Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

I'm a cheapskate, I guess. I simply can't bring myself to spend $5 on a pack of imported tortillas that my boys will inhale in one sitting.

But do you know? It isn't that hard to make your own. Especially if you have a food processor, which you should. Personally, I can't live without mine. Here's how I'm making tortillas these days.

Whole Wheat Tortillas

2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c shortening
1 1/2 c boiling water

Pulse the flours and salt in a food processor until combined. Add shortening and continue pulsing until shortening disappears in the mixture - it'll look a bit crumb-y. With food processor running, pour the boiling water slowly through the feed tube. Run the processor until the mixture combines into a ball.

Tear off a bit of dough and roll into a ball about the size of a golf ball. Place on a lightly floured surface to rest awhile. You should be able to make about 25 or so of these balls. Cover with a cloth and let them sit.

(Here's the good part - they can sit there, covered, all day long. I've been making them in the morning and letting them sit until the boys get home from school or until it's time to make dinner.)

When you're ready, heat a heavy skillet over a medium-high flame. Flatten a ball with your hand, then roll it out as thin as you can. (I just roll them out straight on my unfloured countertop.) Toss it on the skillet and wait about, oh, 30 seconds. It might bubble a bit. Flip it and cook the other side about 30 seconds. It should be just a tad browned. Flip and cook again if not. Remove from heat.

Once they're cool, you can stack and serve, or wrap in plastic and save.

Now, stick with me, because here is my very important variation, which allows you to make


Do the whole thing, as written above. But - after you've cooked the tortilla on one side, flip it over, quickly sprinkle shredded cheese over one half and fold over. Cook for 30 seconds, then flip and cook the other side for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stand ready with your rolling pin - you'll need it to beat the kids away from the wire rack until you have enough quesadillas for everyone.

Serve with salsa or ketchup or just eat plain. Revel in the fact that they are SOOO much better than store-bought, and you still have that $5 in your pocket. Coincidentally, a grande frappucino costs just a bit over $5 in Amman, so with the money you've saved going homemade, you can splurge on one of those instead. Because heaven knows, you deserve a frappucino if you just spent an hour cooking homemade tortillas and quesadillas for someone else.

Because I Know You Love Guessing Games

Here's a multiple choice quiz for you.

On Donna's first full day with a car, she:

A) got a massage;

B) drove all the way out to the Dead Sea, just to say she'd been;

C) went to a great restaurant, all by herself, for lunch;

D) took Ainsley to the emergency room.

Yep, you're right. I found my way, all by my lonesome, to the Arab Medical Center ER, where I spent the morning waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for an ENT to appear in order to pull something unidentifiable out of my darling daughter's nose.

She's been stinking a bit - we've taken to calling her "dog breath" - and I've been scrubbing away at her teeth, checking for cavities, to no avail. So I googled "stinky toddler breath," and came up with "foreign body in nose."

So it was that I found myself in the hospital. Let's recap, shall we? We've been in hospitals in the U.S. (California. Pennsylvania. Seattle. New York. Virginia. D.C.). In Moscow. In Finland. In London. In Armenia. In Kazakhstan. In Beijing. In Hong Kong. And now in Amman, Jordan. I'm going to go ahead and send away for my honorary medical degree today, I think. (Funny aside: When Aidan was in Children's Hospital, I spent days listening to doctors make the rounds and give his history to one another. So one day, when a new doc came in, I just started in with the history. I guess I threw out so many medical terms that he got confused. "Who are you?" he asked me, the mother. He thought I was a new doctor. I'm that good.)

So yes. "Foreign body in nose" was today's diagnosis. It's unclear what, exactly, this particular foreign body was, because it was pretty far gone. Disgusting, revolting - you choose the adjective. It's out now. And we're home.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Huh. Didn't See That Coming.

You'll never guess.

Seriously. Not in a million years.

Just try to guess what appeared in our driveway late this evening.

What do you think it was?

(and why couldn't someone have put a few gallons of gas in it already?)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our First Road Trip

Here is what I've been told about Arab culture: they don't like to disappoint. So, for example, if you ask someone for directions, they will give you directions, regardless of whether they know how to get where you want to go. This, not to be mean, but because they don't want to disappoint you.

So, just by way of example, let's imagine you were waiting for your car to arrive. They might tell you it is here, in Amman, just so you will be happy. They will tell you this, week after week, as you happily await the imminent arrival of the vehicle. But it never arrives. You will eventually find out it is not in Amman. It is still in Aqaba. But okay, they'll tell you, this is not a problem. The car will arrive by Monday, Tuesday at the latest. You will be happy. They will be happy. Everyone will be happy.

Until Wednesday. When you still have no car.

But it's okay, they will tell you, because your car will definitely, certainly, cross their heart be here by Sunday. For sure. You are happy. They are happy. Everyone is happy.

As I type this, it is Sunday night. And do you think we got our car today?

(It's okay, I can wait while you ponder this...)

You are correct. We did not get our car.

But that's okay, because they told me we'll get it tomorrow.

Even though it is still tied up in customs.

Probably still in Aqaba.

But tomorrow. It will definitely be parked in my driveway tomorrow.

This past weekend, we took matters into our own hands and hired a man with a van to drive us 45 minutes north to Jerash. It's an old Roman city: the signs say it was built in 129 AD, which, as I told the kids, is like 129 years before Christ was born. Yes, that's right, I told them it was before Christ was born. BC, AD, whatevs. It's really, really, old, okay? That's all they needed to know.

Shay took most of the pictures. And if the kids look cheerful in the photos, well, it just goes to show what a great photographer he is. Actually, they whined their way through the first half of the site, which was too hot and too boring, unless you count their chance encounter with their school buddies, Mohammed and Yousef. That part was okay. Other than that, it was pretty much hot and boring the whole way up.

Once we got to the top, we gulped about 200 bottles of water and pointed our noses back downhill. At that point, they became positively giddy, and the return trip through the site was actually a lot of fun.

I'm glad we didn't wait to get our car. It was nice to get out and see something. Not as nice as it'll be when we finally see our car parked in our driveway, but, you know...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Weekly RoundUp, Sponsored by Me

Why did I even go on Facebook that day? And why did I cut into a conversation between Daring Adventure and Cyberbones? Why, I ask you? Why?

They were chatting about the RoundUp, and whether anyone had volunteered to do it recently. I chimed in with a simple, innocent "boy do I love that RoundUp," and the next thing you know, I was rounding up myself. The responsibility is staggering, but I'll try my best.

So here goes.

The big news in the FS-blogosphere is the demise of EF'M's blog. He apparently decided to hang up his hat and work out some personal issues offline. Offline? Is there even such a thing? Here's hoping he is simply suffering through his 10-day-freak-out (that's what we called it in Beijing, because right around day 10 at post, every single spouse snapped and did something crazy - like call up the husband and threaten to fly out on the next plane, with or without kids, but definitely without the husband). Maybe he'll be back when he's recovered? Here's hoping...

Out with the old, in with the new. Amy from Ottawa has a blog you never knew about, and if you're a crafty type, you'll want to stop by. She knits the cutest sweaters ever, when she's not walking the dog, baking cookies or reminiscing about the old days in China.

Let's see, what else happened this week? Well, for starters, Michel at Facts are Strictly Optional is finally back from her accidental TDY to Kuwait, and what's the first thing she decides to do when she returns to the office? Move the furniture, of course. How this woman has managed to not be fired, I have no idea - if her stellar work ethic doesn't get her, then her expletive-laden blog certainly should. But she's the funniest blogger in the whole of the FS, so click on over and read about her Al-Qa-ida sleeper credenza and her run-in with the OSHA enforcers.

Over at FSI, Destination Diplomacy is busy cramming Spanish into her brain. Digger is also studying at FSI - she got to hang with other FSI language students, and did you know she understands Hebrew, German, Finnish, Danish, Dutch, and probably Icelandic, too? Seriously, Finnish? I've met Finns who don't understand Finnish. Pretty impressive, in an "I've been in Amman for almost 2 months and still don't know how to count to ten in Arabic" sort of way. Digger also got to hang out with one-half of Fabling. The other half is currently having a bit of culture shock in Northern Virginia.

Connie is celebrating Peace One Day with her kids in Amman. While she's celebrating peace, Daring Adventure is over in DC, discussing "How to Win a Knife Fight" with Mr. Fitscrap, her kick-ass husband who could apparently shoot you right straight in your center-mass if you tick him off enough.

Brand New Day got stung by a bee in Vienna. Shannon did not get stung by a bee in Malawi. She also didn't get killed by a black mamba snake, a hammerkop, a tadpole, a Power's Rain Frog, a centipede or any of the other strange creatures that inhabit her backyard. Those creatures run scared when they see Shannon's family. Because her boys eat bugs. See what I mean, people? First you start wearing toe socks, and then you graduate to toe shoes. You hold a giant grub, next thing you know you're munching it down. And speaking of bugs, here's a special shout-out to Zoe, for linking to the nastiest article you've ever read.

Denise is getting ready to leave for Dhaka - hopefully with her finally-repaired camera in tow. The Consul's Files is musing about consular services. The Skeptical Bureaucrat is giving us the view from Colombia, where there was recently a raid on a jungle camp, resulting in the death of one FARC leader and one government dog. Somewhere in Afghanistan, Afghan Plan has posted some lovely, if somewhat plagiarized, photos. And if you check out his sidebar, you'll even get to see his favorite MREs, ranked in order of deliciousness. You know, in case you've had your fill of bugs.

I like reading Just Us for a couple of reasons. First, they have 5 kids, which is one more than we have, so when my house gets all loud and crazy, I can console myself with the fact that they are possibly louder and crazier. Second, we're practically neighbors. Next door in Jerusalem, they are having the same issues with their shipments as us: The car is here. You will get it on Tuesday. Oops, the car is not here. But you will still get it on Tuesday. The car is maybe here, but do you still want it? Where is your proof of insurance? Oh, wait, that's not your car. We will deliver your car shortly. Maybe. Hopefully. Inshallah.

Zoe is pondering Facebook Friends and the Foreign Service this week. Now's your chance to friend her: she's up to 666 friends, a number that clearly won't do. Sadie's settling down in Saudi - diving, but not driving. The Criplomats sold their 20-year-old Volvo.

Emily confesses that she usually lets her husband edit her blog posts, just so so doesn't accidentally confess to dreams of fame. Noble Glomads confesses that she sent her husband and son on a hike up an active volcano in the middle of a major storm. Julie didn't have to hike up a mountain to find a storm: she had one right in her house, in Nouakchott. (The first person to find Nouakchott on a map wins the prize! What's the prize, you ask? Congratulations! You get to do the RoundUp next week!)

Still haven't gotten enough of FS blogs for the week? Well, Hannah has put 'em all together into one huge google reader bundle. Stop by her blog to figure out how to subscribe to them all at once. And then stop by Daring Adventure to sign up for your turn to round these FS folks up!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Odds and Ends

It's been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But I don't have time to go into the details just yet. Instead, here are some odds and ends I've been meaning to get to but haven't.

First off, isn't that husband of mine handsome? Here he is, along with some of his colleagues, in front of Secretary Clinton's plane. Yes, she visited Amman briefly last week, adding to his already way-too-busy schedule. But at least he got a good photo out of it, right? (He's the guy on the far left.)

Today our normally blue skies went dark. There was an on-and-off drizzle.
The skies briefly cleared at the dinner hour before a dust storm rolled in. Here are some creepy pictures taken from our front yard. We had some nasty dust storms in Beijing - worse than this - but then again, back in Beijing it wasn't so startling to see a strange brown sky. We were used to seeing every color but blue in our Chinese sky.

Lastly, another call for help. Does anyone out there have a suggestion for a web design firm? Not for a blog re-design, but for a business website. If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know.

Eat! Eat!

We had about 20 folks over for dinner last night - some out-of-town visitors along with a few people from Bart's office. I guess, with all of those federal agents in my house, it was either the safest place or the least safe place to be in all of Amman last night.

I realized, mid-way through the preparations, that it was probably the first dinner party I've ever pulled off without Bart's help. Normally, we do these things on the weekend, and he does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of getting the rooms clean and the tables organized so I can focus on the food. This time, however, because the guests were only in town for a day, we had to do it on a week night.

It turned out okay. In case you foodies out there are interested, here's what I served: For an appetizer, I baked brie with garlic and honey in puff pastry. This is perhaps the most delicious food in the universe. For dinner, we had cheese lasagna (my mom's is better), meatballs (ditto), spinach and basil salad, a veggie platter and the most beautiful fruit platter, with fresh Jordanian figs and red grapes. Brownies for dessert, along with some tiny sweets I bought from a local bakery.

And voila! That was it.

It used to be easier to pull off these dinner parties, back when we were young'uns. Because we were some of the first of our peers to get married, most of the people who came to our house for dinner were single guys and Marines - these people are just grateful for a homecooked meal, and if you overcook the chicken or underdress the salad, they aren't going to care. As more of our peers have gotten married, they've become more food-focused. So when one of the guests walked in and started telling me how he loves to spend weekends cooking, and then detailed some of the things he can prepare, I knew was in trouble.

All in all, it was pretty fun. I enjoy cooking for guests, both because the cooking itself is fun, and because I don't have to hold too many in-depth conversations when I'm busy in the kitchen (the deaf ear thing makes it hard for me to follow conversations in crowded situations, and sometimes it's nice not to have to try).

Tonight's menu: leftover lasagna for the adults, and maybe I'll pull together a simple pesto for the kids if they're lucky. I'm not much in the mood to make a mess of the kitchen today for some reason.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Hey, y'all! I need some help here.

You see, I volunteered to do the Weekly Roundup of State Department blogs. What was I thinking? Is there any way to get out of it? Probably not.

But you could help.

If you're a Foreign Service blogger, could you put something fascinating on your blog in the next day or so? And then let me know you've done it?

I don't want to miss anyone who is out there eating bugs or getting involved in knife fights or whatever it is you kids do when I'm not looking.

So go already. Blog. And if you write something I need to know about, or you find a link I should use, please let me know.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Soccer Season Starts

In Beijing, the boys participated in Club Football, an outstanding soccer program with British coaches who taught my boys on the lovely green artificial turf at the International School of Beijing.

The boys loved it. And so did I. Practices were after school, and they could take the school activity bus home. Games were on the weekends, when the girls would play on the playground while the boys competed. On that soft, expensive artifical turf.

Soccer officially started this weekend in Amman. I stayed home with the girls while Bart took the boys, because there is no playground at the field. No astroturf, either. Actually, now that I think about it, there isn't even a blade of grass. No, our new field is 100% genuine middle eastern dirt.

I thought the boys would be bummed by the primitive conditions of the field, but it didn't bother them, not one bit. Aidan came home covered in dust from thigh to toe, thrilled to be that dirty. Shay was less dirty, but only because we weren't sure when his game was scheduled, so he missed the first half.

That's one more milestone crossed in this new place: the first sports team. Shay tells me almost noone on his team speaks English - not sure if this is true, but it would be nice if it were, because he'd get some real-world Arabic practice. Sadly, Shay's team meets twice on the weekend: once on Friday for games, and once on Saturday for practices. I don't think we quite understood the level of commitment when we signed them up. There is no way we're going to devote our entire weekend to soccer, not when there's the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and Jesus' baptism site to explore.

I guess we'll work this all out moving forward. Does anyone out there think I should find a laundry detergent maker to sponsor this blog? Because when I look at these photos, I see even more dirty clothes than ever in my future.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Home at Last?

We're slowly settling in to this new life of ours.

Three of the kids are now on their regular post-Ramadan school schedules, with after-school activities beginning this week. They're all happy with school and friends and schedules, for the most part. Shay's class already went on their first field trip - to the Dead Sea. Amazing. We still haven't been as a family, but he's seen it.

The kids are all studying Arabic. Me: not so much yet. I'm hoping to look into classes this week some time, though, because:

I finally have some help in this big dusty apartment. I have a lady coming in every morning to clean or help out with Ainsley. This means I could theoretically take Arabic or even go to the gym every so often. Gasp. No more excuses. Not as many, anyway.

This morning, as I type, the house is clean and the laundry is folded. I already have dinner ready, courtesy of my double batch of pasta sauce from last week. And I even have a lasagna and meatballs cooling in the freezer in preparation for a dinner I'm supposed to be hosting later this week.

A new friend lent me Julia Child's book, My Life in France, and it seems as though I might have a few spare minutes to read it. Did you know she was a Foreign Service spouse? Yep, she was. You can be sure if we'd served at the same time, I never would've had the guts to invite her to my house for dinner.

That's all for now - I'm off to read for 10 minutes before I have to pick up Kyra from school.

It's turning out to be a good day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Looking Back

The SITS-tahs have handed out a blog assignment this week, and I kind of like this one, so I thought, why not participate?

They're asking their readers to re-post the very first blog entry they ever wrote. I went back and looked at my first post, which I wrote way back on June 5, 2007, before we left for China. It's sort of appropriate, considering I'm once again in transition. I still agree with pretty much everything I wrote then.

So, without further ado, I bring you: My Very First Blog Post Ever. Hope you like it!

June 5, 2007

When I tell people we're moving the whole family to Beijing in a few short weeks, the questions I'm most frequently asked are how? and why?

Why, at first glance, is easy. I mean, why not? When you move, as we do, every 2-3 years, you get the chance to start over from scratch each time. You see a new part of the world. You see a new way of living. You see, in essence, a new part of yourself. Because the truth is, every time you get off the plane in a new country, you stretch the boundaries of your own skin. Maybe a lot, maybe just a little. But you will learn, and grow, and change with every move.

Of course, stretching is exercise. And it can be painful. Packing up, saying goodbye, moving far from loved ones - all of this hurts. Jet lag hurts, too. You stretch, you tear. But this crazy foreign service lifestyle has pushed us places we'd never have otherwise gone. And for the most part, it's been worthwhile.

Once you get where you're going, that is. The preparation? The build-up? That leads to the other oft-asked question. How? How in the world do you pack up three kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs? How do you pick a whole life up and put it back down in one piece, halfway around the world?


Right now, in the middle of it all, I don't quite see how. But we've done it numerous times before: from LA to NY to DC to Moscow to Armenia to Kazakhstan and back to DC, with stops in between in Seattle, LA and Virginia to have babies. So I know it can be done. Even by the least organized person you could hope to meet: me.

My husband sometimes calls me "90% Donna" because of my tendency to throw myself into a project until it is very nearly finished, and then abandon it. An annoying trait, no doubt. But it's actually quite useful in the world of the Foreign Service. Because once you accept the fact that you'll never be 100% prepared, you're ready to leap in.

In the meantime, you make lists. At least, I do. I have a seven-month workback schedule to get us from January to July '07. It contains reminders such as "Buy more suitcases," "Find property manager," "Apply for visas," "Get Japanese encephalitis shots," "Get dog groomed." All arranged according to the month in which I'm supposed to do them. Another list I have: Things to Buy for Beijing. Another: Things to Pack. One list shows what goes into Air Freight (we're allowed 800 pounds), what goes into storage, what goes on the slow boat. I have a list of invitees for the boys' upcoming going away party. I can cross reference that with the workback schedule, where it clearly states, under May, "Plan going away party." It's June already, and the party isn't planned, but no matter. I'll get there. Or not. Just knowing it's on the list gives me a sense of control.

I read through my lists every few days, cross off what's been done and look ahead to what still awaits my attention.

90% Donna knows I won't finish the whole list. But the most important things will somehow get done, and come July 24th, the real adventure will begin. Ready or not.

At each of our last posts, I've emailed periodic updates to my family and friends, filling them in on our adventures. My group email list has gotten rather cumbersome, however, so I've decided to post in blog form instead. Somehow it feels less presumptuous to post out here in the wide world than it did to force my way into your in boxes every week. This way you can read about our goings-on, or not, at your leisure. There will likely be a few weeks here and there when I post nothing at all, especially after we pack up the computer in late July and before we get it set up again on the other end. But I'll do my best.

Now listen up - this is important. I loved sending emails because it always prompted a few of you to write back with details about your own lives. Please don't abandon me just because I'm no longer in your in-box every week. Take pity: I'll be way across the globe over here, missing you more than you know. Please drop me a line occasionally letting me know what you're up to. This will be a fantastic adventure, but it'll still seem lonely if you're not along for the ride.

Empty Nest Symdrome

I appear to have a bad case of empty nest syndrome.

Except she's only going to pre-school.

Also: there's still one more at home.

But still.

I'm out of sorts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our Marines

We have Marine Security Guards at every post. They work with RSO to protect the Embassy, its information and its personnel. It's hard work, I think: they work in shifts, which means there are times they'll stand post throughout the night. Standing post can be boring on the nights when nothing is going on, but then, when something happens, they have to be ready to swing into action - and they have to know exactly what to do, who to call.

Some of these men and women are actually just kids. One of my favorite Marines in Moscow was a skinny 17-year-old, smart as a whip, super-polite, ate like a horse. Somehow he'd managed to sneak into the Corps before he even finished high school. When I was 17, I'm pretty sure I couldn't have handled a job like that, so far from home.

One of the first programs Bart ever ran as a first-tour ARSO was the Marine Security Guard program. He drilled with them every week, covering different emergency scenarios.

One night he left around the dinner hour to run a drill. A short time later, I heard someone pounding on the front door and shouting "Marine Security Guard!" How cute, I thought, they've put me in the drill for some reason. I skipped downstairs and opened the door to find a huge guy in full gear - helmet, weapon, vest - and he was shouting "Marine Security Guard! Lock your doors and stay away from the windows! This is NOT a drill!"

Not a drill? But... I knew they were supposed to be drilling, but he was serious. So I closed the curtains and sat for awhile, nervously wondering what was going on. After a long while, I couldn't stand it anymore, and I peeked out the window. It was quiet out back, with a layer of snow across the Embassy compound behind our house. But I could see Marines moving out there in the snow, looking for something or someone. They were all dressed in full gear, though many of them had come straight from the gym and only had workout shorts underneath. How they didn't freeze, I've no idea.

It wasn't until hours and hours later that my husband returned home and told me what had happened. There were intruders on the compound, and they basically had to search the entire place to make sure none escaped.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, there is a commercial making the rounds on Facebook - perhaps you've seen it? - publicizing the Marine Security program. It's really nicely done, and gives just a brief glimpse into the lives of these men and women who protect our Embassies around the world. In a couple of the scenes, they're dressed pretty much exactly like that guy was when he pounded on my door all those years ago.

I'm not going to link to it, though, because my internet connection is being very stubborn today. Instead, I'm going to send you to another blog that has linked to the video recently: Life After Jerusalem is usually one of the first to find gems like these, anyway, so if you're a foreign service type, you need to be reading her blog. Also, she has taken the time to create a list of links to practically every foreign service blog out there. So while you're over there, you can look at her sidebars and find yourself some new reading material.

And if you happen to run into any Marines today, thank them for me, okay?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Birthday Update

Why, yes, that IS hand-made wrapping paper. You see, in our family, we don't believe in buying store bought. No sirree, we lovingly design our own paper, from scratch. We're creative that way.

We don't like wasting paper, either, so we use whatever scraps we can find in the house that day. In this case, we used some slightly torn and crinkled paper left over from the moving boxes. We're resourceful that way.


How dare you.

I mean, really. Accusing me of forgetting to purchase wrapping paper for my own child's seventh birthday. What kind of mother would do such a thing? I'm offended that the idea would even cross your mind.

(He did like the rollerblades - which I remembered to order in time. See? I'm not all bad.)

(Also? They sell scotch tape in Cozmo. In case any of you out there need to buy any for emergency wrapping projects. Not that you would. I'm sure you have loads of tape tucked away with your wrapping paper and bows. Ahem.)

The birthday cake was a big hit. You can't tell in the picture, but it's chocolate, with chocolate frosting, and a white frosting "road" down the middle. There is a toy truck driving down the road, covering up the giant crack in the middle of the road, where the cake started to fall apart under the weight of the fabulously delicious and not-exactly-low-calorie buttercream frosting.

That's as fancy as it gets here.

Thank the Lord I have boys - they request this car cake every year, and all it really involves is making two different colors of frosting and buying a toy car.

I have no idea what I'm going to do when the girls get old enough to request princess and mermaid cakes.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seven Years

We were posted to Kazakhstan when Aidan was born. When he was about 6 months old, we flew to the States to get him baptized. During the course of the ceremony, the priest asked what we wanted to ask of God for Aidan. We both responded at the same time: good health.

Ironic then, that he grew ill the next day. He appeared to have an ear infection of some kind, and so we took him to the doctor in nearby Cooperstown, NY. "There's something wrong with his head," she told us bluntly, "He needs to be seen by a neurologist."

And so it was that we went from having a perfectly healthy, if somewhat skinny, baby boy to having a boy we feared might die.

We flew to Washington instead of returning to Kazakhstan. Aidan was admitted to Children's Hospital in DC, where he was examined by neurologists and neurosurgeons, nutritionists and genetic disease specialists, all looking for a reason for his sickness. I wrote about it some years ago: click here if you want more details.

They were concerned about all sorts of things: his brain, his skull, his stomach... I stopped nursing him so they could measure every ounce of food he took in. They talked about feeding tubes and IV lines as they weighed and measured him every day. And through it all, I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more. I was so afraid that we were going to lose him. All around me I saw other mothers who were in the process of losing their babies: to cancer, and kidney ailments, and other awful things that were just no fair at all. So I knew, really knew, for the first time ever, that I could lose him, that there was no guarantee I'd get to see him grow up.

But we were lucky. His problem was caught in time, and he got better. We asked for good health during his baptism, and it took awhile, but we got it. He's a regular, healthy little guy now, with no idea at all how badly he frightened his mom and dad.

Still, I think about it sometimes. When I watch him sleep I remember those nights in the hospital. Whenever we return to that church in New York, and I hear the priest talk, I'm transported back to that baptism day, and I get choked up every time, remembering.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well, it's his birthday. As I decorate his cake and wrap his gifts, I am just so grateful to have him in my life. He's funny and kind, with an infectious laugh that draws people to him. He's smart, and strong, and beautiful. He's healthy, too. Thank God for that. He's healthy.

Happy birthday Aidan.

One More Day of Ramadan

In the U.S., Christmas falls on December 25, every single year. Thanksgiving - the last Thursday in November. Always. Our holidays are set and printed on calendars before the year even starts.

Not so with Ramadan. It was unclear until yesterday whether Ramadan would end today or tomorrow. The month-long holiday is timed around the cycles of the moon, and the imams apparently have to go look at the moon to determine whether it's over.

Last night they looked, and announced: it ain't over. Which means one more day of fasting for the mostly-Muslim population.

I'm no Ramadan expert, so I'll simply refer you to the wikipedia entry if you're curious to learn more. I am amazed, however, at the fact that people manage to fast from sunup to sundown for an entire month. No food or water, during one of the hottest months of the year.

When the movers were here, they hauled boxes in and out all day, without once stopping to swig a drink. Their supervisor kindly offered to leave in the middle of the day for 30 minutes so we could eat. So what did they do while we ate? They went outside, found a shady spot, made prayer mats out of moving boxes and prayed for half an hour.

I'll tell you this. I'm trying NOT to follow the news about people protesting the planned WTC Islamic Center, or churches that are planning Quran burnings. Because it really, really ticks me off. Why is it YOUR business to decide how and where and whether other people should worship? Tolerance, people. It's sorta why America exists. Michael Kinsley said it better than I could ever hope to.

But enough! Don't get me started! I have boxes to unpack and things to put away. My husband was supposed to be here to help on this, the first day of a 4-day weekend to mark Eid al Fitr, the end of Ramadan. But of course, if it's a holiday, there has to be a work emergency, so it looks like I'm on my own for the day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Federal Agent By Day, Decorator By Night

"Federal agent by day, decorator by night."

Bart earned that nickname way back during our first posting in Moscow, when our friend John stopped by and caught Bart rearranging furniture and hanging pictures. Then another agent asked him to stop by their house and give some decorating tips, which he promptly and successfully did.

It's lucky for me, too, because the decorating gene seems to have skipped me. If I walk into a room, I'm able to say if I like it or not, but I'm not able to explain why.

That's just one reason why I hate unpacking. There are piles of things everywhere - knickknacks and books and pictures - and I haven't the slightest idea where any of it should go. I usually get to work in the kitchen, because that's pretty much the same everywhere, and Bart gets to organize the rest of the house.

Poor guy.

We're still buried alive under our HHE, but we have a long weekend coming up, so I have high hopes that it won't be long before we're looking settled.

(We still don't have our car, though, and I've been told to expect a few more weeks of car-less-ness. Sigh. Have I mentioned that I don't much like taxis? I'm from Los Angeles, after all, so public transportation is still a foreign concept, even after all these years of metros and subways and taxis and those scary Armenian buses with the gas tanks strapped to the roof.)

Here's a whole pile o stuff on the dining room table. But note the china cabinet in the background is orderly!

Somebody has to hang all of these pictures. Where's my dad when you need him?

Tires? Do we really have tires in the middle of the study?

Hey! Our Chinese lamps n things made it intact!

Monday, September 6, 2010


When they packed us out of Beijing, our HHE weighed a whopping 5777 pounds.

Remember all of those boxes we packed up in June? Yes, well, eight men showed up yesterday with a gigantic truck full of those very same boxes.

Gosh, but we have a lot of stuff. Also, did you know our very large, very nice house has almost no closet space? And we apparently have a lot of clothing and linens.

So now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to find places to put it all.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Our First Jordanian Souvenir(s)

It was a busy weekend, so I'm playing catch-up today. When I went into the laundry room to start a load of whites, Ainsley followed me in, climbed on the laundry pile and exclaimed "Mountain!"

So clearly there is a lot of catching up to do in the laundry department. Which may explain why I'm blogging right now.

Let's see, what can I tell you about my weekend? Well, a couple of neighbor kids came over to play while their dad took Bart "souvenir" shopping. I made them lunch: grilled cheese, tuna salad on crackers, apple slices and edamame. After they finished, I sat down with a book to enjoy my own lunch. Ainsley and Kyra sat with me and continued nibbling on edamame.

Ainsley wouldn't stop talking, but I was doing my best to ignore her and read. Until I became aware of what she was saying: "Ouchie, mommy. Edamame. Ouchie."


Well, it turns out the darling girl had stuffed a soy bean up her nose, and it was firmly wedged up there. It took quite awhile to get it out, using my oughta-be-patented method involving both tweezers and a toothpick.

So much for my break.

I decided to clean up the lunch dishes, and was elbow deep in soapy water when I heard someone crying. Screaming, actually. I listened, but the shrieks seemed to be far away - not my kids. That poor mom, I thought, I wonder what happened to her kid.

I kept on scrubbing, and the kid kept on screaming. Why isn't his mother calming him down, I wondered. I listened again. Nope, definitely not my kid. But then, that little tiny bit of grey matter still lodged up in my skull had a sudden thought: There are two kids in my house whose screams I do not yet recognize. Might it be....?

I dashed to the back of the house and discovered that the screams were emanating from behind a closed bathroom door. I carefully opened the door to find the 6-year-old neighbor boy standing on the bidet (who uses those things, anyway?), screaming and shaking.

Turns out there was a gigantic roach in there with him.

I managed to get the kid out of there, and I shut the door again. My first thought was to leave the bug there until my husband returned. After all, he has a badge and a gun, and I figured both might be required to get rid of that roach. But I wasn't expecting my husband home for a few hours. What if Ainsley opened the door and the roach escaped, killing us all? What if noone opened the door until Bart came home, and the roach had inexplicably disappeared? I would never be able to sleep in the house again.

It was clear I was going to have to deal with this monster roach myself. Sigh. Seriously, what's the point of being married if the guy isn't even around when the entire family needs saving from a hippopotamus-sized roach?

I devised a plan to scoop up the bug in an empty grocery bag. And lo - it worked! It was gross. It was scary. But the giant bug is now on his way to a museum somewhere in Europe - I hope.

A weekend full of roaches and edamame up the nose. What could be better?

I guess this is the point where I should go ahead and clear up the mystery of this post's title. So, without further ado, I present our first Jordanian souvenirs:

They're called saluki, and they are one of the oldest breeds of dogs around. I believed they originated in Egpyt, and they were bred to withstand life in the desert.

That's not the important thing for you to remember, however. No, what you need to remember is that I was firmly in the "don't get a dog" category. Bart, however, was in the "let's get two!" category. And somehow he won.

No matter, though. I'll get my revenge. For starters, I'm going to name this one Snuffy:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Too Much Going On

We've been here for four weeks already. That's one month down, 35 to go.

We haven't yet done or seen a lot, for several reasons: we still have no car, so touring isn't easy. Because of Ramadan, nothing's open, and you can't eat or drink in public, making even half-day trips out of the question. And finally, it's been hot!

Those problems are fading, slowly, because: rumor has it the car and HHE will be delivered any day now. As in, the Embassy asked for our cell phone numbers so the movers could call us if they decide to show up tomorrow or Sunday. Cross your fingers, people. Also, Ramadan is drawing to a close - next week it finishes off with the three-day Eid al Fitr celebration. We might actually get to sample a restaurant or two in the coming weeks. And finally, it isn't hot anymore. The first two weeks here we had a knock-the-power-out heatwave - one day it even hit 109 degrees. But this weekend the highs have only been in the high 80s, and with no humidity, that feels like heaven. In fact, we went to dinner at the Embassy pool last night, and I was shivering in my jeans and t-shirt.

Let's see, what else? Bart has had a crazy week at work. It was one of those weeks that can't be blogged about, but oh, if it could... We didn't see much of him at all. We've started discussions with the boys about emergency preparedness, to include: duck-and-cover drills at the Embassy, how to contact the Marines for help, what to do if intruders enter the house or school. Not fun stuff, but the conversations need to happen.

In other news, I interviewed my first nanny candidate this morning. I'm a terrible interviewer, because I spend so much time trying to make sure the other person is comfortable that I basically forget to ask them anything substantive. Still, this lady seemed very nice and competent, and she came with terrific references, going back ten years. So we'll see. I have two more interviews this week.

I hate doing this. I hate knowing that every person I see needs a job. In some cases, if they don't find a job, they have to leave the country. So they're desperate, and it shows. Once I do choose a candidate, I'll have to negotiate salary and hours, which I also hate. I hate it all. But not as much as I hate ironing and folding laundry. I really want to get some help in here so I can leave the girls and take an Arabic class, or go to the gym - I haven't been since we were in Seattle, and it's starting to show.

Hopefully by weeks' end I'll have a car, a house full of boxes and a nanny. That's the goal.

Oh, and did I mention Aidan's birthday is this week? I have to figure out how to bake 2 dozen cupcakes (without a cupcake tin) and deliver them to the school on Monday (via taxi with girls in tow, unless aforementioned car arrives by then). Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are school holidays. So's next Sunday. And maybe Monday, too - it depends upon when the official Eid holiday happens, and apparently there's no way to know without going out and looking at the moon. Kind of reminds me of Groundhog Day.

But I digress. Aidan wants to invite zillions of kids to his birthday party. What party, you ask? Or at least, that's what I asked. We had planned to invite a couple of families and make pizza. But now he wants to hold it at an indoor playground. And he wants to invite Justin ("What's his last name, honey?" "I don't know." "What's his phone number?" "I don't know." "How about his address?" "Ummm...."), plus a zillion other kids whom he's just met, and whom I don't know. And he wants takeout pizza, but where does one get such a thing? And of course we have no gift bags. We have no plates. We lack invitations and balloons, along with any ability to plan children's parties under the best of circumstances. I'm trying to figure out how to weasel my way out of this one.

So. To summarize: HHE, car shipment, nanny interviews, cupcakes to school, birthday party. Oh, and Kyra goes to meet her teacher at her new school this week. And Shay has a doctor's appointment.

It's nice in a way, those first few weeks at post, when you have no friends and no car, so no plans need to be juggled. But it looks as though I'm entering the juggling phase this week, with a vengeance.

Wish me luck...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Music to my Ears

There is a band requirement for 5th graders at the new school. They had to rank their first three instrument choices with help from their parents. Bart is the only musician in this family, so the task of helping choose was assigned to him.

As it turns out, my talented husband can play three of the listed instrument choices: clarinet, saxophone and something else shiny. (He can also play the violin, but enough of my bragging.) (He's cute, too.) (I know - enough already!)


They went over the list and Shay decided to select those three instruments, so his dad could help him as necessary. These three had the added bonus, according to Bart, of being relatively quiet and easy to learn.

But then Shay came home from school with an instrument box, and inside was.... a trumpet! Not one the three originally chosen noisemakers. Turns out two of his pals wanted trumpets, so he changed his list around at the last minute.

What do I know about trumpets?

They are loud.

Really, really loud.

(and did I mention how insufferably LOUD they are?)

So now I spend a mercifully short part of every afternoon listening to him "practice."

But wait, there's more!

His friend Jack from Beijing just Skyped him. Jack is also in band. Jack has a clarinet.

I suppose I should be pleased that they are practicing together. But seriously, people, no one should have to endure listening to two band beginners serenade one other via Skype. My ears are bleeding. I've shut myself into the spare bedroom and am typing this on my cell phone while they practice.

It could be worse, I suppose. The two new pals could've chosen the tuba.

Sent from my iPhone

Please. Write your own stuff.