You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2012.

When I opened the laptop to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm’s site and showed the women photos of stripes of brilliant colours, following the contours of the hills to the horizon, they literally shouted! For a whole year, ever since last year when I went with just one woman and her daughter, I have been telling them about the tulip fields, promising them that we’d go, describing them. My words didn’t have the power of pictures, though.

Saturday was the day. 5 carloads of people, representing 6 families, were to meet up at an apartment complex. As was to be expected this proved to be complicated. First there were 3 cars, then one couple commented that they hadn’t brought food and could they just stop by Safeway, then off they went, then another car went to get gas, then the last car showed up but the couple weren’t back from Safeway, then we all met in the Safeway parking lot.

I remembered where the tulip farm was, basically, so I led.  You take the Woodburn exit off I-5 and turn left. Last year traffic was horrible. This year, given that it was a cool and cloudy Saturday, traffic was slow but not horrible. I was pretty sure I was going the right way. Behind me, strung out, were 2 Camrys in various states of disrepair, a small SUV, and a mini-van driven by Donn. I was in another mini-van. Both belong to our church and we’d borrowed them for the day and pretty much filled them with people who don’t have cars.

I took the exit, checked to see that everyone was following me. One of the Camry drivers is a young single man, about 26 or 28, who lives with his parents. (This is normal and right in their culture) His mother has confided in me that its time for him to get married; his sister in Baghdad has found a nice girl from a good family for him. He drives like young men do, and he likes to lead, so at least half the time he was in front. I found this amusing, since he didn’t know where he was going.

By the time I was a mile or two down the road, I got a call from Donn. The young man’s car had broken down; could I come back to the gas station just at the freeway exit? It took me a good 5 minutes to be able to turn around in that traffic, but eventually I made it back. We squeezed the occupants of that car into the remaining 4 vehicles and drove the rest of the way, me hoping I was on the right track the entire time. WHY do I always forget to check directions before I leave? Frankly, because I’m right most of the time, as (phew!) I was this time, but it does add to my stress.

We parked in various spots, met up briefly, and scattered. Two Kurdish women were dressed to the nines in their traditional costumes for pictures, with jeans and flats stuffed in bags to change into later. Ilsa sighed longingly over one outfit, which consisted of red satin harem pants with a black lace overlay. “Picture that on me, in emerald green…” she said.

Eventually, hours later, we met up for a picnic. I had told the women not to cook. “Just sandwiches,” I explained. “You won’t be able to cook.” This is because I have gone on several “picnics” now that involve barbecues and shish kebobs made on site and small electric fans brought along to ensure that the coals glow red-hot. “Just sandwiches,” however, proved to involve stacks of home-made hamburgers (picnics are easier if you don’t sweat food storage) and pizza, entire chickens, meat-filled pastries, and salads made and dressed right there on the table. There was tons of food, and people were constantly passing me platefuls of it. Several people brought thermoses of tea as well. We garnered a few glances from passers-by; we were quite a crowd, chattering in Arabic, with lots and lots of food. I will say, however, that the tulip fields are as multi-national a place as any I have ever seen. I heard more languages that day–Russian (presumably), Korean, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Tagalog, and more.

Everyone took millions of pictures of themselves. At one point, I found myself wondering, grumpily (I was getting tired), just how many pictures of herself in the tulips one person needed! But the day was a success. The people in my car wanted to stop at the outlet malls by the freeway on the way home, but I quickly realized what a nightmare that would be, between the men, not in shopping mode, and the children, so prone to getting whiny when dragged around the shops.

Getting everyone coordinated and packed up took almost as long as leaving in the morning had. By the time we left it was about 3 hours later than I’d expected we would, as the fields were closing down for the day. We met up again at the gas station, where we managed to get the Camry running, but the rest of the young man’s family opted to ride in other cars anyway, just in case. My van was full again, and we listened to pop music loudly, danced in place, and raced the other cars on the way home. The single man won again, cruising triumphantly across 3 lanes of traffic to take the lead, trailing clouds of glory smoke in his wake.

Ok, Zumba is not on my nightstand. I’ve just gone to a couple of zumba classes lately and I must admit they are fun, sort of, if you like looking like an idiot/dork in the back doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. In yesterday’s class, I noticed how many of the songs seemed to have the word “Zumba!” in them, and I’ve had it in my head ever since. Zumba!

On to the books!

What I’ve Read:

It’s been a busy month! Traveling to that conference certainly helped, as I had plenty of time waiting in airports, or lying in an Adirondack chair on sunny afternoons. However, lately, as my mother would have said, my eyes have been bigger than my tummy. In spite of my best efforts, I have still got an enormous stack still to get through! Sigh. I’m scrambling, not getting to everything, and doing my best. Come along with me…

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West: I already told you to read this one. A very important book. It’s the story of a young man who was born into one of the North Korea’s labour camps, bred to provide cheap labour, raised almost as an animal, and his mind-boggling escape to the west. Shines a light on a really horrible and desperate situation, and leaves you with a great compassion for this man, who is having to learn as an adult the simple things (love, mercy, trust) that most of us are privileged to learn as infants. Go read it.

Forgotten Country: A gorgeous book. Oddly enough, it also deals with Korea both North and South (mostly South). It’s the story of family, of the loss of a father, of the loss of country and identity. It’s beautifully written and not as depressing as I just made it sound. Highly recommended.

Shadow on the Wall (The SandStorm Chronicles, #1): This is a highly unusual book that I enjoyed very much, except for the graphic violence (I just sort of squint and skim) Recai Osman is a spoiled rich playboy living in Elih, Turkey, which is run by a corrupt and violent morality police whose reign of terror is enforced by brutality against women. Recai morphs into The Sandstorm, who comes out of the sand to stop people. He’s really a Muslim Batman, and Elih, in English, is Batman. Like I said, a very unusual book, but I recommend it.

An Impartial Witness: I’m doing the Bess Crawford Read Along at Book Club Girl, and thoroughly enjoying it. I love Bess! She’s plucky and practical and kind and steady and dependable. She’s a WWI-era nurse. This is the second in the series. She’s in France and has to escort some wounded back to England to a convalescent home (picture Downton Abbey Season 2) (I know! Isn’t it fun how that show has helped you picture this time period?) One man in particular is badly burned, and the only thing keeping him clinging to life is his love for his wife. He has her picture pinned to his uniform, so Bess sees it every day. On her way back up to London, she sees the wife bidding good-bye to another man in a train station, a man with whom she’s obviously having a very intense conversation. That evening, her murdered body is fished up out of the Thames.
Bess learns of this from a newspaper that she sees a couple of weeks later, and is soon in on the hunt for the killer. I will mention that I had a suspicion early on of who it might be, but I wasn’t at all sure. I loved this one! I read it while traveling, and it was perfect.

The Reconstructionist: A Novel: Ellis works as a reconstructionist, basically examining the scenes of car accidents to figure out what happened and why. He works with his best friend Boggs, a man who drives a green convertible and listens to audio books at top volume (I love his character). However, his own life is on a collision course of sorts–he has a crush on Bogg’s wife Heather, who was Ellis’ half-brother’s girlfriend when they were in high school. He lost track of her after his brother was killed in a car accident. It’s a good book but it ended up missing greatness for me. It also made me a little paranoid of driving. Did I tell you I’m teaching an Iraqi woman to drive? Sigh. That needs to be its own post.

Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel: This is apparently ninth in the series, and although it can be read alone, I did feel I would have enjoyed it more with a little more background. Set in 1933 London. Eddie’s a gentle man, “slow” but good with horses. His violent death has the costermongers–peddlers, basically–in his poor neighbourhood suspicious, and they enlist Maisie Dobbs, private investigator and from the same neighbourhood herself, to help. Very good.

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale: Faith Bass Darling wakes up one morning and decides to sell her entire houseful of priceless antiques for “whatever you can afford, dear,” even if that’s 50 cents for a Tiffany lamp worth $40,000. Various people try to figure out what’s going on and, hopefully, get her to stop. Very Southern.

Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is the New Fifty: This is a hilarious (but, frankly, also sort of scary) and frank account of why fifty isn’t really like thirty, in spite of what we may tell ourselves.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir): You have probably already heard of this book and possibly even read it. It’s very very funny and really strange too.

Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias looks at the historical figure of Christ in an age of mass-marketed spirituality.


More Like Her What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences? This is about wanting to be just like someone you admire and envy, and then finding out their life isn’t so perfect after all.

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man: Set, as any tale with a man named Captain Flint ought to be, on the sea, this tale is about a young man following in his father’s footsteps to catch king crab on the Bering Sea, but he learns that his father may not have been someone worthy of emulation.

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948: This is Madeleine Albright’s account of her early life, and I think it looks fascinating! I’m dying to read it.

The Uninvited Guests
What begins as “an amusing Edwardian country house tale” becomes dramatic and sinister. Seriously I am on SUCH an early-20th-century kick right now. This one looks really really good and it’s getting great reviews too. Can’t wait!

Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later: I read author Denise Schipani’s blog, and it’s full of really common sense stuff that, frankly, shouldn’t need a book written about it. Of course you teach kids to eat their broccoli, for Pete’s sake! Life is not about only getting what you want! Manners matter. However, apparently I’m in the minority on this. Looks like a good book.

Secret Heroes: Everyday Americans Who Shaped Our World: I like this kind of history; chatty, everyday stuff about unknown, minor historical figures who nonetheless played key roles in the way things turned out. Examples include a spy who saved George Washington’s life, the first black combat pilot, and America’s first muckracking journalist–a 62 year old woman.

Phew! Wish me luck. I wish I had more time to read. (And frankly, I actually have even more books to get to, but I’m out of time and nearly late to a meeting as it is!)

What are you reading? Anything good? I may not have time right now to add anything to my TBR list, but there’s always next month! Zumba!

I don’t even know where to start.

So I was all ready to post a silly happy post, about my crazy day where I left the house at 8:30 and didn’t really return to relax or anything until 11:30. Er, p.m., that last number, and a.m. the first. I really am not that impressed with myself when I only put in 3 hour days. Actually, that would be so rare that I would be impressed. Bring on the 3-hour days! Whither afternoon naps?! Let’s bring back the obligatory nap of childhood.

So, as you all know by now, I review books over at 5 Minutes for Books. Last Saturday I got Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West in the mail, and looking at the accompanying info, I realized the author would be at Powells tonight (Thursday)(ok so I’m a little late posting). We decided to go as a family, which meant everyone had to read the book quickly. In real life, that meant Elliot and Ilsa finished it and I mostly finished it, but with homework and dance team and work and managing to avoid doing laundry, we didn’t all get a chance to read it.

Frankly, if I’d read it first, I might not have let Ilsa read it. But then author/journalist Blaine Harden quoted from Elie Wiesel’s Night: A teenager should know no more violence than he gets from literature. His point is that growing up in the North Korean camps, Shin didn’t even know that literature existed, but I also took the point that my teens are plenty old enough to know what goes on in the world.

The book looks at the gulags in North Korea, through the eyes of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in Camp 14. His parents were given to each other in a “reward marriage” which meant guards allowed them to spend 5 nights a year together. I don’t think his mother loved him, and a result, he didn’t love her or even know what the word meant. His life contained no love, mercy, kindness, dignity. All he knew was hunger and competition for food, and the rules of the camp, which taught him to snitch and then stand by as other children were beaten to death. After he informed on his own mother and her escape attempt, the guard took the credit for the information, and Shin was kept in an underground prison for 8 months and tortured unbearably. He was 13.

The description of the camp is nearly unbearable to read. But, frankly, even more heartbreaking is his description of the painfulness of learning to live free. He spends time with a Korean-American family in Southern California, and the more he learns of how loving families interact with and treat each other, the worse he feels about the kind of son he was. He feels incredible guilt because he’s survived and escaped, and there are tens of thousands still in these camps. “I escaped physically, but not psychologically,” he says at one point in the book.

I don’t want to review the book here–I will link my post at 5MFB when it goes live. (Um, when? I guess check back on Tuesday, which is when I’ll recap what I read and reviewed this month) But I want to reiterate that I think this is a tremendously important book to read. I’m not sorry I had my teens read it, even though parts of it made me want to close my eyes and not breath, or scream and rage at the injustice of it all. It’s heart-breaking. But the thing is, we read Night and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; we view those as hard but important and even necessary; but this is not like that. This isn’t history–this is current events. You can go on Google Earth and look at these camps, which the North Korean government denies exist. (Note: I’m sort of quoting Harden at this point. I have not, for example, gone on Google Earth to see for myself)

So you should go read this book. It’s only 200 pages. 3 of us, with normally full lives, managed to read it in 5 days.

I’ll be back soon with a normal post. In the meantime, here is a photo of Elliot getting my copy signed. Why did I take a photo? Because he can get school credit (not academic credit, but he has to put in so many hours of extracurricular stuff) for this. I totally support this.

The date of the reading coincided with the date of our arrival in Nouakchott as a family for the first time. 11 years ago, we started this life of being global nomads. Even though we’ve been settled in the US for a year and a half now, even though I stayed in the same country for the entire calendar year of 2011 (and very depressing that was), we still view ourselves that way. Live overseas for long enough and you basically ruin yourself for normal everyday life in your home country; you will always be a bit of a misfit. But I’ll leave that for another post. To celebrate, I made couscous for the first time since we left Morocco. It was awfully tasty. It was ready just when we needed to leave for the reading, so we scarfed down some hearty snacks, and ate it at 10 p.m. Which was sort of appropriate.

It’s not nearly as pretty as Khadija’s was, but then, she’s had more practice.

I just found a new-to-me blog in which the writer keeps emphasizing that she posts 3 times a week, MWF. I thought that was good. What if I posted that often? Who would care? No one. You don’t have time to read all that’s in your feed reader anyway, right? Right.  No guilt here.

Last week we went to a conference in Indiana. It was a lot of fun, believe it or not. Usually this sort of thing is either interesting and informative or deadly dull, but rarely is it fun. This one was. We met a lot of really cool people, connected with some old friends, and went on a bunch of hikes by a creek filled with limestone boulders for scrambling over. I didn’t find out that this region has copperhead snakes till the evening before we left, which meant my heart was relaxed and calm as I leaped happily from rock to rock. (I will post pics either Monday or Wednesday)

The weather was sunny and there were even Adirondack chairs on a breezy, leaf-strewn lawn, and it was easy to snatch an hour or two with a book. Seriously. Best conference ever.

(Ok but how was the coffee, you’re wondering. Frankly, it would have been okay (Douwe Egberts from a machine)  except that it was served in styrofoam cups, which I thought were illegal but I guess not. Do you live in a region where they still exist? Do you care? Do you feel that nothing tastes all the good out of styrofoam? Did you feel that way long before you knew they were even bad for you and the environment? Discuss in comments)

Several of my Iraqi friends were worried about the kids, who stayed in Oregon and went to school as normal. “We can bring them food,” they told me. I explained they were staying with someone else. “Tell them to call us if they need ANYTHING,” they urged.

On Wednesday, I got a call in Indiana. Mona wanted the address where they were staying. She had made falafel, qubba, and dolma for them. She delivered it all on Thursday. She called me tonight. “You didn’t get any, so I’m making some more for you,” she told me.

But I don’t need it. Today another couple brought me dinner, since I’m “tired.” (aside: I’m not really that tired.) They showed up at my door with an enormous plate of briyani, a platter of baked chicken with potatoes and vegetables, and another plate of fried…something delicious…possibly fish?…and french fries, garnished with parsley. Also there’s a salad.

“It’s like we get paid in food,” Elliot commented.

But I’m feeling the love. I think food is definitely a love language. Last week, I allowed myself to be talked into staying at Bea’s for lunch on Wednesday, mostly because Fiona wanted to meet Bea’s visitor, who’s from the same region in Iraq as she is. When I thanked Bea for the amazing (and delicious) spread she’d put on, she touched her heart. “Oh Elizabeth, it makes me so happy when I can cook for you,” she said. And while Arabs always win at compliments and hospitality (seriously, if you are American, just try and top them. You can’t! We’re raised wrong), I sensed she meant it. It brings her joy to feed me. (It brings me joy to eat too, sadly for my jean size…) I feel very loved by my full fridge, knowing that while I was gone someone went out of their way to make sure my children and my friend who was hosting them got their full of delicious, home-made Arab food. (And I heard from my friends how wonderful the food was.) (Also apparently I’m addicted to parenthetical comments. I believe it’s a sign of a lazy writer, which is another reason to be happy I’m not posting 3 times a week).


PS Thanks to all who  voted for Elliot’s essay, and those who tried. He didn’t get enough votes to advance to the second round, sadly, but it’s all right–there are a lot of other essays out there to try for.


April 2012

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