You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2012.

This month has gone by really quickly. We are slowly settling into the groove of school, and Elliot’s scholarship and college admissions essays, which are kicking my butt. Saturday was gorgeous and I was stuck inside all day saying things like, “Why don’t you mention the time…?” and “You use too many commas.” Let me stress–he writes them himself. I just suggest things and encourage him to meet deadlines. It takes time.


The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (Ian Rutledge Mysteries): You guys know I like Charles Todd, but sometimes I like them in spite of their plots, not because of them. I feel that sometimes they are so determined that no reader will say “I knew who dunnit by page 50” that they put in these ridiculous plot twists right at the end that don’t even make sense. This is the 2nd book of theirs I’ve read (out of 6 total) where they did this, so I’m certainly not giving up on them. Actually, it is kinda the 3rd book, but the 3rd was done a bit more gracefully. Anyway. I still am BFFs with Bess and I will continue to read them, but I hope they stop doing this. Seriously, Charles, it’s not the end of the world if someone figures it out. When the book’s well written, no one really cares.

Bilingual is Better: Two Latina moms share their own stories as well as the reasons why raising bilingual and bicultural kids give them such huge advantages. They didn’t have to sell me! They did, however, make me feel lame for how bad we are at practicing our French round here. I did put my phone in French though. That ought to count! Quick–what’s “annuler” again? Enter to win a copy for yourself here.

The Harbormaster’s Daughter: What I liked about this book was that it looks at the aftereffects of murder. Vita’s mother was killed when she was 3. Vita is the product of two sides of the small Cape Cod community Oyster Creek–her father is the assistant harbormaster and her mother was a “washashore,” part of the new artistic side of things. Vita is painfully shy and self-aware, and the author does a tremendous job at portraying it. It’s a beautifully-written novel.

The Code of the Woosters

Service With a Smile

Galahad at Blandings Ok, so I’ve been on a bit of a Wodehouse kick. I don’t know what it is–my brain has felt incapable of anything very in depth, and I’ve really enjoyed them. I even wrote a post about it here.


The Garden of Evening Mists. This is a gorgeous book. Set in Malaysia in the years after WW2, the main character was a “guest of the emperor”–that is, in a Japanese concentration camp, where her sister died. However, she works as an apprentice for a Japanese gardener because she wants to build a garden in her sister’s memory. One of those heavy but beautiful books that stay with you and that often end up on those “100 Books You Should Have Read by Now, You Loser” lists. Read it now and feel smug later when others are raving about it.

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us: Interesting book on the effect our siblings have on us life-long. It’s taking me a while because I leave it in the car and read it when waiting for children to emerge from various activities. Then when they get in, I read them bits of it. Elliot might read it next, or at least pretend to in order to impress his psychology teacher.

Zeitoun: The story of a Syrian-American family affected by Katrina. I looked ahead to make sure they live. (Oh right, like you don’t do that sometimes. I just look for the name, I don’t actually READ the end. You? True confessions time!) So far it’s really good. Today is the day to discuss it in my online book group, but I’m only about 50 pages in. Sigh. I just won’t read what anyone else says.

Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples: This is a retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples. It’s well done and I’m really enjoying it.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: I’m still slowly working my way through this one. I took a break to read Wodehouse. It’s not a light book, but I do think it’s an important one. Read it if you haven’t yet.

To Read:

The Round House: Still haven’t gotten to this. The latest by Louise Erdrich.

Forgotten This woman goes on a month-long vacation to some vague location on the vast continent of Africa (pet peeve of mine. It’s not a homogenous place, people!) and gets sick and ends up trapped in a remote village. She finally gets home only to find out that everyone thought she’d died and things have moved on without her. It’s a good premise–I’ll let you know how the author does with it.

The Witch of Babylon: an art history mystery/thriller. In other words, should be nice and distracting. Set partly in Iraq. You know what a sucker I am for books about the Arab world, but I hope it’s good. It looks like it might be. I’ll let you know. I’ll be reviewing this one on Oct. 17th and there will be a chance to win a free copy. (At 5 Minutes for Books)

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris Ok so this is a middle-reader but it looks good. Mira’s mother has disappeared and the family think they’ve been abandoned, until they realize they are looking for her in the wrong century! Yes, she’s somehow been whisked back in time to Paris in the late 19th-century, a time of not only great artistic achievement (Degas, Monet, etc) but also the infamous Dreyfus affair, which showcased the antisemitism in French society of the time. An interesting combination for a book geared at tweens, non? Look for my review and giveaway on Oct. 20th, also at 5 Minutes for Books.

I’m sure there’s more–I got 2 more books in the mail yesterday, and I didn’t even mention a book I read called Murder Most Austen that I didn’t really like much, although you might if you like that sort of thing. But I need to get going. So tell me, what have you been reading? Anything good?

On Friday, one of my friends had a baby and another had a miscarriage. I wasn’t there for either of them. I was across town with another family, who were being presented with their new home from Habitat for Humanity. There was a ceremony, and a lot of Iraqi food, and a hot wind blowing around the yard.

It was a long day.

We spoke on the phone with both of them. A couple of days earlier, I’d spoken to the new father-to-be. “It’s happy for my wife, but a funeral for me,” he said. I laughed. “I don’t believe you at all,” I told him. “I know you’re really happy and you’re going to love that new baby daughter of yours so much!”

When he called, I didn’t hear my phone so he left a message. “You are right–I’m so happy,” he told me. We saw the baby the next day and she is gorgeous; tiny and perfect and welcomed by her grandmother, who recently arrived from Iraq, as well as aunts and big brothers and friends. I sat and held her while her big brothers and some of their friends tried on the enormous (on them) bright blue gloves left so temptingly in reach in those full boxes on the wall. I cringed as I saw a small child take off the gloves and thoughtfully put them back in the box.

The previous evening, we spoke to our other friends on the phone. They’d just gotten released from the hospital and were home, resting. Although we know Arab culture says you go then and there, we suggested that we come the next day. The husband agreed. “She is finally resting,” he said, relief in his voice. Sometimes the habits of your own culture are hard; this is true no matter what culture you come from.

We were really impressed with the husband, so thoughtful and caring, worrying only about how his wife was doing, willing to do whatever necessary to help her no matter how uncomfortable it made him, putting her needs above his own. We weren’t surprised; it fits what we know of them. But it was beautiful to see.

They were having such a difficult time. No one knew what to do, including us. None of us had faced this situation before and America is far more regulated than Iraq, where cemeteries are basically free according to our friend. They called the mosque, which initially said they couldn’t help because the fetus wasn’t viable–she was only 12 weeks along but had seen the baby on an ultrasound, heard the heartbeat, wanted a small spot of earth where she could visit. We called around too, quickly found a church willing to help but needing to check legality before definitively saying yes. Eventually someone from the mosque called back and agreed to help.

We visited them after leaving the hospital to see the newborn, stopping on our way for a picnic with two other families. That is, the original plan had been to have a picnic, but the baby (2 months old) was sick, so instead we spent a gorgeous fall day crowded into a small apartment, feasting. Our hostess had managed to out-do herself yet again. It’s okay though–it was both lunch and dinner, so my calorie intake didn’t climb through the roof, unless we want to think about the log-shaped baklava. Let’s not. It was really good.

We left the picnic a little early so we could go visit the friends who’d had the miscarriage. I didn’t tell them why we were leaving early, pinning the blame on Elliot who has college application essays to write and Ilsa who is taking AP classes. It took some nudging to get Elliot to fuss about his homework. But I didn’t know if the couple wanted everyone to know just yet.

Later, I asked her about it. “That was so thoughtful!” exclaimed her younger sister. Arab culture tends to be rife with gossip, but I didn’t think people minded because they’re so open with me. I’m finding out that they don’t want me to share certain things though. (Question: so is this blog lame? I do change names and some details, and for this particular post am being pretty darn vague. On the other hand, I am sharing other people’s lives with you. Discuss in comments.) It turned out I’d made the right decision not the share the events with the families at the picnic, even though they are all friends. Whew! It doesn’t always happen like this. So often I make the wrong decision, it seems.

She’s doing okay. Obviously she’s still grieving, but she has other things in her life to look forward to. We talked privately with her husband, and we all agreed that her life has had so much turmoil and sorrow already that something like this would hit her especially hard. You tend to think “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (and yes, I know you’ll be hearing that ear worm for the rest of the day–you’re welcome) and while that can be true, it’s also true that you get weary of being battered by life. Sometimes, what doesn’t kill you simply weakens you for the next thing. She’s surrounded by people who love and care for her though, and she’s in a safe place. I have high hopes.

On the last weekend of summer, we took an Iraqi family camping for their first time. It was their idea. In July, Donn and the boys went with a friend of his and his son on a “man-cation,” which is basically an all-male camping trip involving a lot of bacon and red meat, no vegetables, and, I imagine, a lot of jokes about bodily functions (just guessing here). I was telling Maude about it, while Donn showed Harold his photos, and she said, “Maybe we can go camping with you.” They wanted a vacation, and what better way to introduce them to American life? (Well, maybe Disneyland…)

Before we moved overseas, Donn and I were backpackers. We didn’t do much car camping, as we called it, which is where you drive someplace and set up your tent. I only remember a few times–near Balanced Rocks in the wilderness, with Donn’s parents once on Orcas Island, at Ollalie Lake when Elliot was 6 weeks old.

When we lived in Mauritania, we did lots of desert camping, which is basically when you drive into the desert, stop when you feel like it, and set up a tent. After a while, a shepherd will come by. “Is this all right?” you will ask, and he will nod slowly.

A few minutes later, he will say, “Is there anything you need?” “No, no,” you will assure him.

A few minutes later, he will ask, “Do you have anything you don’t need?” Sometimes he will ask for specifics–our friends traveled with a mini-pharmacy, and found that something as basic as tylenol was much appreciated and sought after.

(Want more? Posts here and here and here and here.)

But Harold and Maude are from Baghdad, which before the infrastructure was destroyed was a modern city. Even now, without electricity and clean water, houses are still tiled, filled with beautiful rugs and fine furniture. I would have picked a camping site with electricity, flush toilets, even showers. Donn wasn’t thinking that way. His friend told him of the beauties of the Metolius River in Central Oregon, its clean, clear fast-flowing waters, only a couple of hours drive away. So off we went.

“The Metolius?” said all our friends doubtfully. “On Labour Day weekend? You’ll never get a spot.”

But we did. In fact, we found 2 spots. The first was in a campground off the beaten track, with only one other family there, away amongst the trees. We found an enormous double spot, situated in a corner where a creek joined the river. It was lovely and lonely. But too lonely for our friends. “The children will not be able to sleep here,” proclaimed Harold. I must admit we wondered if it was the children who wouldn’t be able to sleep or someone else, but we agreed to look for another campground.

We found another one, and snagged a spot right on the river on a site surrounded by tents. Even though we had ample room to set up two tents, I noticed our friends pitched theirs right next to ours. Privacy is so much less important in some cultures than in others.

The Metolius really is gorgeous–clear and deep, full of browns and greens with the occasional bright glimpse of a silvery fish twisting through the depths. It’s surrounded by Ponderosa pines, their red trunks and green needles providing a pleasant contrast and scenting the air.

There was a slight problem. Our campground didn’t have water. You had to load the empty jerry-can into the car and drive a couple of miles to the next campground and fill it. It really wasn’t bad–we both had brought bottled water, and there was the river, rushing swift and cold and glittering under the full moon.

The first night, Maude and I went to the toilet at dusk. It was a fine toilet–a pit toilet, yes, but spacious and cleaned daily. When we came out, she said, “It’s very dark here.” “That’s because there’s no electricity,” I pointed out.

“Oh.” She thought about it for a minute. “Maybe next year,” she said philosophically.

America–it’s just not as developed as you think it’s going to be before you move here!

I explained the lack of electricity was a choice, that we wanted places where we could get back to nature, with no wires slicing the sky. She agreed but I’m not sure it was whole-hearted.

Her kids like s’mores okay, but much preferred the joys of roasting marshmallows. (I’m the same way myself)

We cooked tikka–what we would call kebobs–over the open fire each night, then roasted marshmallows. The moon was full and bright. Our camping neighbours were nice. The nights were freezing cold, the afternoons were burning. The river was icy but there was a spot on a point where the kids and Donn could plunge in and plunge right back out again. Maude got in too, fully clothed, but I didn’t as I hadn’t brought enough changes of clothes; instead I stepped in bravely to a shallow part, and stepped out just as bravely after about 2 minutes. Abel stayed in the longest and his legs turned brilliant red. Elliot sliced his foot open on an underground root and bled, most dramatically, a large puddle onto the grass, but I decided he’d be fine without stitches and he was. I sacrificed a towel to bind it up and the stain came right out in the wash. Naturally, as I didn’t care if that towel was stained.

Overall, I think the trip was a success. We’ve heard from other Iraqi friends that it was a bit too primitive and rough for our friends, but at the same time, they liked it. Sort of. I think next year, we’ll try it again–maybe at a campground with flush toilets and showers and electricity.

(Sorry for lack of pictures, but as you may remember, I no longer have a camera. Instead, here is one of Donn’s, a long exposure taken by moonlight, with the firelight making the trees look especially red.)

September 2012

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