Friday, October 27, 2006

The long day of the hedonist

7:00 Get out of bed. Go downstairs and make coffee. One cup is for me, the rest goes into a thermos for Nabil to drink later. Eat some leftover ravioli while I start making his lunch. The plan is to have breakfast in Santa Cruz, but I'm hungry.

7:30 Go wake up Ziad and Maya. Today is the first day of a nature studies class Ziad is taking in Santa Cruz, and we need to be out the door by 8. Go downstairs and finish filling out insurance and medical information on his application form. Check to make sure his backpack is correctly packed with his lunch is inside.

8:00 Everyone is ready to go. Ziad and Maya have leftover pancakes and milk to have in the car. Maya decides she has to use the bathroom. Double check that everything is ready.

8:07 Pull out of the garage. Where did all these cars on Camden Avenue come from? I've never seen so much traffic. Make mental note to leave at 7:30 next week. Try going down Blossom Hill to get directly on 17 from there, rather than dealing with 85 North. Not really such a good idea.

8:30 Get on 17. Jam over the hill. Arrive only a few minutes late to find that not too many other people have gotten there yet either. Huge relief.

9:15 Nature studies class leaves for their day. Moms convene in parking lot to discuss driving arrangements and plans for the day. Decide on impromptu hike with one other mom and Maya.

11:30 Still hiking. Not entirely sure where we are or how long it's going to take to get back to the pickup spot. Somewhat concerned.

1:00 Still hiking. I have a better idea of where we are, but Maya is really getting tired. She has shared the other mom's peanut butter sandwich, but I haven't eaten anything. I am now really glad I ate those ravioli earlier. I try carrying Maya for short stretches, more to help her morale than anything else.

1:30 Back at the pickup spot. Huge relief. I had had visions of straggling in late, with the whole class waiting for us, feeling like an idiot because we couldn't even find our way back to the parking lot on time. This way, we'll be waiting there when they get back, which is the proper way for things to happen. Somebody shows up with a map. Looking it over, we realize we have hiked something like 5 or 6 miles in about 3 hours. Maya is truly awesome.

2:10 Hop in the car, scream back over the hill because I have a hair appointment at 3:00. Call Jenny and move it back to 3:30. Try to order a pizza for delivery only to find out that they don't deliver till after 4. Obviously I am not going to get to eat before I get my hair done.

3:00 Quick shower, write out the pizza order instructions for my Mom, who is watching the kids, and head on out to Willow Glen where the salon is.

4:20 My hair is done, now I have 10 minutes to get over to Los Gatos, because I am having a facial. (Hey, the kids all got presents for the end of Ramadan. It's only fair.)

4:40 Apparently it takes more than 10 minutes to get from Willow Glen to Los Gatos at this time of day. I have 5 minutes to check in and meet the facial person.

6:20 Facial is done and paid for and I am on the way home. I am extremely hungry. (Hmm, where have you heard that before?) Just a quick stop at the grocery store and I am home for the evening.

6:45 Finally, I get something to eat. My mom leaves, and I attempt to help Ziad and Maya do their guitar practice. Time to clean the kitchen and get organized so we will be ready in the morning because -- TOMORROW WE ARE GOING TO MONTEREY FOR THE WEEKEND!!!! Yeah!!!

11:00 I'm not finished, but there's no way I can keep going either. Time for bed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid Mubarak

Today is the first day of the new month, and we are done fasting for the year.

Thank you everybody for listening to me go on and on about this. And just for the sake of completeness, here is my recap of the final ten days:

Saturday: Although I had the best intentions in the world, we ended up missing guitar class because I just could not get myself organized with everything I needed to do before going to our in-laws' house for dinner. Sadly, these weekend guitar classes are getting harder and harder to force ourselves to attend. Dinner was wonderful, though.

Sunday: Aquarium in the morning. We stopped at the outlets in Gilroy on the way back because I was so tired I could barely drive. I had to take a nap before I could cook dinner.

Monday: Maya had chorus rehearsal.

Tuesday: Guitar class, followed by the origami club. Hooray!

Wednesday: Ziad had chorus rehearsal.

Thursday: Feeble attempt to catch up on housework.

Friday: We went for a hike with some friends.

Saturday: Ziad had an extra chorus rehearsal.

Sunday: I took Ziad and Maya to the Suzuki play-in at Stanford. I saw a friend there and had a nice visit. Afterwards, we met Nabil at my mom's house, and then went out to dinner.

Monday (today): I had a cup of coffee and a biscuit for breakfast while the sun was shining, then went out to meet a friend. What a beautiful morning!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A quirky thing

about Ramadan is the way you can eat a very large meal and feel that you have exercised commendable restraint and self-discipline. It is also the only time when I have felt too stuffed to take another bite and hungry at the same time. We definitely enjoy food during Ramadan.

What I'm going to enjoy about ending my fast is feeling back in synch with the rest of the world; just feeling normal again. I'm going to enjoy having a cup of coffee when I read the paper, I'm going to enjoy just reaching out for a sip of water when I feel like it without double checking whether it's an OK time or not. I'm going to enjoy grabbing a bite off my kid's plate when I serve them lunch and licking my fingers when I'm cooking if I feel like it. I'm going to enjoy being able to taste what I'm cooking and biting into pasta to see if it's done. In other words, I am looking forward to having all my actions spill out into all the time they want to occupy; not constraining certain actions to a certain time and constraining myself the rest of it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The last Monday

Today I can officially say, "This will be the last Monday I fast."

For some reason, that makes everything seem much easier.

Trying to write about Ramadan, I've run into a bunch of contradictions within myself. For example, I wanted to share the marathon-like feeling of fasting every day for a month, and within that month, of how long a day is with no water to drink, how tired a person can get trying to maintain a normal life with the low blood sugar you get from not eating. At the end of each day, I have been exhausted. But then I ended up feeling too whiny and complaining, whereas it seems to me that one of the most important things about fasting is to try to keep a good attitude about it.

Then Vivian asked about special foods during fasting. There are a couple of easy answers. The first is that, as far as I know, it is traditional to break your fast with some water and dates. Then you pray, and then you have a real meal. In my family, this has been compressed down to beginning your evening meal with a date, and saying a small prayer at the table.

As to what else you eat, there are things it makes sense to avoid. Eating refined carbohydrates is not really all that smart, because they cause blood sugar spikes that will make you hungrier during the day than foods which tend to keep your blood sugar level. I drank some coffee yesterday morning, and was so exhausted by 3 in the afternoon I was having trouble staying awake, which was a problem since I had to drive home from Monterey.

There is still, however, the whole issue of non-fasting, routine, Muslim dietary restrictions. Most people know that Muslims are not supposed to eat pork, or drink alcohol. Probably not as many people know that some Muslims observe other restrictions as well, only eating meat that has been slaughtered under certain conditions, and avoiding other kinds of meat by-products.

It was when I was researching some of these that I started to bump up against some other contradictions, because some of the articles I ran across were kind of weirding me out. Some people are really, really into this whole food restriction thing, to a degree that I have trouble admiring, or even taking seriously. For example, one article was titled, "Naturally fermented soy-sauce -- Is there alcohol in your fried rice?" I mean, really. For the record, the wording of the prohibition on alcohol is something along the lines of "If you will get drunk if you drink too much then don't drink any." You could drink naturally fermented soy-sauce until you got blood poisoning from the salt, and there would be no corresponding inebriation. But even if there wasn't that technical fault to find with this soy-sauce paranoia, I just feel like, come on. There has to be something better to get worked up about.

But then I ask myself, what does it mean to be a Moslem if I'm so casual about these things? Should I really say that I have converted to Islam if I'm not going to take it seriously? In the beginning, my understanding of Islam was that it is, at heart, a simple declaration of faith. A declaration of faith that I can believe in. It is the belief in one God, and in the succession of prophets which includes Jesus, and culminates with Mohammad. All the other things come after, like dealing with head scarves, and being ultra careful about what you eat, and getting very punctilious about the rituals you observe. At heart, I believed, Islam is about one's personal relationship to God and to faith, and that is something I do care about and think about on a regular basis.

On the other hand, I have never cared for organized religion. I feel strongly that the power structures associated with it take on a life of their own that has nothing to do with the creeds from which they have sprung. I heard someone say something interesting (unfortunately, I don't remember who it was): "You will always have good people doing good things, and bad people doing bad things. But to get good people doing bad things, for that, you need religion." If you just make that "organized religion," then I will agree completely. Because I also can see that my mother-in-law, who is a deeply religious woman, draws so much strength and compassion from her faith. She is an amazingly beautiful person who sets an example I doubt I will ever be able to duplicate.

So anyway, if I don't like organized religion, and really am very moderate in my own religious observations, continually saying, "Well, I'm not a very GOOD Moslem," isn't that kind of hypocritical? Shouldn't I keep trying to be a better one? I think I should, and I think I'm trying to, but then I run into the soy-sauce phobia, or some equivalent level of finicky behavior control issue, and I just want no part of it.

Well, these are issues that I'm not going to resolve in a day, or a week, or even during Ramadan. But at least I can say that I will fast every day this month, and read the Koran, and do my best, given who I am, to do what's right.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The third week

Saturday: Nabil got a hair cut, then we went out for dinner. The restaurant was cold, the service was bad, and I was starting to get sick. We did NOT go to the Harvest Festival at Emma Prusch farm. Rats.

Sunday: Getting sicker. The tires needed to be changed (steel was apparently visible, although for some reason I didn't notice, even when I specifically checked the tires), so we did NOT go to Welcome Back Monarchs Day for the first time in years. Rats again.

Monday: Really, really sick. Choir rehearsal for Maya.

Tuesday: Better, but still sick. Rescheduled guitar classes, skipped beekeeping class, took Maya out to dinner for her birthday.

Wednesday: LEGO building afternoon with some friends. Choir rehearsal for Ziad.

Thursday: Laundry, laundry, and more laundry.

Friday: Ziad's makeup guitar class, then a field trip to United Stages Geological Survey in Menlo Park. Highly recommended. Stopped to buy them sneakers on the way home.

For some reason, I am really happy that the number of days left in Ramadan has dropped into single digits. Ramadan is a special month, and I know I am privileged to be able to observe it, but I will still be glad when we get come to the end, four days of holiday with our friends and family. And actually, this is one of the blessings of Ramadan, the way that it helps you remember that even the very simple things of your life that you take for granted, such as sitting down to a meal with your family, or water to drink when you want it, are wonderful in and of themselves.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What is a binnacle lamp?

binnacle - a nonmagnetic housing for a ship's compass (usually in front of the helm)

Helmet Compass

Most ships were equipped with a magnetic compass that was kept on deck in a binnacle that could be illuminated at night by means of a lamp burning olive oil.

(I no longer remember where I got these quotes from, or the pictures either, which shows why you should never try cutting and pasting from web sites at 6 in the morning.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A common misconception about Ramadan

is that it is a fall/winter holiday. I think that's because there are a few years when it kind of coincides with Christmas, and then Yom Kippur, and people just get that idea in their heads. It's not true, though.

The Islamic lunar calendar is not adjusted to the solar calendar at all, unlike the Chinese lunar calendar, say. Since a lunar year differs from a solar one significantly, Ramadan moves forward in the calendar by about 11 days every year. Since this year Ramadan began on September 22, that means next year it will start on the 11th or so. The year after that, the 1st. And so on, until it reaches the summer, which is what I am dreading.

During the summer the days are both long and hot, and even air-conditioned air is dehydrating. Waiting until 8 or 9 to be able to have a drink of water seems unbearable. On the other hand, feeling cold is a huge issue for me right now, so I guess there's a trade-off of sorts. Another good thing is that fewer people with colds will be around during the summer, so there is probably less likelihood of getting sick.

Because, yes, as hard as tried to avoid it, taking those fizzy dissolving vitamin tablets that are supposed to boost your immune system way more than I approve of taking any medication, quasi or otherwise, taking naps as often as was feasible given my kids' busy schedules, despite all my precautions I got sick. Really sick, in fact. Sicker than I even realized until I started to feel better, which made me realize how lousy I felt even just yesterday, which was miles better than I had felt the day before.

Of course now that I'm recovering, my voice is all weird.

10 days to go. I think we'll make it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today is Maya's birthday

Today my girl is 7 years old.

She is my sunshine girl. The one who plays the piano by herself, practices guitar on her own, mothers her dolls, reads her books, plays alone without complaining but is always so glad and happy to have company, and is always such good company herself. The one who doesn't like math all that much, but sometimes asks me to give her mathematics to do. The one who is always drawing fairies and rainbows. The one who all the shy kids gravitate to, the one who makes friends everywhere she goes.

She is the girl that baffles me, because she has so many strengths that I don't have, but is also sometimes weak in ways I don't understand. Her sister and brother are alike (and like me)in many ways, but she is different.

One time, Maya went to an all-girl birthday party. The other girls all went into a bedroom and shut the door, leaving her out in the hall.

"What happened then?" I asked, expecting to hear a wistful tale about how sad she had been out in the hall by herself.

"Well, after a while I got bored, so I told them, 'Hey, I'm Tinkerbell, let me in. So they did.'"

That's my girl. But how did I ever get a girl like that?

Happy Birthday, Maya. I feel very lucky to be your mother.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Week number 2

Well, the second week of Ramadan ended days ago, but let's see how much I can remember:

Saturday: Party in Santa Cruz at Ruby's house. Missed dinner with the in-laws. Stayed out too late.
Sunday: Tired.
Monday: Girl scout meeting with Maya. Chorus rehearsal in the afternoon.
Tuesday: Guitar class, then straight home.
Wednesday: Dentist's appointment. Now they want Ziad to see the orthodontist. Will this never end? Chorus rehearsal for Ziad.
Thursday: Did we really not do anything all day? That doesn't sound right.
Friday: School meeting in the early evening, basically right when I should be breaking my fast. Very uncomfortable. Getting sick ....

Why I homeschool: Reason 93

My children are cocky. I like that about them. When they get it in their heads to try something out, they go for it. No wondering about whether it will be too hard, or if they're going to make a mistake, or if they can handle it. They just get in there and check it out.

I remember when I started preschool.I had been wanting and wanting to learn to read, but my mom wouldn’t teach me. She said I had to wait till I started school. When they passed out those wide booklets with extra big lines, I was so excited. I can still see the letters of the alphabet traced out on those pages, written as dots instead of solid lines. And I knew, I knew exactly what to do!

I got out my pencil and started writing over those dots, forming the letters of the alphabet with my pencil. Except, whoops! That was wrong. We were supposed to TRACE them with our FINGER. What a letdown!

I still jump the gun sometimes, assume I know what I’m supposed to do without waiting to hear the whole story, but in general, I’m nowhere near as confident as I was on that morning. What happened to that little girl? I’m actually more confident now than I was when I got out of high school, but it took me a long time to get over the self-doubt and self-criticism I experienced for most of my life in school.

I think my children are well out of it. They are extremely cocky. Even their older sister, who is not all that crazy about homeschooling as a concept, acknowledges that their positive attitude is a good thing. And then I reminded her that she was like that, too, before she started school.

Just like me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yes, it is still Ramadan

and yes, I am hungry.

Sometimes during Ramadan I feel like I am looking at the world through a glass window. I think one reason for that is that most people don't really have the concept that Ramadan lasts for an entire month. Maybe they notice on the first day, when there are articles in the paper, but by the second or third week, when time is starting to drag a little, they've moved on. And why not?

The thing is, it's not like I want to keep reminding people. For me, though, it's uppermost in my consciousness almost all the time. Sometimes, when people ask, "How are you?" it's all I can do not to say, "I'm hungry, that's how I am." I don't mind being hungry. It's just that it dominates they way that I feel.

Another reason I feel a little out of step is that sometimes the very idea of talking (or maybe it's more the whole social interaction) just seems to take way too much energy. Yes, I will get in the car and take my kids where they need to be, but once we get there, I'm done. Saving my energy for the return journey. If by some chance I actually do get to talking with someone, I generally not only enjoy it, but feel the better for it. It's just that the idea of it is hard.

There was an op-ed article in the Mercury News by a Christian women who for some reason had taken a pledge to fast during Ramadan as long as the U.S. is in Iraq. She had fasted previously for Lent, so was not entirely new to the concept. In her piece, she described Ramadan as "the Olympics of fasting," which made me feel very self-congratulatory. Unfortunately, I don't think self-congratulatory is really the mental state I should be going for here. But then, I already knew I had a ways to go to really properly enter the spirit of Ramadan.

For me, one of the hardest things is the way fasting can influence decisions about what to eat or what to do. At night, sometimes I eat when I'm not hungry, because I'm remembering how hungry I was during the day. And during the day, often, I will be cautious about what activities I undertake because I don't want to get too hungry, or too thirsty, or too tired. And I especially do not want to get sick, as I have every Ramadan since I started fasting.

I can't remember the name of the basketball player who used to play center for the Houston Rockets. He was Muslim, and very devout, and observed Ramadan every year, even to the extent of playing games while he was fasting. He played well, too, with every bit as much dedication as during other times. I can't begin to imagine having that degree of inner strength. Have you seen how much fluid athletes normally need during a game? And here I am feeling sorry for myself because I get thirsty while just hanging around the house, not even doing anything particularly strenuous.

Even if I feel a little out of step with my day-to-day acquaintances, one thing I love about Ramadan is feeling so connected to the larger rhythms of the earth and sky. Ramadan is a lunar month, and watching the moon wax and wane has a special significance at this time. All the clocks and all the calendars are afterthoughts. The moon in the sky measures our progress in the only way that really counts. When it is full, I know we are halfway through. When it goes dark again, I know we are almost done. And when we see the first new moon, it is a new month, and time to return to our daily life for another year.

The whaler's chapel


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Notes on the text for the month

First of all, does everyone have a copy? I think so, if you count the abridged children's version. For those who don't, I think I will just include some excerpts, borrowed from the Melville web site. We begin, of course, at the beginning:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. --opening paragraph

Also, there is a movie of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck. Netflix subscribers, have at it.

Lastly, if you've read that far, Moby Dick has a nifty description of the whalers chapel in New Bedford. I've been there before, and in fact, thinking of the New England scenes the book contained was one reason I chose it. It's interesting to read that the pulpit was actually rebuilt in 1961, to make it more like the imaginary one described in the novel, and depicted in the movie. When I went, apparently that alteration had already been made, because I remember having the pulpit pointed out to me as strikingly interesting. What is interesting to me now is the fact that at the time, I had no feelings one way or the other about this, and would have said it made no impression on me, but when I read the scene in the book, I thought "Wow! I saw that! I remember people telling me about that!" So obviously even though I myself didn't even think I was paying attention, somehow the information permeated my consciousness. Odd.

And the next book is ....

Moby Dick! All right! We are the book club studs! (Let's never forget that we read Anna Karenina BEFORE Oprah picked it.)

So here's the plan -- we're not sure we'll finish it by our next meeting on November 6th. So we'll all just read as much as we can (maybe we should institute some scheduled nagging here) and discuss that. Then for December we can finish Moby Dick and also another, hopefully shorter book.


The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Well, discussion of this book was minimal. It's a simple book, an extended fable really, with no real character development, no real plot, no dazzling passages of beautiful writing. And when you come right down to it, the story really is pretty formulaic. Kind of by-the-numbers quest for enlightenment kind of stuff.

So we were left with a tepid conversation about whether we liked it or not, but somehow it didn't seem to spark much discussion about our lives, our feelings about our lives, whatever. A little maybe. The main character goes through three incidents where he loses all him possessions, but recovers his will to persevere, and I think all of us could relate to that.

Final verdict? I'm not sure. I guess I would say Lesley liked it least. Vivian seemed pretty neutral, and I thought it was kind of OK, although not all that substantial. It seems, on reflection, that the best conversations have grown out of books that were more literary, more grounded in human experience. I think this is true even of books that were basically vehicles for certain philosophies. The two existentialist novels spring to mind -- Woman in the Dunes and The Stranger are really just extended riffs of the nature of human existence and the futility of it all, and yet they sparked extended discussion. Is this because they had a more complex structure? Because the underlying philosophy was more open-ended, more amenable to individual interpretation?

With The Alchemist, there's really not that much ambiguity about the message. It's right there, out on the surface. So you could agree with the message, or disagree, but not really have much discussion about what it is. This book just basically says to you, over and over, "Follow your dream, young Skywalker." So to speak. And when you've finished talking about that, you're more or less done.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Continuing on

Ramadan is going by quickly for me this year. Not to say that it is easy, but somehow yesterday when I looked at my calendar and saw that today would be the 11th day, my feeling was more one of "Wow, 11 days already!" than "Oh, no, 19 days to go. How will I do it?"

Hard things:

Not just being hungry, but also having cravings to eat, which is not the same thing at all. Being hungry can be physically uncomfortable, but wanting to eat seems more insidious. Sometimes I think my hands are going to sneak something into my mouth when I'm not paying attention, if that doesn't sound too ridiculous.

Wanting tea when my throat hurts.

Feeling cold and tired.

Having my face look like something that belongs on a pirate flag.

Good things:

Knowing I'm doing something that is difficult for me.

Sharing this month with my family and friends.

Remembering how lucky I am to have the physical strength and well-being to fast, and how fortunate I am to be able to choose to fast. How many people are unable to fast due to chronic sickness? How many people on this earth never know when their next meal will come?

Drinking water during the evening. Every sip I take during Ramadan tastes wonderful.

Having the time and the motivation to reflect by myself on my beliefs and values.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In which Jennifer's tag comes to a dead end

The instructions:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether or not they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your LiveJournal/blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.

Songs that are just in my head:

Blister in the Sun - Violent Femmes (Apparently this song is popular with Virgos. Go figure.)
Tangled up in Blue - Bob Dylan
Stray Cat Strut - Stray Cats

Songs I listen to with Maya (My favorites for singing along in the car):
Some Assembly Required - Tom Chapin
Sal y Pimienta - Susy Dorn

Songs my children play on the guitar ( Suzuki guitar curriculum, anyone?):
A Toye

People I could tag:
None (all taken)