ARMENIAN FOOD FEST

Sometime in July, my cousin and I were visiting another family member who is dealing with some serious health issues. He expressed how much he used to love Armenian food, but all the family and friends who used to make and share it were gone.

As you may know from past posts, I’ve been experimenting over the last year with re-learning Armenian cooking. I had the privilege of being invited to participate in preparations for the annual festival at St. Peter’s Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY, and I learned so much there about techniques!

What better way to test my “training” and practice than to prepare a monumentally memorable Armenian feast?

I spent much of August and September preparing and freezing foods. I believe it’s safe to say there are no quick or easy Armenian recipes – only ranges of time consuming. But my efforts were rewarded with a memorable feast and rave reviews. Pictured here are the culinary delights and menu:

Yalanchi

I challenge you to match the foods with the menu!

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THE EYES HAVE IT IS HERE!

OFFICIAL RELEASE OF THE EYES HAVE IT IS ONE WEEK FROM TODAY: OCTOBER 2!

Finished-Ebook image

www.amazon.com/Dawn-Lajeunesse/e/B004KHLXWS
www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Dawn-Lajeunesse

I’ve shared the prologue and first chapter in previous posts. Now here’s a look at one of the many twists in the story line:

Ethan held the door as I slid onto the leather seats. Very soft and plush. Most definitely he couldn’t have afforded this level of quality if it weren’t in an old, pink Cadillac.

The biggest negative was the smell. No matter what the dealer used to simulate a new car smell, the previous owner’s smoking habit tainted the inside of the car. And something else. Perfume? Hopefully both odors would fade with time. I had never ridden with Ethan driving before. So many firsts in our relationship. He was a careful driver. Of course, we had to go only about ten blocks, probably less than a mile, to his house.

“My dad went back to the office,” he said. “Maybe he’ll be done there before I have to take you home.” Ethan pulled into the driveway of a split‑level home in an older section of the city.

“Will your brother be here?”

“No. Jamail has lived in Albany since he went to Albany State after he left the Marines.”

“Jamail is an unusual name.”

“Mom is from Saudi Arabia. Jamail’s father was fighting with the Americans against the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. She said Saudi Arabia is kind of tough on women, and she didn’t want to raise a baby under her brothers’ thumbs. So she immigrated to America, and Jamail was born here. She’s been in this country so long now, she hardly has an accent.”

“My dad fought in that war. I’m glad they were on the same side. He was based in Kuwait. He said all he could think about the whole time he was there was getting back in one piece and marrying Mom.”

At their back entrance, Ethan paused, his hand on the doorknob.

“I probably should warn you so you’re not too surprised. My mother wears a hijab. She’s not an actively practicing Muslim—she doesn’t go to the mosque or anything like that—but some of the modesty expectations of women were too entrenched for her to let go. She told me once that taking off her hijab in public or when entertaining guests would, for her, be like an American woman wearing very revealing clothes.”

“Wow. How could you not think to tell me this before?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not a big deal to me. It’s like saying your hair is brown. It’s just part of who she is.” He let go of the doorknob. “Is that a problem?”

His question was a challenge.

“No!” I insisted. “I’m just surprised. You said you were Catholic. How could I not be surprised that your mother is Muslim?”

“Oh, yeah, when you put it that way. By the way, all the girlfriends she has over are Muslims also.”

“And just so I’m up to speed, is your brother Muslim or Catholic?”

“Jamail was raised Catholic, but when he went into the Marines and spent two tours in the Middle East, he converted to Islam. He said he felt like it was in his genes. He attends a mosque in Albany.”

I exhaled a lungful of air.

“Just when I was beginning to think we knew everything about each other. Seems like we haven’t even gotten started.”

“That’s part of the fun of a new relationship, isn’t it?” He drew me into his arms and blew warm breath on the top of my head. “I already know I love you. I want to know everything about you and the things you love and the people who are important to you—besides me, of course.” He chuckled. “And I want you to know everything about me. We’re just getting started. There are bound to be surprises on both sides.”

Pulling back and kissing my forehead, he added, “So are we okay? You ready to meet my mother, and maybe later, my father?” He smiled that melting smile.

I briefly wondered if his mother noticed the split in his bottom lip and if she would disapprove of me if she knew why it refused to heal. Nodding, I said, “Let’s do this.”

The back door entered into a family room, and then there were three steps up to a large, rectangular kitchen. A platter on a table at the far end was laden with assorted fruits and fresh vegetables and cheeses. Another plate held small, round cookies that looked to be rolled in powdered sugar. Four women, three wearing hijabs, sat around the table. One stood and came toward us, smiling, when we arrived.

“As‑salāmu ʿalaykum,” she said in a softly modulated voice, taking both my hands in hers. She followed in near‑perfect English with “Peace be upon you,” and explained, “That is the traditional Muslim greeting. I’m very pleased to meet you,
Olivia. Ethan can’t stop talking about you.”

She grinned and winked at Ethan. Her eyes gleamed like Ethan’s did when he was teasing me. She was very attractive and looked too young to have a twenty‑six‑year‑old son.

“Thank you, Mrs. Alexander.” “Oh, please, that makes me sound like an old lady.” She winked at me. “Please call me Samar. And let me take your coat,” she added.

I smiled. Samar was not at all what I’d envisioned when Ethan shared the reve‑ lation about her outside the back door. I couldn’t say what I’d expected; I’d never met a Muslim. She had olive skin, but Ethan had inherited her full lips. I knew that even without meeting his father. And contrary to the dark eyes I’d expected, there were Ethan’s heavenly eyes, looking even more striking against her darker skin.

I also revisited my father’s reaction to Ethan’s last name. Could his aversion possi‑ bly be because Ethan’s mother was Muslim? No, I couldn’t believe that. How would he even know? And I couldn’t recall a single instance of his showing intolerance of any kind. Certainly it wasn’t the way I was raised.

“Please,” she said, sweeping her arm toward the table, “join us for a little bit. We’re just catching up and doing a little gossiping.” She giggled, sounding like a young girl.

How could I—how could anyone—not like her?

Ethan dragged two stools from the breakfast bar to the table, and we hovered over the women on our high perches. Samar filled two small plates with assorted goodies and placed them in front of us.

“Where are my manners?” Samar said after serving us. “I must introduce you to my friends.”

She gestured to the woman at her right. “This is Zuwaiten.” The woman nodded and smiled. The woman opposite Samar was introduced as Aalimah. “She is our token heathen,” Samar teased. “She does not wear the hijab.”

“I am American!” Aalimah said.

But I could tell it was lighthearted banter among friends.

“And”—she pointed to the third woman—“here is Badeeah.”

Each of the women smiled and nodded greetings. “They aren’t usually so silent,” Samar joked.

“Give them time,” Ethan warned me. “I’ve been around them enough to know there isn’t a shy one among them.” He smiled fondly at each of the women.

On the official release date, I will announce a drawing for two e-books and one paperback. Follow and Like my Facebook page for details and other announcements!

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THE EYES HAVE IT!

THE E-BOOK VERSION OF THE EYES HAVE IT HAS ARRIVED!

Finished-Ebook image

The story, set in Saratoga Springs, NY, is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a twist.

Back of the Book:

As her high school graduation nears, Olivia finds herself inexplicably drawn to the handsome and enigmatic Ethan. Almost from the start, a connection emerges, and the relationship between the two intensifies quickly and passionately. But as the young lovers are on the verge of true happiness, the unexpected strikes—a terror attack that changes their lives forever. While reeling from the devastating aftermath, Olivia and Ethan uncover a decades-old secret shared by their two families that tests loyalties as they confront heartbreak, fear and tragedy with hope, understanding and resilience. In the grips of this turmoil, they discover that their love and the lives of those most important to them are in jeopardy.

Early Review:
“With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear, and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.” Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of The Allen House”

Hard copy versions will be available by the end of September.

E-books may be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any e-book format. (If you buy it and like it, please post a review!)

Watch for more related announcements and reviews in the coming weeks!

 

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HERE COMES THE (CHILD) BRIDE …

… a decade after the wedding day.

Child bride

What if you were promised to a man as his wife, at a very young age, too young for you to remember?

Imagine that the only obstacle to that promise is that you must 1) be a virgin and 2) be a pubescent woman who had reached sexual maturity.

Think about this: judges often considered menstruation a demarcation of legal majority, but jurists in the Ottoman Empire in the 1800’s argued that girls could be considered prepared for both marriage and sexual intercourse when signs of physical maturity made them sexually desirable—arguably a criterion judged in the eyes of the man in the case.

In researching some of the stories of the early Armenian immigrants from the Ottoman Empire to America, this was not an unknown circumstance.

The parents of one young teen boy—we’ll call him Marderos–had arranged with the parents of a girl—we’ll call her Sultan–who wasn’t even school age, for their future marriage. It was a solemn commitment, rarely broken. And it wasn’t unusual in their culture. Marderos would complete his education and establish himself in a business or professional position. Sultan would, if she lived in a village with a school for girls, receive enough education to read and write, and then focus on homemaking skills and needlework. Neither Marderos nor Sultan questioned the arrangement. It provided security for her, and assured Marderos of the services of a wife. Ideally, they would like and maybe even grow to love each other.

In the late nineteenth century, the Ottoman Turks intermittently attacked Armenian villages, usually raping the girls, killing most of the inhabitants and of course pillaging at will. Most of the attacks were taking place in villages far from Kharpert, the home of Marderos and Sultan. Within their own village, there existed an unofficial truce between the Moslem Turks and the Armenians. Many Turks and Armenians actually were friends. It was one such Turkish friend who warned the parents of Marderos that the peace in the village soon would end, and tragedy would follow. “Get out,” he told Marderos’ father. “Go, while you still can. Go to France. Or America. When the attacks begin, I won’t be able to help you.”

It’s not a stretch to imagine how hard such a decision would be. The Armenian part of Turkey had been their home with ancestors reaching back not just decades, but centuries. And yet they couldn’t ignore what the Turk, whom they trusted, had warned.
Although many Armenians at the time chose France, at least in part on the premise that—once the trouble had passed—they could more easily return to their homeland, the families of Marderos and Sultan chose America. The opportunities were greater there, they had heard. They could make their fortune and some day return to Armenia with more wealth than they could accumulate in a lifetime in their homeland.

In those days as now, you couldn’t decide to go to America and just do it. There were procedures to follow, papers to process. Approvals took months at best, and more often years. And entire families weren’t approved at once. Marderos’ mother died in childbirth not long after the decision was made. His father’s immigration was approved first, and then Marderos within months later.

But what of the contract for Marderos and Sultan to wed? Sultan’s parents had not yet decided on America. Her mother had a brother in Aleppo, and so far there had been no trouble there. But word was unmarried girls, especially pretty girls, were coveted by the Turks. So the decision was made that Marderos and Sultan should marry before he went to America, to provide her with some protection from the Turks, who preferred virgins. Then Sultan would be sent to live with the her uncle. And so Marderos and Sultan were married shortly before he left for America in 1895.

Sultan was eleven years old.

Did they consummate the marriage, although she may not have reached sexual maturity?

We can’t know for certain. But here’s a possible clue. They were married in mid-1895. Marderos left for America in November 1895. Sultan wasn’t approved to join him until sometime between 1903 and 1907 (records are inconsistent). Once in America and reunited with Marderos, Sultan birthed three babies in four years (1908, 1910, 1912) and then two more in 1916 and 1917. It may be that her body wasn’t sufficiently mature to become pregnant in 1895. It’s also possible that Marderos was an honorable man who chose not to bed a child.

We will never know.

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LOVE LAUNCH

Just finished reviewing the final cover and interior proofs for The Eyes Have It! We are on track to meet or beat our mid-fall deadline for release! To celebrate, I’m sharing another excerpt from the book:

I was a “walker.” I lived too close to school to take the bus. We lived in a nice enough neighborhood, near the edge of the city limits, less than a half mile from school. Most of the time, I liked being a walker. The pressure to rush for a bus and compete for the best seats wasn’t appealing. And since I was involved in a lot of school activities, I often didn’t get out in time to catch a bus, anyway, so living close enough to walk was convenient.

Except in midwinter. Like now. No snow, but a strong wind found its way down the neck of my partially zipped jacket. I was just a few blocks from home, but I set my bag on the ground and stopped long enough to zip and pull up my hood. I never wore a hat. Hats did terrible things to hair.

I saw the shadow as I reached to pick up my bag. My body tensed, and flashes of my self-defense course PowerPointed through my brain. My bag was loaded with books and pens, ready to be weaponized. I picked up my pace. My possible assailant mirrored the move. The shadow was gaining on me. I was surrounded by a city in transition. Most streets were crammed with houses. Some older blocks had been razed for new development. The side of the street I was on was dotted with vacant lots, awaiting an eager investor. Across the street was a convenience store I rarely went in, both because I had no need most days and because it was dark and crowded, with aisles close together. Still, it was a possible escape where I wouldn’t be alone. I remembered it was better to face the attacker than to be attacked from behind. If you couldn’t avoid a physical confrontation, aim for the parts of the body where you could do the most damage easily—eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee, top of the feet. Avoid first. I stepped off the curb to cross the street. He followed. As I stepped up on the opposite curb, I gripped the handle of my bag and spun, swinging the bag as hard as I could.

“Hey!” Ethan shouted, his soccer reflexes kicking in as he deflected the bag with his elbow. “What are you doing?”

“I thought you were an assailant!” I scowled at him. “What were you thinking, following me and not telling me you were there?”

He looked a little sheepish. “I wanted to see how long it would take you to realize I was behind you.

“I knew someone was behind me. How was I supposed to know it was you? I don’t have eyes in the back of my head! What are you doing here, anyway? Do you live around here?”

Ethan shrugged. “I live that way.” He pointed east. “Just over the bus line, but I usually walk. I just took a little detour today when I came out of school and saw you walking.”

“Why?”

His turn to blush. But it only made his smile brighter. He had luscious lips.
“I wanted to spend more time with you.”

Valentine’s Day was over a week away. But in that moment, I felt like I understood why Cupid’s signature was his arrow, and it seemed he was on the prowl early. That was the only possible explanation for the sudden contraction and ache in the area of my heart. A wave of heat rushed through me. My hand had a mind of its own and reached out to touch his elbow.

“Did I hurt you?”

“Nah, I’m okay. Good thing I got my arm up.” He grinned. “That was a killer swing.”

I couldn’t pull my eyes from his face. How had I not noticed him before? Clearly, I’d been living in the bubble of my own comfortable group of friends and usual classmates. I sucked in a deep breath, feeling like I couldn’t get enough air. An unrecognized feeling swelled within me, an odd combination of awe and anxiety, excitement and exhilaration, heat and happiness. Was that …?

Ridiculous! I hardly knew him.

He raised his hand slowly. “May I?” he asked as his hand approached my cheek.

I nodded, my breath hitching at the warmth of his touch. And this time, I didn’t flinch. I leaned into his hand, closing my eyes, savoring the feeling that flowed through me.

“You feel it, too,” he half whispered.

I nodded, still not understanding what “it” was, but relieved that I wasn’t alone in the feeling.

“We don’t know anything about each other,” I said, still leaning into the warmth of his hand.

“We know our feelings. The rest can follow if we spend more time together.”

“But what if the feeling doesn’t last?” A parade of casual boyfriends marched through my mind, mocking me. Even as they marched, I knew this was different.

“There’s only one way to find out.” He kissed his fingertips and touched my forehead, sending a power surge straight through to my toes and back. “I have to go,” he continued. “I work for my dad a few evenings a week. I’m saving up for a car.” He sighed. “It’s so hard to leave you. What time do you get to school in the morning?”

“In time for the homeroom bell, but the building opens at 7:30.” Was he asking me to meet him?

“Would you come in that early?” His question so eager, so open.

I gulped a deep breath through my mouth, not quite a gasp, but close.

“Uh, sure.” Of course. Anything you want, you got it. I’m yours.

I was so screwed. I hated that. I also loved it. How could that be?

He smiled that deadly, beautiful, leg-melting smile that started this just a few hours ago.

“My locker, whenever you get there. I’ll be waiting.”

I would have been a prime victim for a predator as I walked the last few blocks home. I was on another planet. On cloud nine. In la-la land. How many other clichés applied?

I felt it in my gut—life as I’d known it was about to change. Dramatically.

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THE ARMENIAN LEGION

One of the lesser-known stories about the experience of Armenians during World War I, the period of the most aggressive extermination attempts by the Turks, was the formation of The Armenian Legion: 1916-1920.

IMG_2801 (2)
One of the women I interviewed spoke of her father’s decision to join the Allied Forces in the Middle East. She said he was frustrated that the Americans were not joining the war effort. His betrothed and many other family members were trapped under the oppression and extermination efforts. She spoke of him saying he wanted to kill the Turks who were killing the Armenians.

He wasn’t alone.

According to the display in the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA, “The Armenian Legion was formed during the darkest days of World War I, when the Allies (France, England and Russia) faced a military deadlock on the European and Middle Eastern Fronts….. At that time the Armenians were facing the devastating aftermath of the Genocide of their people at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.”

1200 Armenian men left their comparatively comfortable lives in America to fight and possibly die in foreign lands. Their explanation? How could they not, when their families and neighbors – if they had survived the actual genocide – were still under threat and domination by the Muslim Turks who despised the Armenians.

Many of the soldiers in photos of the Armenian Legion appear to be little more than boys. And perhaps that’s what they were. Their mothers and sisters and aunts and neighbors had disappeared—in the desert, in their village – and they had no way to know who, if any, were still alive. Most were not. But they knew they had to help stop the devastation. They had to kill Turks.

Along the way, they helped orphaned Armenian children and even adopted one boy as their mascot.

IMG_2805

Their heroism reached its peak – literally and figuratively – in September of 1918, when they seized the hill at Arara.

It would be years in most cases, if ever, before they would learn the fates of their loved ones. Too often they just never knew.

But this story has a happy ending for at least one family. The woman I interviewed was proof. Her grandmother and mother survived the death march through the desert. When the Central Powers nations were defeated, with the help of the Armenian Legion, they were able to find their way to America and reunite with the men who had come before them. These surviving women went on to create home and family in America. The father survived the war and brought home a physical reminder of his time with the Armenian Legion–matching vases made from spent weapons, which my interviewee proudly displayed on her mantle.

Vases made from French Army Artillery Shells

Learn more about the heroic Armenian Legion at the Armenian Museum.

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SNEAK PEEK: THE EYES HAVE IT

Enjoy this sneak peak at THE EYES HAVE IT!

Kuwait–Saudi Arabia Border—199117671959[1]

Josh’s Arabic was rudimentary. He understood it better than he spoke it, although even that was rough. But the most flawless Arabic wouldn’t have made this conversation with Samar easy. It was even harder than he’d expected.

They had just made love. It wasn’t the first time. He never meant for this to happen.

When his regiment first arrived in Saudi Arabia during the military buildup, he had two things on his mind. Make that three things. First was surviving the war to come. Second was concluding his military commitment, preferably alive and fully intact. And last, but far from least, marrying his fiancée, Emily.

Josh and Emily had been a couple since their freshman year of college. They were a good match, because they had so much in common and shared so many interests. Family definitely was important to them. They defined success as doing something they enjoyed that mattered to society. Their friends joked about them, saying they sounded more like a Kennedy-era ’60s couple than one that came of age in the glitzy yuppies decade.

But Samar stirred his soul. Haunted his dreams.

“They will kill me,” Samar said quietly, eyes averted. “My brothers. I have dishonored them. They will have no choice.”

“They don’t have to know,” Josh replied, so naïve, so self-centered. He had not considered the clash of cultures. Had not thought about what this meant for a Saudi Arabian woman.

“They will know.” She turned away from him. “They may already know.”

“Then come to America.”

“They will not let me. And even if they agreed, the process takes so long. Years.”
Josh tried to turn her back to face him. She resisted.

“Then I will tell them I want to marry you.” Those words choked out. What about Emily? But how could he abandon Samar? How could he allow her to be stoned to death because of him? Because of their love? How did they get here?

“They will not allow it. You are American. You are Christian.” Silence. “I am dead,” she added quietly.

What could he do? How could he prevent a tragedy? One for which he was responsible? He had never felt so powerless.

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