You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

I read some terrific books this month. In fact, I gave out TWO 5 star recommendations at 5 Minutes for Books, something I pretty much never do. (In fact, I think these were my 2nd and 3rd). In addition, I read some others that came pretty close.

I READ:

Walk With Me: A Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples. At first I thought it sounded just okay, but author Annie Wald did such a terrific job portraying marriage (seriously, you don’t think she could have bugged my house, do you?) that I gave it 5 stars. Excellent stuff. Hurry and you can still enter to win a free copy!

The Round House:  Louise Erdrich’s latest. I gave it 5 stars and didn’t do it justice in my review. When an Indian woman is raped, her attacker can only be charged if it happens on federal land, not tribal land. A look at one such story, and the ripple effect the attack has on her husband and son and the community at large. Also very much a coming-of-age story. And super well-written, of course. It is Erdrich.

The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam): Jasper Fforde’s foray into YA. Magic used to be everywhere but now it’s dwindling and no one knows why. Magic carpets are being used for pizza delivery, and magicians are now fixing plumbing and hoping to get fairly paid. But then come some surges, as well as weird prophecies of the death of the last dragon. A fun, light read that manages to include lots of Fforde’s quirks and puns and general silliness.

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris: Also linked to my review. Hurry and enter the giveaway! This is a middle-grade reader (i.e. 9 and up) that I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed. It has everything–time travel, mystery, history, a wee bit of romance, and more. It also deals with the Dreyfus affair, which shockingly most people no longer know about. I love that a middle reader is addressing that. Really good.

Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody: This one was great! You need this book. This is how is starts: “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines/lived 12 ugly monsters in two crooked lines./In 2 crooked lines they bonked their heads,/pulled out their teeth,/and wet their beds…/The ugliest one was Frankenstein.” Of course this is a Madeline parody, but it’s pitch-perfect and really fun. Even the twins loved it! A plus–you will have the Madeline rhymes stuck in your head for days. All together now…”She was not afraid of mice. She loved winter, snow and ice.” etc. 

The Good Braider: Another book that everyone should read. Seriously, do you think I’m bossy? Told in free verse, this book follows Viola from her life in Southern Sudan, where life is precarious and soldiers shoot children in the street, to her new life as a refugee in Portland, Maine and all the pain that such a major adjustment brings. It’s a sad book in many ways, yet it is beautiful too, and really shows the life of a refugee and the terrible adjustments they go through. I LOVED this book. It’s technically YA but good for any age.

The Witch of Babylon: There’s still time to enter this giveaway. This was a good read. It’s a mystery, moving between New York, Baghdad and Ninevah. Enjoyable. I liked that the main character was very much an ordinary man, not a super hero.

The Garden of Evening Mists: Actually I think I read this one in Sept. Sometimes I just can’t manage to write reviews. There’s no reason why. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Someday I will review it.

Reading:

Forgotten: I’ve mostly finished this one. It has a fascinating premise. Emma’s mother recently died and left her a trip to Africa, which was a place she dreamed of visiting but never made it to. Emma goes, gets deathly ill, and then a devastating earthquake knocks out all communication and leaves her stranded for 6 months. When she makes it back home, everyone has assumed she is dead and life has moved on. It’s a great premise and an ok book–a quick read, sort of intelligent chick lit.

How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto: Because apparently I don’t? Seriously, I’m not very far into it, but the author says the point of wine is to enjoy it, not to know a ton about it. I agree. Let’s have another glass then, and finish the bottle.

To Read: There are oh so many!

The Stockholm Octavo: Each one of us have 8 individuals who help us find our true path. Set in 18th-century Stockholm, this novel is supposed to be wittily intelligent and fun. Hope so!

Flight Behavior The latest by Barbara Kingsolver. I sometimes like her and sometimes don’t, but she’s always a talented writer.

Iron Hearted Violet: YA book about an ugly princess, a timid dragon and a story with power to change their world.

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel The latest in the Thursday Next series.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris: looks so good!

So, anything catch your fancy? Don’t I have the best job in the world? And what about you; what are you reading? Do tell!

Tonight at about 8 we went over to visit an Iraqi couple. They’re in their mid-70s and they are just awesome–they might take lots of pills and afternoon naps, but they are adventuresome. They go for drives, stop at farmer’s markets to chat with people, take food to the fire station next door. “You know, they are there sometimes 2 or 3 nights, away from their home,” they tell us. “So we take them food. They love Iraqi food!” One of their neighbours helped the woman bring in groceries from the car, so they took them a big platter of food too. And I realize, talking about this, that I’ve forgotten once again to bring back the plate from the last time she brought me food.

They are the ones who tell me they wish they’d moved to America 20 years ago. But they were afraid to come, expecting all America to be as represented by Hollywood. “We thought people crashed cars every day, there were chases, U-turns, crazy,” they tell us. “But the driving here is very safe.” And they tell me of a shortcut they take to a mutual friend’s house, over a small mountain, the road curvy and windy and dark at night but still safe, cars slowing down for the turn, not like back home.

We arrive about 8 and they say, “Tea or coffee?” Coffee, I tell them. For some reason, those tiny cups of sweet Turkish coffee don’t keep me up as much as the cups of strong black tea. They give me a little boost of energy, but I can usually sleep by midnight or one. In fact, I have noticed that I seem to sleep better after Turkish coffee.

But the woman decides to make tea first. So we have it, delicately scented and lightly sweetened, because she lets me add my own sugar. They tend to fill the cup halfway with sugar and then saturate it with tea. I don’t stir tea like that, and I can feel my teeth growing furry as I drink it. I don’t like very sweet drinks. But when Iraqi chai is done right, it is a delightful drink. They use black tea and add cardamom.

I drink my tea and turn down the cakes I’m being offered. Since this couple is elderly she doesn’t do a lot of baking, and these are generic Twinkies wrapped in plastic. I claim fullness, murmur about my diet. They shrug and let it go.

About an hour later, she notices me stifle a yawn and asks her husband to go make coffee. This is the one thing he can do in the kitchen, he tells us. I send Donn with him to learn. The coffee is exquisite–again made with cardamom. I have learned to make decent Turkish coffee, but I learn anew how far I still have to go to be a true master. Mistress. Mistress of Turkish Coffee. A title I could live with.

Now it’s 11 and we’re home but pretty wide awake. Tea AND coffee, all in the space of a 2 hour visit. I’m still tired from a white night on Friday and a long day on Saturday that involved a birthday party for 2 Iraqi women, mother and (grown) daughter, both good friends. That party started with cake and Mountain Dew served in crystal wine glasses, and ended up at Hometown Buffet which is one of those restaurants where you serve yourself from an enormous variety of dishes. They were surprised when I didn’t have more Coke or dessert. “It’s included in the price,” they assure me, but I point out that I’d already HAD dessert. Life may be short, but I prefer my dessert later or not at all.

This is Turkish coffee that I (remember, I the Mistress of Turkish coffee) made, served in cheap cups bought in Morocco. The tablecloth is from Mauritania. Picture by my friend Sheri.

Do you like Turkish coffee? What’s the latest you can drink it and be asleep by midnight?

Two years ago we moved into this house. This morning, as I was drinking coffee, I realized this and thought it would make a good blog post. All sorts of ideas and connections ran through my mind.

They’re all gone now.

It was a long day. Ilsa was home sick, and I came home to check on her and somehow took about 3 hours off this afternoon and was sick with her. After a nap, I find myself feeling better. The headache is mostly gone. I guess rest is actually good for us after all! This is a brilliant concept and one I find myself hoping to explore more.

They say, these experts on international moves and third-culture-kids and people like that, that is takes 2 full years to really adjust and settle. They’re right. The first year everything is new; the second year you look for patterns. After that, you’re okay.

I spent the summer picking berries as often as possible, although the selection in our freezer is still paltry as we head into winter. I adore fresh berries–especially blueberry, raspberry, and any form of blackberry (i.e. marionberry, loganberry, etc) We live in the boring suburbs in a cookie-cutter house, but thanks to the brilliance of Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary, we live about 10 minutes from rural farmland, acres and acres of farms stretching out along the contours of the rolling hills to the west of us, blue with distance and sun. I would snatch a free hour, run out to a farm, come back with 5 pounds of raspberries for jam, or blueberries for cobbler, always with the idea of freezing for winter, but somehow not always achieving that goal.

It was a gorgeous summer–the days long and light-filled. We haven’t had rain for months now, very unusual for the Portland area. Fall has been filled with hot afternoons and crisp mornings and nights that are downright cold, so that it’s pretty much impossible to dress appropriately.

My Iraqi friends call this “Mountain Hood.” Locals say Mt. Hood.

If you are wondering, these are the things that help me adjust to a place. I need to know the patterns of afternoon sunlight in a room, or where the maples glow on sunny days, or the way to take to the mechanic that takes me through farmland and green hills and vines stretching up them into the distance. I need a riot of sunflowers and dahlias planted by the road, or the tangle of roses at all the freeway exits. I need the feel of the rain, of the heat, of the clattering moths outside a front door or the glow of a firepit giving a rather ugly and neglected backyard a certain allure. The place I had the hardest time adjusting to was Mauritania, because it took me years to see the beauty of it. Even now, I feel that if they could just turn the sun down by about 20%, it would be so much nicer.

I grew daffs and tulips and roses and cosmos. I planted a dogwood.

We bought that vase in France. It’s been all over with us. It’s very unsteady and I’m happy it’s survived.

Elliot had a deadline for the outline for his Extended Essay (I put it in caps cuz that’s how he refers to it. It’s a 4000-word essay that he’s doing on the Battle of Stalingrad. I think he’s already smarter than I am, but don’t tell him. It’d go right to his head) and needed to go to the big library, the one downtown that takes up a city block. I didn’t let myself even go in because I knew I would see a few books that I really really wanted to read and frankly, I already have a stack I need to read for 5 Minutes for Books. Instead I dropped him off, parked the car, and sat in the Park Blocks for a lovely, lonely hour. The Park Blocks are a block wide and run right through the center of downtown, from Portland State on the heights down past Burnside at the bottom of a long sloping hill. They are planted with elms and lined with benches and statues to various notable people, and when I was a student I used to do most of my reading homework out there (except when it was raining. This is Portland). I was utterly content, sitting in the sun with the occasional golden leaf dropping like a gift, reading a very good book. I turned off my phone and enjoyed it.

 this phone camera has no depth of field….

Two years ago, I had no idea I would be in this place. But here I am. I’m doing fine. How are you doing where you’re at? Is it at all what you pictured? I’m guessing no, because it never is.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get on my own computer for the length of time required to write a blog post. There’s Ilsa, who’s taking AP US History (known as APUSH) this year, and whose teacher requires that each chapter in the textbook be outlined in great detail. A typical outline is 7-1o single-spaced pages. They do one of these a week, so evenings round here are now marked by the sound of whining. “I have SOOO much homework! I have to do two red sections a night every night and I only did one last night so can you do dishes for me?” On top of this there’s Elliot. Elliot is doing the full IB diploma which means all his classes are considered college level. (I’ll leave you to work out what this says about our colleges) Additionally, he needs to write an “extended essay” of 4000 words by December, and the outline for that is due on Monday, which means he has to get going on his research. Not surprisingly, this means he needs the computer every night for homework, of which he has a lot. On top of that, there is the whole college application process, which is pretty much kicking our butts. I intend to give that topic its own post. We’ll see.

So I haven’t been on my computer much lately. But there has been ever so much going on.

1. Classic. Classy. Classical. Class.

I am once again offering a free ESL class to Iraqi refugees, mostly female ones. I wasn’t going to do it this year, because all my students from last year have either moved or moved on. But suddenly, towards the end of August, throngs of people asked me about it. I totted it all up on my fingers and realized if everyone came, I’d have 12 in the beginner’s class and 4 or 5 in the pre-intermediate class.

(that was a bit of foreshadowing there, the whole “if everyone came.” Wanted to point that out to you. This blog is both the classic AND the cliff’s notes, all in one. You’re welcome)

Studies have shown that the 2 things most likely to keep immigrants from learning their host country’s language are lack of transportation and lack of childcare. I provide both. This means whining at people I barely know, friends of friends, persuading them to help me drive, to hang out with other people’s children, to do all this on their own dime, as I don’t exactly have a budget for this. Last year I had both levels at the same time, which meant that the beginner’s class was taught by two different people. This was less than ideal. I realized that for this to work at all, I needed to do both classes myself. I decided to do them back-to-back, which meant I’d need 4 volunteer drivers for each day.

Day One. I had 2 drivers (neither of whom I’d met in person) and a 3rd woman to do childcare (again I hadn’t met her, only spoken to her on the phone). The books hadn’t come yet, because I had stupidly clicked “free super saver shipping” which of course means you don’t get your stuff for a month. I had confirmed with all the potential students OR an English-speaking family member or neighbour. We were set!

That first class, the one where I had 12 potential students? By 9:00 a.m., only one person was there. My two drivers were also there. One hadn’t been able to find the place. (She’s proven to be delightful, but the first impression was a bit iffy) The other had knocked on the right door and there had been no answer so she had foolishly assumed it was the wrong door. Sigh. I went myself, to pick up 6 people (4 adults and 2 kids), only to return with one of the adults. He explained his wife and kids were sleeping. The other couple said they weren’t ready and promised to come the next day.

Two students. And for the next class, only one. We were off to a terrific start!

And so I wondered. Why bother? It’s true I enjoy teaching, but I could just do that at a school downtown and get paid and not have to fuss with volunteers and choosing and ordering books, etc. I went home very discouraged.

And now? 3 weeks on? The first class has never realized its 12-student potential but we have settled down to a comfortable 5 or so regular students, with the occasional one or two more. The second class had only one student all last week (I took her for coffee a couple of times!) but one other student had a nasty bout of flu, and another will start on Monday. Additionally, another student had all her life plans fall apart. She only arrived this summer, and her family was supposed to join her but instead ended up in another town, where she will now move. In offering services to refugees and immigrants, it’s important to remember how much their own lives are in flux right now. Ones that have been here a year or two are much more likely to show up regularly because things have usually calmed down.

2. Birthdays

For years and years now, I have wanted a smart phone. And now I have one! Yes, if you’re willing to be a few steps behind the cool people, you too can afford technology. I got an iPhone 4 for free, and the data plan isn’t bad if you’re willing to share 1 gb between 2 people. That sounds small but seriously, people, I can go on the internet in my car now. We are so spoiled!

You may remember that my camera and iTouch got stolen last summer. This sort of replaces both. And while it’s fun playing with Hipstamatic (I’m hip! at last!) and all, and it’s fun feeling all cool holding up your phone in the general direction of photogenic things, I do have to say that overall the camera reminds me of my very first camera–a Kodak Instamatic when I was 11. Remember those? (Don’t bother to say if you don’t. Yes I did just have another birthday, although I no longer bother to add every single year.) This is because there isn’t really a lens, just a flat surface. I’m learning to work with it. Now I just need to figure out how to get photos from my camera to my computer. What a nice problem to have!

Also I put my phone in French, thinking it would be good practice. What I didn’t realize is that means Autocorrect is in French too. So if you ever get a completely illogical text from me, that’s why. It’s like my version of drunk texting!

3. College Essays

Nope! This one gets it own post. I’m going to go on the internet on my phone and add photos like that. See if it works!

Also here is a picture of a knobbly pumpkin for you. I ended up having to email it to myself and then resize it in the free pseudo-photoshop I have. I don’t see this working. Also, my Hipstamatic is having issues.

PS Gosh this is long. Did you read the whole thing? Wasn’t it a bit boring? Did I mention I’m really tired?

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