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Ok I am going to finish my year. It wasn’t all that eventful, really, just that I am verbose. Very very verbose. How did I handle not blogging?

October: or possibly late September. Finally it cools down. It even rains a little bit. We take newly-arrived family to Hood River to visit the orchards. There are tons of them—growing myriad varieties of apples, pears, pumpkins, fantastically-shaped gourds. It’s very beautiful, and they love it. I mean, who wouldn’t?

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We all bought some and decorated our houses.

 

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This pumpkin shell is like lace, isn’t it?

We did other things. ESL classes started up again. Every year we get more organized. This is only impressive when you realize that I started the program and that I have no organizational skills whatsoever. I know six year olds who are more organized than I am! However, we have muddled along and now have 4 levels and around 40 students, plus about 30 volunteers driving our students to and from class, watching their children so they can study, greeting them with coffee, teaching or tutoring them. Our students include a group of women in their 50s and 60s who have never really gone to school before. They grew up in the countryside, in villages where education was for boys, and they married young and raised children and grandchildren. Now they are students themselves with notebooks and pens, and very proud of themselves! Their progress is slow, as one would expect, but they view each incremental gain with great satisfaction and never tire of practicing their short sentences on me, and bringing me large platters of dolma and briyani. (I don’t teach their level but they all know me) Last summer, Donn and I ran into an Iraqi man at Fred Meyer’s who told me that my class is “number one for women with PTSD.” I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that our little school has a very homey atmosphere, and these students are thriving, each in her own way. On the other end, we have lawyers and professors and pharmacists who come to our classes as well.

October: Donn and I went to Thailand. I’ll pause and let you imagine all the exclamation points. Thailand has been a place I’ve wanted to go for years and years and years now. We had to go to an international conference and since we were there, we stayed an extra week. It was blissful.

Thailand was therrific! (What is wrong with me?) Just as cool as you think it’s going to be. I consciously decided not to blog it, because I have a bad habit of going into way too much detail and saving the best stories for last and then never finishing the series. Seriously, our last two trips to Mauritania have included many cool things that I never got around to recording.

I was just glancing through my pictures and it’s evident I’m going to stretch this out even further. So let’s take a few moments and just enjoy some of the amusing signs. And this isn’t all. I never did manage to get a picture of the restaurant called “Egg Slut.”

IMG_6069I know I agree, and so far my cholesterol isn’t bad…

We didn’t eat here, but it was sort of a McDonald’s knock-off, featuring (among other items) the MookMuffin.

IMG_6115Donn had a great avocado bubble tea here. I was tempted to try a “white mall” smoothie but just wasn’t sure. Would it contain actual grit from a Nordstrom’s floor? 

IMG_6137Frankly, Satan’s coffee seemed a better bet.

IMG_6095Who are they calling drunk? 

IMG_6094Saw a lot of ads for this whitening cream. I understand the concept, but feel the marketing really fell down on this one. A friend told me the tv ads for this feature an actual snail crawling across a woman’s face, leaving it sparkly (slimy) white!

Sadly, all these pictures are of places (or items) I didn’t try. Which would you go for? Tell us in comments.

…in which I divide my year into two three parts cuz it was oh-so-interesting.

September: Ilsa is off to Rhode Island for art school, which is pretty much exactly opposite Portland, Oregon, and nearly as far as you can get and still be on the same continent. Meanwhile, her twin brother is staying home and going to the local community college. They’ve always been opposites in every way, so it’s reassuring to see that continuing. Right?

She got FF miles from her grandpa, so Donn and I ended up having to take the red-eye the night before, arriving in Boston at 7 a.m. Donn had cleverly googled “how to get out of Logan Airport without paying tolls” so we drove for hours and hours, down bumpy railroad tracks and through sketchy-looking industrial areas, eventually ending up far to the north east of Boston, when our hotel was far to the south west (towards Providence, which is an hour south of Boston). By this point it was after 10 and we were starving. No tolls though! Triumph! We found a hole-in-the-wall diner with wonderful eggs and bacon and low prices and thick china and where everyone talked like they’re supposed to in Boston. “They-ah, dea-ah,” said the waitress as she banged down the plate in front of me. (I’m not sure I’m doing the dialect right) We asked for directions to the hotel, and she yelled at the guys in the back and they came out and looked at the address and talked amongst themselves for ages before telling us which alleys and lanes to traverse on our way back to the toll road that didn’t require us to buy a special Boston pass, which also required an extra $20 to the rental car company. This was the real reason we were avoiding certain roads. We had to pay tolls (question: WHY? The roads were not that amazing) but we preferred to pay cash rather than have to buy a special gadget for a short visit.

People do complain about east-coast drivers. We thought they were fine, if a bit confused at times…

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Yes, that’s a holiday-weekend-start-of-college-busy road in one direction only.

We eventually found our hotel, and they let us check in early so we passed out on the bed for a few blissful hours. (Remember, we’d been up all night) It was a super cute, very fun hotel, set in the middle of a sort of commercial wasteland. We drove back into Boston and drove to the Common and looked for parking. We ended up finding a place just across from Cheers, so we went in for a pint, but no one knew our name, it was crowded and no one was glad we came, and the beer was $7.50 a pint for something that claimed to be an IPA but wasn’t. It just wasn’t.

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Swan at Boston Common

This was later though. At first we wandered round and found someplace to eat. We were somewhat bemused to find that Portland, OR is trendy place in Boston. We saw menus proudly touting their use of Tillamook cheddar and Willamette Valley hops, and the guy at the front desk told us he’d always wanted to come to Oregon. And after that pseudo-IPA, I could see why!

We walked part of the Freedom Trail, which was super cool and interesting. We collected Ilsa at the airport at midnight, drove 45 minutes to the hotel, and unsurprisingly missed breakfast the next morning.

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Boston at night…

We had a day to explore before taking Ilsa to school, so we went to Concord, and Lexington.

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We explored the outside of Louisa May Alcott’s home and also the gift shop.

ilsa as a little woman

This perfect tree is just outside the Alcott family home, and it was all too easy to imagine Jo (from Little Women) sitting here eating apples.

We wandered through the Boston Common, where we saw 3 different bridal parties having photos done.

boston phone wedding

This just amused me, the bride frowning at her phone, the limo driver taking pics with the groom’s phone (not pictured).

The next day, we drove down to Providence and left Ilsa in her own little dorm room, at the top of a hill and on the 4th floor. No elevators. She was ecstatic to be there, and waved us off with a big smile, anxious for us to go and leave her to the serious business of Being a College Student.

On the plane on the way home, I read a book written by a woman who was raped on her second day of college. I do not recommend this. It was a good book, but still. Dang! Ilsa was fine though.

donn and founding fathers

Here is Donn, checking the wording of the Constitution on his phone so as to help the Founding Fathers get it right. (They had these panoramas (diaromas? Cardboard cutouts? What would you call this?) set up at Logan Airport.)

AND I think we’re going to have to stretch this into 3 parts, since in October, we went to Thailand…

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.

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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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted by my own stupidity, I adore the Rabat medina. Each of the ancient Moroccan cities has its own medina–the old part of the city, usually a warren of winding tiny alleyways punctuated by closed doors and cats that weave their way in and out, along with a colourful marketplace selling traditional hand-crafted items to tourists. And if some of these items have been added to the repertoire more recently than others, who really cares? It’s cool stuff.

IMG_0996This isn’t exactly what I’m talking about, but I was amused to see they’re now making beautiful lanterns out of old olive and tomato paste tins, and managing to make treasure out of trash.

There are medinas–old cities, marketplaces–in all of Morocco’s major cities. Many are bigger, better-known than Rabat’s, which is relatively small and straight-forward. Fez’s medina, for example, is the largest pedestrian-only city in the world and a guide is requisite to get through it. It’s fascinating, but enormous. Meknes is built over a huge prison that housed European slaves, and people told us you used to be able to explore it but too many tourists got lost and died so they closed it. Marrakesh is world-famous and has huge variety. But Rabat is nice. It’s big enough to have plenty of variety, but small enough that you don’t get overwhelmed.

We went to the shop where we bought our leather pouffs, over 3 years ago now. This guy has beautiful leather-work. Donn asked him the price of one of the pouffs, and he said, “Same as last time.” We did a bit of a double-take. “It’s been, what, about two years?” he asked us. “Three,” we said.

We couldn’t believe it. This guy’s shop is popular; he has a workshop in the back and uses really high quality leather, and his shop is constantly busy. How could he remember us from 3 years ago? But he had. This cemented the beginnings of a real friendship. We ended up sitting and chatting; we drank tea with him, and discussed our pasts and futures, and told him to come stay with us sometime if he ever comes to the US.

(I had a photo for you of him sitting in his shop, but when I uploaded it off my phone the quality was so bad I can’t share it with you. Unless you like feeling slightly queasy and motion sick from blurriness.)

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Random shot of fountain and one of the doors into the medina, or ancient walled city.

The medina is more than the marketplace. It is also home to a lot of people. Medinas are where you find the old riads, those houses built round courtyards that are so often turned into stunning hotels by foreigners these days. But more often, normal Moroccans live there, climbing uneven tiled staircases daily where grandmas and toddlers come to grief,

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walking past shops,

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doing their laundry,

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and going about their daily lives.

IMG_0986(and yes, that is a total hip shot, because I knew he wouldn’t want me taking his photo!)

 Donn and I spent a fair amount of time just wandering the back streets, getting away from the touristy end of things and more into just the regular part. He got great photos. Me, not so much.

IMG_0974This is near the wool market, and also near, or possibly a part of, the old slave market, where the Barbary pirates used to sell European slaves captured on raids.

IMG_0988Motorcycles are great for these tiny alleyways, especially if you are comfortable swerving around small children, cats, elderly people with canes, and the occasional somewhat clueless tourist.

IMG_0976I couldn’t figure out what was going on until we walked by, and I saw that everyone was gathered round a giant plate of couscous.

IMG_0992I never get bored of these alleys. At least I haven’t yet.

The markets we came across in the residential area (for lack of a better term) sold fruit and olives, or pots and pans, or soap.

IMG_0946Soap with ground olive pits in it

When you go to a Moroccan hammam (the local kind, not the tourist kind. I went to a tourist kind on this trip and it was fantastic! We’ll get to it at some point, possibly in February at the rate I’m going), you take this dark soap that has ground olive pits in it. You smear it on your body and let it sit a bit, presumably loosening up all that dead skin. Here’s my description of going to a local hammam.

Donn and I wandered through the alleys, turning at random, hoping not to get lost. Eventually we always found our way out, although I was sometimes surprised at where. IMG_0968

A shrine near the wool market

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also near wool market

IMG_0944 where we came out

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.

e under tree

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.

ilsa

“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.

Me: Wha????

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.

abelwe tend towards long hair in our family…

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.

First there was this.

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(you could tell from the beginning which was the boy and which the girl…Abel always had a bigger nose and a receding hairline)

And before I knew it, this was happening.

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And then, faster than a blink, it’s like this

aftermath

 

I may have gone rather overboard on the sugar and butter and carbs part of things, but I can blame the twins for that. It was their idea. And since they were born on St. David’s Day, I always always make them Welsh cakes, and sometimes I take bad pictures of them.

welsh cakes

And of course there are always daffs. It is St. David’s Day, you know.

daffs

And for the next morning, unfrosted cinnamon rolls, until Donn went to the store and came home with powdered sugar. I do know how to make my own (an advantage to having lived overseas), but I prefer not to.

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Who is St. David? Patron saint of Wales, of course. You should eat Welsh cakes and have daffodils on his day (1 March), and if you’re really going to be authentic, eat/wear a leek. I don’t usually go that far.

 

Donn and I certainly don’t agree on everything—he likes Bob Dylan and I think Dylan sounds like an animated rusty tire chain, I love to read and relax and not go anywhere before 10 a.m by which point he feels half the day is gone. But one argument we’ve never had is over what sort of Christmas tree is best. We both feel, 100%, that the best tree is a large, full Noble fir, preferably cut down ourselves on a snowy day. (it could happen!) (for my non-Oregonian readers, it rarely snows in the Portland area). We felt this way even before we spent 6 Christmases in the Sahara Desert, where we forked over ridiculous amounts of money for tiny, 18-inch Norfolk Pines, from which I would hang 3-4 ornaments while watching the branches bend alarmingly. (Which, another aside, is why I’m so snarky when people post pictures of 6-foot trees on FB and call them “Charlie Brown” trees just because they’re a little sparse. I have lived the Charlie Brown tree. They didn’t need a little love; they needed several years and some goat fertilizer. We planted them in our yard on New Year’s and left a legacy of tall green trees in that tan and dusty land.)

But this year, we are actually spending Christmas Day with the in-laws in California. Additionally, we have friends who recently bought some acreage, part of which comprised an old tree farm, and they wanted to get rid of the few remaining trees this year. They offered us a free tree—any size from 11 to 20 feet. “You can just cut what you need,” they told us, but I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous 20 foot tree that, hopefully, some business or hotel could use. We took the 11-footer and brought it home, cut off the top 2 feet which were a sort of stalk, and laid it in the back yard, because it was too big for our tree stand.
The tree dominates the room. It is not pretty. It swallows our ornaments. My poor angel, who for years in Mauritania had to be relegated to being hung on the wall, looks somewhat uncomfortable, perched on top of a too-thick trunk. It doesn’t look like a nice Christmas tree bought on a farm or at a stand; it looks like we went into the woods and cut down a tree. It is a feral tree. I think of it as very masculine. It’s a Noble, but the kind with lots of space between the branches. We need to get more lights, more ornaments, and if ever a tree needed ribbon or tinsel or something, it is this tree.

But it’s got character.

This gives you an idea of the size. Donn is standing on a chair.

sigh…it’s a long story

We had to put the poor angel on the end of a broom to help her wing her way to the top

and the angel finally at rest, looking slightly alarmed

the final effect.

When Michelle and I knew each other in Mauritania, we both went to the beach pretty much every single Saturday. We all did (we being a large-ish group of expats). There wasn’t a lot to do otherwise, and it was a fun family and friend day. Here is a sample story of a fairly average week, except for the shark and the car being on fire. Although honestly, it was a fairly average day since that level of “excitement” wasn’t unusual. (edited to add: i just added in the link. Sheesh. Why didn’t someone tell me?)

Michelle now lives in Kansas. (I need more coffee since I wrote “Michelle know lives.” Be right back) For those of you a bit vague on your American geography, Kansas is right smack in the middle of this vast, continent-wide country, big on amber waves of grain but low on shining seas. She hadn’t been to the beach in 3 years, and she had never seen the Oregon coast. Naturally, we had to take her.

We also took Eve and her artist husband. I have been very worried about Eve lately. I think she’s been quite depressed. She won’t leave her tiny dark apartment, even when we invite her places. She sleeps a lot, and doesn’t get up even when we come to visit. So I was very happy when she allowed herself to be persuaded to come with us. Her husband deals with past horrors through painting beautiful pictures, but Eve doesn’t have that outlet.

We drove to the middle of the State in order to visit my favorite beach, Fogarty. We went here last month with the kids and it was gorgeous and sunny. Yesterday was foggy and overcast, but warm and not raining. For the Oregon Coast it was enough.

Fogarty has lots of driftwood and kelp.  There are enormous tangles of kelp, like ropes or intestines.

Sometimes the kelp is stinky, but always, it is interesting.

It lies in swirls and loops; it attaches itself to rocks and wood.

heap o’ kelp

Fogarty also features lots of driftwood, offering places to sit and relax and enjoy the view.

Aside: Those steps did not used to be there. (what horrible syntax) I am a horrible cantankerous grouch when it comes to beachside development. This would ONLY be good if I lived there!

I call this one “dragon driftwood.” It has been there for years and years, lying there through storms and sun while I was off gallivanting round the globe and living in the desert where the beach has no such logs. (It looks more like a dragon from the other end, but I liked this angle. Squint a bit and use your imagination.)

We explored the bottom of the cliffs and got our feet soaked in the process.

We looked at strange protrusions in the rock face.

We took lots of pictures, even Michelle, who still has pictures from 3 years ago on her memory card.

looking north

I love how the incessant wind shapes the trees.

Even though it wasn’t sunny, it was pleasantly warm. After a while we left the coarse sand and kelp

and drove further south, stopping to look for whales. All that kelp bobbing about in the waves does make the Oregon Coast a good spot for whale watching. In fact, when we came down with the kids for the day last month, we spotted 3 whales! Yesterday we had no luck though.

We went as far as Depoe Bay, where we bought enormous ice-cream cones and coffee, then we drove home. Eve was the happiest I have ever seen her. “I am so happy,” she kept saying, as if amazed at herself. “This is Paradise,” she said at one point. Who cared if the sun actually shone, rather than merely peeping through the fog? Who cared if the whales spouted and showed themselves? It was another perfect day.

It’s that time of year again. On Saturday morning, I found a note on the stairs. “Working on lego crèche. DO NOT DISTURB” it said. This is the 3rd year that Abel has graced our house with his own version of a nativity scene, made out of legos.

Our lego crèches always include Roman patrols, which I feel is at least as realistic as one camel, one donkey and one sheep looking at a manger without having to be held back from the straw. An overcrowded Bethlehem packed with census takers would certainly have had some soldiers passing through, armed to the teeth and looking for trouble makers.

This year, Mary is reprising her outfit from last year, with just a few new touches. Makes sense in these economically troubled times. Joseph, as a typical male, has not changed.

Baby Jesus continues to be legless, but this year, he’s smiling and content and possibly even cooing. A far cry (HA!) from last year’s scowl.

(Aside: look at how dust-begrimed the green base is. You can tell it spent time in Mauritania. That’s what happens to all your things in that desert nation. I wonder if I could run it through the dishwasher? I wonder if I will bother?)

Bethleham’s main inn has really expanded this year, adding an extra story and an extra two rooms out back, complete with staircase.

The inn really is full though, as you can see…

Out front, the innkeeper is keeping the grounds as free from dust as possible…

He’s got his work cut out for him.

The inn also has a new sign. Given that much of its clientale isn’t literate, it’s just a picture.

It’s a lovely creche. This year we have 3 nativities–an origami one, made by a friend in Mauritania, a Peanuts one (already much beloved), which was a lovely surprise sent by Tonggu Mom, and this year’s lego version. I think last year’s version, with wise men AND the wicked King Herod, might have been my favorite, but I’ll never forget the original Mary (not to mention Ilsa’s attempt to match with her toffee infant) from 2008–she’ll always have a special place in my heart.

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