When I was dating Tony, one of the interesting things that he told me about himself was that he had lived with his family in Indonesia as a teenager. While living there, they spent a summer visiting family in a little town in Idaho, where their exotic expatriate exploit made them instant celebrities. An article even appeared in the local newspaper about the American family who were living in Southeast Asia, and had now brought their international selves home to grace tiny Aberdeen Idaho.
It became an even better story after the same thing happened to us. In 2008, we moved our little family to Chiusa di Pesio, Italy so that we could reconnect with our Italian roots and claim our long-lost Italian citizenship. It was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in Chiusa, and our very existence there caused something of a sensation. It seemed that everyone had already told everyone else our story. Still, in due time, we were visited in our home by a local reporter, who wanted to publish an account of us in the weekly paper, just in case someone had missed it.
We were flattered, but a little embarrassed, especially after we read the article, and she gushed so liberally about us. Still, it was quite a novelty to read a story about ourselves in the newspaper in the first place. I mean, how often does it happen that you end up in the paper just for being you?
Well, not as infrequently as I thought, apparently. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a reporter from the Daytona Beach News Journal. He had stumbled upon my blog, and remarked that he thought we didn’t really fit in here in Deltona. In fact, he went on to speculate that we probably weren’t going to be around long. I guess reporters can say anything.
Mark turned out to be very nice, though, and we spent a lovely morning chatting. It’s not every day that a captive audience spends an hour and a half listening to your life story, acting really interested and even taking notes. I found I enjoyed it thoroughly. Yesterday, we bought a paper so we could clip it out for our scrap book. And since our family scrapbook only exists in the form of this blog and our family website, here it is:
If you can’t read the small print, the full article is here. Mark took some liberties with the quotes, and bit more with the facts, so if you know us well you can amuse yourself by spotting errors. But at least when he quoted my mom he got it perfect.
August 21, 2012 2 Comments
Yes, we’re currently on tornado watch, due to tropical storm Debby (note to self: find out if they usually get through a whole alphabet of storm names in a season). I didn’t know we had tornados in Florida before we moved here (among other things. This was obviously not the most well-researched move). Someone was killed by a tornado in south Florida yesterday, and when I saw the picture of her house, I freaked out a little. Or a lot.
Fortunately, this was not the first time I had heard of tornados here. Mormons in general are known for being a bit fanatical about disaster preparation. Not only are we enjoined to have a 72-hour-kit full of necessities like high-energy food, flashlights, emergency blankets, solar/hand crank radio, etc., but also a three-month supply of the normal foods we eat, and a full year supply of longer-term food storage like wheat and dried beans.
I don’t know if it’s because this is a high disaster area, or just because people have useful hobbies, but our Ward here is the most disaster-prepared ward I’ve ever encountered. Just a month or two ago, we had a Ward activity centered around preparedness. The lights in the Church building were off, and everyone was supposed to bring an electric lantern to light their family’s table.
We brought a Coleman lantern, since that’s what I found in our camping gear, but I was informed that the fire code proscribed its use, so we sat at a more prepared person’s table. The really hard-core members had been living for the whole week as if a disaster had struck, and refraining from the use of electricity, hot water, and other accoutrements of modern life.
It was a potluck, and everyone was supposed to bring food made out of stuff from their food storage. It was an interesting meal, to say the least, with lots of reconstituted soups and T.V.P. I was not even able to guess what some of the food was made out of. I brought refried beans. Probably the most creative menu item was the fish cakes, made of canned fish rolled in corn flakes. Um . . . yum?
The missionaries turned up late, without any investigators, which was probably a good thing, because sitting around in the dark eating semi-edibles and talking about various calamities of the “last days” might not have been the best introduction to the Church, whatever its ultimate practical value.
After we ate, we sat in the eerie glow of the electric lanterns and people shared their disaster-related expertise. There were presentations on solar cooking, getting water out of sycamore trees (you can get five gallons a day if you tap the tree like a sugar maple), and storm preparedness. I was in charge of talking about how to entertain children without electricity. Most of what my children do all day is not electrically-related, so that wasn’t too difficult.
Somebody had made a little oven out of a cardboard box that would cook a full dinner with just three briquets. Someone else had a ham radio set up. Our Ward has a total of 23 certified ham radio operators, who are organized to keep in touch during a disaster and check up on the various sectors where members live. Even in a church with a culture of disaster preparedness, that’s got to be some kind of record.
And someone else talked about getting your home ready to weather a hurricane. After hearing the talk, Tony and I decided that our method of weathering a hurricane would be to leave town. The presenter also mentioned tornados. My personal experience with tornados is limited to watching The Wizard of Oz, so I raised my hand and asked what we should do if a tornado came through, since we haven’t got a root cellar.
Today when I had my tornado-induced freak-out, I used what I’d learned at the Ward activity to set up our very own storm shelter, aka Tornado Fun Zone.
The first thing we had to do was decide which room of the house would be the safest in case of a tornado. It’s supposed to be an internal room without windows. Our first thought was the children’s bathroom, since it’s technically three walls deep and somebody at the activity told a story about a friend of a friend who ran into the bathroom and grabbed the toilet during a tornado. After the tornado had passed, the only thing left of the house was the toilet and the person clinging to it. I made a mental note to clean my toilet.
But then we remembered that the bathroom has a skylight, and of course I immediately pictured us all getting sucked out through the skylight. Our bathroom is even worse, since it’s on an outside wall with two large windows, and tons of other glass in the room from the shower and mirrors. So yeah. The only room in our house without windows is my walk-in closet. Here’s the entrance, right next to my Mommy Wall in my bedroom. Doesn’t it look so inviting?
Here’s the inside. Excuse the clutter, but it really does spend most of its time functioning as a closet.
Here’s my blanket stash, in case we have to spend the night in it. Not that we would need blankets if the four of us were all snuggled in here together.
Behind the blankets you can just see the back of the mirror that Tony has promised to move to another closet so it doesn’t shatter on top of us.
Here’s our stash of bunny crackers, sardines, and oysters, in case we get hungry while the tornado is passing over us. Below are some books and crayons to amuse us, and a flashlight in case the power goes off.
Here’s the water in case we get thirsty, our 72-hour-kit, and the bicycle helmets that I read on some website that we should wear in case of flying objects (such as all of the containers and boxes stored on shelves above our heads in the closet).
Does it look like we’ll survive the tornado?
June 25, 2012 5 Comments
This book is a unique memoir of a high-schooler who faked teen pregnancy for her senior project. Gaby Rodriguez is a remarkable woman. Born into a low-income Hispanic family with three generations of unwed pregnancy, she was a high achiever determined to be the first in her family to go to college. So it was a shock to everyone in her school to find out that she was “pregnant.” During the course of her project, she experienced societal stereotypes and how they influence the feelings and behavior of unwed mothers. She also gained special empathy for her own mother. When she unveiled the project at the end of the school year, it suddenly became more influential than she ever imagined.
I ended up pretty much convinced of her conclusion that the way we treat pregnant teens has as big of an impact on where they go in life as the pregnancy itself. The perspective she shared about her (wonderfully loyal and long-suffering) boyfriend’s experience was also illuminating. As Rodriguez reminds us, empathy can be a powerful force for social change.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Yep, we’re thinking about adopting. And this is a witty and information-packed guide that does about what it promises. There’s a bit of hubris to the title, but as far as general information about every step of the process, the book actually is pretty complete. The author is obviously one of those super-organized people, so her readers benefit from comprehensive lists and charts of everything from what to pack for a transatlantic flight with kids to 50+ questions to ask when interviewing an adoption agency.
As well as her own experience as an adoptive mother, Davenport draws on dozens of stories from other adoptive parents about every aspect of the adoption process. The only caveat I would include is that the book was published in 2006, two years before the implementation of the Hague agreement. If you are adopting from a Hague country, there will be significant changes to the process that are not addressed in this book. That said, it’s still an extremely informative resource, and well worth a read for anyone contemplating adopting internationally.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The past few years have been a little difficult on me. Things are getting better, but I have some residual anxiety that surfaces every so often. Like Priscilla Warner, I’ve been trying “to bring calm to my life.” The personal narrative format of this book really worked for me. I loved accompanying Warner as she met with people from different faith/spirituality traditions, learned their ways of finding peace, and incorporated them into her own journey of the soul.
She includes quite a few beautiful quotations worthy of posting on the bathroom mirror, as well as beginner’s instructions on meditation. I was fascinated to see the included CAT scans, showing that regular meditation actually produced physical changes in her brain chemistry. I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or just finding that spot of calm in a hectic life.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not familiar with the genre of Jane Austen imitations, but this one caught my eye at the library, because it was in the fantasy/scifi section. Plot and character-wise, it borrows very heavily indeed from Jane Austen. Unfortunately, Austen’s subtle, wry humor and sharp perceptiveness are conspicuously lacking, as is her effortless eloquence.
Despite these deficiencies, the novel worked well enough for me, especially since I’m also fond of fantasy. The “magic” that lands this novel in the fantasy genre is a cleverly conceived artistic pursuit called Glamour. In Kowal’s alternate-reality Regency period world, Glamour is just one more of the accomplishments demanded of well-bred young ladies. It’s a very clever premise, really, and a highlight of the book.
At times, I felt like I was truly reading a cut-and-pasted collection of Austen scenes, but I guess that’s kind of the intended effect. This is not a polished novel (even apart from the obvious errata that mark it as a first edition), but it’s a fun, light summer read, and as squeaky clean as Jane Austen herself.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Be advised, the last paragraph of this review does contain spoilers.] This sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey is an improvement on its predecessor. For one thing, Kowal is not particularly adept at nuance or witty dialogue, so a little more action is a welcome distraction. If she weren’t inviting me to constantly compare her to Jane Austen (to the point of using a reference list of all the words from Austen’s works while writing the novel), I would probably be able to judge her a little better on her own merits.
While the first book was for all intents and purposes an Austen knock-off, this one is more of a historical fiction, breaking Austen’s habit of never mentioning any of the interesting events going on in the world outside of rural England. As well as putting Jane into the thick of some exciting events in Belgium during the Napoleonic wars, Kowal also delves productively into marital relationships. I enjoyed reading about Jane’s progression from timid, insecure newlywed to equal partner in a healthy and beautiful relationship.
Jane’s inability to use Glamour during her pregnancy allows her to grow into the person she really is, and realize how much she had previously defined herself by her abilities. And how often do you get a pregnant woman in a book performing heroics like this? Go Jane! I really appreciated the way Kowal dealt with the themes of balancing marriage, career, and pregnancy. And kudos to her for including the subject of miscarriage, which I feel doesn’t come up in novels as much as it should. I’ll definitely be reading the next books in this series.
June 20, 2012 2 Comments
I realized the other day that there’s not enough time in a lifetime to live all the places I’d like to live. In fact, it’s a good thing inter-planetary space travel has not yet been invented, or I would be completely overwhelmed by possibilities. My blogger friend Amira (who presently lives in Kyrgystan) is doing a series on all the cities where she’d like to live. Some of them are so obscure I have to look up what country they’re in. Of course, I had to look up Kyrgystan when I first “met” her too.
It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who can’t help viewing every international vacation (and every National Geographic article, for that matter) as a house-hunting trip. My travel dreams might not be quite as exotic as Amira’s, but in the course of the last several years since we decided we were an international family, Tony and I have researched mundane things like housing, raw milk availability, and homeschooling laws in quite a variety of different possible destinations. Besides the ones where we’ve actually ended up living.
Here’s my shortlist of places I’ve never been but know I would love to live.
I hope this doesn’t sound morbid, but I first became obsessed with Norway last year, following the horrific shootings on Utøya Island in July. Although I’m not really a party person, the Norwegian Labour Party might possibly come closest to a political ideology I could feel comfortable espousing. Norway is full of natural beauty, both in the countryside and wild places and in the many urban green spaces. Norway also has a high standard of living, a Scandinavian sense of organization, and a cool climate. What’s not to love?
I watched this little video and was sold on Costa Rica. Besides the fact that I already speak Spanish, and it’s pretty cheap to live there, 99% of their energy comes from renewable resources. If that’s not the wave of the future, I don’t know what is. Costa Rica is the go-to destination for retirees and other sun-seeking expats looking for a quaint paradise with good infrastructure. I really love tropical fruit and tropical beaches, but there aren’t that many tropical countries I’d like to live in long term. Costa Rica might be an exception.
Well, technically I have been to France. Nice is the preferred airport for international flights out of our little corner of Italy. So I’ve glimpsed the fabled pebbled beaches of the French Riviera out of the window of a bus various times. My most vivid memory of Nice is sitting on a huge cardboard box (filled with my belongings) in the train station, with seventeen pieces of luggage piled around me, deathly ill in the middle of a move from Ireland to Italy. So no, I don’t consider myself to have really visited France.
But who hasn’t dreamed of living in Paris? Ever since I read Paris to the Moon, I’ve pictured us there. I’ve even found my perfect apartment, in the 8th Arrondissement, right next to Parc Monceau. Now all I need is my perfect income to support a Parisian lifestyle.
Why Turkmenistan? I’m not quite sure. It just really fascinates me. We want to adopt internationally someday, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching different countries, during which research Turkmenistan appeared on my radar. Unfortunately, it’s well-nigh impossible to adopt from Turkmenistan. In fact, it’s hard to even get a visa to visit Turkmenistan. Maybe that’s why it attracts me: the lure of the forbidden. And the interesting tidbits I’ve read about the country. Bizarrely, the former President-For-Life (who died in 2007) authored his own book on Islam. Just like Qaddafi! The book forms the basis for the educational system of the country, and knowledge of it is required to even get a driver’s license. The Akhal-Teke, a beautiful breed of horse with a metallic-sheen coat, also originates there. Turkmenistan is one of those countries that feels like a “black box,” tantalizing in its mystery and oddity. I’d love to see what it’s really like there.
Will I ever live any of these places? Who knows? But this is my favorite kind of daydream.
What’s your dream destination?
April 11, 2012 7 Comments
When I was a kid, there was a minister who lived next door to us. He refused to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. Instead, they got little Christian tracts on how evil and satanic the holiday was. At the time, I just thought he was weird. But I could do without Halloween now.
In fact, not seeing spider webs, creepy masks, and gravestones all over people’s yards and store windows every October was one of the things I loved about living abroad. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have to either let my kids gorge themselves on candy for the entire first week of November or be the “mean” mom who takes it all away.
Unfortunately, this year we moved back to the U.S. just in time for Halloween. So I am faced with my Halloween dilemma.
I don’t know why this is, but Mormons in the U.S. really love Halloween. Most wards host a “trunk-or-treat” at which people decorate the trunks of their cars, park them in the church parking lot, and hand out candy to costumed children from them. The sugar orgy usually continues inside the church with additional games and treats. I remember being absolutely thrilled one year to win a hideous chocolate spider cake in the cake walk.
The “trunk-or-treat” concept was originally developed in response to all the concerns about Halloween safety. It was felt that it was important to provide a safe place for children to gorge on candy. However, since the church party was typically held a few days before Halloween, I knew many families who went trick-or-treating too, at least to the houses of family and friends. So in my candy-hating mother mind, trunk-or-treat actually makes the situation worse, not better.
We skipped the trunk-or-treat this year, but my kids got plastic gloves full of popcorn and candy corn today at church, and candy at library story hour yesterday. Still, I don’t want them to feel like they’re missing out on Halloween, so I’ve looked around for alternatives.
One of my Protestant friends recommended having a “Reformation party,” since Martin Luther nailed up his 99 theses on All Saints Eve. I love this idea, but I think I’ll wait until we’ve been through the Reformation in our history readings, and the children have some context.
Charlotte, a mom on one of the many homeschooling email lists to which I subscribe described her family’s Halloween tradition like this:
We live out in the country. We meet with two other families on a predetermined evening. The children, (5 in all), exchange gifts, (usually books or craft supplies). One of the moms, (the most organized of us 3), has our route planned. We visit 6 homes. The owners are aware that we are coming in advance. Two homes are widows, two are elderly and two are grandparents of our small group.
The children wear costumes and we spend 15-30 minutes at each stop. Some offer candy, others homemade treats, (safe because we’ve known these people our entire lives). One stop always serves us supper, another always has cake and ice cream for dessert. Sometimes, an activity has been planned at a particular stop. The children often have made drawings/ cards, or have picked bouquets of wildflowers to leave.
This has been a wonderful outreach. One widow in particular looks forward to our visit all year. She lives miles from town and can’t drive and feels isolated I’m sure. Before us, she never had trick-or-treaters because she lives on an untraveled dirt road. She loves decorating her porch and entryway for the children.
I loved her idea of turning Halloween into a service, family, and community outreach evening. Maybe sometime I’ll get that organized.
In the meantime, what we have planned is a family Halloween party with Grammy and Pampa. We’ll carve our pumpkins, bob for apples, decorate (healthy) cookies (with my honey-cream cheese frosting, nuts, dried fruit, etc.), and play games.
Yeah, I’m a spoilsport. At least it only happens once a year.
1. Our newlywed Halloween, back before I had kids and became such a wet blanket. If you look closely, you’ll see that the earring on Tony’s pirate pumpkin is his wedding ring.
2. My awesome brother Samuel, who when his firstborn son arrives in January will most likely be naming him Yoda.
October 30, 2011 7 Comments
My personal bibliophilia has not been the only thing we’ve been feeding with our weekly library trips. We are back in the swing of homeschooling, with a vengeance. We even have a very simple “school corner” set up. It contains a kid-sized table with two chairs, an adult-sized chair, and a few shelves with all our school books and paraphernalia. We are using Ambleside Online’s Year 1, Term 3 as our curriculum base for this term.
Charlotte Mason believed in a curriculum that was both wide and deep. This is the first term I have managed to fit in just about all the subject areas she recommended covering. The list of subjects looked a little daunting at first, but in the end, we only spend about an hour and a half each morning “doing” school. Some of our scheduled learning does fall outside that time, as does all the informal learning that happens organically as a natural result of children being children. I view our homeschool as a classical (or in my terms “renaissance humanist”) education from 9-10:30 in the morning, and unschooling for the rest of the day.
As usual, we’re a few weeks into this term already, since I like to test it all out and tweak it before I tell you about it, lest there be anyone who actually reads this and follows me into an excessively unnavigable educational morass. So this curriculum plan has been tried and tested for at least three weeks by one very exacting but good-humored six-year-old. The four-year-old is welcome to participate in anything he likes (he listened to the story of King Alfred and the Cakes this morning and did a great unsolicited narration), but he generally pops in and out all morning. Fortunately, he’s a brilliant self-entertainer, so we rarely hear from him when he’s not participating with us.
Devotional – We begin with a Primary song (sung during the children’s classes at Church). Grammy procured us a cd with all the songs for the Primary Program, so we are playing catch-up, since we spent most of the year in Tunisia, where we just sang whatever songs we wanted in our informal Primary. Then we read/recite together our current family memory scripture (2 Nephi 21:6-9). As soon as we have it completely memorized, we’ll rotate in another scripture. Then we read a few verses of scripture together at the place where we are reading in the Book of Mormon, and discuss what we’ve read (if we think of anything we want to discuss). Last, we have our family morning prayer, and then Axa and I go into our school corner.
Per Charlotte Mason’s instructions, I have a schedule of school subjects that mixes things up so we don’t get bored or wiggly. For instance, some days we’ll start out listening to an Italian cd, then do copywork (penmanship), then read aloud from a history book and narrate, then watch a math video. Each subject takes from 10-20 minutes. If you’re skeptical that things can actually get done that quickly, try it out. I did not think it would work, but I tried it, and I’m now a believer. Making the time short effectively eliminates dawdling, so we accomplish things very quickly.
These are subjects we do every day, although I do different activities each day to make it interesting:
Math – Our “spine,” inasmuch as we have one, is Khan Academy, which I reviewed in more detail here. We watch a video one day, do the related exercises two other days, read some math literature on another day (usually a library picture book from Dewey decimal number 510 or so), and play a math game on the last day (from Family Math, which I remember fondly from my own homeschooling days, and borrowed from my mother when we were up there last week).
Italian – We checked out some language cds from the library, do Livemocha together, read a book in Italian from the International Digital Children’s Library, and play a simple game with the words we’ve learned. Our Foreign Language program could use a bit of beefing up at the moment, but at least we’re doing it every day. Maybe I need to re-read some of my own suggestions.
Phonics – Axa can read Easy Readers, but it’s a bit laborious and tedious. She loves listening to audiobooks (and parents reading to her). I really want her to enjoy reading, so I don’t want to be too pushy. But at the same time, I do want her to learn to read. So we got a copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. The first few lessons are a little strange, but the book has been highly recommended to me by several people, and it takes all of 10 minutes a day, so we are persevering.
Copywork – Axa taught herself to write quite some time ago, and her writing is becoming more legible on its own with time. But I just love the italic handwriting that most Charlotte Mason homeschoolers use, so I got her a Getty-Dubay book.
These are subjects we do once per week:
Artist Study – During snack time on Tuesdays, I show Axa and Raj a painting. Ambleside Online schedules a specific artist for each term, and this term we are doing Jean Honore Fragonard. We look at the painting for a few minutes. Then I put it away, and we take turns describing it from memory. Then we look at it again, see if we missed anything, talk about thematic and stylistic elements, the story of the painting, how it makes us feel, etc.
Composer Study – Again, we follow the Ambleside schedule. This term’s composer is Mozart. I downloaded the selections on the German site linked to from Ambleside, and I put them on for the children during snack time. They usually get up and dance to it for a while after they’re done with their snack.
Handicrafts – Grammy is very artistic and crafty, so she does these with the children. Last week they made little leaf elves with fall-colored silk leaves. I think Grammy has a little circular loom she’s going to teach them to use sometime. I’m not sure what other projects are in the works, but I don’t mind outsourcing this one, since Grammy is much craftier than I am.
Nature Study – We took our first nature study outing for the term yesterday. I packed up a lunch, and we drove to a wild-looking spot. Since we currently live in Bakersfield, most of the flora consisted in dry grasses and sandy-colored tumbleweeds. But we did find a lot of insects, including a dragonfly, praying mantis, grasshopper, different kinds of ants, butterflies, and moths. Axa was delighted to see her first black widow “in the wild.” We took their new nature journals too. Axa didn’t want to draw anything, but she wrote the things we saw in different colors.
Art – We have just started Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks, and I am so excited. She maintains that while children naturally draw symbolically, they can be taught to draw realistically, just like they can be taught to play the piano or dance. I am excited to see how this helps us with our nature journals.
Each of the books in this last group gets read two to three times per week, except the bedtime stories, which are every day;
World History – Discovery of New Worlds, by M.B. Synge. This is Book 2 of 5 in a series that covers history from ancient times to the end of the 19th century, in an engaging story form. We spent the year before we started the Ambleside curriculum reading Book 1, which covers ancient Greece and Rome, since Ambleside doesn’t cover classical history until 6th grade.We are also reading 50 Famous Stories by James Baldwin, which are shorter stories of famous events in history.
British History – Continuing with Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. We’re currently at the time of King Alfred. Also reading from Viking Tales by Jennie Hall, which is another book that was read at Charlotte Mason’s own schools.
Geography – Holling C. Holling’s classic Paddle to the Sea, a charming story about a little carved boat that slides down from the mountains into the Great Lakes, and eventually out to the ocean, in the process giving the reader an excellent view of the geography of the region.
Science – We did our first lesson out of Bernie Nebel’s Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding last week, and it was awesome. I can already tell that this book will help my children figure out the answers to all those questions they have about how the world works. I talked about this book in more detail here, and plan to devote an entire post to our implementation of it after we have a few months of it under our belts. I’ve also already learned a lot from the associated email group.
Natural History – The Burgess Bird Book, Thornton Burgess’ account of how the birds return to the forest in the springtime. He gives each species of bird an unforgettable personality. I get really fun narrations of this book from Axa.
Literature – Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty. Wise and beautifully written stories that take spiritual lessons from the lives and habits of plants and animals. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. We have Twelfth Night and King Lear scheduled for this term. Aesop’s Fables. I found this in 12 volumes on librivox, and we listen to one every day. I think I like them as much as Axa. Always a good pick-up when she feels like narration is “too hard.” For Daddy’s literature read-alouds we are doing The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle, which is a collection of fairy tales. At bedtime he reads The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. Grammy also got us audiobooks of James and the Giant Peach, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Pippi Longstocking, all of which Axa has loved.
Poetry – We are reading through Ambleside’s Poetry Anthology, with one poem per day. Our memorization poems for the term are The Owl and the Pussycat, I Think Mice are Nice, and Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
If you’re a homeschooler, do you have your curriculum posted? I love reading other people’s ideas.
October 13, 2011 8 Comments
Jet-lag has been vanquished, but I’m still making those last lingering adjustments to post-expat re-entry. (you know, finishing up the spontaneous incineration of the ablative heat shield, also known as “trailing clouds of glory . . .”) So far, I’ve been to Trader Joe’s, the Library, Macaroni Grill, and even (gasp!) Wal-Mart. But I didn’t actually buy anything at Wal-Mart. So does that make it O.K.?
I still don’t have a good short answer (or even a good long answer) for the ubiquitous question, “where are you from?”
I’m not sure what to do about that. Lately I wish I had something prosaic to say, like Wisconsin or Palo Alto. Something that wouldn’t involve explaining Italy, let alone what I’ve been doing for the past eight months in a little post-revolutionary Muslim country in Africa. Because I’m tired of trying to explain my life and inevitably seeing myself reflected in other people’s eyes as something unspeakably inexplicable and exotic. They’re not sure what to do with me, and I’m not so sure what to do with myself either.
Things are getting better, though, a little at a time. At present, Tony and my dear mother-in-law are taking care of my sweet children while I spend a week at my absent parents’ house in Woodland. Yes, for the third time in the past five years, my parents have bought plane tickets to see us, and we have moved before they arrived. In fact, I’m afraid we’ve reached a new low. This time it was tickets to Tunisia, and we left a bare two weeks before they were to arrive. Embarrassing, I know. They are, however, presently enjoying London and Spain, and are still, incredibly, on speaking terms with me.
I’m getting back on speaking terms with myself too. After two days here alone, I finally was able to sit down and write some feelings and analysis of what’s going on in my head. It’s amazing what some time away from everything can do. Felicitously, my time away included the evening of the L.D.S. General Relief Society Meeting, an annual inspirational event by my Church’s women’s organization. In company with every other woman with whom I’ve discussed the meeting subsequently, I felt like Dieter F. Uchtdorf was speaking straight to me. Even if you’re not Mormon, you might find the 20-minute address I linked to inspiring and uplifting. He summarized his five key points thus:
It’s hard to explain, but as I listened to his words, and as I have reflected since, I have felt life open up again for me. My goals seem a little more attainable, my problems a little more manageable, and my thoughts a little brighter. I guess the sun is finally starting to shine through.
September 26, 2011 No Comments
You know what? I don’t think I have 22 hours worth of memories from our last 22 hours of traveling. I know I wasn’t sleeping for most of it (sadly), so I must just have selective amnesia. Or maybe nothing really happened.
Here’s the little I remember: We ate guacamole in the Chicago airport. It was as good as I remembered it. (Also, I made a bowl of guacamole yesterday at my mother-in-law’s house, and ate the whole thing myself. I might do that again today.)
Airport security is as paranoid as ever in the U.S.A. At least we were only flying the week of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and not the actual day.
The pilot on our Chicago-L.A. flight invited my kids into the cockpit, flipped all the switches and lights for them, and had a fun little conversation. I’m pretty sure Raj’s ambitions have now switched from fireman to pilot. Axa, however, still has firm career plans as the owner of a gelato shop.
Raj spilled one entire glass of orange juice an hour into our trans-atlantic flight, but most of it ended up landing on the plastic bag containing the airplane pillow, blanket, and earphones, and I was actually able to take it to the bathroom and pour it down the sink. Miraculous.
I have now seen both Thor and The King’s Speech, although I did not watch Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Reviews will be forthcoming.
I wish I could say I kissed the ground, or had any real feelings at all upon entering the United States. But I didn’t. I just feel kind of numb looking back over the past 18 months that we’ve been away. It’s been quite a wild ride. I look back at everything we’ve done, and wonder how it all happened. Answering the questions of the quizzical officer at U.S. passport control just made it all seem more unreal and unbelievable.
I can’t really make sense of the whole picture, but I remember the individual moments, vividly. Walking along the Arno in the rain. Catching frogs in Ireland. Building an igloo in our front yard in Italy. Standing inside the Roman amphitheater at el-Djem.
I wouldn’t really say that coming back here is like waking up from a dream. Because I feel like I’m still somehow stuck inside the dream. I keep looking around for something I think I’ve lost or left behind, like my passport, or that extra carry-on bag, or my travel neck pillow. But really I think it’s myself I’ve lost.
I can’t really say where I am now, and I have no idea where I’m going. I just hope that I’ll find myself again somewhere, sometime.
September 9, 2011 3 Comments
The Tunisian police are holding a sit-in today to protest all the police stations that were burned during the revolution, and make sure the 23 police officers on trial for killing demonstrators during the weeks leading up to President Ali’s exit get a fair trial. They’re considering a general strike if the sit-in fails to produce the results they want. Ben Ali’s power base was largely drawn from the police force, and so the police now feel that they’ve been unfairly blamed for the violence during the protests in January.
Unfortunately, the past few weeks in Tunisia have seen a foiled bombing plot by Qaddafi, and fighting and deaths due to rioting and tribal conflict in the south, as well as a rash of muggings and car break-ins in our own neighborhood. This on top of the fact that many in Tunisia are expecting a further deterioration of the security situation ahead of the democratic elections next month. It’s things like these that make the idea of a police strike a bit unnerving.
But after we fly out of Tunisia this afternoon, I won’t have to check the news for these sorts of events. Or at least I can check my usual news in a more detached way, because it won’t cause me immediate practical consequences. It will be weird to read the news about Libya without wondering if tomorrow I’ll see Qaddafi sunbathing on my beach. Or go to Church every Sunday morning without first checking the the curfew and security state in Tunis. Tunisia has been in an official state of emergency for our entire time here.
And I thought we were completely out of the woods until yesterday, when my Guardian news feed reported that the general strike planned for the entire country of Italy today would be affecting air traffic. Our flight home goes through Rome. In fact, we have an overnight layover there. I could just see being told at the last minute (after we’ve moved out of our house and everything) that our flight from Tunis would not be allowed to land in Rome. Or getting so delayed that we missed our flight the next morning. “Blah,” as Toad would say.
I’d hoped it was an exaggeration, but further investigation revealed that even staff of Alitalia and other Italian airline companies (including pilots) would be participating in the strike. Fortunately, we’re flying Tunisair (a , our flight originates internationally, and we are supposed to land at 6:50 p.m., a couple of hours after the conclusion of the 8-hour strike, all cited by a friend in Italy as good reasons to hope that our flight might be unaffected. Better yet, our hotel has a shuttle service, so we’re not trying to rely on nonexistent public transportation or hopelessly scarce taxis once we get there.
Still, the whole thing just reminds me of the day we arrived in Tunisia. There was a general transportation strike that day, rendering taxis the only viable means of public transportation. And our taxi driver told us that even taxis would be joining the strike on the following day.
Knowing what I know about efficiency and punctuality in both Italy and Tunisia, I am just crossing my fingers that arriving a few hours after the strike won’t subject us to 8-hour lines or whatever might be the rest of the fallout from an entire day of nobody working. Because my curiosity to know what a major international airport looks like after everybody in it has been striking all day is not strong enough for me to want to see it in person.
Can’t I just click my heels together three times and say, “there’s no place like home?”
September 6, 2011 2 Comments
The time has come. Next Tuesday we will be on a plane to California. Sorry to spring these things on you so precipitously. That’s just the way things seem to work out.
Ever since our business failed after the 2008 credit crunch, life has been pretty difficult and stressful. We’ve had some exciting adventures, crazy travels, and happy times (the kind of stuff that typically ends up on the blog), but we’ve also had some very serious challenges. I can say that I’m physically, mentally, and in every other way worn out. My in-laws have graciously offered to let us stay with them while I recover from a persistent health issue and we sort out our finances and decide which direction we’d like to take our life next.
It will be a huge relief to be back in a more familiar world, with the support of family. That’s what we need right now. But there are some things I’ll really miss too. To help me sort through my feelings, I decided to make a list. It’s not really a list of pros and cons, more like a list of “excited for” and “will miss.”
The Public Library!!!
My mother-in-law’s snuggly house
The replacement Kindle that arrives the day before I do
My sister’s wedding
Church in a big ward
The eventual eradication of the ubiquitous beach sand
Good Mexican food
The beautiful Hammamet beach
Our sweet dog Luca
Roman ruins an hour away in any direction
Tunisia’s historic democratic elections next month
The call to prayer
Our Mormon “twig” in Tunisia
Wonderful Tunisian and expat friends
I’m hoping for a completely uneventful trans-atlantic plane flight. Hey, I can dream! (even if I can’t sleep, because I’m traveling with two rambunctious and jet-lagged children).
And in honor of our journey and the general surreality of everything, here’s a completely random but actually relevant video clip, courtesy of ABBA:
California, here I come.
September 2, 2011 6 Comments