Friday, January 30, 2009

The shiny ball

Reality is sinking in. School is same, friends are same, homework is same, drama is same. Mid-winter teenage blues in good old Wisconsin, after six months of excitement traveling the globe. A wrestle with the dog might help ease the transition pains. Mom can make it better just by listening. That's new for me. The gnawing boredom and restlessness of adolescence just is what it is and now I do see I can't always make it better. I can finally stand back and say what I should have been saying all along, "I know you hurt. It will eventually feel better." Then quick and quiet, leave the room before I open my yap again and ruin everything.

Boredom, restlessness, argumentativeness, complaints about friends, homework, teachers, hair, skin, etc. Consider them all shiny balls in the kid's pocket, says a person smarter than me about these things. Oftentimes, all she wants to do is hold out her hand and show mama the shiny ball. Then put it away. Then take it out and show it again. And that's how it goes. It's frustrating to just look at the shiny balls--"Why show me if you don't want me to do anything about it?" No touchy. Only looky. It's going to be a long five years with a big plumping shot of Botox at the end of it all to fill in the crevasses developing between my eyes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The mother of invention...


My Space

This group I like to call the Quadruple J. All our first names begin with J.

J says tonight, "I tell them (her kids) to at least wait until I get my coat off before you start yelling at me about this or that or what you need."

I had a boss who had a hard and fast rule that nobody could talk to her until her coat was off. She frightened many a resident physician desperate for her help with a withering look, glancing first at them and then her lapels. They would run off and hide until the coat was off.

And so, Quadruple J has come up with a new invention, preliminarily called "Mom in a Bubble" It's an inflatable room, installed just inside any door where a mom comes in from a long day at work. The bubble room has a coat rack, a little chair, a place to put purse and/or briefcase, a hook for keys and a table to set the cell phone, review the mail, check the answering machine and sip the glass of red wine that is placed there each afternoon at 5pm by mystery butler (details to be worked out here). There's a spot to kick off the heels and change to birkies or slippers and a mirror to check on what the hair/makeup situation looked like those last few hours at work, yielding potential information for tomorrow's lipstick and eye makeup choices. Made of a space age vinyl developed by NASA, the bubble is impenetrable to knives, pencils, geometry compasses and other sharp objects that kids might use to try to get at the mom for complaints, criticisms, sibling fights, transportation needs, slumber party thoughts, etc.... Only when the mom is ready and has taken a deep breath, ready to face the enemy, does she unzip the one way zipper from the inside and step into the mayhem. We are pretty sure we have a winner here so copyrights have been filed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inaugural Ball, Madison style

We really can dress up! I knew we had it in us. So much time to think about this night and it finally came. The temperature outside was below zero but that didn't stop Madisonians from tapping the keg and getting down to the business of a party. What a welcome back for me and Chip, riding the coattails of the Presidential inauguration. We are shameless in our attempts to get a party in our honor, of sorts. Hey, we voted for him.

Everyone asks, "So how was it (England)?" How can I sum it up? Allison told me, "Mom, they don't really care, just say it was fun."

Tonight was fun.

Happy happy Americans.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Emerging from the fog in my head

Tin Woodsman: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

What a weird transition this week. I felt fine for the first two days after we came home and then went into a dream state for most of the week. It was an odd sort of fugue. I would feel fine and then suddenly become sleepy and unable to think clearly. I was ravenously hungry at 10:30am. I would forget to eat dinner. It all makes sense time zone wise but still. Weird.

The Obama Inaugural Party is set for tomorrow night. We're getting dressed up in Madison, as rare a phenomenon as seeing the Northern Lights. It happens but it's fleeting and you will likely not see it again. Some are panicking, some are questioning what to wear. I think there is sometimes too much "relaxation" of etiquette in the modern age. People should know how to dress when the invitation reads "formal". That shouldn't be scary and unfamiliar. There are times in life when it is appropriate...weddings, funerals, Inaugural Balls.

I hope to look stunning but will settle for pretty. Pretty ok. Pretty swell. Pretty damn happy about my new President.

Haven't had my camera out in a week. It's time to bring it out. A quick picture out the back door of one of my favorite views in Madison, sunset in my own backyard.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a day to be an American

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.


REV. LOWERY: Say amen --


REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)


The television has been on since 7am. Thirteen hours of coverage and we're not done yet. The Inaugural Balls are still to come. What will Michelle wear? Will she and Barack dance more than a waltz? Get a little funky? I really hope so.

A generous neighbor opens her house to any who want to watch the inauguration en masse. Tears intermittently all day, especially listening to my African American fellow citizens talk emotionally about how meaningful this day is, not only to them but to the legacy of their parents and grandparents who fought hard for civil rights, never daring to believe in our lifetimes, there would be an African American U.S. president.

The bloom will be off the rose tomorrow as we, especially Barack Obama, have to get down to the hard tasks at hand, But today, I'm indulging in what feels like a holiday. Lots of phone calls, not much work getting done, ate too much, had champagne before noon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Welcome home indeed

Both girls cried at different times in the past 24 hours out of relief and joy at being home in their own beds, with their pets. Both girls also in different stages of panic about returning to their schools next week. One giddy, one just downright worried.

Up at 4:30am, the benefit of this particular time change, ready for action. Laundry in, pet naughtiness rooted out and dealt with, coffee and donuts by 11am despite two dead car batteries. AAA, many thanks on that front. Coffee all day, friends in and out, waving from cars, neighbors stopping cars and getting out to give hugs. A big crockpot of chili for dinner and a night in front of the telly.

The plows are flying by the house getting rid of the snow that was unplowable two days ago because of the temperatures. It's positively balmy today at 14 degrees.

The pets still getting used to us, even though we're hugging them and mauling them as if they know us.

No pictures. I'm tired and unfocused, so here's an old one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Last post of the sabbatical

We walked into Oxford for lunch today and all got a bit wistful about leaving. We're ready to go but we dearly love Oxford and we'll miss it. Ally and Liv went back to school one last time to say goodbye, turn in some books. It felt good to them to reconnect briefly with these generous kids who extended themselves and made them feel part of something here. I am very thankful to those sassy and boisterous Cherwell children who took good care of my girls.

I'm posting one last picture from the memorial fountain for Princess Diana in Hyde Park. It was one of the first photos I took in England, taken before Chip's dad passed away. As our time here has been somewhat defined and shaped by this loss, it feels good to end our journey on a memorial note. Larry had a finesse for slowly extracting key information from Olivia and Allison through well appointed questions during one of their television shows or over a snack at the kitchen counter. He'd take his time, amass his facts and put all the pieces of the puzzle together for himself (and us) later. It was very reassuring to get the report card from Grandpa that all was well with the girls. I don't go much for the finesse approach because it takes patience. I'm more of a Guantanamo/Spanish Inquistion type. I am keen to know what Olivia and Ally will reflect upon when they return home, what things will stand out for them, what things they will miss, etc. But I think I'll take a lesson from the master....take a breath, give everyone some space and let things settle before trying to take everyone's emotional temperature upon wheels down in O'Hare. We'll see how I do.

Where does my blog go from here? Will I keep going? I haven't a clue. The computer cord is fried and frayed and there's no juice left so I have to sign off from England for the last time. Thanks to all who've read because it kept me good company when I was lonely, knowing you were reading.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's all gone a bit pear shaped

The renovations to our house have begun and we're stuck in the middle of it. This morning, Chip and I sat in the front sitting room trying to enjoy our coffee and pretend it was the start of a regular day as we heard above us, the sound of the radiator being pried off the wall and the beginnings of plaster demolition. Within the hour, water began pouring through the ceiling into the sitting room. So ended any illusion that it was a regular day. The leak was quickly fixed, and the rest of the wall did come down as planned. The ceiling remains intact for the moment. The plaster guy hauled water back and forth through the house and up the stairs and mixed and mixed buckets of what looked like coffee gelato. The exposed brick looked nice, but was eventually covered by dry wall then plaster within a matter of hours.

There are only four rooms unaffected by the mayhem and so we move like hamsters in a Habitrail, feverishly running from room to room. I'm sure if we had any cedar shavings, we'd all be burying ourselves in them until Friday. The workmen are really pleasant and do all they can to accommodate the squatters living here while they renovate. It would be so much funnier if it wasn't actually me.

Our milk sits out on the ledge out back, with our cheese and yogurt. All the rest of the food sits on the living room mantle. We wash dishes in the bathroom sink and rest them on the side of the tub to be dried. It's vaguely nauseating that our dishes are bathing where our dirty bodies bathe but I can't become paralyzed by the little stuff at this point. As Kate Winslet would say, "Gather."

The beauty of being a teenager in this scenario is that you have the ability to sleep right through the adult work day. Allison slept until after 1pm, declaring that it's actually good to start getting on CST. We finally made it into town around 3pm and managed to kill some hours gathering last minute must-haves like British pop CDs and fashion accessories. It does feel a little frantic to be leaving behind some beloved things about the culture and wondering what we can buy and stuff in our suitcases so as not to forget those things. The truth is, we can't buy these things, but we try anyway. We're scared we'll forget what we love here.
We return to a fine layer of dust everywhere that I suppose most closely resembles anthrax, but at least it's relatively quiet with only one workman left. The evening feels pretty normal, but it's an early start again tomorrow as supposedly all this work is to be done by Friday. It seems impossible that we will actually get to Friday. Three days and counting....

Monday, January 12, 2009

Palace Badii and its storks

My eyes were always drawn to the storks of the medina. So exotic and yet a bit bedraggled and weary looking living in the middle of the madness. They nest atop mosque towers but primarily atop the walls of the ruins of the Palace Badii, once one of the greatest palaces ever built and then stripped of its grandeur within twelve years and left to what you can see. Honestly, the buildings of Pompeii looks better than this poor palace. But one Sultan falls out of favor and another moves in and decides to move all the palace riches to another part of Morocco. What can you do? But the storks took up residence and since believed to be reincarnated humans, live in relative peace amidst the chaos of the medina. It certainly is calmer above the city and there is a certain majestic quality about the birds which makes the palace a fitting aviary. The nests are five and six feet in diameter and almost as tall. At dusk, they gracefully fly home to this palace from all other high spots in the city. It's beautiful to see.

Our last night in Marrakech, it's so cold. We are so done with the cold. It's making me grouchy for sure. I think the Moroccans are grouchy even. We take a short walk in one final spin around the old city. As the final two prayer calls go out from the mosque, we sip our last coca-colas (will be glad to get back to the land of heathen infidels where beer and wine flow from the taps) and enjoy comfort foods done quite well in Morocco--pizza, spaghetti, ice cream and chocolate cake. Leave it to the Hunters to find the junk food even in Africa.

Monday, we're home safe in Oxford, I've got the laundry going for the last time and we are all dreaming of home for real now. Four days and counting...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maddening Marrakech

Tonight, we ate in the open air under a full moon in the Jemaa-el-Fna food stalls. Each night this open air restaurant of hundreds of food stalls opens to locals and visitors for cheap and fresh meals served fast. McMorocco. Everyone wants you to sit at their tables. There's lots of shouting and pushing and bright lights and food and smoke and we have got to go home and rent Hideous Kinky.

If the kebab chicken won't kill us, will the scooters? We feel like we're living on the edge every minute of every day that we're here. Our dining partner at the food stalls (he's one of the chefs at the Mamounia Hotel, making our food stall at the market seem all that much safer) told us that roughly four thousand people annually die from scooter related deaths. We're not sure if that's just Marrakech or Morocco or if that relates to being hit or being a driver, but it all seems quite possible ten minutes after you leave the airport. Two, sometimes three people riding together, children clinging for dear life, old ladies driving, guys with propane tanks. Like China, there are no rules of physics that seem to apply when it comes to hauling ass on a scooter.

The alleys and streets are never much more than five or six meters wide and yet scooters, motorbikes, full on motorcycles, regular bikes, donkey carts and even little cars will often race down them at 20 miles per hour or more and it is the pedestrian's responsibility fully to get out of the way. We're like kittens crossing a highway every time we step outside the Riad and we sort of have to psych ourselves up...have a huddle, say a silent prayer, drink Red Bull to increase alertness...whatever. When we return to the Riad door each night, pupils fixed and blown but with all our limbs still attached, Mohammad hands us our keys as we fall to the floor and kiss it, sobbing, shaking, lips moving but no sound coming out...

But the color of everyday life is bolder, richer and more plentiful than anyplace I've ever been. Perhaps it's the stark contrast to the grime and crumbling buildings and complete poverty that is its backdrop. I wonder if a Moroccan traveled to Madison, would he feel lonely, or that the quiet was crushingly solitary and would he be as afraid as I am at times? Or would he be bored? Or does he know that there is any other way to live? I can't quite understand what it is here that would make it feel like home except the madness--the good and the bad of it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A day in the souks

I've seen Monty Python's Life of Brian. I thought I understood haggling. The souks are a labyrinth of alleys, claustrophobic at times, beautiful and full of color at other times, but certainly the beginning of a bad acid trip in a lot of ways. First, there are the smells of spices, incense, leather and oils. Then, there are the hordes of people, mostly locals, with entreaties in many languages. "Ola" "Bon Jour" "Where you from?" "You want look?" "Say hello to Denzel Washington, and Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie for me. I like her." "What is your name? Sara? Sara?" Sort of all over the map, sometimes just for their own amusement.

A guy reached out and touched Ally's hair and a monkey jumped on her arm. Tough travel for blondes.

The precious baboushes

So here's the haggle in a nutshell. He brings you a chair. You must sit before you can properly haggle over the baboushes. He starts with a price written on paper. It's too high (although by US dollars, it's only about 100 bucks). You counter with what seems an insulting figure--it's not Western haggling, you don't meet in the middle--AAACK. He smiles. He counters, you counter and so it goes, until finally he gives the last offer. You take it. And you're still the loser. Everyone says thank you, money is exchanged and he shows you to his buddy further down the souk.

Chip watched from my key mistake with the baboushes and makes his second counter offer closer to his first. He ends at a price closer to what he wanted in the end. He also gets the ultimate compliment. "What, are you Berber man?" The Berber settled this region in 1057ish. I am bitter. No Berber compliment for me.

I felt sick to my stomach after a few hours in the souks. Even dizzy. A coke and a bird's eye view of the Jemaa-el-Fna and all the madness temporarily eases the feeling. In addition to the souks, there are the snakecharmers, the watergivers, the henna women, the donkeys, the carts, the scooters, the bikes, the monkeys, the acrobats.... For a person such as myself who learns by watching, it's just too much. I feel a stroke coming on.

What you can't see is the guy in the back of the cart is on a cell phone

Storks flying home at dusk

Back to the Riad for afternoon tea, the sunset and some rest.

Not bad sleeping tonight. I think I'll be fine. That's my room, by the way.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

From Misery to Morocco

A beautiful sunrise on the ferry home from Ireland-Chip sleeping off the virus, missed it

We got back from Ireland and it's been misery. No more kitchen at our little Oxford house, the nation is in a deep freeze and all our Wisconsin clothes are in Wisconsin, and then the killer stomach virus that knocked us all off one by one. How Olivia made it to the top of Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone, I will never understand. A stomach virus will take a blogger out! Ally and I got it simultaneously, and all I can say is Wednesday was a "non-day" for us. We don't recognize it because we didn't have it.

All our kitchen just sitting on the dining room floor

The new kitchen as yet in boxes

I finally recovered this morning and it was off to Gatwick, a little flight on Atlas Blue flying for Royal Air Maroc and here we are, Marrakech. Do your worst, chicken tajine....I survived Finbar's revenge, and you are no match!

Our Riad is amazing. Riads are extravagant houses, often run by foreigners catering to tourists, that have few rooms and many luxuries and antiquities--not a great place for toddlers. We were greeted by Michelle, our host, who gave us a personal map tour of the city while we were served mint tea and dates stuffed with walnuts. Well, allright, now that's what we're talking about...

We walked through the Jemaa-el-Fna at night through winding alleys and streets, and it isn't an exaggeration to say it's frightening to be in a part of the world that does not resemble anything I know. There isn't a Western thing about this whole experience and that just makes it thrilling for me. Allison is completely panicked (our burgeoning worrier--she's yet an amateur but under my tutelage, she'll grow up a fine worrier indeed) about the food, the beggars, the night. As we sat eating dinner, they turned off the music in the restaurant as the last call for worship went out over the loudspeakers (the muezzin, Olivia tells me) in the city.

So much I don't know. Cous cous! I know that, so I ate it.