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Last night (morning?) I woke up at 5 a.m. and had a little panic attack. We are moving, people! It’s time to start packing! We have to be completely out of this house by August 5. (although not out of the country till the 25th) We are taking up to 10 suitcases, putting some things in boxes, getting rid of most things. Do you want anything? Couches, for example. Could you use a couch? Two couches? Ok, three it is. Stop by anytime and pick them up.
As I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep, I told myself, “You can’t pack now. You can pack later. Now you can sleep.” Can anyone explain why that didn’t work? It should have worked.
Anyway, I’m not going to have a lot of time to blog in the next week, because not only am I packing and getting rid of stuff (seriously, want some sheets? They are yours if you will just come and get them. Or how about a TV?), but I need to get a new swimsuit before we leave and Ilsa needs new shoes rather desperately.  She grew! Can you believe it?
Also, I have something that I KNOW you want to come right over and get–fresh, yummy, berries. On Friday, the kids and I went berry picking (marion-berries, boysenberries, and blueberries) and we inadvertently picked 20 pounds of berries. This is way too many. And I’m moving! I can’t freeze them. I have, so far, eaten tons on cereal and pancakes and made 2 pies and one crisp, and they are really yummy, but we need some help here, especially since my ungrateful boys have decided they don’t like pie. (What??? I make good pie, too) Please come help us eat the pies, if nothing else.
I may still blog some, but if you don’t hear from me or see me on your blog, don’t panic. Life is what happens when you’re sleep deprived, or something like that.

Yesterday, I asked Elliot to make a batch of his justly-famous chocolate chip cookies. (And really, just why are they always so perfect? It’s my recipe. But his are excellent, while mine are just good. Must be that teenager spit–you know he samples batter freely!) This was to sweeten an errand I’ve been putting off, because I remain non-confrontative in spite of my goals to the contrary.
A few months ago, a new family arrived in the cul-de-sac where we live. I met them and their tiny boys one freakishly warm spring afternoon. Their boys were 3 and 5 then; now 4 and 6.
And the rains returned and I didn’t see them for a while.
But when we got back from California, it was summer. The sun shone, the street filled with the sounds of children playing, running, bickering, sword fighting, water fighting, lemonade selling, etc. And we noticed that now, those 2 adorable little boys were out in the street, but the mom was staying inside.
I will mention that I do that too. I don’t hang out watching my kids play. But then, my kids are 11 and 13. Also, this family has a one year old and, as of 5 days ago, a brand new baby. I understand that the mother may need to rest, and need a break. But.
I really am not uptight. I really don’t like to tell other people how to parent, and I resent it when people tell me how to parent. But these boys, in protective helmets on their tiny bikes, have the habit of whizzing behind our car when it’s backing up. I am pretty sure even those super helmets would be a poor match for my back tires. I have nearly killed them both several times. They are too young to be out on the street unsupervised, even such a safe street as ours where cars are rare.
So today I wrapped up the cookies and went over, first taking time to talk to the small boys about their new baby brother. I rang the doorbell. The dad came to the door; he was on his way to work, the mom and new baby were taking a nap. The grandma was sitting on the couch.
I explained who I was, gave him the cookies, congratulated him on his newborn son. Casually brought up the cars. “Yeah, that’s something we’ve been working on,” he said. He told me to let him know of any other problems.
I’m still worried though. I watch for these boys, make sure I can see them when I start backing my mini-van out, but they move. Of course it would be my fault, if I hit their 4 year old. Just yesterday, they nearly ran in FRONT of my van, which is of course a whole new worry.
So, what happens if I hit a four-year-old in America? I imagine the worst; my picture in the paper, interviews on the news, everyone hating me while I explain, pathetically, over and over, “I was only going 2 miles an hour! I looked! Honest!” I would feel horrible. I would never get over it. The parents would never get over it.
Ironically, this wasn’t a stress I was expecting to deal with this year. I figured that American parents, being more uptight than your average Mauritanian, would never let this be much of an issue. It was a problem at our last house, in Nouakchott, where an adorable toddler was fascinated by our big 4WD, and always wanted to run up and touch it while I was backing out onto the sand. It was really scary. His babysitter was his 5 year old sister. I know the worst there; a taxi driver of my acquaintance did run over a child. You pay $4000 “blood-money” and the family mourns, but fatalistically accepts that life is uncertain. I would never get over it.
So I am very thankful that I have not committed any vehicular homicide.
I posted several weeks (months?) ago about uptight parenting, and got some great comments. It seems that we are all relaxed in some areas and uptight in others, and that we are all worried about what those around us are thinking of our parenting. In a world of uncertainty, we watch each other sideways, constantly comparing ourselves. I don’t wish this upon my neighbour. I don’t think she should rein in her boys just because of what I think. But while I feel parenting is and should be personal, I do feel there are some basic rules of the road, some basic common sense. I may hanker back to a more relaxed time when kids could be kids, could have a real childhood in addition to their virtual one in front of electronic stimulus. (Although overall, I’m not one to idealize the past) But even then, in those helmet-less, tree climbing halcyon days, I don’t think tiny ones played unsupervised.
So I watch. Donn watches. Our kids watch. We’re our neighbours’ keepers, and that’s something that has carried down through the ages.

I’m sure many of you noticed that today was unusually long, that the day just dragged on and on, the hands of a watch barely managing to advance microscopic tick by microscopic tick to mark the passage of time. However, you may not have known why.
I do. Today, I had to show myself by 7:30 at the Courthouse downtown (a 45-minute drive in morning traffic) for jury duty.
It was my first time ever reporting for jury duty. I’ve only gotten one other summons, and I was excused because I was nursing infant twins and I threatened to bring them with me. Then I weaned them, moved to Africa, never did get around to registering at the embassy so that I could vote by proxy two months before everyone else and then have it not even counted till after everyone else’s, and forgot about jury duty. Until the summons came.
I read a fair amount of fiction (to put it mildly), including mysteries, and I’ve both read and watched Runaway Jury, so I was kind of excited to be on a jury and get to bring down a big multi-billion-dollar soul-less corporation. On the other hand, we have to be out of the house by August 5th (which includes leaving it clean) and naturally we haven’t started packing yet. I mean, we’ve got DAYS. But I need those days in which to pack, and so this isn’t actually the ideal time to be faced with making life and death decisions for someone else, when I really do need all my energy to persuade Donn that yes, we should fill all our suitcases with books if that’s the only way to get them to Morocco.
Also, I would be a lot more happy about jury duty if it started at a reasonable hour. Surely the criminal underclass are not at their best at 7:30 in the morning either, even if they did get used to it in law school (sorry; I know cheap lawyer jokes are so 80s). Talk about cruel and unusual punishment!
I was actually 10 minutes early. Traffic was quite light. Who knew? Given how it gets by 2 p.m. round here, I assumed that everyone would be on the road by 7. I checked into the jury room and was given my badge, and then I settled down in a comfortable chair with a book. And there I sat, and sat, and sat.
I checked my watch. 8 a.m.! I’d served ½ an hour of my 8 ½ hour day.
Around 9, I was awakened from a doze by an announcement. A list of names was read off, some people trooped off, and I went back to sleep. I read my book. At 9:15, I got up and got a drink of water. I read some more. The day dragged.
I was summoned at one point. I was the 21st name, which meant there was little chance of me actually making it onto the jury, so I made it easy. When the judge asked if any of us had any problem with being there for the next 3 days, I mentioned that I needed to pack. He informed me that that wasn’t a valid reason for being dismissed, but then dismissed me anyways.
Back to the room.
We had a 2 hour lunch break, in which I bought myself a new sweater (the weather was suddenly freezing, and I was dressed for stuffy, overheated public rooms, apparently believing that Strong Poison had come to life and I was on the jury for Harriet Vane‘s trial), and then back to the room. I half-watched a very odd show called “The Deadliest Catch” or something like that, about fishermen in Alaska. Really, you’d think I’d be happy to have a day in which to do nothing but read, but somehow comfortable couches in sunlit rooms seem to play a role in that particular fantasy.
Finally, the day dragged to a close. We were released, free for at least another two years! Suddenly, the hands on my watch sprang to life and time started working normally again. Donn admired my new sweater and we went for coffee, ran into an old friend, got home late.

I have had several posts I wanted to write over the past several days, but no time in which to do so.
On Friday, Elliot turned 13. This was momentous, as he has felt 13 for about 2 years now, so it was nice to make it official at last.


I was tempted to write a sentimental account of the day he entered our lives, of how I woke  up that morning about 6:15, uncertain of what was going on, but by 6:45 was able to tell Donn, “I wouldn’t bother going in to work today.” Of how that turned my normally mild-mannered husband into a sort of Ricky Ricardo, who rushed about dropping suitcases (it was empty. Of course I didn’t pack in advance) and calling everyone we knew. I stood next to my bookcase, trying to decide what book to bring (my plan was to read through labour but it didn’t work out quite like that), while he whirled about me, Captain Stress, the Superhero of Impending Paternity. But really, I assumed I had hours. I’d taken the classes, watched the videos. The smiling lady in the video, rocking gently with a wistful smile on her face while her husband brought her juice, waited all day before it was time to go to the hospital. No one was more surprised than I when Elliot arrived 5 hours later, apparently very angry. Donn and I gazed down in some bemusement at our son, to all appearances just an enormous mouth topped by a tiny, wrinkled forehead. “Maybe we should call him Mick (after Mick Jagger),” I suggested. Donn’s comment was, “He looks a lot like your brother.” By then, Captain Stress had departed (off to where he‘s needed next!), and our inherent snideness was reasserting itself.
On his 13th birthday, things were a little less eventful. For one, we slept a lot later. (A plus side of adolescence that they don’t tell you about–they sleep late in the morning! At last, my genes are asserting themselves!) Our friend Michelle, whom we worked with in Mauritania, was due to arrive early afternoon at the airport, and we were nearly on time to pick her up.
So far, I am liking the teenage years. Of course, we’ve only had 4 days of them so far, but I feel it’s an auspicious beginning. For one, the party. No more frantic days of planning, goodie bags to buy for, games to supervise, tears to dry, cliques to navigate, etc etc. He invited 3 friends over, we fed them pizza and Doritos, they watched movies and played GameCube and grunted and looked things up on YouTube. Michelle, Donn and I sat out on the balcony in the mellow evening light and chatted and sipped cool drinks.
They spent the night, these 3 extra boys, and in the morning I got up to make them pancakes. “We’re not hungry,” they told me. “We just ate pizza and Doritos.” For breakfast? Oh for the cast-iron stomach of youth again!


We spent the weekend proudly showing off our state (Oregon) to Michelle, since it was her first visit. We took her to Saturday Market, where we found henna booth after henna booth, all stocked by Americans painting “authentic Moroccan designs” in places I’m fairly sure weren’t authentic. (I.e. lower back, pregnant belly, etc) Michelle and I were amused. In Mauritania at least, henna is just for women, and men aren’t supposed to even see it being done; it is part of the mystery and wonder that is femininity. (Although I did see it offered to tourists in the marketplaces in Morocco, which I suppose is where they got the idea).  But Michelle and I were comforted; if we’re ever starving, at least we’ve got a money-making idea. We could open a henna booth.
We took Michelle to Powells (City of Books), where I gave her a map and a walking tour. (For those of you poor people who have never been here, Powells is a bookstore that is an entire city block and 3 storeys tall. They sell new and used books, and they have pretty much everything. It’s a marvellous place, and when we were in Mauritania, I used to have dreams that I was back in Portland and shopping at Powells) It was a very fun way to pass an evening. I had to let the kids be on their own in the kids section because otherwise, they were making me miserable, nagging at me to go to the kids’ section.  I proudly showed Michelle entire sections on, for example, Artic Exploration; not something that most bookstores can afford to devote much shelf space to.
We took her berry picking (her first time ever! She’s from Kansas), and to the Rose Garden, which is full of roses of all colours and sizes, all in bloom now, an olfactory delight on a warm, breezy summer day under the blue sky.
We took her down the Columbia River Gorge.


Actual quote from Michelle: I thought Kansas was green! (She’s just come from Mauritania so we can understand her)
The Columbia River Gorge is full of waterfalls, and must be one of the greenest places on earth. The modern highway runs alongside the river, the high cliffs echoing to the roar of constant trucks and trains, but a little further up the scenic highway winds its way through forests of fir and maple and oak. Silvery water cascades over mossy rocks; huge waterfalls thunder hundreds of feet to pound on brown rocks; myriad trails head up and up, switchbacking back and forth alongside streams, along cliffs, along steep drop-offs leading to more waterfalls.


The children claim to hate hate hate going on hikes. They whine, they complain, they gripe. Then, once we actually start walking, they scamper on ahead, often still whining. I don’t know why, but it sure is annoying.
But it is all worth it for the views.

Also, we now have two photographers in the family. I gave Abel my old camera, the one with sand in its sensitive bits so that it only works intermittently, and he loves it.

We hiked up to Fairy Falls, past many beautiful falls that have no names. In many ways, I thought this was as Fairy Falls should be, all mossy and cushiony green.

Don’t you think? But instead, Fairy Falls cascades over hundreds of rather pointy brown rocks.

We had a discussion and decided that the fairies aren’t the tiny kind, or they’d be crushed to bits by the force of the water. They must be the bigger kind that sit and comb their hair with silver combs under the fall of water, luring unwary passers-by to a doomed life of unhappiness and discontentment, like Angus in the Yeats poem.

Last night, I had to take Elliot downtown for his Arabic lessons.
It turned out to be quite a complicated exercise. He’s taking lessons with a Lebanese man who lives in the Pearl, which is the new trendy part of downtown Portland, the part that until recently was abandoned warehouses, littered streets, and shapeless bundles of homeless people sleeping in doorways. Now all is new and gleaming and speaks of money, from the art galleries that have sprung up and reseeded themselves like dandelions, to the ubiquitous coffee and gelato shops, to a charming little farmer’s market. It’s a Stuff White People Like paradise!  Of course, since it became so popular, you now have to pay to park in every single tiny spot for blocks and blocks around. (You even have to pay near Powells now. Outrage!) So his tutor comes outside and I drop Elliot off, then pick him up at the assigned time later.
This is the first time we’ve done a weekday evening session. Donn had a previous commitment, so I had a precious hour all to myself downtown. I wasted the first 10 minutes deciding what to do. Powells is near, but I didn’t want to pay for parking. I had a book with me (Memed, My Hawk…excellent. I will review it for you when I finish it) and my journal, so I decided to drive a few blocks to NW Portland, also very trendy and full of Stuff White People Like but with free parking, find a nice locally-owned coffee shop, and read and journal and people watch and window shop.
But I have become a parking wimp in Africa. While thanks to driving the savage streets of Nouakchott I now can pass with wild abandon and even drive on a sidewalk if necessary, I have gotten out of practice of parallel parking. So when I drove by the Starbucks with the parking lot, I decided to be boring and just go there. They have outdoor seating and it was a lovely evening, warm and windy and green and gold.
I had no sooner gotten my drink and settled myself at a sidewalk table when out came a barista wannabe to tell me that they were closing and she had to take the tables in. Closing at 8? Apparently so. I was cross, and it didn’t help that it wasn’t her fault. Surely it must be.
So I decided to go to a bookstore, and browse. They were closed too.
By now I only had about 20 minutes left. I sat on a park bench and read, and it was good, but not at all how I’d envisioned it.
Truly the world is not as it should be.

Happy 4th to all Americans out there. Belated, that is.
Today (yesterday, in case you’re confused) we celebrated our first American Independence Day in years with that quintessential American activity–shopping.
We rarely go to the mall and when we do, I’m always surprised at how many other people have had the same idea. I’ll think, “Oh it’s a lovely sunny weekend. No one will be there! We’ll have the place to ourselves and we’ll just duck into the Lego store and pick up Abel’s birthday present in 2 minutes!” And then we spend 45 minutes just looking for parking. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
We started out with a patriotic breakfast. I mixed blueberries and raspberries (hand-picked! Fresh!) in a bowl and put them on the table next to a bowl of powdered sugar and voila! Red, white and blue means a perfect 4th of July breakfast. We had French toast, or Freedom toast as I proudly called it (don’t choke; I really did call it that but it went right over the kids‘ heads and Donn just rolled his eyes at me) and then we spent most of breakfast discussing French history, as it turned out. Don’t worry–for July 14th we’ll have the same breakfast and then we’ll discuss the American Revolution.
It was up to Ilsa, however, and her fiddly little personality to make it a truly Patriotic breakfast.


Isn’t she great, folks?
She also needed a new swimsuit for camp. “Do you think Target is open today?” I asked Donn. “I don’t know,” he said. I decided they probably were–after all, what‘s more American than trying to make a buck? And I was right. Not only was Target open, EVERYBODY was open, except for banks and of course no mail.
In the evening, we went to a barbecue with friends who live out in the country. They promised some good fireworks. “Our neighbour is a pyromaniac,” they told me. So we went to celebrate our independence in the American way–loud explosions and bright colours!
They live out in rural Oregon, a place of sun-drenched vines and orchards rolling off into the distance, of textured, verdant hills. They live on an acre or two, with huge trees and inviting lawns and a cosy, light-filled home. And they were right–their neighbour goes waay beyond your typical neighbourhood pyromaniac. At dusk, we took our chairs out back, where we had an uninterrupted view across a yard to a really impressive display of enormous fireworks. It was at least as big as most city displays, and it went on and on and on. Fantastic! It really was a perfect way to spend a 4th of July evening; tables groaning under the weight of all this really good food (including mounds of local fresh berries and cherries), good company, and really loud noises accompanied by pretty lights.
Of course I forgot my camera. I couldn’t believe it. Also, Donn “the Photographer” was similarly unarmed. You will just have to imagine it; the kids shivering in the slip’n’slide, the badminton birdie getting stuck in the branches of the tall, tall oak, the sheer volume of my children as they ran through the late afternoon light, the bursts of red, white, orange, purple and green against the velvety black, so bright that we cast shadows in their brief glare, the will-o-the-wisp motion of children running with glow sticks in the deep shadows under the trees. Perfect.

Ilsa is having such an American summer. I think this is to make up for last summer, when we were basically moving the entire time and people, specifically Ilsa, didn’t actually have very much fun. She brought it to my attention a lot at the time. And even though I didn’t intend to make this her best! summer! ever! , it seems to be working out that way.
First, as always, we had to suffer. And you don’t know suffering until you are forced to do 3 months worth of Spanish class in 5 days while on vacation at the grandparents, with that sparkling chlorinated swimming pool just calling to you out the windows. That was a dark night of the soul, let me tell you.
But then we finished Spanish (and there was much rejoicing…YAAY!). And then we went to the zoo. And then we drove back to Oregon, and a few days later, there was Jr Hi sports camp.
Ilsa is not what you might call a sporty girl. She thinks soccer is boring, and volleyball is hard. (She’s also 4’3”) I had asked her if she wanted to go and she said no, so I had decided to just send the boys. This is a low key sports camp; 3 hours a day, 4 different sports, ending with a huge water fight on the last day. She wasn’t interested until she found out that Amy was going, then we couldn’t keep her away.
This week, it’s Art Camp. Again, this is pretty low-key; a friend of ours is doing it. “Ilsa has to come; she’s the kid that’s most excited about it,” Lisa told us. So off she goes every morning, coming home with canvases and clay fairies (she’s in a fairy phase) and mosaics and all sorts of things.
Next week, it’s summer camp–swimming and horses and cabins of 6 giggling girls and one giggling counselor and (hopefully) leather crafts. Cuz nothing says “You’re having a great American summer!” like pounding a flower into a leather circle and calling it a coaster.
However, once these camps are over, I expect the whining to start. You all know it. “Mo-om, I’m bored,” they say. One summer, in Mauritania, I had prepared a lecture that I could deliver at the drop of a whine–super fast, rattling it off, a fairly typical “this house is full of books and toys and computer games and you have so much more than those around you blah blah blah” This works great on kids, let me tell you. They inevitably responded with, “Oh thank you for correcting our thinking, Mum, you’re so right!” And then they would skip happily off to build imaginative forts out of household objects and do science experiments. Of course they cleaned up after themselves.
In real life, they did have a bit of a point. Mauritanian summers are hot, and dusty, and boring—all their friends have left, sometimes the electricity goes out, it’s too hot to play outside till about 5. I was bored myself. But I still hate the whine.
This summer, I have a new weapon in my arsenal. We got copies of the Pocket Editions of the Dangerous Books…The Pocket Daring Book for Girls: Things to Do and The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Do. They are both subtitled: Things to Do. So now, instead of my lecture, I just hand them the books. It’s simpler, and they’re more inspired.
Most of the content of the books are also in the large versions, so you might wonder “why bother?” However, the smaller book is much more portable and travel friendly, and it does include new things as well. Thanks to this book, we have paper hats and airplanes all over the house, slingshots have been attempted, and secret inks sprout like mushrooms. I’m thankful that so far, no one has tried their own zip line or home made geyser, but I’m fairly certain it’s only thanks to a lack of materials. There are even instructions about how to fry an egg on the sidewalk and how to make your own stink bomb. Should be an interesting summer.
Seriously, I love these books. They are so fun! Almost as much fun as crawling into bed, exhausted, and finding my little active, engaged, imaginative monkeys have short-sheeted it (instructions also in the book).

Shannon (whose blogs was one of the first I ever read) hosts a weekly “works-for-me” carnival, in which people all over the blogosphere contribute ideas that, uh, work for them. (Get it?) This week, it’s a recipe exchange–5 items or less. So I decided to contribute, for the first time, because I do make some really tasty nachos PLUS this is the only recipe I have ever made up totally on my own! (You’ll be stunned at how original it is–stunned, I tell you) Plus it’s a fun, fast supper, any time of the year but great in the summer, quick and easy after a long afternoon out berry picking or at the pool.
This recipe is always good but it’s best if you are in America and can get boneless, skinless chicken breast. Also, go ahead and splurge on the Kettle Tias and the Emerald Valley organic salsa–it’s so worth it. You don’t need toilet paper this week.
Ok. Here’s what you do:
Saute chicken breast (cut in little chunks) and green onions until the chicken is cooked through and a little browned. Now glob in sour cream–lots of it. Do not substitute Trader Joe’s nonfat yogurt–it will curdle. I don’t care if you use fat free sour cream though. Do what you want! It’s your house!
The sour cream will melt into a lovely, creamy light brown sauce.
Put a layer of chips in a pan. Add a layer of creamy chicken sauce and a layer of cheese (I like pepper jack myself, but regular monterey jack will do. Cheddar is not the best–it‘s too yellow) Layer it all again and again till you run out of ingredients. Bung the whole thing in the oven till the cheese melts. Eat with salsa and more sour cream. Simple, but super yummy. Trust me on this. Go make them tonight. Your kids, your husband, and you will ALL like them! Or you can eat the whole pan yourself.
(Yes, these are the nachos Ilsa wanted)

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