Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Darkness Falls

22:00 - Bart takes some work calls.

23:00 - Is that gunfire?

23:30 - I wake up and find Kyra snuggled next to me. When did she come in?

01:00 - Ainsley screeches in her sleep.

02:00 - Aidan is scared, wants to climb into my bed. I tell him to squash in next to Kyra. "But Ainsley's already there," he tells me. Huh? I check, and sure enough, she has snuck in next to Kyra. So I settle Aidan in the girls' room (why? I don't remember now), and fall asleep next to him.

03:00 - Kyra wakes me up and wants to climb back into her own bed. Great! I stumble back into mine.

04:30 - Bart leaves for work.

05:30 - mosquitoes buzz my one good ear, waking me up again.

06:15 - I give up on sleep.

10:30 - Two cups of tea and one cup of coffee. But I still can't stay awake, for some strange reason.

Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone else out there? Or am I the only one with dysfunctional sleepers and mosquitoes wandering the halls at night?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Technical Difficulties

I did everything they told me to do in order to rid my computer life of the Chinese government. One small step I didn't think of, and I don't recall that they suggested: I didn't back up my hard drive right before I pulled the plug.

No, I didn't. I just removed it from the computer and locked it up into a case.

Then I got settled here, and it was finally time to pull some information off of that puppy.

Oh, it works. I can hook it right up to the new computer, do some other magical IT things and presto! There's my hard drive.

Just one problem: there are many, many missing files. My meticulous financial records are gone. My iTunes library is gone. My tracking system for submitting articles is gone. Even my book proposal, which I spent many long hours crafting, disappeared, along with a rough draft of a book. An actual BOOK, people!

Lucky for me, after hours of searching, I found an older version of the book proposal - I'd emailed it to a friend for an opinion awhile back. But everything else seems to be gone, including the draft of the book. My writing files are actually backed up somewhere - I just can't remember where. Probably somewhere in the HHE, which has supposedly steamed into the Port of Aqaba, but likely won't be here any time soon. My financial files are not backed up, I don't think. But I'm not sure.

I am beyond annoyed.

So, folks. Learn from my mistake. Back your stuff up before your last minute stressful move preparations begin. And then remember where you put the backup.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weekend Recap

Well, that was exhausting.

I kicked off the weekend with a Thursday morning trip to Carrefour with Connie of Whale Ears. Carrefour is huge - two stories of trying to convert dollars to JD and grams to ounces. I was exhausted afterwards, suffering total brain melt-down.

The trip was worthwhile, though, for this photo alone. Who knew there was one medicine that could cure absolutely everything (except death) right there on the supermarket shelves?



Next up: I took the kids to TexMex night at the pool: score one evening of NOT having to make dinner!


Friday dawned: the first day of the weekend here in Jordan. We got some stuff done around the house in the morning, then took the kids to the pool in the afternoon. In the evening, we walked to a neighbor's house for dinner with a nice group of people. Awesome barbeque, good conversation, great margaritas and - evening #2 in a row of NOT having to make dinner!


Saturday arrived, and with it a caravan of cars. We hopped in for a quick drive to the "Scandanavian Forest." It's really called that - there were signs and everything. It didn't look exactly Scandanavian, but that didn't stop our group from hiking to the top of the hills for a look around.

Aidan took the photos, and you'll see he got a few good ones. Bart and I took turns carrying Ainsley up the hill. I met some more really nice people on the hike.

Later that afternoon, we went to yet another neighbor's house for a birthday dinner. Which means - you guessed it - three days in a row of NOT having to make dinner! The things I get excited about, honestly. But the homemade pizza with artichokes and mushrooms was pretty darn delicious.

Alas, this evening is Sunday evening - a school night. I've already broken my winning streak and cooked up some soup, which is cooling on the stove as I type. This whole Sun-Thurs workweek is going to take some getting used to.

Anyway, enjoy the photos of the "forest," and I'll be back soon with more. I'm off to meet the school bus.




Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guess Who I Met Today?

I've been reading her blog since before I knew I was moving to Jordan. Heck, I've been reading her blog since before SHE knew SHE was moving to Jordan. Today, I finally met Connie, whom many of you know as Whale Ears and Other Wonderings. If you haven't yet subscribed to her blog, you must do so immediately. She's as nice in person as she seems online (even if she is a cat person).

In other news, Two Crabs found today's Dear Abby way over in Manama (not too far from us, in Bahrain, an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, where my dear friend Jen is also posted. (Hi Jen!)). Go read Dear Abby's response to a guy who wants to join the Foreign Service but has unhappy in-laws because of his decision. And then read Two Crabs' response to Dear Abby's response.

And now, to celebrate someone's stellar performance on today's spelling test, I am off to prepare celebratory cheese quesadillas, the young scholar's favorite food. (Anyone have a spare tortilla press they want to send my way? Because tortillas here are crazy-expensive.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Stuff at the Stores

We actually have a Starbucks about 5 minutes away from here. But it is closed for the month of Ramadan. It's also fabulously expensive. Bart and a colleague went to a drive-thru Starbucks across town - the only one open during Ramadan - and they were charged about $30US for 4 drinks. Outrageous!

So I suppose I should use this month to go cold turkey off my coffee habit. I was on track to do just that until I discovered this in the grocery store:



Mr. Brown's coffee in a can. Complete with sugar and milk. It's relatively cheap too - only about $1 a can. Not as good as the 'bucks, but it'll do. And yes, that's a pomegranate in the background. Cheap and delicious - the kids eat them constantly. More from me later - currently I'm waiting for a worker to come figure out why the phone doesn't work.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad

Remember the days when you used to argue with your friends over who had the smartest, the strongest, the bestest dad? (never the moms, though - why is that?)

Shay was getting to know a few of his fellow schoolmates, and it turns out that several of them have dads who work at the Embassy. Now, Shay is certain that his dad is the Most Important Person at the Embassy, with the possible exception of the Ambassador. Imagine his surprise, then, when a couple of the other kids wouldn't tell him in which section of the Embassy their dads work. "It's top secret," they apparently told Shay, and he was incensed. How could it possibly be that they were trying to make their dads look cooler and more top-secrety than his dad?

He demanded that I tell him where these dads worked. I didn't: I just replied that if those kids really had dads with super-duper-top-secret jobs, the kids likely wouldn't know, and so it was quite possible that these kids were simply bragging up their dads. So then he wanted to know who had a more important job at the Embassy - his dad or those other dads.

I'm not sure who those other dads are, really. But I reassured Shay that his dad is Pretty Darn Important, in the grand scheme of things. Once he heard that, he went off to ripstick outside, certain once again that his dad is the bestest dad ever.

And all was right with the world.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dinner

We had our first dinner guests last night: chips and salsa, chicken enchiladas, black bean salad, green salad and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Not my best, culinarily speaking, but it's tricky to pull off any sort of dinner while the contents of your spice rack are still floating somewhere in the Red Sea.

We served food in a variety of casserole dishes and Tupperware - fancy! But you know- it was nice anyway, just hanging out and chatting with new friends.

On an entirely different subject: does anyone know what's up with blogger? I can't access it, so I'm doing my Chinese workaround to post this. Anyone else experiencing problems?
Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking

Listen up, all you foreign service newbies: If you're gonna make it in the FS, you have to learn to Think Positive!!! What does that mean, you ask? Well, let me give you a few random examples that spring to mind.
 
If you experience intermittent power outages in your new house, use the time to read to your kids by flashlight. It's a terrific bonding opportunity.
 
If the only flashlight you have dies from overuse, well, you get to go to bed early!
 
If you should happen to see a 3-inch cockroach strolling down your hallway, look at it this way: You'll never again have to tell your kids that they shouldn't eat in their room or they might attract bugs. (Bonus positive thinking #1: you could name the cockroach "Sparky," and the kids will have a pet.) (Bonus positive thinking #2: if, upon hearing your shrieks, your husband comes running, you'll know for certain he still loves you, and he takes his marriage vow - to love, honor, and dispose of all bugs - seriously, even after 16 years.)
 
If, when you are exhausted and ready to sleep, you suddenly hear an explosion and see smoke coming out of the sockets in the laundry room, it is likely that there is some sort of fire inside the walls. You might have to wait for 30 minutes or so for someone to come check out the problem, during which time you will pace and think of those awful fire safety videos you were forced to watch in grade school. But hey: if the dryer has to be shut off at the breaker box, you won't have to fold any pesky laundry for awhile, right?
 
See what I mean, folks? It's all in how you look at a problem.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Day of Firsts

Despite my weekend trip to the grocery store with a neighbor, I awoke this morning to find the cupboards once again bare. I willed the phone to ring with an offer to go together with someone, but alas - the phone remained stubbornly silent. There was nothing to do except hail a cab.

So we walked down to the end of the street, the girls and I, and waited for a cab to happen by.

Now, just so you understand, I'm not entirely comfortable hailing cabs here. Most of the drivers don't speak any English, and they usually don't know where I want to go, even if I provide them with a street address. So it's a little intimidating to just hop in and hope I get where I want to go - and back again.

Food's food, though, so we had to try. And lo - the first cab that pulled over knew exactly what I meant when I said "Cozmo in Sufiyeh," and he took me straight there. (It's probably only a 5-10 minute drive, but it definitely isn't walkable.)

Once there, we encountered the next problem: I was down to my last 60 JD, and my grocery needs were sizable. There was also the problem of knowing exactly how far I would have to lug the groceries in an effort to flag a cab home. So I pulled out the calculator and started adding up prices, with anything expensive or heavy staying out of my cart. Yeast and flour? Absolutely. Olive oil - heavy and expensive - double no. Cans of drinkable coffee? Yes, of course. That's a staple.

We slowly worked our way around the grocery store, the three of us. (Popcorn? Check. Canned beans, check. Baggies? At $5 a box, definitely uncheck.)

We checked out, and I watched in dismay as it took 10 or more bags to hold everything. Had I really bought that much? How on earth was I going to get all of those bags and the girls up the hill to the main road in order to find a cab?

The bagger guy pushed the cart to the door and asked where my car was. "No car," I replied, "I'm going to take a taxi."

He looked at the cart and the girls, and then he told me to wait a minute. He walked up the hill, disappearing around the bend. Five minutes later, as I was beginning to wonder, he returned in a cab, just for me. So kind! Of course I wondered: should I tip him? Or is this just a basic service of the store? I decided to err on the side of tipping. Better, I reasoned, to be known over the next three years as the crazy lady who gives away money rather than the stingy lady who doesn't warrant extra help. Right?

After settling that issue, I bid the bagger guy goodbye and gave the driver my address, which of course he'd never heard of. I pulled out a map to show him the general area. Still no luck. He asked a store employee for help, and the two of them consulted the map together. Still no luck, so another employee was summoned.

Well, they figured it out - but not before a grand total of 7 guys got involved in the discussion.

Home at last. One splurge purchase that found its way into my cart was "katayef." That is apparently the name for these spongy pancakes, about 6 inches in diameter, that are served only during Ramadan. The girls ate these pancakes, smeared with Nutella, for a morning snack. I might have had a few, too. They're pretty good.

After snack we chatted with the boab for 10 minutes or so. He doesn't speak a word of English, and as you might have guessed, I haven't yet started studying Arabic. So our conversation was a bit, shall we say, limited.

His name is Reda (I think), and he's Egyptian. He lives in the basement of our building and handles all of the chores related to the building: mowing the lawn, checking the water and gas tanks, washing the car...

He comes with the house - the landlord is supposed to pay him, but it is expected that we will supplement that pay. I think, because we have a ground floor apartment that requires lots of gardening, he'll end up costing about $100 per month. He seems like a really nice guy, and I'm eager to start studying Arabic if only so I can understand what he's telling me. Today, for example, he must have seen the taxi drop me at the curb with my groceries, because he was trying to give me directions to a close-by store to which I could walk. Would've been nice to understand those directions, don't you think?

Anyway. We're home again, stuffed full of Ramadan pancakes and nutella, and it's time for me to work on unpacking (still not finished) and cleaning (never ending). I have a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove and some veggies soaking in the sink, so I'm halfway through my dinner prep already.

I'm going to park my daughters in front of that childhood classic, "Barbie: A Mermaid's Tale," and power through my chores.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Day of School

This morning I followed that ritual of moms worldwide and forced my kids to pose for pictures on this, the first day of school.





Ainsley couldn't be bothered to pose - she had her coffee cup (full of cheerios) and her phone. And they say she doesn't look like me!



Then, a few hours later, our air freight arrived. Remember that 900 pound allotment from Beijing? Well, here it is in our kitchen. What a disaster! And I didn't even think to take pictures of the piles stacked in the hallway outside the bedrooms. Suffice to say I have no business blogging - I have way too many things to put away.

The boys will be back from school any minute (early dismissal because of Ramadan), so I'd best get back to work.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Citadel, Amman

We took the girls to the Citadel yesterday while the boys went swimming with some neighbors. It's old. How old? Really, really old. And yet we were allowed to climb right up on the ruins to take pictures. It seemed almost sacrilegious.

Kyra posed next to every broken-down bit of Roman stone she could find. So here, in no particular order, are some very cute pictures, mostly of her.

On another note: today was registration day at the school, so we got our first look at the place. It seemed nice, but it was hard to tell, because they are still finishing some major construction projects, so we weren't able to wander beyond the cafeteria. Interesting to see if they finish by Tuesday, when school starts.

We're moving tomorrow, hurray! I've packed the suitcases for the last time.






Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Last Column From China

School started yesterday in Beijing, and I find myself a bit mopey because of it. Aren't I supposed to be there? Right now I should be texting friends, planning a meet-up at Starbucks or a trip down to HoleintheWall.

But then I see how dreadful the air quality is right now in Beijing, and I feel fortunate to have escaped with lungs intact.

I'm meeting loads of nice folks here, but you know how it is when you're new: you have to be on your best behavior.

Coincidentally, my very last column for Beijing Kids Magazine has appeared online, just as I'm feeling a little bit homesick. Give it a read if you're so inclined.

Tomorrow morning we're off to see the new school for the very first time - registration day.

So much to say; no time to type! But here's a snippet. We took the girls to the Citadel today for a look around - Roman ruins, right in the center of town. On the way home, we made a rookie mistake and left the camera in the taxi. Bye bye camera, right? Wrong. Bart's new colleagues helped him put out an alert and track down the taxi driver - this despite the fact that we had no receipt or description beyond "yellow cab." Turns out the driver found the camera in his trunk and turned it in to the tourist police.

Lesson learned: keep track of your camera. More important lesson: DOWNLOAD your photos as soon as you get home - there were photos still on there from our last two days in DC, with aunts and uncles and nieces, and I was so relieved to get those photos back.

Off to tuck in the little beasties; more from me later.

Friday, August 13, 2010

We Interrupt This Programming...

We were blissfully checking email and reading blogs for two whole days before our internet died (like the phone before it). I finally found my way to the internet office today to pay the bill (about $100 for the next two months), so it looks as though we have internet again (still no phone, though).

So I'm WAAAAY behind on emails and such. Sorry.

Family, listen up: we're moving to permanent housing on Monday, we think. Just as soon as we finish up orientation at the school, we'll dash back here and move the welcome kit and suitcases to the new place.

The new place: it's super nice. They even let us pick out paint colors! Of course, we had to do it sight unseen, based on photos and small paint chips. So I'm a leeeetle bit nervous that it might be a disaster.

So much to say! Like, for example, I found canned chicken broth at the store today! But it was about $7.50 a can. Let me repeat that: one tiny CAN of broth was over $7.

Here's something else: Shay and I walked to the nearby grocery store today and bought fresh mint, lemons and sugar. We made our own mint lemonade. Yum.

We also went to the Royal Automobile Museum today, and the kids were amazed. Shay's eyes almost popped out of his head: the Buggatti! The gullwing Mercedes! The Ferrari! The weird orange bullet-shaped Mercedes! The, ummm, other cars I can't remember...

Spending loads of time at the pool, getting to know other families with kids. Our kids now can't wait for school to start on Tuesday (me neither). Kyra's school doesn't start til after Ramadan.

Okay, I am going to bed now. You can't stop me. I will try to fill in the gaps shortly. Just know we're alive and well and - so far - we very much like it here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where to Begin?

Well, we're here.

It wasn't easy, though. We got to the airport before 1pm, DC time (our cab driver, by the way, was Jordanian). We checked the luggage, snagged seats together and cleared security. How easy is that?

Too easy, of course. Because about an hour before the plane was scheduled to take off for JFK, the pilot appeared and started a hushed conversation with the ticket counter lady, next to whom Bart was sitting. So he overheard when the pilot told her that there were major problems with the plane, and it wouldn't be taking off.

No announcement was ever made. In fact, the flight board still showed an on-time departure long into the afternoon. But it was clear we weren't going to make our connecting flight to Jordan.

As rumors spread through the terminal, people started getting seriously POed. It seems everyone on the plane was planning an international transfer. Some people were being told to catch a cab to a different airport. Some were told to drive to JFK for a next-day flight. We were told there would be no flights for 2 days.

We were stuck at the gate, trying to figure out what to do, until well after 7pm, at which point the ticket lady found a different flight, on another airline, leaving for Dulles at 10 pm. So they routed us on that flight, which had a 9-hour layover before heading to Amman.

Good times, people. Good times.

The silver lining? My kids were spotlessly well behaved. Angels, even. Ahem.

While the grown ups were trying to leap over the counter and strangle the ticket lady, my kids just sat and watched planes pull in and out of the nearby gates. For hours and hours they did this. No fussing, no fighting. Amazing. What was in those lollipops, anyway?

They were quite angelic - until we were about 2 hours from Amman, on a red eye, about 34 hours after leaving the DC hotel. At that point, Ainsley, Kyra and Aidan all decided they were finished at once. Ainsley was screaming, Aidan was whining, Kyra was crying, and everyone else on the flight was trying to sleep.

We were passing Ainsley back and forth, trying to calm her down, when one of the passengers approached Bart. No, the guy did not want to bring her balloon animals. He wanted to tell Bart that the children were bothering him and we needed to get the kids under control. Bart is much more diplomatic than I: he merely told the guy that we were doing the best we could under the circumstances. I, however, came close to ripping the guy's head off.

But at last, we landed in Amman, at 2 am local time. Ordeal over, right?

Wrong.

Because not a single one of our suitcases arrived. Nor did anyone have any idea at all where they might be. They'd been ticketed on Delta originally, then supposedly re-ticketed to United and Lufthansa. So who had them? Who knows?

We found a 24-hour store and the kids waited in the car while Bart and a colleague went in to buy toothbrushes, deodorant and detergent. (Deodorant, by the way? TEN dollars. And it turned out the next morning to be broken and useless.)

Then we headed to our temporary apartment, where I had a moment of clarity: there was no way to wash the one outfit I had on anyway, because, well, it was the only outfit I had. I stood around for awhile, thinking about this conundrum, and you don't even want to know how the problem was solved, but I eventually got the laundry done.

We also got the suitcases the next night. Bart had to drive back out to the airport at 2am to retrieve them, poor guy. And then wake up for work the next morning.

So now we're here. The power has been intermittent (meaning it's gone out at least 20 times, once for an entire night), and we've been told that you can either run the A/C or the dryer, but not both simultaneously.

I know I should fill you in on the post itself, but I am still jetlagged and confused, so let's wait awhile for that, shall we?

I can proudly state that my kids are bonafide international travellers. Yesterday evening there was some sort of celebration (something about high school grades being released?), and people were shooting fireworks and guns off into the night. They were blasting music and shouting and dancing. After three years of Chinese New Year celebrations, the kids were able to sleep through it all. Me? Not even the Tylenol PM and the deaf ear helped, and I was awake half the night again.

And in case you were wondering: When you wake up in the middle of the night, in a strange country, and you have no power, so you can't fire up the internet, or read a book, or even heat water for tea, you get very, very, very, very grouchy. Very.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In Which ADA Hijacks My Comments

So.

There I was, minding my own business, trying to pack and trying not to throw any kids out the window, when I decided to check email instead. And that's how I found out that ADA had published such nice - but totally untrue - things in the comment section of my recent post.

Before you evaluate what she wrote, you should know: the lady is crazy. Or, to put it in a way that she herself can understand:




SHE.



IS.




TOTALLY.



Making. That. Stuff. Up.



We know she's prone to strangitude. This is, after all, the woman who wore strappy sandals for a hike at Great Falls. This is the same woman who allowed her husband to join the Cyberbones Toe-Shoe Club, thereby adding minutes to his morning routine - minutes he could be spending saving the planet. I mean, what's next? It's only a matter of time before some blogger spots her on the Mall in DC, after Labor Day, dressed in white (probably taking a picture of a miniature spotted South African tree fly perched atop the Capitol Dome, but that's a whole 'nother story).

Here's what she said that's so crazy: She said my children were angels. My children. Let's all pause to let that sink in, shall we?

(Larry? Pam? Kyle? Do you need me to dial 911 for you? Because I'm pretty sure, after that dinner I forced you to suffer through recently with my "angels," you are reading this description and have collapsed into a heap on the floor, laughing so hard you're gasping for air.)

Although I do have to recount one angelic moment.

As the Fitscraps were leaving, the kids ran ahead to the elevator lobby. I heard screams, so I peeked around the corner to find my three eldest children dragging the baby by her feet out of an elevator. Apparently, she tried to run into an open elevator and the other kids knew this to be unsafe. So, being the angels that they are, they tackled her and dragged her, kicking and screaming, back out of the elevator.

Their motivation was angelic, I suppose, if not their actual actions.

So there's that.

Now you know. ADA makes stuff up.

(Except for the stuff she wrote about me. That's all true. I really am that awesome.)

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a plane to catch with my four little angels.

Go ahead and debate in the comments section, please. I'll be back soon, from Jordan, where rumor has it there is a Starbucks not far from my new house....

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ready Or Not, Here We Go

Time's up. Tomorrow we get on the plane for our long journey to Jordan.

We're mostly ready, I think. Today will be spent packing, organizing and spending a few last hours with our DC relatives.

We're going into temporary housing when we get there, for a few weeks at least. This means we won't take possession of our air freight, even if it has already arrived at post. So: a few more weeks of suitcase living for us. It also means I likely won't be online too often, because I won't set up an internet connection in a temporary place.

Family: the emergency number we gave you before we went to Beijing still applies, should you need to reach us. Otherwise, we'll call you when we can and let you know we're safe.

Deep breath.

Here we go.
Please. Write your own stuff.