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Abel ready to go! 

This summer, Donn’s mother broke her hip. They live in the Southern California desert, and she went outside barefoot in the blazing sun to get the mail, and fell. We rearranged our lives and spent nearly a month total with her after she got out of rehab, and she was stubborn and determined and did really well. Then, in November, her heart stopped. Happily she happened to be at a concert held at a retirement center, and a nurse stepped in. But that fire and determination were lacking the second time around. She just wasn’t fighting as hard. And so we put our heads together and decided to drive down the 1200 miles and surprise her for Christmas.

Every year, we hold a Christmas party for our Iraqi refugee friends, and every year, it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s always held the Friday before Christmas, which was of course the 22nd. This year, we had about 250 guests, mostly from Iraq, with a good representation from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iran as well. It was a huge success. The food was fantastic! We had it catered by a local Iraqi restaurant which does great dishes, and we went all out…kabobs, chicken skewers, falafel, hummus, bread. For dessert we had baklava and then a friend made hundreds of orange-fig shortbread cookies and coconut lime shortbread cookies that were amazing. We had an awesome program for the kids, run by talented people who run our church’s all-day summer camps, fantastic live music, and SnapBar donated their services!

We had tons of help but it was still exhausting. And so, it was with no great joy that we dragged ourselves out of bed the following morning, loaded the car, and headed south. Abel, who is still youthful and energetic, was the only one excited at that point. Donn and I were just trying to make sure we’d packed everything–the air mattresses, the presents, the snacks, the plates of food that Iraqi friends had made up for us to bring. Because yes, that was a feature. We had a plate of leftover kabobs, plus an ENORMOUS platter of fresh falafel and 2 plates of hummus from another friend, and a plate of quba from someone else. It was, frankly, a bit much. We drove to Eugene and Elliot’s house, where we ate lunch and left some falafel and hummus for his roommates to enjoy.

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I suck at selfies

We drove down through the forests of Oregon, which don’t seem like much until you leave them behind. Of course it was dark shortly after 4. We wound our way through the foothills of Mt Shasta, then hurtled down I-5 to Sacramento, where Ilsa lives.

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Blue winter’s sunset, somewhere at the bottom of Oregon

We picked up Ilsa and saw her new apartment and met her puppy, who wiggled out of her arms with joy at meeting new people. We went for pizza, crowding round a small table in a noisy bar because the restaurant end of things was already closed at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. One thing I did not expect to find in Sacramento was the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, serving juniper lattes and affragatos and all done in cool blonde wood and stainless steel, huge and beautiful and open till midnight.

After that, we settled into the dreary part of the trip. Because we hadn’t been able to leave till December 23rd and because we needed to get to Hemet in time for me to do some shopping on Christmas Eve before the shops closed and because we were now 5 and that meant 2 hotel rooms, we’d decided to drive the night through. We’d rented a car–our Volvo sedans don’t really have room for 5 adults, 4 air mattresses, presents, luggage, etc–but the kids were still too young to be able to drive. Donn and I spelled each other, the passenger trying desperately to sleep while the driver played music to stay awake. Amazingly enough, no one got grumpy. We were all too happy to be together again, excited to surprise Grandma, tearing through the night which stayed dry and bright.

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These photos are from my snapchat

We stopped in a rest area for a while, where Elliot and Donn made fun of my desire for an eyeshade to help me sleep under the glare of the street lamps. “Something to cover your eyes? What about eyelids?” they quipped while I glared at them. Then we drove on again, into a terribly bright sunrise where all was certainly bright, and mostly calm too.

We stopped at Starbucks time and time again. I know all the arguments against this store but I don’t care. You can get decent coffee all the way to the inlaws now, and that’s always a good thing. We stopped for breakfast at one point, playing for time as we were in danger of arriving before my mother in law was up.

Finally we arrived. Abel knocked on the door. “Come in!” we heard her yell. We all trooped in, holding our phones like shields in front of our faces as we filmed her. “Merry Christmas!” we yelled! She just sat there, in shock. My father in law appeared with tears in his eyes. We’d made it, we’d surprised her, and, as they’ve told me approximately 1000 times a day, we were the best Christmas present ever! All together now, “Awww….” Also, I am, as always, their favorite (and only) daughter-in-law. So there’s that.

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Christmas in the desert. I personally think they’re trying too hard… 

 

Happy New Year to you all! Any plans for 2018?

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Ugh. I love traveling, but the two days either end of a big trip are always horrible. I am sitting in my own living room, typing on my own computer, in a dazy sort of cotton-filled fog. To make matters worse, I seem to have a cold. Over the last few weeks, I ate literally kilos of fresh Moroccan oranges, so if anyone’s body should be overflowing with enough Vitamin C to head off any sort of illness, it’s mine. Is everything we’ve been taught a lie?

To add insult to injury, I have had old Simon and Garfunkel songs stuck in my head for days now. Ever since we left Mauritania on Sunday at 8:15 a.m., a mere hour after we were scheduled to leave (Aside: this is good. Donn once spent 15 hours in that airport waiting for an overdue flight), and the words “well we’re homeward bound” popped into my head unbidden, I have had to listen to warbling tenors going on and on about “Home! where my music’s playin’ Home! where my love-life’s waiting silently for me.” And then my mind mixed it up with the one about the boxer (he remembered ever blow that laid him low or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame (pain?) that he’s leaving) and really, it’s not pretty. I sincerely hope that I haven’t now doomed you to a similar fate (let me know!) and also that soon I can listen to a different tune in my head. Not Bob Dylan though. That would not be an improvement.

So. Nothing like beginning at the end. I had hoped to blog this trip as it was happening, but we only brought one iPad to share between us and you know how well that goes. Also internet was far from being easily accessible. So I have brought back a lot of pictures and memories, and I’m going to share them with you! Aren’t you lucky? (Don’t answer that) We left OR on Oct. 24th, spent an unplanned day in the Amsterdam airport and arrived in Morocco on Oct. 25th. We went down to Mauritania, to visit our old home in Nouakchott, on Oct. 30th. We left Mauritania on Nov. 10th, had nearly 2 days in Morocco again, and left Jack and Annie’s Rabat home at 5 a.m. on Nov. 12th. We arrived home on Nov. 13th at about 1 p.m. (9 p.m. Moroccan time), having been traveling 39 hours at that point. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I am in a total fog today. If any words in here are off, this is why.

We left the twins mostly home alone, although there was an adult friend who slept here most nights and was a sort of consultant for them. Ilsa told me before we left that she would cook, so I bought enough food for 3 weeks worth of meals–some easy stuff that I never buy like canned soup, hotdogs and frozen pizza, but also ingredients for Thai peanut pasta, homemade sausage spaghetti, taco bowls made with grilled chicken, black beans and brown rice. My friend Sarita offered to host them any evening they didn’t want to cook, and various Iraqi friends promised food. Ilsa loves mashed potatoes so we bought a big bag of potatoes for her and talked about various things they could be served with, like sausage and peas, or chicken breast and green beans and salad.

We returned to a full fridge and freezer. As near as we can tell, they didn’t eat anything but yogurt and mashed potatoes. Even the hotdogs and the frozen pizza are still there. They went to Sarita’s one night, and Iraqi friends a couple of nights, but we were gone for 20 days. What did they eat? There’s lots of cereal in the cupboard and there are even still some granola bars. It is a mystery. Abel says he made Kraft mac n’ cheese some nights, and Ilsa says she made a lot of mashed potatoes. We are hoping to gradually reintroduce coloured foods–fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, crunchy non-processed fresh items–into their diets. One new food a day to see if they’re allergic, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

We had a fantastic trip. I took lots of photos and collected lots of stories and bought presents for pretty much everyone in my life but you, sorry, cuz we ran out of money and storage space in the suitcases, mostly because Donn bought a large Mauritanian tent since he’s regretted not keeping ours for years now. More to come very soon. How much detail do you want?

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