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I’m sitting on a park bench in the shade with a new friend, A, while our kids play on the play structure. (Yes, I know my kids are 16, but they are good sports and join her younger kids on swings and slides with rare abandon) We have just shown them Portland’s Rose Garden. It’s blazing hot. Not far away, our husbands chat, and other young parents gather their broods and assorted diaper bags, sippy cups, stuffed animals, and bags of snacks. A watches one group, consisting of one man and two women with assorted offspring, and leans over to me. “In our religion a man is permitted to have four wives–four at the same time!” she whispers. “Don’t tell Donn!”

Um, he already knew that, I assure her, but I can’t stop from laughing. If i was going to worry, it would have been in Mauritania, where the women were flinging themselves at him because of his golden American passport. I tell her it’s illegal here, but I’m not sure how much she understands.

***

I’m driving the 3 kids to some event, I forget which one. Elliot and Ilsa are in the back seat and Elliot is acting like a big brother, poking and teasing and annoying. I needn’t worry though–Ilsa gives as good as she gets.

Elliot: “You’re cute when you’re mad.”

Ilsa: “I’m about to get adorable!”

***

A wants a bike. “It’s okay?” she asks me. “I see here women riding bikes.” Yes of course, I assure her. It’s America–you’re free to do what you want. I don’t add that, here in Portland, you can ride a bike naked, or ride one while wearing a Darth Vader costume and playing bagpipes. I feel that might just be too much information.

She says when she was a little girl, she asked for a bike but her father told her girls don’t ride bikes. “I learned to ride my brother’s bikes,” she says, but she hasn’t ridden in years. “You’ll fall down,” I warn her, but she’s not fazed. “I will be bloody-faced and black-eyed,” she agrees proudly. I’m looking for a bike for her; I really want to support her in this.

***

I get a text from M. “Bought a coffee maker at garage sale. Can you teach me how to use it?” This amuses me. M makes the best Turkish coffee. I really don’t want her to start making American coffee.  I hope she only makes it in the morning, before her classes at the local community college.

***

Every day, more bombs go off in Baghdad. Everyone says the situation is horrible, spiraling downward once again to a sectarian civil war. Neither side is right; both commit atrocities, although of course my friends tend to side one way or the other while agreeing it’s all horrible. “Before, we lived in harmony–Sunna, Shi’a, Christian–side by side,” I have been told many times by different people.

I ask about families. Sometimes the news is not good. One man’s uncle was gunned down on the street. Another’s nephew was badly injured in a car bomb while at a cafe. Another bomb, another friend’s nephew, aged about 6, was far enough away not to be hurt, but watched as the body of another small boy landed near him. “He doesn’t talk anymore, just sits on his mother’s lap,” his aunt told me.

***

In my backyard, tomatoes ripen, and the zucchini (why did I plant it when I’m the only one who likes it, ask my children) sends forth glorious orange blossoms, a promise of harvest. In the front, the roses are overblown and need trimming back. The neighbour’s grape vines spill over the fence, and every Iraqi woman who visits my house asks if she can take some leaves to make dolma with.

***

A friend has a new baby, gorgeous and plump for a newborn, with deep blue eyes really alert. She stares at me. The parents try out names on us. “Sukeina,” says the dad. No they will call her Zucchini, we say. “Horah.” No. Nonononono. No, we say. They name her Rahma which means Mercy, a beautiful name for a beautiful child.

What an exciting post title that is! I can’t believe it’s the 4th Tuesday of July already. This month has flown by, been really busy.

So we took Elliot for his two-day freshman orientation this week, in the neighbouring town of Eugene. It’s about a 2-hour drive down the freeway, a sleepy little town full of college students on bikes and grey-haired people in expensive but sensible sandals, like Keens or Tevas. It continues to embrace its own stereotype, and I took pictures of tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirts on display in shop windows. I swear I saw those same t-shirts on a trip I made there in the late 80s. Here is a visual for you:

grateful dead

Now, on to the books! This month,

I READ:

Global Mom: This was rather an emotional read for me, as it’s about a family who moves a lot internationally, and I swung wildly between feeling bone-tired at the thought of another move and all the hard work involved in learning a new place, and stabs of pure jealousy because I want to move again. This doesn’t tell you much about the book, but go read my review and enter to win your own copy.

The Fame Thief (Junior Bender #3): This one is fun, with a total 40s noir vibe to it, but it has its very serious side to it as well. Gangster holdover Irwin Dressler hires burgler Junior Bender to figure out who ruined the reputation of Dolores La Marr, who was rated by Life magazine as the most beautiful woman in the world in 1950. Junior’s pretty sure that now, over 60 years later, whoever the guilty party was is long gone, but instead he finds out that some grudges get stronger with age.

Her Royal Spyness AND Royal Flush: These are fun and light and just a bit snarky, making them the perfect mindless read.

Together Tea: Highly recommend this look at immigrant families and how they find themselves changed by their changed environment and how they can find their way back to their true selves. It’s also a really good story! Linked to my review.

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A young man learns to deal with Tourette’s through weight-lifting and supportive family. He also thoroughly confuses Mormonism and Christianity, which I found annoying–surely a decent editor could have helped?

Love and Other Subjects: This one has a slow start but I ended up being glad I stuck with it. Carolyn Jenkins is a first-year teacher and wants above all to do a good job at teaching, but nothing in her suburban middle class background prepared her for the poor inner-city school she’s at. Also a love interest who is uber-patient.

AM READING:

The Illusion of Separateness: so far, very good but a little light considering its subject matter, which is the inter-connectedness of all humanity. Here’s the publisher’s description: a harrowing and enchanting story of how one man’s act of mercy during World War II changed the lives of strangers, and how they each discover the astonishing truth of their connection. Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old age, shame, deformity, disease, or regret, the characters in this utterly compelling novel discover in their, darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in an unseen chain.

Apologies to My Censor: Mitch Mowley goes to China to write for an English-language paper and so far, does a lot of drugs and gets drunk. I’m waiting for the stories to start, and judging from the back cover, they should soon.

TO READ:

Sight Reading: I actually started this one and it’s good, but that was over a month ago; I remember it has to do with music and with one man’s relationships with two different women.

Kind of Cruel The latest Sophie Hannah. I love her stuff. Literate suspense, and always dealing with women and families.

After Her The latest Joyce Maynard. From the publisher: Loosely inspired by the Trailside Killer case that terrorized Marin County, California, in the late 1970s, After Her is part thriller, part love story. Maynard has created a poignant, suspenseful, and painfully real family saga that traces a young girl’s first explorations of sexuality, the loss of innocence, the bond shared by sisters, and the tender but damaged relationship between a girl and her father that endures even beyond the grave.

Camping. It happened nearly a month ago but I’ve decided that blog time is sort of like novel time. It doesn’t have to be close to reality, right? Because seriously, you don’t care when exactly it was, and it really was rather funny. If I’d thought to film it and put it on YouTube, I’m sure I’d be an internet sensation by now.

Donn’s parents are in their mid-70s now, and definitely have health issues. G, Donn’s dad, has survived several forms of cancer. (If there was ever an advertisement for eating a lot of processed food, he’s it. Hostess cupcakes don’t last forever for nothing, you know) His mum, K, has had a shoulder replacement and foot surgery, she has arthritis, and a couple of years ago was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Nonetheless, camping was really important to them. They’ve always gone camping, they reasoned, and they are still alive so therefore they could still go camping.

I’m not talking trailer camping. I’m talking tents, sleeping on the ground, cooking over a fire. We tried to talk them out of it, all of us (Donn, me, Donn’s sisters and bro-in-law), to no avail. They remembered with fondness the time, 19 years ago, when we all camped on Orcas Island, which is in the San Juans, 5 hours drive plus an hour’s ferry ride from Portland. And so they decided–we would recreate it! We would once again camp as an extended family on Orcas Island, to celebrate Elliot’s graduation and family togetherness.

My father-in-law tends to worry a bit. (My sister-in-law is choking at my restraint) One ferry left Anacordes at 2:30 and the next didn’t leave till 6:30. We needed to catch the earlier one. Could we leave the house by 8 and be in line in plenty of time? This is the man who, a few years ago,  made us leave the house 4 hours earlier than I would have thought necessary in order to get us to the airport a mere 5 hours before our plane took off.

Amazingly, the 5 of us were all ready to leave the house by 7:45, but G was the hold up. He’d lost his wallet. We searched and searched, and finally left by 8:20 or so. Ample time. We sped up I-5, making good time until we hit the traffic caused by the bridge collapse. We stopped at a Subway in Anacordes to get our sandwiches to go. We were in line at the ferry by 1:15, and missed the ferry by 2 cars.

It was a lovely day. We were traveling in 3 cars (11 of us) and all of us were parked near each other. We ate our lunches, shared snacks, wandered by the Sound, until we finally boarded the 6:30 ferry. We saw porpoises frolicking in the waves. (Well they prob thought they were swimming, but it looked like frolicking to me) It was freezing outside. We landed, found our campsites, had to change them because of  a hill situation (difficult for K), set up and took down a tent and set it up again in the dusk, ate hot dogs at midnight, and generally managed to endear ourselves to our new camping neighbours in lots of ways.

G and K had a new tent that was remarkably easy to set up, a fact which G mentioned several (many) (myriad) times. We set it up rather closer to ours than we’d all planned, because of the terrain. Donn’s 2 sisters and their families went in the neighbouring campsite. We crawled in our sleeping bags and settled down to listen to G and K discuss everything under the sun.

G & K are, in many ways, awesome in-laws. They have great senses of humour. They’re well-read and well-traveled. Best of all, they like me. They support me, too. When we were first married, if we ever had a disagreement, they’d take my side. Of course my own mother took my side too, so poor Donn was rather abandoned, but he’s survived. However the thing is, they are deaf, and like most deaf people, they can be clearly heard when they think they are being subtle. I have listened to them talk about me for years, and I have never heard anything negative. They really like me, and they think I’m a really good parent. I can also attest that they like to chat for hours after they go to bed. They discuss lots of things; always our parenting and children, but other topics vary. On that first night of camping, they discussed what K would wear to bed. (She can’t lift her shoulder very high at all and I couldn’t imagine her managing to get into a nightie in a tent) They discussed some intimate things I wish I hadn’t heard. They discussed our parenting. I kept quiet through it all, figuring it was necessary. Then G began to discuss how easy the tent was to set up. It was 2 a.m. at this point. “G,” I said politely in a normal voice, “please go to sleep.”

There was silence…blissful silence. I went to sleep. (I was still taking muscle relaxants for my back, and sleeping great!)

The next day, K had a terrible time getting out of the tent until Elliot went and basically lifted her to her feet. We drove places on the island and couldn’t really hike anywhere farther than a short walk. We didn’t let her do any of the cooking or cleaning because she really couldn’t. But overall, I have to say, they did remarkably well, much better than I’d expected.

I explained to them, “You know we can hear everything you say.” G looked embarrassed. “Really?” he said. “Really,” I said. “I just wanted you to know.”

The next night we listened to them discuss what K would wear to bed and our parenting. Then G said, “Elizabeth says they can hear everything we say.” “We can,” said Donn.

Silence again. Blissful silence.

The next night, Elliot heard a discussion that he wishes he hadn’t. It can never be unheard, you know. Poor child. On the other hand, to few of us is it given to know intimate things our grandparents talk about late at night. He doesn’t seem to want to go camping with them again though.

It was June in the Pacific NW. It didn’t rain, but it was cloudy and cool. We learned that people who live in the California desert think it’s cold at 70 degrees. K admired several of the houses and wondered aloud about living there,  but I told her that people who think it’s cold at 70 pretty much have to live in the desert. She laughed and agreed.

Donn said he will never forget this trip, as those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. He told his father this, and he laughed heartily. Like I said, awesome in many ways. G and K have great senses of humour, along with a tendency to repeat themselves. Several times.

I also learned they think I’m a great parent and hostess.

Elliot had to work, so he and I and Ilsa came back a day before everyone else. We cleaned the house and did massive amounts of laundry and happily took showers. Donn and his parents arrived back a day later. (The sisters went on home on their own) I made strawberry shortcake with fresh berries and parented beautifully and won more accolades.

We have a house guest, another teenage boy, staying for a couple of weeks, and the other night, Ilsa had a friend over and they were just across the hall in her room. I needed to tell Donn something and I’m pretty sure there’s no way any of them could have heard me even if I’d been talking loudly, but I thought, as I whispered something into his ear, that talking quietly just might be a good habit to get into.

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