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Well this was the year I basically let the blog die. I only posted 5 times all year, and the last time was in April!

Blogging is basically dead as an art form. Few read, fewer comment. It seems the only ones still going are some sort of niche. But I’ve decided that I’d like to revive the old girl (my blog is a girl. Yours?) after all, and post sporadically about whatever I feel like. So let’s start with me getting you all caught up about last year chez the Nomad family.

2015 was a good year with lots going on. So much, in fact, that I’m going to put this into two posts. See? 2 posts in the first week. I’m off to a great start! In the meantime, here is Jan-Aug.

January: we come home from an afternoon out to find ourselves banned from the kitchen. Ilsa is applying to art schools, and one requires that she draw a bike. Since we live in Oregon where it’s cold and dark by 5, she has put the bike in the kitchen and is lying on the floor, drawing and drinking tea. We are not allowed to bump the bike. We manage to get out cheese and crackers for dinner.

don't bump bike

She got in! This was for her first choice, RISD (riz-de), officially known as the Rhode Island School of Design. We’ll get to the implications of this in September.

January also saw a friend from Mauritania visit. It was his first time visiting a Western country. A lot of things were new to him. For example, he had hoped to meet with some local officials, but really didn’t understand how far out he would have needed to schedule something like that. Seat belts were also very new to him. He was a good sport, although I know this had to be like another planet to him.

February is lost to the mists of time, which keep growing thicker with my advancing age. Seriously, I suppose we did something?

March: The twins turned 18. Ilsa always chooses cinnamon rolls for her birthday breakfast. I accidentally doubled the recipe–which makes tons even normally–so we had a million or so cinnamon rolls. The neighbours, random Iraqi friends, and of course the twins were very happy. I use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, modified to not kill us quite so quickly (i.e. 1% milk instead of whole, half the amount of butter, etc), and with cream cheese frosting instead of that nasty muck she puts on hers.

too many cinnamon rolls.jpg

April, May…I dunno. Life. Stuff. Hiking, visits from people. Oh I dyed my hair red! I’ve always wanted to be a redhead. As I’d suspected, I looked good, but it quickly faded to orange, which didn’t look good. Also I went to Memphis as part of a blog tour for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was a really cool time and I only managed to blog half of it, as is my wont.

June: This is where it gets interesting, as we began the Summer of The Visitors. Seriously, we had out-of-town guests almost nonstop from June through mid-August.

First of all, the twins graduated from high school.

twins grad

Donn’s family came for graduation, and his parents stayed for a week, which is always a bit like having Archie and Edith from All in the Family to stay. Happily we didn’t have to go camping this time. Donn’s sister Kris, who reads this blog, and her husband came for the first week and then decided to stay for an extra two weeks. They stay in a hotel, so they are very easy visitors. We went down the gorge, ate giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw, ate fresh berries, and did other summery, family-type things, like going to Powells.

Elliot came home for 2 days and then left for a summer in Jordan, where he spent the summer in an intensive language program. This was a government-sponsored scholarship, starting with a day of orientation in DC. When his 6 a.m. flight was cancelled, we waited in line for several hours only to have the airline clerk tell him they couldn’t fly him out till midnight that night, which would mean he’d miss orientation. We agreed, and were leaving the airport while he called the program to let them know. “Unacceptable, soldier!” they told him. (Not really. That is just a line from a Bourne movie.) And they put him on a flight leaving at noon. How? The person working for the airline couldn’t do it. Only the government. (Cue creepy Twilight music here).

I told Elliot that someone had probably gotten bumped. He was thrilled when they actually paged a “John M Caine” while he was waiting to board. Oh, we watched the Bourne movies too often when he was younger.

elliot off to jordan

This picture was taken after his flight was cancelled and he was put on another one 5 hours later, so we took him out for breakfast. It’s still very early in the morning, which is probably why he looks so bleary.

He had a great time in Jordan. He lived with a host family and took classes and went on cultural excursions and saw ancient ruins and was tired and busy and hot and actually missed us.

July: For most of July, a friend from Morocco was here. (She’s Moroccan, but I first knew her and her family in Mauritania) We had a great time. We went hiking down the gorge, went to the coast, went downtown and ate giant ice cream cones at Salt and Straw, went to the Rose Garden and Powells, and just generally had a good time. It was her first time in America. We have now seen each other in 3 countries, and we are wondering where we’ll meet up next. Any ideas?

It was the hottest summer ever. It was terrible. We had a dry winter, a normal spring (wet and cool), and then a hot, dry summer. Sumi and I went to a lavender festival in Hood River on a day when it was over 100 degrees. Even though we lived in the Sahara desert together, we both agreed that we hated the heat.

mt hood

This may not look like drought to you, but nonetheless it was a bad year. Lakes and rivers were really low, and several Oregon counties had to declare emergencies.

At the end of July, another friend came to see Sumi. We were all in Mauritania at the same time. Michelle now lives in Kansas, from which it’s easier to fly to Oregon than Morocco. We had a whirlwind few days of it, including eating giant ice cream cones from Salt & Straw. This was a theme of the summer. Actually, it’s kind a theme anyway. Come visit! We are used to people visiting and will eat ice cream anytime of year. The lines are shorter in winter.

August: Sumi left, then Michelle left, then the next day we got a visit from some French friends of ours, a family we knew in Morocco. It was blazing hot during their visit, so hot that we couldn’t enjoy being outside, even though we took them for giant ice cream cones. We went down the Gorge to Hood River on a Friday and it was 104 degrees. The next day we went to the beach and it was 65, and so foggy we couldn’t see the water while actually standing on the beach. Obviously, Oregon hates them. I don’t know why, as they are actually very nice.

Also, we saw a seal! Seal in French is “phoque” and if you exclaim that word excitedly to children on a public beach in America, you will get some side glances.

Elliot also came back mid-August from Jordan and was actually home for 2 entire weeks. Donn and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, although we waited to celebrate properly till November. More on that later. Ilsa got all 4 of her wisdom teeth out at once and was really funny while coming out of anesthesia. Also really difficult. Pain Med Ilsa is not very nice.

bleu heure

Tintype (taken with app on my phone) of restaurant where we ate on actual 25th wedding anniversary. We are officially old now, although according to Ilsa, we have been for years. Oddly comforting, in a way. 

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.

On the last weekend of summer, we took an Iraqi family camping for their first time. It was their idea. In July, Donn and the boys went with a friend of his and his son on a “man-cation,” which is basically an all-male camping trip involving a lot of bacon and red meat, no vegetables, and, I imagine, a lot of jokes about bodily functions (just guessing here). I was telling Maude about it, while Donn showed Harold his photos, and she said, “Maybe we can go camping with you.” They wanted a vacation, and what better way to introduce them to American life? (Well, maybe Disneyland…)

Before we moved overseas, Donn and I were backpackers. We didn’t do much car camping, as we called it, which is where you drive someplace and set up your tent. I only remember a few times–near Balanced Rocks in the wilderness, with Donn’s parents once on Orcas Island, at Ollalie Lake when Elliot was 6 weeks old.

When we lived in Mauritania, we did lots of desert camping, which is basically when you drive into the desert, stop when you feel like it, and set up a tent. After a while, a shepherd will come by. “Is this all right?” you will ask, and he will nod slowly.

A few minutes later, he will say, “Is there anything you need?” “No, no,” you will assure him.

A few minutes later, he will ask, “Do you have anything you don’t need?” Sometimes he will ask for specifics–our friends traveled with a mini-pharmacy, and found that something as basic as tylenol was much appreciated and sought after.

(Want more? Posts here and here and here and here.)

But Harold and Maude are from Baghdad, which before the infrastructure was destroyed was a modern city. Even now, without electricity and clean water, houses are still tiled, filled with beautiful rugs and fine furniture. I would have picked a camping site with electricity, flush toilets, even showers. Donn wasn’t thinking that way. His friend told him of the beauties of the Metolius River in Central Oregon, its clean, clear fast-flowing waters, only a couple of hours drive away. So off we went.

“The Metolius?” said all our friends doubtfully. “On Labour Day weekend? You’ll never get a spot.”

But we did. In fact, we found 2 spots. The first was in a campground off the beaten track, with only one other family there, away amongst the trees. We found an enormous double spot, situated in a corner where a creek joined the river. It was lovely and lonely. But too lonely for our friends. “The children will not be able to sleep here,” proclaimed Harold. I must admit we wondered if it was the children who wouldn’t be able to sleep or someone else, but we agreed to look for another campground.

We found another one, and snagged a spot right on the river on a site surrounded by tents. Even though we had ample room to set up two tents, I noticed our friends pitched theirs right next to ours. Privacy is so much less important in some cultures than in others.

The Metolius really is gorgeous–clear and deep, full of browns and greens with the occasional bright glimpse of a silvery fish twisting through the depths. It’s surrounded by Ponderosa pines, their red trunks and green needles providing a pleasant contrast and scenting the air.

There was a slight problem. Our campground didn’t have water. You had to load the empty jerry-can into the car and drive a couple of miles to the next campground and fill it. It really wasn’t bad–we both had brought bottled water, and there was the river, rushing swift and cold and glittering under the full moon.

The first night, Maude and I went to the toilet at dusk. It was a fine toilet–a pit toilet, yes, but spacious and cleaned daily. When we came out, she said, “It’s very dark here.” “That’s because there’s no electricity,” I pointed out.

“Oh.” She thought about it for a minute. “Maybe next year,” she said philosophically.

America–it’s just not as developed as you think it’s going to be before you move here!

I explained the lack of electricity was a choice, that we wanted places where we could get back to nature, with no wires slicing the sky. She agreed but I’m not sure it was whole-hearted.

Her kids like s’mores okay, but much preferred the joys of roasting marshmallows. (I’m the same way myself)

We cooked tikka–what we would call kebobs–over the open fire each night, then roasted marshmallows. The moon was full and bright. Our camping neighbours were nice. The nights were freezing cold, the afternoons were burning. The river was icy but there was a spot on a point where the kids and Donn could plunge in and plunge right back out again. Maude got in too, fully clothed, but I didn’t as I hadn’t brought enough changes of clothes; instead I stepped in bravely to a shallow part, and stepped out just as bravely after about 2 minutes. Abel stayed in the longest and his legs turned brilliant red. Elliot sliced his foot open on an underground root and bled, most dramatically, a large puddle onto the grass, but I decided he’d be fine without stitches and he was. I sacrificed a towel to bind it up and the stain came right out in the wash. Naturally, as I didn’t care if that towel was stained.

Overall, I think the trip was a success. We’ve heard from other Iraqi friends that it was a bit too primitive and rough for our friends, but at the same time, they liked it. Sort of. I think next year, we’ll try it again–maybe at a campground with flush toilets and showers and electricity.

(Sorry for lack of pictures, but as you may remember, I no longer have a camera. Instead, here is one of Donn’s, a long exposure taken by moonlight, with the firelight making the trees look especially red.)

It’s been nearly a month since I posted. That’s hardly an auspicious way to begin a post, but I don’t know yet where I’m going with this. I started one about Ramadan, but then I remembered I already told you about how I’m staying up late eating too much and drinking Turkish coffee at midnight and having a terrible time getting going in the mornings.

Yesterday was the Eid al-Fitr, the feast day that celebrates the end of Ramadan. (In many countries it is a 3 day feast) We spent the day visiting people, taking round platters of goodies, eating lots and admiring everyone’s new clothes.

Other things have happened. Some very good friends of ours (people we worked with in Mauritania who’ve become more like family) spent a measly 6 days with us. The time flew by. We took them to do Portland things…the Rose Garden, the waterfront, Powells, hiking down the Columbia River Gorge, etc. We also got together with 2 other families in the area who also used to live in Mauritania. It was great to see them again. One couple were childless when we knew them and now have 3 adorable kids! I know–you’d never even heard of the place before, and here are scads of people just in the Portland area who used to live there. Don’t you feel left out?

(random picture from nicest part of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Also, I saturated the colours a bit; Mauritania tends to have everything covered in a patina of dust and sand)

My editor from 5 Minutes for Books came to town with her family! It was great fun to finally meet her in person. We met at our favorite Thai restaurant, and both families got along splendidly.

The males in our family went on a “man-cation.” This involved a lot of steak and bacon and pancakes cooked in bacon grease and catching fish and, apparently, a tent that no woman could tolerate even for a second. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, obviously.

(I love this picture of Elliot, taken by Donn)

We’ve had some super-hot weather! All the Iraqis are complaining about how hot it is. I find this ironic. It’s been really hot, but I can deal with it from living in the Sahara, where it isn’t as hot as Baghdad.

On the hottest day, with temps over 102 (which is very rare and brutally hot for Portland), we went with some friends to a local winery at dusk to watch a Shakespeare play–Much Ado About Nothing. It was idyllic. The setting was gorgeous, with a sweep of hills, vine-covered, large trees surrounding a lawn. And at the end of the evening, they gave us a car. Admittedly it’s as old as the twins, but it has everything I wanted in a car–AC, a working radio, and cup-holders!

We’ve now seen the latest Batman twice, and the boys have seen it three times. Several local movies have $5 movies on Tuesdays. An older Iraqi couple have told us several times that they love movies, so one night we went with them to watch it again. We couldn’t help but wonder how much they enjoyed it, but they claimed to. Afterwards, we went back to their apartment for Turkish coffee at midnight, which the kids drank as well. We’re raising them right! We are going to see the new Bourne movie this Tuesday with the same couple.

Also, on these cheap movie nights, you can get an enormous bucket of popcorn for $4–seriously, it was so huge that 6 of us couldn’t finish it, even though we hadn’t eaten supper. I’m not really sure of the point of such a large bucket–I mean, what a waste of food!–but it was cheap and fattening and, at first at least, strangely delicious. Our kids went with a friend to see the movie again, and 4 teens managed to finish the entire bucket–and they’d had supper.

What else? Wedding anniversary, discovered a great new way to cook green beans so that even Donn will eat them, lovely summer weather, lots of very late nights with friends during Ramadan…in short, a lovely, pleasant, month.

What about you? What have you been up to?


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau

Saturday we decided to go for a hike down the Columbia River Gorge, home to thousands of carelessly occurring, unnamed waterfalls scattered about in abundance, as if there were not places in the world where the wind blows only sand. We went with friends who are constantly active and have been known to bike 60 miles, just for fun. We let them pick the hike. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake.

unnamed waterfall, no biggie, just one of many

We started off by parking a half mile from the trailhead, just for fun. Actually just because Saturday down the gorge is now packed with people! Who knew? We hefted our water and lunches onto our back. Ok I will be precise. Elliot carried the backpack full of camera and lenses, Donn his tripod, and Abel the lunch/water backpack. He and Ilsa and I took turns. You other mothers out there already know that meant Abel carried it with joy for the first half-mile, Ilsa whined for about ¼ mile, and I ended up carrying it most of the time.

We started up near Wahkeena Falls and endured the switchbacks with much stoicism and dry humour. Sort of, that is. We reached the top and the first lookout with great joy, as we remembered that after that, it got a lot easier. I was shocked to discover that the strict regime I’ve been under, where I sit around on my butt and eat Arab pastries (the artist’s wife told me “3 cups flour, 1 cup oil and 1 cup butter” but surely she was wrong) did little to prepare me for a six-mile hike, most of which was uphill. (Seriously, four of the six miles were uphill) We have done part of this hike before and I’ve even blogged about it.

But this time, we hardly stopped at all at Fairy Falls (although I did park my butt on a bench there till I’d caught my breath a bit) before heading on further, onward and upward! Ed opted to turn left instead of right, and so we kept going up. Up and up and up. Finally in the middle of steep hillside, we mutinied and stopped for lunch.

We opted not to do the highest loop to Devil’s Rest (which is higher than Angel’s Rest…go figure) and finally, finally, started going downhill. Donn kept stopping to photograph, as usual, and the younger kids had scampered on ahead, so for quite a while I found myself walking with Elliot. He’d put his earphones in and the silence of the woods—full of small noises of water and wind and leaves—was infiltrated by earphone noise. “You should listen to the forest,” I told him. “I have,” he said. “You should read Thoreau,” I told him. “I have,’ he said. “I went into the woods…” I began. “I know,” he said. Stupid AP US history/Amer Lit class he’s taking! I resorted to mumbling Yeats at him underneath my breath, but he remained unmoved, although we did have a nice chat about the essay he’s writing on “Night” before the headphones went back in.

this is a tiny waterfall over mossy rocks by the side of the trail

By this time, we were on a trail I hadn’t hiked before, and we came down by the prettiest little falls. There was a plaque, and this falls is named something like Weizendanger, which totally sounds like a name Donn would make up.

Abel and his friend Van scampered everywhere.

At the time this didn’t bother me at all but I woke up in the middle of the night and had nightmares about this. What if he’d fallen? This river is about to fall 627 feet onto sharp rocks. I had to get up and hug Abel.

We came eventually to the top of Multnomah Falls, which is the biggest and most famous of all the falls. My very earliest memory is of these falls; I have a vague memory of walking a small part of the trail and what I really remember is that my Mum bought a cup of hot tea (she was addicted) and spilled it on my arm in the car and burned me. That is my earliest memory—beauty and pain. I’m pretty sure that explains something but I don’t know what. Any psychologists out there?

Donn and Ed refused to believe I came up there at the age of 2, in spite of the myriad toddlers and babies that were there, in backpacks and strollers and exhausted parents’ arms.

So we stood at the top (see the parking lot far below? And remember, we’ve already come about a mile downhill at this point) and admired the view, then we staggered down another 11 switchbacks to the bottom, where there was a toilet. Thankfully.

Most of the first part of the falls

view from the bottom showing both parts of Multnomah Falls

I could barely walk the next day.

So we’re going back next Saturday.

So I’ve started jogging. I did this during the kids’ Fall Break (Vacances de Toussaint, or alternatively Vacances de novembre), in which I cruelly and forcibly MADE THEM go with me to the aptly-named Hilton Forest. The hotel next to it is no longer the Hilton, and it’s not EXACTLY a forest, but it is lovely and the sort of place that should be named Hilton Forest—a large park with a center lake and a café serving very good orange juice (freshly-squeezed of course…no other kind exists in Morocco!), a stand of planted pines (no turkeys though) and a running path that goes through grove after grove of eucalyptus trees (I’m addicted to parenthetical comments so thought I’d add one more).

The children whined horribly. Anyone would think that being dragged kicking and screaming from in front of the television into the fresh air at 11 a.m. on a delightfully crisp sunny fall morning constituted that much-maligned cruel and unusual punishment. At one point I had to threaten to smash Ilsa’s head into a handy eucalyptus trunk if she didn’t stop whining!

That last bit is sort of true.

I had planned to simply walk and talk and connect with my oh-so-delightful-and-happy children, but I decided to see how far I could run. This thrilled them, as you can imagine. And, surprise, I could go father than I’d thought. (It was still pitiful, and you don’t need to know how far it was). It was clear that I needed to start jogging regularly, here amongst the large trees and filtered sunlight just meters away from heavy traffic and honking horns.

Three times a week now, I go and run amongst the eucalyptus, breathing deep their spicy scent. It’s a great place to run. The entire track is 3.5 kilometers, and there are little markers along most of the way, showing how far you’ve come. Or, you can head into the middle of the park, where there are benches, soccer pitches, a prettily-landscaped lake (and café, as I’ve mentioned). I am rather proud of myself for managing to add some regular exercise into my life, and keep it up for several weeks now!

The Hilton Park is a popular place. There are always scads of women, usually in groups, wearing headscarves and velour track suits. Western women in sports bras, tank tops and leggings weave their way in and out, iPods blaring. There are kids on bikes, and toddlers picking up pine cones and eucalyptus bark peels. There is a small army of men working, constantly raking the paths, collecting the debris, watering the plants, resting on their rakes as I pound heavily past, gasping for breath. (Hey, I just started! I’m working on skipping lightly and gracefully) Young men sprint the entire track, beaming with pride at themselves. Families stroll. It’s the place to be for a lot of the population of Rabat.

On Saturday afternoon, the kids deigned to meet some friends there. They don’t mind going as long as they are not forced to walk/run the perimeter, which is unbelievably boring and Must! Be! Whined! About! They were willing to go play football however, which doesn’t count as “exercise.”

My friend Shannon and I went for a walk, through the planted pines (he’s right—they’re not straight! i.e. Vernon, Florida), around the “lake” (really more of a large pond), and had an orange juice in the café under the trees. And, since I wasn’t jogging, I brought my camera and took some pics of the kids and made that an excuse to write a post…

She loves to climb trees

You know they love to pose for pictures!

Ah the joys of the internet age. Travel is cheaper and easier, but reporting on said travel is not always the same. We’re back now, with a computer whose hard drive has been completely reformatted and is still having some issues.

Where were we? See if you can tell…

sheep may safely grazeSheep may safely graze…

oh my sweet Westley“Oh my sweet Westley! What have I done?”

cliff at Rhossili

worms head

Worm’s Head, Rhossilli

Can you see the worm? No, me neither. Does it help to know that worm is an old word for dragon? No, not really.

wanna-be-in-a-bandWanna-be band members.

We interrupt our overly-long and involved description of what was actually a very short trip to Ouarzazate to discuss confiscated goods. Eileen over at Bearshapedsphere started a group post inviting anyone who wants to participate to share their best customs stories. I’m sure between us, we can add some good ones to her collection. Also, you’ll want to go read the ones she’s posted, especially some very funny ones about a hot-sauce sampling customs official and a guy who accidentally gave his wife a foot-long serrated knife to take though customs. Here are a couple of mine:

Many years ago now, Donn and I and our friends Ed and Jeanni planned an extensive backpacking trip into the wilderness north of Jasper, Alberta. It’s an area known for bears, and we were going in late September, so as part of our preparations we invested in some fairly-expensive bear mace, which our research told us was not available in Canada.
The four of us and all our packs, bags, food, etc. crammed uncomfortably into our Nissan Sentra and set off. We spent the night with friends in Mount Vernon and hit the border about 10 the following day. The customs agent rattled off his normal “alcoholfirearmsdrugs?” (the effectiveness of which I’ve always wondered about. I mean, who is going to respond, “Yes, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to come clean.”) But, for the first time ever, he added “or mace?” to the end of his question.
We admitted that we had mace. It’s not for people, we explained, it’s for bears. We told our story. The customs official was not sympathetic. Neither were we. We were not prepared to give up our mace.
We were taken into a small office, manned by a sharp-faced woman with faded blonde hair and no hint of a smile. We pleaded our case. She told us that mace was illegal in Canada, and that she would have allowed us to bring guns across the border if we wanted real protection from bears.
“If a bear attacks you, you can shout at it,” she told us. “You can bang pots and pans or blow whistles to frighten it. You can shoot and kill it. But you may not mace it.”
“You mean I’m allowed to shoot a bear and kill it, but not just stop it from harming me?” Donn said in disbelief. “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s just ridiculous!”
“Is it not my business to make sport of the crown,” she snapped back, which we had to admit was the best line we’d ever heard from a customs official.
We lost, of course. We actually, stubborn as we are, got back in the car and drove to the Sandpoint, Idaho, border crossing, where we had the same problems. Before that day, we had never been asked about mace; since that day, we have never been asked about mace. But they won. They kept our illegal and expensive mace. And the first thing we saw when we walked into a backpacking supply store in Jasper was a huge display of…you know what’s coming…bear mace.

When we were moving from Mauritania and on our way back to the US, we really got hassled. In the Casa airport here in Morocco, the customs official confiscated Abel’s lego swords, claiming “It’s your government that makes us do this.” Yeah. Way to take out your dislike of Bush on the 10-year-old, who was in tears as we boarded the bus to take us out to our plane. Best of all? Lego has discontinued the “Knight‘s Kingdom“ line, so they couldn’t be replaced. And, as I pointed out to Donn, one could do a LOT more damage with the flimsy plastic knife we were given with our meal than with the tiny dull plastic “sword.”
It just wasn’t a good trip for the twins. In JFK, our family was “randomly” picked for a special search, the whole family. The zip on Ilsa’s beloved new-to-her boots got stuck, and the customs woman, growing impatient with my efforts to unstick it, brusquely broke it and yanked it off. Ilsa shuffled off in tears carrying her broken boot. They made her unpack her carry on and rifled through her stack of books (she had about 10 with her, I think). Because naturally, that would be where we’d hide the…what exactly? “Welcome to your home country,” I muttered grumpily at my distraught children.

Probably my fondest customs memory, though, is of my mother trying to smuggle Welsh butter into the country. My mother is about 5’1” and has never had so much as a parking ticket in her life. The summer that I was 17, she and I went to my cousin’s wedding in Wales, and on the way back she decided to bring Welsh butter and bacon with us. Of course we got asked about it. Mum feigned innocence. She would have been about 60 at that point, but I swear she fluttered her eyelashes at the customs official, and her voice went up about an octave in range. To no avail, of course. The customs official had specifically asked about dairy products, so she surrendered her beloved butter. He didn’t mention meat though, so we didn’t mention it either, and managed to bring home the bacon after all.

Yesterday, I woke up to a strange noise. What was it? It sounded vaguely familiar, like a vacuum being operated several stories away. It would go for a while, then stop, then, several minutes later, start again.

It nagged away at my semi-consciousness. Also, the room was getting hot. I couldn’t sleep. I got up, and realized that the sound was caused by hot air blowing out of a vent. My friend had turned the heat on.

Indoor heating. Now there’s a concept we haven’t had to think about in a while. The weather today is gorgeous—deep blue autumnal sky, leaves started to change colour and fall, twisting, from their parent trees. But even in the sunshine, we’re comfortable in long pants or a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Several days this week were cool and cloudy. It’s started raining, just a little bit. “You’re going to learn a whole new vocabulary,” I told Ilsa the other day. It wasn’t really raining—it was sprinkling, or misting, or just sort of moist outside. Oregonians have as many words for precipitation as the Inuit have for snow, or the Maures have for camels.

A friend asked me the other day how I’m doing with my reverse culture shock. The answer is that I’m doing great. I’m really happy to be here. I love autumn, and I’ve missed it deeply. Also, we’ve been taking advantage of the fact that our lives are still sort of on hold. In other words, we’re not really working yet. We’re sort of homeschooling, doing some English workbooks (The kids are so happy with how easy English conjugation is!), but we haven’t officially started CNED yet. We’ve found a really cute house and signed the lease, but we won’t move into it for another week or so, and we’re still living in one room in the basement. Andersons live halfway to the Columbia River Gorge. Why not go hiking?

On Tuesday afternoon, we set off with our 3 plus two of the Anderson kids. We decided to do a hike called Angel’s Rest. That name should have been a clue. Angels would come down from heaven, right, so they would rest on a pinnacle of rock or someplace high up. We didn’t think it through, just looked at the distance (2.5 miles) and set off. Soon, as Abel put it, “We started to need to take a lot of breaks.” We would string out along the edge of the trail, so when other hikers came along they could get by. It was early enough in the afternoon that we got a couple of odd looks but, much to my disappointment, no one asked me why the kids weren’t in school. (I’ve got my answer all ready: “Me an’ Bubba just learns ‘em at home. Werks real good!” This would have been even better with a couple of extra kids thrown in the mix!)

The trail comes out at the edge of a cliff with a great view east and west along the Columbia. It also has a really impressive drop off. One little slip, and that would be the end. I tend to have a somewhat morbid imagination, and was running through the phone call to Heather if something happened, especially to one of her kids. It wasn’t enjoyable. They managed to stay back from the edge, and when we were scrambling up some rocks only one fell and she even managed to fall towards the bushes rather than towards the cliff side. Phew!

If hiking with 3 kids is fun, hiking with 5 kids is doubly cool. Make that triple. First comes the whining. “I’m tired; my legs hurt; when are we gonna get there; is he (Donn) taking ANOTHER picture?; why, why why.” There’s the bickering. There’s the being too tired to walk, yet having energy to duel with sticks the minute we stop for a break. There’s the singing of annoying songs. There’s the noise. There’s the top-of-the-lungs comments on the other hikers—“ooh! Her dog’s not on a leash! She’s breaking the law! She’s a lawbreaker! Lawbreaker! Do you think that’s a pit bull? What kind of dog do you think it is? It sure is big. It’s cute! No it’s not.”

Me (red-faced): Hi!

Lawbreaking dog-owner: (nods. Looks askance at children)

(Aside: They were actually right, although it was a little embarrassing. Donn asked, and it was half pit bull, not on a leash although it’s clearly stated that all dogs must be on leashes. Over half the dogs we’ve met on these trails are not on leashes. This particular owner insisted that her half-pitbull breed was, exceptionally, a harmless individual who literally wouldn’t hurt a flea and simply adored children. Whatever. I’m not overly worried, but it bugs me that they think they don’t have to obey the rules)

Mariah (Ilsa’s friend, age 11) somehow got us all eating pine needles. She claimed to notice subtle differences. I expect she’ll be a wine expert as an adult. “This one is sweet, and this one has a spicy mint flavor,” she told me, offering me two needles. “You chew them and then spit them out.” I tried them. They tasted exactly like you’d expect—pine!—but perhaps I haven’t developed the sensitive palate you need for this. She and Ilsa collected fallen branches and later brewed them up in a kind of tea. You add a dash of cinnamon, a hint of vanilla, and several spoonfuls of sugar and then, they claim, it’s delicious. They cut and sew tea bags out of coffee filters, label them with Sharpies (not approved by the FDA), and sell them for 10 cents each. I hope this gets me off the hook for college tuition. What do you think?

I think we’re living in one of the prettiest places on earth. I’m happy to be here for now. Even with the kids along for the ride.

Today is not only America’s official birthday, but also my friend’s. I won’t tell you how old she is as she could easily get revenge on me on my birthday. And no, she says she didn’t think the fireworks were just for her when she was a kid. She just started a blog herself, at if you want to tell her Happy Birthday.

We left the California desert yesterday. We hear Donn’s parents are having a hard time adjusting to the silence. Last night, we stopped by Oprah’s house to tell her about Oasis, see if she wants to contribute some magazines. I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, we are staying with friends in Santa Barbara. I love how this part of California smells—of juniper, cypress, wild sage in the hills, a tang of salt in the air. Today the kids and I went on a hike through the forest. We plunged into a mountain pool, where the water tumbled over boulders and fallen logs. I pondered how amazing this would be for our Mauritanian friends. In his memoir Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupery has a great description of taking some desert people to France, and showing them a spring. They were dumbfounded, and later made some comment about how the God of the French was amazingly generous, giving his people more water than they could use. I can’t remember the exact comment, and don’t have the book with me to look it up. Sorry.

It’s been a great day so far—we’re off to enjoy fireworks over the pier at the beach.

November 2022

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