When we were planning this trip, it all sounded so simple . . . greet the grandbaby, buy a house, quick, fly to Seattle, fly back to Pensacola, kiss the grandbaby and fly to Doha to pack.
Not quite the way it turned out. When we got here, the grandbaby was 11 days overdue. We got to be here for the birth. While our son and his wife labored, we went out with the world’s most wonderful real estate lady and actually, we did find a house.
Three years ago, we found a house. When I talked with the mortgage people, I said “We just finished paying off a mortgage with you; isn’t there some kind of short-cut you could do with me?” and they did something called “fast track” with me, and it was so easy I can’t even remember the paperwork; I think I filled it out on my computer – online – and that was it. My son handled the closing. It was so easy.
Things have really changed. This will be our third mortgage with the same company, but you would think we are potential deadbeats. We have high credit scores, an impeccable payment record – I would think they would want to have us as customers! It’s like pulling teeth. Papers don’t get to us. Additional verifications are required. Appraisers actually enter the house and verify square footage.
Between chasing paper and soothing the newborn, my life has been very full. It doesn’t sound very exciting, when I tell you about it, but here is the truth – I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now. It’s an amazing feeling.
Today, I spent a lot of time with the baby. At some point, I realized I wasn’t going to make it to Seattle this trip, and it’s OK. I can go to Seattle later. For right now, I have enough on my plate.
I had forgotten, too, how chaotic life with a newborn can be. His needs take precedence, and sometimes we all run around trying to guess what those needs might be, simple as they are . . . clean diaper? swaddling / soothing to sleep? Mother’s milk? Today was a really good day, where he took the diaper changes with grace, dropped right off to sleep after every meal, and was keenly alert for maybe a half hour after feeding before napping. He loves patterns and fabrics. I am having SO MUCH FUN!
A part of our life is ending, the nomadic part. AdventureMan and I have had a lot of fun, once our son got through college and law school, we were on our own again, living in Europe, living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar – we have had a great adventure. We travelled to Botswana, Namibia, Zambia (several times), South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and spent a wonderful week on Mnemba Island off the coast of Zanzibar. We have wonderful friends, mostly from churches and interest groups. I would think, knowing us, that we would be sad leaving all this, but instead, we are racing toward our new future, being more settled, being near our son and his family, and his wife’s great big family.
For one thing, the world has changed. With e-mail and VOIP phones and people who jump on a plane at the drop of a hat, we expect to stay in touch with those we love and treasure. We expect they will come see us. It’s kind of fun settling in a place with white sandy beaches that everyone wants to come visit. Cooler than Kuwait and Qatar in the summer time, too! Nice warm winters, well, not this winter, brrrrrrrrrrrr!
Thought you might want to see a photo of my little darling grandson:
We have a wonderful week coming up – Liberation Day and Kuwait Independence Day, back to back. If you haven’t already made the trip downtown to see all the fabulous lights, go for it. There is also a house along Highway 30 (Fehaheel Highway) with a HOUSE SIZED flag on it, and many many houses with huge flags – it is a stirring sight, seeing so much love of country demonstrated.
Your challenge for this week: Go forth and show us what you see. Show us the faces, show us the lights, show us the celebrations. Show us the “arda” (I might not have spelled it right, the war dance done with swords), show us the children, show us the hooligans. Show us the weary cops. Show us the multiple facets of Liberation Day/Kuwait Independence Day.
The prize, as usual, is recognition by your fellow photographers, and photography connoisseurs. We vote, but the voting can be heavily influenced by mass manipulation and politicking, so the photos we share, we share for the love of the challenge. If you haven’t played before, it is easy.
You send your photo or photo to me, Intlxpatr@aol.com, 550 pixels maximum in any direction, and I will print them with your name. At the end of the challenge – I am arbitrarily saying March 7th – I will post a poll and people can vote, but the major part of the fun is taking the photo and having your photos posted so your fans can make encouraging comments.
Show us what you see this week.
I started Zanzibar Chest in December, and could not get into it. It was interesting, but at first the tone was . . . I don’t know, maybe pompous? Something in the tone put me off, and yet I didn’t put it back on the bookshelves, nor did I give it away. It sat on my bed table while I attacked lesser works, more enjoyable fare. Then, one day, I just knew it was time to try it again, and this time, I could hardly put it down.
Born in Kenya, just before the rebellion, Aidan Hartley spent his life mostly in Africa. He skillfully interweaves three main story lines – the life of his mother and father, the life of his father’s best friend and his own life as a news correspondent.
This is not a joyful book. It is not inspirational. It is a tough, hard look at the people who cover the news, and the toll it takes on their lives. It is a story of drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of what they are observing, the comraderie of gallows humor and surviving the intensity of living through life-threatening moments together.
He covers some truly awful events. He covers the wars in Somalia, and in Rwanda. He covers Kosovo and Serbia. He is sent into some of the most dangerous and awful of places. He pays the price.
In his Zanzibar Chest, he takes us with him.
I will share a couple quotes with you, and if you are sensitive, please stop reading now. This book is not for you. It is almost not for me, except that sometimes I think we need to come face to face with just how awful reality can be to put our own lives right, to set appropriate priorities.
“I can’t put my finger on exactly how death smells. The stench of human putrefecation is different from that of all other animals. It moves us as instinctively as the cry of a newly born baby. It lies at one extreme end of the olfactory register. Blood from the injured and the dying smells coppery. After a cadaver’s a day old, you smell it before you see it. From the odor alone, I could tell how long a body had been dead and even, depending on whether brains or bowels had been opened up, where it had been hacked or shot. A body would quickly balloon up in the tropical heat, eyes and tongue swelling, flesh straining against clothes until the skin bursts and fluids spill from lesions. Flies would get in there and within three days the corpse might stink. It became a yellow mass of pupae cascading out of all orifices and the flesh literally undulated beneath the clothes. The tough bits of skin on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet were the parts of the body that always rotted away last. As living people, these had been peasants who had walked without shoes and worked hard in the fields. A man who had been dead seven days reeks of boiling beans, guava fruit, glue, blown handkerchiefs, cloves and vinegar. After that he starts to dry out into a skeleton until he’s almost inoffensive . . .
The dead accompanied me long after Rwanda. It was months before I could order a plate of red meat served up in a restaurant. I smelled putrefaction in my mouth, or in my dirty socks, or as sweat on my body. I imagined what people I met would look like when dead. . . “
These guys all suffer from Post traumatic stress syndrome, they deaden themselves with drug and alcohol, and they are totally addicted to the adrenalin rush their job gives them. Living on adrenalin takes a huge toll – on their health, on their mental health, on their relationships, on their belief in goodness. They are the witnesses to the enormity of man’s inhumanity against one another.
In another quote, the author tells us:
“It was impossible for latecomers to comprehend the evil committed here but the British military top brass were still so scared of what their soldiers might see and what it would do to their minds that they sent a psychiatrist to accompany the forces to Rwanda. Bald Sam and I were amazed at that. We laughed about it. A shrink! It seemed extravagant. But the truth is that we stuck close to that man for days. We said it was all for a story, but really it was about us. The psychiatrist, whose name was Ian, told us his special area of interest was the minds of war correspondents. I could see Bald Sam squirming with happiness at all the attention, and I felt quite flattered myself. . . .
. . . for years I did endure some sort of payback. I have to try every day to prevent the poison that sits in my mind to spread outward and hurt the people I love. Sometimes I can’t stop it and I wonder if in some way the corruption will be passed on from me to my children.”
Toward the end of the book, the author tells us how hard it is to give up this adrenalin-news-junky life:
“Whenever I see a news headline to this day I half feel I should board the next flight into the heart of it. I’d love to get all charged up again and I could write the story with my eyes closed. I’m sure the sense that I’m missing out while others get in on a great story will never completely pass. . . The sight of people committing acts of unspeakable brutality against others fills a hole in some of us. The activity is made respectable by being paid a salary to do it, but there is a cost.”
This is not a book I really wanted to read, but it is a book I will never forget. Hartley doesn’t spare himself in the telling of this tale. He takes us with us and shows us all of it, and all of his own warts along with the tale. Would I recommend this book? Not for the sensitive, not for those who don’t want to look at the dark side. Between idyllic sequences on the beaches near Mombasa, in the hills of Kenya and Tanzania, in the dusty deserts of Yemen, there are some very intense and bloody moments. This is non-fiction, it is a documentary, it is a slice of the real life one man has seen, and that to which he has been witness. Read the book, and like him, you pay a price. You carry images in your head that you can’t forget, and a sorrow for our inability to solve our differences peaceably.
(Available in paperback from Amazon.com for $10.88. Disclosure: Yes, I own stock in Amazon.com.)
You might think I love to cook. You would be very wrong.
I had a great friend for many years, one of those Southern gals with a last name first name, and when one day I told her of my secret guilt – that cooking wasn’t FUN for me, she said “what we do, every day, is SURVIVAL cooking. We just meet the expectation of getting a meal on the table. That doesn’t have to be fun, it just has to be done.”
That’s pretty much what I do, and why I have been giving you all these great recipes. The truth about the recipes I am giving you is that most of them are EASY and they taste good. A few require special equipment and mastering a new skill, but it’s like swimming – once you’ve done it, it’s easy. There is nothing complicated about the recipes I am sharing with you – they are ones I use, too!
Books About Food and Eating
First I will share with you two books available through third party vendors at Amazon. The first is Food Lover’s Companion (A Comprehensive Definition of Over 4000 Food, Wine and Culinary Terms) by Sharon Tyler Herbst, which is available starting at $14.93, and the second is M.F.K Fisher’s The Art of Eating, also available through Amazon at $11.53. The Companion is invaluable when someone uses a term for a cooking technique or ingredient you don’t know; it has words for everything! My husband reads this book sometimes just for fun and is always sharing new information he has learned. The MFK Fisher book is just plain fun reading about food, full of information and anecdotes and stories, written in an enormously readable way.
The first cookbook I used was the McCalls Cookbook – no longer in print. It had photos of how do do the things I found so intimidating, and that is where I got my earliers Christmas cookie recipes – the Russian Tea Cakes and the Candy Cane Cookies. The second was The Joy of Cooking, which I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. What is good about these books is that they keep it really simple. In Joy, they give you a long theoretical section, which you can read if you have the time, and which helps, but at the beginning it isn’t always easy to even understand the basics. That takes time. Then you can go back and read later and go “Aha! Now I understand!”
Actually, I love reading cookbooks. I have a huge collection. And almost all of them are Junior League Cookbooks. So here’s the secret – when you are looking for cookbooks, look for ones where women who contribute have to put their names. If their name is on the recipe, you can trust that the recipe will work, and that it will be one of their best recipes – they don’t want to be embarrassed!
The majority my cookbooks are from the South. And narrowing it down even further, most of my favorites come from Louisiana or Georgia.
The first one I ever bought was Talk About Good! And oh, it WAS good!
These recipes use ingredients like real cream and real butter and lots of salt. Southern people have some of the lowest life-expectancy rates in the United States – I suspect their eating habits have a lot to do with it. But if it isn’t a habit to eat so richly, every now and then it just tastes SO GOOD to use these ingredients. You will also notice that it has what they call a “plastic comb” binding. That means when you open it up to follow a recipe, it will lie flat. That’s a really good thing!
My second favorite is Quail Country, by the Junior League of Albany, Georgia. You would really have to scour the book stores to find this out-of-print classic, because so few people would ever want to part with it. Another gem is The Fort Leavenworth Collection, if you can get your hands on it – again, yard sales, used book stores would be your best bet.
There is a wonderful group of stores in the USA called Half Price Books. If books are not being bought as gifts, if you plan to just read a book and pass it along, or if you like to have a few on hand to pass along because you think they are so great, Half Price Books is a great place. They have the most obscure books, books you never thought you would see again. Many of their books are new, but remaindered (left over from book stores that couldn’t sell the, or from publishers who published too many copies) so they are sold at half price. They will also buy used books from you, but to me, they offer so little that I would just as soon give them away. (No, I don’t own stock in Half Price Books.)
There are some other fabulous Junior League cookbooks – the California Heritage Cookbook, the Seattle Classics, and there are other cookbooks produced by churches and charities that also have “real people” recipes that are drop-dead good. I remember once sharing a recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake from Seattle Classics. My friend told me she made it for Christmas dinner, but everyone was too full to eat dessert. But she said all night she heard doors opening and closing, as people snuck down to the kitchen to slice a little of the cheesecake and eat it, and in the morning, only a fragment was left!
Seeking out the best cookbooks can make every vacation an adventure. I have cookbooks from Kenya and Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia . . . all full of great recipes, recipes with names attatched. I wish you a grand adventure seeking out cookbooks that will thrill your heart. Happy Hunting!