Yesterday, I licked an ice cube.

Or two nights ago, rather.  It’s a silly thing to do, ice cube licking, and I don’t really have an explanation except that it looked cold, smooth and inviting.  And harmless.  It looked harmless.  So I licked it, got stuck to it, and spent several minutes of illegible griping at being the subject of my brother’s delighted laughs as he took photos, before I was freed.  Kids: if you lick ice, you’ll get stuck to it and it will be uncomfortable and possibly painful.

Santa was lazy this year.  He stuffed our stockings early to save time, and put up decoys during the interim week.  A cry of “That isn’t my stocking!” could be heard at hourly intervals over Thursday, until everyone was updated on the status of things.  The decoy stockings were red, thin, and hand-decorated from our year in New Jersey (2000) when we forgot to send our Christmas box in our house shipment.  Added up, I’ve probably spent a couple years of my life in new countries waiting for our shipments to arrive.  It’s bittersweet when you finally get the piles of boxes.  Sweet because it’s like Christmas when they arrive.  Bitter because you realize how unnecessarily cluttered your life is.  (If you can live without something for four months, do you really need it?).  It’s also humorous – packers have literally packed our trash and shipped it to our new location.

While I’m on the thingsivelivedwithoutbecauseofmydad’sjob topic, I’d like to bring up a matter of pork.  The majority of my childhood was spent in pork-free/pork-difficult countries.  I’m pretty sure that the porklessness of these countries was the reason they were listed as hardship posts, as they were beautiful, friendly and peaceful locations.  Because they were hardship posts, we were flown back every summer: which meant our summers turned into giant pig-fests.  On the way to the States, we would spend a few weeks in Europe, carless, phoneless, and (when my parents had it their way) tvless.  But not porkless.  No.  We would walk an hour through small towns and fields to the grocery store, and on our return we would be laden with bags of bacon, ham, and sausages.

 

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII.  My mom’s father was a POW in France when he was 18.  He tells us that after that experience (of constant near starvation), he always keeps a bit of food on him.  This is how my father still reveres pork; even though it’s accessible, it shouldn’t be taken for granted.  So: yesterday we ate a giant turkey dinner, and tonight we ate a massive honey ham dinner.  1/3 of our household is on the freaky diet I detailed in my last post which means we will have leftovers for weeks to come.

Merry Christmas!  The following is a video of how the Christmas story would have looked in 2010.  Get me every time.

The hordes have descended upon our apartment,

which is now populated as follows: myself, my parents, Llama, Llama’s boyfriend Karlos, William, Akax, Christophe (as of tomorrow), and Amadeus.  Ama, of course, is not a single unit but has a circle of groupies around her at any given moment.  They add a touch of Swede to an otherwise wholly American affair.

If you suddenly saw my family in its entirety, you would probably have an overwhelming impression of angular faces, pale freckled complexions, and long, skinny limbs.  Taken individually, we do have variation: our skin tones range up to “can get vague tan under correct circumstances”, some of us have lost our freckles, and a few of us have limbs that are not quite so long or so skinny.  Which brings me to the latest drama happening in our household.  My father and Amadeus have undertaken the sort of soul-sucking diet that is generally reserved for the first week and a half of January.

Their diet consists of bits of meat and salad and eighth portions of anynormalfood.  And fizzy water.  A typical day in the life of the dieters goes something like this:

Hop on scale.  Go record weight in public forum (fridge) for purposes of public accountability.  Drink coffee and beg Amadeus for a bit of cream (Dad) or cook up bird portions of eggs and vegetables (Ama).

Try not to think about stomach during next four hours.  Eat lunch of tuna mixed with pesto (NOT mayonnaise).  Drink lots of fizzy water – actually fizzy water has ascended to a sort of panacea: whenever Dad asks for an extra bit of food, Ama shouts “He needs air bubbles in his stomach!  Get him some fizzy water!”  Supposedly the air bubbles take up space in the stomach and lend a sense of fullness.

Try not to think about air-filled stomach during next four hours.  Sit down to dinner with group of people who are eating ribs and carbs (oh how carbs are missed), and have a plate full of lettuce – one of the foods Ama has decided doesn’t convert into sugar when it hits your lips.  Have a cookie or candy cane for dessert.  One dessert a day.

The funny thing about this diet is that Ama is not overweight.  She’s actually pretty thin.  My parents managed to insult all four of us girls by discussing this: “Oh no. Ama doesn’t need to lose weight.  Do we really want her to be another skinny thing like the other three?  We like that she has some meat on her bones.”

**

My older brother is here, which means we’ve had lots of fun conversations like: What if your tongue was really really long?  And you could tap people on the should with it in line?  Or strangers could lick you from a distance on the metro?  Or what if it was long, but not muscular and it just hung out of your mouth really low?

What do you think?

**

Some of our residents:

“Once there was a king called Teddy and a pirate called Tim” –

“No!  The king is Tim and the pirate is Teddy!” Tim interjected, sitting up in bed.

“Right.  One day King Tim saw the Ice King –”

“And – and that’s Shebon.  The Ice King is you!” came the agitated voice.

“OK.  The ice queen started chasing King Tim.  She wanted him to go to bed, but he said “No! You’re stupid!” and ran away.  But she caught up with him and turned him into ice.”

“No! No.  King Tim turns into a dragon and flies away and breathes fire.”

“Tim, this is my story.”

“You’re saying it wrong.”

“Fine.  Then King Tim turns into a dragon and melts the Ice Queen with his fire.  And I’ll have to tell you the rest next time.”

“No!  I’ll tell the rest!”

“Fine.”  It was never my story anyways.

I had been trying to lull him to sleep with my soothing story-telling voice (it works on my boyfriend in broad daylight), but, as it turns out, this is ineffective when the child views nighttime stories as interactive, choose your own adventure affairs.

I’m not really sure how authors like J.M. Barrie create actual novels based on stories they had been telling children.  Stories off the top of my head tend to be rather derivative and usually involve bunnies.  (“There were two brother bunnies.  They loved to eat grass.”  “No! Rabbits eat carrots, not grass.”  “Right.  Anyways, they loved going to Farmer Joe’s garden…”).

I’ve learned that when I introduce Teddy and Tim (aged 3 and 4 respectively) to new ideas that they like, I need to be prepared for the consequences: obsessive repetition.  They don’t get tired of watching the same movies, listening to the same stories, or playing the same games.  Which is possibly why I shouldn’t have introduced them to the world of imaginary crocodiles living around the playground.  I had to use sea dwellers, because when I pointed and pretended to see lions or tigers, they got confused.  Crocs were less confusing.

We then spent several afternoons throwing imaginary weapons at crocodiles and clambering onto the slide area where they couldn’t follow us.

A few days ago I looked at my phone: three missed calls from my older brother who was watching the kids.  I called him back.  He and the boys had gotten themselves locked out on the balcony.  The boys wouldn’t tell him how to open the automatically locked door “because they didn’t want the crocodiles to get us.”  His tone was frustrated, not accusatory and I was content to let him believe the crocodiles were of their own doing.

The boys have also taught me valuable mothering lessons.  Namely, potty training a boy involves more casualties than potty training a girl.  Boys have a much bigger range of fire/splash zone.

**

Here’s a bit of Christmas cheer:

“The good thing is, if you like one of us,

there are lots of us.”  Or so my younger brother said.  He was, of course, referring to our amply populated immediate family: six siblings.  And since you ask; no, we aren’t Catholic, Mormon, or hoping for a reality show contract.  Basically, my dad wanted 12 children and my mom met him halfway.  That’s their story anyways.  You can tell which of them was the one carrying/ pushing goblins out of their body and which was doing the cheering.

During my mother’s first pregnancy, she took a Lamaze class, but viewed it as more of a Swedish immersion course than a pregnancy preparation. This led to the unfortunate result of not mastering her contractions/breathing during labor, and demanding the drugs she had sworn not to take.  Thus my older brother was the only one of us born with the assistance of modern medicine.

**

I somewhat obsessively read the New York Times’ Modern Love Stories.  This means I have waded through them for you.  Here are three good ones:

1) Somewhere Inside, A Path to Empathy.  The effect of Asperger’s syndrome on a marriage.

2) Sometimes, It’s Not You. Finding love at 39.

3) A Love for the Ages, but Which One? A story of young love.  Really well written.

Yes, it’s December 4th, and therefore I’m

over a week late on posting a Thanksgiving blog.  Not that I have to do one, but it happens to be one of my favorite holidays (and not just because it revolves around food.)

We celebrated on a Friday this year because of some schedule conflicts with guests.  Though Thanksgiving is usually a family-oriented holiday, I really enjoy that ours tend to involve meeting strangers every year.  It seems to be an expat American thing – we’re magnetized towards each other during our extremely American holiday.  (Yes, I know the Canadians have it too, but they do it in the wrong month.  Also, as my brother puts it, what exactly are they celebrating?  Did they too betray their native guides?)

It’s a refreshing holiday, celebrating thankfulness without exchanging gifts.  And, as I read recently, being thankful makes you a healthier person. Win win.  (I suppose gorging on apple and pumpkin pies for three days straight might negate some of this thanksy health.)

We went around the table saying what we were grateful for, and it was surprisingly touching.  We had four marines with us, and I’ve always stereotyped marines as macho/tough strapping young men.  Which they are.  But they were also sweet – each of them said they were thankful for their families (two had 2-year-old daughters in the States.)

**

I find the current situation in Egypt to be fascinating.  After 30 years of sham democracy (rigged voting that produced the same result every time: President (or dictator) Mubarak), Egyptians are finally getting a voice in their government.  Here’s an article on the recent voting.

You know expectations are different in Egypt than in the U.S. when an article titled “In a surprise, calm prevails in Egypt’s elections” has the following quote:

“There were also reports of scattered clashes, including a dispute in Asyut in the south that led the family of a candidate to burn down a polling place and kidnap a judge.”

Kidnapping judges, burning polling places…I’m not sure that’s an endearing campaign strategy.

**

My older brother has returned from two years in Morocco (where I visited for a month) as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He has returned with buddies.  Specifically, parasites.  I googled “parasite” to get a good image to accompany this post.  I was traumatized by the results, so instead I picked a picture of ants instead.  He has been wolfing down mounds of food over the past two weeks, and justifies this by saying he is “eating for an army.”  There’s no good comeback for that one, and truthfully he’s as skinny as an Olsen twin, so we let him eat.

While he returned with buddies, he also returned without something: his ukelele which I traveled with on buses for two weeks in Morocco to deliver to him.  Apparently his host father had decided that he wanted something to remember him by, and oh, his ukelele would do the trick.

His arrival has inspired wonderful conversations, like the following:

Dad: It’s so nice to have our two oldest under our roof.  Imagine, we could have stopped having kids after them.

Me: Mom would have been a tiger mom if she’d only had the two of us.

Mom: (a little perturbed) Aren’t those the women who chase younger men?

Me: No, that’s a cougar…

**

This slideshow is funny, and thought-provoking: images of donations (t-shirts, yoga mats) being used in third world countries.  I don’t know all the arguments on either side, but I did enjoy the photos.  My favorite is of the men wearing Superbowl t-shirts celebrating the victory of the losing team.  Apparently every year there are warehouses filled with losing superbowl team t-shirts.  They all get donated.

**

I teach a 4-year-old in one of my classes name Leonard Cohen.  It feels strangely forward to call him Leo.