Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Great Cover

This song was first sang by the people of Medina to Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him, as a welcoming when he migrated from Mecca, fleeing religious persecution. I think it's safe to say that it's the most famous song in Islamic tradition. Countless Muslim artists have "covered" it over the years, and I've known it for as long as I can remember. My favourite version has always been the Yusuf Islam version. Today, my sister sent me the link to the Native Deen version. Also very very beautiful. Enjoy:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shopping in my mother's closet

There is massive "summer cleaning" happening at my parents' place in Ottawa. Left with a huge pile of stuff to store/get rid of from my sister's house now that she is in Dubai, we, or rather they, are going through everything and trying to get rid of what can be gotten rid of to make space for new storage. My instant coffee supply has been instantly replenished. I also now have new scarves (fabulous, I might add), a new skirt, and a new pair of pants, courtesy of some boxes and my mother's closet. I talk to my Little Angela on the phone every two or three days. She tells me every time, as if I don't already know, "Khalto Nonno, I'm in the Emirates." Sometimes, her voice is excited when she says this, other times, it's tinged with sadness. It's hard for a two-year old to understand moving across the world. Exhibit A: a conversation that took place with her mother a couple of days ago (translated from Arabic to English for your benefit below):
"Mama, I want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house."
"We can't sweetie. They're in Ottawa. It's too far away."
"No it's not. It's close." A pause. "Sacramento's far."
Sacramento is where my other little angels and angela live, with my eldest sister. Everything is relative.
Speaking of little angels, the last few months I've been savouring every last moment with them before they left when I came to Ottawa, but now I focus on some of the big angels in my life. My parents really, truly are angelic. They're brave, they're generous, they're giving, they're impossibly hardworking, they're not tireless, but they don't quit a moment before their bodies just can't take it anymore from pure exhaustion. They are such beautiful, beautiful people, and while it can be tiring to get up at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesdays to catch my bus, and while I miss M insanely for those 2.5 days we're in different cities, this is an atypical kind of blessing I have, to spend such long moments alone together with my parents as a grown woman, to have the great conversations we have so often, to find myself shopping in my mother's closet, kissing my father's cheeks after sunset prayer, eating leftovers together. To bond.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Just Because it Made me Laugh

I wish I had watched more Muppets Show when I was young. I don't think I truly realised their brilliance. Anyway, here's a hilarious little clip, just for the purposes of silliness. Enjoy:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Our Telephones are Haunted (or else crazy)

Strangeness:
I woke up on Saturday night/Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of my cell phone ringing. This, of course, terrified me. There aren't that many people out there who have my number beyond family and very close friends so of course, I assumed something was very wrong with someone I loved. Not the case, thank God. No, this was the case: M's cell phone, sitting on the dining room table, charging, had LOST it and was dialing and redialing my cell phone over and over. Essentially, even though M was inside asleep, his cell phone was crank calling me at3:30 a.m. I checked all five messages that had been left. They were all empty. In the last one, I could here me walking across the room to check my phone.
I couldn't figure out how to just turn off my ringer, so I turned off the phone completely. In the morning, there were 7 more. SEVEN!
It hasn't happened since. We'll see what's next.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Must-Listen for All Canadians

We're so proud of ourselves in this country for being an open and equal society, for not discriminating against people based on any unreasonable basis, especially race. For the most part, we succeed. But there is something sad and horrible in our past which still exists in our present: the treatment of our First Nations people.
Very little time and energy is spent in the media actually discussing the plight of Native people. Sure, we hear about protests and land claims, but how much do most of us really know about the back story of what these people suffered at the hands of the government. What were you taught in 7th grade social studies? Me, I was only taught about the part where everyone cooperated, not the part where they were killed and manipulated and stolen from. This program on CBC Radio called Revision Quest really helps to shed some light on a serious topic. Don't worry though, if you're not into feeling rotten, the host is a Native comedian, so even though he's dealing with heavy material, he manages to address it in an easy manner. Give it a listen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tea Detox (and a little pampering)

I'm drinking this for the next month and seeing what happens. Considering I have the most sensitive stomach of anyone I know who doesn't have an official digestive disease, and considering my crazy list of sensitivities, and considering the fact that all the traditional medicine solutions (ending with the "it's all in your head" diagnosis from that un-fabulous gastroenterologist I went to) haven't worked for me,I figured why not give it a shot... I started this morning. I'm not sure exactly what I'm expecting, but just generally a happier stomach and less feeling sick would be great.
I'll report back after enough time has passed to assess.
I decided this week that I'm going to be nice to my body for the next little while and see what happens. That means more exercise and more sleep, and better eating. Now, I'm not going to deprive myself. If I want a spoon or two of sorbet, okay. But no full-fledged, massive cheating attacks. I've been pretty good so far. We'll see how long it lasts.
Now excuse me, I'm off to get a massage.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Because There always has to be follow-up

Vanity Fair's answer to the New Yorker's Barack Obama cover:


I love that they're "terrorist fist jabbing" too...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If you're not outraged...

Have you heard that expression before: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention?
Every once in a while, something comes along and really bothers me and I have to rant about it. The latest in this series comes via XUP's cucumber post. Go read it here.
Done? Good, now let's discuss. So, how many people in the world are currently malnourished, underfed, suffering from hunger and starvation? I don't know. I don't have the statistics, but I know, know, know for absolute certainty that the number is high. That too many go without food. That too many have nothing and would take anything just to survive. But we can't eat crooked cucumbers? We can't even display them on our grocery shelves? At least in the EU, they're going to start selling them again, but what about here?
People, let's think about this, food is eaten, i.e. chewed up, turned into a pulp, gets digested and will look much more disgusting by the time we get any nutrients from it than anything we could imagine on our grocery shelves, so does it matter if it's not perfect when our privileged hands select it at the store? How spoiled are we? How far removed are we from what our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering?
I'm going to put out a request regarding food: Let's all be more careful. Let's buy as much as we need and cook in the right amount and serve ourselves as much as we need and not throw any away. Let's not buy twice what we eat and dump the rest in the garbage. Let's remember those poor kids with convex stomachs because they have nothing. It's the least we can do. Really, it's minuscule.

H & M will answer my prayers

So, I've been complaining about finding hijabi appropriate clothing where I still like the style, right? Well, I think I've made a breakthrough: Over the weekend at camp, I had the following conversation not once, but two times:
  • Me: I love your (insert item of clothing here: shirt/jacket/skirt/etc). Where did you get it? Please oh please don't say another country.
  • Fellow camp attendee: H & M.
  • Me: woohoooooooooooooooooooo!

In the past, this answer would irritate me to no end, because H & M has no stores in Ottawa. Now that I live in Montreal, this answer delights me. There will be an H & M opening in August 6 blocks from my house. Can I wait that long, or do I trek across the city next week to check out what I can find?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hilariously Scary Misunderstanding

Here's a story from camp. On Saturday, I had a little cry-fest about missing my sister with one of my close friends from Ottawa. Afterwards, even though I'd washed my face, I still looked like Rudolf with a sunburn and an emotional breakdown (red nose, red eyes, red cheeks, red everything.) One of the other girls asked me what was wrong.
What I said: "I just miss my sister." Pause. "She's in Dubai".
What she heard: "I just lost my sister." Pause. "She's in Dubai".
This explains the horrified look on her face as I explained and then rushed away.

Air Canada Evil

Not enough time to write about this last week in the middle of heading back to Montreal on Thursday night and leaving for camp on Friday afternoon, but what follows is an account of Wednesday night's adventure with my sister's trip to Dubai.
I left work early on Wednesday to see her and the little angels off, along with my parents. We packed into the van (6 people and 9 huge pieces of luggage, plus hand bags, so when I say packed I really mean it) and drove to the Ottawa airport. By the time we got there, there was a torrential downpour that lasted for about 20 minutes.
My sister's flight was at 6 p.m. This was at 3:30. Her itinerary was essentially Ottawa-TO, TO-Dubai. After getting her bags through and saying some VERY VERY VERY tearful goodbyes, my sister and the little angels went through security, and my parents and I headed back up to the top floor where we could watch her gate until she boarded. This was at 5.
(An aside: Little Angela and I's conversation as I hugged her at security.
  • Her: Nonno, why are you so sad?
  • Me (with tears streaming down my face and a total wreck: I'm not sad, honey, I'm just a bit emotional because I won't see you again until next summer.
  • Her (with a quizzical look on her face): okay.
  • Me: Can I get a kiss?
  • She kisses my right cheek
  • Me: and another one
  • She kisses my left cheek
  • Me: now let me kiss you.
  • And as I do, with the little puddles of tears that have gathered over my lips, she waits politely and then wipes my kisses away with the back of her hands...)

Here is the Cole's Notes version of the story: At 6:45, a plane leaves from my sister's gate and she doesn't get on it. We check the screens with the flight information. It says this is my sisters' plane that's just departed. We don't understand. Her flight was supposed to be at 6 but she won't get on this flight. At 7:15 a second flight leaves and again she doesn't board. We page her and have her call us. She explains that the plane that left at 6:45 was the 4 p.m. plane and that they won't let her take a different plane because her baggage is already checked to the 6 p.m. flight which is now seriously late and may not make it in time for the connection.
At 7:50 they finally go through the gate and disappear onto the plane. We watch the plane take off at 8. We go home. I start crying all over again while I pick up my Little Angela's blocks from the floor and start putting them away. We won't be playing with these again before next summer. We pray our sunset prayer. We sit and chat. The phone rings. It's my sister. The Dubai flight is gone without her. The next one isn't until Friday night.
And what does Air Canada offer her in the meantime? A hotel, maybe, for the next two days? No. How about a place to store her luggage in the airport for the next two days? Also no. Okay, okay, well at least they're going to send someone down with her to the luggage carousel to help carry her 9 BAGS, seeing as how she has the Little Angels with her and they're not exactly Little Angels at 10 p.m. after being strapped into strollers/car seats/plane seats since 2:30 in the afternoon, right? No. They won't be doing that either.
We call my parents-in-law who live in TO. They are wonderful and leave for the airport immediately to pick her up. She stays with them for the next two days, and on Friday night, while we're at camp, she boards her Dubai flight.
She's safely in her new house now. The kids are happy, and they're all together again. It just took an extra two days, that's all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Camp

Too exhausted to write a detailed or comprehensive post that may actually make sense about camp, so instead, I'm just putting down some random thoughts. Camp was awesome (it always is):
  • Hours of sleep I got from Friday to Sunday night: 5
  • Old friends from Ottawa I got to hang out with: 4
  • Number of slices of banana bread I ate when I broke down on Sunday: 6 (but they were small!)
  • Times I cried: 3
  • Number of marshmallows I ate around the campfire: 6
  • Number of campers: 140+
  • Hours we drove from Montreal to get to the campsite: 2
  • Buses needed to get Montreal campers there: 2
  • Mosquito bites I am now covered in: Too many. I'll have to spend the next three hours counting and get back to you.
  • Little sun-burny rash spots I have on my face because I forgot to apply sunscreen most of the time I was outside: A LOT
  • Number of canoes that tipped in the water when the girls went swimming: 1 for sure, and I suspect a second but not actually sure.
  • Chocolate consumed over the weekend: none - unless you count Nuttela, which I shouldn't have spread on my bread, but did anyway
  • Coffee consumed: Not enough - 3 cups
  • Tea consumed: Not enough - 1 cup
  • Cell phone reception to the outside world from the campsite: None
  • Number of unclaimed items going into the lost and found at the MAC Montreal Mosque from the end of camp: 3 (a towel, a sleeping bag, and a pillow)

And some of my favourite photos ...





















Friday, July 18, 2008

No Blogging This Weekend

I'm about to head out to the MAC Youth summer camp, spend some time with my brothers and sisters and nature and fill my soul up. This means very very little sleep, lots of laughing and crying and praying and playing sports, and NO Internet. This is good. Everyone needs to be weened off every once in a while. I'll be back after the weekend (although possibly I'll be extra-ordinarily groggy and not make any sense for a day or two... we'll see.)
In the meantime, I leave you with a stolen post from my new writing hero, Journey Mama, one of the most beautiful things I've read in a very very long time. I don't think I can steal her words and put them here, so please, just follow this link and read this. You won't regret it, I promise.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brilliance or Racism?

By now, you've all heard about the controversial latest cover of the New Yorker, with Barack and Michelle Obama in the white house, he dressed up in a turban and she wearing a machine gun slung across her back, while they "terrorist fist jabbed" with an American flag burning in the fireplace and what looked like a pic of Osama Bin Laden hanging from the wall. I'm not going to write a great big editorial on it. Enough others have done that and apparently it's offensive to a lot of people. If it offends you, that's your prerogative. I actually think it's kind of ingenious: so totally over the top obviously fake in that it brings out every ridiculous, hyperbolic fear of some neo-conservatives as to what Obama stands for, and pretty laugh out loud funny too.
But just to placate those who are offended, here's a happy-themed Obama link. Truly silly, but fun. (Call out to Journey Mama's site, where I initially found the link while reading her archived entries...)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Soul Touching

For my soon-to-depart sister:

You opened me with your words
Like a flower
In rain, just a little afraid to be pelted
But wanting the water
Opened to a thirst I didn't realize I had

Not a need but a want
To be connected, to be held in the thoughts of
Another human being, a beautiful creature
With wings for ideas, each notion
Touching down to tickle the back of my neck
And fly away
Hover on the edge of the horizon
Turn to wave before leaving

You opened me to feed me
To nurture my pieces with extra
Wholesome cooking
The cream rich in your soup
The bread soft
The dough chewy after hard stale crackers
(And here I thought the bucking up was good
And here I was learning to be tough
But I learnt again what it is to fall
Heavily into a bed, to sink into it
To close your eyes and dream
When still awake
To feel all the succulence
And not only the sustenance)

And all with only words
To make me feel a giant
To fill me full to my brim so I can
Grow beyond them
Look down from high high high on up
And see that they are not so big
That I am bigger
(If only in my head and your words)
And stop being fine when asked.
No, be good. Be truly, really good.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Baby

Little Angela runs up to me when I come in today and says, her eyes full of wonder, in Arabic: "Auntie Nonno, I'm going to the Emirates!" as though it's news. I think she's only just realized. I pretend to be surprised for her sake. I would hate for someone to rain on my parade and say what I'd told them is common knowledge by then.
Another Little Angela tidbit: Last week, she is drinking a glass of milk and has about 8 drops left,when she decides to share with her grandma. "All this?" says Grandma. "You're so generous. thank you sooooooooo much!" and Little Angela beems with pride for a moment, before she sees her gradmother tip the glass back to drink the last few drops, and panics: "No Grandma! Don't drink it all! Leave me some!"
8 drops!

My God, I am going to miss this child.

Seuss Lovin'

M and I were talking about Dr. Seuss the other day, and he mentioned Green Eggs and Ham, but I don't think he's read the others that much. My favourite one: Oh the Places You'll Go!
It's basically a graduation speech. Just about the best ever graduation speech because it says everything that needs to be said about jumping into something new and being confident and then being scared and then making it work out and all the guck in between. Also awesome, Horton Hears a Who. And check out this site if you're a general Seuss fan.

Just spreading the joy:

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets.
Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener therein the wide open air.
Out there things can happenand frequently do
to people as brainyand footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
OH!THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and hang-ups
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place……
for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jakeo
r a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
NO!
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win’cause you’ll play against you.
All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

-Dr. Seuss

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Random Other-Post Follow-ups

Some unrelated-to-each other ideas that may each be related to older posts:
  • They say the proof is in the pudding... well, I say the proof is in the brownies. As promised, I bought cocoa, and on a whim, made some wheat-free, cane sugar brownies a half hour ago. The difference between these and the carob ones is astounding. I am truly a chocoholic, and it's not to be cured.
  • Because I complained about the lack of hijabi-friendly clothing this season: 1)For any hijabi-Montrealers, there is a booth inside the Eaton's centre near the Metro McGill entrance that sells scarves, long tunics, and other hijabi stuff for reasonable prices. I went last Monday and have a new tunic to show for my efforts. 2) My mum-in-law is way too sweet: after listening to me complain during our last outing about the lack of long sleeved items available, she apparently found one of the very very few things on the market the other day and picked it up for me.... 3) There's a new hijabi clothing store in Montreal called "Inty" (cool play on words because this is how to say the feminine "you" in Arabic). I haven't been there, but I hear from a friend that the stuff is good quality and affordable. If you know the city, it's located where the old Multi-vision store was.
  • I finished Bel Canto, the first book from Jen's suggested list, and in an effort not to spoil it, all I can say is GO READ THIS BOOK. Sooooooooooooooooooooo good. Meets all my super-picky criteria: good characters, good writing, good plot. As for Jen's request that I tell her what I thought of the controversial ending, I'll just say that it's crushing, but marvelous, and totally plausible. This book leaves your heart-aching. You love the characters that much. Next, I'm starting The Namesake, which is supposed to also be great. I hope it's as great. Keep your suggestions coming. I'm planning on reading a lot, as I'm hoping to write a lot and for me, the best way to do that is through reading.

What it Takes

Do you love wordplay? If so, listen to this song by Jason Mraz. Just delightful and poetic in that light, fun way. Some of the lines are so simple, and yet very very true. Youtube video's pretty silly, but just try to enjoy the song.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Curiosity

Shhh...
Open your eyes. Look.
Each person who passes you
on these city streets
is an atom
of life
a leaf from a Maple tree shading
the small flowers below.

Do you wish
in some moments
to know all their stories?
To marvel at their miracles
big and small
to meet
the criers and the liars
the givers
the needers
the huge dilemmas
and the small paradoxes

Do you wish to meet
the Pandoras
to watch them untangling
the worms from the earth
shaking out the swirls and swoops
making straight lines
of everything?

For instance:
This boy who walks by
with a toque on his head
in mid-July
floppy red hair emerging
from the sides
(falling into his eyes)
what is his story?

How about that girl
on the curb at the bookstore
sorting through cards of
identical photographs
is this her life?
Does she go home at night?

I should keep walking.
The air changes angles
blows up instead of
sideways.
I need to look down
to continue
to move through time and
and space and experience
If I look longer
they will paralyze me
with my questions
too many to count

and everything will stop.

Things that make me cry

A few posts back I said I was crying a lot, and that's okay... and then I thought, these people are going to think I'm miserable, and now I'm back to explain:

I'm someone who wears my heart on my sleeve. I know, I know, so cliche, but it really is true and I can't think of another way to say it. While I do cry when I'm sad, I cry when I'm overcome with almost any other kind of emotion too: joy, pride, love, for example. I also cry - or at least feel the lump rise in my throat - when I'm moved, and I'm very often moved. Some examples:
  1. M and I were watching Mulan the other day. Caution, spoilers approaching! At the end, when the emperor thanks her for saving all of them and she finds the whole country appreciating her, I got a lump in my throat. Yeah, for a Disney movie... sooooo....
  2. Sports championships: I cry EVERY year when I see the captain of the winning team pick up the Stanley Cup, hold it over his head and skate around the rink with it. I cry more when he passes it to his anxious teammates. I cry when they take pictures with their family and friends. I cry (or get choked up) in tennis when the players shake hands at the end of a match. Same during Euro or the World Cup or the Olympics when the trophies and medals are handed out, but especially when the anthem of the winner(s) is played. It doesn't even have to be my country or my anthem. Just that moment, and all the hard work these athletes put in, and hearing their song, I feel a surge of pride for them and it chokes me up.
  3. Beautiful words: If I read a great line of poetry, or something in a book, or a song, and it touches me, it can bring tears to my eyes. Some recent examples. From Journey Mama's blog, the following line: "You search with eyes open wide and sometimes full of tears".
    And another amazing line, this one from Bel Canto, the book I'm reading thanks to Jen's suggestions: "People love each other for all sorts of reasons... Most of the time, we're loved for what we can do rather than for who we are. It's not such a bad thing, being loved for what you can do."
  4. Quran: Quran is the most beautiful poetry, especially if you can read it in Arabic, and not just an interpretation. There are lines that give me chills for their beauty, and on some days, when I read and the words are as though they were written just for me, speaking to something I have just experienced or felt, I get teary. Sometimes, too, I read a verse and it happens to be a verse my dad often reads in prayer, and I'm transported back to one of our old living rooms, standing with my mother and sisters and listening and worshipping in a row, my dad reciting softly but strongly, and I feel a surge of love mixed with sadness, and this also makes me cry.
  5. Art, or the thought of it: I got home on Thursday, and M showed me the easel he had set up for the painting he is hoping to do, and the thought of him getting to paint when he'd been wanting to for so long and hadn't had a chance made me cry of happiness. I suppose it's less the art and more the seeing him do the thing he loves that moved me. Visual art is to M what writing is to me. Although art itself can make me cry. A painting, or a photograph, can stir me and move me to that point.
  6. Reunions and departures: On our trip to Egypt in February, I would cry when I saw family as we were arriving, upon hugging my and M's aunts and uncles and cousins, and again when we were leaving. I think the reunion and the departure is the epitomizing point of being with those you love, and I rarely manage to keep a dry eye if I know it'll be a long time before I see them again. Along these lines, I cry every time my sister comes and goes from and to California. I expect to cry A LOT when my other sister leaves for Dubai.
  7. Movies: I am the crazy sap who can turn on the TV at the end of a cheesy movie for the wedding scene, or the funeral scene, and not know the characters or the plot, and then hear the moving music crescendo and start to bawl my eyes out. This one I can't explain very well, and though I'm the worst at it, almost all of my sisters are also guilty as charged. Example: the first movie my poor uncle's wife watched with us when she moved to Ottawa many many years ago was Little Women. At the end, she looked around, and there we were, four sisters sobbing away, struggling up off the couch to hug each other to death and say how much we loved each other. My uncle's wife grew up with two brothers. Needless to say, this was a first-time experience for her. Don't worry though, she's gotten over it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lightning

The husband of one of the women I met at the hijab potluck last month died this week. He was struck by lightning while sheltering himself from the rain under a tree in a storm. They are not old. My heart aches for her and I'm praying for them right now.
The suddenness of it is quite shocking. We like to think of death as something that happens to those who are sick, or old, or living in a war torn country. But death is anywhere and everywhere. It's real, and it doesn't announce itself. Every day, every hour, every minute we should be thanking God for the fact our hearts are still beating.

The Candy Conundrum

My work group in Ottawa in pretty tight knit, and most of us have been working together for a fairly long time (at 2 years, I'm a relative newbie.) One thing about us, we LOVE candy, and we're waaaaaaaaaaaaay too generous with each other. The proof? By the printer and photocopiers, there is almost always a bowl full of something yummy: werthers originals, chocolates, gummies, you name it. If not, it's those fabulous Danish butter cookies. When we're feeling "healthy" it's salted, roasted peanuts, or worse yet, BBQ flavour.
Yesterday, it was jujubes.

Now, I just finished telling you about my allergies, so you'd think I'd lay off the sauce, so to speak, right? Well, my self-control system basically revolves around a "don't buy it, don't eat it approach". The problem is when I'm not the one buying it but it's magically turning up anyway. When the yummies are in front of me every time I get up to print or photocopy, I have great difficulty resisting. And that other concept of moderation? Non-existent. With me, "I'll only have one" becomes two becomes three four seventeen. Basically, it's cold turkey or a full-fledged candy attack. I don't even LIKE jujubes, but having them there makes me think I SHOULD like them. And appreciate them. By eating them. Sigh.

The funniest part of this is that lately no one will confess to bringing in the candy. Someone's doing it, but she/he is maintaining anonymity. Meanwhile, we all walk by, shove another piece of whatever's there into our mouths, and mumble how we have to stop.

I'm proud to announce that I had NO jujubes yesterday, and none of the toffee that was in the bowl the day before. I can't even remember if there was anything there on Tuesday, but if there was, I held off. Maybe I'm getting the hang of this self-control thing after all?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Blogs on the Side

Hey Folks,
I've been doing a little explorin' on the world wide web and cyber-visiting on some new sites, and it's time to add them to the blogroll. Drumroll...
XUP: In Ottawa. Fun, thoughtful, astute writing.
Mooselim: The title alone says it. So corny, so hilarious. I've talked about these guys before. It's basically the conversations these Canadian Muslims would have at Timmy's, but online.
Fly Fish Fly and Journey Mama: These folks just moved to India from the American West Coast. Follow their adventures. Both blogs belong to this fabulous couple. Beautiful writing. Definite must-read.
Viotet Sky: Fun, musings. Somewhere in Ontario.

and a new "cool site": Altmuslim. Great site with news, reviews, editorials, discussion forums, about all things Muslim or affecting Muslims.

Celiac Heads Up (Or "the great big food allergy post")

I saw this article from the Globe and Mail, a primer about the basic symptoms of celiac and what to do if you have it, and thought I should share.
I don't have celiac, but end up buying a lot of products for those with celiac because I do have a serious sensitivity to wheat, and gluten-free products automatically mean they're wheat-free. I can relate to a lot of what's in the article:
"According to a 2007 survey of the Canadian Celiac Association's more than 5,000 members, the average time it took to get diagnosed was 12 years. Many respondents had consulted three or more doctors before getting their diagnosis"
and
"Symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, joint pain and migraines - ones typically not recognized as gut-related - are commonly reported, and the diagnosis is often anemia, stress, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome."

I spent about 10 years feeling constantly sick, cutting out different foods and food products from my diet to no avail. I lost close to 20 pounds at my worst point, mostly because it was easier to feel hungry then to deal with the constant nausea and irritation after eating. I went to 3 different doctors and took 3 different tests, the last one being the endoscopy mentioned in the article. When that one was done, the gastroenterologist (aka, Mr. Specialist) asked me if I was a people-pleaser, told me I should relax, and concluded that "it was all in my head".
It was a visit to a naturopath and taking a Vega test suggested by a friend 3 months later that turned up the cause for all my problems: I have serious sensitivities to:
  • all cow dairy (milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • wheat and some grains from the wheat family (bulgur, semolina)
  • all processed sugar
  • aspartame
  • msg
  • cola
I have milder sensitivities to a whole list of fruits, veggies, and nuts:
  • bananas
  • tomatoes
  • peanuts
  • oranges, clementines, grapefruits
  • grapes

At first, walking out of that clinic after the test, I was trying to figure out what was left to eat. That was close to 3 years ago. Now, I've gotten it fairly under control. I've found a lot of alternatives to my formerly favourite foods, and I know when I'm "cheating" and having stuff that'll upset me, so I can decide whether it's worth it or not. I don't always make the best decision: sometimes that chocolate bar looks completely irresistible in the checkout line and then feels like the worst decision ever once consumed, but at least I'm the one in control of the stupid decision I decide to make.

Moral of the story? Trust your body if your doctor isn't making any sense. You're your own best judge. If you're sick and someone tells you you're fine, find someone else to talk to. Your body will thank you.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Getting Ready

Last night, we spent 3-4 hours moving disassembled furniture and boxes in my sister's quickly emptying house. We got in bed at midnight. I had maybe 4 separate crying bouts, all within a few minutes of seeing my Little Angela and having her leap up into my arms for a very very very prolonged hug.
Here's the story from the beginning for those who don't know. My sister is moving across the world next week, to Dubai. My sister is my best friend. When we were little, we would dress in matching clothes and tell everyone we were twins and think they actually believed us (extremely gullible, as there were 2.5 years and a whole head's height difference between us.) My sister is the person I talk to, cry to, think to. We don't even need to keep talking half the time, we just finish each other's sentences. I've fed her babies, changed their diapers, gotten them to sleep, spent countless hours playing with them, carrying them, teaching them how to talk, dragging them away from the TV / computer / whatever they weren't supposed to be touching. When the diapers were extra stinky, I wore a swimming "nose-plug" and changed them anyway.
My family is beyond tight knit. We're Mediterranean. We're Arab. Get it? When we were little, my sisters and I would abandon our beds, leave two bedrooms empty in the house and gather for nightly sleepovers in one room. We were four girls, no boys, constant whispering through the night. My mom's footsteps would inch up the hallway and we'd fall silent, close our eyes and pretend we were asleep. If she opened the door, it was much more difficult to maintain the illusion. Sometimes one of us would cough. Even if we didn't, she knew anyway. We had lots of other friends, but it was never a question of who our best friends were. We were each other's best friends.
My sister wrote before I did, and I first started writing because I wanted to be like her, not realizing that we both got it from Baba, maybe because his poems were almost always in Arabic. In high school, I would fall asleep on her floor while she studied for a chemistry test, or math test, or history test, or French or German test, and when she was finished memorizing everything to the meticulous level of detail she insisted on, always around 2 in the morning, she would wake me up and we would spend another hour where I quizzed her. My 9th grade science teacher hated this, because I asked him too much too soon about electrons thanks to her grade 11 chemistry quizzes, and messed up his lesson plans. "Noha, I'll answer all your questions after class if you want. Now, where were we?"
In university, we joked that I should get an honourary psychology degree because I tested her on everything using the same method, reviewed and edited her papers, became familiar with "confirmation bias" and "fundamental attribution error", with Gestalt and Rogers and other less famous ones, not only the Freud's and the Jung's.
I think I scared my brother in law when they first got married, but now he is a great, great friend.
I cry a lot lately but I always have. It's not sadness as such, it's raw emotion. It's normal when you love someone as much as I do and know they will stop being as constant a presence in your life as before. We will have to work harder to be in touch, but we will, we will touch with all the miles between us. Souls touch when they know each other that well, they can't help it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

For the Homesick

Or possibly just for me?
Here are a list of similar places in Ottawa and Montreal, if you're looking for similarities, which I often am:
  • The bike paths on the Lachine Canal = The bike paths on the Ottawa River Parkway
  • The Park at Mont Royal, and Parc LaFontaine = Andrew Haydon Park, and Mooney's Bay
  • The Old Port = Sparks Street
  • The Lookout from Mont Royal
  • The Lookout from Parliament Hill
  • Eaton's Centre = Rideau Centre
  • Bugs in Montreal that love to bite = Bugs in Ottawa that love to bite

Happy summer. Keep Enjoying.

What does it mean to be well-educated

I stumbled upon this post on Mud Mama's blog (via XUP's blogroll) and found this article fascinating. It discusses the "definition" of education and the different criteria we consider to define whether someone is or isn't well-educated. I am the result traditional school systems in Ottawa, but I would argue that a lot of my education came informally from my parents and my community, and that has done a lot to make me who I am. For the teachers out there (I'm thinking specifically of my sister and Sajda


PRINCIPAL LEADERSHIP
March 2003
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?
By Alfie Kohn
No one should offer pronouncements about what it means to be well-educated without meeting my wife. When I met Alisa, she was at Harvard, putting the finishing touches on her doctoral dissertation in anthropology. A year later, having spent her entire life in school, she decided to do the only logical thing . . . and apply to medical school. Today she is a practicing physician -- and an excellent one at that, judging by feedback from her patients and colleagues.

She will, however, freeze up if you ask her what 8 times 7 is, because she never learned the multiplication table. And forget about grammar (“Me and him went over her house today” is fairly typical) or literature (“Who’s Faulkner?”). After a dozen years, I continue to be impressed on a regular basis by the agility of her mind as well as by how much she doesn’t know. (I’m also bowled over by what a wonderful person she is, but that’s beside the point.

So what do you make of this paradox with whom I live? Is she a walking indictment of the system that let her get so far -- 29 years of schooling, not counting medical residency -- without acquiring the basics of English and math? Or does she offer an invitation to rethink what it means to be well-educated since what she lacks hasn’t prevented her from being a deep-thinking, high-functioning, multiply credentialed, professionally successful individual?

Of course, if those features describe what it means to be well-educated, then there is no dilemma to be resolved. She fits the bill. The problem arises only if your definition includes a list of facts and skills that one must have but that she lacks. In that case, though, my wife is not alone. Thanks to the internet, which allows writers and researchers to circulate rough drafts of their manuscripts, I’ve come to realize just how many truly brilliant people cannot spell or punctuate. Their insights and discoveries may be changing the shape of their respective fields, but they can’t use an apostrophe correctly to save their lives.

Or what about me (he suddenly inquired, relinquishing his comfortable perch from which issue all those judgments of other people)? I could embarrass myself pretty quickly by listing the number of classic works of literature I’ve never read. And I can multiply reasonably well, but everything mathematical I was taught after first-year algebra (and even some of that) is completely gone. How well-educated am I?
*
The issue is sufficiently complex that questions are easier to formulate than answers. So let’s at least be sure we’re asking the right questions and framing them well.

1. The Point of Schooling: Rather than attempting to define what it means to be well-educated, should we instead be asking about the purposes of education? The latter formulation invites us to look beyond academic goals. For example, Nel Noddings, professor emerita at Stanford University, urges us to reject “the deadly notion that the schools’ first priority should be intellectual development” and contends that “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.” Alternatively, we might wade into the dispute between those who see education as a means to creating or sustaining a democratic society and those who believe its primary role is economic, amounting to an “investment” in future workers and, ultimately, corporate profits. In short, perhaps the question “How do we know if education has been successful?” shouldn’t be posed until we have asked what it’s supposed to be successful at.

2. Evaluating People vs. Their Education: Does the phrase well-educated refer to a quality of the schooling you received, or to something about you? Does it denote what you were taught, or what you learned (and remember)? If the term applies to what you now know and can do, you could be poorly educated despite having received a top-notch education. However, if the term refers to the quality of your schooling, then we’d have to conclude that a lot of “well-educated” people sat through lessons that barely registered, or at least are hazy to the point of irrelevance a few years later.

3. An Absence of Consensus: Is it even possible to agree on a single definition of what every high school student should know or be able to do in order to be considered well-educated? Is such a definition expected to remain invariant across cultures (with a single standard for the U.S. and Somalia, for example), or even across subcultures (South-Central Los Angeles and Scarsdale; a Louisiana fishing community, the upper East side of Manhattan, and Pennsylvania Dutch country)? How about across historical eras: would anyone seriously argue that our criteria for “well-educated” today are exactly the same as those used a century ago – or that they should be?

To cast a skeptical eye on such claims is not necessarily to suggest that the term is purely relativistic: you like vanilla, I like chocolate; you favor knowledge about poetry, I prefer familiarity with the Gettysburg Address. Some criteria are more defensible than others. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge a striking absence of consensus about what the term ought to mean. Furthermore, any consensus that does develop is ineluctably rooted in time and place. It is misleading and even dangerous to justify our own pedagogical values by pretending they are grounded in some objective, transcendent Truth, as though the quality of being well-educated is a Platonic form waiting to be discovered.

4. Some Poor Definitions: Should we instead try to stipulate which answers don’t make sense? I’d argue that certain attributes are either insufficient (possessing them isn’t enough to make one well-educated) or unnecessary (one can be well-educated without possessing them) -- or both. Let us therefore consider ruling out:

Seat time. Merely sitting in classrooms for x hours doesn’t make one well-educated.

Job skills. It would be a mistake to reduce schooling to vocational preparation, if only because we can easily imagine graduates who are well-prepared for the workplace (or at least for some workplaces) but whom we would not regard as well-educated. In any case, pressure to redesign secondary education so as to suit the demands of employers reflects little more than the financial interests -- and the political power -- of these corporations.

Test scores. To a disconcerting extent, high scores on standardized tests signify a facility with taking standardized tests. Most teachers can instantly name students who are talented thinkers but who just don’t do well on these exams – as well as students whose scores seem to overestimate their intellectual gifts. Indeed, researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between high scores on a range of standardized tests and a shallow approach to learning. In any case, no single test is sufficiently valid, reliable, or meaningful that it can be treated as a marker for academic success.

Memorization of a bunch o’ facts. Familiarity with a list of words, names, books, and ideas is a uniquely poor way to judge who is well-educated. As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead observed long ago, “A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth. . . . Scraps of information” are only worth something if they are put to use, or at least “thrown into fresh combinations.”

Look more carefully at the superficially plausible claim that you must be familiar with, say, King Lear in order to be considered well-educated. To be sure, it’s a classic meditation on mortality, greed, belated understanding, and other important themes. But how familiar with it must you be? Is it enough that you can name its author, or that you know it’s a play? Do you have to be able to recite the basic plot? What if you read it once but barely remember it now?

If you don’t like that example, pick another one. How much do you have to know about neutrinos, or the Boxer rebellion, or the side-angle-side theorem? If deep understanding is required, then (a) very few people could be considered well-educated (which raises serious doubts about the reasonableness of such a definition), and (b) the number of items about which anyone could have that level of knowledge is sharply limited because time is finite. On the other hand, how can we justify a cocktail-party level of familiarity with all these items – reminiscent of Woody Allen’s summary of War and Peace after taking a speed-reading course: “It’s about Russia.” What sense does it make to say that one person is well-educated for having a single sentence’s worth of knowledge about the Progressive Era or photosynthesis, while someone who has to look it up is not?

Knowing a lot of stuff may seem harmless, albeit insufficient, but the problem is that efforts to shape schooling around this goal, dressed up with pretentious labels like “cultural literacy,” have the effect of taking time away from more meaningful objectives, such as knowing how to think. If the Bunch o’ Facts model proves a poor foundation on which to decide who is properly educated, it makes no sense to peel off items from such a list and assign clusters of them to students at each grade level. It is as poor a basis for designing curriculum as it is for judging the success of schooling.

The number of people who do, in fact, confuse the possession of a storehouse of knowledge with being “smart” – the latter being a disconcertingly common designation for those who fare well on quiz shows -- is testament to the na├»ve appeal that such a model holds. But there are also political implications to be considered here. To emphasize the importance of absorbing a pile of information is to support a larger worldview that sees the primary purpose of education as reproducing our current culture. It is probably not a coincidence that a Core Knowledge model wins rave reviews from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum (and other conservative Christian groups) as well as from the likes of Investor’s Business Daily. To be sure, not every individual who favors this approach is a right-winger, but defining the notion of educational mastery in terms of the number of facts one can recall is well-suited to the task of preserving the status quo. By contrast, consider Dewey’s suggestion that an educated person is one who has “gained the power of reflective attention, the power to hold problems, questions, before the mind.” Without this capability, he added, “the mind remains at the mercy of custom and external suggestions.”

5. Mandating a Single Definition: Who gets to decide what it means to be well-educated? Even assuming that you and I agree to include one criterion and exclude another, that doesn’t mean our definition should be imposed with the force of law – taking the form, for example, of requirements for a high school diploma. There are other considerations, such as the real suffering imposed on individuals who aren’t permitted to graduate from high school, the egregious disparities in resources and opportunities available in different neighborhoods, and so on.

More to the point, the fact that so many of us don’t agree suggests that a national (or, better yet, international) conversation should continue, that one definition may never fit all, and, therefore, that we should leave it up to local communities to decide who gets to graduate. But that is not what has happened. In about half the states, people sitting atop Mount Olympus have decreed that anyone who doesn’t pass a certain standardized test will be denied a diploma and, by implication, classified as inadequately educated. This example of accountability gone haywire violates not only common sense but the consensus of educational measurement specialists. And the consequences are entirely predictable: no high school graduation for a disproportionate number of students of color, from low-income neighborhoods, with learning disabilities, attending vocational schools, or not yet fluent in English.

Less obviously, the idea of making diplomas contingent on passing an exam answers by default the question of what it means to be well- (or sufficiently) educated: Rather than grappling with the messy issues involved, we simply declare that standardized tests will tell us the answer. This is disturbing not merely because of the inherent limits of the tests, but also because teaching becomes distorted when passing those tests becomes the paramount goal. Students arguably receive an inferior education when pressure is applied to raise their test scores, which means that high school exit exams may actually lower standards.

Beyond proclaiming “Pass this standardized test or you don’t graduate,” most states now issue long lists of curriculum standards, containing hundreds of facts, skills, and subskills that all students are expected to master at a given grade level and for a given subject. These standards are not guidelines but mandates (to which teachers are supposed to “align” their instruction). In effect, a Core Knowledge model, with its implication of students as interchangeable receptacles into which knowledge is poured, has become the law of the land in many places. Surely even defenders of this approach can appreciate the difference between arguing in its behalf and requiring that every school adopt it.

6. The Good School: Finally, instead of asking what it means to be well-educated, perhaps we should inquire into the qualities of a school likely to offer a good education. I’ve offered my own answer to that question at book length, as have other contributors to this issue. As I see it, the best sort of schooling is organized around problems, projects, and questions – as opposed to facts, skills, and disciplines. Knowledge is acquired, of course, but in a context and for a purpose. The emphasis is not only on depth rather than breadth, but also on discovering ideas rather than on covering a prescribed curriculum. Teachers are generalists first and specialists (in a given subject matter) second; they commonly collaborate to offer interdisciplinary courses that students play an active role in designing. All of this happens in small, democratic schools that are experienced as caring communities.

Notwithstanding the claims of traditionalists eager to offer – and then dismiss -- a touchy-feely caricature of progressive education, a substantial body of evidence exists to support the effectiveness of each of these components as well as the benefits of using them in combination. By contrast, it isn’t easy to find any data to justify the traditional (and still dominant) model of secondary education: large schools, short classes, huge student loads for each teacher, a fact-transmission kind of instruction that is the very antithesis of “student-centered,” the virtual absence of any attempt to integrate diverse areas of study, the rating and ranking of students, and so on. Such a system acts as a powerful obstacle to good teaching, and it thwarts the best efforts of many talented educators on a daily basis.

Low-quality instruction can be assessed with low-quality tests, including homegrown quizzes and standardized exams designed to measure (with faux objectivity) the number of facts and skills crammed into short-term memory. The effects of high-quality instruction are trickier, but not impossible, to assess. The most promising model turns on the notion of “exhibitions” of learning, in which students reveal their understanding by means of in-depth projects, portfolios of assignments, and other demonstrations – a model pioneered by Ted Sizer, Deborah Meier, and others affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools. By now we’re fortunate to have access not only to essays about how this might be done (such as Sizer’s invaluable Horace series) but to books about schools that are actually doing it: The Power of Their Ideas by Meier, about Central Park East Secondary School in New York City; Rethinking High School by Harvey Daniels and his colleagues, about Best Practice High School in Chicago; and One Kid at a Time by Eliot Levine, about the Met in Providence, RI.

The assessments in such schools are based on meaningful standards of excellence, standards that may collectively offer the best answer to our original question simply because to meet those criteria is as good a way as any to show that one is well-educated. The Met School focuses on social reasoning, empirical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, communication, and personal qualities (such as responsibility, capacity for leadership, and self-awareness). Meier has emphasized the importance of developing five “habits of mind”: the value of raising questions about evidence (“How do we know what we know?”), point of view (“Whose perspective does this represent?”), connections (“How is this related to that?”), supposition (“How might things have been otherwise?”), and relevance (“Why is this important?”).

It’s not only the ability to raise and answer those questions that matters, though, but also the disposition to do so. For that matter, any set of intellectual objectives, any description of what it means to think deeply and critically, should be accompanied by a reference to one’s interest or intrinsic motivation to do such thinking. Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well-educated, then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Copyright © 2003 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.www.alfiekohn.org -- © Alfie Kohn

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wedding Season

One Saturday - One wedding.
Next Saturday - Another wedding....

Just a sweet thought for all the romantics out there. Congrats to the two beautiful couples.
See ya: I'm off to witness love :)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Seeking Book Suggestions

I've always been a book worm. As far as I remember, my first encounter with novels was the Babysitters Club series around the age of 8. When I was done checking out and consuming every one of these from the school library, I graduated to Gordon Korman (the 'Bruno and Boots' series is utter genius), Roald Dahl, and Farley Mowat. In between, I read a variety of other authors, but these were the mainstays of my childhood.
In high school, while in the Lit program at Canterbury, our teachers thoroughly spoiled us by picking out the most amazing books and authors for our study. Here, I met E. Annie Proulx and the Shipping News, as well as Timothy Findlay, and completely fell in love with both of their writing styles and tones. I wanted so badly to write in the same beautiful, lyrical way they did, alternating between spare and laden with emotion, and I knew that the best way (for me anyway) to write well was to read well. By the time I graduated from high school, I was a book snob. I would pick up a book after watching a stranger read it on the bus, get through 50 pages, max, and get horribly disappointed or bored and put it down. I wanted books of the same quality as the ones I had been reading in Lit, aka amazing writing, amazing characterization, and amazing plot. It's hard to find all three in the same book, but I couldn't be bothered to read anything else. I came to using my friend Katherine as my personal book critic. I'd ask her once every couple of months what she'd just finished reading, see if she'd found it worthy, and then read it if she had. It was so that I came upon Life of Pi, the Empire Falls, and Clara Callan.
My problem now: Katherine's in Japan teaching English, and it's a lot harder to keep up with what she's reading. I tried applying her mom's system (get the award winners of the year and read them all: they're usually the best books), but it was hit and miss for me. For every Late Nights on Air, there is a The Golden Notebook (and I'm sure that book was iconic for the feminist movement and for some women at a particular point, but for me, I'm just getting bored with it, and I don't enjoy her writing style).
So what I'd like is a list of books to read from you avid readers. No Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele please.
Thank you.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Calling all Clothing Designers

My mom in law and I were out shopping on Saturday (shout out to my parents in law for an awesome weekend visit) and we had the most frustrating kind of "bad" shopping trip in that we didn't "not find anything we liked", no, that would have been easy enough to deal with. No, we had one of those trips where a lot of what we saw was nice, but it was all two-third sleeves, thus making it not wearable for hijabis without those little "sleeve" thingies we can wear under our shirts when the sleeves aren't the right lengths. (My sister's friend (who is a convert), her mother refers to them hilariously enough as 'socks for your arms'). I don't mind wearing them once in a while, but they're really not that comfortable and I'm not enamoured with the way they look, so I'm not about to buy a whole load of shirts that require sleeves for me to wear them.
So here's my call out to clothing designers: if it's short sleeved, do it short sleeved. But if it's long sleeved, just make it the whole length and I predict you will find more hijabis buying your shirts. We like your stuff, it's just not convenient to wear in its current format, and all you need is a teeny-tiny bit of material for us to start buying it in droves.
There are plenty of Muslim women in this country who don't all feel like wearing jilbabs every day and really like your styles. A savvy fashion designer with great business sense would start making stuff for us and be the one to reap the benefits, so if any of you are reading this, that's my great idea for you...

Happy Birthday Canada



This is my country, the one my parents chose over 33 years ago, the one I was born in, the one I think about when I'm somewhere else and homesick. This is where I huddled in bed as a child with my sisters, having impromptu sleepovers when our parents had asked us long ago to go to sleep; where I learned to ride a bike in the yard of the Catholic school on our street, my dad holding on to the back, holding, holding and then letting go and leaving me pedal off; where I met my first best friend and felt the rush of little girl secrets exchanged, of exclusivity, then had my first fight, spoke my first bold insult, felt my blood rush to my head with anger and shame as I stood alone in yard with the minutes of recess dwindling away and the wind whipping at my face, wanting to go back inside and do addition and subtraction; where I memorized Quran while sitting on a mossy rockface near Perth Ontario, reciting verses of Yaseen and looking at the trees and the lake in front of me; where I decided I loved hockey after Mr. Falls took us down to the library to watch the Olympics, where I watched Peter Forsberg score that goal and win the medal for someone else and felt my first of many sports heartbreaks; where I wrote my first rhyming poem and had it shown to the principal and got an extra sticker and decided I always wanted to write; where I stayed up nights finishing my writing portfolio for arts school in eighth grade, reading and re-reading the character profiles, the poems, the short story and agonizing over words, replacing "white" with "ivory" and switching back to "white" before finally printing; where I spent 4 years sleeping and reading and writing on the 90 minute bus ride to arts school instead of going to the school 10 blocks away; where Mr. Fitzpatrick gave us books to read and told us to study their tone and their voices, and I fell in love with "The Shipping News" and "The Wars" and wanted to write like Timothy Findlay; where I met Katherine and May and Brenda, whom I don't see for months or sometimes years but still fall back into easy conversation with when I do, and love like sisters, and hope and pray for regularly; where I met M at my sisters Katb Kitab; where I fell into easy conversation with him and knew, and waited some more and still knew; where I watched my other sister become a mom and carried my niece and nephew for the first time and learned to bottle feed and change diapers and pj's and hush a crying baby and tiptoe like I'd never tiptoed before.


Where I grew up and became who I am, and am still trying to become who I want to be.


It's not perfect here, and we make mistakes and maybe don't treat each other as well as we'd hoped we would, but at least we have that hope, have that intention to be fair and good with anyone who wants to come live here.

Happy Birthday.