Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - Year in Review

In January, we were officially assigned to a position in faraway Amman, Jordan.

In February, we celebrated the start of the Year of the Tiger with weeks worth of fireworks right outside our door.

In March, my sister and her beautiful daughter came to visit us in Beijing - Hong Kong, too.

In April, we got our travel orders and started binge shopping in preparation for departing Beijing.

In May, Ainsley celebrated her 2nd birthday, I quit my job, and we started prepping for our move.

June was a big month. We packed out and left China, celebrated Kyra's fourth birthday in Seattle, and said goodbye to Casey.

In July, we spent a squazillion dollars travelling across the US on home leave.

In August, we moved to Jordan. We also celebrated 16 years of marriage, give or take a few.

In September, we got two salukis, lost two salukis, and had our first visit to the Jordanian ER.

In October, I started learning Arabic.

In November, Yogi the Giant Schnauzer moved in and left a path of destruction in his wake.

In December, we visited the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. We also celebrated our first Christmas in Jordan. Oh, and we got a cat. Have I mentioned the cat yet? Yes, well, that's a story for another year. Because in a few short minutes, 2011 starts here in Jordan, so I'm flat out of time for blogging in 2010.

Happy New Year, everybody. Thanks to all of you out there who take the time to read my blog and comment. I hope to see you all back here in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

Christmas started off with that most secular of events: the traditional End-of-Soccer Season Celebration. That's right, the people who run the soccer program decided December 24th would be a great day to gather all of the kids together for a party.

We weren't keen on going, but since Aidan's team had won the championship, he reallyreallyreally wanted to go. So Bart took the boys back to the dreaded Field of Dirt, where Shay got one trophy (league champions?) and Aidan received a whopping two trophies (league champions and cup champions?). Yeah, I don't understand it either.

From there, the boys rushed home and changed into fancy clothes so we could all go to Christmas Eve mass. We went to a different church than usual, on a hilltop on the other side of town. The kids were all fabulously well-behaved (everyone deserves a Christmas miracle like that!), so after church, we took them out for ice cream. Before lunch. Yes, we did. We are either the best parents ever, or the worst parents ever. But ice cream for lunch was a lovely surprise for the kids, and it meant I didn't have to make anything for lunch. That, my friends, is a definite win-win.

looking downhill from the church....

Before we knew it, it was Christmas Day. Santa found us here in Amman, and he must've thought the kids were pretty good this year. They were thrilled with all of their loot. Kyra's favorite was the pillow pet she'd been wanting ever since she saw the commercial 30-kazillion times while on home leave (who says advertising doesn't work?). Ainsley also got a pillow pet. Aidan did not, and he was actually pretty bummed about it. Who knew?

Of all of the kids, Kyra was the most excited about "Santa Closet," as she still calls him. She watched his progress all day on NORAD, and she was just about to bust out of her skin with excitement, as you can see from the photos below.

And that was our Christmas.

Tomorrow morning we're heading down to Aqaba, on the Red Sea. Back in a few days.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Balakh al Tamr

I've told you about Reda. He's the boab who lives in our building and cares for the yard, washes the cars, makes sure the water and gas tanks are full, takes the trash out, etc.

When I make dinner these days, I frequently make enough for him, too. I figure, he's far away from his wife and kids, and he only has a tiny hot plate in his room off of the garage. It's not much extra effort to make a bit more food in the evening, but I imagine it makes a difference to him.

He seems to appreciate it, because he repays us in his own way. Once he brought me a huge bunch of wild basil that he'd picked. Another time, he harvested the olives in the backyard and tried to explain how to cure them (they're currently curing in the refrigerator - I'll let you know in another month or so if it worked out for me).

This week, he showed up with this:

He called it (them?) balakh al tamr, and he said he cut it down from a tree out in the front. We spent about 20 minutes back-and-forthing, him trying to explain and me trying to understand what the heck it was.

Can you eat it? I asked.

Yes, but now now, he said.

Do I cook it? I asked.

No, he said, but I couldn't understand what I was supposed to do with it.

Finally we called my Jordanian pal Annie, and they chatted for awhile.

Turns out - I think - that these are palm dates. He cut them down while they were still unripe, and now they need to dry in a warm place for a few weeks (or, alternatively, sit in the freezer for a week) before they can be eaten. He put some of them on cookie sheets in the cupboards and propped a few more up on top of the cabinets.

Now: we wait. I think they'll be ready in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Reda is leaving us in a few days. He's going back to Egypt to see his family, and he won't be back for a couple of months. We're going to miss him.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guess What Arrived Today?

I ordered it in early October. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. And I was oh-so-patient! Never a cross word out of my mouth.

Today, my patience was finally rewarded: My new computer arrived, and there was much rejoicing on the streets of Amman.

Okay, not a whole lot of rejoicing, actually, because I'm too darned busy to rejoice, what with Christmas happening in a matter of hours over here.

I haven't even taken it out of the box.

But the computer is finally here. And I am happy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tis the Season...

... for holiday concerts.

First there was the concert at the boys' school. They sang such holiday classics as "Don't Eat a Poinsettia," featuring lyrics like these:

"Don't eat a
Or else
You bettah
Get ready for a tummy ache!"

Seriously, there wasn't a song among them that I knew, but it was a lot of fun to watch the kids. They were all dressed up, so of course I had to snap lots of photos.

I believe I've blogged about Shay's new trumpet: the 5th graders have a band requirement, and that was his oh-so-loud instrument of choice, chosen for the very important musical reason that his friend Mohammed also selected the trumpet. This was their first performance together as a band, and while it wasn't, musically speaking, the finest band I've ever heard, it was still pretty impressive. Some of these kids couldn't even read music 3 months ago, yet here they were, working together and making actual music.

Next up: Aidan's Christmas pageant at church. They decided to reenact the birth of Christ, and thank the good Lord Himself that Aidan was chosen to be a shepherd rather than a sheep. If you were the mom of a sheep, you had to find cotton balls and construction paper and staples and a fuzzy white fleece sweater. If you were the mom of a shepherd, you only had to find the store in Sweifiyeh that sells dishdashes.

When Aidan walked out of the house in his shepherd-dishdash, poor Reda the boab couldn't stop laughing at my small Palestinian boy. Reda gave Aidan a big hug - he clearly got a kick out of the costume.

I dropped Aidan off at church for a rehearsal, but when he saw that some of the other shepherds had the black rings on their heads, he wanted one too. "Oops," I said to a dad standing nearby, "I didn't think to get him one of those."

"They usually only wear those if they've been circumcised," he responded, and won't that give me something to think about the next time I'm strolling through the streets of Amman and I see a guy in his dishdash.

The play went off without a hitch, unless you count the fact that we got there late and couldn't get the girls to sit still. But the actors themselves did just fine.

And then there was Kyra's concert today at school. The kids sang holiday songs in three languages: Arabic, English and French. So cute!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas in a Muslim Country

We went shopping today in Sweifiyeh, looking for stocking stuffers and other small gifts. Bart had to stop at a store by himself, to pick up something he'd ordered for me. (I peeked. It was a jewelry store. He always buys better presents than I do.)

When he caught up with me, he reported that the women working behind the counter were covered in the traditional Muslim fashion. Over the loudspeakers, they were playing Christmas carols - in Arabic. And there were two Chinese women in the store, singing along with the carols, but in English. Weird.

Meanwhile, in my store, I found all sorts of stocking stuffers and lots of Christmas wrapping paper. I paid for my purchases, and when the sales clerk handed over my change, he said "Merry Christmas."

Many of the houses in our neighborhood have Christmas lights up - not so many as you'd see back home, but more than I expected.

The boys have a half day at school tomorrow before school shuts down for the holiday. Kyra, on the other hand, goes to a local school. They only get two days off for Christmas: Thursday and Sunday. Their long winter break isn't until late January. And yet - tomorrow Kyra's class has a holiday performance, and from what I can tell, they'll be singing lots of the same Christmas classics we hear back home.

Confusing, isn't it? But nice. Between school concerts and cookie baking for holiday parties and haunting the DPO looking for packages, it's beginning to feel as though Christmas is coming.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Our First Trip to the Dead Sea

Oh, it was awful. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

In the interest of preserving the privacy of my kids, I won't name any names here. But I can say that 2 out of 4 kids threw massive temper tantrums - one when we arrived, one when it was time to go. One child forgot to pack shoes. One child's shoes were stolen poolside. One child had an accident, rendering that child's shoes unwearable. One child's recently injured toenail popped off again in the lobby, leaving a bloody mess everywhere.

Two children were terrified of the Dead Sea itself, and screamed the entire time they were in the water, much to the annoyance of the other swimmers. Two children broke out in hives because of the saltiness of the Sea. One husband thought to cheer up his wife by bringing her an iced coffee with Bailey's, poolside, but wife didn't realize it had Bailey's in it and let one of the kids drink some.

It was a mess. An absolute, awful, disaster of a trip.

I will say this, though: I definitely plan to go back.

Without the kids.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breakfast with Santa (and a Camel)

Last weekend we went to breakfast with Santa at the Embassy.

Shay sat on the camel.

Aidan sat on the camel.

Even Ainsley sat on the camel.

Kyra refused to sit on the camel. Absolutely, positively, refused. In a most hysterical fashion.

Next up: Santa Claus.

Shay sat with Santa.

Aidan sat with Santa.

Kyra happily sat with Santa.

Ainsley was the holdout. She wanted nothing to do with Santa. Absolutely, positively, nothing to do with the man.

P.S. When it was time to leave, Kyra suddenly decided she'd sit on the camel after all. And she was oh-so-proud of herself for doing it, too.

P.P.S. The first story I ever had published in the Washington Post was about camels and Santa Claus. Here's the link, if you want to reminisce with me.
Please. Write your own stuff.