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I completely skipped this meme last month, but I’m not going to make up–frankly, between traveling to the conference and then spending nearly 2 weeks in bed while attempting to displace my lungs to the outside of my body, I read a LOT of books this month!   I hope you did too because reading is fun, and doesn’t require a lot of energy.

I READ:

Deadly Harvest: The latest in the Detective Kibu series and really good. It begins when a young girl, on her way home from school and dreaming already of Christmas although it’s only September, accepts a ride with a man and is never seen again. The police aren’t too concerned–no one cares too much about an AIDS orphan living with her aunt. (Did I mention this is Botswana?) However, when more girls disappear, it becomes apparent that a witch doctor is operating in the area and kidnapping, murdering and dismembering bodies to be used in muti–a powerful occultic potion. Based in part on true stories, this book was darker than the previous one I read in the series, and goes more in depth while still showing us Kubu at home enjoying his wife and daughter and good food and wine.

The Sisterhood: This is almost a fantastic book. It’s a really fun read with great characters and a plot woven back and forth between 16th-century Spanish nuns trying to survive the Inquisition and a modern college student who’s trying to research an obscure Spanish artist. My one  complaint was this sub-plot that showed the author read and was influenced by the Da Vinci Code. I found it annoying and detracting.

Equal of the Sun: A Novel: This historical fiction tells the story of Princess Pari, a 15th-century Iranian princess who was her father’s favorite and really his protege, the one whom he taught all that is needed to run a kingdom. But when he dies without naming an heir, all is thrown into turmoil, as Pari lives in a time and place that will not allow a woman to rule, especially given her abundance of brothers. The story is told from the point of view of her eunuch and closest advisor, Javahar and is a tale of political intrigue.

However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph: The subtitle of this book really rubbed me the wrong way. However, the book takes place in Senegal and I couldn’t resist at least giving it a try, and I’m glad I did. The book turned out to be really good and they should change that subtitle! It is the story of an American woman who didn’t want to be the Great White Saviour but instead just wanted to educate women in ways they’d understand culturally, which she learned by listening to them. The women of the Senegalese villages are the real stars of the book, which is quite inspiring and worth a read.

Cover Her Face: The first of PD James’ books. I enjoyed it, but it lacked a lot of the psychological depth of her latest works.

Death Comes to Pemberley: PD James’ foray into fanfic. Sort of. It follows on what happened 6 years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, and is all about Elizabeth and Darcy and Lydia and Wickham and all. At first I didn’t like it but I kept on with it because I was too tired to get up and find something else, and then I kind of got into it. It’s not bad at all, but I really don’t get the point of books that follow as sequels of other famous books, as they’re never as good as the original. Nor is this as good as James’ normal stuff.

I also read two other PD James. I decided to read all the Dalgliesh series in order, because why not? I was sick as a dog. I sent Elliot to the library with a list, and he came home with #10 and #12 in the series, so I read those. Then I decided I was better enough to move on.

I also reread, for the umpteenth time, most of the Narnia books. Apparently we have lost both our copies of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sigh. Also reread a Bess Crawford mystery. I like mysteries when I’m sick.

AM READING:

The Honey Thief:  Beautiful, fascinating collection of tales from the Hazara people of Afghanistan. It starts a bit slow but soon I was captivated by the loveliness of the stories. There’s Hameed, a boy without common sense with his head in the clouds, who ends up being given a copy of Huckleberry Finn in Dari, which ends up rewarding him in a surprising way. There’s the Englishman nicknamed “Try Again” because he keeps returning to the remote village to photograph the snow leopard, an animal the villagers have never seen and do not believe exists. There’s the Hazarat man who emigrated to America and became very rich, now returned dying, to beg forgiveness from the grandson of a man he wronged. It’s a gorgeous book. These are the stories of a people, a tribe, but especially a village. The author has captured them before they could be lost to time, but he has also written them in English so we can enjoy them too.

Elizabeth the First Wife: I’m really enjoying this one–it’s smart, funny, and light-hearted. Elizabeth teaches Shakespeare at a community college in Pasadena and is content to live in the shadow of her over-achieving family and ignore her ex-husband who’s now an A-list Hollywood star. Suddenly he’s back in her life, persuading her to spend the summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, helping him not make a fool of himself doing As You Like It.

The Abundance: A Novel: Do you ever start a book, enjoy it tremendously, but somehow put it down because you have a deadline and then not get back to it? This book is lyrical and beautiful, but I started it a really long time ago and need to finish it. It’s about first and second generation Indian immigrants in America. I’ll finish it soon and let you know what happens.

TO READ:

A Beautiful Heist (Agency of Burglary & Theft)

If You Were Here (the latest Alafair Burke)

Loyalty

Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel (written by British comedian Dawn French)

Sight Reading

The Water-Babies This is a new special edition. Of course I’ve read it before, but when Elliot was little we had an abridged story book of the tale, and it was his favorite for a long time. So I’m looking forward to revisiting Tom the Chimney-Sweep and his life in the stream. Victorian fairy tales are the best!

Augh. What was I thinking? Elliot is graduating next month, we have invited everyone we know to the party (if you haven’t gotten yours yet, don’t worry–I’m famous for my procrastination! The invitations are addressed and on the table. Just come), ALL the inlaws are descending upon us, and more. When will I have time to read all these books? Sigh. They all look really good though, and there’s a camping trip in there that will give me lots of reading time, so it will happen.

What about you? Is your June crazy too? What about this month? What did you read that I should be adding to my wish list?

1. I am better! Yaay! Except still coughing and a bit croaky at times.

2. This is not the promised Sandwich Nazi post. To do that one, I have to find the cord to plug my phone into my computer to remove pictures. OR I could email them to myself. I will. Someday.

3. I was visiting an elderly Iraqi woman, who was very concerned that I’m still croaky. She had some advice for me. “Heat some milk up at night and put a large spoonful of butter in it and drink it.”

4. Um, no?

5. I pointed out that milk was supposed to increase the phlegm, but she was adamant. She said I could alternately heat lemon and honey and drink that. I said I was drinking lots of hot tea, but she was not impressed and said milk was better for my throat, especially with butter melted into it. I just wanted to share this because I’m hoping someone out there will try this for me and tell me if it’s as nasty as it sounds. Let us know!

It’s interesting to me to look at folk wisdom from different cultures. In Mauritania, they believed that sitting under cool air (i.e. fans or AC) would make you cold which would cause you to catch cold! This drove me crazy as it was usually over 100 degrees there, and I needed all the cooling I could get. Although Iraqis like cool breezes and AC, they seem to blame the weather for every single illness. No matter your sickness, no matter if it’s unusually cold or unusually hot or surprisingly pleasant and sunny–well, the weather has been different, and that’s why you’re sick. When I had the flu, it was because the weather was too hot. When I was still croaking, it was because the weather had turned cool and rainy. When my friend’s son had trouble breathing and his lips turned blue, yes that was asthma, but it was caused by the weather, which was its normal grey and temperate self that day.

6. We have had some torrential rain here in Portland this week. First we had an unusually dry (for us!) winter and spring, including an unheard of two-week-long spate of 80 degree days! Then we got all our normal rain in 2 weeks. We were supposed to have a picnic/barbecue with an Iraqi family yesterday, but I came up with a cheap rainy-day plan–we would go to the nickel arcade, let the kids play games to their hearts’ contents, and then go see a movie. Of course the actual day was sunny, but I can’t control the weather, people.

I’ve mentioned the Avalon Theatre before, but I’m sure you’ve long forgotten. Movies (second-run) are now $3, and all arcade games are a nickel. We watched the new Oz, in spite of their 10 year old choosing the R-rated movie from the “now showing” posters as his choice for all of us, including his 6 year old sister. It wasn’t bad and I think everyone enjoyed it. Do people actually like all that CGI? I don’t, but I thought James Franco was inspired in his role as Oz the Magnificent. That cheesy grin he would get when he was getting his bluff called!

So I recently spent a week in Philadelphia. Now I’ve traveled a fair bit in my time, but not extensively in the US. I mostly only know the West Coast. Philly is like a whole different country.

Here are some random thoughts:

1. Styrofoam what??? Isn’t it illegal? I thought only barbarians were still using it, but we were served by perfectly nice people who seemed to think it was okay. It’s not okay, Philly. Not okay.

2. Coffee WHA???? People people people. Folgers is not coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts is not only grammatically egregious, (do they mean dunking doughnuts? Why name a business a gerund?) but their coffee, um, sucks. Good coffee is hard to find in this city of brotherly love. Maybe they feel caffeine would ruin things, but I find it hard to love my fellow man without some decent brew sloshing about inside me. And bad coffee served in Styrofoam? Ouch. It was hard not to take it personally, like they were telling me to take my European coffee and snort it up my nose.

3. Ok, all the old brick buildings are super cool. And the murals? Yes. The murals are super super cool.

4. LOVE the old stone churches, although seriously, you’ve got a LOT. I feel like every time they gathered 3 or more people together, they decided they needed to put up another large stone ediface. Literally ever other block seemed to have one.

5. Speaking of people, Philadelphians in general live up to their city’s name. They are friendly and full of advice. Another thing, everybody has a favorite deli, and if you are wondering what it is, just ask. One man explained that the deli where we were all waiting for our sandwiches was where he came for his deli sandwiches, but, he muttered behind his hand, there was another deli where you should go for your cheesesteaks. He was a large black man who barely fit in the deli’s one chair, where he was waiting. He told us about the best Philly cheesesteak sandwich in the city. “Now you are your wife should share one,” he told Donn. “I can eat a whole one, but that’s not a skill you want to acquire.” The train conductor had a completely different place he recommended for cheesesteaks. We did our best, but there is a limited number of large sandwiches one couple can eat. Perhaps if we’d split up?

6. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seemed perhaps a lot of people had acquired the skills necessary to eat the entire cheesesteak sandwich.

7. All the old rowhomes are pretty cool too. The neighbourhoods have a lot of character.

8. There is a palace downtown. I never did figure out what it was being used for. Do we have royalty here? Maybe it’s where visiting royalty stay? They were doing some sort of renovation. I did look for signs.

palace

9. Of course the historical part is fascinating, although since we were in meetings all day, the best we could do was go downtown via subway once we got out and wander round looking at the outsides of things, since places were closed. I didn’t mind. We did visit once before, years ago, and got to go inside places.

bell

10. Ethnic restaurants. I thought Portland was pretty good, but no, we are a cultural wasteland. We ate Punjabi food and Moroccan food and, best of all, Senegalese food. I was excited and kept texting the kids, who requested that I bring them some in my suitcase. Um, no. The Yassa Poulet (pictured below) was super-oily, just like it should be. They also had great bissop (a sort of tea made from steeping dried hibiscus flowers) AND really yummy spicy ginger juice, just like Howa used to make it.

I haven’t had Senegalese food since we left Mauritania in 2007. That’s a long time without good Yassa. We even met a Mauritanian man in the restaurant! (Aside: for newer readers, we lived in Mauritania which is just north of Senegal, and they share a lot of the same cuisine, and we vacationed in Senegal where we would buy Yassa from women cooking in on the beach in the evenings.) But, of course, mostly we ate hoagies. They get their own post, coming soon.

yassa

(Insert usual whining about lack of actual camera and limitations of iPhone, which really I am super thankful for. I love my smart phone)

I’m pretty sure I have more thoughts, but that’s all I can remember right now. Have you ever been to Philly? What did you think? Where was your favorite deli? Did you have a different favorite deli for hoagies and for cheesesteaks? Can you eat an entire sandwich? Don’t worry; we won’t judge.

Once upon a time there was a woman who slept and slept and slept and still she was tired.

There never was a woman who slept as much as Ms. Nomad.

Ok not really. I have just had what I assume is some kind of flu. But I can’t remember how long it’s been since I was this sick. I get the normal amount of streaming colds that usually result in a couple of afternoon naps. A particularly bad one will usually get me one full day in bed. Even when I had giardia in Mauritania, I don’t think I spent more than 2 days in bed.

4 days. I am up to 4 days.

This was sparked, I believe, by a conference we just attended in Philadelphia. It started on Wednesday evening, which meant we had to get up at 3 in order to leave our Oregon home by 6. It was snowing in Denver, on May 1, which meant we missed that first meeting. Then next morning, in order to be at the next session, we had to get up at 3 a.m. again, which in Philly they call “six.”

We came home Monday night at “eleven”, which had by then become 2 a.m. for us. And then I went to bed, and stayed there. I had things planned–gym visits to counteract all that conference food (they fed us every two hours! it was ridiculous!), ESL classes that I teach, laundry, reconnecting with my kids, and so much more. Instead I have managed to get up for about an hour or so each day. And I have slept unbelievable amounts of time. I sort of feel like I have mono again, like I’m a college student. (And, I don’t want to brag, but an actual college student, a frat boy who is probably only a couple of years older than my actual son, yelled out “Hi Blondie” at me the other day. Yeah. It wasn’t appealing. But my point is, maybe I am going back in time?)

My Iraqi friends have been wonderful, dropping by every day with food for all. The fridge is stuffed and I’ve spent my waking hours croaking into the phone that yes, we’re all fine thank you and no, we don’t need any more food.

Today I am definitely better. I don’t think my fever has come back, although I have taken just enough Advil to not be totally sure. And I’m up! It’s been two hours now! I’m ready to go back to bed, but it is “midnight” in the land of Philadelphia so I’m justified, right?

And yes, I do realize it’s been, oh like 2 months or so since I posted. I’d like to keep posting on this blog, and I promise to do it more often. Please check back and leave a comment or two. I have hilarious stories from Philadelphia that I will be sharing, plus pictures AND a video of a man we have affectionately dubbed “The Sandwich Nazi.”

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