are a couple of us Sanderswannabes in the photo!

Gordon is 93 but looks and acts more like 59. He loves his family and won't miss an opportunity to be with them. He laughs along with all the jokes, stays up until the last story is told and is generally always up for a good time. He's been owner/operator of Sanders Gas Station for 76 years. Last week, they (son Rog and grandson in law Curt help out too) made the tough decision to stop selling gas. It was shocking to me to learn that they only made 3 cents (as in 1,2,3) profit on a gallon of gas. Tough times for small business owners in the US.

So I'm moving to a country where gas is, I think, 45 cents per gallon. (It may be as high as $1.00-I'll let you all know in August). Almost 1 in 4 Kuwaiti drives an expensive car. Driving has been reported as erratic at best. I don't think we'll try it for ourselves at least in the beginning.

Also in Kuwait, "The family unit is more important to Kuwaitis than is the individual, the larger community, or the government. Families tend to be large." Maybe they are celebrating their Fathers on Sunday also. Sounds like they do more regular celebrating of fathers in general.

I was a Daddy's girl. I spent a lot of time riding in the gravel truck with him and helping out around the farm. To this day thanks to him I can change oil, grease a truck or discuss crops intelligently. Although I loved my mom immensely, it was always to my Dad that I would want to speak first when I came home to visit or called home. Generally we talked about simple things or about a specific problem (car, work). I called home every Friday and we would talk long and smart Momma Esther listening on the other extension of course. Then mom and I would discuss the domestic things while Dad listened.

My oldest sister has different memories of my father, she tells me that I got the mellow Howard while she got the Hard one. I don't doubt her, times were indeed different 21 years prior to my birth (the age difference between the oldest and youngest in my family)

Road tripping with Gordon this past week as a companion my Long Minnesota Goodbye tour part 1 was a special treat. Our talks were very much like the ones I had with my father in the car. We even stopped for ice cream. There was great conversation along with comfortable silence. Gotta have time to look at the crops, ya know. It was a special gift.

As I watch Anna form a bond with her Daddy, I am only a little jealous because I know what a rich base that will give her in her life.

Here's to all Daddys. I hope you know that you are loved and treasured and adored by your families. And Howard, (and Esther too) I know you'll watch over me as I travel to the Middle East. I also know that your first question to me would be if I were able to call you..."How's the weather?" Some things shouldn't change.

I Sing because I'm Happy

It was a busy weekend for the Wagner family. There was a 70th birthday (HBD Sis Marcie)and "50th" wedding anniversary (Deano and Marcie),the birth of a new babe (Welcome Sydnie!),and wedding (congrats Di and GB). These are very exciting events, well deserving of a loud ALLELUIA! and loud applause of celebration and family praise!

But it isn't these familiar events that I am "singing about". Recently I was able to spend time with my "other" brothers and sisters. Relationships I've created over the past 30 years. These "Adopted Siblings" came to me through experiences in 4-H and Mankato State University.

None of these family members live near me. In order to connect in person, it takes planning, checking schedules and usually effort on my part to drive hours to see them. But these visits were worth the gas--even at $4 per gallon. Every contact time was full of life and joy. Each quality conversation was deep, rich and affirming. I feel so supported in our new adventure--even with Ellen who gave that straight look in the eye and bluntly asked "Now-- WHY KUWAIT?" I left each meeting feeling very loved and impressed with my friends (as always!) Quality People like these just don't drop out of the sky...I feel so blessed to have them in my life.

Over the years they've tried to tell me that it's be of MY energies and ability to keep in touch that we have remained close even tho we don't see each other often. But I know it's because of who they are and that they allowed me to get to know them. In short, I choose to adopt them and they agreed to "sign the papers".

Initially I was scared that my new Kuwait experience wouldn't bring me any friends (thanks Vonda for for proving that fear false!).I know we will make new and fast friends who share our interests and adventuresome spirit. We will probably add people to our lifetime friends list. We will not starve emotionally in our new country.

But especially my Long MN Goodbye Tour visits, I realize that "Siblings" cannot be made in just two years. While I cannot take each of you with me to Kuwait (and because there is no beer there, some of you would not want to go!)-- I will take you in my heart.

SO-here's to Kevin, Jenna and Fam, Jim, Jan and Troy and the entire Sanders family, Bob, Ron and Marcia, Ellen and Steve and Britta, Lianne and Millie, Lewis, Carol and Mike (who weren't there but allowed me to stay in their beautiful home). I know I am always WELCOME in your lives and hearts. You feel like family to me.

And if I could sing, I would serenade you with a favorite Bob tune
"Troubled for You" especially the chorus:
I've troubled for you from time to time
That's why nothing new can break the bind
It's the time you waste for them, makes a friend a friend
Unique in all the world until the end

Always remember
You are loved

Friday, June 6, 2008

"..And Mary Carol poured"

In a small town, there's always a column in the local newspaper called Local News which chronicles the highlights of the citizens social happenings. So and so had a baby, so and so visited Mr and Mrs Smith, etc. When we moved to Pelican Rapids, I read this part of the paper, written by our then newspaper publisher's wife, Mary Carol, trying desperately to learn people's names and who knew who. My Mom Esther wrote this column for our hometown paper so I knew it was an important part of the social fiber of a community.

Moving to Pelican Rapids and trying to get to know people was very hard for me. Granted, it was at a very challenging time in my life having just lost my dad, my job, becoming a stay home mom and knowing that my mother would soon be dying of cancer. Yes I desperately needed social contacts! Eventually by volunteering, finding a couple part-time jobs, getting known in the community and God's grace (I think), we were able to say we had friends here. My long distance telephone bills decreased significantly.

One of the jokes my "new" friends and I had was that every time we did something socially we were going to call the local paper and tell them of our events so it would get in Mary Carol's column. We'd always end the joke by saying "And Mary Carol poured". It seemed to us that our social gathering was deserving of the highest form of respect to make it in the column and also a tongue in cheek way of acknowledging that life in a small town isn't always that exciting and quirky at best.

Eventually we grew to have deep friendships in this community--people that I will truly miss. Fortunately we have our lake cabin here and so we will return every summer-probably for the rest of our lives.

Last night in my dreams, everyone I've ever met or known in Pelican Rapids ran through my head. It was a nice dream, kinda sad, but reassuring too. When I woke up in my hazy state, I uttered the phrase..."And Mary Carol poured". I'm going to take this as a blessing and a sign that we are receiving good wishes from our friends and aquaintances here--although most are sure we're crazy!

Oh-by the way--for those who don't know, Mary Carol is also an accomplished, award-winning artist. The picture at the top of this post is one of her pieces that I own and highly value. I will miss not seeing this piece of art every day. So now I've shared it with you AND I can look at it when I read this blog. I think Mary Carol would be pleased about the fact that I''ve mentioned her former column and featured her artwork-she's a hec of a gal! It would probably even earn a mention in her column.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Walking the Walk

"At first there is no road-It is when one person Leads that others can see the way"

The above quote is what I would like to have on my professional headstone as I leave my current job as the Cultural Collaborative Coordinator for 9 schools in the West Central Mn area. My job for the past three years has been to create opportunities and activities in which Pelican Rapids schools can share their diversity with area schools. It's been an interesting, terrifying, humbling, fabulous growth opportunity for me, one that I can truly say was THE hardest job I've ever loved!

What I learned could easily fill a book (hhmm maybe in my spare time I'll work on that one!) I've enjoyed working with the other schools, teachers and students but mostly I've received great pleasure and pride in working with the diverse students from Pelican Rapids schools. These students have amazed me with their humility, pride, strength, perserverance and sense of humor.

Thanks to all who were involved in the collaborative effort and please keep me posted on your adventures!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

How much is that doggie in the window (She's Free!!)

This is a picture of the lovely Miss Zowie, the lab/border collie that we are looking for some loving person (people?family?) to shelter for the next two years. In a perfect world, she would return to us in the summers, but I know that's asking a lot. Basically I just want to find a good place for her.

Both of my dogs (the lovely Miss Angel is not pictured) have been teaching me the importance of "living in the moment". How does one explain to dogs that their lives as they know it will be turned upside down in 6 weeks? How does one say goodbye to dogs? I am enjoying every moment I have with them and just be happy I have them with me--for now. Yesterday morning they decided to chase a goose family (picture #2) and Mamma Goose had other ideas! What a treat to watch this-and what a sad moment when I realized that I won't have this opportunity for much longer.

We've decided to get plants in Kuwait and name them after the dogs. We've heard there are lots (and lots and lots) of feral cats in Kuwait, but as felines aren't really our favorites, we're going for plants that can take care of themselves when we're off traveling or working long hours at the school.

Someone very wise (thanks Greg H) once told me that Dog is "God" spelled backwards. I believe him-and in the power of both (dogs and God!) And I'm praying to Her (smile) for an answer to my dogdilemna. Wish us luck!!

Thanks for the 14 years of training

This is a picture of the 07-08 PRHS teaching and support staff. A great group of people, friends and colleagues who work very hard at making it all work in our school system. Unfortunately due to budget cuts, there are 10 people who will not be returning this next fall. If you are reading this, and you live in Pelican Rapids, PLEASE vote "YES" when the referendum vote comes up this fall. The future of this community will depend on it.
Hats off to all and thanks for your support!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kuwait 101 (a primer for all)


A rather lengthy, but thorough, explanation of our new destination
Source: internet, google "Life in Kuwait"


POPULATION: 1.6 million (40 percent of whom are Kuwaiti citizens)

LANGUAGE: Arabic (official); English

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim, 70 percent; Shi'ah Muslim, 30 percent)


People have lived in present-day Kuwait for thousands of years. Modern Kuwait was founded in 1722 by the Utub tribe. The name Kuwait is a form of the Arabic word for "fortress built near water."

A small but wealthy state, Kuwait has suffered continual conflicts with its larger neighbors, Iraq and Iran. On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein led an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, occupying the country until February 26, 1991. Other countries, including the United States, responded militarily to the invasion, sparking the Persian Gulf War. The war ended with Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.


Kuwait is located in the desert on the northwestern coast of the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf. It is bordered to the north and west by Iraq, to the south and southwest by Saudi Arabia, and to the east by the gulf. Directly across the gulf is Iran. It is just slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.

The climate in Kuwait is hot and humid, with summer temperatures reaching as high as 120°F (49°C) or more. Frequent sandstorms occur from May to July, and August and September are extremely humid. Winters are cooler, with temperatures ranging from 50° to 60°F (10° to 16°C).

Kuwait's total population is about 1.6 million people, of whom only 656,000 are Kuwaiti citizens. The rest are foreign workers, mostly in the oil industry. Foreign workers are not allowed citizenship, even if they work in Kuwait all their adult lives.


Arabic is the official language of Kuwait. Kuwaiti students are taught English as a second language.


Kuwaiti folk beliefs and rituals are strongly linked to Islam. Kuwaitis turn to Islam for daily guidance, as well as for explanations for many aspects of their current lives and past history.

When the Islamic revolution swept through the Middle East in the seventh century AD, virtually all Kuwaitis converted to Islam. Today, about 70 percent of Kuwaiti citizens are Sunni Muslim. Thirty percent are Shi'ah Muslim.


The main holidays in Kuwait are Muslim religious holidays. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day festival at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is a three-day feast of sacrifice at the end of the month of pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). During this feast families who can afford it slaughter a lamb and share the meat with poorer Muslims.


Births are the occasion for celebration, particularly if the child is a boy. Kuwaiti boys are circumcised on the seventh day after their birth. This is usually accompanied by a banquet. Sheep are slaughtered, and relatives and friends are invited. After giving birth, a mother is expected to stay in bed for forty days to recuperate and regain her strength.

Weddings are perhaps the most elaborately celebrated occasions, with great feasts and dancing. In the past, girls could be married at the age of fourteen. Today, the typical age for marriage is twenty to twenty-five. Kuwaiti society is built on the importance of the family. Marriages are often arranged between families with long-established ties.

Respect toward the dead is very important. Burial takes place on the same day as the death. The body is washed and wrapped in a white shroud. It is then taken to a nearby mosque, where special prayers (Salat al-Janaza) are recited. After the burial, relatives, friends, and acquaintances gather at the home of the grieving family to pay their respects. They also read aloud parts of the Koran (the sacred text of Islam). Mourning lasts for three days


Men and women do not mix socially, except in family groups. Shi'ah and Sunni Muslims also have little to do with each other.

When talking, Arabs touch each other much more often, and stand much closer together, than Westerners do. People of the same sex will often hold hands while talking or walking.

In earlier days, members of the opposite sex, even married couples, never touched in public; this is changing today. Arabs talk a great deal. They talk loudly, repeat themselves often, and interrupt each other constantly. Conversations are highly emotional and full of gestures.


Kuwaitis are among the richest people in the world. About one-fourth of all Kuwaitis own a car, usually an expensive one. Housing for ethnic Kuwaitis is partially or completely paid for by the government. Many families have maids.

Health care and education—through the university level—are free to all Kuwaiti citizens. Foreign workers are entitled to some of the benefits but are restricted from receiving to others. The government sponsors social welfare programs for disabled persons, the elderly, students' families, widows, unmarried women over eighteen, orphans, the poor, and prisoners' families. Telephone services are free. Television broadcasting began in 1961, with satellite communications established in 1969.


The family unit is more important to Kuwaitis than is the individual, the larger community, or the government. Families tend to be large. The government encourages large families in its effort to increase the percentage of ethnic Kuwaitis (they make up less than half the people in the country). The government pays more than $7,000 to couples who marry.


In Kuwait's urban centers, Western-style clothing is becoming popular, particularly with young people. However, many Kuwaitis still wear traditional Arab clothing. This includes the dishdasha (anklelength robe) with a ghutra (head scarf). It is usually white, worn over a skull cap, and held in place with an aqal (wool rope) for men. Women are veiled according to Islamic law. Both men and women love perfume and wear it most of the time.

12 • FOOD

Kuwaiti cuisine offers a variety of dishes that reflect its Bedu (also called Bedouin) tradition (the Bedu are the traditional Arab nomadic desert herders), as well as its long history of contacts with other cultures such as those of India, Iraq, and Iran. In addition to the simple Bedu meals of dates and yogurt, Kuwaitis favor meat, fish, and rice. Spices are an essential part of the Kuwaiti diet. Among the most commonly used spices are coriander, cardamom, saffron, and turmeric.

Coffee and tea are the most popular beverages and are often mixed with spices. Coffee is mixed with cardamom, and tea with saffron or mint. Food and drink are always taken with the right hand.

As a wealthy country, Kuwait is able to import foods from all over the world. Their desert climate supports almost no agriculture, making importation absolutely necessary. As Muslims, Kuwaitis cannot eat pork or drink alcohol.

Education is required for all Kuwaiti children six to fourteen years of age. Schools teach in Arabic. English is taught as a second language to all students ten years of age and older. Boys and girls attend separate schools. Girls receive training in homemaking and child care, as well as vocational training for jobs considered "acceptable" for women. These include secretary, receptionist, teacher, and so forth. Women are not encouraged to take engineering or mechanical courses, but they may become medical doctors. About one-third of all Kuwaiti doctors are women. Every child is trained to become computer-literate in primary and early secondary school.

Education is free through the university level. The government also pays for students to study abroad. All expenses, including books, tuition, transportation, uniforms, and meals, are paid by the government. The government also pays families of students an allowance to help cover any other education-related expenses.


Kuwaitis, as well as tourists to Kuwait, spend a great deal of time relaxing on the beaches along the gulf coast. Water sports (except for swimming, because of the jellyfish) are a popular form of recreation.

One of the biggest attractions in Kuwait is Entertainment City, modeled after Disneyland in the United States. It houses both recreational and educational facilities and exhibits. There are several movie theaters in Kuwait cities, which show Arab, Indian, Pakistani, and English-language films.