Saturday, January 29, 2011

A personal look at the Egyptian crisis

No I don't live in a pyramid, and no I don't have a pet camel.

These were the answers I sometimes wished I could tatoo on my forehead as a child, given the inevitable barrage of silly questions that came every time I told someone my parents were from Egypt. Sure, it was cool to bring in papyrus drawings and little alabaster sphinxes for Show-and-Tell, but for most of my childhood being Egyptian felt like an annoyance bordering on a burden. I secretly wished my parents were from the Upper MIdwest and not Upper Egypt. I didn't want to be "exotic" or "foreign." I didn't want to be different.

Most days, I didn't feel very Egyptian until my parents came home. While at school or playing with friends, I could convince myself I was just as American as they were. Sure, I didn't have that nice, shiny, straight hair, but I had Cabbage Patch Dolls and ate Twinkies just like everyone else.

Sundays, however, were a different story. We went to our Egyptian church for our hours (yes, plural!) long mass, then Sunday School, then out to lunch with our Egyptian friends, followed by and Egyptian dinner with our Egyptian family. I was torn between embracing the familiar sounds, smells and tastes of that world and craving the other. It was baklava vs. Barbies and the winner was unclear.

My mom was a university professor and since she had summers off we spent many of them in Egypt, with my brother and I complaining and whining most of the 10+ hour trip over. In our petulant tween and teenage years, we were simply not able to appreciate what an amazing opportunity it was. We wanted to swim in our backyard pool, not in the Red Sea. We preferred modern wonders (like Pong on the Atari) over ancient ruins. We just wanted to be like all our friends. We just wanted to be "normal."

Somewhere between college and grad school I finally came to the conclusion that hailing from Egypt was actually kind of cool. I was fortunate enough to live and work in Europe for a time and took advantage of the proximity to visit the Motherland on my own on several occasions. But it was still just that: my mother's (and father's) land. Not mine.

I guess it ultimately took 37 years and an international geopolitical crisis for me to fully embrace Egypt as a piece of myself. As the protests began last week, I found myself simultaneously unable to turn away and yet scared to watch. As I sit on my comfortable couch in my comfortable house watching the unrest (I love that word, it makes it sound like just a bad night's sleep) unfold, it occurs to me that one decision on the part of my parents, one lucky move is all that separates me from the desperate, frustrated masses. With eyes that look just like mine, they are crying for what I have been fortunate enough to enjoy my entire life. I fear for my family there, for their safety, for their very survival, for the survival of the entire country. Will I ever be able to take my children there? Will my parents ever return to the place they loved enough to leave? It comes down to this: if Egypt is in crisis, then so am I.

One member of my family in Cairo says he'll never leave. He says this is the moment to fight for his country, to fight for what he deserves. And he's right- I just can't wrap my brain around why I never had to fight. There but for the grace of God.

Egypt's next chapter is being written before our eyes. I hope that when we look back on this period, it will one day be the country's proudest hour. Until then, all I can do is pray in words from the Bible that have never made more sense:

"Blessed be Egypt, MY people."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A letter to welcome a new family member

I knew you were there.

This isn't my first or even second time around this crazy, wonderful, unbelievable ride, and I certainly didn't need a little plus sign on a stick to tell me you were there. I knew it. It was that old familiar feeling, the uncomfortable queasiness that is definitely NOT from bad scallops or one glass of wine too many or anything else... no, it's a feeling all its own. And it's undeniable. But I did deny it, and I'm sorry for that.

For about 3 weeks, I knew you were there and pretended you weren't. It was all a little bit shocking, as we were still in the middle of that "Will we or won't we have three?" conversation (though we both knew the answer) and I don't think I handled it very well. Please don't be upset, it's not that I wasn't happy or excited or anything like that- I was just scared.

Scared of what? Pretty much everything. Scared I don't know what I'm doing, scared I'll scar you for life with something I did or didn't say or do, scared that 3 carseats won't fit in my backseat, scared of rocking the nicely sailing boat that is our current family life, scared I won't be able to give you and your siblings the time and attention you need and deserve, scared my going-to-work-in-a-fancy-suit days not to mention my going-to-the-beach-in-a-two-piece-bathing-suit days may be gone forever, scared I'll never get out of this house again. Just plain scared.

And then I heard it.

The unmistakable sound of your heart, that thump-thump-thump-thump beating so much faster than my own, and I realized maybe I'm not the only one who's scared. Maybe you're scared of what you've gotten yourself into. Scared of who you've gotten yourself into. Scared about those two lovable but loud little rugrats who seem to be in constant motion. Scared of what kind of life you'll find yourself in when you leave the cozy confines of your current inn. Just plain scared.

So let's be scared together. Let's face it, we're going to be doing pretty much everything together for the next few months, so we'd best team up. We can do this little one, that much I promise.

And I promise you that this time, I'll try not to complain quite as much about the swollen feet, the backaches and the other unmentionables. (If at all possible, I'd really appreciate it if you could not try to kick your way out via my ribs as was the case with your siblings, but I know your current floorplan is somewhat limited.) I promise to slow down a little bit and really try to savor what's happening when it's happening, instead of always reaching for what's ahead or dwelling on what's behind.

But most of all, I can promise you love. Love that is sometimes messy, never perfect but always unconditional.

I heard your heartbeat and I hope you can hear mine too, because I think we're both saying the same thing: Love me. Maybe I'm not what you expected, but love me anyway.

More than anything, it was that little thump-thump-thump-thump that I recognized right away. It's the song that's always been in my heart.

I knew you were there.

Baby #3 is due in mid June 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Product Review- Kyocera Ceramic Knife

This is the first of my new weekly segments with Marino and the Morning Crew on WHMI 93.5FM in Livingston County. This week we're talking about a product I got for Christmas and have become slightly obsessed with- the Kyocera Ceramic Knife (

In the months leading up to Christmas I saw the infomercial dozens of times... I admit, I got completely sucked in by the slicing and dicing action. Now, I know what you're thinking, this sounds a whole lot like the Ginsu knives of days past! But after reading several reviews, and then seeing that Oprah picked it as one of her "Favorite Things" this year I figured it must be legit. Santa clearly agreed, as I found the 5.5 inch "Santoku" and the 3 inch paring knife under the tree!''

I've been using them for about 2 weeks now and I can honestly say these are the best knives I've ever had. At first glance, they don't even look real- in fact, they look like the knife in my kids' play kitchen! When you pick it up it doesn't feel real- it's incredibly lightweight and easy to handle. But I'm telling you, that blade makes chopping even the toughest veggies (I used it on a raw butternut squash tonight) a cinch.

If your New Year's resolution involves healthier eating it's very likely you're going to be doing a lot more cooking, and a good knife will go a long way. Don't be afraid to use a very sharp knife- any chef will tell you it's far safer than a dull one. These ceramic knives are relatively inexpensive and if they last half as long as the infomercial claims you'll more than get your money's worth!

Happy chopping!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting 2011 on a sad note: coping with the loss of a pet

Tigger and Pooh, December 1997
It was only supposed to be a weeklong fling.

It was the fall of 1997 and I was the new teacher on the block at a prestigious Southern private school. One day over lunch I happened to mention my affinity for the feline persuasion. Shortly after, a colleague asked if I'd mind cat sitting her two tabbies when her highly allergic boyfriend came to visit.

"Why not?" I told her. After all, I was feeling quite grownup those days. I had my first real job and my first real apartment (Look Ma, no roommates!). Surely I could handle the responsibility of a weekend with two furry friends. I expected they might scratch my furniture, and that was OK. I figured they might have an accident at some point, but that was not a problem. I bought food, litter boxes, toys and scratching posts. I was fully prepared for those cats. Just not prepared to fall in love with them.

But that's exactly what happened, and when they went back to their owner my "big girl" apartment suddenly felt hollow and empty. Fortunately, love was on our side and the owner's allergic boyfriend quickly became the allergic fiance. And Tigger, Pooh and I instantly became a family.

They were young, frisky, and eager to assert their independence, and so was I. Together we spent two years in Chattanooga, TN and I think we all helped each other grow up a bit. They gave me something to come home to in that unfamiliar, somewhat lonely town. I had a sense of belonging, or at least of someone(s) belonging to me. And while the three of us spent many a Saturday night curled up together on the couch watching movies (OK, it was figure skating), and I knew full well that I was just a few hairballs short of Crazy Cat Lady status, life with my girls was very good.

The next few years were tumultuous, bringing drastic changes in time zones, careers, relationships and more. Through it all, my girls stuck with me. At times they seemed restless, ornery, frustrated, and so was I. But when a tall, fair and handsome man walked into our lives, they fell instantly in love, and so did I.

Our family grew, and a few years later grew again. At first the cats, my original "babies," weren't quite sure what to make of the wriggling, noisy little bundle we brought home. They were confused, disoriented, out of their element, and so was I. But eventually we all let instinct take over and found our comfort zones. For me, that meant cuddling my baby boy most of the day and night. For the cats, that meant spending most of the day under my bed, then peeking out to see if the coast was clear for cuddling to make sure I didn't forget who they were.

We lost our sweet Tigger to kidney disease in the summer of 2008. Our little boy was about to turn one and was blissfully too young to have any idea what was happening. I envied his innocence and cried myself to sleep for weeks. Tigger had always been the outgoing, happy-go-lucky one, while her sister was the standoffish, silent diva. But in Tigger's absence, Pooh seemed to understand we needed a little more meow in our home and stepped up to the plate.

Pooh, December 2010
Pooh was with us until a just a few days ago, when heart disease took its toll. It just doesn't seem possible that both my girls are now gone- I keep expecting to see a furry head pop around the corner or feel a paw poke tentatively at my lap. It's hard to imagine that the loss of two such small creatures can create such an immense void in our home, in our lives, and in our hearts. Those cats helped usher in a new era in my life, so perhaps it's only fitting that I'm now beginning a new year, a new decade without them.

As is often the case with cats, the end came quickly with both our girls. One minute they were fine, the next clearly not. In those last moments, they gave out an unfamiliar, painful cry and could only be comforted by the touch of those they loved. And tonight, so will I.