Saturday, September 30, 2006



That's all I can say. Finland is so cool.

For one thing, it is absolutely stunning in the fall. The birch trees are just changing colors - splashes of bright yellow and red against a backdrop of dark green pines. I'm staying in Hyvinkaa, which is not far from Helsinki. Everywhere I look are trees and rolling hills. It doesn't take me long to remember why I loved Finland so much when I lived here. All of a sudden, nine days does not seem like enough to see everything I want to see. Or to enough to do all the shopping I want to do!

We hit the American Embassy party last night. (My dear friend Sirpa works at the British Embassy and was able to snag an invite.) The grounds are situated so that they look right out over the harbor. It was fantastic. Special shout out to Sam, our marine friend who may not remember us once he is sober, but who provided a bright spot in the evening with his lively conversation. :)

There's a new national anthem here in Finland - "Hard Rock Halleluja" from the metal rock group Lordi who, despite all odds, took top honors in the Eurovision music festival last May. This was the first time Finland brought home the honor so Lordi have become heroes here in their homeland. Finns used to say that hell would freeze before Finland wins Eurovision, so it was appropriate that Lordi, a band who dresses in monster costumes to perform, won (amid protests from some that they were devil worshipers.)

I won't get to see them perform, but I will get to go see Roni Tran Binh Trong tonight. He is a Vietnamese musician who has lived in Finland all his life and who finaled in Finland's Idols contest. How cool is that?

And speaking of Idols, you would not believe the latest idol innovation in Finland - Mobile Karaoke (a common man's idol, they call it.) Funny to think of a karaoke venue that originated not in Japan but right here in Finland. Here's how it works - you dial a certain number to join the mobile karaoke. You sing into your phone. People listen to you and vote. I read a report that this mobile idol contest generated even more call activity than the real Finland Idols contest on television. Whoda thought.

Hokay, so that's it for now. I have to go eat some karjalan piirakka and kerma juusto. More later!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Arrrr, as it were...

Ahoy, me hearties. Are ye all knowin what day it be? Aye, by the powers! 'Tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day. To me way o' thinkin, tis no better time to be discussin yon Pirates movies.

I be what ye might be callin a Johnny Depp groupie, so it wounds me heart to admit I were not pleased wi' the second movie. The first? Aye, that were a fine piece o' work. The writing were tight. The acting superb. Wi' many a flutter o' me heart I awaited the second. But, alas. It were a sorry thing. Me dear Johnny were more a squiffy than a buccanneer. The plot were silly an' all o'er the place. Were it not for the great, grand special effects, Davey Jones, and the Swamp Witch, I'd not ha'e liked it at all, nae, not one wit.

Now, afore ye all want te keehaul me sorry hide, I'll tell ye, I still love Cap'n Jack, saavy? An' I do intend wi' the same fluttering o' me heart to watch the third installment, but there ye ha'e it.

What thought ye? Were Dead Man's Chest as good as the original Pirates?

Happy Day, mateys.

Monday, September 18, 2006

ZEN on the Shelf!

And we have a winner!!! Thanks to GC of Georgetown, TX for the photo. Here is Zen next to another S.A.S.S. book, Heart and Salsa (a very fun read, BTW,) in her local Barnes and Noble.

Being in Japan, I am missing the thrill of being able to look for my book on the shelves so I truly appreciate these sightings. Keep it up!

Sumo guy is on the way!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gusty Heroine Types

As a writer, one of my jobs is to create characters that readers will want to stick with for an entire book or series of books. These characters must be interesting. Something about them must be special or unique - larger than life. I like to read about these types of people, too. I look for books with gutsy heroines - you know the kind; they face the world head-on. You could throw every obstacle imaginable at them, but they will keep on keeping on. They're strong. They're determined. They're what we wish we could be.

Sometimes, those kind of characters pop up in real life. They're usually not flashy and loud about it, but you can just tell just by looking at them that they are the ones to watch. They're going to take the long road, to face disappointments and set backs and keep standing tall. They're going to lead the way so the rest of us can follow.

The new women members of the US Ski Jumping Team are a prime example of what I'm talking about. For most of their athletic careers, they've faced inequity and ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, but they haven't let it slow them down. They dreamed of a chance to compete on a world stage, even when there was no guarantee it would ever happen. They've shown - and continue to show - a man's world what a woman can do.

You want gusty heroine types? Let me introduce you to a few:

LINDSEY VAN started jumping when she was seven years old, back when the Winter Sports Park in Park City was first built as part of the bid to bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake. Lindsey was hooked, and told her mom she wanted to pursue the sport and compete in 2002. She never stopped working toward that goal, even when it meant moving to Lake Placid to train when the jumps in Park City were being reconstructed for the Olympics. 2002 came and went, and Lindsey never got to compete in the Olympics. There is no women's ski-jumping event, you see. It's the only Olympic sport (along with Nordic combined) wherein women are not included.* Still, Lindsey kept at it. The number two jumper in the entire world, she set her sights on the 2006 Olympics. Stil no inclusion for women. Now the goal is 2010.

One of the first things I noticed about JESSICA JEROME was her sense of humor. Even in the face of a lot of disappointment as far as the Olympics are concerned, she always seems to have a smile on her face. Jessica got a little taste of the Olympics in 2006 as one of only two girl frontrunners for the ski jumping event. (This basically means she jumped the hill before the (male) competitors to test speed, wind, etc. As the number three women's ski jumper in the world, she should have been able to compete, not just forerun, but I digress...) Jessica is a role model for scholar athletes everywhere - managing to maintain top grades even with a tough training and competition schedule. Sports Illustrated listed her as one of 2005's 'Noteworthy Faces in the Crowd.' Interesting, but I contend that hers is a face that stands out from the crowd.

ALISSA JOHNSON has guts. In 2003, she wiped out on the K90 and ended up unconscious with a concussion, missing half the skin on her face. A week later, she tied with Lindsey Van for 2nd place on the K90 jump. Later than season, she had another accident, this one requiring surgery and physical therapy and taking her out of the circuit for five months. But if you think that's hard, try this; in 2006, Alissa traveled to Italy for the 2006 Olympics... but only as a spectator. Her younger brother Anders, who will freely admit Alissa is the better athlete, got to jump in the Olympics, but Alissa couldn't because she is a girl. No stranger to pain, Alissa took it like a pro, cheering for Anders and fielding interviews from the international media without letting bitterness overwhelm her. She continues to train hard and looks forward to Vancouver, where, IOC willing, she will not have to watch from the sidelines.

ABBY HUGHES is another tough cookie. She may be the youngest member of the US Ski Jumping Team, but she's not one to let age - or gender - slow her down. Get this - in 2004, she competed as the only girl on the boys' team. (And helped bring her team a second place finish, I might add. In the girls' division, she placed first.)

BRENNA ELLIS isn't afraid to compete in a guy's world, either. When she first started jumping, Brenna competed in the Nordic combined event, which combines ski jumping with cross country (Nordic) skiing. She was often the only girl among all the boys. And she kicked butt! Check out her smile. This is how I always saw her - smiling. Gotta love the attitude.

Here's to gutsy heroines. May you all live happily ever after. Go Vancouver 2010!

* The reasons for Olympic exclusion are complicated and varied - from the downright silly ("It... seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view") to the misinformed ("there may not be enough interest internationally in women's ski jumping.") The FIS (International Federation of Skiing) recently voted to give women a world class event in 2009, which they needed to have in order to qualify for consideration by the Olympic committee. Now the decision rests in the hands of the IOC, who, one presumes, will be wise enough to bring the Olympics into the twenty-first century and include women in ALL Olympic sports.


Check it out! For the first time ever, women have been named to the US Ski Jumping Team!

This has been a long time coming, and well deserved. I had the opportunity to meet and visit with these athletes while researching for S.A.S.S. - The Finnish Line and I can tell you, they are a focused, personable and very talented group of women. Watching them jump is like watching poetry in motion, if you will excuse the cliche. I'm so pleased to see them get the nod.

For those of you who may not know the scoop, women's ski jumping as a sport has been fighting an uphill battle for recognition and equality. It is the only Olympic sport to exclude women competitors (a situation which will hopefully be remedied in 2010.) These five women, Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, Abby Hughes, Alissa Johnson and Brenna Ellis, along with their teammates and the good folks at Women's Ski Jumping, USA, have worked long and hard to jump all the hurdles keeping them from Olympic inclusion. It's good to see a recognition of their efforts by the International Federation of Skiing, who recently voted to give women a world-class event, and by US Ski and Snowboard Association with this action.

Congratulations, team! Go Vancouver 2010!!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Just had to give a shout out to those of you who have written to me through my website. It's so cool for me to be able to talk with you - especially those who have mentioned that you like NOW AND ZEN. :) Thanks for that.

Others of you tell me that your bookstore didn't have the book on the shelves even though it was listed as in stock. Sorry! I don't understand the complexities of distribution, but if you keep asking, they'll get the message.

Power to the people! :)


Thursday, September 07, 2006

ZEN WATCH! On your mark, get set...

This is it! Release date for NOW AND ZEN. It should hit bookstore shelves TODAY! (Woot! Woot!)

The race is on... let's see who can email me the first digital photo of NOW AND ZEN on the shelf. The first five to do so will receive a fabulous sumo keychain and a signed copy of ZEN.


(Hint: The books will not be shelved under G for Gerber, but S for SASS...)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Monday, Monday

Sometimes we get the opportunity to see things as they really are. To understand a little bit more about places and the people who live there.

Monday was such a day. I had the priveledge of helping the American School host a group of kids from Kabul, Afghanistan. The only thing I knew about Afghanistan is what I saw on the news - and not much of it good. War, poverty, the Taliban hiding about. Not a very happy place.

So it was with great pleasure that I got to meet the extraordinary kids from the MMCC... and to learn how truly ordinary they are. In explanation, MMCC stands for Mobile Mini Circus for Children, which is an international NGO. In Afghanistan, there are a lot of kids who have been left without homes or families because of war. They seldom smile, let alone laugh. A majority of the towns there don't have schools or even teachers, so the kids we hosted travel around to these areas and try educate other children by acting, singing, doing magic shows and acrobatics - and most importantly, giving them something to smile about. This way, they're able teach the importance of peace, diversity, and women's rights and to educate about health issues such as malaria prevention.

The MMCC kids gave a special performance for the kids at the ASIJ elementary school. In their fancy costumes, they looked different than the other kids. Their beautiful language sounded different than the many other languages we might hear in the ASIJ community. But when they were done performing and they changed into their "regular" clothes, the differences fell away. They played, just like everyone else. The boys played soccer (pheonominally, I might add) and the girls played in the gym, shooting baskets or practicing volleyball serves. Outside, they especially liked the swings and the slides. Just like all the other kids. For all their ethnic and cultural differences, these kids were... kids.

Now, this is nothing new to me. We have about seventeen different nationalities represented at this school at a given time. But it drove home a point. We are all the same. We want the same things. We want to have fun, to be loved, to be happy. That doesn't change according to ethnic group or nationality or culture.

For example, as one of the parent volunteers, I helped serve a vegetarian lunch to the MMCC guests. Guess what foods were the favorites? Potato chips and Pepsi! Also, the girls in particular really attached to the volunteers, touching our faces and telling us we were 'cute' or 'beautiful.' (They had learned a little Japanese in preparation for this trip and used the Japanese word for cute, but tried to explain beautiful.) Believe me, I was sincere when I would touch their faces in return and tell them they were beautiful, too. They liked to hold our hands and hug us and call us 'mom,' which was particularly poignant since many of them have no family of their own. They needed that physical contact. Just like any other kid.

That night, I turned on the TV and watched the latest on CNN about a car bombing in Kabul, and my eyes filled with tears. I can no longer see Kabul as some obscure, far away place populated by nameless, faceless people. It is the home of my new friends - Abida, Roona, Mishina, Samira, and little Ansar. This is what they have waiting for them when they return to their country. It breaks my heart.

To my new friends and to all kids wherever you are, from every nationality, ethnicity, culture or religion, may you find peace and joy and all the love you deserve.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Duel Blogs

All right. Just in case you are wondering... yes. I also have a blog at myspace. And, yes. The blogs are the same... or are they?

For the most part, I will be pasting the same blog entries on this page as well as on the myspace page. The reason for this is that *gasp* not everyone has a myspace account and I didn't want it to be a pain for them to find the blog.

But, I figure... well, since I'm going to have the two anyway... might as well have some fun. I might just have to imbed clues to some future contest in one or the other blog. You might just have to pay attention...

Meanwhile, I'm going to catch this blog up... Here is the extent of what I have posted so far on myspace:

Friday, September 01, 2006
It's Alive!!!
Hey! Wanna know why I've been missing in action the past few days? My website is now live! Check it out!
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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
High School Stereotypes
OK, here's the thing. We're a little behind here in Japan. For example, I'm still waiting for season two of LOST. So it was just recently that we watched High School Musical on Disney Channel. Parts of it I really liked. Other parts... not so much.
It did make me wonder, though; how accurate are the done-to-death high school stereotypes? Are they done-to-death because they are real? Or are they an easy cliche to latch onto in creating characters?
Are all smart kids "geeks" with no social skills and a healthy hatred for anyone who has them? Are all jocks self-absorbed and intellectually-challenged? Are all cheerleaders airheaded and cruel?
I'm going to say no. At least it wasn't that way in my highschool. We did have defined groups - there were the D-Wingers; the burn-outs who would sneak out behind D-wing to smoke, drink or take a hit. The Soshes were the popular kids who had lots of personality, lots of money, or both. We had the Future Farmers, the kids who lived down in the rural section of town, and the MidList, the ones - like me - who weren't distinct enough to be categorized. But the thing is, we all got along. Sure, there were some people who could have benefitted from a personality makeover, but it wasn't because they belonged to a certain group or caste.
At the American School here in Tokyo, there isn't that huge division, either. Maybe it's because the student body comes from all over the world and everyone is in the same boat, so to speak. There isn't a sense of exclusiveness or dislike between any of the groups.
What's it like in your school? Are high-school stereotypes real? Are they justified? What do you think?
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Saturday, August 19, 2006
OK, so we got back to Japan on Friday and the whole summer thing is behind us. That means the countdown has begun!
In less than one month, NOW AND ZEN will hit the shelves.
Unfortunately, I won't be in the States to enjoy the moment, so I will have to count on you! Watch this space for the upcoming Zen Watch! Be the first to post a Zen sighting and win cool prizes.
I'm not even picky. Preorders count and everything!
Stay tuned...

And that's it! Let the games begin!