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My attempts to revitalize the blog aren’t going so well. The problem is time, time management, and time sucks like Twitter, where people are so much funnier than I am.

It’s a really long time since I’ve written at all regularly, and I would imagine pretty much anyone reading this is new here. So here’s a bit of background and an update. I live in Oregon, but I spent 9 years of my life in North Africa, plus a year in France. I started this blog while we were living in Mauritania, which was so different from anywhere we’d experienced before that we used to say in wonder, “It’s like another planet.” Our nickname for Mauritania was, in fact, Planet Nomad, since they still retain a lot of their very-recent nomadic past. And that’s where the name of the blog came from, although of course it also worked well as a name for us, a family who moved internationally 6 times in 9 years, and who continue to live cross-culturally wherever they land.

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Random pic of Latourell Falls, down the Columbia River Gorge. Oregon is beautiful! 

In 2010 we moved back to Oregon, and started working with Iraqi refugees, and that’s kind of when the blog died. My kids were teenagers, and as funny and infuriating as ever but much more aware of social media. And my new friends were internet-savvy and had such dramatic stories that I didn’t feel right telling them. I’ve always been careful, changing names and some details so that my Mauritanian friends would never feel exploited if they ever stumbled across the blog, but this felt different. Plus, so much of it was about raising kids and living in a culture not your own. So the blog died, in spite of my efforts to write of our visits back to North Africa and France.

So now, my kids are all grown. Elliot lives in Iceland, where he’s in grad school, getting a very practical MA in Medieval Norse and Viking Studies. That’ll just open doors for him around the world, right? He speaks about 6 languages now*, and I am v smug about this, because I told him that someday he would be grateful to me for making him go to French school, that first year when he cried every Sunday and said he didn’t want to go and refused to speak French. There are few things in life more satisfying than telling your kids, “I told you so!” The essence of good parenting in a nutshell!

*(I counted Icelandic but I really shouldn’t, since he is learning Old Icelandic by translating the sagas, so all he can say are phrases like “Thor swung his hammer and shattered the giant’s skull.” Fun, but probably not going to be super helpful if you need to know where the bathroom is.)

Ilsa is going to art school on the other side of the continent, in Rhode Island. Donn suggested she go straight to homeless as a way to avoid having school debt plus being homeless, but she declined. She is majoring in Painting, and will someday no doubt have a gorgeously-decorated section of the sidewalk to call home. She is very talented.

Abel lives at home, which makes me happy. He is working, photographing a lot, and keeps very busy with needing to rewatch “The Office” and “Parks and Rec.” I assume he does other things as well? He is never home and when he is, he’s either editing pictures or glued to his phone, watching Netflix. I think he’s doing well? Seriously, he’s a talented photographer, in an age when it’s nearly impossible to earn a living that way. Between our kids’ choices, Donn and I are almost certainly going to be joining them on the sidewalks in our old age. At least they will be beautiful, and we can pass our golden years learning about Thor and his hammer, and maybe adding some Icelandic vocabulary to our requests for spare change.

Donn and I now have an official non-profit. (Ilsa did that pic on the homepage, if you click through that link). Donn is the president. I am the Director of the ESL program, and we’ve grown a lot–we now have 5 levels and about 60 students if everyone comes (which they don’t), plus a small army of volunteers teaching them, ferrying people back and forth, watching little ones so their mothers can concentrate on English for two hours straight, etc. I actually love my job, except that it keeps me from spending hours staring out the window, reading books, and drinking tea, but all my jobs do that. I do drink a lot of tea but it tends to be in my students’ homes, accompanied by a lot of food and conversation.

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Many of the attendees at the ESL Thanksgiving Party. We ate turkey and qubbah and potatoes and dolma and biryani and pumpkin pie and baklava. 

And now that we’re all caught up, I will resume my travel writing. Come back for more pics of Thai temples, a treatise on the toilets of SE Asia (no really, I have to show you these signs), and if you’re lucky, pictures of various lunches! You know you care what I had for lunch, at least while in Chiang Mai!

 

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It’s been so long since I posted that I had to reset my password!

Years and years ago, I was an undergrad at Portland State University. I lived in a small apartment with a wild kitten named Oscar, and on weekday mornings I would fly down the stairs, run 2 blocks, and catch a rumbling Tri-Met bus across the Hawthorne Bridge to downtown, where I’d usually catch a second bus up the hill to the university, because I was pretty much always late. But coming home was different. I’d meander down through the Park Blocks under the enormous elms, kicking at the falling leaves. The most brilliant leaves would be collected and pressed into whatever books I had with me that day; Victorian Prose and Poetry, or Anna Karenina, or Norse Mythology. (Yes I was a Lit major, in case you couldn’t tell from the cat’s name) In spring, I would skip class on sunny days to sit under the bright new growth fuzzing the branches, and I would justify it because Romantic poetry should be read outside, and also anyone who studies Hemingway and Raymond Carver should skip class sometimes.

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I like how this hipstamatic filter makes it look blurry and wet, which is was. Another change: taking pictures with my cell phone. 

Life moved on and so did I. Until this year. This year, I’m back and once again an undergrad at PSU, scurrying up that hill two afternoons a week, and strolling down afterwards. Some things have changed this time round though.

For example, email. I was supposed to get it automatically, and I kept getting an error message. I could tell when I called the bright young thing at the IT help desk that she, enormously patient and supportive, thought I didn’t know how to set up email. That wasn’t the problem though, we found. The problem was that I have already graduated! I pointed out that I graduated  before email was really a thing, but the system was adamant. We did eventually work it out, so I could have another inbox telling me how to get health insurance, how to handle temptations of being on my own, how to avoid phishing schemes, where to get a flu shot.

Also, when I went to PSU last, I applied by writing my name in blue or black ink in a series of little boxes. One of the areas to fill out was gender, M or F, and I was expected to check just one. Now, of course, it’s all online, and I can’t even remember how many gender options I had, but I think there were at least 8, including the “prefer not to answer.” In addition to gender, I had to choose sexuality; again there were a lot of options.

Donn and I are taking Arabic 101. We don’t sit together in class for reasons (I am a confirmed back-row dweller and that has not changed) but the class is not big and we arrive and leave together, plus we are partners for the oral presentation (Hello! Hello! How are you? I am fine!), so I thought it was obvious. But the other day, one of the other students said, “Wait! Are you guys married?” We said yes, and she gushed, “That is just so cute! You taking a class together! So cute!” So I guess we’re cute.

I expected to be the oldest in the class, and to stand out amongst a group of fellow undergrads, all of whom would be the ages of our kids, but I was wrong. PSU is an urban campus and has always had a healthy percentage of older students. Our class has 4 senior citizens who are auditing the class for free, which seems a really painful way to spend your golden years.

I also expected to be the best and brightest for the first 2 weeks, because we know a fair amount of Arabic, although we’re finally learning to read and write. But no. Our class has a lot of “heritage” students; kids from Arabic-speaking families who need to improve, learn their letters, etc. We are very average in all ways (except for being so cute!).

Arabic is painful, as I knew it would be, but it is also more manageable than I expected. That’s because much is review, dragging out of my brain things learned in the past and relearning them, pinning them down, finally having a place to slot them into and remember them. I go to the library and check out baby books in Arabic, learning words for colors and animals. I check my pronunciation with my friends. It’s kind of fun. When the insomnia inherent to my age and gender tries to strike, I now have a new weapon–I just go through the Arabic alphabet slowly, picturing each way to write each letter, and I am asleep by the time I get to jeem.

Donn and I drive down together, so we’re always on time–even early. One day I came down on my own and managed to be 15 minutes late to class…plus ça change, I suppose. We can afford cups of coffee from the local Starbucks, and on-street parking. I need that 16 oz cup of dark roast to stay awake in the afternoons, and I recall a teacher of Contemporary lit from long ago, reading Charles Bukowski to us, and I think of how I understand the frustrations and weariness of age so much better now than I did at 19. Arabic 101 is not as stimulating as literature, but I am much older, and much tireder, and I realize this as I climb the 4 flights of stairs to my classroom.

 

I wrote this post last September and never posted it. It seemed to fit at this point of my year in review, so here it is.

 

Things no one tells you about when your daughter goes to college:

  1. You can’t really trust your husband or son’s dress sense. Do those heels go with leggings? (Donn: It looks fine to me? Abel: shrugs) Is this shirt too casual for teaching? (Donn: Hmmm. Maybe? Abel: It looks fine to me.) Too much cleavage? (Donn: No! Abel: Mo-om! Gosh!)
  2. She took your fingernail polish remover. All of it. You will discover this when you’re redoing your toenails at the last minute before an evening out.
  3. All the fun jewelry you used to borrow sometimes? It’s gone too. Along with some of your earrings.
  4. Your sock drawer? Completely decimated. She left you two pairs–a black pair for boots and a purple pair for the gym.
  5. Five is a nice number. I was going to say an even number, but then you would tell me it’s actually an odd number. I had started a 5th thing, back in September, but I can’t remember what it was. I guess I could be serious and say how much you’ll miss your daughter, but you knew that anyway. Everyone knows that.
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