Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cowboy Boots

Getting ready to fish in Central Oregon

The cowboy boot strut and run, arms flailing in circles. If only the camera could pick up how loud these boots are, by far Abe's favorite thing about them:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Our neighbor from my home state brought over a plate of hot fried green tomatoes the other day. I wanted a pic of Abe with them simply because I take pictures of every little thing. He wasn't into it. He kept rolling around on the floor and running away from me.

Ever since we saw Peter Pan a couple of months ago, Abe has been enamored with the idea of being an actor. His regular babysitter is a young actor who is leaving to study professional acting in Seattle. His dad is an actor. Abe wants to be one too (for now, you know how these things go). So I told him, "Abe, all good actors know how to take direction. I am your director. You are my actor. Let's take some photos."

Those were the magic words. This is what happened then (with very little direction from me. I think all I told him was to lay on his tummy. He came up with the rest):

The next day, we're swimming at a lake, and Ted pulls out the camera. This happens:

Would someone please hire this kid? Wouldn't you buy a plate of fried green tomatoes from him? Anyone in the market for a small brown leaf?

I almost forgot: Al Green Wednesday. This is one of my favorites ever.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Muslim Students

On Mother's Day, we went to my favorite bakery to get my favorite dessert: a rhubarb hand-pie. As we were walking down the street back to our car, we noticed a couple coming our way pushing a toddler in a stroller. They looked Ethiopian, so Ted stopped to talk to them. We had a short conversation. They were new to the city and from a Middle Eastern country, not African. They were a lovely family, very bright and gracious.

Fast forward about three months. It's my last day of the term in the class I'd been teaching. Most students who haven't exceeded their quota of absences don't bother coming this last day, so it's a scarce crowd. I ended up sitting around chatting with the students who showed up, some not even my students but stragglers from other classes whose teachers were busy figuring final grades. The topic was about their first impressions of Americans since most of them have been here less than six months. It was a fascinating conversation, let me tell you. This was maybe my favorite day of the whole term, in either of my classes.

In the break between classes, one of my favorite students stood in the doorway talking to me about what a poor student he'd been this term because of being so distracted by his young child and 9-month pregnant wife. As he talked about his family, I felt like he started talking in slow motion as my brain started connecting dots.

I said slowly, "Um, this may sound crazy, but... were you walking down Broadway one day a few months ago and a couple stopped to talk to you and your family?" His eyes, already naturally very bright, lit up even more. He blinked hard a couple of times. Then he raised his eyebrows, did the stunned drunken step back and forth a few times (anyone know what I'm talking about?), and excitedly said, "You! It's you! Your husband? He is very tall, right?" Why yes, he is.

What are the chances? This favorite student of mine ended up being the guy we met on the street on Mother's Day. We both must have said 'wow' thirty times.

He then told me and the rest of the straggler students about his life in the Middle East, how he and his wife got together, the ins-and-outs of arranged marriages, family life, and good food. The rest of the students that day told me things like how friendly yet lonely American seem to be. They talked about how they are afraid to talk to children because parents are so paranoid. They told me many interesting things.

Over half of these students are Muslim, almost all of them wonderful people who I so enjoyed teaching and getting to know. Two of the women behind veils showed me their faces at different times when it was just me and them. These women are so intelligent, opinionated, beautiful, and strong. It was my privilege to teach them, and the whole experience of course got me thinking about the many misconceptions about Islam in the United States. I wish more people could have had experiences like the one I had this summer of teaching Muslim students. I wish more Americans could see Muslims as individuals who share a lot of the same values as the rest of us. They would become a lot less scary, that's for sure.

I didn't mean for this to turn into anything political. It was simply an eye-opening experience that I am so grateful to have had this summer. One of my good friends from high school was a Pakistani immigrant, and the majority of the Muslim students I taught this summer were a lot like her: solid, friendly, hard-working, and funny. I wish that all the folks around here who are scared of Islam could have at least one Muslim friend, the way I am lucky enough to have.

Monday, August 23, 2010

M*A*S*H boy

Hey Momma, look at what Abe slept in last week during the heat spell when we all camped out in the basement:

This shirt was my mom's in 1981, and I've held on to it for years.

Friday, August 20, 2010


The day we found our house in Portland, before making an offer, we took a walk around the block to see how the neighborhood felt. We saw kids' stuff everywhere and a couple of people we asked told us how much they like living there. It felt right. We saw a baby swing hanging from a tree in someone's front yard.

Fast forward four years to one day this week. Ted is out of town. I'm in the middle of finals week with my classes. Abe is sick with a stomach virus.

Abe and I were sitting on our porch swing snuggling in the early evening, and all the neighbor girls came over like ministering angels, hovering around him, in his face, kissing his head and saying lots of 'poor babies.' He was snuggled into my chest while the girls doted on him.

Then all their parents came up the porch, offered to take out my recycling for me, go for sprite runs, generally be there if I need anything with Ted out of town. They gave me advice on when to call the doctor, when not to call the doctor. All of them looked at my droopy son with upturned inner eyebrows, concerned and concentrated faces, taking in that something truly was wrong. They walked home later with "call if you need anything"s.

Later that night, Abe started perking up but I needed to prepare something for class. Another neighbor, this one a block north, asked around among the neighbors on her block to get me the game Taboo to use in my classes the next day. Right before bedtime, she and her husband left the game on my front porch.

The next day, this same neighbor cooked zucchini bread with Abe while I figured grades on her laptop. She'd also helped me figure out an excel spreadsheet the day before. Then she played with Abe while I went to my school to record grades.

Last weekend,
on Saturday night, as we drove back home from a movie-night with Ted's dad, the neighbors were out, and the kids all started yelling when they saw our car. We brought camping chairs down and sat with our drinks as the kids played. Someone brought out an ipod with speakers and started playing salsa music. The kids danced. Everyone was talking all at once. Someone kept refilling cups with the leftover drinks from the previous weekend's big birthday party. The night was still very warm as the streetlights came on. Eventually the ipod battery ran out. There was brief talk about how late it was and how we really should have gone home an hour ago, but then someone opened their front door, sending more music out to the street. The kids kept dancing. Everyone kept talking all at once. On a warm Saturday night, the spontaneous party continued.

I can't accurately describe how wonderful the feeling is to know that so many people in my neighborhood have got my back. That front yard baby swing was a good omen. I am so grateful that, in the middle of 'postmodern', isolated American culture, we managed to plant ourselves in a village.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

White t-shirt bean

Life flying, rushing by, days a blur of rush to buy milk and grade tests and prepare lessons in how to use for, while, during in at least a semi-interesting manner so students don't pass out drool spilling on desks in long afternoon classes in warm classrooms that beg for naps.

Little time for my son, who I have to shoo away in the early evenings while I get work done before dinner. This little experiment in officially teaching again has not gone well. For many reasons, the main one being that I'm not ready to have a job where I have to bring mounds of work home with me. When the kid(s) are in school, maybe, we'll see.

In the midst of all this rush, rush, rush, Abe has his bath and puts on a plain white t-shirt belonging to his dad. He comes running out of the bathroom, all squeaky clean, arms outstretched and shouting, "Mom! Look at! Look at!" so proud to be wearing Daddy's shirt to bed. He says he looks like a Lost Boy from Peter Pan. With his long purple hair extension that he got at a street fair last weekend, he especially does.

Before I go to bed, I peek in at him, like I do every night. He's laying on his side like a little bean, white t-shirt nightgown, purple streak of hair down his face, thumb still inserted in mouth (a habit we haven't been able to break yet). And yep, of course, just like always, my heart burst open, like always, like always, like always.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesdays are for Al Green

This song is getting me through today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Traumatic bewilderment

I've been teaching a couple of afternoon classes for the last two weeks. The session only lasts a month, so I'm halfway through already. It's been an interesting experiment in going back to work (outside our home, of course). The classes require a lot of outside prep time, so it's almost felt like a full-time job. I have started to really miss Abe, not just when I'm in my classes, but when I have to send him away so I can grade and prep. I admit to being a really big crybaby (literally) about the whole experience.

One afternoon this week, Abe stayed at a friend's house during my classes. We first met these friends the first week we were home with Abe, and they've been a regular part of his life since then. One of his favorite places on this planet is their house.

I hope these two never stop holding hands. Autumn caught this moment before naptime.

So it was interesting to me when the following thing happened. All the kids were still sleeping when I got back from class to pick Abe up. My friend and I sat on the couch and talked, amazed at how wonderful it is to chat in such a quiet space, only the soothing voice of Sufjan Stevens singing quietly in the background. We eventually got up to wake the kids and were continuing our conversation as we walked to their rooms.

As I got to the room where Abe was sleeping, I heard him whimpering in the dark. I turned on the light and found him laying on his tummy, starting to lift his head, eyes puffy and squinty, huge frown, slow tears. He was completely bewildered. His cry was slow and mournful, with little whimpers and caught breath scattered throughout. Tears covered his face and kept coming.

Don't you remember that feeling as a kid of waking up in a place different from your own bed and being completely dumbfounded about how you got there or what would happen next? This was perhaps Abe's first time to experience this, and he did not like it. I picked him up, and he draped himself across my chest, still crying, still very confused. I rocked him back and forth, and his crying eventually stopped. He told me that he didn't know where he was when he woke up. Once he remembered and knew his friends were right down the hall, the happy-button was pushed, and all was well again. Sweet boy.

I quickly began to think about a little girl who will become the next Rooney. Abe has been with us for as long as he can remember, yet his reaction to waking up a new place even this one time was slightly traumatic. What is it going to be like for his sister? I can hardly even begin to imagine how disoriented she will be as she wakes up every day with us in her sight, on new pillows with new smells and sounds at every turn. All that was once familiar to her will be turned upside down, and I can only hope that the sight of our faces when she wakes up every day will eventually switch from being a source of bewilderment and fear to one of comfort and home.

(We've been waiting for referral for a little over four months. According to all we've heard, the call could come now at any point.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wednesday Event for Portlanders!

Click on the picture to see the details. I will be there with a friend tomorrow night.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Moment of Zen

I have been feeling the strain and stress of a month-long job I've taken on. I'm a natural worrier and have a pretty deep-seated fear of failure and the unknown. This morning while attempting my daily run, I found this hanging outside someone's house.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

I will not tax my life with forethought of grief. I'm led to a place of rest beside still water.

Just for the fun of it:

I found this video last night.

That was about a year and a half ago while we were visiting/working in Los Angeles for a spell. Now look where our pepper-shaking friend Kelly is:

Any big-time producers out there needing to cast a hilarious woman in any upcoming projects? Pick our friend Kelly. You won't regret it.

Have a great Monday. The old grindstone is calling.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Abu Kassem's Slippers

I've been slowly making my way through Cutting for Stone during this busy summer. One section in particular left me awestruck. "Our slippers" is a term that has made its way into our family vernacular.

It was a tale well known to children all over Africa: Abu Kassem, a miserly Baghdad merchant, had held onto his battered, much repaired pair of slippers even though they were objects of derision. At last, even he couldn't stomach the sight of them. But his every attempt to get rid of his slippers ended in disaster: . . . when he dropped them in the canal, the slippers choked off the main drain and caused flooding, and off Abu Kassem went to jail...

"One night when Tawfiq finished, another prisoner, a quiet dignified old man, said, 'Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He'll never escape.' The old man laughed, and he seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.

"The next night, out of respect for the old man, we lay in silence. No story. I could hear men crying in the dark. This was always the low point for me. Ah, boys...I'd pretend you both were against me, just like this, and I would imagine Hema's face before me.

"The following night, we couldn't wait to talk about Abu Kassem. We all saw it the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, very seed you sow, or don't sow, becomes part of your destiny...I met Hema in the septic ward at Government General Hospital in India, in Madras, and that brought me to this continent. Because of that, I got the biggest gift of my life--to be a father to you two. Because of that, I operated on General Mebratu, who became my friend. Because he was my friend, I went to prison. Because I was a doctor, I helped to save him, and they let me out. Because I saved him, they could hang him...You see what I'm saying?"

I didn't, but he spoke with such passion I wasn't about to stop him.

"I never knew my father, and so I thought he was irrelevant to me. My sister felt his absence so strongly that it made her sour, and so no matter what she has, or will ever have, it won't be enough." He sighed. "I made up for his absence by hoarding knowledge, skills, seeking praise. What I finally understood in Kerchele is that neither my sister nor I realized that my father's absence is our slippers. In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours, and if you do, then they will get rid of themselves."

All these years and I hadn't known this about Ghosh, about his father dying when he was young. He was like us, fatherless, but at least we had him. Perhaps he'd been worse off than we were.

Ghosh sighed. "I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did in Kerchele. The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don't. If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only your actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny."

--Abraham Verghese