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I really wanted to post more in December, because I love how wordpress makes the blog snow the entire month and I wanted to have readers come see it. But the problem with December is that it’s busy. I don’t have a lot of concerts and parties, which is too bad since I like concerts and parties. (Except for small shrill children. I can skip those) We did go to two white elephant parties, both of which we won. What? Of course someone wins. Whoever brings the present that causes the entire room to erupt into gales of laughter, that makes that one woman with the great sense of humour and the really loud laugh actually cry with joy and hold her head, is the winner.

I probably need to be careful here. Let’s just say that part of what made our gifts so great is caused by a difference between cultures in what is considered beautiful and what is considered seriously over the top. We have been gifted throughout the year with some things that were seriously over the top–a large shiny gold plastic crucifix (a. we’re protestants b. where would you ever find something like that?), a clock/lamp shaped like a galleon in full sail, complete with sea gulls and frolicking dolphins, also of impressive size, a 3-D picture of Jesus that was actually 3 pictures, which you could spot as you moved it. See? Don’t you wish you could go to white elephant parties with us?

In other party news, we reprised our party for our Iraqi friends. Last year, we had a party to which the entire community was invited, which meant 250 in our church’s foyer and a lot of chaos. We broke the record for largest gathering of Iraqis in Oregon and also the largest amount of cigarettes ever smoked at our church. (Our church let us hold it there because they are nice and they like us. They also provided high school boys to help clean up, which is terrific when you need to vacuum an enormous floor or stack chairs.) But it was too loud and chaotic. So this year, we invited a much smaller number of people (i.e. 100)and it was great fun, although still an awful lot of work.

In family news, Elliot is home for the holidays, which is making me grateful that he’s at a state school only a few hours away. He got his summer job back and has had only 2 days off so far, the day of the Iraqi party, and Christmas Day. Poor kid. They really really like him, because he’s a good worker, and he really really hates this job, because they don’t treat him with respect and instead keep a skeleton staff on even at the busiest times, so everyone’s overworked. Oh well. It’s a starter job for a college student and it’s fine for that, although a. I would hate to work it as an adult, and am thankful I don’t have to, and b. there’s no excuse not to treat employees with respect, even if they are 18 and only there for 3 weeks. Ok. Done ranting now.

We had a lovely quiet Christmas en famille. We kept it mellow this year, and had lots of really good food and some time with good friends. And it’s not over yet! I’ve rehung the stockings because they look so pretty, there’s lots of leftovers still to eat, and I have a stack of books to read. We finally got our hot little hands on Season 7 of Dr. Who (the one season not on Netflix; borrowed from friends) when the DVD player went out but that’s okay–Amazon was late with a Christmas delivery and sent us a $20 gift card as an apology, which was awesome of them, so we’re getting a new one. Hope this Christmas season was as delightful for you and yours. Merry Christmas!

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.

…because seriously, who has time to write or read an entire year in review? Let’s just do a month, shall we? That’ll be plenty.

This month I:

* Got a Christmas tree, along with most Americans and a surprising number of Iraqis. They tend to decorate rooms with coloured lights year-round, so it makes sense they’d enjoy hanging even more lights, not to mention stockings. I got given a music box Santa that plays “Silent Night” at a demonic speed–seriously, faster even than the Chipmunks. But I digress.

We live in Oregon, near to the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary (which I adore. Cuts down on sprawl). I’ve mentioned how I’m 10 minutes away from fresh berries in the summer; that also equals 10 minutes away from a plethora of Christmas tree farms. We were on our way to one, where a friend’s son was working, when we saw the sign for $10 Nobles. “Let’s check it out,” we said, so we drove over hill and dale to a very large farm where they apparently haven’t quite worked out the whole economy thing yet, although they’ve  been open since the 50s at least. A very charming 8-year-old explained it all to us. “Welcome folks!” he started out, and Ilsa and I exchanged glances of pure joy. He was so cute!

Our choice was simple. We could select our own Noble, cut it down ourselves, and let them shake it and bind it. This would cost, for an 8-10 foot tree, about $100. Or, we could go over to where some trees they’d cut themselves just an hour ago were lying on the ground, and pay $10. But, they cautioned, they wouldn’t shake it for us. We were on our own.

The choice seemed simple to me. So we got ourselves a large, 10 foot or so, Noble tree for $10. I love Oregon.

e and tree

Here it is on the car. I haven’t mentioned that a friend backed into my car recently. It’ll be fixed soon.

tree on car

In addition to very reasonably-priced trees, this farm also had free hot chocolate, some very fat goats and donkeys in a petting zoo (Abel at the top of his lungs: “I wish Mauritanians could see how fat these animals are!”), and Santa. I forced my children to sit with Santa for a picture. Forced is the word, yes. But I will be kind to them and not post the picture I took. Instead, here is one of Abel decorating:

photo (5)

And one of the angel on the top.

photo (6)

* Hosted a party for over 250 Iraqi refugees and yes, it was totally crazy. This is what happened. Donn and I said, “Let’s have a Christmas party for our friends.” Then one of his friends said, “Can we invite the whole community? We’ll help do the food.” And we said yes, and asked our church to loan us a room, since our house is ample for a family of 5 but not really for 50 times that.

Planning this party took some time. I enlisted a lot of people to help. A friend went shopping with me, others helped me put goody bags for the kids together. Others donated funds, and one lady offered a ham, which we turned down since most Iraqis are Muslim. A group of high-schoolers volunteered to do crafts with the kids, and another group volunteered to help with clean up afterwards. It was still totally crazy.

Donn and a friend read the Christmas story while in the back, people discoursed happily at full volume and the kids ran in circles around the tables for sheer joy. It was chaotic, but I pictured a time when Jesus walked the earth, and I imagine that the crowds who listened to him weren’t all in rows like Sunday morning. Instead, I picture kids running wild, shouting and chasing each other, and the mothers in the back leaning in to each other for a comfortable gossip, while only those close to him could actually hear what he said. And everyone had a fantastic time, and there was food for all, and presents for most. I was most impressed with the high-schoolers who gave up their Friday evening to help, just to be kind–especially the ones who vacuumed. I was really happy I didn’t have to vacuum. It was a huge success. Not only was it the largest gathering of Iraqis in Portland, several told me,  but we also set the record for most cigarettes smoked at our church!

photo

* The day after the party, I woke up feeling rather as if a cement truck had run over me. But it wasn’t to be a day of rest–the inlaws were  coming for Christmas, and arriving that evening, and thanks to the party I’d had no time for prep. So instead it was a day of shopping and cooking and cleaning. They were supposed to arrive at 11:30 but instead their flight came in at 2 a.m. They showed up at my house around 3:30 and it was after 4 before we were in bed. Next day was busy though, as was the next and the next. They were here a week and left on Saturday, and I’m still tired. My goal for 2013 is more sleep.

We had a lovely Christmas though. The day itself was mellow. We ate breakfast around noon and supper around 7, and in between we opened presents and listened to music and relaxed.

One day we took them down the Columbia River Gorge. It’s ages since I’ve gone there in winter, and I’d forgotten how much I love it when the trees are bare and the air is frigid, and the pastel light speaks of sunset throughout the day.

photo (3)

The inlaws enjoyed it, although they didn’t neglect to let me know how cold they were. They were always cold, poor things, their blood thinned from years of living in Southern California. In vain did I point out that the temperature was actually lower in their desert town than in our damp and windy city.

photo (4)

I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures and remind you that I took them with my phone.

How was your month? Year? And what are you most looking forward to in 2013? Me, I’m hoping to figure out this whole life/work/family/rest balance thing, and get more sleep. Wish me luck!

HAPPY 2013!!

The computer was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of the burial was undertaken by Donn, who collected all the screws in the lid of a jam jar, and bound everything in plastic, and called Best Buy to conduct the actual burial. The old computer was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that the old computer was as dead as a door-nail.

That night I went up to bed, not caring a button for the darkness, and woke when a car backfired. It was 1 a.m. I saw a vision of happier days when the computer was new, arriving fresh and sweet-smelling in its little cardboard box in 2007. I saw Elliot using it to do his homework, it moving with us to Morocco, traveling to Spain and the UK on various trips, crashing and being reborn. I fell asleep again, smiling.

The next night, I’m sure, a car backfiring woke me again. 1 a.m., said my phone when I pushed the button. And again, I saw visions of my computer. I saw it older, with many issues, but still my own computer, with speakers that didn’t work and dead-slow starting times. I saw it crashing and losing lots of my stuff, because I do back up but not as frequently as I should. I lived again that fateful day, saw as in slow motion the coffee cup missing the table and emptying its contents into the very bowels of the computer.

I saw the computer, valiantly holding on though senile, asserting that the date was Jan 1, 2007, telling me it had 116 hours left on its battery, although I knew it only had 2 minutes. I saw myself making a back up as soon as it came back on. And I saw the day Someone (I know who it was but I’m being kind) sat on the cord and it came unplugged, and the computer died, to be revived no more.

I slept again and woke on the 3rd night to an awful vision of myself with no laptop. People sent me emails that I missed. The children pulled rank and did homework on the 2nd laptop we have, while I sat and bit my nails. It was a dark time, filled with gnashing of teeth. “Spirit,” I whispered aloud, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.

In the morning I awoke with my alarm clock, which showed me that all these visions had been in one night! I came downstairs with an idea. A few weeks ago, a friend of Ilsa’s gave us a laptop which, he assured us, was “a really good computer except it needed a new hard drive.” This computer was younger and stronger than my old one. Could it be resurrected?

This is where we swerve from Dickens to Mary Shelley. Donn took the old computer’s brain (hard drive) and removed it and put it in the “new” computer. We installed many things. Each day the computer became better. It learned to play videos. It learned to print. It learned to accept incoming mail from 2 of my 3 email addresses.

I learned that the last back-up I did didn’t save. Why? How? No idea. I did a back up and it didn’t back up. So I’ve lost about 3-6 months worth of stuff.

However, I am a happy woman. (I won’t mention the extreme frustration this computer causes by suddenly skipping the cursor around which really messes up one’s typing). I am having Smoking Bishop, I am becoming a second father to this computer, and my own heart is laughing. It is always said of me, that I know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Hemet is an interesting town. It feels caught in a time-warp, a slice of Americana vintage late 70s/early 80s. The signs, the people, all contribute to this impression. Let me put it this way: In Hemet, you can wear an ugly Christmas sweater without irony. In fact, a lot of people are, and they all want to hug you. Their earrings match their sweaters.

It’s a small town tucked into the hills and mountains that make up California’s eastern desert. It’s very hot and dry there–my skin is in recovery mode now that I’m back in Oregon. The days are very bright; the nights frigid, often below freezing. This results in you shivering in your cardigan because it was too silly to bring your big coat out earlier, when it was 70 degrees and hot in the sun.

People have decorated though. In yards filled with cacti and decorative white gravel, there are plastic trees and inflatable snowman. There was a deflated Santa nailed to a palm tree wound with bright lights; presumably he looked a bit less disturbing at night. The lights shine brightly in the desert night.

We spent Christmas Eve out and about. We went to a small Saturday market, where we sampled a local avocado/lime oil that was divine, and bought last-minute stocking stuffers for Donn’s mum and sister. (Cheap but cute earrings! Some for me too…it was cheaper to buy 3 pairs!) I took lots of pictures. Come with me, on a magical mystery tour…

We walked through the “Harvard district,” which is about a block long…

and is guarded by six skinny palms…

the only snow is painted on

but there are lots of decorations

Those are silk poinsettias. This does not make sense to me, since poinsettias grow out here.

one wonders how stiff the competition is…

We stopped by the theatre, which, sadly, is going out of business

and selling all their posters and old reels.

 

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