Thursday, August 30, 2007

So sweet

Monday was my birthday. It wasn't that exciting of a day, but I have to take a lot of responsibility for that. I shrugged off many offers fancy dinners, weekends out of town. Nabil even offered to stay home from work to take us out, but it didn't seem worth it somehow. We went out for dinner the Saturday before, and that was nice. On my birthday, I planned to go out for breakfast, maybe go for a hike with my kids, make an easy shrimp dinner that I like, and generally kick back.

Well, the breakfast was OK, but for some reason everyone was too tired to hike, and after dinner we generally collapsed, so the birthday desserts I had planned went untasted. My sister had said she was sending a package, but it never arrived.

And now some backstory.

A few years ago, Ziad and Maya got Nabil a little pillow that said "World's Best Dad." They were really into those little pillows, getting the appropriate one for their grandmother and looking forward with excitement to getting one for my birthday. Well, on my birthday that year I got binoculars, which I had really, really wanted, but no pillow. Later on, Ziad and Maya told me that their Dad had refused to take them to the nursery, which had the store we bought the pillows from. I mentioned it to Nabil later, and he vehemently denied refusing to take them there, and told me that all they wanted to do was go to the mall and go on the rides there. Time passed, the nursery store stopped carrying the pillows, and that was that.

This morning, Ziad and Maya brought me a package, double wrapped with an extra box (surprise! it's not unwrapped yet!). Obviously it was late birthday present, but the only thing I could think of was the espresso machines we had been looking at over the weekend. Clearly, this package was way too small for that. Even a coffee grinder would have been much heavier.

Inside was a pillow, "World's Best Mom" embroidered on the front, pansies embroidered in the corners. Nabil had found it on the internet, ordered it, and had Ziad and Maya wrap it and give it to me. The package arrived several days late, but somehow they managed to keep it a secret. They even managed not to let on that they were keeping a secret. This is amazing, because these children are very fond of letting me know that they are the possessors of inside information. I'm just so touched by the thoughtfulness of this gesture, and what it says about my family and their feelings for me.

And my sister's package got here today, too. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

cold turkey

Ramadan is coming. So I have stopped drinking coffee. I figure I might as well get the caffeine headache out of the way ahead of time, so I can experience the hunger and thirst more fully.

Other things I am giving up:

Halloween candy. It's about time that I acknowledge that I do not really LIKE Halloween candy all that much, and I would better off just writing it out of my life. Done.

Disposable water bottles. This web site has pretty much made it impossible for me to ever buy water in disposable bottles again. (To see why, click on the link, then scroll down through the photos. Plastic bottles 2007 is the series I'm referring to here.) We're really working on keeping the reusable bottles filled and ready to go, but it's an effort. We end up thirsty in the car pretty frequently.

Free cell solitaire. I have told myself that this is a mental exercise that will stave off dementia, but really it's just a huge time sink that I can ill afford. It's really addictive for me, and so far, just walking away from the computer without casually playing a game or two has been one of the hardest disciplines I've imposed on myself. Sheesh.

lunar eclipse

Well, one good thing about a husband who works bizarre hours is that he is always available to wake you up in the middle of the night for exciting astronomical occurrences. In this case, it was the total lunar eclipse on Monday night/Tuesday morning. You can see an animation of it here, and photos here.

We put blankets down on the back porch, and lay inside our sleeping bags to watch the sky. This is a very good arrangement for something as slow as an eclipse, since we were able to take little naps (otherwise known as closing our eyes for a second) during the hour or so that the shadow passed in front of the moon. And it's true, the moon did turn the most amazing red/orange color, and it was very cool watching its silver light completely vanish.

Ramadan is coming soon. One of my favorite things about Ramadan is the way it draws your attention to the cycle of the moon's phases and the sun's daily trip across the sky, making them an intimate part of your life during the month of fasting. Watching the eclipse had the same feeling, as if I could feel the earth moving in its place in the solar system, everything part of a greater whole.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Tropical sunset.

A wild heron has discovered there's good fishing in the fishpond at the Weston.

Hiking in the crater of Haleakalaa.
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Fireworks over the bay in Honolulu. We also saw sea turtles swimming in the water there every afternoon.

Honolulu from the airplane window.


This is Maya again, riding a horse on her own for the first time.

We rode horseback, then took a lovely hike to a waterfall.

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We swam in the pool, explored the rocks, clambered around under the waterfall, and had cucumber, cheese, and turkey sandwiches for lunch. There were even cookies for desert.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Finally, a picture

Maya is feeding a swan at the Westin. This is one of my favorite photos from our vacation.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jamaica Inn

by Daphne DuMaurier

I listened to this on CD, rather than reading it as I normally would have, and I have to say it is a whole different experience. For one thing, speaking is much slower than silent reading, so I had a lot of chances to think over the story as it progressed. Little details of the writing also made more of an impression than they might have otherwise. This story is packed with dramatic tension, but no matter how much I wanted to find out what would happen next, the reading continued at its own steady pace. This particular reading was very expressive, with lots of accents and voices that I enjoyed for the most part.

Well, based on this book and Rebecca I would characterize the books of Daphne DuMaurier as follows: A young, plucky, but self-effacing young woman is alone in the world (immediate family all dead). She falls in love with a dark, brooding, damaged but still forceful man in whose presence she melts. Despite her general competency and common sense, she totally misreads the people around her (grossly underestimating the feelings she has aroused in the dark and dominating man). There is a big, destructive crisis following which she and her man strike out for parts unknown and the adventure of the open road.

I suppose it sounds like I didn't like this book, but actually I did, even though the gender stereotypes in the romance don't read that well in this day and age. Interestingly, despite frequent references to the story's placement in the 20th century, there is not an automobile in sight. The heroine is constantly walking long distances across the moors, occasionally being rescued by someone passing by in a carriage or on horseback when she ends up too far from home late at night or in inclement weather. The plot revolves around some particularly heinous smuggling, but the scenes involving the outlaws and their dastardly deeds are well written, and the descriptions are vivid and compelling.

And in what may seem like a total non-sequiteur, one thing I learned while listening to this story is that I really should not knit while lying flat on my back. It's doable, but the end result is not all that one could desire.


Monday, August 13, 2007

I heart my girl, too

They were playing battleship in the living room, but Ziad came into my bedroom, where I was recovering from a strenuous weekend.

"Mom, Maya's lying. She didn't tell me when I sank her ship."

Well, I've seen many a game of battleship that suffered from faulty communication, dissolving into futile arguments of "I said J5, not I5!" "No, you didn't!" There is no winning these arguments. So it seemed reasonable to ask, "Are you sure she did it on purpose? It's not lying if she did it by mistake."

"No, she said she didn't want to give me the satisfaction."

I think we can all relate.

I heart my boy

Ziad likes to do origami in the car. It keeps him busy, so I don't really object, even though it's hard to keep the back of the car clean when he's deep into one of his folding fits. He was in the back seat, the other day, hard at work, and I could hear him humming to himself along with the sound of the paper folding. I could see him in my mind, gradually filling the seat with folded planes and animals, burying himself in a sea of colored paper.

When we got home, I asked him to help me bring in the groceries. "Ziad, could you bring in the bag with the cans?"

"Which bag is that?"

The one with the cans in it .....

Little Heathens

By Mildred Kalish

This book got a lot of attention in the local media (both neighborhood and city papers, I mean) because the author is now living in the Almaden Valley. Amazingly, this is her first book, written after a lifetime as an English teacher -- I guess it's not too surprising that it's so beautifully written. I liked the various quotations she had interspersed throughout the text, too, doubtless another byproduct of her chosen vocation.

You could describe this book as a kind of combination of Letters from a Woman Homesteader and the Little House books. She writes about growing up on a farm, raised by a single mother and an extended family, under circumstances where cash was scarce but hard work produced bountiful food. Despite all the chores necessary to keep the farm going, she and her siblings managed to find plenty of time for reading and games and getting up to mischief. It sounds like a wonderful childhood.

Her adult life is added almost as an afterthought, but it sounds pretty interesting too. Military service, teaching career, family extending now to several grandchildren, all the while maintaining the health and vigor to still chop and stack wood (the jacket picture, in fact, shows her standing in front of a wood pile).

Like the Little House books, this book is charming for many reasons. It describes an interesting, warm family life, even though the culture of that family was not one for overt displays of affection. It has interesting tidbits of how-to information relevant to a way of life that is passing, or maybe even already gone. It even has recipes! And through it all, the voice of the author, who clearly has a great personality. She attributes it to her upbringing, but I think she was born with it.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cliche alert

Sometimes I'm surprised that any couples can simultaneously raise children and stay married. Everyone knows problems come up in relationships. That's to be expected. But it takes energy, understanding, and time to work through them, and those commodities are frequently all but exhausted after dealing with the offspring. Add to that the fact that problems are frequently precipitated by the children themselves, and where does it get you?

Staring out the windshield listening to angry voices in your head, while your husband drives without talking and your children chatter, oblivious, in the back seat.

Or maybe, in the morning after a long discussion that took all night but ultimately got nowhere, listening to hurtful words like poison in your soul, echoing over and over.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Everything is all right

Today turned out to be a good day.

Ample guitar practice in the morning resulting in productive guitar classes in the afternoon. The teacher was very complimentary as we were leaving, which gives me such a feeling of satisfaction. Ziad and Maya are finishing up their respective guitar books, and seem on target to graduate to their next levels in January.

On to park day, where Ziad has found a group of friends. It's such an amazing thing for me to watch them roaming the grass together. These have every sign of being stable, real friendships for him. It's been a long time coming. I genuinely like these boys' moms, too.

Then home to soup that I made this morning, guitar practice to remember the new material they learned today, dishwashing, showers, and bed. Everything feels very squared away and comfortable.

Menus for the day:

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with cinnamon toast and orange juice

Lunch: pasta e fagiole, raw baby carrots, chocolate bundt cake (from Trader Joe's), and milk

Dinner: beef and barley soup, whole wheat toast with butter, milk


The menu above is actually what Ziad and Maya ate. What I ate was slightly different:

Before breakfast: hot black tea, peach-orange-guava juice

Breakfast: leftover chicken and rice, coffee

After breakfast: a little bit of the scrambled eggs, which were really exceptionally good

Lunch: leftover kefta kabob from the middle eastern deli, fruitcake

Dinner: beef and barley soup and the top crust from Ziad's toast, which he doesn't really like

And in the interests of full disclosure, the pasta e fagioli that they had for lunch was left over from dinner the night before. There's still some left, which I'll probably have for breakfast tomorrow ....

Monday, August 06, 2007

Unfinished Business

James Cook (Captain Cook)
Mark Twain
Robert Louis Stevenson
Jack London
W. Somerset Maugham

Just a few of the writers represented in A Hawaiian Reader. Unfortunately, I have to take it back to the library today, even though I haven't finished reading it. It's an interlibrary loan, and the renewals are limited. So I'm just going to have to request it again, because it's a fascinating book and I want to read the rest of it.

The selections are arranged in roughly chronological order, beginning with selections from the log of Captain Cook, the British captain credited with discovering the islands. We are so familiar with the islands and their people by now that it's fascinating to read his descriptions; the details he noticed and the interpretations he put on them. It's hard to find a single word to describe the wave of people that came to inundate the Hawaiians. Initially, I believe, it was mostly British sailors, followed by whalers and merchants, then the missionaries who were New Englanders for the most part. Regardless of the label, these people gradually grew more familiar with Hawaii, more accustomed to the people and their ways, but still maintained prejudices that let them trample the Hawaiian way of life underfoot without a second thought. The idea, for example, that native Hawaiians were lazy, which simple observation could have shown to be false. The idea that Hawaiians couldn't fend for themselves, when in fact they had thriving populations of well-fed people.

So, yes, I am reading these excerpts with my own prejudices against the writers, perhaps similar to their prejudices against the Hawaiians. I find them narrow-minded and parochial, and I think I know more than they do about the people they encounter. Even so, I love seeing through their eyes, and love imagining the islands before the heart and soul got developed out of them.

A quote from Mark Twain, that opens the book:

No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like island above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its woodland solitudes, I can hear the plash of its books; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More poetry ...

I met a girl named Maya
And I just had to say,"Hiya!"
Then she smiled
And the sky turned blue
And I had to tell her,
"I love you."

My dad made this poem up for Maya at lunch one day. I had forgotten all about until just the other day, when she reminded me about it, and recited it for me. And all of a sudden I felt I had spent an instant in Maya's world, thrilled that her grandfather had made up a poem just for her. Such a trifling thing for him, but so amazing for her. I'm remembering all the stories he made up for us when we were little (Pig and Elephant. The Three Magic Chocolates.), my doll house that he wired for electricity, the puppet theater that he drew on cardboard with pastel crayons. Each one was a thing of beauty. We've had difficulties, I don't want to sugar-coat our relationship, but looking back on it now, I feel so lucky. He brought a rich imagination to our lives and made me feel loved, always.

Sometimes, when Nabil is being particularly nice to our children, I think, "Wow, I wish I could have had a father like that." Particularly when he's telling them "Sure, why not?" at a time when I just know my father would have said, "No." But, really, on reflection, I'm very grateful for the father I had.