Thursday, February 28, 2008


A friend forwarded me these questions. I enjoyed answering them.


1. What is the first movie you saw and where did you see it?

The very first movie? I can't remember - but I think the very earliest one I can remember stands out because it was the worst and I hated it: Tron. I was 5 years old, and my parents were watching it in our hotel room while we were on vacation in Sanibel Island, Florida. I remember being soooooo bored. Other than that, early, early movies that stand out are The Muppet Movie, and The Last Unicorn - both of which, I loved.

2. What television show(s) did you like in the 70's?

I was born in 1978.

3. What television show(s) did you like in the 80's?

Sesame Street, My Little Pony (this was my favorite), Care Bears, Garfield, Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, He Man & She Ra, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock (other favorite), The Smurfs, The Littles, The Jetsons, Dungeons & Dragons.

4. Name as many childhood Halloween costumes as you remember.

When I was 7, I was a horse (which everyone thought was a cow, which pissed me off, and my brother got to be a "cool" devil, which pissed me off, too). I believe that costume, already a hand-me-down from my cousin Allison, was recycled for me for 2 consecutive years. Brilliant!

My very first costume was an artist, at age 2. I had a little black beret, a paint smock with bowtie, and the paint-thing with all the colors on it, with a hole for your thumb....the thing artists hold while they're painting - and a paintbrush. I was so proud - I wanted to be like my dad.

When I was 5, I was painted as some sort of weird vaudevillian clown face and taken door-to-door by my father. I was so embarrassed, because I thought I looked ugly, so I cried the entire time, and wouldn't look anyone in the eye. I have no idea what my dad thought of my reaction.

At age 6, I was Strawberry Shortcake, and wore the cheap plastic mask with tiny breathe-holes. I rememer wheezing and the whole mask covering my face with condensation, which was an extremely unpleasant sensation, but I was determined to wear it - I loved Strawberry Shortcake, man. The rest of the costume consisted of a plastic tablecloth-like sheet with a hole for my head, draped over my body and screenprinted with a Strawberry Shortcake picture.

At age 9 I was Raggedy Ann, an entire set, lovingly handcrafted - including a red yarn wig, a blue flowered dress with white pinafore (I loved this dress and pinafore - I felt like Alice and Wonderland, which, looking back, would have been a wise choice, since I loved Alice and felt silly wearing this giant red wig) and red-and-white socks. It was borrowed and handed-down from my next-door-neighbor-best-friend. Obviously my parents did not like buying Halloween costumes.

My final year of trick-or-treating was at age 13 or 14 - I knew I was old, but I loved it, and my friend Lisa and I were going to go together. Her brilliant idea was to make our own costumes, and we were each to be "a bag of jelly beans." It took a lot of drawing-board brainstorming to determine how this feat was to be accomplished, let me tell you. We made my costume first, and taped balloons with masking tape to the outside of a black trash bag, reconfigured with holes for arms, and head.

After my costume was complete, we had the stroke of genius to tape the balloons with much-sturdier duct tape. We were giggling as we squished into the back of my parent's station wagon, in order to drive us to "the rich neighborhood," where we would get more & better candy. We barely fit in the car, and my heart would flutter at each popping of a balloon.

My costume, due to its embarrassingly shoddy craftsmanship, cast balloons one bye one, two by two, lost into the dark night after each house we visited and each crispy, sugar-frosted lawn we traversed - until I was just walking around in a black trash bag. Lisa's costume was fully intact, her enviously bright bouquet of colors a beacon of hope in the frigid, obsidian air. I felt the clench of a quiet panic rise in my throat.

At that point, we rang the bell at a large, white house. I believe there were pillars - or it may just be my faulty memory, increasing the stakes in the ominous tragi-comedy that was to ensue. When the woman opened the door, her face turned to a bitter sneer as she looked first at Lisa, bright and bubbly, and then me, in my wrinkled, crinkled, ripped, pathetic, disgusting - trash bag. "YOU COULD TRY HARDER THAN THAT!" she barked, crushing my fragile self-esteem, my confidence, my wishes to be clever, lovely and glittered.

5. What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

I remember being so proud that I had six dollars, for a long time, carefully stowed away in my quilted pink purse. I think I used it to buy candy - but didn't spend it all in one place. I bought M & Ms, my treasure, and would eat just a few at a time, and would delicately roll up the little papery bag and tuck it away in my cupboard in my room in order to savor them as long as I could.

6. What was your allowance at age 10?

I never had an allowance.

7. Was/were there a(n) political event(s) you remember from the 70s and 80's?

I don't remember anything. Except in 3rd grade, our teacher asked us who we thought would be voted for governor and wrote down two names on the blackboard. We voted. I was so proud a few days later when my guess was correct. I had chosen the name because I liked it - and truly had an instinct about him. ;)

8. What religion were you raised in?

A bit Christian, but we never attended church. I remember my dad taking me to the Nature Center, walking around looking at the trees, and my dad called it, "My Church." He'd always ask us if we wanted to go to his church.

9. Are you still in that religion?


10. What rules did your parents have that you hated?

I don't remember any rules. Except I hated doing homework - especially math homework. I would cry with frustration. We also had to always practice the piano - which we all procrastinated about doing - even though I liked it.

11. What's the first song you made out to?

There was no music.

12. Who was your first kiss?

Not telling. But I was 18 years old.

13. How many schools did you go to as a kid?

4 - one elementary school, one middle school, 2 highschools

14. Which place(s) did you live growing up?

North Saint Paul, Minnesota

15. What color(s) was/were your room growing up?

White stucco, with dark wood trim in weird V shapes. My dad said he wanted it to look like a tudor-style house (on the inside of my room). Until I was in highschool, it also had blue persian-esque tiles on the floor, which were cool - but it made the floor hard and cold. It was a weird room. No wonder I chose to sleep in my brother's room until I was 7. (It was also because I was afraid of all the dolls in my room. I thought they were staring at me at night, in the dark, as I tried to sleep. Gave me chills.)

16. What was your favorite book in the 70's/80's/90's?

From the start, I loved to read and be read to. Books were my entire world. As a young kid, among all the picture books, the famous kid authors, I loved all the 1950s Little Lulu comics that my dad read to us from his collection.

As I grew, I loved all the Oz books & Alice in Wonderland (my favorites), Dr. Seuss, all old fairytales, everything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Anne of Green Gables books, Madeleine L'Engle, Cynthia Voight books, Chronicles of Narnia...............

17. What was your favorite movie(s) in the 70's/80's/90's?

I love movies and always have. If I had to pick one though that stands out most from childhood, I'd say Labyrinth.

18. Who was your first "best friend"?

Kristen, next-door.

19. Do you still know him/her?

Yes! Although she moved away, we re-discovered each other later in life. :)

20. What was the farthest you rode a bike as a child?

I think to the 7/11. It was "up the hill," which I thought was a marvelous, long journey. Now, I know - t's not. LOL

21. Were your parents strict?

Not by a long shot.

22. When were you allowed to date?

Never was an issue because I was extremely shy. It never came up.

23. What pet(s) did you have before you were 18?
Poppy & Moose - 2 cocker spaniels
Goldie & Blackie - goldfish
Tosca - cat
Hamsters (my sister's - yech)
Nibbles - guinea pig (my sister's - again, yech)
Zip & Cupid - cockatiels
BearPaw - mutt dog
Zeke, Cecily, Zolly - 3 lovey cats

24. Did you get good grades in school?


25. What hobbies did you have as a child?

I loved to read and write....I also played the piano, tennis, and skiing. And until I was about 9 or 10, I loved dolls and always played with dolls.

26. Did you play sports?

ONLY tennis & skiing. Outside of school. They were the only things I liked, and I was terrible at everything else. I HATED school-related sports/gym class. Such pressure! Such tension!

27. What was your favorite food as a child?

Rice. When I was 10 and my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I only half-jokingly asked for "a barrel of rice."

Also, artichokes and brussels sprouts. I loved eating steamed artichokes as a family, because it took a long time to make them and eat them, one leaf at a time, dipped in mayonnaise (yum!). This delectable vegetable was particularly conducive to having quality family time - eating, talking.

28. What food did you hate as a child?

I never liked meat very much. And until I was a bit older and grew to LOVE spaghetti, when I was very young, it was scary to eat because I continually choked as I was eating it.

29. Are your parents still married? If so, how long?
34 years this fall, inshaAllah, mashaAllah.

30. Who was your favorite teacher in K-8?

Definitely Mr. Fredlund, my 5th grade teacher. He was my beloved, staunch supporter. Believed in me, loved me in a grandfatherly way. Now that my mom's a schoolboard person and always involved in education and the community, she sees him from time to time at different functions. He always asks about me. :)

21. Who was your favorite teacher in High School?

I loved Mrs. Lamb, my 7th grade English teacher, and Mr. Brick, my 11th and 12th grade English teacher, even though EVERYONE I knew made fun of him - he was quite odd. I liked him very much - he was a huge fan of Asian poetry, and I will never forget his moving, inspiring lectures about Lao Tsu and Li Po, which revved up quite a bit of enthusiasm for these writers on my own part. I will never forget how, through these and other writers, he taught me the word "reticence," and the whole concept behind it in Asian poetry. It followed me for the rest of my days, trying to capture that essence and practice. Mr. Brick was so supportive of me. He was so respectful and 1000% encouraging of me and my writing. It was exactly what I needed - saturated praise - in order to draw me out, to blossom and be brave and expressive in my writing.

It's funny, but I remember little else from my scholastic highschool days, but these afternoons of reading poetry and world literature stayed with me. Just the other morning - a cold, bright winter morning, I read a beautiful article in National Geographic about the 17th century Japanese poet, Basho. It took me back inside a reverie.

22. Did you ever steal anything as a kid?

We had these neighbors that we (my parents, and therefore, us kids) hated, until they moved away when I entered middle school, or maybe a little earlier. They were dumb as rocks, and loud, and mean. They used to have this plastic crate of rocks - just rocks - sitting next to their garage.

I don't know why, but I feverishly decided I just HAD to take one of those rocks. Maybe it was vengeance for their son being mean to me? My heart was pounding, pounding, as I cased the situation, crept up, and snatched a big rock from the crate. Just as I did so, they drove up in their van, onto their driveway. I ran, and hid in the bushes. Someone jumped out of the van and chased after me - was it their daughter? - and caught me in the bushes, and started screaming in my face, "WHAT WERE YOU DOING?! WHAT WERE YOU DOING?!!" I couldn't answer, couldn't speak, could only shake in my cold sweat.

I still had the rock when she walked away. I remember laying in bed that night, unable to sleep, my stomach in a twist, nauseous, paralyzed with fear, begging - someone, something, instinctually? - for forgiveness. Vowing never to do that again. The next day, I crept back, and put the rock back in the crate, praying they would never notice.

23. Did you ever cheat on a test?


24. Where would we find you on your elementary school playground?

Hoping recess would end as quickly as possible (I didn't like any forced socialization), or, on a more peaceful Spring day, playing 4-square, if there were any taking it up.

25. Did you have a job before you were 18?

At 15, I worked at Dege Garden Center. I was a cashier, but also did other odd jobs. It was the weirdest place to work - the employees were bizarre, are-you-a-convict? types - but they were very funny, and I enjoyed working there. I thought they were SO OLD, so haggard, so experienced - but looking back, they were about 25-30 yrs. old. We would take turns taking naps in the back, on top of bags of fertilizer. We'd jump up and start sweeping if the owner, George, came in the store. I loved watering the flowers with the spray hose in the hot, misty greenhouse.

I also worked at Bruegger's Bagels, which I didn't like much - but I stuck to it.

26. Excluding family, who have you known the longest that you still have contact with now?

Kristen, from next-door

27. Did you go to any concerts when you were a child? If yes, which ones?

Classical ones.

28. What fad(s) did you just have to have?

Friendship bracelets, Cabbage Patch dolls, moccasins, hairsprayed bangs, jelly shoes, tight-ankled jeans held together with safety pins

29. What fad(s) did you hate?

Hairsprayed bangs and tight-ankled jeans held together with safety pins

30. It's Friday night in high school: Where are you?

Sometimes home, watching a movie, sometimes out with friends - movie, restaurant, coffee shop or their house.

31. Did you ever copy a celebrity for your hair style?

Wanted to, but don't think I did or was able to.

32. What song was played at your high school graduation?

I can't remember.

33. What was the dumbest thing you did as a child?

Perhaps when I tried, in secret, to copy my dad by putting M & Ms in my nose. I was in the bathroom, sitting on the counter, looking in the mirror, to see how it looked to have orange and green nostrils, like him. The trouble came when the M & Ms wouldn't come out again. They were stuck. I panicked. They melted. I started blowing my nose, blowing my nose, for what I've always remembered was "half an hour," blowing chocolate out - and then blood. Decided never to do that again, either.

My friend Kristen answered these questions too, and for this one, I just have to post her answer as well, since it is about her and me:

"One would have to be when my best friend and I made wishes, blowing on dandelions, that we would become centaurs. And we were absolutely, whole-heartedly convinced that our wish had come true, and oh, were we delighted. ("I can see the outline of my back legs!" "I can jump higher than I could before! Look!") Until, classically, the doubts started to creep in: what had we done? How would we live our lives this way? How would we ever return to normal?? I went inside to my mother, in tears, wailing about dandelions and wishes and back legs and despair. My mother's response:
'Why don't you just wish on another dandelion?' "

34. How late were you allowed to stay out?

I didn't really have a curfew

35. What was your first car?

The red Ford Taurus station wagon was passed on to me. I thought it was a huge embarrassment, but my friends in highschool liked it, which made me happy. It always smelled like grass, from having huge black lawn bags filled with freshly mown grass in the summer that my mother then drove to "the dump." The smell remained.

36. Is your life what you thought it would be?

I hadn't known what to expect, but I certainly hadn't seen this coming.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thoughts on Schooling

Lately, I've been thinking A LOT about Y's future schooling possibilities, and just his general growing-up here in America, in general. I've come face to face with this daunting question: how hard will it be to build my children's MUSLIM IDENTITY here in this country?

I've considered sending Y to public school for a 4-year-old kindergarten program. At one point, I was thinking that would be fine. Now I'm leaning more towards sending him to the Islamic school, if he can get it, and if not, just keeping him home. {Note: This was a few days ago, and now I'm leaning back - thinking public 4 yr old kindergarten will not be harmful inshaAllah for 1 more year....and now thinking more seriously about the benefits of moving to Egypt.....}

I don't have any problem with the program at public school itself; the problem is that he would probably start to build friendships with non-muslim children, who simply have different beliefs, values, and ways of doing things.

My mom said, "Well, he has to learn how to function in the world, which is filled with EVERYBODY. You can't shelter him all his life." Which is true - but isn't this the fragile, developing period of self-definition, to which my children should learn that Islam is the fundament of their soul? How can they do this when they're surrounded by all the nice, well-meaning - but non-muslim people? Wouldn't that be confusing for him?

And then there's the day-to-day things that would make living in a muslim country easier: all meat is halal. Men, women & children are more modest, with more hayaa'. All share an immediate understanding of what your core beliefs are, regardless of the extent to which various people practice them. The opposite is true here in the U.S., where most people are simply ignorant of the pride, respect and greatness that is Islam.

The logical decision seems fairly obvious - barring the fact that true, Egypt, like some other muslim countries, has less resources than America. There won't be nice playgrounds or librairies or the ease of English at my fingertips, or even reliable internet access.

The problem is more of an emotional dilemma.

What sustains me and motivates me are thoughts of the afterlife, and reward for our intentions and the good we have done in this life, inshaAllah. And the one who makes hijrah for the sake of Allah has all his or her previous sins forgiven, inshaAllah.

So what to do?

Notes From the Field

Thursday. March 1. 2007.
Yesterday's trip to the library proved illuminating (we are regulars nearly every week). Hot competition continues to brew around most popular item, The Train Table - especially coveted among the male toddler/preschooler set. Subject, Y, now 2 1/2, plays there for hours. Fights erupt constantly during the "rush hours," from 10-noon in the morning. Tension mounts as mothers crowd 'round too, anxious to keep the paws of their small monkey-like offspring off the rest of them, and to ensure that wooden things do not get clonked on the heads of their brood.

Yesterday gave rise to a battle. There seemed to be bad blood from the get-go between Y and a bigger, taller, moodier, approximately 3.12-year-old specimen we shall designate as Boy X3. Both cases showed a strong, unyielding preference for the BIG trains, of which there are an extremely short supply. The squall burst forth when, for undetected reasons, X3 suddenly had Y in a headlock. Both were screeching. Mother versions were clucking and pecking.
I watched calmly from my nest until one mother version began fluttering about, gasping, "Who's is he?! Is he yours?!" - duly out of concern for Y, the pounced-upon.

"He's mine!" I chimed, and deftly swept in, assuaging all stormy fears.

"Oh!" were the sighs heard echoing throughout the clan of elders, and then the silent beseeching of why in the world I did not swoop down earlier.

Indeed I felt lame as I said it, knowing how this information would be received - but I still believe that I was right. I explained, with a false puff of lax confidence, "I like to see how they're going to problem-solve...I wanted to see what would happen."

"Hmms" and "Ohs," and nods of dubious agreement followed. I remained for a few more reassuring moments at The Table, then with clandestine adroitness, breezed back to my chair post, about 2 feet away.

It is only fair to record, that some time later, at approximately 1100 hours, when another sturdy young lad was impending Y's compass trek 'round the field, I heard Y assert with full pomp and circumstance, "EXCUSE ME, SIR! EXCUSE ME, SIR! EXCUSE ME!!!" (prounounced, "me me, sir! me me, sir! mee mee!!!")
Close, March 1.

New Beginning...sort of

I've had a private blog for a little over a year. I finally decided that going public might not be so terrible. LOL - my old blog was briefly public, but I had one mean comment which freaked me out (didn't know I was so thin-skinned), so I hid it all - which is all well and good. It was what it needed to be.

I've now moved a few old posts over here to my new public blog to help me get started. I've rarely posted in the past, and most of the stuff that I ended up writing was deeply private - hence the protection. However, now maybe being public will push me to write more....maybe appreciate the lighter side of things. Wallahu alim. :)


Friday, August 25th, 2006

I was looking through some old emails, clearing my mailbox of saved drafts - and I found this poem that I wrote about impressions, experiences from when I was in seems so long ago...

o horses!
we smell of milk and sour sugar,
of apples and toasted brown grass.

and in the race's last rolling notes,
our sliced ears hear
the shrill cries of children,
the saddled and gold-costumed babies,
squeezing our necks with their dimpled thighs,
flying with righteous screams cooled by patches
of skinny wildflowers
when we fall

we open and close our eyes slowly
through long, rough hair
across the giant heat of soft noses

our bony backs remember babies in yellow costumes,
squeezing our dusty necks with their butter thighs;
and our thick hearts blink at their paper crowns,
rolling away in the wind
when we have
no more lungs
for running

and breathing turns the stomach in a twist.

i am content, laying rest into rust
eating dirt and sighing with seed.

i am gilded in ground nest for old folded bones
and scorched teeth stung white by the sun.
i am all stripped away of the dark life that comes
crawling and crackling
for the sweetness of meat
and a strong house of bone

we rest in piles of rocks and death charms -
smudgy brass cups
with prayers,
echoing round the rim.

and fluttering from rocks
are the threadbare blue sashes
whose silk has come
streaming blueness like blessings
from the wind's fiery waves
with a coolness
in the end
like kisses
blown into star-soaked night

so the ribbon-lashed mountains rock forward,
in silky dust entrails
and pure straps of sand


a blaze of electricity
has needled bright rain
into pastures where we grazed


(c)2001 Piper Livingston Van Ness

Thinking Past & Forward

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Let's write today.
This morning after Fajr, I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking about my college years, for some reason. It's amazing to think that I'm technically still the same person I was 10 years ago. It's amazing to think how much I've changed in 10 years, and how just a handful of eras or major events in that time have shaped me. I live a pretty quiet life, so I guess it's surprising that I've had any major events at all, but I have, masha'allah.What I was feeling wistful about were not the days of jahiliyya...but about the connections and experiences I had with friends and getting to know people. I guess that's what I missed, this morning. Because I rarely get to know anyone deeply anymore. Friends are for special occasions, and there's only so far we'll go to know each other. But maybe that's just because of who I am - cautious and protective. It has always taken me a very long time to share more than a social, surface level with people.

Anyway, I was thinking about all the characters I met during those 4 years of college. There were some that I got to know very well, and they fascinated me, and I wondered what they are doing now. Of course I wondered if they ever think of me. Probably, every once in awhile...but I doubt they'd be able to grasp what my life is now, and how I live it. Especially since I haven't been in contact with them for about 3 years. Alhamdulileh, it was time to move on. I wish they were not living in ignorance. But then again, I didn't and don't love them that much; there's an intrinsic love that you feel for your fellow believers because they believe. They know what you know, and you love them, simply, for that. I pity the people of the past for not holding this treasure in their hearts. They are empty and will be left behind, when the time comes, unless they turn to the truth.

Today feels like the beginning hints of autumn. Autumn ALWAYS makes me pensive and nostalgic and full of daydreams. The sun shines today with a soft, warm, lucid yellow glow. It's still fairly early for a Sunday - 12:30 pm. I had the pleasure of waking up at 8:30 to take my son from his crib, then played with him for awhile, and when he discovered his father in the other room, my son played with him, and I was left, unusually, to fall asleep again, so relaxed, so cozy, so quiet, on the soft, warm bed in my son's room.We watched the last 15 minutes of My Neighbor Totoro while we ate breakfast...I watched the rest last night, late; it ended at about 10:30 or 11:00. Late because my son stayed up and watched it with me. I really liked that movie. I love the emotion and imagination in Hayao Miyazaki's films. It's uplifting. Now I have the fleece blanket from the sofa wrapped around me as I type. Just before, when I was pouring myself a mug of coffee, I felt the twinge of nostalgia. It's quiet, and a bit crisp outside. My husband is studying in his room downstairs, in the basement. My son is asleep. Apparently he didn't sleep well last night; the Totoro movie scared him. Although I felt sorry and gave him lots of hugs and kisses, it was quite funny when he was watching Totoro last night...whenever Totoro roared his enormous roar, my son's bottom lip would turn out and quiver, and he would begin to wail, moan, shriek or sob, depending on his level of fear. He was instantly comforted by me each time though, when I gave him a hug, and kiss on the cheek, and rubbed his tummy.When we were watching this morning, before Totoro even got a chance to roar, my son figured out that it was the same movie from last night, and he shrieked with fear and ran to get his two "gankies" - his two favorite blankets - and ran to sit on my lap.It was interesting that this morning, when I went to get him from his crib, Totoro was obviously the first thing on his mind, as he talked to me about it, saying, "gblighg Bear! bghbiggj RRRRRRAAAAAAOOOOOOORRRR!" (last night he kept calling Totoro a bear.) I was amazed that he remembered it all through the night and into the morning, masha'allah.
Insha'allah I'll try now to get some reading in this morning - finally!

First Blog Post Ever

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm trying this out. Thinking nobody will ever read this, and I like it that way. To just have a place to put things, out there. My little quiet space.I'm basically doing this because typing gets thoughts out much faster than hand-writing. And I've felt that urge to write again...typing facilitates it, and I don't want to ignore it. So let's get on with it.

Today I wanted to write because I had this thought in my head - this line (they always used to start out as lines, and then the writing came pouring out once I wrote the initial line or lines in my head): "We've had an exquisite summer. We've been blessed." The thought came without anything "special" or unique to which I could attribute it...(God, it's hard to write after I haven't for so long...because the weight of the thought that this is ON THE WEB weighs on me...ignore the audience!)...It came when I was staring out my bedroom window, after I had watched the neighbor kids play in their yard, marveling at them, wondering what goes on in their heads...thinking how nice that family is, and they don't even know I think that. Because they hardly see any of me, or my family. But they are very visible...always outside.

Today was just my favorite kind of day. Grey skies, a brightness in the atmosphere, before and after rain. A suspense building, about when it would come, and the sounds and smells that go with it.The verdure of summer makes me happy. Rich, emerald, glowing green, frothy trees, the effusion of bright, curling vines, shoots, grass. The droopy abundance of leaves arching spines on their gigantic trees, bending over with their feracious weight.The time felt long, slow, quiet. Sounds fuzzy and buzzed. The echo of calm children's voices in the thick, silver air. Outside my bedroom window, I smiled watching the workers do the roof on the empty house across the street. They were calm, too. Working all day, slowly, methodically, rhythmically. They shared a bond, and were gentile. I thought it was so funny that it's mid-August, and this strange, empty, darkened house, whose owner (if that's what he is - who sometimes sends a teenage lackey) makes rare appearances to mow the lawn in the summer, collect mail, or shovel snow in the winter, has started repair work on his dilapedated Victorian. I've lived here for 2 1/2 years now, and the upper windows of the house across the street are always boarded shut. The lower windows are always dark and empty.

Houses have always fascinated me. I've always dreamed about them, wandering through rooms like mazes, examining the details within....
I've always wondered about the next door neighbors as well. Marveled that they can live 5 with numerous guests in this tiny, tiny house and spend the majority of their free time in their little strip of a yard. There's grass in the west side by the house, but where most of the running around and swinging from tree swings and riding of bikes and wandering of dog and placing of wading pool when it's hot, hot, hot takes place, the grass has worn away and there appears to be a rich, black mud. The southeast corner, they have lovingly dedicated to a vegetable garden. I was very surprised when they had that, the first summer I lived here. I thought a yard filled with junk cars, random parts, rusty bikes and neglected toys and 2 old dogs (now down to 1) would not like to nuture a garden. But they do - and they're very good at it. It's thick and big, and last summer, they sent over lots of tomatoes and zucchini and habenero. They also grow corn and sunflowers.

Last summer they also added an odd deck, about a foot off the ground, built into a small L-shaped corner of the house, outside. Put plastic table and chairs on it, and I didn't see anyone sit there. It's right in the bright sun.But this summer, I was pleased to see that they do use it. I've seen the mother, in summer attire, sit with the baby. I've seen crepe party decorations strung up from it. And they added a nice wrought-iron hook set in the ground there, to hold flower baskets, which are doing well. I guess they must water them and I don't notice. I had a pot of cilantro, thyme, curry, rosemary, mint, chives on my deck, but for lack of remembering to water them (it was a gift, my first plant in years), they quickly were scorched by the sun. I felt bad.They have a nice front garden, too - all flowers. Funny, I don't think I've seen them tend that, either.

Our yard is full of weeds. At the end of last summer I attempted to remove a portion of them. I spent about 2 hours doing it. Then my hands swelled up, red & itching for 2 or 3 days. My neighbor later informed me that it was poison oak. No, I was not wearing gloves. Unfortunately, I'm not a gardener. But perhaps one day, insha'allah.

So my thoughts came at Asr time. The late afternoon glow. And thankfully, no rush into evening. I love August. My thoughts about this summer's exquisiteness came after a beautiful afternoon spent with my sister, father and little son at The Children's Museum downtown. It was magnificent to see his face light up, masha'allah, to see him so filled with energy, curiosity, and concentration. I wish I could inspire him like that every day. That is my goal. But alhamdulileh, I felt no guilt about a self-judged lack of anything...because I was too peaceful, just being. Just hearing the crickets and feeling the slowness of time. I hope we can go to Sugarloaf again this summer. It's this saturation of nature that makes me so happy. And of course, when I felt this particular happiness, I wasn't anywhere but my own house today, my own city...but on days like today, nature lolls and gushes and takes centerstage in your mind.