Friday, February 27, 2009

Baby showers bring more flowers

Last night we celebrated my friend Nicole, and the two little look-alike boys she has growing in her belly. Rebecca and I co-hosted (at her home), and between Rebecca's very classy and simple style and Nicole's request to ixne the ames-gay, it was very low-key and very pretty. And oooh the spread...

Nicole with her moms, who had driven to NC from IN to help Nicole prepare her nursery and join us for the baby shower...

Recipe to follow: An Asiany spinach, pasta, chicken salad. Mmmm...

Nicole and Rebecca and to-die-for cupcakes

Close-up of said cupcakes

Licker of icing-beater of said cupcakes. Meet Joshua, Rebecca's 8-year old son. I showed up early at Rebecca's to help set-up, and was working on a project when Joshua came up to me and said intently, "You've been a good helper. You can lick one of the icing beaters".

My favorite Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake. Click here to bring Heaven into your home.

Me and Nicole.

My camera always finds Kristi's monster dolls

Jill, Rachel, Rebecca and Nicole's mom: just one tiny corner of all who showed up to celebrate with us. Those two boys will have a lot of people to love them when they make their grand appearance!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Yes Woman

Ever since watching "The Yes Man" at the movie theater over the Christmas break, I have been itching to take my camera jogging with me. If you've already seen the movie, you get the idea. He likes this girl, she has a jogging photography group, yada yada yada...

And a few days ago, it was finally warm enough to consider staying outside intentionally for more than thirty seconds. On came the jogging shoes and the sweatshirt, and I was off for the trail near our home. This is how the photos turned out:

Was it really worth all the hype? Yes and No. The "yes" part had everything to do with me being so distracted by figuring out which photo to take next that I nearly forgot that I hate jogging. The "no" part is all about the results of the photos. Interesting, yes, but I still have a headache from my eyes trying to focus on photos that can't be called anything but blurry.

Because, of course, I was running so fast.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Does this blog entry make me look fat?

So, there I was just minding my own business, clicking through an MSN story of the newest International Super Models who are prancing around New York City for fashion week, and I come across this picture of Sigrid Agren, age 17, from Martinique, France.

I mean, really? I'm not even sure what to say about this. I'm sure she's a beautiful girl, but I'm too distracted by her skeleton to notice. The nice thing about it? My "maybe we should lose some weight" voice doesn't even bother kicking in this time. Neither the voice nor I really find this year's look remotely attractive. In fact, I've never felt so thankful to have curves...

Saturday, February 21, 2009


After graduating from high school, a German exchange student and I were talking about our teachers from the previous year and wondering how they were doing. One of our teachers had a son named D. J. and for some reason we got on the topic of what the hidden names behind the "D" and the "J" might be. Immediately, my brain started working out "David John", "Dustin Jackson" and other similar versions of boy names, but in the silence of our thoughtfulness, my friend replied, "But... I don't think his name is Disk Jockey". No, it definitely was not Disk Jockey.

At that interchange, my understanding of how American acronyms are really hit home. My German friend really had not had much experience with acronyms, so she immediately thought of the one other instance she had heard that combination of letters together, instead of filling in the blanks with traditional boys names.

So, what do they do in Germany with long titles or names? They simply take all of the words and string them together, end-to-end without any breaks. This word is considered the longest, at 79 letters: Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamten- gesellschaft. Translated into English, this is the Association of the Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services (the A.S.O.H.O.M.D.S.E.S.?), which was a subdivision of a pre-war Viennese shipping company. It's sort of a mouthful, but I think I love how it's so anti-laziness!

But really, maybe the trend towards acronyms is catching on world-wide. For us in North Carolina, IKEA is on the brain, as a new store just opened up in Charlotte two days ago. Where did the name come from? It is the acronym for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, the name and location of the man who founded the Swedish home furnishings retail store...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hmmm... which one do you like?

Marcos' brother Sammy is starting a business in their home town of Sorocaba, Brazil. It is an English language center, and Sammy has been working hard to create the perfect logo for the company. I told him that when he picked his few favorites, he could send them over to me for the vote. His target audience is adults - primarily adults working in business settings where English skills are a real asset.

This is the moment of truth... please take a minute to look at the logos and vote on your favorite by leaving a comment down below. Muito obrigado from our family!





Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Iraqi Visitor

Even the sound of my teeth crunching through the romaine lettuce in my sandwich seems loud in this quiet room. Ahmed Fadaam has a soft voice, but a very strong presence.

He has come to share his story with us students - the story of an Iraqi man living as a stranger in America, awaiting a reunion with his wife and two young children.

He starts by recounting the history of Iraq: Mesopotamia, "The Great Civilization", and the endless list of "firsts": Wheels, writing, numbers.

In Iraq, Ahmed was employed as a fine arts professor at a university in Baghdad until the war, after which he served as a New York Times and WUNC correspondent, and the voice of American Public Radio's "The Story" series entitled Ahmed's Diary.

He shares with us slides of his art as a sort of introduction to his life. At first, he says, he escaped memories of Iraq in his art. His first pieces done here in America were lively, and youthful. But after a while, his art betrays his feelings: the last of his larger pieces are powerful portrayals of a grieving woman, a grandmother with her orphaned grandchildren and a quickly running form of a woman which he will plaster with newspapers: "Media".

After the coalition enters Baghdad, he is asked by a journalist what he finds most upsetting about the war. He answers that he is most upset about the senseless looting and the destruction of the museums in Baghdad. The journalist scoffs and says, "In the midst of chaos, with the lack of electricity, basic needs and safety, you are worried about silly artifacts?". He responds simply, "I can find what I need. The chaos will subside. But the history that is lost can never be replaced. This is not only my history, this is your history too".

Our history too.

I sit patiently in my chair, hoping that he will talk about the every-day Iraqi's position on the war. Even though I'm embarrassed to ask, he reads my mind. He begins with a comparison of the before to the after, to paint a picture of what life in Iraq was like pre- and post-war. He quickly describes his life from a young age: elementary education, secondary education, college, a masters degree and a Ph.D. completely free of cost. Surgery as a young man, free of cost. A position as an art professor at a university in Baghdad, and the accompanying pension, a plot of land for him to build a home on and two new suits for each season he teaches. A gallon of gasoline for under 1 cent. All paid for by oil, all arranged by Sadaam.

"The expense?", Ahmed continues. "Freedom of speech. Sadaam's dictatorship asked only one thing, and that was that you didn't speak badly of him. If you did? You would be killed, as well as your family, and possibly your neighbors."

He admits to having hated Sadaam, and wanting to see him hanged. The promise of freedom from the coalition was therefore very appealing at first. And the troops went in.

After one year of chaos, the Iraqis said to themselves, "It's only been a year".
After two years of chaos, the Iraqis said to themselves, "Well look! It's only been two years..."
After nearly six years of chaos, Iraq is at war with itself, women have fewer rights than ever before (as religious extremists have taken over the government), and I get the feeling that dictatorship doesn't seem so bad to him after all.

"Now you can say whatever you want", Ahmed shrugs. "You can even take a gun into the street and kill someone if you want to".

My friend sitting in the chair next to mine asks, "But how did they do this?". "The oldest trick in the book" he says intently. "Divide and conquer." Ahmed tells a heavy joke about how Iraqis did not used to consider themselves in terms of Shiite and Sunni, but through the manipulation of the coalition (he is always careful not to use the word "Americans" out of respect) the tribes started to see each other as enemies, and are now at war with each other. Before the war there were only Iraqis. Now, there are Shiites, Sunni, Arabs, Turkmen, and the list goes on. Before, Shiites married Sunnis and nobody cared. Now, there are 12 foot cement walls around the neighborhoods in Baghdad, to keep everyone in their place. A small smile crosses his face as he tells us about the high quality of the farmer's market in the neighborhood one over from his home in Baghdad, which became off limits for him as the tribes were suddenly reminded of their differences and historical beefs with one another. His smile fades as quickly as it came.

Someone asks, "What would need to happen for peace to be restored?". He responds that the politicians would need to be taken out of the picture. Iraq currently has 350 political parties, each vying for its share of the funds allocated to support new political powers. But divided, Iraqis will never have the power to subdue the chaos.

Ahmed shares some concluding thoughts. "Now two bad leaders are gone - Sadaam and Bush - but you are still here and we are still here". The only exposure most Iraqis have had to Americans is through the invasion of Baghdad, and he tells us that Iraqi hatred of the coalition countries is powerful. The students in our group are riveted, and a few ideas are thrown out - ideas of how students like us can build bridges of peace.

Ahmed admits at the end of his presentation that he was nervous on the plane ride over to New York, after escaping Baghdad and a phone call threatening his life. What will it be like to live in America as an Iraqi? He had wondered.

At first, he says, it was difficult to introduce his nationality, but slowly he noticed a pattern. When he would tell Americans that he was from Iraq, he found that many people would pause quietly and respond by saying, "Oh. I'm sorry". He seems surprised by the humanity he has found here.

"It is difficult" he says finally, "to talk about this. It is difficult for me to think about the horrible things that have happened. But I am a stranger in this country, and I must speak politely when I am a guest. I must have a smile on my face even though my heart hurts".

For me, being proud to be an American comes easier on some days than others.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't judge me by the content of my condiments!

When Marcos and I got married, one of the first bumps in our long road to happiness was the issue of condiments. Specifically, I had to break it to Marcos that it hurt my feelings to see the dinner I had prepared smothered with stuff-of-the-eternal-shelf-life. Even if I hadn't added enough salt. Even if the meal really was a perfect match for bar-b-que sauce.

And a year and a half later, my attention has turned back to condiments. It may have something to do with the fact that my latest craving is baby carrots with peppercorn ranch dressing, but in any case, I have found myself staring at the refrigerator door lately wondering what other people have in theirs.

In some parts of America it's "hey baby, what's your sign?", and in Japan it's "hey baby, what's your blood type?", but I am starting to think that more can be told about a person by the contents of their refrigerator door. Here are the raw data for the Prieto family analysis...
  • Polaner Allfruit raspberry jam
  • S&B wasabi
  • Thai Kitchen red curry paste
  • Italian salad dressing
  • peppercorn ranch salad dressing
  • tempero completo (Brazilian seasoned salt)
  • Hershey's chocolate syrup
  • Some Dude's Fry Sauce
  • sushi seasoning
  • sesame oil
  • Gulden's golden brown mustard
  • Trader Joe's organic ketchup
  • balsamic vinegar
  • seasoned rice vinegar
  • Trader Joe's all-natural bar-b-que sauce
  • stir fry sauce
  • Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup
  • soy sauce
  • Parmesan cheese
I bet Freud would have had loads to say about our condiment selection...

Saturday, February 14, 2009


One of the unique things about life as a busy person is that days tend to sneak up on you rather than appear in the distance and approach in a steady, predictable manner. I originally had hatched some rather cool plans for Valentines Day, but oh, none of that happened.

In fact, even my gift-giving was a little challenged. Granted, neither Marcos nor I have ever claimed to be very good at giving gifts, but just to illustrate, this is what my side of things looked like (his gifts were much more impressive): I bought "him" flowers, and he bought himself a game last week, which he then told me was my Valentines gift to him (this sooooo smacks of old people). For a card? I really thought that I had a card left over from last year that I hadn't used, so I fished it out, only to realize that it wasn't quite right. Father's Day. So, I crossed out the word "Father" and wrote "Valentines". It was barely noticeable.

And besides the elderly woman in the check-out line at the thrift store reversing over my bare toes with her electric wheelchair, and Marcos breaking the news to me that he was hatching a clandestine plan to astroturf our beautiful wooden deck, the day was quite lovely.

We woke up to sunny spring weather, so I went outside to take pictures of our flowers and sweep the deck of its winter residues. Please do notice the deck by the way, and its wood, and its natural vibe, and its pretiness, and its wood...

Aren't they pretty...

Then mid-morning we went to church for some serious church basketball. Our girls team won both of our games, and Marcos' team also won their game. Our second game (when we were already winded) was a total ego-stroker: the score at the end of the game was 46 to 16. So... we're not pros or anything but it is really fun to play hard, and wake up aching the next day.

One of the nicest things about living in Chapel Hill is that you can drive ten minutes and be in a place that looks very rural. We stopped at the side of the road on our way up to Hillsborough, the town just North of Chapel Hill where we were doing some errands, just because the scenery was so beautiful.

And the night ended at home with a rental movie and our favorite yummy selections from Trader Joe's. They've just really got the concept of "flavor" all figured out.

And that was, more or less, Valentine's Day. It was maybe not the most memorable day of our lives, but I like to think that our love is more equatable to a steady fire, like a flame, no, more like a blow torch, than a fireworks show once a year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentines Day Gift: Music

Today's Valentines week gift to you is MUSIC. Two weeks ago, Marcos was on a Billy Joel kick, and one week ago it was old school jazzy bluesy numbers. To set the perfect mood for your romantic (or not-so-romantic) Valentine's dinner or cooking party, we chose to go with the jazz. The new playlist we made for you is in the column on the right. Happy listening!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Day Gift: Dreams within Conflict

I'm in a "Practice with Couples" class in my graduate program, and I have been sitting on my hands these past few weeks to keep from coming home and telling you all of the things I am learning. Yes, it's that exciting. My "Family Policy" course? Nyeh. "Brief Treatment"? Nyeh. But "Practice with Couples"... I just can't think of anyone who wouldn't be fascinated by learning about how to do couples and marriage therapy. I get to take notes and pretend that I'm learning how to be the therapist, but secretly, I plan and plot how to use the interventions and exercises in my own marriage.

And so this week because love is in the air, I've decided that I am going to gift you with a few simple exercises to hopefully boost your love life and arm you with a few new ideas to try out when the same old issues come up. I am fully aware that I am preaching to the choir, but I suppose anything that has to do with strengthening relationships is a sermon that just can't be outpreached.

Dreams within Conflict

John Gottman developed a theoretical framework for approaching couples therapy called the "Sound Marital House". All of his exercises and interventions are based on his extensive research with couples, and the one I'll share with you today is called "dreams within conflict". The word "dream" can be a little misleading, but it basically refers to any sort of lifetime goal or vision, or something that has great meaning for the individual.

Gottman distinguishes between "solvable" and "perpetual" problems; the first being regular day to day annoyances and the second being the issues that are emotion laden, gridlocked and that are not easily solvable by a couple. Dreams within Conflict deals with the perpetual problems, or conflicts that create tension and have no obvious "out". The aim of the exercise is for the couple to explore the reasons, or history, behind each person's firm stance on the issue. The aim of the exercise is not to problem solve, or reach a compromise, but simply to understand where each member of the relationship is coming from and learn to respect the other's dreams.

So how do you do it?

Next time a heavy-hitter issue comes up, instead of jumping back into unsuccessful patterns of communication, try a new approach. Ask your love bug to tell you about what it is that makes them so passionate about their position on the issue. Suspend judgment, let them talk, and ask gentle questions to help them explore their "dream" (or if that sounds to airy fairy, use words like "goals"). We all have dreams behind the things we feel passionately about, and yours and your loved-one's may be one of the following, or may be something not listed:
  • Justice
  • Protecting family
  • Building something
  • Adventure
  • Being able to be productive
  • Having a sense of freedom
  • Getting priorities in order
  • Being able to truly relax
  • Knowing family members
  • Having a sense of power
  • Becoming more competent
  • A spiritual journey
  • Being known and loved as an individual
  • Overcoming a challenge
  • Saying good-bye to a chapter in life
Often the bigger picture of our unwillingness to budge has to do with certain childhood or previous experiences that lead us to believe that families, or marriages, or communication, or finances, or cleanliness or punctuality should be a certain way. Gottman observed that couples who understood each other's dreams behind the conflict were able to then approach perpetual problems with more empathy and respect. When it comes to gridlocked issues, it's easy to attribute irrationality to the other's point of view, but when understanding is introduced to the equation and the conflict is reframed as two people's dreams being at a crossroads, it is more likely that couples will find a peaceful resolution.

Now if only I could remember all of this when the topic of video/computer games comes up...

Lessons on Love

Warning: explicit contents.

Tonight at Family Home Evening* Kim was in charge of the lesson, and in honor of St. Valentines day coming up on Saturday, she went with the theme of "love". So yeah, if this is going to be ooky for you, just look away. See that little box with the "x" in it, at the top of the screen? If this gets too painful, just give it a little click...

Anyhow, for those of you still with me, tonight we had Family Home Evening and Marcos and I were filled with love again for all of the people we meet with each week. Last summer we decided with some new friends to combine Family Home Evening forces, and we have been together nearly every Monday night since then. Here are a few things we've learned:

From Drew and Alicia (and Korven) we've learned that the only real essential for a home is a lot of love. We are always impressed by their cheerfulness and hospitality, and their willingness to open their doors to hosting all kinds of activities without thinking of it once as an inconvenience.

From Nick and Nicole we've learned about the beauty of being 100% in the things that matter. From the detail of their financial budget to the way they run with assignments they receive at church, we are constantly awed by their dedication and spunk.

From Kim and Jason (and Kinsey, who is not pictured) we've learned about acceptance. They have a talent for making us feel at ease around them, no matter what we do or say or feel or think. We are inspired by their calmness, and thoughtfulness.

We love you! Happy Valentines Day!

*For those of you who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and are not familiar with our terminology, Family Home Evening (FHE) is a chance for families to get together once a week and spend quality time with each other. Typically, FHE includes a more spiritual component, such as a prayer, maybe a hymn (depending on the musical ability of the family!) and a short lesson on a gospel priciple such as faith, or honesty, or love or anything the family feels they need to discuss. Some families also talk about their plans for the week, or hold a family counsel. Then, it's time for eating a snack together and participating in an activity, which can be anything from playing games to going out to a movie together. Really? The main point is for families to spend time all together, and to share good experiences to strengthen their relationships. The details are just bonus...

Friday, February 6, 2009

The hats I wear

A few days I ago I was chatting with my friend Jamie, who is living in another state and reads this blog, and she asked me what I was up to in life. Oooops! Realization: I write entries for the blog more often than I do a lot of other things, but apparently I don't write much about what I do on a daily basis. Here is how my shoes get their wear'n tear, and here are some of the hats I wear...

I am a...

Wife. Marcos and I have been married one year, nine months, and twenty-five days (yes, of course I had to sit there and count!). I have been taking a class on therapy with couples, and research on marriage demonstrates that marriage satisfaction generally declines for the first three years and then levels out. Our favorite family motto is, "We are not a statistic!", and we're not. Our marriage is almost two years in, and better now than it's ever been.

Full-time graduate student. I will graduate in May from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with my Masters degree in Social Work. My passion? Parenting. What will I do after May? No idea.

Therapist. I work at an agency three days a week in Durham, as a paid intern. I have a small list of client families whom I work with weekly, using an evidence-based model called Parent Child Interaction Therapy. Basically, I visit low-income families in their home, coach parents through building a strong relationship with their kiddos (by teaching them specific positive play skills), and I teach parents how to discipline their kids in a very calm, consistent, safe way.

Ambassador. I am one of 10 Student Ambassadors at the UNC School of Social Work. I work on recruitment and admissions events, and support new students at the school. Any questions about social work or the UNC School of Social Work? Ask away...

Chair. Not the type you sit on. I am the chair of the Self-Care Caucus at the UNC School of Social Work, which means that I generate conversation around self-care for social work students, and think up activities that will keep students learning how to take care of themselves mentally/physically/emotionally/spiritually so that they can prevent burn-out later in their careers. Most popular caucus ever last semester? Self-care caucus, all the way! Why? The "come learn massage" activity... *grin*

Research Assistant. I work for a professor who is a guru in school success. I am currently researching student's perception of "mattering" in schools, and how that affects their comittment to learning. Best case scenario? We may get the paper published!

Volunteer. I volunteer at a free health clinic in Carrboro, Chapel Hill's neighboring hippie town. It is called the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), and is the longest student-run, free clinic in the nation (about forty years and counting). It is an incredible inter-disciplinary experience, as there are always teams of other grad students from the schools of public health, nursing, medicine, etc., and we meet with all of the patients that come through the doors. Okay, secret: most of the med students are really stuck up. It's getting old.

Counselor. At church, I am a counselor in the Primary (children's organization) Presidency. It is busy, and hilarious, and educational, and challenges me, and sometimes scares me, but that's where God thinks I should be... and I love it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I hate racism!

I never considered myself as having grown up in a bubble, but I'm starting to wonder.

At school when I was young I learned about the Civil Rights movement with its key players Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. Although this story of oppression and segregation made me angry, the story always ended on a good note: laws were changed in the 1960's and black African Americans had asserted their right to freedom and had won. Right? Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we're free at last.

So, Hawaii is pretty far from the South. Moving here to North Carolina has taught me the difference between the words de facto and de jure; the first means "in fact" and the second means "in law". These words highlight the vibe in many places in the South (and in the nation, and in the world, for that matter) which is, that although the laws grant equality of opportunity and access to every person regardless of the color of their skin, the fact is that there is still widespread inequality.

And oppression.

And segregation.

The fact is that hearts and history and tradition and family baggage take more time to change than laws...

Last night Marcos and I attended the movie screening of an independent film called Walls That Bleed. It was about the Civil Rights Movement, and a very obscure event that took place in Greensboro, NC. In the lead up to the story the director decided to recap the sit-ins that took place at the Woolworths counter in Greensboro, and the subsequent victory of the black African American community in gaining access to "whites only" services downtown. Just when I was getting excited, the film panned to members of the community retelling the story of what happened in the wake of their victory: The town leaders decided to "redevelop" the streets where the black African American community was thriving economically. All of the hair dressers, theaters, grocery stores, etc. that were owned and operated and patronized by the community were wiped out. The economic gains they had forged from the time of the abolition of slavery were, in one decision, demolished. This was in 1969, only 12 years before I was born.

And the collective "we" wonders why the black African American community sometimes has a hard time bouncing back in this nation?

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I am a big fan of bartering, and I wonder what the world would be like if we all had talents we could swap with one another instead of paying a professional we don't know well to do the work. I mean, imagine what the world would be like without money: no credit problems, no economic crisis?

Okay, so maybe in this global economy there are some very necessary reasons for having money, but yada yada, I'm still determined to revive the practice of bartering in my life.

Bartering event #4: Teeth Cleaning in exchange for Computer Fix

Last week Marcos and I visited our friends for dinner and a night of non-stop bartering excitement. M**** is a dental hygienist, and has a fold-up dental chair at home, along with the basic equipment (thankfully, no gritty toothpaste). While Marcos diagnosed her computer and ordered the missing pieces online, M**** was busy at work inside my mouth, prettying my pearly whites and telling me everything about taking care of teeth. It was educational, and relieving to hear that my daily care for the past four years has been enough to keep up a healthy set of chompers. Someday I'll have dental insurance, but for now I'll barter.

P.S. Let me know if you know any massage therapists with broken computers.