Tag Archives: collard green

Love of Memory

18 Dec

It was a rare shot.mother-and-sonIf photos could sing, this one would drop down into a soulful tune. If they could morph, it would flutter into a worn-out quilt on a lazy afternoon. If they could speak, it would whisper, hold that baby a little bit longer, while you can still do it with one fell swoop. My sister, her feet also emerged behind me, captured the moment. That was the first and last trip to Morocco we ever took together.

I became miserably ill by night fall. We’d ventured into a shady grove of figs, and by the owner’s permission, I had a fateful bite. All night, my sister held my head up over a bowl and remained vigilant, letting my son tangle her hair in knots, as he cried to be nursed. Near an open window, I laid on a thin mattress in the summer night’s heat, boiling with fever, trying to catch a breeze. As dawn approached I was retching and hollow.

When daylight burst, armed with my sister-in-law, she dove deep into the dusty, sun-latticed souk, looking for vegetables, herbs, and a fresh chicken {which she found, literally}, while trying to explain the absolute necessity of this American thing called chicken soup. The miracle broth gave me strength to move around and nurse my son without falling back. Big sisters are very essential people. I wish my daughter had one.

Eventually, we headed off to Marrakesh to do all the touristy things. Having pumped some milk, I was nervous to leave my son behind with my in-laws, even if for one night, but I was determined to show my sister other parts of Morocco besides the live chickens for sale. It started with a wobbling train ride moving south, wherein we sparred with a sweaty French man, then enjoyed a chat with a group of young, Moroccan graduate students, close to our age. They reminded me of every other graduate student of late- completely not like me, completely not mothers.

Not long after settling into Marakesh, my sister and I had a fight. She stormed one way, I stood there, then traipsed off to our hotel room, where I fell on the floor crying in woeful snots. It was a heated, ideological battle – the most useless sort. We’d made up within three hours and then headed out to a fancy dinner. Sister bonds are very sacred, and equally as complex.

Marakesh-with-Sister

She got a kick out of putting our water bottle into the wine chiller of the pretentious couple next to us after they left. We still giggle about it to this day, in one of those: ‘Remember that moments?!,’ not because anything spectacular happened, but precisely because nothing spectacular happened, yet we still managed to have more fun than anyone else in the room, a decidedly Collard Green trait.

The next day, we all headed to a resort pool where my in-laws met up with us. My sister and sister-in-law wore bikinis; in fact, I think my sister even borrowed one from my in-laws assuming that she wouldn’t need a bikini in a Muslim-majority country. Meanwhile, I wore pants and a long shirt, prepared only to keep an eye on my son in the one foot deep kiddie-pool. Soon, the lifeguard was rabidly blowing his important whistle, motioning for me to get out; I stood there, playing possum.

Coming down off his courtly, high stand, leaving all the children in the deep end to fend for themselves, he marched over to strongly impress upon me the importance of removing my feet and ankles from the pool since women in hijab (the Islamic headcovering) were not allowed. My sister got up and demanded to know what was going on. When I explained, she stood close to my ear and declared: “If you get out of this pool, I’ll never respect you again for the rest of my life.”

A double dawg big sister dare- what’s a Muslim girl to do?

I persisted, meanwhile the hotel director arrived to strike a compromise. He said I could come back after dark and stand there, but under no circumstances should I be permitted in the day light hours to stand covered with my feet in the water,  not for safety reasons, but because the hotel had an image to maintain and I was apparently holding up bunny ears. Then, they threatened to call the cops, despite my sister-in-law’s protests. This was getting serious; I was at a cross roads. Between losing the respect of my sister for life and sitting my Collard Green fanny in a Moroccan prison, I knew what I had to do…I skittered away from that pool faster than a crawdaddy can hustle.

A few days later we arrived in the suburbs of Casablanca, where I took her to a mosque – plucky and delighted to usher her into a house of worship in Morocco. We sat side by side with the other women (all elderly) along the perimeter of the sauna-hot walls, waiting for the call to prayer. One of the women asked us where we were from.

“Alwelayet Almoota7eda (The United States),” I replied, loving the sonorous texture of Arabic rolling off my tongue. The woman inquired: “Where’s that?,” after which her friend tried to explain. “Ah! France!,” she brightened, “I know some people who live there.”

Along with her friend, we tried again and again to place the United States on some reference point on her mental map. Then, knowing the final call to prayer was about to cut us off, I gave up. So many fellow Americans I’d encountered back home had no clue where Morocco was, so why should I be flabbergasted that this frail woman couldn’t pin me? The thinness of her wrinkled, weary skin, reminded me of my great-grandmother who hailed from North Carolina. “Yes, we’re French,” I reassured her. Enchantee! Le temps est plus belle au printemps, oui? She was so pleased to meet us.

The devotees were not about to give up on my sister – suddenly the spiritual tourist. Instead of focusing on her own prayers, the woman to my sister’s left, physically choreographed all her devotional movements, as the sweat dripped from our chins. She pressed down on her back when it was time to prostrate, and moved her right index finger to the call of la illaha illallah (there is no God but God), the way Muslims pray. My sister was gracious, and obliged their enthusiasm like a good Collard Green daughter, but secretly couldn’t wait to get out of there. So,when one of the women followed me out and insisted that we come to her house for dinner, my sister said she would kill me if I accepted; and the thought of her rendering bodily damage seemed plausible by the look on her face.

The woman insisted in the way that Arabs are known to persist in offering hospitality. At length I explained that I could not oblige her request; I could feel my sister’s pulse quickening beneath my own skin. Finally, feeling backed into a corner with no way out, I said: “Someone in my husband’s family has just died, and we have obligations back home.” She bid us farewell and promised to make du’a for the deceased, calling out prayers for all to hear. I felt wretched for having concocted two false stories in just under an hour, and frightened by my performance.

I left my sister at the airport, with seven days more clinging to my own itinerary, and no affordable way to change my ticket date. I’d already been there two weeks before she arrived, and I was homesick in that lonesome, collard green way- when you want to stick your nose into the warm neck of your birthplace, and exhale. As eager as I am to go to Morocco, in the end, I always claw my way back. My Collard Green daddy, chided me once: “You don’t leave the country very well.”

Transporting myself back in time to all of these moments brings me abiding, almost mystical pleasure. Memory is such a miraculous thing; again and again, we go back to past lives, basking in both subtle and bold, emotional shades. The colors swirl, within them voices arching high and low….sniffles and wailing, giggles and guffaws. Sometimes when I am lying in bed at night, I comb through these stories as if running broadly through a meadow of colorful spring flowers – weeds actually; the ones that rise up in the fields without any planning or forethought.

Then, exhausted, I lay down in them and drift further away from the clear colors and voices, deeper into the murky underworld, which drags me more rapidly until it lifts me back up to the place where I left off, only more crystalline than before, to a place where I can see and touch the whole periphery of my memory. Yet, we are in the most bizarre fashion, often out of costume and context – not entirely as I remembered. My feelings flicker in images and emotions, much stronger than the currents that sent me to this familiar, yet foreign place.

The love of memory is the backbone of life, for even when men and women deteriorate in old age, when they can scarcely recognize their own children and spouses, they can remember their lives.

Memory is the conduit that, by God’s grace, delivers us beyond worldly confines…the friend of the prisoner and slave. Our bodies will become fertilizer for the earth, then one day the mountains will blow away like dust. Yet, our memories will live on, delivering us to our final reawakening, when we will startle for the last time, and swear that this, all of this, was certainly a dream.

The Girl Who Laughed Into the Palm of Her Hand

6 Dec

In the second grade, I met a girl who I’ll call Lilly; a brunette, she sported a tomboyish haircut and was blessed with high cheekbones, always ruddy from the sun. Though she smiled a lot, she muffled her laughter into the palm of her hand. In our class, Lilly earned the distinction of being the fastest runner.

But for Lilly, I would have never fallen in love with softball; a game I proved very sorry at playing, and so learned, that you can be bad at something and enjoy it nonetheless. Lilly explained matter-of-factly: “It’s almost like baseball, but since we [girls] can’t play that, we play this.” I’d already tried cheerleading and ballet, and proved worthless at both. The ballet instructor said I was distracted and not cut-out. Ecstatic, I secretly cheered. Ballet was as much fun as picking weeds.

Lilly brought a paper to school with all the information about the girl’s softball league in Ocoee- a neighboring town. My mother took one look at it and said no can do! Practices were several times a week with games on the weekend  – too much hassle. Lilly had a solution, “My mama will drive you,” she assured me without even asking her mama. I thought she was nuts; after all, she had five sisters to keep her mama busy. I was dumbfounded when, the next day, she confirmed that her mama agreed.

I asked my mother if Lilly’s mama could be my chauffeur, which required providing her first and last name. I’d only seen her from a distance, a petite, slightly pudgy woman with Farah Fawcett hair, only shorter. She always wore boot-leg jeans atop sneakers and a t-shirt.

In a small town, of course, my mother knew of the woman, but I was surprised to discover that Lilly’s daddy worked under my father’s management, seasonally, in the orange groves. A man without an immigration problem who worked seasonally was likely a drunk.

At seven and 1/2 I already knew that there were two kinds of drunkards – no good boozers and functioning alcoholics. No good boozers let their liquor interfere with their livelihoods, whereas functioning alcoholics showed up to work {blood shot eyes, but still working}. The later always garnered more sympathy than the former. Lilly’s daddy was a boozer, but since he had the distinction of being docile and working hard when he did sign on, he was put into a rare, third category – alcoholics who neither harmed nor benefited society. A melancholy drunk.

I don’t know why my parents agreed, but they let me sign up for softball, provided Lilly’s mama drove me back and forth. Maybe I incessantly begged them, or maybe they just didn’t see any harm. After all, if we barred all the so-called struggling people, we wouldn’t have even been able to stand our own company.

Something else, though, made it extra-ordinary, something that is hard to be honest about, but you well know is the norm the world over, not the exception. What they called, dirt poor, did not socialize with working class, which is where our family fell. Working class people could cohort with upper class and vice versa, but neither had any dealings with dirt poor, unless it was direct, hand-to-hand charity. So, the extreme unlikelihood that I would ever be paired with Lilly for the two years that we were together is something that defies my understanding. Still, it happened, and not in a dream. I remember many of my Lilly days, though the ending of our story is as sparse and convoluted in my mind as the memory of my own beginning.

Like most childhood friendships, ours evolved in as much time as it takes to shell a bucket of peas. As the relationship deepened, my mother would come out and speak to Lilly’s mama and occasionally invited her in. My daddy called her mama, “Sugar,” and made her laugh, just like everyone else who came to our yard. When she did that, her shoulders shook, her head flew back exposing back molars, and she’d slap him on the back. I always wished my mother would laugh at my father’s jokes like that.

During softball practice, and at games, Lilly’s mama was always there cheering me on, which must have been hard to do because I was as coordinated as a lizard on a greased porch railing, and even worse, I was dead scared of the ball flying near my head. My strategy, as an outfielder, when a fly ball soared through the air was to duck with my arms over my head like a crazed shooter was on the loose. Then, I’d pop my head up, gopher the ball and throw it to the in-field. No matter, Lilly’s mama took me under her wing; between that, and Double Bubble Gum, all was well in the world of softball.

Lilly, on the other hand, was fearless on the field, so it surprised me when I invited her to a sleep-over at my house and she refused, confiding that she was too scared to sleep away from home. On the one night I managed to convince her, she was so petrified, she wet the bed. That was the end of that, she never came again. On the other hand, I slept at Lilly’s frequently.

The first time her mama came to pick me up in their faded, brown car, I got a kick out of Lilly’s littlest sisters crouching on the floor board to make more room. All the way, I bounced up and down on the vinyl seat, so happy to be with Lilly and her sisters. Just on the outskirts of town, we pulled into a trailer park, which stopped me from bouncing, and made me affix my eyes to the car window like a tourist on an exotic vacation. Lilly’s mama slowed down over the unpaved, dusty road. Skinny dogs ran from under their owners’ trailers, forced back with chain gangs, yelping over the loud engine. Throngs of trailers on either side lined the way, some in better shape than others. Lilly’s home was the last trailer on the right side of the two lane park; baby-blue with white stripes running lengthwise, and held up by cinder blocks- definitely one of the shabbier ones. It backed up to a running creek and was towered over by large oak trees, so that no matter the time of day, the light was always obscured.

Once inside I surveyed the strange wonder. On the immediate right, by the entrance, was the parents’ bedroom and on the opposite end was the girls’ bedroom. It had two queen-sized beds shared by all six daughters, plus a long oak dresser and an armoire made of thin plywood. There was one bathroom down the tiny path of aisle leading to the back bedroom. It was half covered with linoleum and half-exposed. There was a toilet there, but it did not flush. A bag was made ready for used paper and the flushing was done manually with a bucket of water from the bathtub, stained orange from the well water. There were no windows as it backed up to the tiny kitchen on the other side. A small living room contained two soft couches splayed with orange and brown windmills and country estates. I could get from one side of the trailer to the other in seven good skips.

As quickly as we went inside we left to go run wild outside, while Lilly’s mama prepared dinner. There were only patches of grass in her yard, it was mostly bald and dirt-packed. After a while Lilly’s mama called us in and we huddled around the black and white speckled diner-style table trimmed with chrome. The meal was pan-fried steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, and purple Kool-Aid. I’d never eaten a steak cooked on a skillet, or even a steak prepared by a woman. My daddy always grilled them. I noticed that these steaks were also thin, resembling country ham. I cut up a piece, and put it in my mouth, chewed, and chewed…and chewed for a very long time. Each sister was gobbling down her portion while Lilly’s mama sat on a tall stool, without a plate, looking over like a butler ready to respond to any of her daughters’ need.

My jaws were becoming very sore as I began to panic about the wad of meat in my mouth. How should I dispose of it discreetly with so many watchful eyes?  Prickly heat spread over my body along with perspiration on my upper lip and forehead. The room was spinning and I felt like I had my tongue stuck in a Chinese finger trap.

My hazy mind was sharpened when laughter erupted among the whole lot of them – uproarious,  causing Lilly’s mama to tilt off her stool, and one younger sister to fall out of her chair. Lilly held her laughter in the palm of her hand. Only the wispy blond-haired baby, the only blond in the bunch, looked as stupefied as me.

“You ain’t never had poor man’s steak, I can see!,” Lilly’s mama howled.

I didn’t know how to respond, but out of relief I stopped chewing. I couldn’t say “No ma’am,” because that would be insulting, so I just stayed silent. Finally the tremor of laughter died down.

“That’s alright, you don’t have to eat poor man’s steak if you don’ wanna,” she assured me.

I put the full force of my concentration on the round, plastic plate in front of me, and dipped my spoon into the milky, white mound of mashed potatoes, after which Lilly’s mama discretely piled more and more until I had my full. Later she made Jiffy Pop and we watched T.V. The images were slippery and grainy. With a small living room and six kids, it didn’t seem any trouble flipping through the three channels and adjusting the antennae without a remote.

Lilly’s daddy never came home.

But, I would see him from time to time, like an illusion, suddenly he appeared, though his presence did not fill the house like my own father’s. He did not say much, though he would always ask about my daddy and told me to pass along his greeting, which I never remembered to do. Sometimes he would tell me a funny story about my daddy, to which I always raised two eye-brows out of respect, but they never impressed me because it was common wherever I went. People liked to tell me how funny he was, as if by some bizarre twist that would surprise me.

Meanwhile, Lilly and I never exchanged daddy stories. She knew my daddy was a funny man and I knew hers was a drunk, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to talk about facts as obvious as the State Capital. What our shared imagination spun was much more fascinating over countless hours of make-believe. I had found my little girl soul mate.

One suffocating, hot day Lily said: “You wanna go ring an old lady’s doorbell?”

“What for?” I asked.

“‘Cause she can’t hear a thing, not even a church organ! She can just hear with her eyes,” said Lilly, while shoving both of her index fingers into her eye sockets for emphasis.

Lilly had peaked my interests, “How can she hear with eyes?,” I asked.

“Her whole house is wired. If you ring her bell it sends off blue lights- all over, then she’ll get up and answer, cept’ if she’s sleepin,’ then you gotta wait a long time. She’s super old!”

“O.K.,” I perked up, “Let’s go,” and away we ran.

“You push it!,” Lilly said, giving me the honors.  I was a little hesitant; what good reason did we have to ring the old lady’s door bell except to see if she would answer? Maybe she would knock us down with a cane?

“Just do it!,” Lilly assured me, so I did and we waited, but no one answered. It was pitifully anti-climatic. We came back a half a dozen times until she finally answered, without a cane and with a big smile on her face.

This is my friend, mouthed Lilly, and she placed her hand on her heart and then placed it on mine. Lilly pointed to her eye then wiggled all 10 of her fingers up in the air like flashes of lights, or at least that’s what she meant to convey, and the old woman understood.

She enthusiastically gestured for us to come in. Lilly stood outside and rang the doorbell non-stop while I looked in amazement at the blue lights blinking around her home, in the most unexpected places- like Easter eggs. I found myself wishing that my home was equipped with that feature…for what, I hadn’t a clue. Lilly made out a few more statements which the woman seemed to understand, and of which I was clueless, then we set off to some other destination in the trailer park.

Another day, when the flies were particularly annoying, humming around the watermelon rinds, and having explored as much wildlife as could be found in the creek, and tossed the softball till we grew weary of its weight in our gloves, and journeyed to untold imaginary places, Lilly suddenly perked up: “You wanna go to church?!,” she blurted out, like asking if I wanted to go to Disney World.

“They give out cookies and juice, and sometimes candy, and they tell good stories!”

All of my short life had been invested as a somber Methodist, and I’d just reached the age when I was expected to go sit in a pew from time to time and behave. Bearing this in mind, I tried to make sense of Lilly’s sincere enthusiasm.

The next morning her eldest sister fit me into one of their dresses. I had no choice but to wear my mud caked tennis shoes, and for that reason alone, hesitated. I’d never attended church without stockings and black Mary-Janes, which always made my feet feel like they were melting under a heat lamp in the Florida sun. I wasn’t sure if it was blasphemous to walk into the Lord’s house on a Sunday without the proper footwear, but Lilly assured me that some kids even came in jeans and flip-flops, “So, you’ll be fine.” Now I really had to see this church!

In order to get to church we had to catch a church bus at the entrance to the trailer park which was another novelty for me. Lilly’s mama told us to behave, and sent us off, staying behind with her baby and youngest toddler. Before long a short bus, bearing a painted, shining cross, smiling children and a white Jesus, came rolling up. The whole lot of us, unchaperoned children, piled on. A middle-aged woman served as the attendant – her hair that had been frozen solid with a can of Aqua Net, and a clear orange line of makeup ran down her jaw line. She was a happy one, clapping and leading us in songs about Jesus that we never sang at the Methodist church. Lilly knew a lot of them which made me jealous and feeling left out. It seemed this woman’s only job was to pump us up for what was to come, a sneak preview. The driver just sailed ahead, un-phased.

Lilly’s church was worlds away from any religious experience I’d ever had. Looking back, I count this as my first exposure to another faith. Though both of the Christian orientation, Lilly’s church was plain different. The congregation sang hymns, but in high and low voices, out of sync, and danced in place, looking exactly like my father jerking his legs and arms in a hallelujah grip, lip-synching Ray Charles, I Got A Woman. The preacher was the most peculiar sight. He couldn’t seem to stay put on the pulpit; in fact, he made it look obsolete. Sporting a blue polyester, three piece suit, he walked back and forth furiously, from one side of the church to the other. From time to time, for no apparent reason, the congregation would cry out “AMEN!” in staggered, yet powerful crescendos. I tried it too: “Amen!” It was not hard to stay awake and pay attention in Lilly’s church.

She was right that some people wore jeans and other casual clothes, but most striking about the congregation was that they were mixed. I’d only ever prayed alongside people of my own race and I’d never given much thought to any other way. Lilly’s church planted a seed deep within me, one which many, many years later would eventually give rise to a comforting voice in the loneliness of my heartache and thirst, it said: There are other ways, many other ways- be bright, sing high, and don’t settle for inheritance, no matter how much it promises you, when it comes to belief.

I wish I could tell you how my story ends with Lilly. I have looked for her in my mind, time and again, hoping beyond hope to find a morsel of our last days together. I have come up dry every time. I do know that she moved away and then came back again, but I don’t remember ever saying, Goodbye, Lilly, or, Thank you.

Many years later I was with my father volunteering at a ‘Toys for Tots’ campaign in the youth center. The volunteers were tasked with taking the participants around the room, whereby they picked out one toy for each child in their family. Doing this job made me feel very grownup, and on a mission, though I was all of about sixteen years old. As the line progressed I saw Lilly’s mama waiting for a turn, looking older than I remembered her.

Maybe you think I ran up to hug her neck or say I missed you, but I did none of that. I slipped behind a corner wall and hung there for a time, my heart beating rapidly. I wanted the wall to suck me in. Then, my father came looking for me. Of course, he had to show me Lilly’s mama, had to have me properly greet her. I inquired about Lilly, who she said was doing “just fine,” and that her older sister had already married. She had four tickets in her hand, for her younger children still remaining. That was her Christmas. The stark, shrieking contrast lulled my outward speech into superficial words and gestures.

The thought of walking Lilly’s mama around while she picked up her small gifts made me feel ugly. I hoped my father wouldn’t suggest…and of course, he didn’t. He just wanted me to pay my respects and then he walked away with her; slowly they strolled around the semi-circle of packages and I watched. I saw her laugh, her shoulders shake, and her head fly back as I clicked my tongue to keep the tears deep, deep in the well of my belly.

Still more years later I heard that one of Lilly’s uncles won the lottery – a big jackpot, but my source did not know whatever became of Lilly or where she lived. The news made me smile for the rest of the day. Since then, whenever I picture Lilly, I see her under perpetual sunshine, in a comfortable home with a swimming pool and acres of land for her children to run and play on. I have no hard evidence to substantiate this claim. It is all imagination, which was, after all, our sanctuary -Lilly and me.

May Allah cover you in His unfathomable Love and Light, Lilly, wherever the sun rises on your mornings.

Something about Ummah

2 Nov

I came upon the term ummah after delving into the study of Islam fourteen years ago.  It’s often translated tightly as community, but it’s so much better than that. So much on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t ever find the precise words for the feeling…like… the most sublime tremor of well-being just to be alive and connected.

No. That won’t do. Scratch that. It’s something else. Something I can’t tell you, just as you can’t tell me how un-done you felt to be in love when you finally realized what it was -with the fear, thrill, and anticipation that sent you laughing yourself to sleep that night.

O.K., you have a point. That’s not fair– to let you in on something, and then not tell you what {it} is!! I agree. Well then, I’ll try.

Ummah is a refined acknowledgment of connection that transcends all boundaries of tribalism and national borders for the purpose of seeking the pleasure of God Most High. It is an idea that breeds transcendence, so it is only natural that ummah will be more palpably felt between two people of different languages and tribes, which is commonplace, for one, in my neck of the woods. Lucky for me! I have so many ummah stories that I could share with you based on my experiences over the years…they are treasures which I pull out and dust off from time to time to rekindle.

Last week marked Eid ul-Adha, the world over – a day of commemorating the Prophet Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his own son, based on his literal interpretation of a vision from God. Prophet Abraham’s son willingly accepted to be sacrificed believing that it was God’s will;  however, God intervened through the Angel Gabriel, before the sacrifice could take place, and Prophet Abraham was commanded instead to sacrifice a sheep, a thing much less beloved and prized to him. Prophet Abraham had already demonstrated that seeking the pleasure of God reigned supreme in his heart, even when the logic was not apparent on the human, cognitive level. As Muslims, we reflect on his vision as a metaphor, to unhinge ourselves from the world- to give preference and space to love what is Everlasting over what is ephemeral. This story is one illustration by which we can get a sense of the incomprehensible rank that God bestowed on Prophet Abraham by deeming him His friend.

In the U.S. on Eid, Muslims raising young children often gather in public spaces such as parks during the afternoon period. The festivities eventually transport to cozy homes. It is typically a frenzy of idleness, with fired up grills, bags of candy, and throngs of children running as independent bands- coming to their parents only for more juice, or another cupcake. Eid is all about fun and not stopping until you lay, speechless, having said all there is to say, and exhausted on one’s bed – sighing and falling into a peaceful sleep born from doing nothing that isn’t pleasurable.

So, on this Eid, our family packed into the car, then took a detour to pick up the children of a friend who was ill. We piled out expecting to walk into a large crowd of Eid-goers only to discover no one around. There was a large gathering of Muslims in one gazebo, none of whom I recognized. Clearly Palestinian, I thought by surveying the collection of men who needed a BBQ grill so big they brought their own. The pithily one at the park would never do for the massive amounts of beef and chicken they were about to unleash. I understand. I’m Collard Green.

The other dead give-away were the men dressed in brightly colored shirts underneath snug, black polyester vests, coupled with fitted pants reaching to long, black and well-shined, square-toed shoes. Picture minions of Godfathers hovering around a grill next to a massive playground set. The grill master, a young guy, wore his dress sleeves rolled up, and extending from his left hand were five kabob poles extending three feet or more in the air; his other hand swiftly turned the sizzling kabobs still on the grill. The aroma was marinated, charred yumminess- a feast that only a zealous vegan could refuse with satisfaction. I wanted to ravage the place.

Impatient, I scanned the horizon. Where were all our people?  I spotted two familiar faces, likely as disappointed as me over the weak turn-out. We convened and made a few phone calls before realizing that folks were on their way; a phenomenon I’ve come to know as ‘Muslim Standard Time.’ Before long, a Nigerian friend showed up and soon her kids were running around the park; they disappeared into the haze of smoke. She leapt in to retrieve them, and no sooner than she could exit, they insisted that she : EAT! EAT! TAKE! SOME MORE! NO, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH! The men busied themselves with heaving generous portions of food on her plate.

She didn’t know any of them, yet because she walked into their midst for less than a minute, she was obliged to take something away. That’s ummah.

So, we huddled in our barren, yurt-like gazebo and ate the Palestinians’ food. It was so good. I could hardly complete a thought, but when my consciousness returned, I felt guilty to have left a sick friend with an empty stomach. My intention had been to bring  her some of our food, but not enough in our party had arrived to start grilling. Not having grown up in an ummah-centered culture, I was too shy to walk up to the Palestinians and ask for more food, even if for a sick woman. That’s what Collard Green people would call tacky. But, there’s no tacky in ummah which is what my Nigerian friend knows. She didn’t hesitate to return. With wide smiles, like greeting a long, lost friend, they encouraged her a second time. EAT! EAT! TAKE! SOME MORE! And this time they handed her an entire tray full of freshly grilled shrimp to go along with her over-flowing plate.

Eventually our party showed up; we were able to start our own festivities. Toward the end of the day, I navigated my way into the Palestinians’ enclave with a measly plate of fruit. Meandering around the men, I crept deep into the belly of the party where all of the women, from the Palestinian region of Gibran, languished. Their space was dim and hazy. The smoke from a shisha pipe rose – hovering like cumulus clouds over their lair. Their heads cocked back -mouths gasping for air because it was just so funn-y…I can’t speak..I can’t breathe…my love, habeebti!!!

In their colloquialism, I had no clue what they said. What caused them to laugh so convincingly? They looked the way life does…when it is living.

A thin, petite woman took my plate and winked, thank you, she said. I did not stay; in fact, I ejected myself swiftly, feeling like a school girl who’d slipped out of bed and tip-toed into her mother’s party, uninvited, but then stricken by being so far out of her element, scurries back to bed, only to wish she had stayed.

There was more goodwill to be had. The Palestinians made these fantastic high-end goodie bags and proceeded to throw them into the arms of any child within reach, including my own. To which one of my kids exclaimed: “They have really good stuff!”

Our parties had mingled so much, they would have been indistinguishable by passerby.  One of the Palestinian women made her way to our huddle and lamented that she had left her broom at home. “Do you have one?,” she asked. “I can’t just leave the place like this!” she lamented. Of course, how could she leave her first-come-first serve gazebo so un-kept?! Doesn’t everyone sweep up the concrete floor after a BBQ. How disappointed would the next party be?! “Sorry,” we replied, we are fresh out of brooms.

Later that night we ended up at our friend, Laila’s house for an all dessert pot-luck. Families with roots in Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Palestine, Turkey, Morocco, and my very own ‘Merica, amassed on the main floor with the men huddled in the basement. We had our own version of a smoke-filled room, without the smoke. Over-indulged on the qatayef, chocolate, and coffee, we remembered the Palestinians and felt joy.

Ummah is a thing that eschews mere politeness; it scoffs at minding your manners. It is a surging wave that thrust itself forth, covers the other, washes over and quenches the thirst of its members – both giver and receiver. It harbors no refuge for the ego; for to experience it you must peel off the coarse layers of yourself and meet with the tender heart of another. Like Prophet Abraham’s vision, it forces you to see beyond the ephemeral and dive into the timeless Source of all Pleasure.

I can’t tell you precisely what it is, but I pray that you will feel it on the tip of your tongue one day….so close, but never able to convey it precisely. Who can define love, after all?

Mountain Climbing in Dollar Store Flip-Flops

9 Feb

 Mamahood can feel like climbing an icy mountain wearing dollar store flip-flops. On a recent weekday during a trip to a big box store, with two of my young’uns, I felt like I was wearing those flip-flops. I planned to buy just one simple rug. Before leaving the house, I went through the rigmarole: lunches, check, clean change of clothes, check, bathroom break (even for the one who claims he doesn’t need to go), check, money and cell phone, check, hairbow, check, matching socks, never mind!

Next comes the difficult part – the eternity it takes to get both of my kids strapped down into carseats. My daughter insists that I take off down the road with her door open, and let her shut it when we get to full-speed because, “Mama, I know what I’m doing,” and “Why don’t you ever trust me!” Meanwhile, I’m cold. It’s February. I just want to slip behind the wheel, and thaw out behind the heater vents, on my way to buy this rug. Why so complicated?!

We arrive at the store and I can’t find the rugs anywhere, which I’m sure is a scheme. I have to pass by every Euro-trashy trinket in primary colors, made in China. This store feels like a destination for the self-righteous consumer who balks at a Wal-Mart shopping experience- which is by the way, much closer to where I live. My kids are loving it. Suddenly, they need everything in the store and the prefix to my name becomes: oooooooohhhhhh, as in: “Oooooooohhhhhh Mama, can I have this?!”

Soon, they are bored with sitting in the cart. It is more fun to drive it into objects…and people! My youngest son gets a sharp jab after backing into one of the corner displays and begins to scream loudly. I have to somehow translate my inner-freak out into a sympathetic hug and medicinal kiss. Where are the rugs!? Thank God for my health-nut makeover; otherwise my low blood sugar would have driven me to the cafe for a sugary, refined, Euro- inspired pastry and coffee to go.  

I turn a corner and instead of arriving at a polyester blend, Persian knock-off, I run into something else. There is a box spring on a red-tag sale, it’s down from $100 to $50.00. I actually need two box springs for my kids. Heck ya! However, one problem- I don’t have a large enough vehicle to make the trip back home. I drove our four door sedan with room for five only. No problem, the store clerk assures me. That’s what “the man” is for downstairs. She explains that it is his job to load the merchandise (which can be placed on the top of my car) and rope it down for easy passage. Sweet! I was starting to like this store. They even have Rent-A-Daddies! She congratulates me on getting a good deal, because, “At these prices, they won’t last long.”

Not long before the inventory warehouse and exit, I spot the rugs and pick up not just one simple rug for my daughter, but two more….on sale, of course! Then, giddy, I make our way to the aisle where my box springs wait. An intercom recording informs shoppers that in order to keep the prices low, the company has the customer do their own work. Huh, I thought to myself, I thought it was because it outsourced all of its manufacturing labor overseas to countries without labor attorneys and lax safety standerds. On a flat bed cart I manage to load the beds and then steer both carts and kids to the check out line. Behind me are two strapping, store employees, talking up a storm; neither man offers to help with my loot. Never mind, I just have to make it past the check-out line, and there will be my Rent-A-Daddy, ready for the rescue. Maybe he’d even take the young’uns out for ice cream and give me a chance to catch my breath.

All check-out lanes are self-service, so after man-handling the scanner-gun from my kids I contort my body around the merchandise to find the bar codes. I am dutifully playing my part in this big-box scheme like a good customer. I had to call my kids back from every direction. They are like frantic bees in the late fall, knowing that soon they will be strapped back into car seats. Keeping an eye on them, as they peak to spend the last ounce of energy, makes it difficult for me to multi-task both scanning and entering my payment information. Finally, I yank my receipt from the feeder and head off to Rent-A-Daddy. In the distance I can see him, clad in a neon, sleeveless smock. Now, I’m picking up my pace, trailing the kids behind me. As I come closer I can see his form better. Huh? Is that him?! A scrawny, teenager (early twenties at best), and pale to boot. This isn’t Rent-A-Daddy! This is Baby’s Daddy. He comes, however, with an endearing Collard Green accent and explains that it is the store’s policy to only assist in loading merchandise, not to rope it down, “for liability reasons.”

“But, the lady upstairs told me ya’ll would rope the beds down,” I explain.

“What lady?,” he asks.

“I don’t remember,” I say, flustered, “One of the sale’s clerks.”

“I know,” he shrugs, “It happens all the time.”

In that case, I say, I’d like to put the merchandise on hold until my husband can arrange for it to be picked up. He lets me in on another one of the store’s policies which is that it does not hold paid-for merchandise, which makes me, in effect, stranded unless I want to pay the hefty transportation fee. Heck no! There’s a reason I just bought all these items on clearance in the first place. The fee for the transportation costs more than the total sales amount of my purchase.

Sensing my alarm and frustration, baby’s daddy drops his voice down low, while scanning the horizon, “I’ll tell you how to rope it, then I’ll come back and pull a rope from the hood of the car to the trunk of the car to keep it steady,” he assures me. “This never happened,” he warns. Turns out Baby’s Daddy is even better than Rent-A-Daddy, who would have been too frightened over the prospect of losing job benefits to plot an escape. I was a bit intimidated by doing the first part of the roping myself, but got my Big Girl courage up and set to work. It turns out to be very difficult because every time I make another loop my daughter opens that door just to say: “Hi mama!,” thereby loosening the loops I’m making. There’s a real able-boddied daddy parked next to my car. He never offers to help. I’m thinking that I need to move out of the North and head back to Collard Green country, where a real man would feel awkward just to idle there without offering assistance.

It was awhile before Baby’s Daddy comes back. Again, he scans the surroundings carefully then quickly sets down to work, sliding rope, like a master weaver, in and out of my front grill. He’s amused all the while: “My sister had a car just like this,” he recalls and smiles. I like this kid and think he’d do well in the real world where a cool head under pressure and a sure-footed gait, takes the cake. He obviously enjoyed the thrill of rule-breaking; meanwhile, I stood on the look-out – as scared as a schizophrenic squirrel.

Suddenly, a voice calls out from inside the car. “Mama, he’s voooooomiting! You better hurry up!” It’s my daughter’s voice. I rush to the rear passenger seat, and sure enough, my youngest is vomiting up his afternoon snack, in heaping chunks.

“Oh sweetie,” I start, “It’s o.k., calm down, you’re alright. Take a deep breath. Mama’s here. Drink some water.” You know the routine. I reach in to hold his head, clean him up, and ease off his top-layer sweater. Within ten minutes he’s fast asleep and reeking of stomach acids. In my quest to buy just one simple rug, I’d left his spare clothes at home.

Baby’s daddy was still fast at work- he doesn’t let the panic and putrid smells from the car deter him from this 007 task. Before long he’s done and standing near the hood to examine his handy work.

“Do you think this will hold?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says as he tests it by jerking the beds every which way to see if they will give, “It ain’t goin’ no where.”

I look around, and not seeing any other store employees in sight, reach into my purse and grab the wad of cash on hand, and hold it out. He hesitates, but I stay steady. After another quick scan of the premises, he says: “Well, I can take that.” Baby’s Daddy winks and swipes it without another word, then takes off like Spiderman. I imagine him springing to assist another stranded, jilted mom from the bedding section.

I set down in my car, relieved, tap down on the hazard lights and set off. Just before turning onto the highway a State Trooper pulls up behind me. My grip strains over the steering wheel. Then, apparently, slowed down by my speed, the officer jerks around and takes off. Whew!

On the highway I stay in the far right lane and try to keep my speed slow enough to be safe, but fast enough to beat the angry onslaught of rush hour traffic. My GPS takes me through a long underwater tunnel. At some point in the middle of the dark tunnel, the top box spring starts to slump forward over my front window. I start to panic for lack of a smarty-pants solution. This is not the way I’d come at all. My GPS was going off script, as if it had a personality to enjoy a good laugh at my expense. Finally out of the tunnel, I drive off on the margin of the highway, and look back at the kids. They are still asleep – at least I’ve got that going for me. I slip out of my car, pull myself onto the hood (no easy trick in a long skirt) and proceed to shove and shift the top box spring back in place. Here I am in a hijab and long skirt wrestling with box springs on the top of my car. That must have been a sight. I made du’a (prayer) and coaxed my inner soldier-girl the whole time.

After that, I decide to slow down which indeed brings me into rush hour traffic and under the wrath of all those drivers, who I sympathize with more than myself. I feel like that guy in Morocco, trolling on his mo-ped with a sheep carcass saddled over the ride- holding up all the smokier engines behind him. People are peering in and likely thinking, what is THAT?! 

Just as I turn the corner to my street, I tally the days humiliating events. I glance my sons’ sleeping face in the rear-view mirror. Hopefully, I’ll be able to inch into my driveway without getting heckled by any of the neighborhood kids. I say this because during the last mile the top bed had started to lung forward, again, making my loot look pathetically flotsam as if I’d just robbed the Bed Barn.

As I turn the corner, my elderly neighbors inch from the opposite direction. Just as my bed lunges, they lunge forward to see my car’s freakish top-hat. I want to slide down under my steering wheel, but instead I manage a hearty wave as if I was steering the premiere float in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Once parked, I abandon the box springs on my car to wake my son up and ease him into a warm bath. All was well in the world. If anyone looked out from their window, they now question my sanity, and maybe wonder if I really did rob a Bed Barn. I certainly climbed to the icy peak in my flip-flops that day, and I either earned another resiliency badge or killed a few brain cells. Whichever, my box springs are not just any box springs. They tell a story and they make me laugh, whenever I want to- for no particular reason.

The Oil Lamp

10 Jan

“A person who teaches goodness to others while neglecting his own soul is like an oil lamp, which illumines others while burning itself out.” – Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) At Tirmidhi

Giving ourselves personal space to develop God-consciousness and self-awareness is a very Big Girl thing to do. Ironically, once we resolve to become grown up we have acquired so many duties, however joyful they may be, that personal space is deemed a luxury instead of a nutrient. Just a few months ago personal space was not part of my life. I was homeschooling my ten-year old son alongside my kindergartener, plus chasing after my two year old and keeping house. I was resentful which was not very big girlish of me. 

The story goes like this: when a mama raises children it is called motherhood, but when a mama homeschools her children it is called motherhood on steroids. (It’s just a joke, and I’m covered by the “unorthodox humor” disclaimer on my About page.)

Folks who find out that I homeschool my kids say roughly the same thing: “I just don’t know how you do it! I know I couldn’t do THAT.” This can mean one of two things.

If another mama gives you this line with her hand on her hip that is code for: I don’t believe anyone can do it, including you! This is true, especially if the next declaration concerns how anointed her kids are because they’ve all tested into elite classes and how much she just, “loves, LOVES, their school!!!”  Meanwhile I’d be saying to myself (hand on hip), that thar’ is a bonafide smarty pants! Then, I’d feel so pitiful and petty for fussing up my emotions like that instead of feeling plain old tickled-pink for her brood.

Now, if a mama gives you this line with her hand on her heart, then she really does think you are a saint and she only wishes you the very best. In that case, I’d wish to pour my heart out: tell her how strung out I felt, how exhausted I was, how insecure, and how scared I was to choose otherwise. I wanted to confess that it really is miserable to be potty-training one minute, critiquing a writing assignment the next minute, only to turn around and pretend to eat ‘princess cupcakes.’ Yuck! I’d want to fess up that the thought of waking up in the morning to be mama/teacher for the long haul depressed me to no end. I just wanted to tell her how friggin’ resentful I was. But, instead, I’d just give her some feeble, self-depreciating line like a good, little girl does and go about my day.

I wasn’t always resentful; most of the time, in fact, I was not. More often the satisfaction of being able to provide personalized lessons in a wholesome environment was highly motivating. In addition, I was learning along side my eldest on a wide array of subject matter so it was intellectually stimulating. What is even better, I live in an area where there are a plethora of resources and organizations to support homeschoolers, and homeschooling is not exactly the third rail. There are museums galore and it seems that all of them have a special event set aside for homeschoolers, or a series of classes catered to providing them with a hands-on multi-sensory experience.

Not only that, but I participate in a well-organized homeschool co-op with other families where my children take classes that indulge a range of their extracurricular interests. Even better, the co-op mothers are some of my closest friends and our children share a deep bond. That’s not all; a parent where I live need not strictly homeschool every subject. From science to history to writing courses – there are many series advertised at community colleges and centers which cater to homeschoolers. Minus the end of school year burn-out, homeschooling is mostly a sweet life. 

The crisis I encountered was not homeschooling, per se, but balancing my  eldest son’s educational foot-path with that of his younger brother and sister. Complicating life further was the fact that I was not using a prefab curriculum; rather, I was tailoring every subject with a special set of resources to try to offer the best mix. Everyday was an obstacle course, but not a course that one could study ahead of time; rather, it was a surprise obstacle course every day – no fail.

Younger children are less predictable in terms of their health and emotions which is why I never knew when I’d get surprised with a feverish child, one throwing a temper-tantrum, or simply one just wanting to squat down and play blocks with me for a while, just for the heck of it. While on one hand my adolescent excelled on structure, on the other hand, my younger children needed me to be more flexible. I was succeeding only by waking up everyday and performing lunatic acrobatics. As a result, my oil lamp was extinguished. For the first time in my life the only thing I could passionately identify with was the common phrase: going through the motions.

Strangely (and clearly a symptom of my condition) it wasn’t the fact that I was miserable that caused me to quit, it was the fact that my son was no longer motivated to study. School was drudgery. He started making careless mistakes on his work and the only clever edge he demonstrated was in trying to get out of assignments. 

 In retrospect I realize that the reason my son was no longer motivated to study was that I was no longer motivated to teach. My attitude had become infectious and malignant. The obstacle course I was running was stunting my spiritual growth because all of my resources were going just to running it. At the point when my light extinguished, and every day thereafter, I was of no benefit to my family besides taking care of their physical needs. Though I wanted to impart goodness; indeed, the very idea of it kept me on this blistering course, I simply could not succeed because I hadn’t been feeding my soul.

However terminal my condition, in the thickness of it I couldn’t sober up to the reality that no amount of tinkering was going to fix the problem. I felt guilty that I just couldn’t make it work and my guilt was shrinking my sense of empowerment to try something different and trust in Allah (SWT). It did not occur to me that my oil lamp had burned out. Didn’t it have some kind of auto-burn option!? Didn’t good intentions light it? If my ideas and my goals were so right, why did it feel so wrong? Why was it so unfair?! How come some women could do it and I couldn’t? Why couldn’t I just be more like sister so and so? How come my kids couldn’t just be more like her kids?! Maybe this is really my test in life; I need to keep a positive attitude and all will be well. Why can’t I keep a positive attitude for more than one stinkin’ hour!!??

I could only answer these questions after lightening some of my load and looking back on my circumstance. At the point when my oil lamp ceased to incandesce, I could scarcely remember that it once functioned, much less locate the means to light it again. My condition was so severe that it was not the loss of light which caused me to initiate a radical change, rather it was an event which happened outside of me to cause that shift. 

The fact that my son was no longer motivated to learn, of which I had tangible proof in the form of his written work- indeed, something out side of myself, made me sober up to the reality that would ultimately save myself. I picked up the phone, called my husband at work, blind with tears and said: “Baby, it’s time to outsource one of the kids.”

He immediately went into daddy-mode- enumerating the means and logistical steps to execute the outsource. Meanwhile, my alarm and skepticism grew under the impression that we were about to ship our eldest off to Kathmandu. What made it especially hard were the pleas of my son who was adamant that he wanted to continue homeschooling with his friends.

Armed with conviction, I steam-rolled the process of getting him enrolled. I made my first stop at a private school run out of our local mosque. I already knew mothers there, and best of all, my friend and former homeschool mom taught at the school. My heart sank when they told me there were no spots available. No mind, I got back in the car determined to go to the public school, which boasts a very good reputation. Two of our neighbors send their children there and since they are all sweet-natured, I was hopeful.

The grounds of the school were very tidy; as soon as I walked into the building on the left was a large, colorful display of a world map with a fanciful marker on every country to note all the places in the wide world where the attending students come from. A quick scan put my heart at ease that my son would not be the only Muslim there. Then, I walked into the front office and proceeded to wait in line. Naturally, no one gave me the familiar, warm welcome of “Asalaamu’Alaikum,” peace be upon you. Actually, I didn’t even get a hello, which is understandable given the busy mass in the office. As time passed it did feel a bit like the DMV, only much cleaner and without any Mountain Dew.

While waiting our turn, my two-year old started flailing because he thought we were in a pediatrician’s office and said he didn’t “want to get shots!” This scene, however embarrassing, did invite them to process me faster. They gave me a shiny stack of papers to fill out and sent me on my way. I asked if there was anyone I could talk to just to answer a couple of questions about the school’s pedagogy and policies, but they reminded me that I would need to first fill out those shiny papers. 

I left and went home to do what any aspiring Big Girl would do. I set my kids down to a kid-flick in the basement, proceeded to my bedroom, called a good girlfriend, sat on the edge of my bed and loudly sobbed over the phone. She said she’d come over later, but in the meantime I needed to chill out. The next morning I received a call from the private school that they would be able to squeeze our son in after all. After a prayer of istikhara (special prayer when facing indecisiveness) my husband and I decided to enroll our son in the private school. On the first day, we were all restless and scared, but it did have the edge of making us feel like we were merely outsourcing him to his cousin’s house for the day.

Our son made a relatively easy transition to school and, academically, he has excelled so far. Even better, I see his old ways coming back to him – that of getting excited about his subjects and crafting his own questions. He claims that he wants to return to homeschooling next fall, but he is just as likely to look forward to an upcoming project or period at school. I am still teaching my kindergartener and find that I enjoy homeschooling as much as before. I feel my lamp rekindling a little more each day.

A major life lesson I learned on my way to becoming a Big Girl, was to never wed myself to an idea so passionately that I starve my soul in the process. It is not that I must put my needs before others; it is that I need to prioritize my missions. 

When duty calls, I must interrogate my own persuasions to determine what relevancy they have juxtaposed to my daily pursuit to live courageously and authentically as a true servant of my Creator, and in proximity to my Lord. If I cannot truly seep into the pursuit of closeness to The Most Loving (Al-Wadud); if I can only speak of it to my children, whilst hibernating in the cloistered cave of my lofty ideas, then I am useless to them. My light will have gone out and they will, eventually, find no place near me to keep warm and seek sustenance for their own journey.  

The resolve to Be a Big Girl is a stranger odyssey than I ever imagined. It is sprinkled with mirages, no doubt. When I’ve mastered my thirst to the point that I no longer cry out for water…when I should be forgotten, at once, large founts of crystal clear liquid burst out, and I am brought back to my center. I remember the spiking, levitating stabs of thirst, which are remarkably more comforting than the narcotic of my former state.

Alhamdulilah. All Praise Be to God.

Much Love,

Danette

 

Judge a Book by Its Cover

4 Jan

I’m somebody’s mama so when I go to the library I spend a lot of time in the children’s section. By the time we’ve had a sit down with Fancy Nancy, Harry Potter, all the kids at Magic Tree House, Pooh and Piglet, my kids are ready to go home. I have a few minutes to skim the adult section before my offspring start talking to random strangers, or my wandering ten-year old traipses upon a book which claims to inject more intimacy into your sex life. Time to GO!

In this predicament I’m a repeat offender of the sagely rule: DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER! I’ve judged oodles of books by their covers and most of the time I hit the jackpot.

By this method, three years ago, I discovered the culinary prowess of Alice Waters. My eyes caught the contrast of the cover’s mustard yellow and red with orange hues. My photo doesn’t even do justice to the loveliness of this cover’s outward form.

Because of this book I can now roast the perfect chicken and make a comforting, hot pot of carrot soup with tarragon. Her method for preparing pouring custard is divine.

I hit the jackpot again when I glimpsed a white-lettered arial font set against a deep mahogany backdrop. It read: “An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adler. I quickly pulled it out and looked at its face. The subtitle read: “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” and beneath that lay a scattering of leafy greens and cream-colored turnips with sassy, upturned tails.

I slipped it into my designated library sack and headed for the check out line, my five year old daughter hop-scotched behind in my footsteps, and told me to take her to Tutti Frutti – her favorite frozen yogurt shop.

After I paid my dues at Tutti Frutti, where she ordered a giant bowl of frozen sugar topped with a splattering of pomegranate seeds and Fruity Pebbles, I went home, ordered the kids to bed, and sunk down into my reading chair.

What a beautiful book, I thought to myself, and studied its cover more closely than I had a chance to do earlier. At the very end of the front-cover was a notation that the book included a foreword by none other than Alice Waters- the author of “The Art of Simple Food,” whose cover I also judged, and by that virtue learned to roast chickens.

Hitting the jackpot is an under-statement. This book has revolutionized the way I think of ingredients, cooking tools and food preparation. This book is more than a collection of recipes, it is a book about life. Adler encourages home cooks to get the most out of a single ingredient and to use instinct to light our path. This reading paired perfectly with my resolve to Be a Big Girl.

She warns readers not to follow recipes to a fault; rather she encourages us to : ….simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.

She says: We’re so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do.

And this advice deserves to be hung on the wall:

…..there is a great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good, and it is what I think of when I hear the term ‘good taste.’ Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.

I’m pleased to have judged this book by its cover. It is very Big Girl material, and I will now have to purchase my own copy to refer back to every now and then.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to living a Big Girl life comes from so-called expert advice. We are bullied into detaching from the big girls who came before us. Their hard-won, simple advice is supplanted with expert “wisdom,” which teaches us to mimic rather than to live courageously and authentically. I realize it’s ironic that I would advise myself to take expert advice with caution considering the fact that to “Judge a Book by Its Cover” is total heresy to sagely scripture. I feel confident, however, that if my great-grandmother could sit down and have a nice motherly chat with me she would tell me it’s alright to judge a book by its cover- if that is what drives you to choose and if it has worked out so far so good.

To be a Big Girl, I think, we have to more often decide for ourselves, no matter the pulse and sway of expert advice. We have to decide for ourselves even if the expert bears a slew of lower case letters behind h/er name. We have to ask ourselves, What is my perspective? What does hand-me-down advice have to say on the matter? We have to give that the same or better degree of attention before considering which steps to take. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren which increased my resolve to live life authentically.

In this scene Pippi answers a shop keeper trying to peddle a freckle-remover potion:

“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.

“But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”

I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”

She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she looked back and cried, “But if you should happen to get in any salve that gives people more freckles, then you can send me seven or eight jars.” 

Much Love,

Danette