You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2012.

Don’t worry—I’m not going to try to put my life in a nutshell. Remember how well that went last time! Here are a couple of short posts combined into one long one. Because apparently I believe you have ample time on your hands. Or something.

Internet:

Harold and Maude have changed apartments. As a result, Harold has spent a couple of evening sitting with Donn on the couch while Donn helps with transferring electricity and internet and things like that. And as a result of that, we found out that we could get high-speed internet for less than we were paying before. Score, right?

Soon, our yard was criss-crossed with spray-painted lines and small flags. These appeared mysteriously while we were gone, and I thought it might be the squirrels planning a takeover, but Donn disagreed. And apparently he was right, because on Tuesday I was told to be home between 9 and 11 for our exciting modern high-speed connection to whiz in and take connection.

The guy showed up at 1:30, in the pouring rain. That’s all right—I didn’t really expect him before then. He left at 4. He attempted to explain things to me, although I pointed out that the squirrels might have at least as much chance as I of remembering GPI or GFI or whatever that new box in the garage is. He took the flags.

And I’m pleased to report that ever since, our internet is slower and also keeps just quitting. Which is why I’m typing off-line. It feels like I’m back in Morocco.

An Afternoon of Frustration:

Last Wednesday was the weirdest day. I knew Rita had the flu, as her husband called me Tuesday night to let me know she wouldn’t be in class next day. They’re an elderly couple who LOVE it here. “We should have come here long ago,” they keep telling us. They go shopping at the outlet stores and are collecting owls and stop at random farms to gather grape leaves and make friends with the farmers. I was worried when I heard she’d been violently ill. “Tomorrow I’ll bring her soup,” I said.

Donn came home from visiting another friend and told me his daughter was in hospital. She’d had the flu too, and she’s had a kidney replaced and has to take immune suppressants, so any illness is dangerous for her. We decided that after class on Wednesday, we’d drop off the soup for Rita and then go see Laila in hospital, taking Ilsa with us.

I was super-organized and even started the soup (chicken noodle) BEFORE class, which was very far-thinking for me. Afterwards I finished it, made cheese scones to go with it, and off we went to their apartment. Only they weren’t there. We knocked and knocked and knocked. Finally Donn called the husband. He was out getting his hearing-aid adjusted, he explained loudly to us over the phone. Rita was sleeping. (He didn’t know why we’d come) I had the bright idea of leaving the soup with another family who lives in the same complex, but they weren’t home either.

We stopped by our house to put the soup in the fridge, although I pointed out to Donn that it was probably cold enough that it would be fine in the car. He agreed but was more worried about it spilling on his pristine upholstery. We went to Safeway for flowers and chocolates, then headed downtown and up the hill to Doernbecher hospital.

Doernbecher is a great hospital, world-renowned (well I don’t know that, but it has a great reputation) and very nice. It is arranged so that if you only know her room number, you will be confused—is it north or south or where exactly? We managed to find her eventually. She was asleep, had been given an injection, and her room was closed. We left the plant and chocolates at the nurses’ station. Strike Two!

We stopped for Starbucks in the lobby—I know! Impressive—and admired the very cool décor. We couldn’t help comparing it to the Rabat Children’s Hospital, where each floor has a different coloured stripe painted on the wall, to help the illiterate figure out where to go, but things in general are just much more basic.

Then we went home, where I made dinner while Donn went and dropped off the soup. The other family from the complex called to see why I’d called them earlier, and told me they’d been there, just sleeping. I’m glad everyone had such a restful afternoon!

Books set in the NW:

I just read a YA book set in the NW, specifically Portland, which doesn’t once mention the rain. It kind of ruined it for me. The story takes place over several months, summer and fall, and there are several hot days, but not one where plans have to be changed because of torrential downpour. This just doesn’t feel realistic to me. Also, apparently (my word of the day. I’ve used it like 5 times already. Go check) the local school district, tired of being mocked, decided to get some snow standards. It used to be that even a sprinkling of snow, even a smell of snow, would shut down the schools. We had TWO mornings with snow and off they went, not even delayed. We were so disappointed. Sure we mocked before, but in our hearts we applauded. And yes, the snow was gone by 11 a.m., but still. This is an open call to the schools to go back to the typical Portland thinking on snow, which is to panic about it, rush to buy bread and milk (without which staples, life as we know it would cease to exist) and issue radio bulletins about the snow being an inch thick and only go anywhere if it’s an absolute emergency!

Phew! That was still a bit long, but better than last time, right? What’s been going on with you?

Apparently, this year that I made no resolutions (including no such resolve to cut down on coffee!), I also resolved to only blog in my head. Yes, I have written some scintillating posts, but they have not made it to my own version of the silver screen (in my case the finger-smudged screen–I share my computer with my children). Can’t believe I haven’t written all month.

I’ll try not to ramble too much now and will update the old blog soon, possibly even this week. (You never know. I might.) In the meantime, I read some amazing books this month.

WHAT I READ:

The Starlite Drive-In was awesome. I meant to give it 5 stars over at 5 minutes for books, and I forgot cuz I’m on top of things like that. Go read my review and enter to win a copy. It was excellent, detail-drenched and the kind of book where you feel you’ve actually visited the place and know the people. I can still see the characters in my head.

The Street Sweeper was unlike anything else I’ve ever read, but it was excellent too. It was half novel, half history book, the sort of work where fictional and historical characters are seamlessly blended together, yet the reader has no trouble sorting them out. It sort of follows two main characters, but there are scads of minor but important characters too. The first is a black man recently released from jail after no one believed his innocence, who has managed to score a job in janitorial at the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center, where he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Holocaust survivor who tells him his story. The second is a Jewish history teacher at Columbia, struggling with depression and a sense of failure, who stumbles across a trove of first-person interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted immediately after their release. The book deals with some of the worst parts of the first two-thirds of Western 20th-century history–the holocaust, civil rights struggles, race riots in Chicago. And yet, somehow, there is hope and redemption and connection there. In some ways, it’s not an easy book to read, but it is worth reading, and readable too.

Matched Young adult dystopian fiction. Need I say more? And why are the youth of today so very into dystopian romance? I wrote a blog post in my head about it. I’m not into scary futuristic dramas. I wasn’t when I was young either–I was scared of dystopian dreams. I think I am going to make Ilsa read 1984, which should disabuse her of this notion. Anyway, Matched was quite good and totally readable. I enjoyed it. Oh the plot? Cassia lives in a dreary futuristic time where The Society plans your life for you–who you’ll marry, when you’ll die, what you’ll wear and eat, where you’ll live, work, etc. She is “matched” to Xander, her best friend since childhood, but in a glitch of the system, also matched to Ky. In my favorite part, she finds a forbidden copy of Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night–forbidden because all but 100 “best” poems were destroyed by The Society–and it gives her courage to buck the system and figure out what she wants to do with her own life. I’m planning to read the sequel, which, given how low we are on the waiting list at the library, will probably be in some dreary futuristic time.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention how much The Society is like Camazotz, the evil scary place from A Wrinkle in Time. There are tons of similarities. This is a plus in my book–I love it when books call upon other books like that.

The Invisible Ones Also LOVED this one. It’s a really good mystery, but it’s also about class-ism in modern Great Britain and about the Romany and you will love the teenage narrator. Click the link to read my full review.

The Confession Another one I really enjoyed. Really, it’s been a great month for books. I’m hoping my trend continues. This was a very classic mystery, set in England in 1920, and dealing with a string of murders that seemed unconnected and were separated by years and miles. The author, Charles Todd, is a mother-son team, which I find totally intriguing and also a little strange. They’ve been quite prolific and I’m definitely planning to read more of their stuff!

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal Really enjoyed this one too. Conor Grennan is planning a year-long trip around the world, and decides to start with a 3-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal, where’s there actually a civil war going on. He is overwhelmed when he enters the orphanage and 18 boys leap onto his back! But he gradually comes to really love them. So far so good–the experience of many volunteers. His life changes, however, when the mother of two of the “orphans” comes to visit them. He finds out that these boys, and 100s of other children, were trafficked. Their parents, living in poverty and fearing for their children’s futures in an area hard-hit by war, sold their meager farms to pay for their children to be taken to safety and given an education. Instead, they were dumped in the teeming streets of Kathmandu. Grennan vows to return them all to their families, and the story of how he achieves that is adventurous and inspirational. I don’t use this word lightly. I have lived overseas and have a decent idea of what this sort of thing looks like, and I’m all too aware of ways that stories can be spun to make realities sound better than they are. Grennan is an everyday guy who responds to a need before him, and his book has nothing of the hagiographical feeling of, well to name names, Three Cups of Tea. Little Princes is a great story, and the proceeds go to Grennan’s NGO, Next Generation Nepal. He achieved his initial goal of saving the children of his orphanage, but there are still more kids out there who deserve to grow up with their own families.

The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure. This is a collection of short essays describing defining moments in the authors’ lives. Fascinating and honest. The moments range from heart-warming–births, first kisses–to heart-breaking–realization of racism towards oneself, the war reporter who struggles with the fact that he let an innocent person die rather than lose the story. It makes for great reading and is also the sort of book that would make a good present for someone else.

READING RIGHT NOW! AS YOU READ THIS! (not really. I’m probably out and about doing something):
Hope: A Tragedy This book is really really strange. In some ways, it’s a comedy about the holocaust, but don’t be offended because it doesn’t exactly make fun of it, more of the ways some people have reacted. Also it’s a very dark comedy. The writing style reminds me a lot of Woody Allen. Kugel and his family move to Stockton, New York, where nothing ever happens, and he finds Anne Frank living in his attic, working on her novel. She’s had to hide because after her diary sold so many copies, the publisher wasn’t thrilled to find out she’d survived, but she doesn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder. He has to hide Anne from his mother, who feels she is a holocaust survivor even though she was born in New York several years after it happened. Still, every time she reads of a survivor’s habit, she adopts it–i.e. hiding bread in the couch cushions. It’s funny and stark and unlike anything else. I sort of like it but I’m also able to set it down for long stretches of time.

Restoring Harmony Part of the YA dystopian romance pack. It’s okay so far; I’ve just started it. I love that it’s set in the NW. She just took the MAX train from downtown Portland to Gresham. I love reading books set in my city.

The Old Romantic Also just started, but it’s funny. I’ll give you a quote from the back: “It’s been decades since Nick cast off his impossible, contentious, embarassingly working-class parents…after a divorce that both of them managed to blame on Nick.” Nick is driving to see them in the first chapter or so, which is as far as I’ve gotten.

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast Ilsa got this one from the library and I’m reading and enjoying it. I love a good retelling of a fairy tale, and I love McKinley’s work in general, so it’s no surprise.

TO READ:

A Good American A coming-to-America story.

The Demi-Monde: Winter(The Demi-Monde Saga) A blend of steampunk and sci-fi and alternative reality that reviewers say is also a fun, fast-paced read.

What a terribly long post this was! Took me ages too–good thing I’m stuck home this morning waiting for the internet people to come by and do…something? Our yard has been taken over by painted lines and little flags lately, and apparently it’s them, not the squirrels out doing some colonizing with a cunning use of flags, as I first suspected. So, assuming you’ve made it this far (and congrats to you if you have!), what have you been reading? Anything good? My list for next month looks short at this point. Let me know!

Happy New Year!

This year, I have resolved not to make any resolutions. So far I am doing well. I have been to the gym, once, and I have not said no to another mince pie, since they need eating up.

We welcomed in the New Year with a party. It’s sort of a tradition–more years than not, we have a party. We had parties in Mauritania, where guests came from Abu Dhabi, Sudan, Morocco and Switzerland. We had parties in Morocco where everyone was from America. This year, the bulk of the celebrants came from Iraq.

For some reason, I got a wee bit irrational about the food. I cooked for 2 days. I made 5 dozen coconut pies (tarts, really), and 3 dozen mini-quiches, 6 dozen chewy ginger cookies, and guacamole and chips. I made thousands, it felt like, of small pizzas, topped with mozzerella and hamburger cooked with onion and garlic and home-made sauce and crust. I gave myself a massive headache. At the last minute I made a batch of espresso/chocolate chip “muffins,” just in case. I made Donn and the kids do all the cleaning, including the last-minute frantic “Quick! Take that stack of books and stick them on the floor next to my bed! Close the door!” Luckily, none of the guests went anywhere near my room.

Everyone brought food. We had masses of food. Entire villages could have eaten their fill off that table. 5 days later, we are still eating food from the party, and everyone left with some to take home too.

This is only half the table…

The bright orange thing that looks like a dead muppet is called “kanarfa” or something like that. It is shredded pastry with food colouring, filled with cream cheese and pistachios, and it is delicious. Plus, you feel subversive, like you’re eating Snuffleupagus or Animal or…who’s bright orange?

Leslie made marionberry-filled mini chocolate cupcakes with marionberry-cream cheese frosting.

We had, in deference to the fact that my friends are Muslim, only sparkling cider. But it was very tasty!

We had some fun introducing these young arrivals, soon to be Americans, to an indispensable part of American life…Looney Tunes. First they watched some cartoons, then Looney Tunes – Back in Action, which has some very clever and funny parts but really, in my opinion, you only need to watch it once. My kids disagree.

It was a fun party that went until about 1:30. I think a good time was had by all. I know my headache lasted well into the new year, but it’s gone now, and so is the baklava, and the goulash (which isn’t soup–it’s this meat pastry thing that is delicious) and the qu’ba (deep fried meat and potato pastries…a big favorite round here). There are still a few coconut pies left though. Who wants to come over and help eat them up?

Happy 2012 to all! What did you do to celebrate?

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