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So I went to Memphis last week. I didn’t make it to Graceland, although I did go to the Stax Museum. Mostly I visited the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Before I went, I had a basic familiarity with the place, but knew no specifics. So suffice it to say I was totally blown away. I am blogging about it at 5 Minutes for Moms so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but I will just say that I was really impressed.
There were 10 of us on the tour, and I was the only one coming from the West Coast. Because events started at noon on Wednesday, they flew me in on Tuesday and put me up in a downtown hotel. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed on my own in a hotel before; I’ve always been with someone else. Is this unusual? I have stayed in far more hotels than I could remember, but always with someone–husband, or mother, or kids, etc.
So, Tennessee. These people have accents! “Is this considered the south?” I asked at one point, because it seemed that way to me but I didn’t want to continue in my possible ignorance. I was assured it was, and they proved it to me with their sweet “tea” and bbq and people actually saying things like “Heavens to Betsy!” and “Lawd a’ mercy!” quite unironically. “Didn’t you know people said that?” asked Donn and I said yes, of course, but I thought it was only people in books or in 50s television shows. I loved it!
A limo picked me up. The driver was a retired police officer who’d had to quit because of arthritis but who could still drive, and was determined to work as long as he could. He was chatty and filled me in on local geography and history. Once I’d checked in to my room, I kicked off my shoes and collapsed on the fluffy white bed with a sense of glee. I put on my sweats and ordered a room service hamburger, another new experience. I grabbed the remote and starting channel surfing–in effect another new experience, since Donn hates TV and so even where we are in places that have cable, I don’t get to watch what I want.
It turns out what I wanted to watch was reality TV, surprising even to myself but there was really nothing else on. I have never watched reality TV and have never really wanted to, but I found myself strangely attracted and repelled at the same time by that enormous family at 19 Kids and Counting. It was like the proverbial train wreck. Everyone was constantly clean and shiny and smiley so I knew it was carefully edited because I only have 3 and they fight, and I felt that the mom, Michelle, talked to us like we were mentally-challenged preschoolers she was determined to love.
I couldn’t sleep till 2 a.m, which is midnight in Oregon. Not surprising. At 4 a.m., the loudest WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP in the universe came through a vent in the wall that had been invisible until that moment rent the time-space continuum.
Could I possibly have dreamed it? I wondered. Should I call the desk? Surely if they wanted me to evacuate, they would somehow communicate through the phone, though a knock on the door, something. I considered calling downstairs, but decided instead to go back to sleep. Just then a voice came through the vent. “It has been determined that there is no emergency at this time,” it told us. Phew! Back to sleep.
At 6 it happened again. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP. Then the voice. I had already determined it would tell me if I needed to dress and make coffee and evacuate, although possibly not in that order, and only wanted it to stop talking. But it wouldn’t. It forgot to turn the switch off, so we got to listen to people at the desk chattering. The only thing in the world I wanted right then was quiet, even if it meant burning to a crisp, but it was not to be for fully 15 minutes. Finally it announced, after another annoying set of WHOOPs, that someone on floor 12 had attempted to dismantle their smoke alarm (go, crazy drunk person on floor 12) and that it had been determined that there was no emergency at this time. I listened to the fire engine arriving downstairs and went contentedly back to sleep.
I got up at 9 and went downstairs for breakfast. I was the worst dressed person in the dining room, which I found stressful. I had heard things were more formal in the south; was I doomed to be the only person on the blog tour in red jeans and open-toed sandals? Finally I figured out that everyone else was there for some convention, and that I might be dressed okay for my own events (I was). They all seemed to know each other, and there were several large black men in striped suits being jovial near the grits. The waitress called me “sweet pea” twice, which I don’t think has ever happened before, served me Starbucks, and forgot my refill for a long time. (I drink astonishingly amounts of coffee) I avoided the grits, whatever they are, and also the “gravy,” which was white and looked lumpy and also, gravy for breakfast? I was content with bacon and eggs and lashings of fresh fruit.
Around noon I met the other members of the blog tour and we all set off for the hospital. And I will finish this tomorrow.
So once again I’ve proved that I really don’t have time to maintain a blog, at least not the way I write. Maybe if I was doing short accounts of my day. But I think you’d be bored with that. My life isn’t all that blog-worthy.
December is once again winding down. What happened this year? We traveled for a month, which is really too long when you have high school seniors, I have to say. The kids did great, even fantastic, but they really needed their mum for things like college apps and planning larger homework assignments and talking to teachers and things like that. It also took a tremendously long time to recover from. I don’t just mean jet-lag; that was normal. Donn and I returned bone-tired from traveling for a month. It took us probably 3 weeks to get over it, and even then I maintained a sort of vagueness, or numbness, that endured into the Christmas season. I just couldn’t get into doing things, and as a result was the most disorganized I’ve ever been. I started Christmas shopping on December 20th. The nice thing about doing that is it enlarges the holiday, as presents arrive in the days following. “On the second day of Christmas my mother gave to me, yet another thing from Amazon.” All together now! “On the third day…”
In retrospect, December seems like a nice month. Elliot came home. We got a large cheap tree which is actually really ugly, with several huge holes, but it’s a 10 foot noble that cost $10 so there.
We had our annual party for our Iraqi refugee friends, about 200 of them, and that was crazy but good. I realized that I kind of know how to plan a party for 200 people, a talent that is outside of the rest of my skill set, which mostly involves reading novels really fast and making good pies, not to mention the ability to drink astonishing amounts of coffee.
I tried to gain weight and succeeded! Yaay! I’m not a loser! Of course most people would think I should be, but I decided to enjoy the mince pies guilt-free this time round. January with its cold hard reality of scales and dutifully-eaten veggies will come soon enough, and if I eat enough shortbread I might actually look forward to some austerity.
On December 23rd, Donn and I went downtown. I had to stop by Powell’s to get Ilsa a book she really really wanted, and so we braved the holiday traffic and found parking a mere 7 blocks away. The queue was the longest I’ve ever seen, stretching to the back of the store. I put Donn in line and rushed away to get the book and look for a Dr Who travel mug for Abel (they had nothing!), and by the time I got back he was at the front of the fast-moving, super-organized line. That’s teamwork! Afterwards we walked around, had a slice and a cold IPA, and wonder of wonders, saw the Unipiper in person!
The Unipiper is a Portland institution, a young man who spreads joy throughout our world by riding a unicycle and playing the bagpipes while wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader costume. (He also sometimes dresses as Gandalf. Truly he is a delight) He kind of makes you wonder what you’ve accomplished with your life. We heard the whine of the pipes from a block away and we came with haste to see him. We found him signing an autograph for a young man, and he wrote, “May your side always be dark.” And we put it on Instagram and Facebook.
Christmas Day was quiet, not to mention filled with envelopes of printed pictures to be opened (of the things that had been ordered and not yet been shipped). We ate a lot and lazed around a lot, which is how it should be if at all possible. We are having a LOTR themed Christmas, in which we attempted to see the Hobbit: Bloated Beyond by Peter’s Fan-Fic or whatever it’s called, only to find the cheap seats sold out. (A local chain does $5 Tuesdays, and if we miss we tend to wait for the following week) So we watched the first 2 parts, and then segued into watching the LOTR trilogy. Since I haven’t sat down and watched them in about 10 years, I’m really enjoying them.
And there you are. Caught up. Bored. Whatever. How was your December? What did you do this year?
I’m sitting here wondering when, if ever, this cake will be done. I was supposed to be at Noor’s an hour ago, the cake was supposed to be finished 38 minutes ago, and the center is still soggy and the pick inserted is most definitely not clean, if somewhat delicious to lick. I suppose it’s my own fault for making one giant cake, to be carefully cut into two layers, instead of using two pans as the recipe instructed. It just seemed easier at the time.
Today is Elliot’s 3rd birthday celebration this year alone, which ought to tell you how thoroughly he is spoiled. He turned 19 last Friday, and I got up and went berry-picking and made him a breakfast of French toast (pain perdu, for my overseas readers) with blueberries and marionberries, maple syrup, bacon, and lashings of hot coffee even though it was approximately 185 degrees outside.
Then he had to go to work. He has a very good summer job at Fred Meyer’s, which is a local store sort of like…well I think they’re sort of unique. They are first and foremost a grocery store but they also have apparel and home goods and garden centers and they sell nearly everything, for good prices, and they have great customer service and manage to treat their employees well too. I am a loyal customer. He worked till 10 that night, so we did his birthday supper (carne asada and home-made guac) the following night.
Tonight, Wed, he is having some friends over to conquer the world. I should have known, when we got him started with LOTR Risk at the age of 10, where this would end up. Axis and Allies is a super-boring game, with instructions that fill a literal book, and it takes up my entire dining room table, but it makes him happy. So tonight is cake and homemade pizza and frankly, I could not have picked a worse day to have my oven on for extended periods of time.
We are having an unusually hot summer, in case I haven’t made that clear already. Today it’s about 93, which is unusual for the Portland area. I took one of those quizzes on Facebook about what kind of career is ideal for me, and surprisingly it didn’t mention “person who complain incessantly about the heat.” I know you are thinking that I lived in the Sahara Desert for nearly 6 years, so surely I can handle a little oppressive sun and windless air. And you’re right–I certainly have a different perspective than I used to–but I also still manage to get off a few “It’s SOOO hot!”s in every hour or so.
Well the cake is finally out, although it’s rather alarmingly cracked on the top. I will frost it with ganache and candied orange slices, and it’s Elliot’s very favorite cake because it’s really rich and tastes a bit like one of those Lindt dark chocolate-orange bars, also his favorite. I’m off to Noor’s.
I’ve noticed that when one is flying to another country, one’s experience in that country often seems to begin in the first country’s airport. So, for example, when one arrives at the gate at Casablanca’s Mohamed VI airport where one will board the flight to Nouakchott, it’s like one is already there.
At the end of October, we took the train down from Rabat to Casa. It was yet another gorgeous day, the sky a deep blue, the shade crisp and cool and the sun giving off real warmth. Since we would be landing in Nouakchott (I’m going to call it by it’s airport name now, NKC. So much easier to type. Thank you) after midnight, I dared to wear jeans and a long tunic. The daring to wear jeans bit has to do with heat, not culture. I figured it just might be bearable, and I was mostly right.
We got to the train station early, and had a coffee in the newly-finished cafe. Well, new-to-us. From when we first visited in 2007 to when we left in 2010, the main station in Rabat (Gare de Rabat Ville) was under construction, with no end in sight. Now it’s finally finished, and it’s very nice.
The basic platform hasn’t changed, but the inside has–now you take escalators up to a small shopping centre/food court area. Ok, that part isn’t totally finished yet, but it may never be. Who knows? The point is, it’s much improved.
The part that’s the same is the platform. I was amused at the security officer standing there, bored, while everyone crossed in front of the sign forbidding crossing. “It is officially forbidden to cross the tracks,” says the sign. A steady stream of people crossed in front of it, while a bored officer watched them.
We took the train to the airport, found our gate, and joined the “queue.” It was like already being back in Nouakchott, paying my bill at Mauritel. It was actually a little surrealistic.
I’m going to be stereotypical for a minute here, but of course I know that not all White Maure women are this way, blah blah blah. Seriously. Aicha, for example, doesn’t behave this way. But in NKC, it is not uncommon to see White Maure women standing imperviously, snapping their fingers, while darker-skinned men scurry to obey. They have been raised to expect their every whim to be attended to, and that carries over into their interactions with you. They sail through intersections, expecting others to stop. They cut “queues” at Mauritel and anywhere else. They hire other people to write their papers for English class, which means an A in class and an inability to carry on even the most basic conversation in English. Maure society is very much based on class, and while slavery has officially been illegal for several years now, old habits die hard.
In the “line” at the Casa airport, we watched in bemusement as White Maure women, their faces the colour that can only be produced by years of lightening creams, snapped their fingers at young men pushing carts heavily laden with luggage. The women would sit at cafe tables nearby and watch while porters nudged their heavy carts in front of other people. We stood in the “queue” nearest the edge, where the cafe was roped off from the area where we were all standing with our luggage, and watched as people tried to cut by going up to the front, leaning over the rope, and attempting to push their tickets and a wad of cash into the airline person’s hand. The airline people mostly ignored them, waving them away like mosquitoes.
We eventually got through the melee, and made our way through passport control to the gate and then onto the plane itself. There it was evident that many people were unaccustomed to modern flying. The young man sitting next to Donn was unfamiliar with seat belts and adjustable seat backs and the concept of personal space. Many people didn’t feel the need to sit down even when the attendants demanded they do so. As the plane began to taxi down the runway, I watched a White Maure woman, strolling unconcerned, baby on hip, to fetch something from her carry-on, which was now safely stored in an overhead compartment. She snapped her fingers to get someone to get it down for her. I thought the flight attendant was going to have an apoplectic fit! He turned quite red and shouted at her. She won though, returning complacently to her seat with the baby’s bottle. Donn and I exchanged glances, but I must admit mine contained mostly amusement. We were really back!!
The instant the plane’s wheels touched ground in Nouakchott, everyone was on their feet, while the overhead announcement pleaded uselessly in 3 languages for everyone to remain seated with their seat belts securely fastened until the plane had come to a complete stop.
An old friend met us at the airport in the dust-filled midnight and took us to our first guesthouse. Two other couples were there, both close friends and colleagues from our time in Mauritania, both of whom now live in another country. We had a joyous reunion and stayed up another couple of hours. Then we sorted out sleeping arrangements. Donn and I had a room with a twin bed and bunk beds. My mattress was so firm that you could have bounced a ball off it. And so, feeling a bit like the princess who woke up black and blue from the pea in the mattress, I drifted off under the whirring of the fan. November in Nouakchott.
Did everyone (in or of America, that is) have a nice Thanksgiving? We did. This year we went to Heather and Paul’s, and it was very nice to just make a few sides and a pie and call it good. There was an amazing amount of food and people under the age of 20. I did not take photos. Just imagine a big table with a lot of food and lots of good-looking people gathered round it. See? You have it.
Elliot arrived the night before looking very fit and furry. He’s lost weight and grown a beard, and he didn’t bring home all his dirty laundry. In fact, I don’t think it had occurred to him. I offered to do laundry and he said, “I can just take it back.” I pointed out that it’s free to do it here. He’s so weird.
The day after, we celebrated Black Friday is our typical fashion. We slept late, ate French toast, and sort of just sat around on electronic devices or watched TV and drank more coffee. Donn’s friend Ed stopped by and mentioned they were getting their tree that afternoon. “Oh we never get ours this early,” I murmured from behind my 3rd cup of coffee. “You should come with us,” he said. “Meet at my mom’s. She’s making turkey sandwiches.”
Long story short, we did. Elliot was home, and Thanksgiving was late this year, and why not? It’s handy having Elliot along when getting trees.
I’m not totally thrilled with the tree. It’s too small and it actually cost more than our big, full, beautiful tree from year. But it is beautiful. The needles are a sort of frosty blue with golden tips, so the effect is green.
“It’s short and fat, like our family,” said Ilsa. Here she is guarding another tree we briefly considered, in spite of the fact that no one else was at the tree farm except our group.
Why yes, her hair is a different colour than it used to be. This is what happens when you have a 16 year old daughter who, while she may be short, has a big expressive personality, and you leave her home on one continent while you go jaunting off to another. In Mauritania, we had a hard time finding access to the internet. One afternoon we were at a friend’s. It was our one chance to see some people, but first we checked our mail and texted the kids on the iPad. We got texts like this:
Ilsa: Hi Mom! Marisa’s mom is a professional hair stylist and she says she will dye my hair if I pay for the product so can I dye my hair please? please? (only put this in txt. I didn’t want to confuse you)
Ilsa: Hi Mom! Abel’s ripped his last pair of jeans and he only has one pair of pants left and he won’t let me wash them. Tell him to wash them or let me wash them. They are gross.
Ilsa: So please? Mom?
Me: What colour?
Me: What do you mean he only has one pair of pants? How?
Ilsa: What is the point of laundry? I hate laundry. It is vile, evil and pointless.
Me: Well the point is clean clothes I suppose…
Ilsa: So can I?
Me: what colour?
Me: Let me talk to Abel. How can he only have one pair of pants? Why won’t he let you wash them?
And on it went, while all our friends laughed at us and said we were very brave to leave them alone on the other side of the world. We said she could colour it if it wasn’t too extreme, with the proviso that if Donn didn’t like the colour, he could shave her head. She already shaves a triangle on the side, so she wasn’t too alarmed. This picture makes it look brighter than it is–in real life, it is within a shade or two of a colour that might occur naturally on someone’s head.
She loves it. Everyone at school loves it. (That was a relief!) I even like it, although I’m dreading the grow-out.
Also, this is still his only pair of jeans. Turns out he has two pairs of pants untorn and intact, and we still haven’t gone shopping.
…because seriously, who has time to write or read an entire year in review? Let’s just do a month, shall we? That’ll be plenty.
This month I:
* Got a Christmas tree, along with most Americans and a surprising number of Iraqis. They tend to decorate rooms with coloured lights year-round, so it makes sense they’d enjoy hanging even more lights, not to mention stockings. I got given a music box Santa that plays “Silent Night” at a demonic speed–seriously, faster even than the Chipmunks. But I digress.
We live in Oregon, near to the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary (which I adore. Cuts down on sprawl). I’ve mentioned how I’m 10 minutes away from fresh berries in the summer; that also equals 10 minutes away from a plethora of Christmas tree farms. We were on our way to one, where a friend’s son was working, when we saw the sign for $10 Nobles. “Let’s check it out,” we said, so we drove over hill and dale to a very large farm where they apparently haven’t quite worked out the whole economy thing yet, although they’ve been open since the 50s at least. A very charming 8-year-old explained it all to us. “Welcome folks!” he started out, and Ilsa and I exchanged glances of pure joy. He was so cute!
Our choice was simple. We could select our own Noble, cut it down ourselves, and let them shake it and bind it. This would cost, for an 8-10 foot tree, about $100. Or, we could go over to where some trees they’d cut themselves just an hour ago were lying on the ground, and pay $10. But, they cautioned, they wouldn’t shake it for us. We were on our own.
The choice seemed simple to me. So we got ourselves a large, 10 foot or so, Noble tree for $10. I love Oregon.
Here it is on the car. I haven’t mentioned that a friend backed into my car recently. It’ll be fixed soon.
In addition to very reasonably-priced trees, this farm also had free hot chocolate, some very fat goats and donkeys in a petting zoo (Abel at the top of his lungs: “I wish Mauritanians could see how fat these animals are!”), and Santa. I forced my children to sit with Santa for a picture. Forced is the word, yes. But I will be kind to them and not post the picture I took. Instead, here is one of Abel decorating:
And one of the angel on the top.
* Hosted a party for over 250 Iraqi refugees and yes, it was totally crazy. This is what happened. Donn and I said, “Let’s have a Christmas party for our friends.” Then one of his friends said, “Can we invite the whole community? We’ll help do the food.” And we said yes, and asked our church to loan us a room, since our house is ample for a family of 5 but not really for 50 times that.
Planning this party took some time. I enlisted a lot of people to help. A friend went shopping with me, others helped me put goody bags for the kids together. Others donated funds, and one lady offered a ham, which we turned down since most Iraqis are Muslim. A group of high-schoolers volunteered to do crafts with the kids, and another group volunteered to help with clean up afterwards. It was still totally crazy.
Donn and a friend read the Christmas story while in the back, people discoursed happily at full volume and the kids ran in circles around the tables for sheer joy. It was chaotic, but I pictured a time when Jesus walked the earth, and I imagine that the crowds who listened to him weren’t all in rows like Sunday morning. Instead, I picture kids running wild, shouting and chasing each other, and the mothers in the back leaning in to each other for a comfortable gossip, while only those close to him could actually hear what he said. And everyone had a fantastic time, and there was food for all, and presents for most. I was most impressed with the high-schoolers who gave up their Friday evening to help, just to be kind–especially the ones who vacuumed. I was really happy I didn’t have to vacuum. It was a huge success. Not only was it the largest gathering of Iraqis in Portland, several told me, but we also set the record for most cigarettes smoked at our church!
* The day after the party, I woke up feeling rather as if a cement truck had run over me. But it wasn’t to be a day of rest–the inlaws were coming for Christmas, and arriving that evening, and thanks to the party I’d had no time for prep. So instead it was a day of shopping and cooking and cleaning. They were supposed to arrive at 11:30 but instead their flight came in at 2 a.m. They showed up at my house around 3:30 and it was after 4 before we were in bed. Next day was busy though, as was the next and the next. They were here a week and left on Saturday, and I’m still tired. My goal for 2013 is more sleep.
We had a lovely Christmas though. The day itself was mellow. We ate breakfast around noon and supper around 7, and in between we opened presents and listened to music and relaxed.
One day we took them down the Columbia River Gorge. It’s ages since I’ve gone there in winter, and I’d forgotten how much I love it when the trees are bare and the air is frigid, and the pastel light speaks of sunset throughout the day.
The inlaws enjoyed it, although they didn’t neglect to let me know how cold they were. They were always cold, poor things, their blood thinned from years of living in Southern California. In vain did I point out that the temperature was actually lower in their desert town than in our damp and windy city.
I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures and remind you that I took them with my phone.
How was your month? Year? And what are you most looking forward to in 2013? Me, I’m hoping to figure out this whole life/work/family/rest balance thing, and get more sleep. Wish me luck!
Two great loves in my life are coffee and my laptop. Given that I spend hours drinking one while typing or reading on the other, it’s amazing I’ve never tried to combine them before.
On Saturday Ilsa was sick, and she and Abel were watching some show on Netflix, can’t remember which, and I was looking at the TV as I set my cup of coffee on the stool that serves as an end table. Just below was my laptop, sitting on its side so that we’d see it easier. (We got in the habit of doing this when Donn had a laptop with an overheating problem, but it works well when laptops are set on the floor) Somehow, I missed the table, and the coffee poured gently into all the openings (orifices?) on the upright side of the computer. It entered the place where you plug in the cord. It entered the USB slot. It entered this other…slot…for …something? I have no idea what went there, but I do know it used to have something in it and it’s lost now.
My computer isn’t new, but it’s not that old. It’s about 70 in people years. (I figure one people year is about 12 in computer years. What do you think?) We got it in 2007. But it’s been through a lot. It’s crashed several times and traveled all over and had viruses and been entirely reformatted at least twice. Worldwide travel is rough on laptops, I can attest. The speakers don’t work and it’s very slow and has plenty of issues, but it is mine.
It seemed to be entirely dead, but Donn said to wait. And last night, he plugged it in and managed to get it going again! However, it seems to have developed a certain, well, senility. And that’s maybe not surprising. 70 in people years isn’t that old, but when one’s health wasn’t good to start with, it can be. I was trying to come up with an equivalent. After all, pouring coffee into one’s ear would be unpleasant, but I don’t think it would cause too much damage? Maybe this is like a broken hip? What do you think?
The computer, bless it, thought it was January 1, 2007. I tried to go on Facebook and it explained that was impossible, because FB’s certificate was dated with the imaginary date of June 20, 2012. I had to manually scroll through all the months from Jan 07 to Dec 12, to reset the date. It’s forgotten how to open google reader. It proudly tells me it has 116 hours of battery power left, which, not to put too fine a point on it, it doesn’t. The battery on this thing lasts about 2 minutes and 20 seconds, during which time whoever is using it freaks out and frantically plugs it back in. Now it is plugged in, but it doesn’t realize it and thinks it’s running off battery. Really, it’s rather sweet, this unexpected belief in its own prowess.
It’s even slower and creakier, and keeps flashing a red light at me too. But that’s okay. At least it’s back, with me for just a little while longer. I’m just grateful for this extra time I have with it, however long. I don’t mind if it tells me it’s its birthday, or tells me it’s late for the school bus. Bless it.
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?
I just found a new-to-me blog in which the writer keeps emphasizing that she posts 3 times a week, MWF. I thought that was good. What if I posted that often? Who would care? No one. You don’t have time to read all that’s in your feed reader anyway, right? Right. No guilt here.
Last week we went to a conference in Indiana. It was a lot of fun, believe it or not. Usually this sort of thing is either interesting and informative or deadly dull, but rarely is it fun. This one was. We met a lot of really cool people, connected with some old friends, and went on a bunch of hikes by a creek filled with limestone boulders for scrambling over. I didn’t find out that this region has copperhead snakes till the evening before we left, which meant my heart was relaxed and calm as I leaped happily from rock to rock. (I will post pics either Monday or Wednesday)
The weather was sunny and there were even Adirondack chairs on a breezy, leaf-strewn lawn, and it was easy to snatch an hour or two with a book. Seriously. Best conference ever.
(Ok but how was the coffee, you’re wondering. Frankly, it would have been okay (Douwe Egberts from a machine) except that it was served in styrofoam cups, which I thought were illegal but I guess not. Do you live in a region where they still exist? Do you care? Do you feel that nothing tastes all the good out of styrofoam? Did you feel that way long before you knew they were even bad for you and the environment? Discuss in comments)
Several of my Iraqi friends were worried about the kids, who stayed in Oregon and went to school as normal. “We can bring them food,” they told me. I explained they were staying with someone else. “Tell them to call us if they need ANYTHING,” they urged.
On Wednesday, I got a call in Indiana. Mona wanted the address where they were staying. She had made falafel, qubba, and dolma for them. She delivered it all on Thursday. She called me tonight. “You didn’t get any, so I’m making some more for you,” she told me.
But I don’t need it. Today another couple brought me dinner, since I’m “tired.” (aside: I’m not really that tired.) They showed up at my door with an enormous plate of briyani, a platter of baked chicken with potatoes and vegetables, and another plate of fried…something delicious…possibly fish?…and french fries, garnished with parsley. Also there’s a salad.
“It’s like we get paid in food,” Elliot commented.
But I’m feeling the love. I think food is definitely a love language. Last week, I allowed myself to be talked into staying at Bea’s for lunch on Wednesday, mostly because Fiona wanted to meet Bea’s visitor, who’s from the same region in Iraq as she is. When I thanked Bea for the amazing (and delicious) spread she’d put on, she touched her heart. “Oh Elizabeth, it makes me so happy when I can cook for you,” she said. And while Arabs always win at compliments and hospitality (seriously, if you are American, just try and top them. You can’t! We’re raised wrong), I sensed she meant it. It brings her joy to feed me. (It brings me joy to eat too, sadly for my jean size…) I feel very loved by my full fridge, knowing that while I was gone someone went out of their way to make sure my children and my friend who was hosting them got their full of delicious, home-made Arab food. (And I heard from my friends how wonderful the food was.) (Also apparently I’m addicted to parenthetical comments. I believe it’s a sign of a lazy writer, which is another reason to be happy I’m not posting 3 times a week).
PS Thanks to all who voted for Elliot’s essay, and those who tried. He didn’t get enough votes to advance to the second round, sadly, but it’s all right–there are a lot of other essays out there to try for.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep:
1. Go to Mona’s about 5. Hang out. Eat a quba, just because.
2. Eat heartily at about 7:30. Eat more than you should, because they are just so insistent.
3. Have a mug of strong Iraqi tea (black tea with cardamon and sugar) about 8:30.
4. Have a cup of Turkish coffee at 10.
5. In bed by midnight!
Surprisingly, I did sleep well. Caffeine 24/7 is my motto, after all. I dreamed that I’d parked wrong and gotten our car towed AND forgotten Donn’s birthday, which I have never done because it’s only 3 days before mine. I don’t feel that stressed, but this is a real stress dream. He wouldn’t care if I forgot his birthday, but Donn would kill me if I got our car towed!
Sleep in General:
We stopped by Harold and Maude’s at about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, unannounced. Harold was still in his pyjamas, so we averted our eyes but he wasn’t embarrassed and welcomed us in. They were very happy to see us. “We were going to call you this afternoon,” they told us, “but we were waiting till after 2 in case you were sleeping.”