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Abel: my first class is Media as Lit.

Me: Does that mean you watch movies?

Abel: Yes. We’re watching the Batman/Dark Knight movies and a Star Trek. And some others that I forget.

Me: (hopefully) Maybe like a Shakespeare play?

Abel: I don’t think so.

Me: And how is this school? (mutters) It’s the end of the world. Or at least it should be.

Abel: (indignantly) No! It’s a good class. We watch movies and analyze them and compare them to classic books–

Me: –which you haven’t read, because instead you’re watching Batman movies…

Abel: no, he’s going to give us Spark Notes about the classics.



Me: Kill me now?

Yesterday was a day off school for the kids, a teacher-grading day to celebrate the end of the semester. Since I’ve worked a lot of 7-day weeks lately, I cancelled my ESL class (we always follow the school schedule) and took most of the day off too. Ilsa and I planned a leisurely afternoon of a trip to a British import store for candy (and Marmite for me YAAY!), followed by a trip to Powell’s to return a book I’d bought her that she already had and to spend my gift card, followed by a coffee. It was a lovely afternoon and we had lots of good conversations about books, candy, and Benedict Cumberbatch. I had a great time spending my gift card on some lovely new books, and I realized how true the saying is: You can never have too many books.

This month, I read:

The Girl With a Clock for a Heart: George Foss clearly remembers his first love, a girl he met during freshman orientation at college who left almost a sort of a spell on him. Now, 20 years later, living a comfortable if uneventful life with a long-term on-again off-again girlfriend, George catches sight of Liana in a bar he frequents. He knows by this point that she’s responsible for the deaths of two people, and is probably wanted by the police still, but he goes to talk to her anyway. She’s been the one point in a life that has been, in a word, dull, and he’s drawn back to her like a moth to a flame. A romantic-noir book, a little uneven but overall a good read.

Hunting Shadows: The latest Ian Rutledge. When Capt. Hutchinson is gunned down attending a society wedding in Ely, the police can’t even determine where the shot came from. A short time later, there’s another death, that of a lawyer standing for office and making a political speech. At this point, Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is called in. He travels down to the small villages on the Fens in search of any connection between the two men. A good addition to the series, which I really enjoyed.

Labor Day: If you click on the link, you can read my review and enter to win a copy. This was a decent book, well-written and with characters I cared about, but the underlying story (an escaped convict and the single mother who falls in love with him and lets him stay, all told from the point of view of her 13 year old son) did contain an unmitigated creep factor.

The Runaway Daughter: Kamada is the daughter of a high class prostitute in Bombay. She hates the crowded streets filled with cursing beggars, men trying to grope her, and other ugliness, so she fills every waking space with talking vegetables, singing cockroaches, fairies and gremlins. Her goal is to go to America to study. She’s appealing, but the book has the feel of a self-published book even though it mentions an editor, and at 133 pages seemed long.

Taking What I Like: Loved this collection of short stories playing off Shakespearean plays. Reading Taking What I Like is in some ways like taking a lit class from the very best lit teacher–you know, the one who could open up the text for you like no one else could and make the characters come alive, until you felt you’d recognize them on the street.

Our Love Could Light the World: A collection of short stories about various members of the Dugan family. What makes this book work so well is that it’s one of those books that seems deceptively light, but in actuality goes deep into family relationships and psyche and the dysfunction that seems an inevitable part of all families everywhere. Each story would stand alone but together, they present a nuanced and complex view of the various family members.

Possible some others I’ve forgotten about

Am reading:

Citadel (from amazon) a mesmerizing World War II story of daring and courage, in which a group of determined women fighting for the French Resistance risk their lives to save their homeland . . . and protect astonishing secrets buried in time.

The Boy in the Suitcase (Nina Borg #1) (.) I read the 3rd in this series and loved it, and found a cheap used copy of this at Powells yesterday. Have I ever mentioned how much I love that store? Oh I have? Ok then.

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj This one is a fun account of the crowds of single British ladies who went en masse to British-controlled India in search of husbands, a necessary endeavor since all the single men had gone off there anyway.

To Read:

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About: Yaay! I used to love reading Barry’s weekly online humour column, and I’m really happy to see he’s still around being funny.

Boy, Snow, Bird: (from amazon) Boy is Boy Novak, who escapes 1950s New York and comes to Massachusetts, eventually marrying local widower Arturo Whitman. Snow is Arturo’s daughter, a girl of uncommon beauty. And Bird is the daughter Boy and Arturo have together, whose dark skin reveals the family’s secret: Arturo, his late wife, and their families were all African-Americans passing as white. A loose retelling of Snow White, with reflections on race and family life. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

After I’m Gone: The latest Laura Lippman, so suspenseful and mysterious.

Clever Girl: Stella, now in her 50s, looks back at her life. Everyone is raving about the writing, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Things have been a little hectic round here lately, so until I have time to post some more about our time in Mauritania, here’s something to keep you amused. Enjoy!

The Tabbouleh Song



Waking up that first morning back in Nouakchott was strange. I had slept surprisingly well on my solid-as-a-rock mattress. But I was unprepared for the sight that met my eyes, as I rubbed sleep from them and stared out the front window.


Puddles and puddles and puddles! What was up? I well remember, in fact it is seared into my memory, how hot and dry Nouakchott was. Located where the sands of the Sahara meet the Atlantic Ocean, built on some salt flats by the French who decided on a relatively-neutral spot to build a new capital city for a new country in 1960, Nouakchott was the exact opposite of Portland. It rained 4-6 times a year, always harsh and sudden and preceded by a wind that whipped the reddish sand straight up into a wall that was then slammed down hard by the rain, rendering anything outside, like clean clothes on your washline, covered with reddish mud. Rainstorms lasted anywhere from 10-30 minutes, then they were over. They left lots of puddles, that disappeared within a day or so as the hot thirsty air drank all moisture available and the sand eventually absorbed what was left. It only rained between July and September. I remember one year in which it really didn’t rain at all.


This was different. Since we left in 2007, the sea has risen, so that now there are actually permanent ponds, almost lakes, in this desert city. There are rushes, and ducks and egrets. I can not emphasize strongly enough to you how strange this is. It would be like leaving Portland for 6 years and returning to find a barren wasteland that no one had thought to mention to me.


We arrived very late on a Wed. night, around midnight. Thursday was normal weather-wise, but the Friday and Saturday of that week it rained all day. It was bizarre. In spite of huge changes in the amount of paved roads, most of Nouakchott remains sand instead of pavement, and the sand turned instantly to mud. I was wearing very long skirts (well, long skirts on a short person) that dragged in the mud.

After 2 days of rain, the place was truly flooded. Several large intersections were impassable. When I went to visit Aicha, we had to park a long ways away and walk to her house over a trail made of sandbags, cement blocks and other debris. We heard stories of people in the poorer sections of town who lost everything, of children drowned in houses. Tim and Debbie’s old house was unreachable without wading through deep water.


IMG_1026(sorry this is blurry. I was trying to be subtle with my camera. Also this was taken from a moving car using telephoto)

It rained for 2 days and was pleasant, temperature-wise, although unpleasant to walk around in. But then the weather cleared. The sky was actually blue! (In Nouakchott, it’s usually white with dust and haze) And it was hot. It was around 100 degrees for the rest of the time we were there. The heat slowly shrank the puddles and the wind whipped up the drying sand. It achieved a state I would previously have thought impossible–it managed to be muddy and dusty at the same time.


I wrote the kids long emails that I would send when we had internet access, which wasn’t very often. (Ilsa: “Your letters are so long. You’re not going to have anything left to tell us.” It’s like she doesn’t even know me. She complained often about the length of my emails, which made me feel great about her interest level in me, but she did read them.) I told them over and over about all the water. Donn did too. And yet, when we were back and Abel was looking at my phone pics while in a doctor’s waiting room, he shouted, “WHAT??? WHAT IS ALL THAT WATER???” Everyone looked. I tried to explain, sort of. It was awkward.


Seeing all that green was nice. Donn and I are hoping that the city learns to deal with its new water, and that it ends up being a good thing. In the meantime, the water is brackish and not really anything you’d want to get too near.


Happy New Year!

In my opinion, it’s still the Christmas/holiday season, not least because it’s still snowing on my blog. This should last at least through Monday when we all have to go back to school/work/normal life, and no I’m not looking forward to it at all. I really am feeling the need for another week off. I vote we all just take one. Right? This could work.

In honour of it still being basically Christmas, I think it’s time to unveil the 2013 Lego Creche. Long-term readers may remember that every year, Abel goes to his vast collection of legos and creates a nativity scene for me. I have recorded the results on my blog every year except last year. It all started our first year in Morocco, when he was 11 and most of his legos were in storage. The original Mary


may have messed with some people’s theology, although I have always felt that Mary was a woman just like us and that also possibly the line about “no crying he makes” might be a wee bit inaccurate. Although that year was somewhat barren, because of having relatively few legos, it still made a big impression. The following year included the wicked King Herod sending off his soldiers. And every year has a Roman patrol, which I feel should be included in traditional nativities because I’m sure there were lots of Roman soldiers patrolling the crowds. After all, a census was big business, and they wanted to get their hands on their share of the taxes. Here are years 2008, 2009, 2010. Although he made me creches in 2011 and 2012, apparently I didn’t blog about them. I photographed one year, but last year I didn’t even bother, because of how much I hated the phone-as-camera concept with all its limitations. No doubt you all thought, just because he’s all grown up now and the tallest in the family (which isn’t saying much. We tend to be a bit height-challenged), that he’d given up on legos. But no, he hasn’t, and I don’t think he ever will. He’s in drama at school, and it’s but a small step from designing lego creations to designing sets.

So, the 2013 version. (Aside: can you believe it’s 2014? remember when this date seemed comically distant?) This year might actually be my favorite in many ways. The attention to detail is terrific.

IMG_0064You can see the inn with the stable out back, set on a busy albeit narrow cobblestone street with the Roman patrol going by. (Why yes, I think he might have been influenced on this by growing up on Asterix and Obelix comics. I just thought of that) Note the detailing on the inn, the different coloured blocks, and the blocks of hay on the roof of the stable. Also the stable this year includes boxes for the horses and a couple of actual horses to boot.

IMG_0043I took the roof off the stable in order to get a good view inside. This year, Mary continues to be sleek and dressed all in black, with her hair in a becoming topknot. Joseph has been too busy to get to the salon, and he has also been spending more time in the sun which seems to have bleached his hair out.

mary & josephHey, can you tell I got a camera for Christmas? I did! It’s very cool, because I may have expressed my frustration with the camera phone once or a hundred times. It’s small and black and makes a very cool clicking noise and it does very cool close-ups of lego figurines.

Back to the creche. The inn is pretty full. There’s this guy round back…

IMG_0040and the place is full of people kicking back and relaxing on their way somewhere else…

IMG_0041and this guy…

IMG_0061As you go round the corner behind the inn heading to the stables, you will glimpse the 3 wise men presenting a treasure chest of, well, treasure. In this version, they all sort of went in together.



Why yes, Abel’s extensive lego collection does include a fair number of hobbits and lord of the rings.

We had planned a New Year’s Eve party, but then I came down with a fever and Ilsa was up all the night before with severe abdominal pain, which I googled sleepily on my phone at 5 a.m. before sending her back to bed to see if she got better in an hour or if I should make Donn get up and drive. She fell asleep and I succumbed again to the sweet siren spell of Nyquil and no one got up before 10. So it was pretty quiet round here. We did make it to midnight, and our annual playing of the U2 song.

Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you much joy.

January 2014

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