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I’ve been meaning to post this video for ages. It’s long but worth watching. (I’m sorry to send you somewhere else but I can’t manage to actually post it here.) It’s a sobering news article about the current food crisis in Mauritania. I love it because it shows what much of Nouakchott really looks like and the reality of many people’s lives. Also, I’m pretty sure that I know the person who does the English translation of the Mauritanian man. I think he was one of my students last year.
Also, please notice all the flies! Some things I don’t miss.

We didn’t celebrate Memorial Day, which I guess makes us bad Americans. Which possibly doesn’t surprise you, since we have been known to celebrate July 4th by being the only Americans in a village and not actually doing anything about, not even eating a single solitary potato chip or humming a single patriotic song. (That was the year the kids got to watch a goat going from vocal protest to dinner, every single step of the way. Ilsa, who was 5 at the time, announced, “I’m so glad I’m not a goat!” Which is probably every bit as American, historically speaking, as buying a pre-shaped hamburger patty on a Styrofoam tray at Safeway and cooking it on a gas grill)
We also didn’t take Martin Luther King Day off either, although I did have grand ideas about giving the kids extra homework researching him and writing an essay about him. I relented though, and we just listened to part of his “I Have A Dream” speech, and then did school all day.
We’re not taking the French holidays either. We worked on May 1 (Labour Day) and May 8 (end of WWII day) and we didn’t take the excitingly-named February Vacation (vacances de fevrier) and we didn’t take the two-week Vacances de Printemps either, although we did take the week of Spring Break that the Oregon schools took.
It’s not that I don’t like vacations. I do. I wanted to take some of these days. When the proviseur (principal) of our little school, also known as Dad, also known as the Person to Ask if you have ANY Math Questions, said he really thought we needed to have school on MLK day, I decided to be Very French and went on strike for the day! It didn’t really work though; I still ended up getting up on time and doing school with them. I did wear yoga pants all day though–that has to count for something.
But we didn’t start school till the French were taking their October break–6 weeks late. We’re finishing (except for languages) a couple of weeks early. And we took Thanksgiving off (which is a very American holiday, let me stress), along with several extra days of travel. We have just had to work a lot extra this year to catch up. And since this was a correspondence course, designed to keep the kids in the French system so that they could seamlessly re-enter next fall, we have had external deadlines.
I’ve gotten several comments lately, mostly because I mentioned whipping my children (kidding!) but a couple from people who may have to home school their kids next year for a variety of reasons. I have scared these women, with my tales of incomprehensible Arabic lessons and having to listen to CDs of a Frenchman singing “Oh When the Saints” in a really thick accent, and of how I must now, in the interests of public disclosure, add “Failed Homeschooler“ to my resume. So I wanted to state, for the record, that I don’t think my experience is at all typical.
First of all, you usually don’t have to do 7 or 8 subjects, including teaching a language you do not actually speak yourself. Secondly, you usually don’t have these looming deadlines, threatening you with having wasted an entire year if you don’t meet them.
However, since I have taken up much space griping about CNED, I would like to take a moment to tell you that actually, it’s a pretty great system. The twins have a teacher who reads every word they write and who–this is real dedication–listens to music exams, which usually involved them singing, off key and far too close to the mike, into a tape recorder. When she sent back the corrections of their first exam, she included a paper and photo introducing herself and mentioning hobbies, background, etc. She writes pages of comments, including a section for them and a section for me, their official maitresse. (teacher)
The curriculum itself is well-done, and the books for the twins are well laid out, full colour, relatively entertaining, although they do obviously assume I know the answers to things like some battle where Francois I distinguished himself. (But then, I do have google) The twins have interviewed someone, provided a photograph, and laid out a page of an imaginary children’s magazine; they’ve learned to read poems with lots of expression; they’ve studied human rights issues around the globe, and technically know the countries of the European Union (although I wouldn’t bet on it).
Elliot’s in Junior High (confusingly called college) this year, so he has a different teacher for each subject. His course work is mostly online although he also has good quality text books, including some reproductions of famous works of art that I‘m guessing don‘t show up in a typical American textbook. Really, it’s a great system–especially if you are French yourself, doing things in a timely fashion, and preternaturally organized and calm. It could work!
And we’re nearly done. Only 3 more days of regular school, then we’ll focus on Arabic and Spanish and also on relaxing a bit, after a year of stress, thankful that we’re never ever going to do this again.

Is anyone else out there getting really annoyed at the vanity sizing? For years, I have noticed that every time I come back to the States (usually every other summer), I’m down a size–without losing weight.

At first, I admit, I thought this was swell–not because I was fooled, but because it is fun to grab smaller sizes. Now, though, I’m just plain annoyed. I have a closet full of clothes that don’t really fit because I never know what size I really am. Yes, I do try things on, but I personally am not fond of staring at myself in mirrors, and I tend to try something on, glance to see that it fits okay, and then move on. So now I’ve got a drawer-full of shirts that make me look frumpy–they are supposed to be fitted but they hang a bit. I bought them, in my size, last summer at Old Navy. They are so loose that I can really only wear them to the gym. But I have a t-shirt, in a larger size, bought the summer before, that fits really nicely, and is basically the only t-shirt I can wear out in public.
And really, do they think we are that stupid? If you need a new shirt, are you more likely to buy it because it’s a size 8 instead of a 10? All it means is that, in any given store, you never know what sizes to take into the changing room.
What prompted this? Our 3 days of warm weather (we are back to cold and grey now. Not that I mind–I’m off to sunnier climes soon enough). I realized how badly I need shirts, but who has time to go shopping? Not me. And given the weird shape-shifting nature of sizing these days, I don’t want to risk online guessing shopping. Guess I’ll be making that one t-shirt really work, all the way to California. How many days in a row do you think I can make it last?

Suddenly, after days and weeks of a cold, rainy spring, last week it was 97 degrees, record-breaking heat for May in this part of the world. The change happened so quickly that I was folding socks and long-sleeved shirts in sweltering heat; on Wednesday morning it was cold and cloudy, by Thursday morning we had every window in the house open and I was digging through suitcases for last summer’s clothes.
We seem strange to me this summer. I’m not used to us being so pale. I mentioned this to a friend, who assumed I meant that all Oregonians seemed winter white and pasty in their hastily-donned shorts and sleeveless shirts, but I didn’t. I am just used to my family having a certain base tan, from our year-round trips to the beach. Our hair is darker, our skin is whiter, after months of Oregon rain. How our Mauritanian friends would admire us!
I love watching my fellow Oregonians in extreme weather. This is a temperate place, and people freak out when something is new. I grew up on the Canadian prairies, and I remember my amazement that a half-inch of snow on the Portland roads could send everyone into a literal tailspin. In the same way, my six years in the Sahara desert have changed my attitude towards a “heat-wave” that lasts all of 3 days, not to mention one where the nights are still cool and the trees provide welcome relief. (However, I was still very grateful when a friend loaned us some fans!)
Saturday, all three kids were at a sleepover. We slept in till 9, then I made us coffee and we lay in bed and read books until 10:30, at which point Donn got up and made us bacon and eggs and more coffee. I mention this to make those of you with young children jealous, and yet also to give hope: that these days can come again.
Thanks to all of you who wrote with sympathy about my schooling plight. I have good news. If we keep up the pace (and no, I’m not whipping them; not literally. Nor am I withholding candy, at least no more so than usual. I am Nice) we are on track to finish by June. Well except for Spanish (twins) and Arabic (Elliot), but the nice kind people at CNED, forgetting that they were supposed to be uptight and French and bound up in red tape, gave us an extension. So we are breathing big sighs of relief here on Planet Nomad, and eating lots of falafel at the local Lebanese restaurant while the owner helps Elliot. The twins actually have till mid-June to finish, so we’ll do their last few lessons of Spanish at their grandparents, and then we’ll be done. Do they give out medals for getting 3 kids through an entire year of CNED, starting 6 weeks late?

I’m wondering if I should ever post again. The longer I go without posting, the more comments I get on my last post. My comment number is now impressively high for me (and yes, I realize it isn’t for most of you. Whatever). The comments are also long and thoughtful, and I am planning a follow-up post that incorporates a lot of them.
I have been working on my book this week, the one I was going to write this year and haven’t actually gotten around to, although I have a few chapters now. (The title of this post is actually the title of the chapter I just finished. It’s about my experiences at the University, as I’m sure long-time readers have already guessed.)
This is the worst possible time to work on it, of course. We are hoping to celebrate Donn’s parents 50th anniversary in California this summer, and the best time to go is the first two weeks of June. That means that we have 2 ½  weeks to finish school, and about 5 weeks worth of school to finish in that time (more in Spanish and Arabic). So we’re a little stressed.
Ok make that a lot stressed. The kids are really looking forward to doing school on Saturdays, as am I, but insha’allah this will pay off when we are FINISHED. Oh how I want to be finished with this correspondence course. I will never do this again. I am in awe of all of you who home school. It sure hasn’t worked for us. I suspect that I am the reason for this; I’m thinking of adding “Failed Homeschooler” to my resume. I keep praying that maybe it could be April again, and that I could just have another, extra month to do everything in. Wouldn’t that be helpful? It would for me; I don’t know about you.
It was a busy week in other ways as well. All our friends are kicking into the “wait! You’re leaving soon!” mode and inviting us out for dinner, so I would like to ask all of you to please quit posting about dieting and losing weight. It depresses me.
I took Abel to see the doctor this week. He’s not sick, although he has had this rash for a while now. It didn’t seem like anything to me, so it was a bit disturbing when the doctor said it was a bacterial infection and put him on antibiotics. The main reason we were there was so that the doctor could sign a health form, required for their new school. Of course the form was in French, which I obligingly translated. He wasn’t thrilled, but he agreed to sign it.
Life is going to be crazy for a while. I’m trying to figure out another trip to see my mother, but am worried as I don’t see how I take any time off with the kids’ school. Evenings are booked, although I’m willing to cancel here and there if it means I can go see her. But the problem is, of course, CNED. So don’t worry if you hear from me only sporadically.
And of course, I may be stressed, but some people have real problems. I can’t believe the news out of Burma (or Myanmar, depending on your news source) and China.  Keeps it all in perspective for me. We may weep real tears over Arabic (Question: Why is Arabic the language of heaven? Answer: Because it takes an eternity to learn), but it’s a much nicer problem to have than losing your family and everything you possess to the overwhelming waters.

Yesterday, my kids went to Albertsons by themselves, where they picked up a couple of things they wanted. I was surprised by how worried I felt at this very minor stretching of their wings. The year we lived in France, Elliot was 8 and we would sometimes send him across a fairly busy street (with a crosswalk) to the boulangerie for our daily baguettes. At the local Monoprix, it wasn’t unusual to see the twins’ classmates (age 6) picking up a little something for their parents. In Mauritania, when Elliot turned 6 he was allowed to go half a block to the boutique to pick up a packet of butter (taken from the freezer in the boutique, already warm enough for baking by the time he got home on the hot days). By the time we left, all 3 were allowed to go to the boutique to buy candy or cokes as a treat; they just had to use their own money and let me know. I didn’t turn a hair. Why was I worried here? Albertsons is not far from our house, and our neighbourhood is safe, full of children and careful drivers.
I’ll tell you. It’s because I’m worried about what others around me will think of me. I’m still relearning the boundaries of what is normal here, and I have to say that my “mom-radar” is shockingly low compared to my friends. And, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a relaxed mother, I don‘t think. I’m uptight too! We are careful what they read and watch; we have standards and many, many rules. I think that overall, we’re good parents (obviously; if I didn’t, I would change). So who’s right–the uptight parents who won’t let their kids climb up ladders onto the roofs to get down the Frisbee? Or the ones who send their kids off to climb the big hill behind the house for PE, while they stay home? Where do you fall on this issue?
I notice that I trust strangers much more than my friends seem to. At the library, at the grocery store, I don’t stress if my children are out of my sight. In fact, I’ll ask them to run and pick up something from a different aisle, or send Elliot off to the Young Adult section while I check out the Mystery aisles. Part of this has to do with their age. They’re not babies. They are responsible kids. They’re old enough to be home alone and even to babysit other young kids. I know other kids their age who travel alone; parents working overseas sending kids to grandparents for the summer, whose children can navigate airports and plane changes with aplomb.
I suppose each parent must navigate their child’s trip towards maturity in their own way; each of us are uptight in some areas and loose in others, and most of us can see clearly where everyone else is screwing up. For those of us who choose to raise our children in a different culture to our own, this is especially clear. So I’ll keep sending my kids to Albertsons, and sending them up the hill for PE, and not worrying overtly when they climb trees and walls and act like children should. And I’ll continue to ignore the occasional horrified look I garner with my seemingly cavalier attitude.

Related to this (at least in my mind), I was horrified to see a news article recently featuring a verbal pedometer–a device that measures every word your baby or toddler hears throughout the day. This is supposed to guarantee that you’re doing your job–saying at least 17,000 words a day to your child, to help it be intelligent and succeed in life.
So do we laugh or get outraged or just feel a general sense of overwhelming sadness? I mean, WHAT? How ridiculous! Talk to your babies by all means–talk to your stomach when you’re pregnant if you like (which I did, all the time, and I have to admit it made for some embarrassing moments at the grocery store). But do it because you love them and care about them, not because you’ve got to worry about logging your 17,000 words per day so the little darlings can grow up guaranteed to go to Harvard! It’s things like this that make me live overseas.
But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Am I lax about my children‘s future intelligence? Are you uptight? Or are we both perfectly balanced?

We don’t just sit around the house, you know. We do get out and do things, quite often actually. I just don’t always get around to posting about it.
For example, two Saturdays ago, on a day of freezing temperatures and mixed sun, hail, and snow, we went to the tulip fields. Why that day particularly? Because, as I pointed out to Donn when he was griping evincing a certain reluctance about the weather, if we didn’t do it THAT particular day, chances were good we would never do it, like all those days we didn’t go sledding and now all of a sudden it’s May and soon we’re off to Africa again. Lots of Saturdays aren’t free; for example we are busy for the next 3. So I’m glad that I prevailed, and off we went.


We had to drive a little ways into the countryside; the sort of drive that would have been quite normal for my photographer husband before the Era of Excessive Gas Prices, but that now caused him some heart anguish. I packed us all sandwiches and apples, in an attempt to lighten the burden, but it didn’t really cheer him up.
Also, I love Oregon in April.

We had a fun time taking millions of pictures. The cold weather meant that the place wasn’t too terribly crowded.

I was very excited with the macro abilities of my new camera. Donn nattered on and on about how it was a digital enlargement versus a ??? (I forget; something about how it was just cropping and not actually getting closer?), but as I pointed out, It’s me! I don’t care! It looked closer, and that’s all that mattered. There’s only room for one uptight professional in this family.

We went to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, where they charged us $5 for parking in a muddy field, and gave us paper mats for the floor of our car. They had many, many little things set up for your enjoyment. We mostly ignored them, munching away defiantly on our sandwiches, refusing to pay for the dubious pleasure of riding tiny ponies around a tiny sawdust ring. But there were a lot of fun events and good-smelling food available, if you‘re into that sort of thing.
We saw a man making wooden shoes, “Like they did Back Then,” as Ilsa put it.


There was even a wooden shoe for people to leave their excess children in. Or something. Actually I don’t really know what it was for. Floods, perhaps.


Abel decided to climb the rock wall that was set up. It was supposed to be once up for $3, but the nice men let him go up twice.

All in all, it was a great day. It didn’t rain at all while we were there, although once we were safely in the car on the way home, the hail bucketed down, coating fields and houses with a misty white layer of ice. (I didn’t take a picture though)

Last week we went to the zoo. So you can see that we are fun people with a great social life. I’ll post about it soon. Insha’allah, as they say where I’m heading, in less than 3 months now.

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