By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Friday, January 26, 2007


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a front-page story Monday that proved to be an antidote to all of the other apocalyptic headlines in that issue which I’d resolutely refused to read: "5 shot at Kent restaurant," "L.A. vows crackdown on its entrenched gangs;" "Kaczynski, victims clash over Unabomber papers;" "Iran flouts sanctions as new missile tests are conducted;" "Sudan government bombing Darfur villages, rebels say;" and "Any way the war ends, country’s forecast bleak." Well, actually I skimmed them, but the story I chose to read in full was "Composer collecting and dishing out lullabies" by P-I reporter Carol Smith, photo by Joshua Trujillo.

The composer is Masguda Shamsutdinova, a formally trained musician and professor of ethnomusicology from eastern Russia, who moved to the U.S. with her family four years ago to allow two sons to attend the University of Washington. Neither Shamsutdinova nor her husband could speak English then, so she ended up working in Harborview Medical Center’s main kitchen as a dishwasher. Now she is spearheading a project to collect international lullabies which will eventually be used by the Sleep Disorders Center in a study to see if they can be used to calm patients. The clanging of the steel kettles and sinks inspired her.

I am awed by stories of starting over. I cannot see myself moving to Russia, learning the language and succeeding in finding work to support myself and my family. Yet immigrants to the U.S. do it all the time, true heroes in my eyes.

I have a neighbor who moved here from Vietnam with her family not many years ago. I met her at one of our community block parties. Shortly after the potluck, she called and asked if she could come to my house two days a week for an hour of English practice. She was searching for a job and thought her language skills were holding her back. Having just completed a stint of Boy Scout leadership, I’d decided to just say no to any new requests for volunteering for awhile, but I admired her determination to improve, so I said yes. It turned out that I benefited far more from our English lessons than she did. I now treasure her friendship and the insights I’ve gained into a culture different than my own. I even plan to base a character on my friend’s struggles with a new language in the next book I write. You can read excerpts from my two previously published novels on my Web site

So, did she find her dream job? Yes, she’s delighted to now be employed by Boeing as an administrative assistant. It took persistence, though. First, she signed on as an accounting assistant at a health services firm. She then applied for and was interviewed for something like a half a dozen positions at Boeing before she was hired. I’m so proud of her. I love success stories.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Red Bush Tea

I had a serendipitous moment this week while searching for herbal teas. My mother has been advised to avoid caffeine as part of the treatment for GERD. I’m not a fan of herbal teas, but some of the ones I’ve tried that tasted the best to me were produced by STASH Tea, so I went to Safeway to find a sampler for my mother, and there I found a box of red tea.

If you’re familiar with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll immediately know why I was so excited. Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of Botswana's leading, and only, female detective agency, drinks buckets of red bush tea. Mma Ramotswe or her secretary, Mma Makutsi, brew bush tea for all occasions: visiting with clients and friends, relaxing under the shade of a baobab tree or to mull over a vexing problem. When I saw the box of Honeybush Blush, I pictured myself reading the next book in the series (I’ve already read the latest, Blue Shoes and Happiness), a cup of red bush tea in hand. It would almost be as though I were sitting next to Mma Ramotswe watching the giraffes stroll by. How perfect!

When I first found the tea, I thought it was produced by STASH. It was next to other STASH teas. What marketing genius, I thought, to capitalize on the popularity of the McCall Smith series. When I got home, I tried to find the tea on STASH’s Web site for more details. I wondered if the tea company would credit No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as the inspiration for their new product. But there was no bush tea to be found. Practically everything else you might want to know about tea—it’s a great site—but nothing about the red bush version.

A closer inspection of the box of tea I’d purchased revealed that the manufacturer is actually Kalahari Limited, Authentically South African. Kalahari offers eight different red tea flavors, but all are based on rooibos (Aspalathus linearus), pronounced "royboss," also known as red tea or red bush. The tea I bought contains honeybush herb, which is also from South Africa and is supposed to be sweeter than red bush—not that I could attest to that as the brewed tea tasted just as yucky to me as all the other herbal teas I’ve ever tried.

Still, the taste didn’t deter me from sipping several cups of red bush tea while reading Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, the second novel in McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie-The Sunday Philosophy Club series. The Dalhousie series is set in misty Edinburgh rather than the desert of the Kalahari, so the effect wasn’t quite right, but oh well. Sometimes you have to suffer for literature.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Stormy Weather

The inch or so of snow that fell Wednesday evening in Seattle is still on the ground. Generally when we get snow, it melts in a few hours; it’s rare for it to last for more than a day except for spots hidden from the sun.

Seattlites react mightily to even a small amount of snow. Schools close, drivers abandon their cars by the side of the freeway and employees call in sick.

"Public schools with more than 350,000 students were closed Thursday in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and suburban and outlying areas in the western part of the state…There were about 75 minor collisions…between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., said State Patrol Trooper Jeffrey L. Merrill…In Kitsap County, a woman died after her car skidded on ice into oncoming traffic and collided with a pickup truck on State Route 307, state troopers said." Houston Chronicle January 11, 2007

This snow shower follows not long after the worst windstorm in more than a decade in Pacific Northwest history. The night of December 14, 2006, winds gusted to a record 69 mph at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, breaking the old mark of 65 mph set in 1993. Winds were clocked at 90 mph near Westport on the coast, according to

The wind toppled giant trees and snapped power lines. More than a million people were still without power by Friday night. Our power came back on after two and a half days, but neighbors went without power for more than a week. Many roofs were crushed. I took the photos within a few blocks of our home on my exploratory walk the day after the storm. Our house is surrounded by locust, walnut and cedar trees, so we were fortunate to have escaped unscathed. In addition to the uprooted big trees lying across a few streets, most all roads and yards were blanketed with conifer branches. We were treated to the irony of stores selling Christmas greenery while utility workers labored to clear the streets of piles of it. The few stores that were open, that is. At one nearby hardware store clerks used flashlights to escort one person at a time around the store to make their cash-only (registers weren’t working) purchases. On my way home from a walk, I picked up fir, cedar and pine and used it to make a holiday wreath, quite an attractive one, if I don’t mind saying so myself.

It’s hard to comprehend how dependent we are on electricity. I don’t know how many times I walked into a dark room and flipped the light switch. My husband was listening to a battery-powered radio when I brightly said we didn’t have to worry about the batteries giving out because they were rechargeable. Duh. A friend told how she encouraged her daughter to get up and do something so she wouldn’t feel so cold and helpless. The daughter agreed and said she’d clean the family room. The mom watched her haul the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and plug it into the socket before realization hit. The laughter probably warmed them some.

We have a fireplace so were able to warm one room. I was very glad I had gathered and saved fallen wood throughout the year from the aforementioned surrounding trees, but I was amazed at how fast it disappeared. Pioneers must have spent an extraordinary amount of time chopping enough wood to keep them warm an entire winter. Candles burn fast, too, and writing Christmas cards or reading by candlelight loses its romantic charm surprisingly quickly.

But this latest time around we didn’t lose power with the snow, at least not in my neighborhood. Since I don’t have to drive anywhere, it looks beautiful to me. I walked in it yesterday and today. All but the busiest streets are solid ice from curb to curb. I was able to stay upright, though, with my trusty old-fashioned hiking boots that weigh a ton but have major-traction soles. I did have a few whoops! moments where my feet slipped and my arms shot out for balance, but I didn’t fall. I saw a truck in a ditch, cars spinning their wheels with black smoke pouring out from under the tires, several sledders including a dad who almost hit a telephone pole and lots of snow creatures, the most memorable of which was a Cyclops with a humongous pink-stained eye and numerous twig arms. It was a fun day. I’m just so glad I don’t have to commute.

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