Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving this year

Last year we were apart for Thanksgiving. The year before that we were in different places at the same time. This year we were all together, with the bonus of an added guest.

Grandma and Grandpa traveled from Seattle, my parents rode in from Arlington and our friend metro-ed from DC. On Thanksgiving day she ran into transportation challenges, but we overcome them and picked her up despite the distance. My parents came in the night before, the in-laws the week prior.

We are renting a big house; we split it among three families for the night. Ours took the  master room where JR had her mattress relocate to the floor, and Yousef on the queen bed between Jeff and I. John and Susan shared the futon in the spare bedroom while my parents cozied on the twin foam mattress and the cushions from the couch on the floor in JR's room.

There was a lot of love in that house that night. Yousef and JR could not go to sleep. They went around from room to room to check in on the grandparents. My parents had not stayed with us before so Yousef was not sure what was going on. Usually we sleep at their house, so he was confused. Confused by ecstatic. His first thought the next morning was Jeddo and off he ran.

My first thought the next morning was FOOD! In the weeks leading up to the big day, we had decided to have limited offerings of the basics; just because it was Thanksgiving we did not need to gorge on too many sides and end up with an upset stomach. But as the day progressed I stressed that we did not have enough food and ended up making more than I had planned.

The original menu consisted of  home-made butter rolls, apple-fennel salad, turkey, cranberry-orange chutney, and root vegetable mash. I then added boxed gravy for my father-in-law. What we ended up having was store bought rolls, spatchcocked turkey, two kinds of cranberry sauce, twice as much salad, root vegetable mash and mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, boiled corn on the cob, and roasted butternut squash. Costco pumpkin pie with whipped cream, pumpkin pie panna cotta, coffee and a fruit plate concluded the meal.

Did we have a lot of food? We sure did! Did we have enough leftovers? Not as many as I expected! Once we split the leftovers among three families and a friend, each group had only one more Thanksgiving meal reserved for later; the turkey was almost gone. Although a thirteen pounder, it came out so juicy and tender, having cooked for only 90 minutes rather than three hours, that I could not help but going back for seconds and thirds. I even picked at the turkey as I as dividing the extra among the guests. The bones were turned into stock while the raw neck and thoracic cage that was taken out when the Columbia Whole Foods butcher butterflied the turkey for me was frozen to be turned into soup later.

Did we have a good time? We sure did! I spent my time in the kitchen with my friend cooking and chatting, the kids played with Teta and Grandma, Jeff caught up on work and Hassan and John watched TV. We all came together to eat, and were thankful for the year that we had had.

Weaning Yousef

It was the night before weaning and everyone was asleep; everyone that is except me. I sat there watching Yousef sleep. How many nights had I done that? How many days did I wear him while he napped, held and cuddled and sat? How many hours did I spend nursing him to sleep, and then nursing him again back to sleep? Nursing him for nutrition and nursing him for comfort? Twenty one months and seven days.

Everything comes to an end, and things always change.

I don’t do well with change; never have and I am not sure I ever will. I try as best I can to prepare myself but ultimately I need my mourning period. I need time to let things that had grown on me go. And this is no different.

I spent many sleepless nights trying to get Yousef to nurse. We helped him and tricked him. We nudged him and taught him. We used my boob, tried a tube and used a bottle. We supplemented with formula. I medicated my infection, hired a breastfeeding consultant and nursed through pain. I held on steadfast to my I wanted to nurse my last baby just I like nursed my first. I tried to convince myself otherwise but I couldn't bring myself to give up on nursing. It would certainly have been easier, less painful, more convenient but it wasn't what I wanted to do. I could’ve listened to my friends and family who had my best interest in mind and given up on the ordeal altogether, after all formula these days is a remarkable source of nutrition, but I didn’t. It was more than just a matter of ease and convenience, and it certainly wasn’t all about the food. It was about me. And him. About the bond, the connection, the attachment, the experience. It was about being together with Yousef like I had been with Jannah-Rae. And I was not about to give that up, or away. And I didn’t. Until I had to.

And I had to too soon; again. It’s always too soon. It always comes too fast. I am never ready. Twenty one months and seven days isn't long enough. I don’t think it would have ever been long enough. But it is time, or at least that’s what I am told.

So I nursed him one last time, one last go-back-to-sleep nurse, one last comfort. I had been nursing him “one last time” for the past week. One last Friday. One last Saturday. One last mid-morning nurse. One last nurse in public. One last nurse instead of food. I had “one last” for everything I could think of. Until it was really the last one.

At 3:21am he woke up. "Nan-nan," he called. And, with nan-nan I responded. He fell back to sleep on my chest. I tried to move him but he crawled right back on. I think he felt I was up to something. I am sure he has understood the many conversations we have had about leaving him and JR with Grandma and Granpa while Jeff and I went to New York. I am certain he knew that the "end" was near; he had heard us talking about it over and over again. I believe he knew exactly what was coming, and when, and wanted to draw it out as much as he could. Just the day before he would not let me put him down for a minute; he asked me to hold him all day long. 

At 3:45am I had to lay him beside me, I needed to get up and get ready, our train left at 5:20am. He didn't want to let me go. He squealed. I patted his back and gave him a kiss. I made sure he was slumbering. I got up and got dressed. I packed my bag and slung my pump to my shoulder; I hadn't used that pump in over a year and a half. I didn't even say goodbye. 

At 4:45am I was told he woke up again looking for me. I wasn't there. Elmo on the iPhone took my place. He seemed content. I didn't push the matter. The last time had come and gone, unceremoniously ~ again. The journey was difficult, then easy, then hard. Begrudgingly, and with support, is the only route; there is no way I would have been able to wean him voluntarily, just as I would never have been able to wean his sister before him. 

In two days I will come back. I am not sure what to, but I am hoping to a still-loving son. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Letting go

Waking up to watching, in a dream, my only son go flying down from three stories up holding onto his favorite toy car, arms wide open, laughing out loud, is not how I wanted to start my Thankgiving morning. I could see it very clearly: blue faded second-hand jeans, new navy blue sweater from H&M that I had bought in the summer on sale, white GAP socks that used to be his sister's, red car in hand. He was about his current age. We were at my late grandmother's house in Hazmieh, and I was on the phone. The other adults, my mother and another woman were somewhere in the house supposedly minding the kids. I was on the balcony talking on the phone. It must have been winter as he had a sweater on, so why I was on the balcony I am not sure. I must have needed some quiet. He came after me to play. I was focusing on the conversation, maybe with a friend but it might also have been with a business. All of a sudden he was climbing the railings.

I know these railings well; I spent many an afternoon in these enclosures.

I visited with Teta Hajjeh and Jeddo Ramez, had meals with aunts and uncles and played with cousins. We had lemonade and coffee and tea, ate popcorn and deep-fried starch chips. With the TV hooked inside and the screen turned out, we watched a soap opera or followed the news. We listened to the radio, played catch and cards. We called for the maid in the kitchen, for others down below, for each other from inside. When by herself there, Teta would not hear us when we rang the bell, or the phone when we called, so we got her a long-corded phone then a wireless one. I remember the question, and its response very clearly: "wein 2a3deen? (where are you sitting)?" "3al balcon (on the balcony)."

She bought vegetables from the peddlers pushing their carts, and pulled the groceries up with a basket attached to a rope. She yelled at us for picking the flowers in the garden and at her son for using too much water to water the trees. She hollered to neighbors and caught up with their news. She monitored traffic and the car wash business.

During the days of the war it was our "outing" from the shelter. On days without power, we sat by candle light, and on some days with power, we sat by candle light, too; long, white tapered candles would burn the hours away. As long as we had enough vape to burn we were good to watch the stars.In the spring we would bring out the chairs and tables and invest a lazy afternoon watching the cars go by. The folding chairs would be moved from the east balcony to the west balcony with the sun and brought in with the moon. In the summer, grandma would make apricot jam with the apricots from her tree in the garden below.

Those railings are well engraved in my mind. The white, pink and grey tile floor leads up to a ledge that holds the sturdy metal rods in place. Narrow rectangular bottom and support rails run across north to south and hold the rectangular balusters together. At regular intervals there are support posts dividing the railing into sections. The railing extend out to hold white laundry lines. The design is concluded with a top rail, wide enough to rest a coffee or tea cup on; or a little foot.

The doors leading out to the balcony are not really child-proofed. Once tall enough to reach the handle, they easily turn open and you are out on the balcony. Sometimes Teta or the maid or whoever was there last would forget to close them and we would run out. Curiosity used to make us want to lean out as far as we could. Take a step on the first landing, put a foot on the bottom rail and you are taller than you were a few seconds ago. Reach up the top rail and lean out and your body is half-way into the sky. I do not remember what it was that we had wanted to see so bad. Some days it was my uncle down below, others it was a car that had just pulled in, and others still we were just monkeying around. We would be cautioned and called out to to "get down." Some days we headed quickly, others we had to be prodded on or even physically removed. Some days we tried to squeeze between the balusters and got an arm or a leg stuck.

On this day, though, the door was already open and I was out. Yousef must have snuck up behind me to be close. I saw him there with his car in his hand. Being the climber he is, his first thought must have been to try out this new experience. I watched him put one foot up, then the other. I called on to my mom to come take him down, "Yousef is climbing," I said, and I went on with my conversation. For some reason I did not bother taking him down myself. "Is someone watching the boy?" I asked again, still on the phone. This time he had both feet up and was proceeding upwards. Car still in hand, he reached the top railing and went flying. I was standing there, phone in hand. I saw it all. I could have dropped the phone. I could have yelled at him, stopped him, distracted him. I could held him back. I could have jumped after him. But I did not. I just let him be. I let him off the ground and into the air. I saw him soaring, then falling. I heard him laugh. I saw him smile. My last thought was "at least he went down happy." With that in my mind, I woke up. He was laying on my chest snoring away.

I am not sure what prompted this dream. Maybe it was a book I had read, or the joke Jeff and I keep, or the upcoming trip Jeff and I are taking without the kids. It might be my anxiety, or my attachment, or the Facebook status update I read before bed. Whatever it was caused me to see my only son, the one I labored and struggled and beat many odds to bring into this world, take flight. I didn't rush after him. I didn't lend him a hand. I didn't stop him. Maybe I wasn't meant to. Maybe I couldn't have. It was probably time to let him go. So I let him go. I should probably let him go.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

(non) American Girl Girl ~ Cleanup Time

...And so JR became the foster mother of 68 AG dolls, and I became their chaperon. Never in my life had I seen so much pink stacked in the trunk of a car. Saturday became our day to rotate the dolls to and from the library. The pick-up and drop-off, it turned out, were easy, it was everything that happened in between that required concentration, patience, and time.

When we picked up our first group of dolls, we were handed a bag. It contained our supplies: a box of baking soda, a dry-cleaning kit, a brush and a comb, and Clorox wipes. We were also handed specific instructions on what to do and how to do it. It all seemed simple enough, until we actually had to do it!

We had ten dolls in our first group. Ten dolls each wearing an outfit complete with underwear, anklets, socks or leggings, shoes, and belt. Some girls had eye glasses, hair bows, and shoulder bags. Each of these outfits needed to be taken apart, sprayed with stain remover where stained, disposed into the dry-cleaning bag and run in the dryer. We decided to do the dry-cleaning all in one batch. This later provided us with a challenge and a learning opportunity. 

Once naked, the dolls needed to be "washed" and groomed. A bowl of baking soda mixed with warm water and a soft washcloth constituted their bath. Their hands, legs and faces were carefully wiped down. As they were drying off, we tended to their hair; and did the best we could. Some girls had straight flowing hair, others had theirs in tangles. We gently teased, pulled and prodded: some to no avail while others emerged with beautiful styles. 

All the while, JR and I were talking about the dolls we had observing the differences and picking favorites. Of course it was hard to pick a favorite as each was unique in her own but JR still managed to like one doll more than the other. "This one has eyeglasses," she said, "that's my favorite." "I love this dress," she went on, "no, this one is my favorite." "Why do we have so many Julie's?" she remarked. "We had Kaya last time." "We have never had Addy before, Mama." "I like Molly." "Look at her hair clips, they are so pretty." "Her hair is just like mine."  And on the conversation went, until the dryer end cycle signal beeped. 

After the load was done, we stared at the pile of clothes. Yes they were sanitized, but the pile was one giant mess. When we decided to launder all the clothes together I had missed an important detail: although there were many of the same dolls on hand, each had a unique barcode by which she and her belongings were identified. We had to match each item to its exact owner; we couldn't just simply dress them up. This proved a little daunting for three reasons: the number of garments, because some items weren't labelled, and because some clothes had come to us mismatched. But we couldn't let this challenge get in our way. It slowed us down but didn't stop us.  

We turned the work into a game. JR called out numbers. We grouped the corresponding clothes together. Then, we found their dolls. We sorted and stacked and made sense of the mayhem. Those items that didn't have numbers got paired with dolls that were missing pieces. Those that had been mismatched from the onset remained as such. We straightened out all the outfits first, then grouped them with their girl. We had our own assembly line. On one side lay the naked dolls and their clothes, and on the other the dressed ones. 

Diligently, one by one the dolls got dressed and the right-hand side dwindled as the left-hand side grew. Underpants, bloomers, skirts, belts, and removable collars made their way from the floor to the dolls. Jannah-Rae was proud of what she had accomplished. She loved pulling up the pants, velcroing the shirts and putting the shoes on. She got frustrated when one arm wouldn't go into the dress, or when she couldn't tie the belt, but she kept with it. She asked for help and continued "working." She remarked how pretty the girls looked and how clean-smelling the clothes were. She hugged them and kissed them and talked to them and about them. Soon everyone was ready, but not their bags! 

The pink carrying cases still needed to be wiped down and matched, too, to their girls. Luckily there were three of us: Yousef had been wanting to take part in this project all along and this was his opportunity. I handed each child a wipe and a bag and they began wiping. It was hilarious watching Yousef copy JR's every move. 

Half an hour later the car was ready to be loaded. The pink cases mounted high in the trunk and the squeals and cheers rose loud in the backseat. It was a job well done and JR was excited to do it all over again. 

"I will get ten more!" she exclaimed....

... And she did. 

And more! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two girls in a basket

Two girls in a basket,
sharing smiles.
Their moms nearby,
sitting for a while.

Curls in their hair,
flowers, too. 
Pants, skirt,
and a tutu. 

What they wore didn't really matter,
They were there for the fun and the chatter. 

Two girls in a basket,
playing pretend.
Laughing, giggling,
being each other's friend.

One day they were so close,
now they are far away.
Separated by miles
and ocean's sway.

Still they ask about each other's being,
Where they are, how they are, when will they be seeing. 

Two girls in a basket,
oblivious to life's demands.
Quickly learning,
and growing up too fast.  

Will they ever be together again?
Only time will tell.
But in the past they live together,
And in photos they dwell.

People come and go,
but friends stay on,
Some day, some where, 
one warm dawn.

The basket will be too small for them then,
The place, the clothes gone too.
The memory will fade, I am sure,
But the girls will continue to shine through and through. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bread and Cheese

Bread and cheese and butter. Mascarpone and ricotta and akkawi. Laban and labneh. Granola and qatayef and turkish delight. Dips and sauces, jams and juices, sweets and treats and snacks. Pantry loaded with homemade goods, freezer stocked up with overflow, and fridge beaming with colors and flavors.

It all started in Ifrane earlier this year.

I had always been a home cook enjoying eating in rather than dining out. I liked to experiment with different cuisines and throw ingredients together to see what I could come up with. I rarely followed a recipe and didn't need much space to move around in. I made some Lebanese, some Asian, some American, some Italian, but didn't venture too far out of my comfort zone. There were some dishes that I was reluctant to try, hesitant to put the time and effort into, weary of the energy it was going to take me to put them together not trusting that they would turn out as I would expect.

In Ifrane, while a whole new world of flavors and ingredients opened up to me, I did not open up to it; at least not at first. I stuck as much as I could to "mainstream" cooking throwing together meals I was familiar with working with ingredients I knew. My repertoire of recipes shrunk significantly as I could not find the "exotic" ingredients that were at my disposable in the US. Of course in hindsight much of what was available to me in "quantities" and for "pennies" in Ifrane is considered "exotic" in the US. Who needed coconut milk when you had preserved lemons? Who needed taco seasoning when you had ras el hanout? But I didn't know. I tread very carefully down the Moroccan culinary lane and produced only a handful of traditional dishes, and even less desserts.

Turkish delight
Then I went to Lebanon. And returned. And when I came back my eyes opened.

I saw women who couldn't read or write, let alone follow recipes, put forth exquisite meals. They baked bread, cookies and cakes. They made pizza, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks. They fermented yogurt, pickled olives and juiced oranges. Everything they possibly could, they made at home. They did not have any fancy kitchen equipment, signature cutlery, or a wide open kitchen space. There weren't any graduated cups or spoons, no exact oven temperatures and no food thermometers.

I was left wondering. If these women could turn out a cake without exact measurements, why can't I? And that was the spark I needed.

With that thought I broke through my barriers and expanded my cooking comfort zone. Soon enough I was making fresh farmer's cheese, cakes, bread and pasta. I realized you really did not need an exact cup of flour to make bread, and that even a failed cake is good enough to eat. Every day I put forth a three-course dinner and was left wanting to cook some more.

Then we came back, and I reunited with my measuring equipment, my electric devices, my designer pots and pans. I decided to carry on with my culinary adventures and expand my offerings. And with imported ingredients easier to find around here I was able to move forward with my plans. I now make quite a few varieties of fresh cheeses, yeast breads and semi-sweet desserts. I feed Yousef homemade granola and Jannah-Rae loves homemade butter on toast. And while it certainly is easier to buy yogurt ready made from the store, it is more fun and more rewarding to serve the one made at home.

And with my new experiments come less cravings. Knowing that I can make qatayef in under an hour and that hot pita bread is not beyond my capabilities, I feel less homesick for Beirut. That I can now have akkawi and labneh for breakfast and toum with dinner, I no longer feel like I need to "import" them when I visit Lebanon. I have become semi-self-sufficient. And I trust that my family is eating well. My only regret is not having more family to share my creations with!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From a Distance

I had been admiring these wide-winged flyers for a while now. On my drive home they greet me at the same intersection. Soaring high and easy, they seem to just glide on the wind. They have become part of the scenery for me and a landmark that I am approaching my destination. I wondered how I could get a closer look at them, or capture them in a photo. I always seems to be in the car when they are above and so I couldn't really stop, get out, snap a picture, get back in and drive on. I needed to be on my own two feet one day.

And then that one day came. Yousef and I were playing upstairs in the spare bedroom when I looked out the window and saw amazing creatures on the street below. I had been wanting to get Yousef out into the warm sunshine since the minute he woke up, but he was insisting on playing indoors. Then came the reason; "let's go see keek-keek!" I exclaimed not really knowing what kind of "keek-keek" they were. My first thought was that our neighbors are raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Then, I hoped they were the hawks I was seeking. But they were too dark and too uni-colored for hawks and too skinny for turkeys. Yet they were the perfect distraction for Yousef.

I ushered him towards the window. And that was all the motivation he needed. He dashed out of the room, pulled at the gate on top of the stairs and opened his arms to me to carry him down. He could barely sit to put his shoes on. And he was off, and I was behind him with my camera ready to freeze these birds in my photo album.

Then I stopped dead in my tracks, and the birds lost all their luster. They weren't hawks; they were vultures! And they were feasting on a road kill.

I was disappointed. All along I had thought pretty thoughts about "my" birds, admired their flight, sought to get closer to them. And now, I saw them for what they really were; predators out for an easy catch. They scattered as soon as they saw us approaching, fearing for their lives. They huddles on the rooftop of the neighbor's house and waited for our departure. I took the photos I had wanted but filed them under a different category ~ trust, faith, caution ~ lesson relearned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lemonade in Winter

There are a few children's books that bring a smile to my face and call on to me to add them to our (limited) library. With so many books out there, and so little room in here, I much prefer to check them out of the library to check them out. But some times some of these books are too good to return. So I decide to buy them. 

My most recent purchase after a successful six week run on someone else's dime is Lemonade in Winter: A Book about Two Kids Counting Money. The subtitle sums up why I loved this book! 

$ - Two kids: an older sister and a younger brother. 
$$- Counting money: dipping into their piggy bank to fund their business. 

Yet I loved this book, and the characters, for more than just that. It is a book about entrepreneurship, persistence, creativity, and rebound. And of course, math.  

While it was a cold snowy day, and in spite of their parents' discouragement, Pauline and John-John set up a lemonade stand with the quarters they had saved. On an empty street, they then find ways to market their cold drinks on a cold day to the few cold customers. Once they sell out of the three versions of their product, they count their sale; and this is where I completely saw myself in Pauline, and Jeff in John-John. To find out why, you are going to have to read the book!  

We borrowed the book on CD and the narrator caught our attention with her voice, and the catchy refrain. She even had Yousef singing along with the kids. I couldn't listen to it often enough in the car and even used it to stay awake one evening on our drive back from Arlington.

You can buy the book here, or check it out from your local library! 

Read about other children's books I love here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Piggy Bank

Of all the things I can teach Jannah-Rae, one thing I know I cannot furnish her with is a generous heart; that has to be of her own making. I can set an example, lead her on the way, entice her to give to others, reward her with encouragement and cheers when she does, talk to her about helping those in need, and about reaching out to those on the sidelines, tell her stories, show her pictures. What I cannot do is do it for her. It has to come from her. It has to be self-propelled.

Jannah-Rae was born with a heart of gold. She is emphatic, sympathetic, kind, and warm. She is loving, gracious, and appreciative. She is also very very generous. And yet it is so easy to forget these qualities when she is having a fit over this or that matter, throwing a tantrum because I said "no" to something or crying because she couldn't have "her way".

Fortunately for me, I get frequent glimpses into Jannah-Rae' heart. Not long ago she wanted to send cards for the kids receiving assistance from the food bank. On Friday  she told me that she was going to play with one of her classmates on the playground, "because no one else does."Last week she became sad when she inquired about one of her classmates and I told her she didn't come to school because although her mother works hard, she could not afford the tuition. She suggested we help her out and insisted on getting a guarantee on when she will return to school. But one of the most touching things she has done is her answer to a fundraising call from Howard County Library. 

It was one day after school when we decided to drive by our mailbox to pick up the mail. Jannah-Rae loves to get mail and so I handed her a piece that looked like it could be for her; it had a picture of kids on the front. I had not closely inspected the item at the time but simply wanted to give her something to amuse herself with while I sorted the other "more important" mail.

"Who is it from, Mama?" I glanced quickly. "It's from the Library." "What do they want?" Another hasty look. "Money," I said quickly and without much thought believing it was going to end there. "How much," was her sequel. "Sixty dollars," was the first number I saw, although when I went and looked again they had tiered donation levels with the sixty centered in the pamphlet so that it was the first I saw when I looked.

What came next, unsolicited, left me speechless. "Do I have sixty dollars in my piggy bank?"

Jammah-Rae had been depositing coins in her piggy bank for years. Recently she and Teta embarked on a new savings scheme: finding pennies on the street and collecting them. She has no less than five boxes she calls piggy banks in her walk-in closet in Columbia,

and two at Teta's house. They are all heavy with metal.

"I am not sure, Jannah-Rae. When we get home we can look and see." And before I closed the basement door behind me, she was already in her room carefully examining a handful of bright pink slips of paper.

"Do I have enough?" she implored.

When Grandma was here, the two of them spent over an hour on a special project: sort, count and record how many of each coin category she had in each box and total all the individual sums for a grand total.

She was a few dollars short. "You only have $56," I said. Her face fell, but only for a brief moment. It then lighted up and beamed. "I will give them all of it!"

And that was that!

post note: JR then called Teta and told her the library was asking for money. I do not have enough, she said. Could you give me some more, she asked. That little girl was determined to give all she can to a cause she believes in. 

I wonder how she would have reacted had I quoted the lesser amount noted on the solicitation mailer. Would she still have given them all she had, or would she have given just what was asked. Either, though, I am certain she would have given, without any reluctance.

"Of all the heartbreaks in Beirut, and there are many, the Syrian refugees stood out the most on this trip. There have always been Syrian kids hustling cars at stoplights for spare change and a thousand Lebanese lira, often in exchange for some trinket or a packet of tissues. But this time there are many, many more. Dumpsters are raided on a daily basis, usually during the afternoon or early evening, for any edible scraps of food or something that can be re-used. On every corner and almost every light you will see a Syrian mother with her children begging for change. One time on the way from the grocery store I dropped a couple of coins into the hand of one of these mothers. Jannah-Rae asked what I was doing and why, so I explained to her that some people don't have food or clothes, or a place to live, so it's good to help them. She noticed the children of this refugee and after we walked a few steps away, she said "I want to help them." So, on her own, she asked if she could give something to the children since they had none. She took her mom's hand and walked back to the children, and gave the first one her treat, a chocolate croissant. As she was walking away she noticed another child had nothing, so she asked to give this one her other treat. Again, walking away, she noticed a third child. But she was out of treats, so she asked her mother for something to give. Ranya gave her a coin, and Jannah-Rae happily gave it to the third child. I have never been so proud of or humbled by my daughter. Not just because she did a good deed, but because of the expression of pure joy on her face for having done so as we walked home, without her treats."                                                                                                                       ~ Jeff on Jannah-Rae January '14 
Jannah-Rae in Rawche ~ November 2013

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yousef in the Fall

Fall is beautiful! But then again so is every season, if you ask me. I love spring and summer, too and am just getting past my discomfort with brutal winter cold.

And yet this season somehow brought me so many opportunities to be in the moment, enjoy the weather, savor the surroundings and be slow and deliberate. Maybe it's living in the suburbs,the quiet, the lack of a list and the absence of a destination. Maybe it's Yousef, Jannah-Rae or the "new" me. Or maybe it's the trees, the leaves, the scenery. Whatever it is has certainly changed the way I look at, and see, things and "make" memories.

One such memory was on a beautiful morning when Yousef had been up early and I had little errands to do around the house. I think it was a Tuesday. The "pressing" issue of the day was to drop off Jeff's shirts at the dry cleaner's before picking up Jannah-Rae from school at 12:30. The dry cleaner is located at the end of the road leading to the development before reaching the traffic light and after passing the school, the playground and the pool. On average it takes about 25 minutes to get there by foot, but on that day it took three hours! Yousef and I headed out a little after nine and barely made it in time to get JR before they turned the lights off in the classroom.

Like every time we embark on a walk to pick JR up from school, Yousef that day was on a mission: to take in as much of the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of the day as he could.

He pushed JR's doll stroller and off he went to his "regular" spots.

He checked out Fall decorations.

He looked for the cat underneath the neighbor's car, woof woofed after the walking dogs, and pointed and squealed in delight at the squirrels.

He "fed" the "dog."

And inspected the lady bug. 

He rearranged garden gnomes and moved and re-moved animal figurines.

We played hide and seek, had our snacks on the side of the road, and picked up acorns.

He climbed on the produce bleachers, inspected the wheels on the stroller and emptied and refilled its basket out several times.

He played with the leaves. 

And more leaves!

He asked to be held, then squirmed to get down. He laughed, nodded and talked.

He had a fit.

We had a blast!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

(non) American Girl Girl ~ JR and the dolls

... JR came into our lives. And with that I knew that one day I will have to swim against the American Girl doll tide. We were prepared. We were not going to spend insane amounts of money on a doll and her accessories, and we were not going to let our daughter adopt the AG herd mentality. We were going to teach her that she did not have to have everything everyone else had, and that just because everyone else owned it, did it, said it, thought it, ate it, drank it, used it, etc. did not mean that it was for her as well. She did not need to forgo her beliefs, change her opinion, disguise her mind, play by other people's rules, make up interests, alter her habits to belong and be accepted. And that lesson was going to incorporate AG dolls.

To circumvent the inevitability of having to purchase an AG doll, Jeff and I invested in another one a couple of years ago on a trip to New York. When JR was still young, and the only child, the family used to trek to New York quite often for weekend getaways. Our trips usually involved the same pit stops of food, drink and entertainment. Of the latter, of course, FAO Schwartz was the  most popular. And it was at FAO and not at the American Girl store that JR, though still unknown to her as of the time of this writing, acquired a similar looking doll to herself: a fair toned brunette with many curls. The doll sits still in her packaging on the shelf in the closet waiting for that special birthday to make an appearance. I think this coming birthday might be it.

Then, I saw the calling. Arlington Public Library was looking for assistance cleaning and grooming their collection of AG dolls. I jumped at the opportunity. I had seen the dolls at the Library before but never thought to check them out for JR to take home. The list always seemed too long and there wasn't one doll that particularly attracted me to bring her into the family. But this was different: by taking these dolls home, not only was I not denying her the chance to interact with the dolls, but I was also providing her with an opportunity to be of service to others. It was a win-win situation.

I emailed the contact person quickly yet hesitantly. How many dolls should I ask for? What was a reasonable request? I thought as I typed out "we are interested in taking home a doll to clean her up." I was certain that my note was going to be the last in the gush of emails that the contact was going to receive and we were going to be out of luck. I didn't have high hopes and so did not mention anything on the matter to JR.

The next day the reply came:
Thank you so much for responding Ranya! We have 68 dolls that need to be cleaned (so if you want to take more than one, we would be thrilled!)

The process would be to:

1) clean the doll's clothing (it has to be dry-cleaned, so I give you a dry-cleaning kit that you throw in your dryer.)
2) Wash the doll's skin with a paste of lukewarm water + baking soda. Just use a soft washcloth.
3) Wipe down the doll's pink carrying kit with a Clorox wipe. (I'll provide the Clorox wipes.)
4) Brush and braid the doll's hair.

How does that sound?

Youth Collections Librarian
Arlington Central Library
1015 North Quincy Street
Arlington, VA 22201

I was surprised. No one else, not even the girl scouts, had expressed any interest in this project and the librarian was running out of ideas on who to reach out to for assistance. And with that, the AG doll cleanup project became mine and Jannah-Rae's. 68 dolls needed a foster home and ours was open to them. The first ten came home that weekend.

Monday, November 10, 2014

(non) American Girl Girl ~ No dolls for us

My first exposure to the American Girl (AG) doll was one day at the Mall of America (MOA). My parents had just moved to the US and we had taken them on a trip to Minnesota to meet the extended Mike family. One cold day, and aren't most of them as such in MN!, we decided to show them the biggest mall they had ever seen. And so a road trip to MOA ensued. It was right after Christmas but the mall was still dressed up extra special.

After walking around and seeing the usual corporate chain stores, buying a load of holiday chocolates from Lindt which was on clearance after December 26th rolled around, and remarking on the indoor amusement park, we decided to see what else made MOA so special. And thus we found ourselves in front of a three floors store catering just for dolls.

Our jaws dropped and our eyes opened wide. Still new to the culture of American capitalism, consumerism, and retail therapy, we could not comprehend the concept behind such magnification of and dedication to doll, and frankly I still do not understand! We stood in awe of all the effort and detail and attention put into marketing dolls and all their accessories to girls from a young age.

Shoes, underwear, hair brushes, sports gear, casts, wheelchairs and crutches to assist with injuries acquired from using said sports gear, eye glasses, braces, retainers, furniture, books and CDs, and the list goes on for things you could buy for your AG doll once you have settled on your loved one.

And not only that, but your purchasing power allows you to match the doll to yourself and  your interests, or is it the other way around!

We were mesmerized, especially when we saw the price tags! While you could bring home a doll for a little over $100, it was everything that came after that that added up.

One could possibly graduate from college with the money they would potentially spend over the years outfitting and caring for their doll.

Walking through the store cheerful ladies holding their favorite dolls greeted us and asked if they could help us. We saw a long line at one end, and wondered what all these girls were waiting for: their turn at the doll salon! For $12 you could get a professional braid for your doll! For $12 I could have my own hair cut!!! We were speechless! And even more so when we were asked if we had reservations at the cafe and were told there was a wait to be seated! Of course, we waited; I wanted to see what the buzz was about. Whipped cream with sprinkles, bite sized desserts and high chairs and pretend treats for your doll to dine on. It was certainly an experience.

On that day, and during that time, I decided that I was not going to take my family down the AG doll lane should I have a daughter. There may well be other doll lanes that we travel, but this was not going to be one of them. I felt that AG dolls had their own culture and life-style circling around them, were so consumer oriented and that you could do not AG half-way. I saw girls walking around touting their look-alike dolls down to the hairdo and I just did not picture myself doing that with my daughter.

And then I had a daughter!...