Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Endings

Yesterday, I learned of the death of my aunt Selima, Dad's sister. She passed away on Friday. She had suffered a lot lately from diabetes and other health-related issues. Her health deteriorated dramatically, especially after her son Khalil bin Hemadi was taken to fight in Chad and never made it back. Earlier this year, I received indirect communications from Khalil, or so the messenger claimed, asking for a certified birth certificate from Libya. The source claimed that Khalil is well and alive in the US, married to a Tunisian and has kids. Something was fishy and I wanted no part in it. I got the birth certificate from Libya, and told the source that Khalil needs to call me himself if he wants it, or he better stop those games I'm not interested in. I also said that I will report the communication to the authorities if it continued in that way. Never heard from them again!

Back to Auntie Selima. This picture was taken in December 1, 1998 in my Fatha party in Benghazi. That was the last I've seen of her. She was such a sweet and tender, loving person. Always reminded me of Grandma Mardya Tarbah (her mother). She looked a lot like her: Height, size, skin color, persona and all.

My family is now in Derna for the funeral. I've been trying to reach Dad and will keep trying. I dread the call because I am obliged to talk to every single person there and give condolences. To me, that does not mean anything. It is a mere rhetoric of repeating the same words and phrases to every person and moving on to the next. So artificial. I dread those calls and wish to be left alone.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from my brother Waleed. He told me of abla Fatma's death. Abla Fatma was his mother-in-law, Manal's Mom. She was in her 50s, a victim of cancer.

It is so hard to hear of the loss of a dear one when you are far far away and all you can do is give meaningless condolences over the phone. I don't even have the luxury of mourning the dead ones; life goes on with no feel of the recent loss. Why? Because I have lost those people from my life a long time ago; I haven't seen them all those years, and had no idea if or when I would see them again. Every time I receive such a call, I find relief in that it's not of my parents or siblings. And I wonder whom is the next call going to be for.

I don't shed tears any more, not so easily anyway. But I do feel an ache inside. It's like a stab or a constriction. I ache more for the living left behind... My father who lost his sister, and Manal who lost her mother. May they all find peace!

I move on... Death is a fact of life.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Little Big Eid '07

This is a busy month for us, always busy from beginning to end.

December 1st is one anniversary of our wedding, the official part called al-Fatiha. December 10th is the party anniversary, called Laylet ad-Dukhla (The Night of Entrance)--let's not get into that. lol lol lol! This December we marked our ninth anniversary with our friends Tawfik and Magda, who were in town for a couple days. That was really nice, as always with those guys, but it was also nice because we were both too busy to plan anything. The kids noticed, too, they were wondering who was coming to watch them when "Mom and Dad go out for anniversary dinner." We did go, as it turned out, but they came along this time! Happy nines, Hannu: one 9, 99, ...

The Annual Rigney Party

December 14th was earlier than usual for the Rigney Carol Party. That might explain the smaller attendance. But that also meant, most members of the 12-days-of-Christmas crew were absent. Enter: Mr. Moody and Ms. Tala of Goofballs-R-Us, Inc. Of course they were more than willing to get up and clown around. It was like watching a movie with subtitles, always just a step or two behind. lol lol

Running into all the wrong places!

It's hard to say when it all started, our close public encounters with God. Maybe it was in Moody's preschool days, when he started to bring home classroom works of art representing certain holidays. Christian holidays mainly, with a couple token Jewish holidays thrown in to ward off the evil eye (that'd be mine). After some green-tea conversations, we decided to have a talk with the teachers. We explained that public schools are the wrong place to learn about religion, any religion. They explained that it does not make educational sense to ignore the things happening in the surrounding culture. We accepted the argument but pointed to a practical bias, which did not square with the diversity of American culture and even the local culture that includes (in principle) over 35,000 Somalis, who predominantly have an Islamic heritage. Our point was and still is that it would be best to keep all religion out of school, but if it has to be included, then variety is a matter of necessity in order to avoid a de facto promotion of a particular religion by the state. It turned out, ignorance was the main adversary, and we met our obligation by informing the teachers about other holidays, which they did their best to acknowledge in the classroom. Moody read a book about Eid and Ramadan, and once he took moon-shaped cookies, etc.

There were other encounters, outside school, but still in settings where one would expect some sensitivity to the issue. Once it was at an end-of-season party for one of Moody's soccer teams. One of the parents got some discount at Pizza Hut, so we went there. Moody and I got there just about the time the pizza was ready. The coach, who was a perfectly reasonable person said, "If you don't mind, we'd like to say a little prayer before eating." I said, "Actually, I do. But Moody and I will go over to the other side and join you guys after prayer." We did, unnoticed by Moody and uncomfortable for me. Just to add flavor to the story, the adults had ordered the pizza, and it so happened that there was pork on every single one except one plain cheese pizza. Interestingly enough, most kids that age prefer plain cheese pizza! Moody got one slice. Soon some of the other kids were peeling off the pepperoni so they could enjoy the pizza as they liked it. We paid a full share. I tried to keep Moody quiet, but not silent. I also wanted to ask the coach rhetorically whether he knew why soccer teams wore the same uniform. Later, by sheer coincidence the coach ran into a work colleague of mine, whom I'd told the whole story. The coach sent me a pizza coupon. I said a secular prayer for him. It goes like this: "Best wishes for mental health."

Another outdoor experience with God was on a visit to evaluate a summer camp where we were thinking about sending Moody. Hana had made the arrangements and specifically asked on the phone, "Do you have any religious activities or affiliation." The lady said they didn't. When we got there, we saw it was a beautiful camp. They seated us in the big dining hall with nice wood beams in the high ceiling. My eyes swept down to the posters and artworks hung on the walls, and there it was: The G-word! Then the L-word! Then out of me, the word "Hannuuuuuuu?" We basically told them we were not interested, thank you very much, but they really should tell people up front about the religious content of the program. They did not quite get it because they thought of "religious" as meaning "denominational," but they refunded our advance payment. That was the best possible outcome because they were a private organization and they could run their business however they liked.

This year, it was the Whittier Holiday Performance. Mr. Moody started speaking of 1st and 2nd graders practicing for a "Christmas concert." My reaction was, huh, Christmas? So we asked for copies of the songs they were practicing and got them. There were about a dozen Christmas related songs and a couple of token Hanukkah songs. The well-known Silent Night was one of the songs. It is a beautiful piece of music, and it is just as beautiful when done a cappella, just vocals. But the words? It says in one verse, "Round yon virgin mother and child," and then, "Holy infant so tender and mild."

If orthogonality be defined...
We objected to Silent Night on the grounds that its verses expressed a specific religious doctrine, not a secular, cultural representation of Christmas like Rudolf or Frosty the Snowman, etc. We sent multiple e-mails to the teachers, the principal, and the district superintendent. We got nothing! I mean nothing, no reply no confirmation, NOTHING! So, I got on the phone. They said they had not received any of our e-mails. Three e-mails times four recipients all went somewhere in space? Never mind. I repeated everything on the phone, stressing to them that we objected to inclusion of any religious doctrine, regardless of its origin. As a matter of fact, the statements "virgin mother and child," and "holy infant," are entirely compatible with Islamic doctrine, but that did not matter. For the general good of everyone, we said, there should be no doctrine of any sort. Recalling the experience with the soccer coach, I said that we also would not accept for Moody to be excluded from any activity because that would be alienating him, and they needed to ensure that every curricular activity was fit for every student. I also told them that a 'fixed variety' is no variety, and that if they really wanted to do something about that, it might be well and timely for them to acknowledge Eid, which happens to fall in the "Holiday season" this year and happens to be celebrated by a significant number of students and families in the community.

Our interaction with the school staff was very friendly and very fruitful. They completely understood our concerns. They took Silent Night out of the program. They included classroom discussions about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and Eid. Moody's teacher asked us for materials she could use on Eid. That put the ball in our court. Ouch! It is very difficult to find any suitable material, let alone find it in English. The teacher also made a good suggestion. Knowing Moody's reading skills, not to mention his being a complete ham, she suggested that Moody read a poem in the concert, something related to Eid. We looked hard to find something suitable. I finally found a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, which is not about Eid per se but it reminded me of my conversation with Moody in last year's Eid. The poem was simply a little conversation between a mentor and an apprentice, in the Sufi context, but it could easily be a father-son conversation. So we printed it and Moody started practicing.

Show Time!

The concert was on Tuesday, December 18. We showed up early and got front-row seats. Moody was backstage with his two sheets of paper, with a brief Eid intro on one and the poem on the other. They held the show at the gym--standing room only! There must have been well over 200 people in the audience. Not one Somali family was there, as far as we could tell. Our Jordanian neighbors we meet at the school bus stop every morning? Not there. Oh, well...

I noticed, they had a microphone... Hmm, I thought of the potential and quickly dismissed the thought.

After a couple of numbers, a young man came to the microphone, two loose sheets of paper in hand. He said, "Hello, welcome, you are all here now." I looked over at his teacher, and I could read her thought: "Oh, no, Moody's mouth and a microphone...somebody call the fire department..." Moody did an excellent job! Of course he went off script and was actually doing a little improvised shtick! lol lol He turned around and was interacting with his mates, who were all just having a blast. The amazing thing is, he actually did his shtick to manage the pressure, and then he got right back on track, asking the audience, "Is the volume high enough?" Then he read a little intro about Eid and the poem that follows.

Moody introducing Eid-ul-Adha and reading a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi.
Holiday Performance, Whittier Elementary School, December 2007.

This is the week of Big Eid, a Muslim holiday in memory of Prophet Abraham and his son. In my family, Eid is about parent-child relations.

I am going to read a poem about a father and son conversation. It was written by the famous Muslim poet named Rumi.

Happy holidays to all of you.

["Now I am going to read the poem."]

I asked my mentor
In our happy hours
The ins and outs of this life
And far beyond
He said
Your salvation is on the way
When you try to take
People's pain away

Unknown existence
Undiscovered beauty
That's how you are
So far
One dawn
Just like a sun
Right from within
You will arise

All the precious words
You and I have exchanged
Have found their way
Into the heart of the universe
One day they'll pour on us
Like whispering rain
Helping us arise
From our roots again

[Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Nader Khalili.]

When Ahmed was finished, there was a little silence, maybe contemplation and awe, or maybe wondering whether he was finished. He broke it by saying, "Where's the applaaaaaaaaaause?" lol lol He was the only solo act, and quite entertaining!

After the show, a couple of parents came over and complimented Moody, telling him what he'd done was really nice. "Work on his self confidence," the teacher joked. "We are," I replied. I told Moody, what he'd done was hard to do even for some adults. Maybe more important than the parents who were or weren't there, Moody's mates were full of joy and appreciation. Brandon, our neighbor, thought Moody was really funny. One girl, Libby, saw us leaving, and she ran back down the corridor, got real close to Moody and whispered, "I loved your performance!" Little Libby, too, did what some adults could not do. I am happy to let that moment of innocence usher in my Eid this year. Later today, the flag goes up over the garage door. No "ghiddeed" this year, might be a little tough to dry it. Life is not easy anywhere. But whether hard or easy, big or small, life would be tasteless without reason. That is the joy of our little Big Eid this year in buckeye land. Reason wins. How sweet it is! Happy Eid to all.

She thinks the world of her big brother! And she is still not too shy to kiss him.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yes, say it again, Uncle Sam!

Well, well well... This year is another hat trick year for God, with Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid-ul-Adha falling in the span of a couple of weeks. Needless to say, for us it is a time to reflect on the thorny mess that has as ingredients: State, Religion, Education, Culture, Heritage, Equality, Citizenship, etc. It is a long story, but it will be the subject of another post, or maybe a series of posts. This season we are again in the midst of an interesting experience with the kids' school, but that is part of the long story to come... In one turn of that story, Hannu found a very interesting article by a teacher and author of children books. She writes to raise awareness of Islamic holidays. She lives in Ohio, interestingly enough, but her research on the subject is quite broad based, and her findings probably resonate with parents all around the Western world.

A small request: Please share this article with your local school teachers and administrators. We did.

Say the Word Again? Eid
An author and teacher strives to raise awareness about the Islamic holidays

By Fawzia Gilani-Williams -- School Library Journal, 12/1/2007

When I visit public libraries and peruse resources on children’s holiday literature, I am always confronted with a glaring absence. The two major celebrations in the Muslim world, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha (see explanation boxes), seem remarkably obscure in American libraries. If I am fortunate, I may find one or two nonfiction titles addressing the topic. While informational books on the Islamic holidays are few, fictional tales are even more scarce. Not surprisingly, very few teachers and librarians are familiar with them. When I recently asked a group of children librarians if they had ever heard of Eid, there was silence. “Say the word again?” said one librarian. Even my computer’s spell-check, which recognizes holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, underlines Eid in red–highlighting it as a mistake.

»

[Note: The article gives a link to a bibliography of Eid books for children, but that link is broken. I found the file, and you can view it in your browser, or download it as a Word document.]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"I Can Read!"

Tala can read all by herself! She is reading Clifford's Phonics Fun Pack #1 and is almost done with the 12 books in the pack. I hardly have to intervene or correct her. She is doing great sounding the letters and the words.

Like everything with Tala, it happened all of a sudden على غفلة! She is an observer. We don't witness her trying things or learning her way to doing them. She would observe and then decide to do whatever it is when she feels she's ready. And it all takes us by surprise to realize that she can! I remember we did speech therapy with her when she was almost 2, because she was silent. Few months after she started, it was like somebody pushed her "Talk" button. The therapist was amazed as much as we were. Tala knew how to talk, but she didn't try it out. Once she started, there was no stopping her... Up to this day!

Tala is so proud of herself--rightfully so. When we went shopping yesterday, she told every cashier and person she had the chance to talk to, "I can read!" For some reason, I thought we were late in starting Tala to read. I thought that Moody started reading at an earlier age. Moody learned reading using the same Clifford Phonics Packs. And actually, he read his first book by himself on March 7, 2006. He was 5 years and 9 months. Tala was a week short of 5 years and 3 months when she read her first book. Way to go, Tala. I am a very proud Mama!

On the nanny front. We found a nanny that started on Monday. Her name is Jeanne (pronounced like genie of the magical lamp). It looks like we found our magical nanny. I told Moody that she made our (mine and Sol's) wish come true of finding the perfect nanny for them. Moody had to take her down the power-struggle lane. He likes her a lot, but he does not like the fact that she has rules, lots of them. He tried to gain some ground on her, but was unsuccessful. I really hope it works out. She is coming to watch the kids today so Sol and I could go to a fun gathering. Her birthday was yesterday, the kids are ready with a cake and candles to celebrate with her!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dregias Thanksgiving menu:
  • Turkey
  • Peach and mango chutney
  • Gravy
  • Rice with lamb, almonds, pine nuts, and raisins
  • Candied yams
  • Green beans casserole
  • Baked potato casserole
  • Cranberry poppyseed salad
  • Pecan pie
  • Pumpkin pie (Moody is officially a fan now!)
Guests: Taher, Alicja and Lec and 'drum roll'... BODO!

I went shopping yesterday after work; got home and started cooking while Sol went to fetch us dinner. I cooked the rice with the nuts, sweet potatoes, and baked potato casserole. Moody commented "It already smells like Thanksgiving!" The kids are so excited that Alicja... or Bodo is coming. They have been checking the dining room, anxious to see it set up and take part in that. Last night they wanted to "practice sitting for Thanksgiving dinner." They are also making a list of what they are thankful for.

I am off to finish cooking, shine the silver, and set the table... to be continued!

Today, Sunday, ends the 5-day long Thanksgiving festivities. Good times were had with our guests on Thursday, especially Bodo! He found it in his heart (or tummy) to make peace with Sol. He used to bark at Sol really hard when Sol got home from work and Bodo was here. He did that to me, but not as aggressively as he did to Sol.

I didn't bake any pies this year. We bought both the pumpkin and pecan pies. Moody said he prefers the pumpkin pie I baked last year. Next year I will have to do better at that.

At the dinner table, Moody announced that we need to say the Thanksgiving prayer. He made us all hold hands around the table and he led:

Mashed potatoes
Turkey and gravy
Sweet potatoes
All that stuff
It doesn't matter
The thing that matters is that everybody is here!

Taher was off to take a place in line in front of Best Buy at 11pm so he'll make the 5 am opening with those sweet deals. They call it Black Friday, and it boggles my mind why! I hate shopping in regular days, let alone when people spend the night outside of stores to beat the rest of the crowd.

We did some shopping of our own; got a new Dell for the basement with all the cool gadgets and Windows Vista. A very nice toy. We have a total of 7 computers in the house! Two of them are going out for sure once we clean them of data. Friday's highlight was Sesame Street Live. The kids had a blast, so did we. Saturday was movie night , Shrek the Third, and pizza.

Tala said of Thanksgiving "It was the best time ever!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Life's Happenings

Ohio Map by Moody
We had parent-teacher conferences last week. They both went very well. Moody is confirmed with tests to read at the 3rd-grade level. It was recommended that we introduce him to 2nd-grade math to keep him challenged. Tala's report was impressive too. She is in her way to reading. We have to do more of that with her. Fortunately for Moody, we had Barbi, the nanny, who worked diligently to teach him to read. We were very lucky with Barbi and Alicja.

The nanny saga still continues. On Friday, we fired the second nanny we had since Alicja left in October. That one was a pathological liar... a psychopath. We are on the hunt again. A temp is coming on Monday and we agreed to try it out and see if we should offer her the position.

Columbus Meusum of Art
I am slacking behind in so many things. I have been enjoying the free time on the weekends, just being lazy with the family and not doing much on the piles of things that need to be done! I need to sort out the piles of books and notebooks from my studies. I need to organize the piles of pictures scattered everywhere around the house. I need to sort the kids' closets and do away with the summer clothes and small clothes. I need to launch the 2008 Tibra Awards. That is another story, I'm slacking not just because I am being lazy, but also because I am tired of running it year after year with minimal contribution and help. It is just tiring, daunting, and makes me wonder why the hell do I need to do it? I will have to get to it before December. Or, I will get to it when I get to it.

Moody's face in COSI's Pinwall
Those piles can wait. It is more fun to spend time with the family. Last Weekend, we took a hike in the dark in Sharon Woods' nature trail, with the park naturalist, looking out for flying squirrels. We didn't see any flying squirrels, but lots of deer, and had lots of fun. A trip to the Columbus Museum of Art was entertaining to the kids and to me. Yesterday, we went to COSI and it was the first time in a long time for the whole family to visit it together.

It's Thanksgiving time! The kid are buzzing with excitement! My shopping list is ready. The turkey is ordered. The list of guests not confirmed yet. The kids want to see Sesame Street Live, which had been a Thanksgiving tradition for us. It would probably be the last since they are growing it.

Cat by Tala

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

From Tala to Bertrand Russell: Dad said "W" is a number

Today was one of those days! Not a bad day, really, just different from normal. Things started to split off their normal track pretty early in the morning, when our nanny (de la semaine) called in to let us know she'd been in an accident on the way in, and she naturally would not be coming. Great! Hana was at work, so it meant I had to get Moody on the school bus and that would give me just enough time to get to my class this morning. But what should I do with Tala? Yes, my only choice was to take her with me. Ahem, cause to pause!

Tala was the quietest, most peaceful 5-year old student I could've ever imagined! After I introduced her, she sat exactly in the center of the front row, and as we'd agreed, pulled out her coloring book and markers and started to color away. And she stayed that way to the end, about 50 minutes! I was just thrilled that part worked so smoothly.

In lecture I introduced some equations, one involving a variable "W" and I said something like, "W is the number of different configurations..." On the way home after class, I was chatting with Tala about her visit to my class and whether she took away anything from my lecture... She thought the whole thing was boring, and added, "Dad, you said 'W' is a number." I thought to myself, sure W is the number of configurations... It wasn't untill a while later when it dawned on me that Tala meant "W" is a letter not a number. lol lol lol.

Tala is right. I should've said "W denotes the number of ..." not "W is the number." I was reminded of my student days and courses I took in logic and philosophy, thanks to the US university education system that requires grubby geeks to take courses in humanities and social sciences. I recalled memories about Bertrand Russell's paradox of self reference and his famous article "On Denoting," and the whole business of confusing the name of something with the thing itself. Tala is a logical little girl, it's just her nature. In about two decades of teaching, I never had a relative in class. Tala was the first, and I was lucky to have her feedback. All n' all, a beautiful day it was, the kind that I'd say is downright spiritual!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Empire State Celebrates EID

The Empire State building routinely lights up to celebrate and honor holidays and special occasions. The colors of lighting differ depending on the event: Red, white, and blue for 4th of July, green and red for Christmas, blue and white for Hanukkah.

The building lit its all-green lighting, from October 12 to October 14, to celebrate the three days of Eid for the first time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It's Wonderful Eid!

Ramadan gone in a flash! Now it's Eid and Toys'R'Us day. Taking the kids to Toys'R'Us reminds me of the old days in Benghazi when we used to go shopping for toys from the one and only toy store that almost had nothing to offer. It was in the late 70s early 80s.

The only flavor we had of Ramadan this year was when Fairy Godmother Magda visited. I came home on Friday that week, after she told me she was not staying for the weekend, to find the house filled with Ramadan aroma--for the first and only time this year. She was cooking all kinds of things. It was so sweet of her and so nice to have her and spend time with her.

Tala is growing and growing and growing. It is such a delight to see the changes in her. She has a remarkable logic, and is very analytical--taking after her mother. She calls a nap lower-case sleep. Think about it... She's right!

And Moody is growing and maturing... Yay! He said to me yesterday, "Life is doors, and doors, and doors; never ending doors. And the mind is like a big room with lots of doors. Every door you open shows you something new." I was amazed--I didn't think he could think at that level!

We are on the hunt for a nanny again. Alicja had to leave because Lech, her hubby, is relocating to an Indiana job. What a loss for us! When Moody knew, he told her she should leave Lech. And then he strated matchmaking and finding her another husband. His pick was not bad at all. A son of Alicja's friend who's 16 and extremely gorgeous. Anyhow, we found a nanny to replace her who had excellent references. In her second day in the job, I called Sol around 9 am and he was still home. He was making an ice pack for the nanny who now has a broken wrist. Wonderful! Aside from that, she sits all day and keeps giving the kids dimes for finishing chores for her and fetching things. Wonderful!

I am having a blast at work. My job progressed in so many ways and I'm making unprecedented headways and big impact on the business. I received an exceptional raise this month, with the plan to move to a new position--created specifically for me--in January, with more raise. My accomplishments at school seem to be never-ending! I received a message from Fisher this week that I am the recipient of the Fisher Scholar Award and the Weidler Award. More power to me and a pat on the back!

Our Eid started last night with the movie night. I ordered pizza from Donato's for pick up since we can't have them deliver (Sol's doing!) At the pick up window, I was handed 2 medium boxes. Of course, they messed up our order to something not even close to what I ordered. So, the kids and I had to wait in the parking lot till they redo it for us. Sol picked a movie from Blockbuster. 10 minutes in the movie, we decided it was not appropriate for our kids. He said there was another one he could get about a horse and 2 kids and had to do with heading to the West. I told him as long as it was not that Irish stupid movie that we once watched. Of course, he came back and it was that same Irish movie that we asked him not to bring! He had to go back a third time and bring a third one, which I slept through from beginning to end!

Last games for baseball and soccer today and tomorrow. After that it's lunch, the toy store, and maybe a movie. Later today we have 2 nanny interviews. Dinner will be out to a special place.

It's wonderful wonderful Eid... Happy Eid!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ahmed: Golden Eagle, Tiger Scout & Dad's Pal

At Ahmed's school, they have a Golden Eagle program for encouraging and recognizing excellence. When teachers "catch" students doing something good, they give them a Golden Eagle Ticket, and a copy goes to the principal's office. At the end of each week they have a drawing, and they give a Golden Eagle Award to the drawn students. Then at the end of the month they get to have lunch with their teacher.

Ahmed got his first ticket in September, but his name was not drawn that time. He got another one October 2nd and his name was drawn on the 5th.

He was just elated with the award. As soon as he got home he called. I found a message from him telling me the good news and adding, "I already called Mom. I love you, Dad." I went ear-to-ear! His first ticket was for academics, but the second was actually for good behavior and helping others. Hana and I were both surprised by that. Ahmed recognized for good behavior? lol lol we both said. Two years ago, when he was in pre-school, Moody was actually suspended two days for telling a teacher, "Tomorrow, I am going to bring my sword and slash you!" The school had a handbook to go by, and it did not differentiate between pre-schoolers and high schoolers. I told them that on the average day then, Moody slashes a half dozen villains, laser blasts a few monsters, and bombs a few enemy camps here and there. That did not matter, the handbook had a certain numbered rule for threats and intimidation, and they had to follow it. We went along but did not let go completely. We arranged a meeting with school board officials, in which we explained that having the same handbook for all ages just did not make sense. They agreed and promised to take it up in their discussion. The following year, the school handbook had a separate section of rules and discipline policies for the little ones. We felt good about that. Since that incident, I think Ahmed started to look at school differently. Last year, we were constantly getting positive feedback from his teacher about his good behavior. He was really concerned about putting a good impression on his teacher. That worked for us because we exchanged information with the teacher about his behavior at home and school, using the same card system (sunny, cloudy, rain, thunderbolt.) Ahmed was really concerned and it meant a lot to him to take sunny cards back and forth. He certainly made a lot of progress. He is also doing very well academically. He gets extra special reading assignments because he is ahead of his class level. Last year they had a special box in the classroom for his reading materials. By the end of the year his report said his reading was above 3rd grade. Yesterday, the teacher who looks after his special reading assignments had him take a spelling test with second graders. They might get the results today.

The Golden Eagle comes with an additional Super Student award and a free meal from Mimi's Café. We have not gone yet-- maybe after Eid.

Ahmed is a Cub Scout now, and Lella Sgheera is a Daisy! I am Moody's Akela. Every boy comes with an adult companion, his Akela, and there are 4 boys in Moody's den. I go with him for his weekly meetings and activities, and we do some things together at home. It seems to be a lot of fun so far. The bandage on his right hand in the above picture is covering up his first stitches. He fell running at the school yard and got a cut. The doctor took him off sports for ten days. Of course, he loved going to the games, sitting on the bench, and telling his mates about his ordeal at the doctor's office, all about the "huge" syringe they used to numb down his palm, etc. From a distance it looked like he was telling them a fishing story. His teammates would ask in complete awe, "Did you cry?" He mostly ignored that question. lol lol He did cry, but was pretty calm when the stitches were taken out. Next Monday, he gets his Bobcat badge and first set of achievement recognition beads. With the Eid this weekend and all the fun stuff on Monday, Mr. Ahmed will be very happy. For Eid, I think we'll take them to Magic Mountain and treat them to some fun. They both deserve it, and they have been very busy lately because they added new activities before ending others. Each one plays two sports, takes tumbling and hip hop classes, cub scouts, school work, etc. Outdoor things are now winding down, and come winter they will start ice skating lessons.

Today, Moody's class is going on a field trip to an apple orchard. He was excited for days, reminding us constantly that we had to pack his lunch, that he wanted a chicken breast and mayo sandwich, and that he would wear long sleeves and long pants if it is cold, etc. Yesterday we bought the lunch meat. He gave his lunch bag to Mom last night and reminded her. This morning he checked it a few times to see what Mom had packed for him before going to work. And it turned out to be a little cold today, so he couldn't wait to slip into his jeans jacket and run out to the bus stop. The jeans jacket falls in the category of Cool. He told me the other day that he didn't wanna look handsome anymore. I wanna look cool, he said. I hope he gets lots of good apples.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sweet 16!

Shosho turned 16 on September 23! She had a successful exhibit of her artwork in Cairo recently. She was written up in many newspapers, and interviewed for TV. The most circulated article that covered her exhibit was published on Asharq Alawsat on September 27.

Not to spoil the occasion, but I can't turn off my critical mind: The article says she is not 15 yet, while she already turned 16 days before then and the interviewer knew about it. It could be for melodramatic effect or just a result of poor listening skills. There is another discrepancy in the article contradicting what Shatha really said at the interview, but I'll let it rest now for Hatem's sake lol. Of course, most of our beloved Libyan news outlets copied the article. They are not violating any rights (based on their ethics standards); they added a line citing the source--with no link of course... And then, being that Shatha is Libyan, that makes them the copy rights owners of anything written about her. Ya salam!

Shosho was disappointed in me because I didn't call her or send her flowers on the opening of her exhibit. Rightfully so, Shosho, but it didn't occur to me to do that. It was the first time a dear one holds an art exhibit. And then to add "moisture to the mud", I didn't call her on her birthday! Bad khwela, where can I hide my shame!

Sweet Shosho, you've been on my mind and I didn't forget your birthday. It's just the timing was not right for me. But, brace yourself for what's coming. I love you and am so proud of you. Hold on to the painting above for me as we agreed till we find a way to get it here. I'd say we take Noha up on her offer! hehehe

Happy Birthday!

An article on al-Araby

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Summer's End: Idlewild & Falling Water

Today is the first day of Autumn, the autumnal equinox with equal hours of daylight and darkness. Today is also the 12th, 11th or 10th day of Ramadan, depending on when the start was locally declared. It would have been interesting if the equinox coincided with the middle of Ramadan, but it's off by a couple of days. Summer is officially over today, although in other ways, it's been over for a few weeks.

The unofficial summer season in the US starts on Memorial Day (late May) and ends on Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September. Usually people have picnics on Labor day, go out of town, hit the outdoor swimming pools before they close, or just use the long weekend in other ways.

We started the summer with a trip to California, to visit my brother's family. The kids met their cousins for the first time and had a blast at Disney Land. My sister-in-law works there, so we had lots of advantages, including the very highly experienced guides. It was also the kids' first time on a plane. After the first plane took off, Ahmed remarked on the view,"Hey, it looks like somebody drew this." Honestly, they seemed less impressed than I thought they would be with the whole airplane experience. Maybe it is not such a big deal from their perspective, and neither is wireless communication! They were more impressed with meeting Goofy than flying.

Dinsey high point: Moody battles Darth Vader at the Jedi Academy. When he got on stage, Vader pointed to him and said, "Your lack of faith disturbs me!" Hannu turned to me and exclaimed, "How did he know?"

On Labor Day weekend we went to the Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania. It was actually completely unplanned. We just decided it on Friday evening, left Saturday and returned Monday. We mainly wanted to take the kids to a special amusement park, called Idlewild, then visited Falling Water, a grown-up attraction, on Sunday.

Idlewild is an interesting children's park, actually established back in 1877. It is an old-fashioned, low-key kind of park. One of its parts is called Storybook Forest, where you stroll through the sets of various children's classics, and we had the perfect weather for it.

A lot of the sets had a friendly person at the door, usually a character from the story appropriately dressed and welcoming the children. The above picture was taken in some sort of schoolhouse set, but the lady playing teacher looked like she had the nastiest migraine headache that could be imagined! Hana and I were not sure whether she was really sick or just acting out the part--we had a blast watching her react to Moody and other inquisitive little brats!

Tala looking crooked in front of the Crooked House

Geppetto's workshop had everything except Pinocchio, which is probably owned by Disney. Interestingly, the park also says it is "the second best children's park in the world," without naming the first!

A big attraction in the park is a trolley ride through Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe, which is fashioned after the longest-running series on American public TV, created by the legendary Fred Rogers. The show was made at the WQED studios in Pittsburgh, near the campus of Carnegie Mellon, and we used to see Mr. Rogers at the gym. I did not grow up with Mr. Rogers, but for my classmates he was a childhood icon. For Libyan readers who are old enough, I can say Fred Rogers was the Abdalla Krista of American children programming. Mr. Rogers used to start his show singing the theme song as he changed from his work clothes into slippers and a cardigan. One of his cardigans is now at the Smithsonian Institution (a US national museum.) I wonder if Mr. Krista was ever recognized officially for his Children's Corner program on early Libyan radio...

All the rides at the park were old-fashioned, slow-paced, analogue fun

The modern addition is called the Soak Zone, and it was pretty effective... and a good segway to the next part

Falling Water is the name of a house (and architectural marvel) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s, to be used as a summer home by the Kaufmanns. Wright charged $8,000 for his work. The house is built into a cliff side and over a waterfall, and designed to blend in with nature. The floor in one of the rooms is just bare smooth rock, with beautiful fireplaces, terraces, etc. The Kaufmanns ultimately donated it to the state for public use. Back in September of 1987, almost exactly 20 years ago, my father visited me in Pittsburgh and I took him there because he started his career in construction and has always been fond of it. The building connoisseur in him was simply awed by it. The Misrati money connoisseur in him was even more awed that anyone would just give it away-- but also thankful.