Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

I got it all done – two days before Christmas. Wooo HOOOO, I get the reward, a new book! One I had been eager to read, House Rules by Jodi Picoult. (You can read reviews of other Picoult books by doing a blog search, enter Jodi Picoult in my blog’s search window.)

What I really like about Jodi Picoult is that she writes about really tough situations and exposes our ignorance and ambivalence to us. In this book, she writes about a single mother who is raising two sons, one of whom has Asperger’s Syndrome. He is extremely bright, but lives in a world where he is bombarded by too much sensation. He cannot block out sensory input that we learn to ignore, and some of it – noise, colors – in his case, the color orange – or any change in routine can cause him to spin out of control. Imagine a two year old having a tantrum in a grocery store . . . now imagine an eighteen year old young man having the same tantrum. It helps you see what the Mom is dealing with.

Dad left when the second son was born. “It’s too hard,” he said, and left her to cope with all of it.

She gets child support, while her husband is raising his new family a continent away. She free lances as an advice columnist, and edits from her home to supplement the bare bones family existence. She learns to cope with Jacob’s needs, and she advocates for him fiercely, to be mainstreamed in the school system AND to have some special supports to soothe him when he becomes over-stimulated.

Jacob isn’t a burden, although his need for routine – certain colors for different days of the week, including meals – can be burdensome. Jacob is also very very bright, and obsessed with crime scene forensics. He loves setting up “crime scenes” for his mom to solve and the one bright spot in his daily life is the Crime Busters show which comes on every day at 4:30.

And then, suddenly, a life which is already wobbling turns upside down. Jacob is implicated in the murder of his tutor, a young woman Jacob loved working with, who helped him develop an understanding of how people interact and behave. Those who know Jacob understand his quirks and eccentricities are due to his wiring, but Jacob looks very odd, very threatening and even violent to the outside observer – a nightmare client as a defendant.

It is a GREAT read. Picoult keeps her secrets up to the very end; the book is tightly wired and we are given clues all along the way. The edition I read had both a reader’s guide and an interview with the author at the end. It is NOT cheating to read those first! It gives you good guidance on what the author is trying to say, and what may be significant, while not appearing particularly so.

It gave me a great appreciation for parent’s of children outside the realm of ‘normal.’ It gave me an appreciation for the work and persistence and dedication it takes to try to get a more level playing field for their children.

It the book Jacob has some self-awareness, and compares Asperger’s Syndrome to seasonings, and he believes we all have a dose of Asperger’s Syndrome in our wiring, but that some children get a little extra.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Crime, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Values | 2 Comments

‘Lost Boy’ Casts Vote for Independence

I found this today on NPR News and it delights me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I didn’t know David Eggars (you remember him from Zeitoun) had helped with the writing of ‘What Is The What?’. Second, who knew that any of these kids would survive? Survive, write a book, thrive, go back to the Sudan, give to the country – and vote. Every now and then in this sad world you hear a good story. This is one.

January 10, 2011
During Sudan’s civil war, in which some 2 million people died, Valentino Achak Deng fled to Ethiopia on foot. Separated from his family for 17 years, Deng is one of Sudan’s so-called Lost Boys, children who were orphaned or separated from their families during the brutal war.

Now, voting is under way in Southern Sudan in a referendum that is expected to split Africa’s largest country. Among those voting this week are the Lost Boys, including Deng, whose life became a best-selling novel in America and who has returned to his homeland to build a school.

After a peace agreement between north and south, Deng returned to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, in 2006. He says when he got there, the place was still a wreck.

“On some of these roads, you could see old war tanks. On some of these roads, in some neighborhoods you could see the bones and skulls of dead people,” he recalls now, driving around Juba.

Now, as Southern Sudan appears headed for independence, Deng is optimistic — and Juba looks a lot better. Paved roads, now lined with hotels and restaurants, arrived for the first time in 2007.

Juba is a booming city, one of incredible contrast: Barefoot women selling piles of gravel by the side of the road sit next to a Toyota dealership.

Peace is spurring investment and consumer demand. Juba’s growth is driven by Southern Sudan’s oil revenue as well aid from foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Deng grew up in a tiny village called Marial Bai. In the 1980s, northern bombers and Arab militias came.

“They bombed Marial Bai, destroyed it, killed everything, burned crops and livestock,” he says.

Deng was there when the fighting came. He says he “ran away with the rest.” He was 9 years old.

Deng joined thousands of Lost Boys, who spent months trekking across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia. His experience is captured in What Is the What, a novel by Dave Eggers, which reads like a modern-day story of Job.

The boys, some naked, march across an unforgiving landscape, facing Arab horsemen, bombing raids, lions and crocodiles.

Deng eventually resettled in the U.S., where he attended college and was mentored and sponsored by ordinary Americans.

In 2007, he returned to start a high school in Marial Bai, where there was none.

“We have 250 students. Our annual budget now stands at about $200,000 because the school is free,” he says.

The school is funded by Deng’s private foundation. He says most donations come from Americans touched by his story and the plight of Southern Sudan.

Deng, now 32, has just cast his vote for independence. He says that for a Sudanese child of war, his life’s journey is almost inconceivable.

“I never imagined I would be the person I am right now,” he says.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Biography, Books, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Dharfur, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Leadership, Living Conditions, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Sudan | Leave a comment

Somalia’s al-Shabab bans mixed-sex handshakes

From BBC News

Somalia’s al-Shabab bans mixed-sex handshakes

Men and women have been banned from shaking hands in a district of Somalia controlled by the Islamist group al-Shabab.

Under the ban imposed in the southern town of Jowhar, men and women who are not related are also barred from walking together or chatting in public.

It is the first time such social restrictions have been introduced.

The al-Shabab administration said those who disobeyed the new rules would be punished according to Sharia law.

The BBC’s Mohamed Moalimuu in Mogadishu says the penalty would probably be a public flogging.

The militant group has already banned music in areas that it controls, which include most of central and southern Somalia.

Somalia has not had a stable government since 1991.

The UN-backed government only controls parts of Mogadishu and a few other areas.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Relationships, Values, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Shopping Styles: Predatory, Social or Desperation?

As AdventureMan once said, I am not entirely sure I agree with what I am about to say. Feel free to jump in.

Today I was mopping the floors, washing the floors and vacuuming the carpets. This is not – way not – something I like to do, but something I do because long ago somewhere in my tiny little brain, a seed was planted that a dirty floor was a shameful thing. I remember once thinking “people could eat off my floor; there must be a whole meal here!” when I left it unwashed for a few days. In my last three incarnations, in Kuwait and in Qatar, I was blessed with wonderful women who came in and took care of my floors for me, also the dusting, and the laundry, and the windows, and all the things I now do. It takes a surprising chunk of time out of my day. 😦

Oh! Yes. The shopping.

I just wanted you to know that I am not cleaning my house willingly or joyfully, but dutifully. I have discovered, however, that mindless physical activity frees the mind, and you never know where a free mind will go.

I have a friend coming to visit, and this friend and I have had so much fun together, through the years, exchanging books, going out on double dates with our husbands to wonderful places in France and Germany, and . . . shopping.

Finding a person who shops the way you do is a real blessing. I say I am not much of a shopper, but we all have to shop sometimes. Mostly, I shop alone, I am a predator. I am looking for specific game, and I want the juiciest prey at the best price. Most of my friends are like me – we don’t hunt in packs, because when you shop in packs a group mentality surfaces, and you get home with things you never would have bought.

I do shop with other solitary predators from time to time; this is how you know them. You don’t shop together. You shop the same stores, sometimes just the same mall, meeting up to compare items and to go on to the next stop. Most of my predatory shoppers friends know their own style, know their own preferences, and few ask me what I think, nor do I ask them. We do exclaim gleefully over our purchases.

In the military, in Germay, there would be shopping tours to take you to places. Sometimes I took them, most times I didn’t. It depended on whether or not you had to stay together. I saw people buy some truly appalling things because it had a particular name or a particularly low price. The fact that it was obviously inferior did not even seem to strike their consciousness, once the herd shopping mentality kicked in. If the tour were going to a village, and people were on their own and then met up, I would do that. I went to Paris on such a trip; leaving
Germany at midnight, leaving the tour at six in the morning for croissants and coffee at La Duree at its original location on Rue Royale arranging to meet up with them later.

The Musee D’Orsay had just opened, and I was dying to see the exhibit. I spent the morning there, leaving as the hoardes started arriving, had a little lunch of Vietnamese salad rolls on the Left Bank, and strolled over the bridge to the shopping areas around Rue Royale. I found three great outfits at Galleries Lafayette, grabbed a salad from their gorgeous food court, and met up with my group at six to depart. I was home by midnight. 🙂 I would have liked a friend, but I didn’t know anyone, once again I was new, and Paris is so easy that just 12 hours there was a piece of cake.

Social shoppers find us solitary predators very strange. They live in a different world than we do. They consult. Their shopping goals are not so much the goods as the experience. They enjoy the company, and they like having someone to help them make their purchasing decisions. They often meet up for shopping and lunch, and some even shop to kill time. (What luxury! In my whole life, I have never had time to kill; I always have projects, and lists of things that need doing!)

I have been one other kind of shopper, though, and that is a desperation shopper. It was when I was a young mother. Shopping was for survival. I never knew when the baby would start to cry, need to be nursed, or need a change. When I had a babysitter, I was always aware of how little time I had and how much I had to get done. Once a month, I would go to the commissary, about twenty miles away, to buy a month’s worth of diapers, meat (we ate more meat then), canned goods and paper goods.

I see the same desperation in the elderly here in Florida; shopping takes energy and you never know when your energy will desert you. As you can see, I am still thinking about my experience at the Navy Commissary, and I now I can empathize. I might be grumpy and aggressive, too, when I reach a stage where I remember having energy, and now I don’t know where it has gone. I may even scowl at cheerful, energetic people because I wish I still were . . .

We’re all wired so differently. There may be some shopping styles to which I am oblivious. Can you think of any?

January 8, 2011 Posted by | Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, France, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Living Conditions, Relationships, Shopping, Social Issues, Values | Leave a comment

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

You know how wonderful it is when you start a book, and immediately you are hooked? This is not that kind of book. This is a book you start reading and you think “Why am I reading this? I don’t like ANY of the characters!”

And yet, somehow, I kept reading. And slowly, slowly, the hook was set, I could not stop reading.

Actually, I read the book several months ago, and I am still thinking about it. That’s a good book. 🙂

We meet one of the main characters as he stands waiting for a train to arrive, carrying his bride-to-be. As we stand waiting with the man, we discover that he is not very likable. We also learn that winters in his part of the country are long and hard, and very strange things happen to people cooped up together during these long, hard winters. It is a very bleak beginnning.

Then we are riding in the train with a woman who is answering an ad placed by the first man who was advertising for a wife. We get a few clues that she is misrepresenting herself, but . . . isn’t a little misrepresentation part of the mating process? Do we really show all our less attractive features to the person to whom we want to be married? And does she know what she is getting in for with this rather cold and distant man?

Do you really want to read this book?

It gets better. So much better. People are complicated, and they lead complicated lives. Sometimes evil leads only downward, and to more evil, and from time to time, there is a gleam of hope and the slim promise of redemption. It gives a clear slice of time from the early 1900’s, and a much earlier time in America. For anyone with the illusions that life in that turn-of-the-century America was a better, simpler, more moral time, this book is a reality check.

Nothing in the beginning of this book is quite what it seems, and yet every word is finely crafted to give a clue as to where the book is going. Will you be able to figure it out before you get there?

(I did not.)

There are so many good books out there. This one is slow to start, but builds steadily to an unforgettable ending. It is worth a read.

January 7, 2011 Posted by | Books, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Scams, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

The Gauntlet

Today dawned clear and beautiful after a day of rain yesterday. It’s a good thing, today I ‘run the gauntlet,’ i.e. I make my run to the military facilities.

It’s across town. Across town in Pensacola is a piece of cake – it’s not like trying to get across Doha, or across Kuwait City; you’re not stuck forever on the ring roads with the arrogant and the rude and the inconsiderate-at-best or even worse – the oblivious.

No, it’s a mere fifteen minutes of sedate driving. I go to the hospital pharmacy, and IF they have the medication I have prescribed, they will fill it – for free. I fill my tank; gas is cheaper and there is no tax. I pop by the Navy Exchange to pick up my expensive hope-in-a-bottle, which is cheaper there. No tax. And now . . . sigh . . . it is time to go to the commissary.

I don’t go that often. While I can find most things there, it can be hit or miss. Prices are better, and there are no taxes, but it isn’t Publix. When you go to check out, everyone waits in one long snakey line, and one at a time, as a cashier becomes available, they check you out. It isn’t that bad. As a process, it goes fairly quickly.

Although the prices are pretty good and there is no tax, you are obligated to tip the bag people who bag and carry out your groceries, and there is a surcharge added onto your bill to cover commissary operation costs. I still think overall we save money.

No, the reason I dread the commissary is the other customers. These are military people and former military people, these are MY people! And they are rude! The aisles are crowded with scowling, aggressive people. The older they are, the worse they are! You think of older people being kindly and polite, but something is wrong with this picture at the commissary, where so many are pushy and rude and look at you like ‘get out of my way!’ I try to stay out of their way, but there are so many of them!

Actually, I try to stem the tide of ill-will by being particularly polite and cheerful. I’m not sure it does much good. Sometimes cheerfulness only seems to make cross and crabby people crosser and crabbier.

On the way to the car, I was chatting with the bagger, and he told me this year was fairly mellow, not like last year.

“What happened last year?” I had to ask.

“Oh, last year they put turkeys on sale,” he responded as he loaded the bags into the back of the car. “Even though you were only allowed to buy two, some people were cheating and buying more, and a couple fist-fights broke out.”

Fist fights? In the commissary? Over turkeys? And who has room in their freezers for more than one turkey?

I resolve not to make another trip to the commissary until I absolutely have to.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Civility, Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Shopping | 9 Comments

96% Decrease in Honeybees

This isn’t good. A new study shows a dramatic, continuing drop in honeybees, those honeybees which cross pollinate many of our food sources. This is an excerpt from AOL News and by clicking on the blue type, you can read the entire article.

Study: US Bumblebee Population in Sharp Decline

The population of bumblebees in the United States is in a kind of free fall, dropping 96 percent over the past two decades, according to a new study that has scientists alarmed.

Four species of bumblebees are in a rapid decline, possibly because of increased fungal infections and inbreeding. Researchers called the findings of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “disturbing” and said they were in line with findings in Europe.

“Disturbing reports of bumblebee population declines in Europe have recently spilled over into North America, fueling environmental and economic concerns of global decline,” the authors wrote.

The bumblebee population in the United States is in a steep decline.

The bumblebee is wild, but it pollinates commercial crops from tomatoes to coffee, and its disappearance could have a dire effect on food sources. “People need to know that wild bees are an enormously important ecosystem service, just like honeybees,” Sydney Cameron, the head author of the study and a professor at the University of Illinois, told AOL News by phone today.

To find and count the bees, teams of researchers across the United States visited fields of flowers where hives had historically been found and gently scooped up the insects in butterfly nets.

The disappearing bees have scientists somewhat perplexed. They think a disease-causing pathogen, Nosema bombi, as well as a “lack of genetic diversity” could be plaguing the insects, but they haven’t been able to prove it yet. Cameron said the Nosema bombi pathogen seems to make it difficult for queen bees to survive the winter so they can reproduce.

Honeybees in the United States are also in trouble. They are suffering from a phenomenon called “colony collapse,” a disorder that seems to kill massive numbers of a hive’s worker bees. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what’s causing the disorder, but they suspect a virus may be to blame.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Environment, Food, Living Conditions, Technical Issue | 2 Comments

Things Get Done

As many of you who know me may know, I am mildly obsessive-compulsive. I like things to be in their designated space. I like a clean house, down to the baseboards and the hidden places. I suppose it gives me some mystical illusion of control in a world where there is little (I believe) that can be controlled.

I believe my faith is pragmatic; I have learned – at least in my life – that God is in control, and that his plans are far better than my plans, although when I am in the midst of chaos, I have problems clinging to that belief, LOL.

But he sends me messages. As I have ended the old year and started the new year in a frenzy of cleaning out and organizing, I have come across lists from nightmare times in my life, mostly getting ready to move or settling in to a new location. Lists and lists of things to be done, things to be checked on . . . and I am comforted to know that what – at the time – was overwhelming, the details sorted themselves out. Things got done. Little by little, we ate the elephant.

As I came across notes and lists this morning, for buying this house and getting settled in Pensacola, I was able to take a deep breath. We survived. We got it all done. Lists and lists of details, and we got it all done. All of a sudden, things assume their proper perspective, and I thank God for this view of what my life looked like a year ago compared to what it looks like today.

We are settled.

I have friends.

We can pay our bills.

We have a house to live in and cars to drive.

We are in good health, and we have a good doctor.

We have a place where the Qattari Cat can stay when we go out of town.

We are registered voters, and have driver’s licenses and pay our taxes on time (insh’allah.)

We have a strong and rewarding family life, and activities we enjoy.

Life is sweet.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Pets, Qatteri Cat, Random Musings | 4 Comments

Aftermath: Americans at War in the Muslim World

I guess it is no surprise to you that I love National Public Radio / BBC, etc. I learn things I never even knew I didn’t know. As I sat down to write a very different blog entry, I heard the following interview with journalist Nir Rosen, who talks about Americans and our outdated views of the Middle East and Muslim world.

You may be able to listen to the entire interview live by going to NPR Programs and clicking on The US At War in the Muslim World by Nir Rosen.

The US At War In The Muslim World: ‘Aftermath’ With Nir Rosen
Steve Scher
01/04/2011 at 9:00 a.m.

The US invaded Iraq nearly seven years ago. What have been the consequences of going to war in a Muslim country? Have the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan created more militancy among the Muslim population there? Have the radical Islamists gained a stronger following as a result of our presence there?

Journalist Nir Rosen has been asking these questions in his reporting from outside the green zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new book “Aftermath” tells a side of the story we rarely hear.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Books, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Middle East | Leave a comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 430,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 18 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 471 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 3267 posts. There were 850 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 63mb. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was August 10th with 2,229 views. The most popular post that day was When Is Ramadan 2010 Going to Start?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,, Google Reader,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for birthday cakes, birthday cake, bananas, funny, and kitchen.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


When Is Ramadan 2010 Going to Start? July 2010


One Year Today September 2007


Going Bananas March 2008


Kitchen Before and After October 2007


Blue Angels in Pensacola July 2007

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments