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I am going to start out by telling you that I have no pictures, although just glancing with your eyes up and down this page could probably have told you that. At first I was having fun exploring the limitations of the iPhone camera, but I’m currently going through a stage of “this camera isn’t really a camera and wow, those are some limiting limitations.” Also, does anyone know how to get hipstamatic prints to anywhere else other than the app? I suppose I could google or ask my sister-in-law (basically the same thing). But I am lazy.

So, Halloween. Last year, 2 families came to my house and I took their children trick-or-treating in my neighbourhood. I mentioned one family who left the following day. They’ve just returned (YAAY!!!!) and are trying to settle in again, this time for good.

This year, the two original families assumed this year would be a repeat. Ok then! I ended up inviting 2 more families, so that no one would feel left out. One showed up with their 4 month old as the cutest Snow White ever–chubby cheeks, enormous black eyes with lashes out past her eyebrows, and all. Her mother found the outfit for $2 at Value Village, and makes jokes about how she’s really Snow Beige, and takes pictures of her with an enormous red apple. I want to post these pictures for you very badly, but I won’t cuz she’s not my kid. Just picture the cutest baby ever in a Snow White costume.

4 families meant 20 extra people to feed. I planned to race home from class, which ends at 1, but I ended up having to borrow a van, take 6 people home, take one woman for coffee because she was sick and had an appointment at 2 and I felt terrible leaving her at the dr’s office to waste 45 minutes, and then return the van. So I got home at 2:20, in plenty of time to make pizza and white chili, both from scratch, by 5, right? Or maybe not so much. Truly my organizational skills leave much to be desired. I started the beans using the Quick Method found in my handy “More with Less” cookbook (total aside: I love this cookbook. Some of the recipes are weird, but where else will you find poems to bread?), where you bring the beans to a boil, cook them for 2 minutes, let them soak an hour, and then cook them for 2 hours until they’re done. (See? Plenty of time. And my friend Debbie thought I couldn’t do it!) I got them soaking, ate my lunch, started the pizza dough, went out to borrow costumes for little ones from my friend with the costumes, came back, kept cooking. The kitchen looked like a flour bomb had gone off in it. I make the dough from scratch and the sauce from scratch, because I got in the habit of doing this in Morocco where I needed to do this, and now we all like the taste so much better and I’m so used to it that it really doesn’t take all that long. One family only eats hallal meat (that is, meat slaughtered the Muslim way and sold at special stores) so I had to wait till Donn got home with the hallal chicken before I could finish making the chili. Luckily everyone was late.

In fact, everyone was so late that I decided to go trick-or-treating first. We had 3 parties. Ilsa went with the older girls and some of her friends from school, Abel went with the older boys. I went with 4 moms and 5 kids aged 1 to 5. We had 3 princesses, a Spiderman, and an Indian. They were all pretty darn cute. We set off, leaving the men to sit around the living room and sample the candy instead of passing it out to the kids. Donn had to run out and buy more! In the meantime, the 3 older kids (5, 5 and 3), all of whom had experienced Halloween the year before, remembered that this was fun and meant candy. They began to race from house to house, occasionally tripping over their costumes, competing as to who would get there first, shrieking with laughter. It was pretty awesome to watch. Soon the other 3 year-old, who was shy at first and hanging back with his mother and refusing to try to say trick-or-treat or thank-you, was shouting THANK YOU and racing with the others.

At first, my heart was warmed. They raced ahead of us, and we followed more slowly, the one year old princess toddling with us. Then, I realized they were all ringing the doorbells, each as many times as possible. The formerly-shy 3 year old had discovered that he could open people’s doors and walk right into their houses! He didn’t go far, but each time he was getting a little bolder. “This is great!” you could see him thinking. I did my best to disabuse him of the notion, as did his mother, but in fact from then on I had to run along and keep up (in my boots with their 3-inch heels) and when necessary hold his hand to prevent him from continuing this combination of trick AND treat!

We returned about 8:30, even the mothers dragging with exhaustion. I realized that in spite of the huge pot of chili and stacks of pizza and cornbread I’d made, I probably didn’t have enough food. “So! How’s that candy?!” I urged the children, hoping they’d fill up and then go home and be hyper with their parents, not me. We started serving soup, putting pizza on plates, urging cornbread on people (they were suspicious, as they’d never tried it before). The soup was too salty but was nonetheless a hit with most people. The pizza slowly disappeared. I had a brilliant idea and made pizza bread with a loaf of bread I had in the freezer, and told my kids to fill up on that and cornbread. We had just enough food. It wasn’t totally Arab (where you have massive amounts of leftovers) but it was okay.

I made tea. I put out a dessert that one of the moms had brought (I hadn’t made one, as I figured there would be enough candy in the air to suffice). One of the children spat out the marshmallow-type candy she was eating, as it wasn’t hallal (gelatin has pork products in it. No kidding). Her mother sorted through the rest of her candy.

Elliot, age 17, had afro’ed his hair (he can do an impressive afro. I will post a picture. Here he is), stuck drumsticks in it, put on a leather coat and sunglasses, and gone out to collect cans of food for a food drive that Ilsa’s class is doing. She gets extra credit, but wanted to collect candy for herself, so he volunteered to help. Then later that night, while I was serving tea, he went into that disaster area of a kitchen and cleaned the whole thing himself, leaving it with shining, spotless countertop and a gleaming floor. I told him that he was my favorite child and he was on no account to leave for college next year. Seriously. I need him and it’s not at all creepy to keep your child from leaving home and growing up and becoming his own person, just so he can do your dishes.

Everyone left by about 10, given that it was a school night. I can’t imagine how lovely the children were next day; I know my 3 teens were exhausted. I know I was exhausted, come to that. Nonetheless, I feel we have established a tradition. I’ll let you know how next year goes. If we double again, that’ll be 8 families. What are the chances of me actually making enough food?

How was your Halloween?

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of boundless space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
Well that was Hamlet. I am not currently having bad dreams—in fact I’ve been sleeping great, when I can manage to find the time. Here are some snapshots of my life, spread out over several days because you don’t have time either. We’ll begin with…
Halloween

I had the bright idea to take two families trick-or-treating for their first American Halloween. That is, to take the children of the two families. This involved finding costumes for everyone (and I have two very generous friends to thank for this—they got everyone set up), getting the costumes to everyone, getting everyone to my house, and other logistical nightmares.

Hasan, 8, is whining that he doesn’t want to go. He refuses to get dressed up. I make him come to my house (he can’t stay home by himself and his little sister is resplendent as Belle and his brother is ready to get candy) but tell him he can pass out candy to the other kids. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes of that, he is ready to go himself. He happens to be wearing camo pants and tshirt, so I figure that’s good enough—he’s a soldier, right? I think sometimes everything is just too new, too nonstop for these kids.

My neighbourhood is great for Halloween. I think they bus kids in for trick-or-treating, because although there are normally a lot of kids here, this was excessive. We bought massive amounts of candy (at 5 p.m. on Halloween because we are nothing if not hyper-organized) and still ran out. People go all out for decorations, enlisting family and friends to hide in the bushes and laugh creepily at small children, or dress as witches who cackle as they pass out candy. They drape cobwebs over bushes and hang cages of skeletons and ghosts from trees. There are fog machines, cauldrons filled with dry ice, elaborate costumes. My Iraqi friends love it. I take picture after picture of them posing with witches and mummies, adults admiring and children uncertain. (the pictures do not come out. I hate my camera) I mention to some people that these are my friends from Iraq, that this is their first American Halloween. Some people just smile and nod but a lot of people come through. “Welcome!” they smile. They give us extra candy. They pose happily with my friends.

It’s a bittersweet occasion. Aicha’s two children are the cutest Spiderman and Cinderella ever, but it’s her last night in Portland. She and family spend the night in our family room and we take them to the airport in the morning, where things are nightmarish. Maybe that’s where the bad dreams came in? (see intro quote) Although we have called twice and talked to two separate people to ascertain their luggage allowance, when we actually arrive everything has changed and no one can do anything about it. Two people on two different occasions said they could have 8 cases for 4 people, but the man at the counter, who can’t be bothered to even pretend he cares, informs us that it’s 4 cases only and $70 per case after that, and that we should have known that US Airways was going to use United and we should have called United, although that is nowhere on their tickets. But it’s obviously not United’s responsibility, right? He does his best to make us feel like idiots. I can only assume he is crashing from too much sugar the night before.  We have a fun few minutes frantically emptying cases and manage, by presenting 2 smaller cases as extra carry-ons and getting rid of some things they had planned to take with them, to avoid paying the airlines any extra money. The man eventually takes pity on us and comes to offer advice. It’s fine that each airline has their own standard, but if you are going to have the kind of relationship between companies where you switch tickets people have bought, you ought to honour the guidelines of the original airline. Don’t you think? Or am I just hopelessly old-fashioned?

Aicha and I cry. The children are oblivious. We wave them off, and later they call us to let us know they’ve arrived safely, which makes me feel even more like family.

We return home and I’m hopelessly late to ESL class but it’s okay, as all the women knew Aicha. I explain everything, several times. Maude, who has one of the higher levels in the class, takes it upon herself to explain to the others my story. It’s a long day and I return home in a haze of tiredness at about 7 p.m. (after lunch with one woman and homework tutoring with another) to make supper. We have an extra child for the week, one whose own mother usually feeds him at a normal American time, but he does well with our chaotic household, eating dinner at 9 p.m. with a good attitude. (Probably subdued through hunger, but he hid it well!)

No pictures, please!

Ilsa and her haul

a little unsure of the scary men…

When I was about 19 or so, I remember coming to the realization that certain character faults, areas I knew I needed to work on, were shared by my own parents. This was discouraging. A friend of mine smiled and said, “How nice! You know you’re not alone.” But he didn’t get it. This meant I couldn’t assume that I would grow out of things; there was no guarantee that I would reach my 30s or 40s and get to be the mature adult and smirk happily at all the immature teenagers, knowing that I was So Over their issues. (Um, actually, that part did happen after all, at least in many areas. Smirk! Love it!)

I was thinking about this recently, watching Abel deal with some conflict. Abel is a kind boy. When the Evil Fairies visited our children’s cribs (oh right, like your kids don’t have some element of their personalities that couldn’t have come from anywhere else), the gift they left him to make him think, “I’m not like anyone else in this family” was just a sort of cartoon goofiness that he’ll either outgrow or use to become a junior high teacher or camp counselor. No biggie.

There’s a boy at school that’s been tormenting him lately. Perhaps that is too strong a word. They started out being friends, and this boy has even had Abel over to play a couple of times. But then he started to harass Abel. It became a problem.  

That evening, the boy called to invite Abel to play. Donn and I were amazed. Then we heard Abel say, “Hang on, let me ask my parents” and turn to us. Our mouths dropped open. Because this boy is MEAN to Abel. And now he was asking us if he could go play with him?

Donn is still puzzling about this, but I think I realize what’s going on. Abel has inherited my debilitating form of conflict avoidance. In order to not have to confront this boy, he is ready to go along with anything.
It’s depressing. I can already see the long road ahead of him as he agonizes over talking to anyone about anything, even when he is in the right.

I remember one of my college roommates, who always borrowed my clothes, and left them dirty on the floor. That was weird and obnoxious. But could I talk to her about it? No. I borrowed a black t-shirt one time and she talked to me about it, told me maybe it’d be best if we didn’t borrow each others’ clothes. Grr.

I know this boy‘s mother. I‘ve spoken to her several times. But when Donn suggested we talk to her, I shrank. Confront her with her son‘s behaviour? I didn‘t want to do it at all. Guess I still haven‘t outgrown this issue.

Poor Abel. I don’t want him to be like me. I want him to be take-charge and stride-forth, while maintaining that basic kindness and consideration that comes so naturally to him. I don’t want him to get taken advantage of. I wish we could choose which parts of our make-up get passed down to our offspring. (And would we choose to pass on what they would choose to receive?)

And I hate not being able to blame those evil fairies once again!

What aspects of your character would you choose to pass on, or have you passed on?

Do you ever think that perhaps, unbeknownst to you, the fairies did visit your child at christening (or maybe it was that time he had the flu?) and bestow some odd gift that now, watching said child develop, leaves you wondering, “Where on earth did s/he get THAT personality quirk?”
This happens to me a fair amount. This is also my take on the age-old nature/nurture debate.
For example, Elliot. The Evil Fairy gave him the Gift of Obnoxious Punctuality, knowing that he’d been born into a family of perpetually late people. If you don’t believe in fairies, I ask you, where else would he have gotten this? He hates to be late. I remember the year he was 8, which coincided with the year we lived in France. We had this charming (read drafty) 250-year-old apartment that was a 30-min walk across town from their school, and we had no car. Every morning, he’d come into the bathroom where I’d be frantically applying makeup/drinking coffee/braiding Ilsa’s hair and say, “It’s 8:11; we need to leave in 9 minutes.” “It’s 8:12; we need to leave in 8 minutes now.” And of course, inevitably, “MO-OM! We’re LATE! I told you! It’s 8:30! We’ll never make it!” And then we would all thunder down the stairs and out into the cold grey mornings, speed walking our way through the cobbled streets, hair still damp.
So what if he was late? Their teachers adored them. We were their favorite American family.
Then there’s Ilsa. She’s my girl all right; book always in hand, soaking up books, devouring them. She takes books to restaurants and in cars.
Actual Ilsa quotes: “But Mom, I need to take 3 books because I’ve almost finished this one and it’s a long car ride.” (It was literally a 5 minute car ride to a friend’s dance concert.)
And, standing in front of the door with a plate of scraps for the rabbit in one hand and a book in the other, “Can someone open the door?” Me, “Ilsa, put down the book for just a minute and open the door yourself.”
Oh sure, I gripe, but I actually LOVE this. Because it’s me. I spent my childhood nose-deep in books, my adolescence, my young adulthood–ok, shut up. I get a lot of other things done these days. Like blogging.
But why did the Crafty Fairy have to visit her? How on earth did I get a daughter who likes to sew, to knit, to crochet, to make things? I absolutely hate doing crafts. The mere thought of scrap booking makes me break out in hives. (Seriously, they’re not zits) I’ve learned to knit at least 5 different times, I add and drop stitches with wild abandon and have huge gaping holes in my handicrafts. Why on earth would someone want to do stuff like that when they could be reading?
Do you know where crafts come from? Satan. I’m not making that up. I’m going to quote an actual verse here, from Genesis. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast.” Yep. THAT serpent, the one that tempted Eve. So I feel quite justified in my feelings.
Ilsa saw a huge, multi-page ad for JoAnn’s Craft and Fabric Store in the Sunday paper, and begged and begged me to take her there. Finally I agreed. I knew it was a mistake the minute I stepped inside. I didn’t belong there. I have adjusted very well, I think, to being in stores here in America (remember in August when I was freaking out in Safeway? Now I go to Fred Meyer‘s practically every DAY it seems) but JoAnn’s took me right back to some strange and terrible phantom world. Right there in Satan’s Den were rows of buttons. There were rows of yarn. There were rows of fabric. All things could be made. All things could be cute. All things could be quilted. I started to hyperventilate, right there next to the Christmas decorations.
I stuck it out though, because I am a Good Mother and I was not about to let the Evil Fairy get the better of me.
Ilsa wants to make everyone in the family Christmas stockings, since we left ours in Mauritania. She gets these ideas. I thought, she’s old enough to actually make decent ones, not just “look what my kid did…aww” ones, let’s get her a pattern. Because she’s actually quite talented, which proves my point about it not being an inherited trait. (And Donn, while he sews buttons on better than I do, isn’t exactly quilting a wreath for the front door or anything) I kind of want a pretty stocking, kind of elegant, in burgundy velvet with gold trim. We even have a fireplace this year!
I had to go all over the store again looking for a pattern. I found the patterns, after asking someone, but there were no stocking patterns, just huge books of impossible dresses and pajamas and things. I told Ilsa we would have to leave before I curled up on the floor in the fetal position and started sucking my thumb. She was very sad. So, on the way out, I mentioned our quest to the check-out woman.
Did you know that each of those huge books of patterns has a section called crafts? There were no helpful signs telling you this; apparently the Evil Fairy just whispers that information in people’s ears. We had to go back. We had to page through books. We had to choose.
I explained to the woman a little of my perspective, trying not to sound too bitter or defensive. “I don’t belong here,” I started out. “You workers of iniquity may trap innocent girls with your candy-corn-shaped buttons and spools of gold ribbon and rick-rack but not me!” She took it quite well, and pointed out where it says, right on the pattern, what kinds of fabric you need.
Apparently, you need batting. Batting? What? Batty is more like it. I told Ilsa no way are you bringing batty into my house, missy! When you have your own house, I explained, you can fill whole rooms with it, but not now.
Actually we read this out in the rain, where I had fled to clear my poor, aching head.
We’re home safe now, with the pattern, a mini sewing kit, and several things I picked up in the $1 bin that I’m thrilled to have (a magnetic dry-erase board for the fridge, for example. You can write things on it. Or draw things. It’s fun).
And I love the girl, she can have batting if she really wants it. Whatever it may be.
But so help me, if I ever catch that Evil Fairy!
What about you? What gifts did the Evil Fairy give your kids?

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