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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.

Two years ago we moved into this house. This morning, as I was drinking coffee, I realized this and thought it would make a good blog post. All sorts of ideas and connections ran through my mind.

They’re all gone now.

It was a long day. Ilsa was home sick, and I came home to check on her and somehow took about 3 hours off this afternoon and was sick with her. After a nap, I find myself feeling better. The headache is mostly gone. I guess rest is actually good for us after all! This is a brilliant concept and one I find myself hoping to explore more.

They say, these experts on international moves and third-culture-kids and people like that, that is takes 2 full years to really adjust and settle. They’re right. The first year everything is new; the second year you look for patterns. After that, you’re okay.

I spent the summer picking berries as often as possible, although the selection in our freezer is still paltry as we head into winter. I adore fresh berries–especially blueberry, raspberry, and any form of blackberry (i.e. marionberry, loganberry, etc) We live in the boring suburbs in a cookie-cutter house, but thanks to the brilliance of Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary, we live about 10 minutes from rural farmland, acres and acres of farms stretching out along the contours of the rolling hills to the west of us, blue with distance and sun. I would snatch a free hour, run out to a farm, come back with 5 pounds of raspberries for jam, or blueberries for cobbler, always with the idea of freezing for winter, but somehow not always achieving that goal.

It was a gorgeous summer–the days long and light-filled. We haven’t had rain for months now, very unusual for the Portland area. Fall has been filled with hot afternoons and crisp mornings and nights that are downright cold, so that it’s pretty much impossible to dress appropriately.

My Iraqi friends call this “Mountain Hood.” Locals say Mt. Hood.

If you are wondering, these are the things that help me adjust to a place. I need to know the patterns of afternoon sunlight in a room, or where the maples glow on sunny days, or the way to take to the mechanic that takes me through farmland and green hills and vines stretching up them into the distance. I need a riot of sunflowers and dahlias planted by the road, or the tangle of roses at all the freeway exits. I need the feel of the rain, of the heat, of the clattering moths outside a front door or the glow of a firepit giving a rather ugly and neglected backyard a certain allure. The place I had the hardest time adjusting to was Mauritania, because it took me years to see the beauty of it. Even now, I feel that if they could just turn the sun down by about 20%, it would be so much nicer.

I grew daffs and tulips and roses and cosmos. I planted a dogwood.

We bought that vase in France. It’s been all over with us. It’s very unsteady and I’m happy it’s survived.

Elliot had a deadline for the outline for his Extended Essay (I put it in caps cuz that’s how he refers to it. It’s a 4000-word essay that he’s doing on the Battle of Stalingrad. I think he’s already smarter than I am, but don’t tell him. It’d go right to his head) and needed to go to the big library, the one downtown that takes up a city block. I didn’t let myself even go in because I knew I would see a few books that I really really wanted to read and frankly, I already have a stack I need to read for 5 Minutes for Books. Instead I dropped him off, parked the car, and sat in the Park Blocks for a lovely, lonely hour. The Park Blocks are a block wide and run right through the center of downtown, from Portland State on the heights down past Burnside at the bottom of a long sloping hill. They are planted with elms and lined with benches and statues to various notable people, and when I was a student I used to do most of my reading homework out there (except when it was raining. This is Portland). I was utterly content, sitting in the sun with the occasional golden leaf dropping like a gift, reading a very good book. I turned off my phone and enjoyed it.

 this phone camera has no depth of field….

Two years ago, I had no idea I would be in this place. But here I am. I’m doing fine. How are you doing where you’re at? Is it at all what you pictured? I’m guessing no, because it never is.

Long-term readers with good memories may recall that last time we tried to visit Donn’s family in Southern California, in June, our car broke down. Since then, we have been experiencing the joy of one car with 2 adults who are often headed in different directions, and 3 teens to boot. And before you pull out your cracks about “would you like cheese with that whine?” and mutter about first-world problems, I will state that I agree—this is a first-world problem. However, the first world does not offer the transportation solutions that developing countries have. In a word, taxis.

I miss taxis, living in the suburbs like I do now. Oh how I miss them. As a rich American in Mauritania and Morocco, I had no problem affording first-class transportation. In Nouakchott, it costs me 80 cents to ride in solitary grandeur all the way across town. In Rabat, I would walk from my apartment door about a block down, where I would wait and flag a small blue taxi. I could get downtown for $1, across town for $2.50. Now, I have to walk a mile to the nearest bus, which is fine, except that the bus in question doesn’t actually go anywhere I need to go.

We needed a second car, and Donn found one on eBay that he really liked. I was skeptical. I mean, who buys a car on eBay? Apparently we do. He researched it and read all the seller’s reviews and bid and waited till the last minute and won. And so we became the proud owners of a brand spanking-new ’83 volvo. Er, not a typo. But this is not any ’83 Volvo—this one was owned by a little old lady in Pasadena who kept it in her garage and only drove in on Sundays. I’m not making this up. It only has 77,000 miles on it, and the inside is cleaner than most cars that are over a month old. Donn is in love. That first coffee spill is going to break his heart.

Since the LOL (little old lady. What did you think it meant?) was in, well not exactly Pasadena but near it, Donn used some miles we had from our globe-trotting days and flew down to pick it up. He broke the journey home by visiting a friend in Santa Cruz. And it was on a frigid morning in California when he flicked on the rear defroster, not knowing about the weird little electrical glitch that would cause it to not cycle off. Suddenly, the rear window exploded! It broke into thousands of tiny shards all of which were still attached. As Donn drove back to the friend’s house, every time he went over a little bump, a small section of the window would fall out. I know it is wrong to laugh, but the mental image this conveys cracks me up.

The complication was that, apparently they no longer make parts for ’83 Volvos. Who knew? I would have thought that would be a hot commodity, but no. He was able to get an after-market window that fit, but it meant he stayed in Santa Cruz an extra 5 days, thanks to this happening on a Friday. And by the way, our mechanic said that was a fluke and it’s an excellent car.

He got home late on Wednesday night after driving 14 hours that day, ready to relax and try to see all our Iraqi friends and do Christmas activities with them before we left again for California on Monday, so that we could spend Christmas with his parents.

Donn’s dad had already arranged to rent us a car, figuring our ’87 Volvo (keep track here—this is not the new one, but the old black one) might not be super-reliable on a journey of 1000 miles that would begin with a single breakdown (this is called foreshadowing and is the mark of a real writer. Hemingway did it all the time). So on Sunday night, we drove out to the airport rent-a-car location to pick it up. As we pulled into the parking lot, the black Volvo sputtered and died.

Could it be out of gas? It was low…could the gauge be off? The guy behind the counter offered to loan us his gas can and almost immediately, it seemed, regretted it. Honestly, we were dressed nicely and using correct grammar and he hadn’t seen our car, but he kept stressing that it was HIS PERSONAL can and if we didn’t come back with it, we’d be ripping him off and not the gigantic soulless rent-a-car corporation. Um? We already told you we’d bring it back? It was a little comic how worried he was about it. As soon as we pulled back into the parking lot, he ran from behind the counter to the parking lot and asked for the can back. We pointed out that we’d like to empty it first. He agreed reluctantly.

How many people does it take to figure out how to pour gas from a can? In my experience, 4. I filled the role of calling Heather on the phone and telling her what was going on, since we’d planned to leave the black Volvo at their place since they live much closer to the airport. Donn, the owner of the gas can, and another random man who drove the airport shuttle, spent a very very long time figuring out how to attach the little nozzle. We still leaked gas all down the side of the car.

Sadly, the car was not out of gas. We risked our nice coats leaning perilously near to the engine. Donn thought he’d figured out the problem. I suspect I’m getting into too much detail here, so I will cut to the moment, at 2 a.m., when Heather and I were sitting chatting in the lights of their Christmas tree when Donn and Paul walked in and announced they had managed to get the car to their house. Donn’s favorite part of the evening was when they got the car going, drove it a block, swerved to the side of the road just as it died again, and had a policeman stop to find out why they were hot-wiring a car (they weren’t really) in a sketchy neighbourhood at 1 a.m. Donn had fun explaining that it was his own car. Again, let me emphasize how nicely he was dressed; dress pants and shoes, wool coat. Apparently location is everything when it comes to being suspicious.

And yes, Heather and Paul are the best friends ever. And no, you can’t have them.

We went to bed at 2:45 a.m. We’d planned to get up at 6 and leave by 7, but when we got home we went into all the kids’ rooms, turned on the light, found their alarm clocks, turned them off, and hoped they’d think it was a weird dream.

We still left by 9. Drove uneventfully for 2 days in a brand new Kia Optima which is very fancy. It even has cupholders! Arrived at the in-laws a little earlier than they were expecting us, where we are now. Merry Christmas to all! I’m hoping for a downright boring 2012.

This morning, while I did get up with the kids and sort of wave goodbye (have I mentioned how much I love school buses?), I went back to bed for an hour and a half. This was a brilliant idea and has made a new woman out of me. Of course, it meant that we were an hour and a half late leaving for our own event, but that was okay.

It was a perfect day, the kind of day that makes you glad to be in Oregon in September. The sun was warm but there was a depth of coolness to the shade, and by afternoon the light had that autumnal heaviness, like honey. The leaves were just beginning to crisp into yellow and orange.

We drove down the Columbia River Gorge until we got to Hood River, and then we turned right and headed up towards Mt. Hood to visit the apple and pear orchards. There are many of them, and you can drive a 35-mile loop and visit orchards, berry patches, lavender farms, and wineries. We visited about 4 orchards, including a place that sold pear dumplings (an entire Bartlett pear cored, stuffed with brown sugar, and baked in a pie crust. We did not get one because Donn is worried about his weight and my resistance was low from having sampled way too many types of jams and jellies on little crackers. And also, when your husband is resisting, you will feel like a total pig if you don’t. Darn his willpower!).

Some orchards were prettily decorated, with gardens and antiques.

Others were more basic.

Regardless, there was bountiful produce, along with such attractions as corn mazes, hay rides, and many many samples.

I had never seen purple peppers before. Have you?


Prices and variety were incredible, even this early in the season. The apples pictured below are called Tokyo Rose, and they are sweet and crunchy and really really good. They were also 60 cents/pound. I bought an enormous bag of them.

We bought a kind of green apple called Ginger Gold that might be my new favorite–it does have the merest hint of a gingery crisp to it. 50 cents/ pound. We bought peaches and blueberries and zuccini and a kind of smooth deep red pear called Star Crimson. We came home with pounds and pounds and pounds of produce.

At one farm, the lady working there offered to sample each kind of fruit. It was like wine tasting. We started with sweet and went through 10 varieties of apples to tart. Then we did pears (only 3 kinds are ripe right now, but in October there will be 12 varieties, not to mention 13 kinds of Asian pears!), then 6 kinds of peaches! I am now a minor expert, for at least a few more days until I forget, on the difference between Stenza and Buckeye Gala and Ginger Gold and Gravenstein.


Everyone said to come back in October, as the season is late this year. And we will. We are going to take Iraqi friends one weekend, so their kids can do the corn maze and the tractor ride and the house with all the pumpkins painted and dressed up like ghosts.  But Michelle is only here one week, and they don’t have this in Kansas.

We drove the scenic highway, by the waterfalls, on the way home. We stopped at only a couple of waterfalls.

We are very thankful to Michelle for being considerate enough to visit us! Because otherwise, we would have been working, and we would have missed a perfect fall day.

Gretchen at Lifenut ran a list today of some of the jobs she’s had over the years. She’s had some strange ones, but I think most of us have by now. I won’t bore you with all my tales, but at various times I have:

babysat: Every girl’s first job. But I remember being 12 and meeting a family who left me in charge of a 5 and 3 year old and a baby. They lived down the street and only met me once before they entrusted me with their kids. And they said I could spank if I needed to. I look back and shake my head in amazement. This was also my introduction to cloth diapers.

cleaned houses: this was one of my many college jobs. I worked my way through college. This was a great job because it paid quite well–$12-15/hour back when minimum wage was about $6. The people I worked for were wonderful too; friendly and older, they would feed me elaborate lunches and crack old-fashioned jokes. They were a glimpse into a totally different world than I’d known before. They came to my wedding and bought us a generous present. Their house had an entire wall of windows with an incredible view of downtown Portland and across the river to the mountains beyond.

worked in a day-care: Another college job. This enabled me to not want to have my own children for quite some time. I also remember, in my naivety, sharing with a parent that his child had used a racial epithet to another child, who had responded in kind. The dad actually went and yelled at the other kid! I was so shocked that I couldn’t say a word at first. Yes, pretty pitiful, I know, but I honestly believed that another adult would be on the right side. I never stopped to think about where the child might have learned racism. I was very very young then, and that was quite an eye-opener.

read unpublished manuscripts: “What is my ideal job?” I asked myself after college graduation, and I wondered if anyone would pay me to lie on the couch and read books. I called every literary agent in the yellow pages (yes this was a while ago) and one agreed to give me a try. He sent me the worst-written bilge I’ve ever read. It was painfully bad, a sort of faux-Gothic, faux-Celtic fantasy with every cliché in the book, including the heroine’s unruly curls and how we discovered them when she looked in the mirror. (It was prob an early draft of Twilight, if only I’d known. Just kidding. This was the early 90s) I met the agent at a cafe and I was honest about my opinion and he was surprised. Looking back, I suspect a friend of his was the author. I’m sure it was never published. We didn’t get very far; after that one meeting, I never heard from him again. I still remember that cafe, and their excellent marionberry muffins. It’s an Indian restaurant now.

proofread: after the twins were born, I quit my job as a managing editor, but I continued to write for my publication—one article a month and I proofread the whole thing. I still remember the new editor, a friend of mine, dropping by with print-outs, and me sitting at my dining room table proofing while she kept the twins amused and the morning sun slanting through the windows onto bowls half-filled with cheerios and scattered toys.

taught English: You already knew this, but did you know I taught writing to 4th-year university students without a syllabus or knowing what kind of writing my class was supposed to encompass? I have written elsewhere of the advice I received from a retired American woman who’d taught there before me: “If a student tells you a goat ate his homework, believe him.” She didn’t warn me that these homework-eating goats might come into my classroom, or that my lectures would be interrupted by beggars. I will never forget that first year. I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up your soul. Seriously. Which poses a fun question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten on starting a new job?

taught English without books: when we first arrived in Morocco and all our stuff was still in storage, I got a job teaching English to everyone in an office run by a Korean man (because they’d get calls from Korea, and it was easier to teach them English than Korean.) I managed to do this by downloading lesson plans, worksheets, etc from the internet. It was okay, but not ideal.

There are many other jobs I’ve had but I won’t bore you with details. What are some odd or interesting jobs you’ve had?

The other night, walking in downtown Portland wearing my winter coat although it’s April, leaving an art gallery and staring up at the deep blue twilight sky and the sliver of new moon glowing silver amongst the still bare branches, I experienced a deep moment of happiness. You know what I’m talking about—those moments of profound and utter contentment that swell up unexpectedly at odd moments, when to the core of your being you know, “This is where I want to be.”

I haven’t had one in a while. In fact, I think the last one was in Morocco. That’s why I noticed it.

What triggers these moments? They can’t be planned. They are a gift.

But I also wonder, does it mean that I’m finally feeling more settled? The last week hasn’t felt that way. It’s been filled with stabs of memory of a place left behind—a sudden memory of bougainvillea against a blue sky, of sunlight through an arch, of Annie’s bookshelves and red curtains, of the tiled columns at the entrance to our salon and the light in the hall. I cook dinner in Portland and flash on making tortillas from scratch, rolling them out on the low countertop, my tiny gas stove in the corner. These memories are seemingly prompted by nothing. This last week has also been unusually busy. I left a meeting that went twice as long as I thought it would (it was discussing our work with refugees) to go give an English lesson but instead of English, surprise!, I took the whole family to a clothes closet. That took an extra hour and a half which meant I was an hour late to my next appointment. And so it goes, on and on, and some days don’t end till after midnight.

But back to my first paragraph. We went to First Thursday (when the art galleries stay open late, till 9 p.m., which is only late in America) with the artist couple. We told them we’d pick them up at 5:30 so we could be downtown and parked by 6, but since they didn’t really understand what we were inviting them to, they weren’t ready to go till 7:30. We went anyway, and managed to make 4 galleries. We saw enormous prints, laser, digital, like Donn is making now, selling for $5000, which made us a little jealous. It’s true art is subjective, but I like Donn’s art hanging on my walls better than the $5000 prints. In fact, my advice for any young women starting out today (or young men for that matter) is to marry an artist. That way, you’ve always got something beautiful to hang on your walls. Also someone who can do paperwork. I think that one’s pretty self-explanatory.

Our friends enjoyed visiting the galleries and I did too. There’s something about walking around in silence, looking at other people’s attempts to interpret the world around them, that speaks to the soul. We wandered in and out in an icy wind in spite of pink trees and daffodils, from gallery to gallery, enjoying the shows and speaking to the galleries about possibly getting our Iraqi friend a show. He’s really good, and we got a couple of good leads so we were all pretty excited by the time we headed home.


Today is Black Friday but you can’t tell round here. We all slept in; no one has any shopping plans, not even online. Ilsa has a friend over and they made hot chocolate from scratch and it boiled all over the stove, so the house smells warm and burnt-chocolately, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. We get the paper on holidays and weekends and yesterday’s was ENORMOUS, less than half news and commentary and comics and sports, most of it full-colour glossy ads screaming about great deals. At first it was tempting—I need a winter coat and I’m eyeing one at Macy’s, watching the price drop lower and lower and hoping they don’t run out of my size—but I was soon overwhelmed. I put most in the recycling without even glancing at it. What you don’t know exists, you don’t know you need.

People decry, rightfully, American consumerism. But I think it’s deeper than that. I think people are the same the world over. So in our culture, it shows itself in people willing to sleep outside in freezing temps and trample each other in their rush to get to the best deal. But in other cultures, it shows itself in other ways—in the ways prices double in the ancient medinas of Morocco or Mauritania right before a feast day, when culture pretty much obligates everyone to buy gifts for loved ones; in the ways that foreigners need to take extra precautions to avoid being robbed to subsidize this gift-giving. In Nouakchott, even those who lived in the poorest of tents and shacks, without a dream of running water or electricity, would nonetheless have TV powered off car batteries, and satellite disks propped outside, surrounded by goats.

We had a quiet day yesterday. In the morning, I made a pumpkin pie and the mince and coconut pies I make every year at this time. ( In the afternoon, we headed over to Donn’s cousin’s house for the big meal. Turns out he’s had family in the area for YEARS and we didn’t realize it. This cousin and I became friends on Facebook, and realized, after we moved into our new house, that we live less than a mile apart.

We enjoyed a delicious meal at her house yesterday. It was a nice size gathering, with 4 couples plus kids. (His cousin’s daughters are grown and came with their own spouses and children) A time of getting acquainted, figuring out memories, learning some fun family history (aside: Donn’s family, especially his parents’ generation, are extremely colourful). Ilsa regaled us with school stories; Abel played legos with the grandkids; Elliot watched football. Nothing too exciting, but certainly a change from recent celebrations in our family’s life.

Ilsa and I stayed up late watching “Julie and Julia,” which was pretty fun and made me feel slightly better about how much I like to eat good food. It was a good Thanksgiving movie.

So what did you do? And for what are you thankful this year? I’m looking for something small in the grand scheme of things, something like good coffee, or being able to open a can of pumpkin and make a perfect pie, instead of having to cook it from scratch and agonizing over the difficulty of getting the texture right. Life’s easy here.

It’s been a crazy couple of days here on Planet Nomad. On Thursdays, I teach two classes in an office building downtown—in other words, on site, rather than at the Language Center that employs me. To answer LG’s question in comments, I am teaching adults in these classes, and they are some of the nicest adults I’ve ever met. I am in love with my students! They are articulate and funny and they all like each other and tease each other. I have never had a class like this! They’re a joy to teach. My challenge is to come up with fun and interesting ways to keep them talking, which so far has meant not sticking too closely to the curriculum.

One class is noon to two, and the next 4 to 5, so I come home between classes. Since the office building is located in Agdal, the trendy area where parking is impossible to find, I take taxis. I am learning (the hard way) that I need to allow a LOT of extra time to get to that 4:00 class, because my route lies along a street with TWO schools right next to each other. These are quite large schools, along a narrow one-way street, yet neither school has a parking lot. The street is wide enough to hold cars parked on either side with a narrow lane open down the middle. It is theoretically wide enough for those with nerves of steel to fit two lanes down between the two rows of parked cars. And that’s what we do, me and my taxi driver (the grammar is INTENTIONAL Shannon), swerving in and out and yelling and gesticulating at the other drivers and obsessively checking our watches. (I’ll leave it to your imagination which of us is doing what) It is a madhouse. It would be quicker to walk, except that I don’t—I stick it out through the long blocks until we make it through to a wider place. The cars are double-parked now, parents darting through traffic with two or three kids strung out behind them, kissing and greeting other parents, while my taxi driver gently weeps. No of course he doesn’t—he sighs and comments on how horrible the other drivers are while he takes incredible risks and drives into oncoming traffic. I fidget and fret and sometimes fume, depending on my mood and how long it took me to find this taxi and how hot it is.

For the heat has returned! Suddenly, overnight, the weather has changed, the thermostat soared, and it’s nearly 80 degrees today, with a hot dry Saharan wind banging the shutters, and flapping the towels on the line. It’s not supposed to last, but hopefully it will kill some of those mold spores.

This Thursday was not a good taxi day. I stood impatiently, sweating in the sudden heat, as taxi after taxi whizzed by already full. I would have been late but luckily it’s Winter Break and the schools are closed. The taxi driver looked at me oddly as I loudly proclaimed “Alhumdudillah! C’est les vacances!” (praise God–it’s vacation!) as we drove rapidly down the empty street.

I’d had to cut it fine because this woman I know is having a baby, Irish twins as I’ve heard it called, since her first isn’t a year old yet. I’d promised to bring them supper, racked my brains as to what to feed them (they’re Nigerian), decided on a mild curry with rice, and spent my 2 hours home between classes not only preparing for class but also cooking a meal.

I made it to class on time, had a good session, and then raced home because I had a guest coming in on the train at 6. She used to teach at the American school in Fes and is now living in France, here to visit friends for a week, stopping off to see us for a couple of nights. I went home to make tortillas and salsa (two kinds) from scratch and change the sheets on Ilsa’s bed, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable visit, hanging out till late in the evening, sleeping in next morning and drinking loads of coffee.

After an afternoon dallying in the medina, where we finally bought a light fixture for our bedroom (Hassiniya proverb: drop by drop, the valley fills with water. Soon we’ll be fully settled; it’s only been a year), we came home to pizza.

At 9 p.m. I got a phone call from Abel’s friend’s father. They were back! Ilsa and I went to pick him up. He came home with tired eyes, sand-filled hair, and skin a different colour than it was when he set out. It’s amazing how much dust can settle in the minute crevices of skin. He brought presents for everyone—I got a silver bracelet and a woven trivet—and a bag filled with many very heavy rocks that he’d collected. We popped him in the shower and I unpacked his bag, filled with memories at the sight of sand-stained socks and mini-dunes in the corner of his case. He was full of stories; sand-boarding down the dunes, riding a camel, a nomadic concert by firelight, a snowball fight when passing through the mountains near Marrakesh. I’ll have him do a guest post on it soon.

But things aren’t going to get relaxing anytime soon. We have guests arriving on Monday, which also happens to be the twins’ 13th birthday! Yes, it’s all teenagers all the time now chez nous. Should be a wild ride!

Today we finally got a tree. It’s been very complicated, but we’re excited.  I am going to tell you all about it tomorrow, or possibly sometime next week, but right now I don’t have time. Instead, I’m rerunning one of my all-time favorite posts. I don’t know why I like it so much–possibly because everytime I look at the Mary/Anakin that Abel made from Legos last year, I just feel warm and happy inside.

This year will be much better than last. We have our Christmas decorations out of storage in Mauritania, for a start. Donn and Abel are right now buying a pot out at the Potteries to house our scraggly cedar bush beautiful fresh Christmas tree. We have our own place, and I had so much fun wrapping  fake garland round our very own staircase. The stockings are are hung from the window latches with  care. (We still don’t have curtains. Or a mantelpiece. I’m open to other suggestions)

But this post is a good reminder that all you really need to be festive is tin foil, kleenex, legos and creative  children.

From December 2008:

This is Mary. No really.

I don’t THINK she’s as angry as she looks. (Although maybe that song line about “no crying he makes” isn’t accurate)

On Sunday, I walked over to a neighbour’s house for choir practice. I’ve joined an amateur choir and we’re doing a Christmas concert on Saturday. It’s the first time I’ve been in a choir since university days, and I’m really enjoying it. We’re singing lovely songs; a couple of haunting French carols, a mix of traditional and modern. The director has sensibly chosen songs that aren’t too high, so we don’t have to have that shrill drifting into sharp that is such a feature of amateur choirs made up of mostly middle-aged people.

I rounded the corner and saw a truck full of greenery. “How fun; looks like Christmas trees,” I thought, amused, never thinking it would be true. But it was. “This guy delivers our tree every year,” the family explained to me. He dropped 4 off for them to choose from, and never came back, so we are now the proud owner of a fresh, green tree.

It smells wonderful. Apparently it is some sort of cedar, and it’s really aromatic.


We are sorely lacking in the decoration department, but we are making progress. So far, we have two felt ornaments that a friend gave us, and an angel that Ilsa made out of tin foil and Kleenex.

And we have a Lego creche. Abel made it himself, but I’m sure it could be a bestseller.

I think this look makes a nice change from the blonde, bland look.

Here we see the baby Jesus, looking slightly blurry. Not to mention legless.


And the complete nativity scene, including the star that rose geometrically in the east.



So you can see we’re making tremendous progress. I’m sure you’re all in awe.

January 2023

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