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It’s Spring Break! Yaaay! I for one am very happy. I’m actually trying to take some time off and relax, read some books for a change… well maybe that wouldn’t be a change. But we all need breaks, and I’m hoping to take some.

The End of the Point:  This is a story about a place as much as people. In this exquisitely written novel, author Elizabeth Graver takes us deep into the lives of one extended family and the summer place where they feel most themselves, most at home.    The novel is told from the points of views of several different characters, including a nanny for the family. Really good.

Operation Oleander: A YA book appropriate for all ages. Jess’ dad is in Afghanistan, and to help feel connected to him she raises funds for an orphanage there with her best friend Meriwether. However the presence of American soldiers delivering supplies to the orphanage raises its profile and there’s a bombing, in which Jess’ dad is badly injured and Meriwether’s mother is killed. To make matters worse, some Afghans, and some media, blame Jess for the bombing. This book deals with serious issues (how to best provide aid, challenges of military families)  but presents them very well, and we see Jess mature throughout. It’s a really good book and well worth reading.

Glamorous Powers: This is a really unusual book that I totally loved even though I don’t know if others would. Does that even make sense? I’ve been trying to think how to explain it, and I think you just feel so much deeper in the character’s head than one normally does when reading. Jonathan Darrow is an Anglican priest who has psychic visions, ends up leaving a monastic order and remarrying at the age of 60. Really unusual, like I said, but I also totally loved it, overall, although sometimes it was a bit slow. There are 6 in the series and I want to read the rest. (I read a few from this series in Morocco but I want to reread and fill in the gaps)

One Step Too Far: I could not put this one down. Emily decides to leave her family and it’s obvious some terrible trauma has occurred but we don’t know what until nearly the end. I didn’t see it coming and actually gasped out loud! She manages to create a new life for herself in London, and we see her heartbroken husband, and glimpses of her childhood and her twin sister, unexpected, unwanted and unloved and a troublemaker as a result. Really gripping. A perfect summer (or spring break) read.

Not Less than Everything:  A collection of essays on heroes of conscience, a look at people who’ve inspired various authors. Good overall.

Reading:

Canada: Nearly finished with this one. Narrated by Dell, aged 15 and part of a set of fraternal twins. Their parents, ordinary people, commit armed robbery, and Dell ends up in Canada with the brother of a friend of his mother’s. It’s slow-moving, character-driven, full of description, extremely well written.

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat: A collection of essays about food followed by recipes. I’m not too far in but I’m really enjoying it. Food is so much more than fuel–it is memories of our childhood, our mothers or occasionally our fathers, or it signifies special times. Favorite foods are so much more than simply taste and texture.

Ghana Must Go: After the patriarch of the family dies, the others gather. At least I think they do. I’m not  very far in, and still looking at the patriarch’s death.

To Read:

Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World: I think the title is pretty self-explanatory.

Something About Sophie from the amazon description: Answering a call that summons her to a stranger’s deathbed, a reluctant Sophie Shepard is too late to hear what he was so anxious to tell her. What was so important that a dying man would think of her in his final moments? With the help of Dr. Drew McCarren, Sophie begins to dig into her past, setting off a chain of events that chills the quiet town of Clearfield, Virginia to its roots.

The Abundance I read another book by this author and loved it. This one concerns Indian immigrants and their children, now adult and American. Looks really good.

What are you reading? Anything good? Please tell me in comments!

10 years ago. Spring 2003. I was teaching at the University of Nouakchott. That year, I was the only American, the only Westerner, on campus, although I was later joined by a Canadian woman (Hi Louise!) and an American couple. I stood out, on the campus and in the city in general. A blonde American, wearing long skirts and heeled sandals, with 3 young children usually in tow–I was always surprised when taxi drivers remembered me, but in hindsight I was perhaps a bit clueless.

We’d discussed it, of course, between us as a family and with other expatriates during our weekly beach trips. Friends from Norway, England, Switzerland, and Oregon tended to be on one side (against), while the majority of the Americans tended to be for the potential invasion. I officially decided I thought it was a bad idea. I wanted to state that, so that I could avoid later saying, “I knew it at the time” and everyone else saying, “No you didn’t!” But it wasn’t all that clear-cut. We got our news very second-hand then. Not everyone even had a satellite dish. We personally had an antenna on the roof, often blown off by the hot desert winds. We got two stations: Mauritanian television (MTV) and a German station that broadcast everything twice, once in German and once in English. Our internet connection was usually non-existent, and we used to do something called “flash sessions” to get our email, since connection was over $4/minute. (This was only 10 years ago but I feel kind of like grandma telling the kids how she used to take a horse and buggy to school).

At the French school, another American family reported a case of bullying over nationalities. Their son was thrown up against a wall and threatened. It was for this reason we discussed it with our kids, although they had no problems, not then at that school.

At the University, there were signs of unrest. Once as I was leaving after a class, I saw a large group of young men waving the Iraqi flag and forming up a protest. They were gathering in the middle of a road down which I normally walked to catch a taxi. I turned and went the other way before they saw me, feeling that was wisdom. One of my students told me, “Listen, if your country invades Iraq, don’t come to class. If something happens and you’re already here, don’t worry. We’ll protect you. But it’s best if you don’t come.” The whole world seemed to be holding its breath.

We did invade, of course. The administration instantly declared a “Spring Holiday” and cancelled classes for a month. By the time I returned, somewhat warily, things were calm again on the streets of Nouakchott, after demonstrators had burned tires (why does that make a statement? it’s never made sense to me) and had some fun smashing a few random items.

I didn’t know then that 10 years after, I’d be back in Oregon, living in the green and grey again after those years in the heat and dryness and the days of blowing sand, comfortable again in jeans and boots. I didn’t know that my days would be spent with those whose lives began to be torn apart on that day, filled with death and destruction, loss of limbs, loss of daughters, husbands, aunts and cousins, best friends from childhood. The stories haunt me now; the woman running down the street carrying her toddler and realizing that the child had been shot and killed and what she was carrying was a corpse; the man betrayed by a colleague and kidnapped, stuffed in a trunk, riddled with bullets that left him paralyzed from the waist down; the children caught in cross-fire between 2 opposing armies and one panicking and running, running, into the street towards home and perceived safety while her agonized friend watched her die. These are stories of war, and are probably typical, although I don’t think they ever should be.

Why did they happen and what was accomplished? That is the question that I and apparently most of the media are asking. All week I have seen and heard news stories, many of them of the “where are they now?” variety. All of the stories are sad, although some of them have found some degree of closure. All carry terrible scars, mostly internal, psychological–whether they participated as American soldier or Iraqi civilian. My Iraqi friends are stoic, filled with black humor. I read of an appalling suicide rate amongst soldiers who survived the combat. And in the end, the why isn’t perhaps the most important part, but the how and where do we go now? I pray it is towards hope and healing, although there’s little in the history of this planet to inspire me.

Whether you are invited to a 16 year-old’s birthday, or the shared mother-daughter party for a 30 year old and a 6o year old, or a baby’s first party, you never know what to expect.

You could be offered:

  • full-sugar Mountain Dew (it says so on the label) in wine glasses, large slices of very sweet bakery cake, and a trip to the Hometown Buffet, where your hosts will be surprised you don’t want more dessert.
  • you and your family will sit down first and eat a four-course meal–stuffed meat pastries, bean and tomato soup, chicken and rice, salads, yogurt. Then, replete, you will move to sit on the couches, while the next group is fed. Later, you will eat bakery cake and nuts and drink Pepsi. The boys will go off to sit in a small room and play video games. We will stay in the small living room and dance, whirling around to Arab pop music.
  • you will see the Pizza Hut delivery guy when you pull up outside the apt. building. Inside, you will be served coffee, then juice and cake, then pizza, bread rolls, and wings.
  • you will meet at another woman’s house. “Just follow me,” your hostess will say, then take off at full speed while you are still buckling a small child into your back seat. You’ll eventually find her house in spite of all that. The party will last 5 hours and involve more food and dancing than one would have thought possible.
  • the mother will serve all the guests reheated chicken sandwiches from McDonalds, along with homemade falafel and salad. And, of course, really large pieces of bakery cake.
  • when I say bakery cake, I am talking Safeway/Fred Meyer/etc. In other words, super sweet and lots of icing. Just wanted you to be picturing this with me.
  • what do all these parties have in common besides bakery cake? youtube will be put on the TV, and we’ll listen to several versions of Happy Birthday. Like this one. Enjoy. And, of course, the fact that these parties are all lots of fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfa6xjAds_s

(PS Sorry it won’t let me upload the actual video so you’ll have to click the link. As a little perspective, remember that some people have real problems. )

First there was this.

TMZ014c1989

(you could tell from the beginning which was the boy and which the girl…Abel always had a bigger nose and a receding hairline)

And before I knew it, this was happening.

cake

And then, faster than a blink, it’s like this

aftermath

 

I may have gone rather overboard on the sugar and butter and carbs part of things, but I can blame the twins for that. It was their idea. And since they were born on St. David’s Day, I always always make them Welsh cakes, and sometimes I take bad pictures of them.

welsh cakes

And of course there are always daffs. It is St. David’s Day, you know.

daffs

And for the next morning, unfrosted cinnamon rolls, until Donn went to the store and came home with powdered sugar. I do know how to make my own (an advantage to having lived overseas), but I prefer not to.

cinnamon

Who is St. David? Patron saint of Wales, of course. You should eat Welsh cakes and have daffodils on his day (1 March), and if you’re really going to be authentic, eat/wear a leek. I don’t usually go that far.

 

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