You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2012.

Well, this isn’t really the end-of-summer edition. There’s nothing seasonal about it. But it is the end of summer, the last full week of vacation (we are going camping with 2 Iraqi families! Their first time ever! If I survive, I’ll tell you all about it). And I’ve done a fair amount of reading this month, although I’m trying to cut down. Can you tell?

WHAT I’VE READ:

Some Kind of Fairy Tale: Please read this one quickly and let me know because I’m dying to discuss it with someone and instead I have to write a review in which I don’t give away spoilers. AUGH! Let me know if you want spoilers, cuz I want to give them! Tara disappeared in the woods 20 years ago, and her then-boyfriend spent time in jail. She shows up on her parents’ doorstep on Christmas Day, claiming to have been away only 6 months in what we would call Fairyland. How are they supposed to respond to that? This is actually a really interesting book, dealing with family dynamics and adult emotions. Some sex scenes–this is not a fairy tale for younger readers–but they are short and easily skipped.

The Other Woman’s House: The latest by Sophie Hannah. It’s really good. Connie is worrying that she’s going mad. She was skimming through a “tour-the-house” slide show on a realtor’s site when she sees a picture of a murdered women. By the time she calls her husband in to look, the picture is gone. Is she insane or is her husband evil? I really wasn’t sure for a lot of the book.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock: Light, fluffy, chick-lit. It was okay but not super enjoyable. Read my review.

What You Wish For: I didn’t want to finish this book as I liked the characters so much. What happens when life doesn’t go as planned? When you always thought you’d have a family but you didn’t meet the right person, or illness or death or infertility intervene?  An actress whose resume says she still under 40 is looking at sperm donors; a high-school principal is looking into private adoption; a woman whom breast cancer left infertile wants to use one of her own frozen embryos but her ex-husband won’t sign an authorization. Go read my review and enter to win your own free copy!

The End of Mr. Y So, with all the spare time I have to read, I’ve joined an online book club. Don’t judge me because I obviously have a problem. This was a book from there. It combines a lot of philosophy, quantum physics, and a story of a woman who can travel into other people’s minds, which she needs to do because people here in the “real” world are trying to kill her. I prob am not doing it justice, but it’s a hard book to sum up. Interesting. My SIL would love it.

Skios: a farce set on a Greek island. I liked it but found the ending a bit disappointing. Others didn’t, according to the reviews on amazon, so you might like it.

Immigration and Adaptation: Helpful counsel for recent immigrants.

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: It is a truth universally acknowledged—that a young woman looking for wisdom on how to live life can gain a surprising amount of wisdom from looking at the characters in Jane Austen’s six novels and at the novelist’s life.

WHAT I’M READING:

The Harbormaster’s Daughter: I almost didn’t request this one because I didn’t like the title, but I’m glad I did. Vita lives in a small village on Cape Cod, the result of an affair between the Portuguese fisherman/harbourmaster and a “washashore,” one of the recently-arrived outsiders. When she’s 3, her mother is murdered, and she’s been raised by a family friend on the “washahore” side of things. Now she’s 16. Just a really good story, so far.

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq: Everyone is so excited and optimistic! It’s 2003 and the Americans have just invaded and everyone’s hoping good things for Iraq. I’m not very far into this book, but it’s heart-breaking because I know what’s going to happen.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: So, do you read Nicholas Kristoff? He’s really good. I’ve known of this book for a while but haven’t read it before. It’s about how women are treated world-wide, the injustice of it, and what you can do about it. So far, it’s excellent.

TO READ:

The Round House: I love Louise Erdrich, and have since I read Love Medicine in a college English class. I even once found a book by her in a bookstore in Morocco with one shelf of books in English. And yes, I bought it. The Round House is her latest.

The God of Small Things: A Novel: This is a total modern-day classic and I’ve never read it! It always shows up on those “100 Books You Should Have Read by Now You Loser” lists (which I always score well on, she said modestly) and I always lose a point cuz I haven’t. Elliot just read it for his English class next year and I thought, “Here’s my chance! And then we can discuss it!” So far I really like it. I guess it should be in the “reading” section since I’ve started it, but I doubt I’ll finish it anytime soon. We’ll see.

Leave it to Psmith: So we had guests (our friends from Mauritania, even though they would say they are from Minnesota) and we took them to Powells, of course. Everyone wants to see Powells. And I’d sold some books so I had this gift card burning a hole in my pocket, which was not only uncomfortable but was ruining a perfectly good pair of capris. This is tied for my all-time fav PG Wodehouse book (with the one in which Gussie Finknottle gets drunk and gives a speech…it’s a Jeeves’ book but I can’t remember the title). I LOVE PSMITH!  I would marry him if I could, but I can’t since a. I’m already married and b. he’s fictional and c. too old for me anyway. But I love how his mind works. And I didn’t have a copy of this book. Now I do.

The Red Door: Like I needed another book. But, remember, that trip to Powells? You may remember me nattering on about Bess Crawford and how we were BFFs now and how I was having withdrawals due to the inconsideration of Charles Todd to produce another one quickly enough. This is by the same author, a mother-son writing team that has me imagining a lovely future for me and Elliot. I’ve read one other in this series (The Confession) and enjoyed it.

Zeitoun: this one is also for my online book club, but it’s been on my “Want to Read” list for a long time. This is a list I carry in my head and inexplicably forget whenever I’m in an actual library or bookstore.

What about you? Do you forget the books on your list when confronted with actual books? Do you have a problem with reading too much? What are you reading now? Should I read it, or at least add it to my mental list? Discuss in comments.

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The plan was this: I would drive with Maude and her kids (she still has her permit but is doing well and should have her license soon), and Donn would come with our kids and another couple who don’t drive. We, along with many, many others, would meet at AS’ new house, which is far away–nearly to Washington State!–around noon. We would admire the new house, present them with a housewarming gift, and then we would all head, en masse, to Blue Lake park for an enormous picnic. We were supposed to be out at Blue Lake by 1:30. Blue Lake is far away too–far from our homes in the suburbs on the west side of Portland, far from AS’ new house in the north. And traffic round here around noon on Friday, on a bright summer day towards the end of August, well…

Maude was running so late that I wondered if we should just skip the first part and go directly to the park. By the time she’d changed twice and finally decided on a long, dark pink ensemble augmented with gold earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, and topped with a fancy pink hijab with fabric roses from Egypt, I was reconsidering my jeans and sandals.  Her daughter was wearing a tutu and butterfly wings. We had to drive through the neighbourhood to collect her son from a friend’s and wait for him to take his bike apart and fit it in the trunk. Now I know that American ideals of timeliness don’t transfer to very many countries, and that suits me just fine. I am habitually very late by American standards. In spite of this, I still thought we were really pushing it by this point.

We found the new house no problem, after I sped through traffic. And, of course, we were the first to arrive, even beating Donn. Maude pointed this out and we laughed about it–she’s always a good sport. We admired the house, which is adorable and nicely decorated in a sort of leopard-print and Swarovski crystal theme, as interpreted by “Ross Dress for Less.” AS’ wife kissed us enthusiastically and gave us a tour  and then served us tea and cake. She was wearing jeans, it’s true, but she was also wearing an ensemble–blue and leopard-print and white, with high heels and floating shirt and thick eye makeup. As others began to arrive, I noticed a theme. The men and boys were in shorts and t-shirts. The women and girls were in layers of finery, with armfuls of bangles and bracelets and millions of sparkles. Maxi dresses were definitely popular, in multi-colours of blue and pink and turquoise and orange. Everyone looked their best. Except me, the representative American. Oh sure, I had a few sparkles on my grey t-shirt, and I was wearing eyeliner and Ilsa had even put a little sparkly gold on my eyelids. But it really wasn’t the look  for a picnic at a state park. You would have thought I’d have known that!

After the cake, we headed out to Blue Lake, where we would help reserve a large picnic area for everyone else. By the time most people had arrived, there were probably close to 60 people there. If I was hosting a party that big, I would do a potluck or hire a caterer. Not AS and family. They didn’t show up till about 4:30, and then it was time for the party to begin.

We had naturally segregated by gender. There was an enormous picnic area, with the women sitting round one group of picnic tables and the men round another. Someone commented on “how Arab” that was, but I pointed out that Americans do this too, although to a lesser extent. “Really?” they said skeptically, but it’s true. And at barbecues for both cultures, the men do the work.

There was an enormous bucket of meat. One man dumped in onion and parsley chopped in teeny-tiny bits ahead of time, and plunged in his hands to mix it up. Other men shaped it into kebobs, which are formed around flat skewers and cooked quickly over a very hot fire. There was also something new (to me anyway)–hawoshi (I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting the actual name. There was another name, something like ariez), which was meat with green pepper and tomato spread very thinly in the middle of a piece of Arabic bread and then fried or barbecued or something. It was so good–the bread thin and crispy, the meat savory and flavorful. I suspect there was extra oil involved–why is oil so delicious? It’s gross by itself. No this wasn’t health food, but it was awfully good. I was handed a hawoshi and another piece of bread filled with kabobs and salad. Afterwards there was more tea and more cake. There was so much food that the men were cooking until nearly 7:00, which was okay as more people arrived.

It was a perfect afternoon. You know how the light gets in late August, heavy and golden and almost saturated? The trees were glowing in it, and the lake sparkling. After we ate, I took a walk and sat under a tree with one girl, comfortable, in silence when we wanted to be and talking about real topics when we felt like speaking, as if we were old friends. Donn and I walked around the lake in the sunset. The boys played soccer; Ilsa strolled with various friends, learning Arabic phrases that she proudly showed off later to the women, who called her “Habibti” (my love) and kissed her.

When the sun was nearly down, we gathered everything together again and drove  home in the pink afterglow of sunset.

 

It’s been nearly a month since I posted. That’s hardly an auspicious way to begin a post, but I don’t know yet where I’m going with this. I started one about Ramadan, but then I remembered I already told you about how I’m staying up late eating too much and drinking Turkish coffee at midnight and having a terrible time getting going in the mornings.

Yesterday was the Eid al-Fitr, the feast day that celebrates the end of Ramadan. (In many countries it is a 3 day feast) We spent the day visiting people, taking round platters of goodies, eating lots and admiring everyone’s new clothes.

Other things have happened. Some very good friends of ours (people we worked with in Mauritania who’ve become more like family) spent a measly 6 days with us. The time flew by. We took them to do Portland things…the Rose Garden, the waterfront, Powells, hiking down the Columbia River Gorge, etc. We also got together with 2 other families in the area who also used to live in Mauritania. It was great to see them again. One couple were childless when we knew them and now have 3 adorable kids! I know–you’d never even heard of the place before, and here are scads of people just in the Portland area who used to live there. Don’t you feel left out?

(random picture from nicest part of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Also, I saturated the colours a bit; Mauritania tends to have everything covered in a patina of dust and sand)

My editor from 5 Minutes for Books came to town with her family! It was great fun to finally meet her in person. We met at our favorite Thai restaurant, and both families got along splendidly.

The males in our family went on a “man-cation.” This involved a lot of steak and bacon and pancakes cooked in bacon grease and catching fish and, apparently, a tent that no woman could tolerate even for a second. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, obviously.

(I love this picture of Elliot, taken by Donn)

We’ve had some super-hot weather! All the Iraqis are complaining about how hot it is. I find this ironic. It’s been really hot, but I can deal with it from living in the Sahara, where it isn’t as hot as Baghdad.

On the hottest day, with temps over 102 (which is very rare and brutally hot for Portland), we went with some friends to a local winery at dusk to watch a Shakespeare play–Much Ado About Nothing. It was idyllic. The setting was gorgeous, with a sweep of hills, vine-covered, large trees surrounding a lawn. And at the end of the evening, they gave us a car. Admittedly it’s as old as the twins, but it has everything I wanted in a car–AC, a working radio, and cup-holders!

We’ve now seen the latest Batman twice, and the boys have seen it three times. Several local movies have $5 movies on Tuesdays. An older Iraqi couple have told us several times that they love movies, so one night we went with them to watch it again. We couldn’t help but wonder how much they enjoyed it, but they claimed to. Afterwards, we went back to their apartment for Turkish coffee at midnight, which the kids drank as well. We’re raising them right! We are going to see the new Bourne movie this Tuesday with the same couple.

Also, on these cheap movie nights, you can get an enormous bucket of popcorn for $4–seriously, it was so huge that 6 of us couldn’t finish it, even though we hadn’t eaten supper. I’m not really sure of the point of such a large bucket–I mean, what a waste of food!–but it was cheap and fattening and, at first at least, strangely delicious. Our kids went with a friend to see the movie again, and 4 teens managed to finish the entire bucket–and they’d had supper.

What else? Wedding anniversary, discovered a great new way to cook green beans so that even Donn will eat them, lovely summer weather, lots of very late nights with friends during Ramadan…in short, a lovely, pleasant, month.

What about you? What have you been up to?

 

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