First year home-2009


This is the story of our first year back in America, other installments can be found here:


Idaho 2009

A sharp buzzing pressed in my ear waking me from a restless sleep. It was time to rouse one of the girls, spoon coffee into a filter and pour a pot of water into the reservoir.  Thoughts of school and the day before held a nagging place in my gutt. The sad little figure that lay sprawled in the grass amongst students and helpers remained fixed in my memory. I had overlooked the possibility that this was my youngest child and instead a mask of denial coated my brain leaving it in an unrealistic fog. But after his sister sat beside him taking her place in a stance of not so much concern but possibly comfort, it was clear that things would not be as easy as I had hoped. My focus turned to the thought that there were only two more weeks of the paper route and then a new routine would take shape; no more nights spent wrapping bundles, sorting orders and jumping out to deliver to each and every home. Cooking for the co-op, cleaning once a week at a building and the odd sub job assured me that we could keep afloat and each time mom and dad visited they unloaded boxes of bread, croissants, peanut butter, canned vegetables and chicken, candy, school snacks and staples. Provisions were hauled into the apartment, stacked on the kitchen floor and put into cupboards. I watched as hot coffee dripped into the carafe and pushed away the idea that I was truly at fault but still I couldn’t help but wonder if leaving Saudi was for the best. I heard his words ring through my ears triggering shooting pangs of guilt to my core. “You are torturing me and the children with your stubborn and unhappy ways, you have become one of those women that I hate”


Stand on the mountain


Can I be me

Am I that free

Answer to no one

Live in the moment

Smile while you’re laughing

Stand running forward

Chair near the wall

Rug in a corner

Walk through a puddle

Not get in trouble

Joy now reflected

Cook undetected

Talk at the table

Mentally able

Say words that matter

No mindless clatter

Frozen unlabeled

Dust covered shelf

Volumes of life

Marked with a pen

Climb to the top

Stand on the mountain

Summer love-5

This series details the beginning and how I met him. The first few installments can be found here:

Spokane, Wa. 1982

Sunlight streamed through branches that had recently bent to the will of a rising wind. Pine cones and needles that were in need of raking littered the driveway and mom’s requests for their speedy removal were met with agitation and a promise to “get to them” after work one day. He held my sweaty hand and pulled me closer sending shivers down my neck and back. Soft whispers in my ear left drops of water on his forehead and cheeks as wet hair was swept aside and lips pressed gently onto mine.

The slider door opened and dad’s presence jolted me into a new reality.  I removed myself from his arms and turned to acknowledge my father who stood on the middle deck peering down. It was nearly 8 a.m. and I was responsible for opening Bingo; bags of ice needed to be carried, containers of popcorn made and condiments filled for the various food items that were offered. I spoke slowly and told him that I would have to leave and he was welcome to sit at Bingo or spend his time at the house in the woods.

I unlocked the door and ushered him inside where he greeted my father with the utmost respect. His self assured demeanor was a welcome change and he seemed to fit perfectly into our family environment. I was assured that everything would be fine as he and dad walked to the car to spend a day running errands and working on projects around the house.  I jumped in the car and made my way to the track where a day of Bingo, a break and then a night of work in the concessions stand would help to support my spending money throughout the year.

A rush that could not be explained clouded logic and urged me to take steps toward surrender. A borrowed car, directions scratched onto a single sheet of paper and his calm and humble character made it hard to hold strong.

Wood house and middle deck

Summer love-4

This series details the beginning and how I met him. The first few installments can be found here:


Spokane, Wa. 1982

Patterned tones now escalated to a racket that could no longer be ignored and sluggish fingers batted at the clock that sat on a maple nightstand just beyond my reach. The realization that I had overslept sent me into a panicked rush. There was still plenty of time to make it but it would be close. I jumped into the shower and slathered soap and shampoo everywhere quickly washing off the stench of grease and grime from the night before. Work clothes were pulled over wet arms and legs and a search for the soiled apron that had been washed and dried became my primary focus. Tossing sheets and pillows brought me back to the bedpost where the green apron hung and was then thrown into my bag.  I grabbed car keys, brushed my hair and walked out of the middle door and down the gravel driveway.

The sound of an engine roaring up the dirt road went unnoticed as I backed the car out from between two large trees. Honking from a brown vehicle just behind me prompted slamming on brakes, narrowly missing the front fender. No one ventured up the mile long road that wove and tucked beneath a heavy forest. Only five houses marked the path up to the end where the last home stood. White shingles, numerous decks and three floors stacked one on top of the other all comprised the wood house, topped with a triangular shaped skylight. Aunt Tutu had described it as the crazy house on the hill when she introduced us to this unique and well-hidden home that stood just overlooking her property. She could not imagine a family home that resembled a “bachelor pad” and had watched as it was built just 2 years before. But as we entered it was clear, this was the place and would be for some forty years to come.

The vehicle heaved and came to a loud stop just between my car and a large pine that towered beyond a blue and white speckled sky. It was him, the Middle Eastern man from the weekend before. Final words that day had indicated that he would like to visit and I had given a nod and grin, knowing this most likely meant nothing.  His arms wrapped around my waist and he reminded me that he was a man of his word and always kept his promise.



My life story–Anything


Al-Khobar Saudi Arabia 1995

Her pleasant yet unreserved demeanor abruptly took on a sharp and commanding tone. Hand gestures that included a wagging finger and pursed lips were now accompanied by a raise in volume. She gave one last sharp look his way as his leg and foot made a loud thud on the kitchen floor. Her once welcoming face now stood clouded in confusion and anger. Guilt and shame stacked neatly piece by piece and a feeling of embarrassment quickly replaced self respect as I backed up. I stared blankly into her eyes as she paced and raised her voice one last time. A mismatched array of  English forced its way out of tightened lips, “no no Um Osama, no”!

The customary kiss kiss was given first on the right cheek and then the left. Two female cousins greeted me and hugged little ones that trailed behind. A trip from Riyadh to Al-Khobar had lasted 4 hours and with it a scenic view of red and brown desert that slowly transitioned into sand dotted with shrubs and tents. I was ushered into the sitting room and motioned to sit on the customary pad arrangement.

I took my place and folded legs close to my buttocks, knowing that it was deemed disrespectful to place a foot pointing at others on purpose. Tea, coffee, fruit and sweets were all brought in rounds one after the other. Chatter and talk of school, family and memories of time spent in Damascus kept us communicating while the men attended prayer. My language skills were not perfect but I had put together a list of phrases and understood very basic Arabic that helped but also brought confusion when trying to keep up a conversation. The ladies were limited in their English and so hand gestures and assistance from the boys who had now attended almost two years of schooling made the visit easier this time around.

A family environment that paired duty and service with vigorous expectations and standards was obviously in place. Children were to be respectful to adults, women served men and they in turn worked hard to provide. Wives raised voices and insisted on men returning to the store for items missed, discussions regarding child care were numerous until little ones were eventually handed off to fathers and taken outside for walks to the park. Women requested accessories that were well beyond the meager family budget and husbands were required to comply. A happy mix of loud voices, arguments that ended in laughter, endless amounts of food and finally the last cup of tea, all offered a warm and unusual atmosphere.

I felt at home within these walls and was treated as a guest as well as an immediate part of the family. The female cousins insisted I eat more, drink tea and even urged me to nap wherever I felt comfortable. The message was clear, I was being asked to join this tight knit part of his extended family and no language or cultural barrier would stand between us.

The visit came to a close and we stood talking in the kitchen where the oldest of the two females relished the last bits of a chocolate cake we had thrown together. She joked and laughed with him inquiring about our lifestyle and how he was able to keep up with my American standards. A smug grin crossed his lips as he spoke words that fueled a raging fury and caused his cousin to raise her hands in anger, and with that his foot was placed inches from my mouth “Watch she will do anything I say even kiss my foot

My life story–I do


June 1986 Spokane, Wa.

A giddy laugh made its way over her lips and trickled out sounding much like a bird tweeting it’s morning routine. She remarked that is was pretty, understated and of course the right price. He did not care to accompany me and saw no purpose in a ring, a mere symbol and so my best childhood friend was on hand to give advice and counsel. After all it had already been two years since we made our way through the Palouse and to a tiny wedding chapel where we covertly made it legal. “For $150 it is a gem” she touched my shoulder and smiled, reassuring me that it was needed at the wedding. I placed it on my ring finger and extended my hand as far as possible, staring at the modest gold band dotted with chips of diamond. Although it was simply a  formality it would also mean that our marriage would now be official and this part of life could be a thing of the past. I reached into my pocket and grabbed the wad of cash that I had earned working at a fast food chain. I counted bills and straightened them, placing them in a neat and tidy stack on the glass counter.

The ceremony and exchange of vows two years before had created a tiny crack and somehow served as a barrier between mom, dad and me. It had been the first of many omissions but felt more like a lie and one that would not be revealed until decades later. His mindful instruction continued each month, week and day, telling me that it was now only he and I and no one else could possibly love or understand us. It was imperative, even mandatory that I keep the secret to safeguard the “us” that had become intense and now larger than life.

I gingerly stepped into the car and held my hand over hair that had been styled, curled and sprayed. Lipstick, make up and final preparations were still on my mind but I managed to complete each task knowing it meant we were one step closer. Two years of secrecy followed by guilt had taken its toll and it seemed more of a completion rather than a beginning was about to unfold. The dress, veil and shoes were now deposited in the special room that stood in the basement of my childhood church. A faint smell of coffee and cookies reeled through my mind taking me back to mornings spent visiting with our church going friends. He had agreed to the ceremony in our family place of worship in order to make this transition to married life. Anticipation welled up inside of me but with it the realization that this love that had touched the depths of my soul had also generated other feelings unfamiliar to me. I remembered his words after that fateful day but chose to ignore their impact as I walked up the stairs and into the foyer. “I guess if I loved anyone it would be you”.



Eat what I eat


After my 7th child I started exercising and losing weight. With each new pregnancy I gained much of it back but always kept trying. The photo above was me on a visit to his family in Damascus in 2001 after losing 60 pounds.



Riyadh 2006

The clink and clatter of dishes meant the meal had finally ended. I mustered a smile and wiped away tears that made an incessant drip drop into the sudsy water. I made an effort to mask the telltale signs of anxious humiliation but now it seemed as if nothing mattered and there was no return to normal. A frozen state of existence had taken hold and I was no longer able to keep this new-found rebellion under control. Frustration, sadness and confusion all peaked and waned each day. The children asked for items, suggested new ways and with every minute his fury grew until an unusually violent eruption had taken place just days before. I scuttled past the hall and made my way into the dining room unsure of how to proceed.

The rage that had triggered my rebellion was now quelled and had returned to the usual resignation. I asked each child if they wanted more potatoes, chicken or salad,  not realizing I had broken yet another rule. His fists slammed squarely on the as-is newly purchased table. “How many times, how many times, how many times do I have to tell you, do not talk to my children while they are eating!” I quickly stacked plates and utensils in a pile of messy indignation, circling several times to give reassuring glances and the usual warning look that meant stay calm and do not intervene.

He went back to his job of picking pieces from the chicken bones, placing them neatly on the only tray that remained. Each child took their turn in giving him the customary greetings and slowly left the table. I heard his ship ships (sandals) as he marched into the kitchen. The tray was placed near the sink, water poured from the thermos and the refrigerator opened and shut. He walked back and forth past the shell of a person I had become. A rise in panic came and went with each noise that he made and the realization that we were now alone. Finally he stopped behind me, placing his arms around my waist, pushing his body into mine. I shuttered at the thought of what was to come but knew what was expected.  His hands swept stringy hair from my neck and he spoke gently reiterating words that had blasted loudly just an hour before, “If you cannot eat what you have served you are not allowed at the table!”




As I make preparations for my son and daughter in law to arrive and later this week all of my children, I am reminded of the glorious freedom we now enjoy.

Bags and boxes of candy canes, chocolate kisses and holiday bells all held a small place on a Tamimi (Safeway) shelf next to the usual Western candy. It seemed a bold and daring move to have this display in plain view of the Mutawa (religious police) who could possibly confiscate the entire contents. I passed by numerous times weighing the benefits against the potential conflict that could be caused by purchasing any festive items. They would be put together into a plastic sack and stashed in my diaper bag to be hurriedly removed when we arrived to the compound. I knew the good stuff would not last long and on my next grocery outing would be gone, picked over by other Westerners who happily purchased these questionable items when they became available.

A warm yet fleeting feeling surged through my mind, a nonchalant breeze, a whisper. I held a bag of sugar ribbons, colored waves of crisp confections that had been placed in a red glass dish on the window box in my childhood home. Dad strung the usual colored lights along the eves outside of the green ranch style house. A towering tree was positioned near the sofa, leaving the continuous smell of pine throughout our home. Mom would buy my favorite, white taffy rounds highlighted in the center by a red and green Christmas tree, wrapped in tiny plastic that twisted and sealed the ends. Plans were made; gifts were purchased and placed underneath the noble pine, topped by a traditional light-up star. The wood cabinet held a colored television as well as a turn table that would be stacked with holiday records, as each one completed, the click and snap of the next in line would be eagerly awaited.  An array of parties and events would follow Thanksgiving and the countdown would begin.

My hands trembled as I summoned the courage to place this simple bag of candy ribbons into the cart under lettuce and carrots, spices and napkins. I knew in my logical mind that he would not come to the store and rummage through a shopping cart but I felt a sick twinge of guilt for disobeying his orders. I grabbed the bag and looked over my shoulder, then gingerly tossed it onto the nearest rack.  A loathsome awareness of my sins reminded me that this was not the way a pious wife would respond to such temptations.

Pictures, music and decorative items of any kind were not allowed in our household during holidays or at any other time. A strict adherence to his rules had become compulsory. Girls wearing pants and bright laughing smiles were discouraged and viewed as immersion into this temporary life. Asking too many questions regarding his rules was met with fury and labeled undisciplined and wicked. A strange weave of order teetered haplessly on his predilections and could be toppled by a sudden burst of happiness or irritation. Would a simple bag of chocolate bring about contempt and outrage or would he simply chalk it up to my rebellious spirit.

I inched my cart closer to the shelf, my older children looked on as kids chose favorite bags of candy, eyes growing wide with anticipation. I knew what each one fancied, chocolate covered peanut butter trees, flavored candy canes and kisses wrapped in red and green. Three bags of simple treasures, peppermint and chocolate, tightly guarded remnants and colors of a life interrupted.


My son sat at the dining room table silently putting the last few pieces into the puzzle, orange and red leaves carefully resting near a large and ominous tree. Dad mindfully hemmed and hawwed as he placed the scattered pieces, remarking here and there to grandson that when he came to the U.S. for university he would rake leaves, walk down streets like those in the puzzle. It had been three years since we left the house in Renton and that life behind. Mom had one last cookie, gathered her overnight bag and kissed everyone goodbye. I smiled and laughed nervously, quickly hugging and ushering her out the door. The older children stood with sullen faces watching as their grandparents pulled their bags and made their way to the van. They would catch a late night flight and be home within 20 hours, leaving behind remnants of a different life. A carefully placed silk plant with bright red leaves inside a cheery pot, children’s books sat on tables and brightly colored toys stacked haphazardly. These forbidden treasures would skillfully be hidden away, shoved into closets and baskets, where “useless and wasteful items” were to be kept.  The children sat on the couch chuckling and remembering the two weeks that had passed, walks to the mini mart, swimming at the pool, drinking root beer floats, bringing Grampa cups of coffee and baking Grama cookies. Within minutes they were in a heap, arms and legs across the couch and table, heads bobbing to remain awake and in this last precious moment, the smell of Grama’s perfume and Grampa’s coffee.

The days that followed were filled with a tinge of sadness as I picked up and stored away the life that did not belong to us. At first I carefully slid puzzle pieces into a tattered box feeling despair and sadness, but as the days faded I routinely stacked away all that had passed with little emotion. A part of me was relieved that this visit had come to an end because it was a constant reminder of the two lives I chose to live and that constantly clashed. The visit had been lovely, full of fun and bliss but a double edged sword that made life stressful as well. Talk of art, literature and life back home all brought his face to an ashen grey. Words were spoken and dreams were tended to, ideas spread like wild fire through the home. I spent my days watching his expressions and then recklessly changing subjects from religion and life’s purpose to “what’s for dinner” and “let’s take a walk”. My oldest son was now 10, already pushing for independence and a life with a stable father figure. He welcomed his grandparents visits as a sign of better things to come and hope for the future. A sense of relief and guilt spread over me as I now carelessly threw away the bits and pieces that remained, old danish, salad dressings and penciled in grocery lists. His words always rang in my ears and rattled around in my head, “Your parents do not love you like I do and never will”.