May 21, 2015

When I heard other expat parents talking about their little ones and jet lag, I admit that I had sympathy, but never very much empathy.  It’s always been really easy to get Lavender on the sleeping schedule of whatever time zone she happens to be in.

But then…then she turned two.

The trip was mostly uneventful…actually, truth be told, it was pretty amazing, because in the airport in Chicago (where we landed after initially flying out from Springfield, Missouri), I ended up randomly meeting Ina May Gaskin, who was on her way to Istanbul. Her books, along with the AMANI Birth book, basically singlehandedly prepared me for Lavender’s birth. She chatted with me, the gushing fan, for about fifteen minutes, and she laughed when I told her about how seriously Mr. Mostafa took his role as my coach. She was so very nice that she even obligingly took a selfie with me and didn’t smack me when I hugged her as I said goodbye and thanked her for all of her work.

Meeting her was such an honor. The work she does is so tremendously important. Read about her, if you haven’t already. And if you’re a first-time pregnant mama (or even if you’re not pregnant but hope to be someday, or you’re pregnant but not with your first baby), read her books. You won’t regret it.

We flew on from Chicago to London, and finally, we caught our flight from London to Riyadh, landing around eleven o’clock at night. We anticipated being home by around midnight; we knew passport control would go pretty quickly for us, since we were coming in on a flight of mostly expats, and thus the Saudi citizen line, which we use, would be much shorter.

That all went according to plan. We moved on to baggage claim and parked ourselves next to our assigned carousel to collect our five checked bags. Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And finally, there was one of our bags!

Then another!

And another!

And another!

And then more waiting.

And more waiting.

And then the carousel stopped.

And we were one bag short.

The bag we were missing was huge, pink, and, of course, stuffed to the gills with little items we don’t have easy access to in Riyadh, including, much to Mr. Mostafa’s heartbreak, his new two-patty George Foreman grill, along with the converter that we remembered to bring for it (you’d think that by now we’d be consistent about checking the voltage of the small household appliances that we bring to Riyadh from the States…but alas, his last George Foreman grill suffered a fate similar to that of my WaterPik). If I could have chosen one of our five bags to not get lost, it would have been that one.

We filed a report at the airport, and now we are waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

After the mess with the suitcase, we got home and finally went to bed around three in the morning. Thus began the saga of Lavender’s unbalanced inner clock. For the next few days, she stayed up all night and slept all day, and thus I stayed up all night and slept all day, too. Yesterday, I did my best to keep her up for most of the day, waking her up around eleven in the morning and only allowing her a tiny half-hour nap in the afternoon. She fell asleep at ten o’clock. Mr. Mostafa and I rejoiced, thinking that finally, we had slayed the jet lag beast.

But Lavender woke up an hour later, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Turns out she had just taken the nap I wouldn’t let her have. I woke up with her and watched episode after bleary-eyed episode of Super Why! while trying to convince her to be quiet so we didn’t wake up Baba (Mr. Mostafa), because he had to go to work in the morning. He woke up around six in the morning, and he sent me off to bed so that I could get an hour of sleep or so before he left for work. After he was ready to go, he brought her to bed and finally, around eight o’clock, she gave up and fell asleep.

So, this…this is the face of jet lag.

IMG 6457 750x562 re entry.

And British Airways still hasn’t found our bag. If you follow me on Twitter (I’m nicolejhm), and you see me posting a tweet about the bag situation, do me a solid and retweet it. I’d like British Airways to be aware that I’m not the only one keeping track of my lost suitcase situation. So far they haven’t been rude or anything…they’ve just been really, really unhelpful. And I’ve heard stories of folks getting their lost bags weeks or even months after they originally went missing, so I’m not going to be giving up hope for quite awhile. I am, unfortunately, going to be a pain in the butt until someone can tell me something.

And I think I have some sort of gum infection, because all the teeth on the back left side of my mouth hurt. A lot. Especially when I chew. And I don’t want to go to the dentist. But I will probably end up having to.

So…re-entry has been a bear this time. Still, alhamdulillah for everything. In the grand scheme of things, life is wonderful.

i get mad.

May 14, 2015

We have just a few more days here in the States, and I’m getting mad. Every time I have to leave the States to go back to Riyadh, I get mad.

Every single time.

Of course, I get mad about having to leave things that I miss on a regular basis while in Riyadh. Like driving. And my family, of course. Hugs and kisses from my mom and dad. Hearing my nephew yell, “Aunt Nikki!” as he runs to me and leaps up into my arms. Sitting in the park with my best friend as we sip Sonic slushes and talk about life as our children run around, play, and get dirty. Throwing a tennis ball for Parker in my parents’ backyard. Falling asleep with Andy in bed next to me, snuggled into my side. Smelling freshly cut grass (although truth be told, all of the greenery and pollen make me sneeze a lot. Crazily enough, despite the dust, Riyadh is miraculous for me when it comes to my allergies and asthma). Watching my mom chase after Lavender. Watching my dad teach Lavender dance moves. Watching Lavender create works of art on the bathtub walls with her trusty set of tub crayons.

Speaking of which, I also miss baths. As I’ve mentioned before, there are no bathtubs in our apartment in Riyadh (or the rest of the house, for that matter), and I am a girl who lives for time in a bubble bath with a book and a snack. I’ve been taking two baths a day since Mr. Mostafa arrived in Missouri a few weeks ago. One of his Mother’s Day presents to me was a big tub of fancy-shmancy bubble bath from The Body Shop that makes my skin super soft and flowery-smelling. I’m no bubble bath connoisseur, but it sure beats Mr. Bubble.

I miss going to the movies. I miss the crunch and distinctive taste of movie popcorn covered in salt. I miss watching cheesy commercials on the movie screen before the previews start. I miss the previews.

But there are other little things I don’t want to give up, things whose absence I always fail to notice until suddenly, I land back in the States and I have them back again. Like music in restaurants. Music in airports. Music in grocery stores. Music everywhere. The other day, I was in the produce section and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” came on, and I just started dancing right there in front of the packaged salads, with Lavender laughing as she bounced in the carrier strapped to my front.

And then there is getting little random gestures of affection from my husband. Here in the States, while we’re out and about, he’ll sometimes grab me and give me a quick kiss, or come up behind me and snuggle me in a hug. He would never do that in Riyadh; no one does that in Riyadh. Sometimes we’ll hold hands in Riyadh; that’s becoming more common. But no kisses in public between spouses, even on the cheek. Ever.

All of these things serve to make me angry, mostly at Mr. Mostafa. Actually, I can’t tell if I’m really angry at him, or if he just bears the brunt of my anger. But what I do know is that when I’m like this, every single thing he does is tremendously annoying to me. I can’t stand him. I just want him to shut up and leave me alone…even though, despite the shock it may be to some people, I love my life, whether it plays out in Riyadh or Missouri.

When I feel this way, I constantly remind myself of the Riyadh-based parts of my life that I am grateful for. I am grateful that when we are there, we never have to worry about how much a doctor’s visit costs. A few days ago, Lavender became sick and vomited three times because something she ate (spinach artichoke dip from Ruby Tuesday…damn you, Ruby Tuesday) unsettled her stomach. As she vomited the third time, I began to get concerned about food poisoning and dehydration, and we started to discuss whether or not we should go to the hospital. Alhamdulillah, we are not poor, but we are not so financially secure that we can just hop in the car and make an uninsured visit to an American emergency room without knowing if what’s happening is really an emergency. Such discussions aren’t an issue in Riyadh. (And thank God, Lavender is fine now, without needing a visit to the emergency room.)

I am grateful that in Riyadh, I am, essentially, a stay-at-home mom. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work at all (thank God for the internet), that am not making progress on professional goals, or that I don’t have any aspirations beyond being Lavender’s mom. But I’m not nearly as bothered by being a stay-at-home mom as I thought I would be. I’m grateful that I don’t have to struggle to find quality childcare. I’m grateful that when Lavender is sick, I don’t have to scramble to be at home with her. If we were living in the States full-time, this life would not be possible for us. Salaries in Riyadh are just so much higher. There are no jobs for Mr. Mostafa in the area where I come from, and in any other place in the States where Mr. Mostafa would have lots of good opportunities, the cost of living is such that two full-time incomes would most likely be necessary, at least in the beginning. And we’re just not willing to sacrifice me being able to stay home as Lavender’s primary caregiver.

I am grateful that we have our own little house in Missouri, where Lavender and I will spend summers (and Mr. Mostafa will visit for a few weeks every year), so she will have plenty of opportunities to play with her American family. She will get to play T-ball, and maybe soccer, too, with other kids her age, boys and girls. She will get to play in creeks and catch fish with a Hello Kitty fishing pole and learn to drive on a John Deere lawn mower before she graduates to a farm truck. She will run around barefoot everywhere and learn to pick off ticks. She will get the best of both worlds.

I am grateful for my wonderful in-laws, who actually welcome me and miss me when I’m gone and treat me like I have been a part of their family since the day I was born.

I am grateful for these huge, important blessings in my life. And besides being grateful for them, I genuinely enjoy life in Riyadh most days. To be truthful, I know I would be miserable if I lived here in the Ozarks full-time. I would always be thinking ahead to when I could leave…to when I could get out, see different people, different places, new cultures, new experiences. It’s a strange kind of torture to be so deeply connected to where you come from and yet unable to imagine staying there.

But none of that changes the fact that every time I leave, I have to say goodbye to my parents. I have to watch my mom cry and know she cries after I’m gone. I have to get a bear hug from my dad that will last me until next summer. I have to worry that they are getting older, and I’m not here enough. Thank God, they are fine, not near the age where they can’t live independently. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need me in other ways. I hope they know I’m always there, even when I’m not there.

A few days ago, as I was about to leave to a picnic with other moms and kids, I buckled Lavender into her car seat, slid into the driver’s seat, leaned my head on the steering wheel, and started to cry uncontrollably.

I don’t know if Mr. Mostafa heard me upstairs, or if he just realized that he hadn’t heard the garage door opening or the car backing out of the garage. But he came downstairs to the garage to find me sobbing in the car.

“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” he inquired as he opened the driver’s side door.

“I’m so mad at you,” I said.

“Why, babe? What did I do?”

I couldn’t really answer. He hadn’t done anything. So I said, “Everything you do pisses me off.”

He was quiet for awhile. Then he sighed and said, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about this, and I think that next year, when you come for the summer, I shouldn’t be with you when you come back to Riyadh.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I will come during the middle of the summer. Or at the beginning. But this happens every time when we go back. I understand. I think it’s a psychological thing. You see me as the person who is taking you away from your parents. You see me as the person who is taking you away from everyone that you love. You are feeling the loss of all of this and you are wondering if I am worth it. I don’t blame you. I would be mad at me, too.” He paused. “But you know you can come back whenever you need to, right? You know that, right?”

“Yes, I know that.”

“I don’t want you to hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” I said. “It’s not about you, and it’s not about Riyadh. It’s about my people.”

“I know. I understand. And I don’t want to be here when you leave to go back to Riyadh because I don’t want you to feel like you’re being taken away. It has to be your choice.”

Of course, it always is my choice. In the words of Charlotte York, I choose my choice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always an easy choice.

And it’s made more difficult by the world. As I work through these emotions, which I’m pretty sure I would face even if I were living somewhere not quite so scary to my countrymen (I mean, my move to college in Columbia, Missouri, only three and a half hours away from my hometown, was a special breed of traumatic for both me and my mom), it seems like social media is hell-bent on convincing me that my life is actually terrible, and that my husband is actually a monster. It’s hard enough without all that noise. Yesterday, as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, an article from NPR popped up, a piece about Saudi women and how many of them are using social media to start home-based businesses. Something bothered me about this piece…maybe it was the way it was news that Saudi women can be proactive and resourceful and make strides toward their dreams through work they do at home. I mean, American women have been doing this for years…that’s basically why Etsy exists. Many American women want to use their own talents to build home-based businesses that allow them to provide for their family while being able to stay at home with them. This is not a surprise. But when Saudi women do it, the comment section is all like, “Oh, look at these poor, desperate women who have no other opportunities! They want to work but they are locked up at home, and they are reaching out to work however they can, even if it means baking cupcakes. How tragic! Way to go, Saudi women! Bake those cupcakes! Defy those savages that you call husbands, sons, fathers, brothers!” It bothers me.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that I think that life for Saudi women is just peachy keen all around. It doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s fantastic that women are making their own opportunities and reaching out to develop skills needed to succeed in a workplace. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t think Saudi women face challenges when it comes to employment that women elsewhere in the world have never had to fathom. I can’t speak for Saudi women, but in my view, a lot of things obviously need to change in Saudi Arabia. But what bothers me is the way so much of the rest of the world speaks about Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern places. It’s the tone that I perceive, one that carries so much postcolonial condescension, one that doesn’t dare to consider the possibility that the reasons why Saudi women are jumping on social media to create home-based businesses might actually be shared by many of the Western women who sell homemade cloth diapers on Etsy. It’s this idea that there must be a tremendous, impassable gulf between the lives of Saudi women and the lives of women elsewhere, when I think in reality, we’re a lot more alike than it seems a lot of people want to acknowledge. And I can’t help but feel that this, the drive to pretend we are so very different that it’s an exercise in futility to attempt to put oneself in other people’s shoes, is an underlying source of a whole lot of problems in the world.

And of course, along with all of the speculation about what Saudi women’s lives must be like comes the blanket, generalizing condemnations of Saudi men. “Saudi men are savages.” “So sad that this is what these women must turn to in the face of the barbaric men that rule their lives.” “Saudi is a giant hellhole.”

When this particular NPR piece popped up in my newsfeed, I didn’t comment, even though my fingers were itching. Instead, before I let my emotions fly on the internet (as if I don’t do that enough right here in this space), I told Mr. Mostafa about how I was feeling.

“Honey, you need to stop worrying about what the world thinks of me,” he said with a smile. “In case you haven’t noticed, Americans aren’t popular around the world, either. Lots of people say that all Americans are greedy murderers who want to invade countries for oil. I know that isn’t true. But if I listened to what other people said about Americans all the time, especially about American women, I would go crazy. Listen, all that matters is me and you. I love you. You love me. We are a family. That’s all that matters. That’s all there is.”

Oh, the weight of those last two sentences. They aren’t true, but at the same time, they absolutely are. I guess that’s probably yet another source of the world’s endless problems–the reality that one statement can simultaneously be an unyielding truth and a complete lie.

IMG 6320 750x500 i get mad.

meet my favorite author.

May 7, 2015

I know I’ve mentioned my BFF, Annie, a few times on the blog (here and here are the posts I remember). But one thing I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned is that Annie is a writer. Always has been. I mean, she’s a teacher, too; that’s her day job. But dang, she’s a writer.

I’ve been reading her short stories and creative nonfiction pieces for years. But until a few years ago, she’d never written a novel. But when she finally did…well, she did it good.

She wrote Sit! Stay! Speak!, a novel about Adelaide Andrews, a young woman who moves from Chicago to the delta of Arkansas in order to escape her tragic past. Once there, she accidentally discovers a discarded Pit Bull puppy. She names him Felix, nurses him back to health, and sets out to uncover the circumstances that led him to be thrown away like a piece of trash. And of course, she gets in over her head in more ways than one.

Because I’m lucky enough to have been friends with Annie since the summer before my freshman year in high school (as I mentioned in one of the previously linked posts, we have Hanson to thank for our relationship), I got to read each chapter of Sit! Stay! Speak! as she finished them. And then I got to read each subsequent draft. And the more I read, the more I fell in love with the story and the characters. So, apparently, did the editors at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, who acquired the novel and are publishing it.

As if that weren’t cool enough, the book has also earned a blurb from Laurie Notaro, an awesome New York Times #1 bestselling author (whom I met once at a book signing in Chicago, and who instantly became one of my favorite people because as she signed my book, she told me I looked like Kyra Sedgwick, a comparison that struck me as just random enough to be genuine).

So, in celebration of Annie’s upcoming book, I proudly present to you an interview with the author herself. And after the interview, you’ll find out how you can get your hands on an advance copy of Sit! Stay! Speak!

Okay, so folks already know that you and I go way back, but introduce yourself, anyway. Tell us all about you. Don’t hold back.

Okay, um…I’m 33. I teach English and Speech for Arkansas State University. I’ve been there about 5 years. I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but I grew up in a tiny town (the same as Nicole) in the Missouri Ozarks. There were 15 people in my graduating class! I have a master’s degree in Creative Writing, and my dad really thought with that kind of a degree that I’d be living with him and my mother forever, but to be fair—I haven’t lived at home since I was 20!

My graduating class had 29 kids, and that was a huge class. There was some kind of baby boom in 1983. Okay, so what inspired you to write Sit! Stay! Speak!?

I moved to the delta of Arkansas in 2008 to teach for the University of Arkansas. Although it wasn’t my first experience living alone, it was my first experience living alone so far away from my family. I lived in a little house at the end of a cul-de-sac, just me and my four dogs. Although the town where I lived had an insanely high crime rate for its size (15,000 people), and there were many socio-economical issues, I absolutely loved living there. Many of the people and places within the book are fictionalized versions of people I met and places I went. Adelaide’s house, in my mind, looks exactly like the house in which I lived. I was working in animal rescue, and the town had a massive feral dog problem. Although I didn’t experience the same things that Adelaide experiences, her experiences might be typical of the area. The idea for the story didn’t come to me until 2010, when I was married and living in St. Louis. I didn’t actually begin writing the book until 2012.

I think you’re probably the first person in the history of ever to write a heartwarming, romantic novel that centers around the decidedly awful practice of dog fighting. How did you learn so much about it?

I’ve been working in animal rescue for about a decade. Many of the dogs I work with have been abused or neglected by their owners. In the Delta, dog fighting is a serious problem. Truly, it is a serious problem everywhere. I remember one time, the rescue I was working with got a dog that had been seized on an abuse case—she was a female Pit Bull, and she was absolute skin and bones. She had a prolapsed rectum, scars all over her body, and her teeth had been filed down (so she couldn’t fight back when she was being forced to breed). It was just awful. I wanted to take her home so badly, but she ended up being sent back to her owners. I never found out why. Although I don’t have any proof, I can tell you without a doubt that she had been used as a breeding bitch for a dog fighting ring. That’s just something you don’t forget. Pit Bulls are a terribly misunderstood animal, and they have a special place in my heart. I hope that my book will help people see them for what they really are—a beautiful, intelligent, gentle, and often misused dog.

Your novel also features a lot of really great Southern food; there are a whole bunch of amazing recipes in the back of the book. Which one is your favorite, and why?

I don’t think I have a favorite, but if I had to pick, I guess it would be the recipe for cheese grits. I love grits! When I was a kid, I used to eat them for breakfast every single morning. We lived in Mississippi until I was about three, and some of my earliest memories are of my mother fixing me grits (with TONS of butter) for breakfast. That tradition continued even after we moved back to Missouri. I always assumed that everyone knew what grits were, and I was absolutely appalled when I realized that most people even as far down as the Ozarks don’t eat grits on a regular basis. They really and truly are a southern thang!

I love grits, too…I remember that I was pregnant with Lavender when you were writing the book, and you were sending me chapters as you finished them. When I got to the chapter that featured grits, I got this insane craving for them and I had to have my mom ship some to Riyadh for me so I could cook cheese grits! But anyway, now tell us about your writing process. What are you working on now? Is the process turning out to be similar or very different than for Sit! Stay! Speak!?

I’m currently working on my second novel. It’s called Just Fine With Caroline, and I hope to have it finished by summer’s end. This novel is set in the Missouri Ozarks. I really thought writing my second novel would be easier, especially since I didn’t really start writing it until after I’d sold Sit! Stay! Speak! I have to tell you, that assumption was the dumbest assumption I’ve ever made. I’ve had SUCH a hard time with this book. I don’t know what draft I’m on, but it is at least draft five. I’m just now to a point where I feel good about what I’m writing. I tend to be a mess in every aspect of my life except when it comes to writing. I’m a total perfectionist when I write, and it can be a real hindrance to the process. I rarely let people read what I’ve written, and I’m often paralyzed with fear that what I’ve produced is terrible.

As far as process goes—I don’t really have one. I write whenever and wherever I can. I have a four year old, a husband, and a bunch of dogs. I have to take it where I can get it! I often make notes in my phone if I think of something when I can’t get to my computer. I have notebooks and pens in my purse all the time, and if all else fails, I’ve been known to write on my hand! I think lots of people spend too much time waiting for the perfect opportunity to create, and when you’re a mom, that opportunity just doesn’t exist!

Amen to that, sister. Okay, so finally, when and where can folks buy your awesome book?

It will be out September 8th! You’ll be able to buy it at most bookstores, as well as places like Walmart and Target. You’ll also be able to purchase online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks. You can also order directly through HarperCollins!

If you want to pre-order Sit! Stay! Speak!, you can do so now through Amazon. Or if you can’t wait until September to read it and are dying to get your hands on it before the general public does…well, we understand.

sitstayspeak1 750x563 meet my favorite author.

Here on the blog, Annie and I are giving away a galley proof copy of Sit! Stay! Speak!…and if you win, she will sign it for you before we ship it out to you, just in time for you to have it for an addictive summer read. The giveaway will run until 11:59 p.m. next Friday, May 15, and in order to enter, you have to do three things: visit and like Annie’s Facebook page (if you haven’t liked it already; if you have, no need to do it again), visit and like The Same Rainbow’s End’s Facebook page (again, if you haven’t already), and share this post! Be sure to use the giveaway form below, so your entries are counted, and once you’ve finished those steps, you’ll be entered in the giveaway 3 times.

But wait, there’s more! (Please imagine me saying that in my best infomercial voice.) Once you’ve completed the 3 required tasks, you will unlock opportunities to earn more entries. You can pin the giveaway post, follow Annie and me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest, refer friends to the giveaway via your own unique share link (and for every friend that enters through your link, you earn yet another entry)…you get the picture. Woot! Now go forth and win!

enter to win a signed galley proof copy of annie england noblin's debut novel, sit! stay! speak!