Friday, December 23, 2011

The War on Christmas

Here we are, during the Christmas season, in a country that is primarily Muslim.

I haven't been in the States for a year-and-a-half, but I can keep up with you all through my google reader, and CNN, and Slate, and the Washington Post (and even Fox, I suppose, if I'm feeling particularly windbag-ish). And it appears that, once again, Americans are in a snit about whether or not we are being properly wished a Merry Christmas when we go outdoors.

To which I say: bah, humbug.

Seriously, people. Get over it. As long as someone smiles, and wishes you well, does it really matter how they do it, with which exact phrase?

Yesterday afternoon, I drove to the Embassy to pick up Bart. The guard at the entrance, who I know is a God-fearing, practicing Muslim, stopped me at the gate and said to me, in broken, broken, English mixed with a smattering of Arabic, "may God grant you Merry Christmas. I wish that your beautiful children, with you, and husband, and all of this family, will have beautiful holiday."

He isn't the only one. Everywhere I go, people wish me a happy holiday. Most of them are Muslim, but they know we celebrate, and so they wish me joy. Frankly, I don't care how they wish me well. They can say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holiday, or Eed Sayeed, or anything at all. But I love that they wish me, a stranger in their land, a joyous day.

And with that small commentary, I'm off to straighten up the house. My in-laws are en route from Jerusalem, and I think the house should look nice, if only for the first few minutes of their time here.

Happy Day, everyone! However you celebrate - or don't - have a happy, happy day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Hardships

We'll have a crowd for Christmas: Bart's parents will be here, along with one brother, one sister-in-law and two cousins.

This is big news, because we never have relatives on holidays when we're overseas. So naturally, I reacted to the news by going on a cooking binge. It's what I do.

I decided to make enchiladas for Christmas Eve-Eve, because my father-in-law loves Mexican food. Last night I made one pan of chicken enchiladas, into which I tossed my very last can of chopped green chiles. No problem, I figured, they sell those at the commissary, so I can buy another can for batch #2.

But alas, today there were exactly zero cans of chopped green chiles at the commissary. None at the Z store, either. After getting stuck in Abdoun-to-Swefiyeh traffic for 30 minutes, I couldn't face another side trip to Cozmo. So our vegetarian enchiladas will be chile-less. Also, we will likely lack guacamole, because avocados aren't easy to find, and they ain't cheap! And I haven't found unflavored tortilla chips for the salsa.

Why must the simplest things be so difficult?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Make a Run For the Border

Is it even possible to be tired-er?

On Friday morning we skipped town - with grandparents! - and headed for Jerusalem, where our favorite middle-east-based relatives were awaiting our arrival.

Ainsley was loaded up with antibiotics to treat a nasty cough and a double ear infection. Aidan's palate expander decided to fall out of his mouth just as we were getting ready to leave. This qualifies as an orthodontic emergency, I believe, but what could we do? The orthodontist was closed, and anyway, people were expecting us at the border at 10 am. So we went anyway.

We made it to Jerusalem and hung out with auntie C and the cousins until dinner time, when we walked to a really nice restaurant, where - are you ready for this? - all six little cousins behaved.

The next morning we awoke early and went to Bethlehem. So odd to cross yet another border: through a gate set into a gigantic grey cement wall and into Palestinian Authority-controlled territory. Razor wire everywhere. Signs warning that Israeli citizens are not allowed to pass. Guns - on both sides of the wall. Such a sad, sad state of affairs. That massive wall is a stark reminder of how bleak life can be in that small corner of the world.

Bethlehem itself was... underwhelming. I don't know, but guess I expect, when I visit a place like this, to be moved somehow, or to experience my faith on a different level. But instead, I find the skeptic in me emerges. I want to know: how, specifically, did they determine that this is the exact birthplace of Christ? How do they know the manger was propped exactly there? How? I don't understand, and yet I'm glad to have been there, and to have seen for myself the birthplace, and the Shepherd's Field.

There is an old church built at the site of Christ's birth, and I tried to explain to the girls, who were a bit restless, the significance of the church. I told them that we were very close to the spot where the baby Jesus was born, and that if they listened very carefully, they would hear Jesus in their hearts, and feel God's love all around them.

Ainsley cocked her head and then exclaimed "I hear him, mama! I hear da baby Jesus cwying!"

But it was only baby Thomas, her cousin, crying in his carrier.

So then we talked about the baby Jesus for awhile, and I asked, "Can you imagine? Here is where Jesus was just a tiny baby, and his mother loved him very much."

To which Ainsley responded, "He was a just a tiny baby, so he used to cwy and cwy, and he picked his nose a lot."

We're going to hell, aren't we?

Add that to the fact that Kyra repeatedly asked where God was - here? Or maybe here? Or in this pillar? And is God an animal or a person or what? I quickly ran out of satisfactory answers.

There was a enormous line of people waiting to go down the stairs into the tiny cave under the church, the cave where the baby Jesus was said to have been born. We waited with the rest of them, but it was unpleasant and almost scary trying to make our way down those steps with people shoving us from all sides. As we reached the stairs and looked down, we could see a crowd of people, maybe 15 deep, throwing elbows as they tried to get to the front of the cave. Our tour guide implored us to wait our turn and go two at a time - "don't be like those people," he said, gesturing at the madness below. It was ugly.

Shepherd's Field was nice. It was strange, though: in the Bible stories of my youth, I somehow pictured that the distance the wise men had to travel was very, very far. In truth, they could have made their trip in 20 minutes or so of brisk walking. Odd how the image I had was just all wrong.

After a great lunch and some souvenir shopping, we headed back into Jerusalem and went to a little holiday party. So the kids got to see the birthplace of Christ and sit in Santa's lap, all in one day.

Yesterday morning we went to church in the Old City before driving back across the border to Amman, where we took Aidan to the orthodontist and brought both Shay and Ainsley to the doctor (Shay now has a ferocious cough). And today, it was work as usual...

Tomorrow is another long day of work and school meetings and holiday prep. I refuse to believe Christmas is in just a few days. I haven't wrapped, or shopped, or baked... But I have seen the birthplace of Christ, and I have taken my children to see it for themselves, and we read the Bible story about the birth, and so I suppose you could say we are ready. Ready to celebrate Christmas in a way that just wouldn't be possible elsewhere.

During the church service in the Old City, the children were asked "how many of you have been to Bethlehem?"

Every single child in the room raised an enthusiastic hand.

This is something that would never have happened if we had stayed home in Virginia. This is something that makes this Foreign Service lifestyle worth living. This is something for which I am grateful this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekend Sports

Can you tell my new computer is here? I can put pictures on my blog once again! Of course, I can't put any old pictures up, because for some reason the old hard drive can't be recovered. Not yet, anyway, though I haven't given up hope that someone out there can revive it. It makes no sense: if the gatorade that struck the fatal blow never made it all the way to the hard drive, why is it dead? But it is, apparently, and I am beyond bummed, because that sucker was full of photos and unpublished stories, and everything important to me. Yes, I know: I should've backed it up more frequently. I'm an idiot. And why hasn't anyone invented waterproof keyboards? For all their vaunted design brilliancy, you'd think Apple would've figured that one out by now.

Anyway, in the interest of catching up on my blogging, I'm going to give you two-posts-for-the-price-of-one.

Our weekends have been crammed full of activities recently, so there's no way to catch you up on everything. But here are a couple of fun intramural events to tell y'all about.

First up: Shay's cross country meet, held out in the boondocks at King's Academy (a really nice school; really not close). Shay placed 2nd in his age group (he got passed at the very end, and boy, was he irritated about that!). His team placed first overall.




While they waited for the race to begin, the girls built a snowman. Except, well, it doesn't really snow here, so they built it out of rocks. And yes, they chose their own outfits for the day.




Aidan also had a soccer tournament recently. I know they didn't win their matches, but I don't know the final scores. Aidan played goalie, and he had a couple of really nice saves. That kid is not afraid of the ball.




Big day ahead tomorrow, full of holiday concerts and doctor appointments and airport trips and Christmas shopping and work and who knows what else? Good night, wherever you are...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

'Tis the Season

When December rolls around, things get a little crazy in our house. The kids spot an advent calendar and it's all over - it's all so exciting that no one can be bothered to be good, or calm, or patient, when Christmas is JUST AROUND THE CORNER!!!

They're making me crazy.

****

On December 1st, I pulled out the Christmas plates. We have four little plates, each with a different Christmasy pattern, that were given to us a few years back. It's become a sort of holiday tradition to fight over who gets the snowman plate.

That first night of December, I made a red-and-green meal. Sort of accidentally, but still: such holiday spirit I had on the first day of the month! We had pasta with tomatoes and basil, we had beets, and we had spinach salad. The whole meal looked quite festive. I dished it out on the fancy Christmas plates and waited for the kids to notice.

"I got the reindeer!" said Aidan, midway through the meal.

Shay dug around under the spinach and said "I got the snowflake!"

Kyra looked and shouted "I got the tree!!!"

Ainsley was confused. She looked down at her plate of pasta with tomatoes and basil and shook her head sadly. "All I got," she said, "is a tomato."

****

Today was Breakfast With Santa at the Embassy, and I'm pretty sure if I don't get any photos up soon, the grandparents are going to withhold my Christmas presents. So here they are: the kids with Santa. And Santa's camel. Because, after all, we do live in Jordan. I'll try to be back soon with more from Amman, but no promises: 'tis the season, after all, to be totally overwhelmed by the to-do list.









Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where Was I?

When last we met our fearless heroine, she was prepping for a Thanksgiving feast for 45. Can we blame her if she hasn't blogged since? That kind of partying is exhausting!

Oh, but I had help. Lots and lots of help.

We tend to invite the Marines over for Thanksgiving every year, both because they work for Bart (the MSG program is, I believe, the only case in which a civilian directly oversees the military) and because they're always a great group of young guys - plus the occasional female - and they're serving their country, far from home, without their mamas and without any roasting pans of their own. So we invited them, and they offered to bring along a few drinks. When Sergeant Dan walked in, he was lugging more beer than I could pick up, let alone consume in a lifetime. I can't stop laughing about that one.

We also invited Bart's whole office, and while not all of them came, an awful lot did. Which meant our guests were mostly either Marines or federal agents. Strange crowd I hang with. (Aside: when told that so-and-so was going to a friend's house for the big day, Shay retorted "So? Our party will be cooler, because we will have all of the Marines!") Our guests all brought food, so while I cooked all of the usual Thanksgiving dishes, I didn't have to make enough of each for 45. No, I just made one turkey, but we had three turkeys in all, plus a ham. Oh, and mac n cheese, and sweet potatoes and stuffing, and salad, and ohmygosh I'm suddenly hungry again. I laughed at Beth when she walked in with a dish of mashed potatoes that measured - no joke! - about 2x3 feet, because who could eat that many potatoes? We could, apparently, because by night's end they were 100% gone.

We had 5 tables set up in our living room, with drinks on the porch and food in the kitchen.

It was madness. But it was such delicious fun.

And then, because we are INSANE, we got the bright idea to host a "leftovers party," so the very next night we had 25 more people over to polish off what was left. Only problem: they all brought leftovers of their own, so we had about the same amount of food that we'd had the night before.

I love Thanksgiving.

But here it is December 1, and Thanksgiving is long over. The house is clean again, and the leftovers are all gone, and there will be no more turkey until next year - unless I decide to make the same meal on Christmas Day.

There will, however, be beer. From now until we move again, there will be enough beer for all of us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forty Five

That's how many people are expected at my house for Thanksgiving tomorrow. How did Bart's office get so big?

Right now I am elbow deep in turkey brine, bread cubes, sweet potatoes and chocolate. I love this holiday.

Back soon with a recap. Meanwhile, enjoy your Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world - I have friends and family cooking up feasts in Bahrain, Beijing, Japan, Jerusalem, New York, Nouakchott, Malawi, Virginia, Senegal, Seattle, Canada, Los Angeles, Afghanistan, Austin, Baghdad, Scranton, Santa Barbara, Kenya and so many other places across the globe. And for all of these people, who have kept me smiling and standing all these years, I am truly, deeply thankful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Marine Ball 2011

This year the Marine Ball was held at the Dead Sea. Given the massive quantities of vomit that were flying around our house as recently as Thursday evening, I was seriously concerned that we would have to cancel. But somehow everyone managed to be not-sick on Friday, and so we sent our eldest child away for a sleepover and asked the nanny to stay overnight with the other three.

Then off we went to the Dead Sea Marriott, where, upon check in, no one complained about being hungry, and no one bopped anyone else on the nose with a backpack, and no one called anyone else a dummyhead, and no one fell off the bed, or otherwise required medical assistance. It was ever so strange.

We had a great time, eating and drinking and yes, even dancing, despite my firm belief that there is nothing on this earth more ridiculous looking than me, dancing. Apparently I hang out with a bunch of enablers, because every time I'd finish off a glass of something, someone would refill it. Bart's strictly a soda water guy, so it was mostly just me with a constant refill. But at least I wasn't drinking out of a bottle with a straw, as was one of my friends. And I didn't accidentally stick the back of my heel through my dress, so there's that. And no one had to kick me out of the place at 3 a.m. - I didn't even make it 'til midnight before I turned back into a pumpkin.

We had a great time, but I think I'm glad it's over for the year. I'm exhausted! Next up: Thanksgiving dinner for forty.




Thursday, November 17, 2011

That's What Friends Are For

Kyra is finally on the mend as of yesterday. She's eating solid foods again - and keeping them down! - though I'm afraid she's developed a frightening addiction to Popsicles over the last couple of days.

Last night we had an event to attend, but it was Aidan's night for basketball, and he desperately wanted to go. So when a dear friend offered to take him, we happily accepted. At the appointed hour, he ran out the door to join her boys in the car, and while they headed to the gym, we went to our little party.

When we returned a couple of hours later, Aidan was lying on the couch, clutching his stomach and moaning. It turns out he'd been stricken with the stomach bug during basketball practice, leaving our poor saint of a friend to deal with the aftereffects. First he vomited in the gym, so she had to track down a bucket and mop to clean up the mess. As if that weren't bad enough, he vomited in her car on the way home. In her car. Is there a sorry-my-kid-threw-up-in-your-car Hallmark card? Because I need one, apparently.

Aidan was up every 30 minutes or so last night, vomiting. And, because God wanted to make it convenient for me, Ainsley got sick, too, around midnight. Twice the vomit, half the sleepless nights. Thanks, God.

Now 75% of my kids have gotten sick (did I do the math right, EconKate?), and since Bart and I have a big date planned for tomorrow night, I suppose my astute readers can guess what's going to happen to the other 25% within the next 24 hours.

My life. It's like I'm a walking advertisement for birth control.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Too Late

Thanksgiving is next week.

And do you know what that means?

It means I'm too late for Christmas.

A notice went out, oh, sometime before Halloween, reminding us that the deadline for holiday shipping was fast approaching. But at the time, I was scouring the Internet, looking for Halloween costumes. There was no time to think about Christmas.

And then someone asked me: have you finished ordering gifts yet? But this was a couple of weeks ago, and at the time, I was still saving up for my phenomenally expensive overseas turkey. You know how they give turkeys away free-with-purchase in the States sometimes? Give thanks, people, give thanks. Because shipping a frozen butterball overseas ain't easy, and the cost is exorbitant. It's easy to blow $50 on a turkey, and you still haven't sourced the bread that you need to personally cube and dry if you want to make stuffing. And... well, you get the idea. I am currently thinking about Thanksgiving.

Not Christmas.

But if Santa has any hope of getting here on the 25th of December, I really need to stop thinking about cranberry substitutes and start surfing over at amazon. Like, yesterday.

Ba humbug.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Us

Wow. Just, wow.

My little post went viral, and I've had quite a few extra visitors these past few days. Welcome, new people! I don't usually run around calling people morons, so don't get used to it.

Lots to say, but I'm having trouble forming words over here. It's nothing as simple as writer's block, no. You see, there's some nasty bug that's been striking down kids all across Amman. Just about every parent I know has spent some quality time this week cleaning up vomit. Last night, it hit us, and poor Kyra is down for the count. I was up half the night washing linens, so this morning, I'm feeling somewhat incoherent.

But hey, there's good news! Before Kyra started throwing up, I was able to get on the phone and order a new computer. Which means that, assuming it makes it through the DPO (and do you know how expensive it is to ship a computer over here? Yikes.), I'll soon be back in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, I figured out a complicated work around so I could post a picture here. It took half of forever. But here, as promised eons ago, is a picture of us, in Petra. Enjoy. Oh, and wash your hands a lot - you don't want this vomit thing spreading to your house, trust me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'll Bet I've Met More Diplomats Than Rick Perry Has.

I've met lots and lots and lots of diplomats over the past decade or so. Heck, I even married one.

But of course, I'm not a diplomat myself. Which is why I can say, very undiplomatically, that Rick Perry is a moron. Go read this and see if you don't agree: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/07/perry-questions-intentions-of-american-diplomats/. Said Mr. Perry: “I’m not sure our State Department serves us well. I’m not talking about the Secretary of State here. I’m talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice to the administration that’s in this country’s best interest.”

Here's the way it works, Mr. Perry, since you're clearly not too familiar with how the Foreign Service operates. The U.S. Department of State looks for the smartest people it can find, and then, if it can interest them in a low-paying, lonely and dangerous job, somewhere in the far reaches of the globe, it hires them.

We have Republican diplomats. We have Democratic diplomats. We have gay diplomats. We have diplomats who oppose gay marriage. We have Muslim diplomats and Jewish diplomats, and girl and boy diplomats. Single parents can be diplomats, as can childless singles. We might even have (or at least we might have had, until today) diplomats who are Rick Perry supporters. We have just about every type of diplomat you can imagine, because we represent a fairly diverse cross-section of America.

What we don't have, Mr. Perry, are diplomats who joined the Foreign Service because they wanted to give screwed-up advice directly to President. You won't find a single person in the entire State Department who joined solely to get rich, or to advance a personal agenda at some great cost to our nation.

People don't always agree with each other in the Foreign Service, and people don't always get along on a personal level. But Foreign Service officers always advance the agenda of our government, without fail. And they work together, no matter their personal beliefs. Because that is what they were hired to do. Imagine that, if you will: Democrats and Republicans, all working together on behalf of our nation - it happens every single day in the Foreign Service.

I'm guessing our pal Rick Perry hasn't actually met a Foreign Service officer before. But he probably knows there aren't a whole lot of them out there (I'm told it is still true that there are more military band members than there are FSOs). Since there aren't a lot of FSOs, maybe he figures it's okay to insult the whole lot of them - after all, even if every single one of us votes against him, we don't have enough votes to collectively guarantee a loss for him. And here's the kicker: if he somehow manages to pull off a victory, those very same Foreign Service officers whom he just mindlessly insulted will stand up and support his policies across the globe.

Because that's what the Foreign Service is about. Diplomats support American ideals in every country across the globe, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Diplomats (and their boss, the Secretary of State) don't set their own policies. Rather, they serve as boots on the ground, the eyes and ears of the President in every corner of the globe. Diplomats report back what they see and hear and think in these countries that Rick Perry has probably never considered visiting. They present the facts - and yes, they present their own educated opinions - so that our President has the information he needs to create and direct policy. Once the President decides on policy, these same diplomats work to advance his agenda. Not their own agendas, mind you. Never their own agendas.

If they feel strongly enough that they can't support the President's policies, they resign. It happens, on occasion. If you suddenly find that you can't support current policy, you resign, and you go look for a job in the private sector, where you are allowed to disagree publicly with our nation's policies, and where you probably make more money, too.

But the rest of those diplomats work for the United States of America. They don't work for the Republicans, and they don't work for the Democrats. They work for us, for our country. Always.

And shame on you, Mr. Perry, for suggesting otherwise just so you could win a few votes. Shame on you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Another Day, Another Jordanian Get Together

This time, it was at Kyra's school. I love the girls' school, truly I do. It is a mix of nationalities: Russian, Japanese, American - but mostly Jordanian. Classes are taught half in Arabic, half in English, with 30 minutes of French thrown in for good measure. Small class sizes, great teachers, and walking distance from home. What could be better?

They tend to have a lot of parent-type days, like sports days, or concerts, or holiday celebrations. One other thing they have, which I'd blocked out after last year, is We Are Jordan day.

I was summoned to the school last week for We Are Jordan. The kids in Kyra's class were split into three groups, each at a separate table. Our group consisted of me, Kyra and 4 Jordanian families. We sat down together at a table covered with cardboard, play dough, bags of sand and other arts and crafty type things.

Now might be a good time to tell you that I SUCK at arts and crafty types things.

The teacher explained, in Arabic, what we were supposed to do, but it was loud and Arabic, so I understood not a thing. I asked her to repeat, for me, in English, while the other moms and kids feverishly set to work. Turns out, we were responsible for making Wadi Rum, the desert wonderland in southern Jordan, not far from Aqaba. The other parents in our group were making camels, or bedouins, or campfires. Kyra and I were assigned to make a tent.

A tent?

Yes, said the teacher, handing me a footlong square of burlap and two wooden meat skewers. A tent.

I tried every way I could think of to make that tent. I stabbed the sticks into the cardboard base and propped the canvas on them, but the whole structure collapsed. I wrapped play dough around the sticks, to no avail. I stuck bits of play dough around the edges of the burlap, hoping it would hold the heavy fabric in place, but - can you guess? - the tent collapsed again.

Next to me a mother son team were busy making paper camels with play dough saddles. Another kid was making an orange play dough campfire while his dad built another tent out of red and white checked fabric. His tent was square and sturdy and almost finished. My tent, shakily propped up with bits of toothpicks and cardboard, threatened to topple over at any moment. The mom to my right leaned across me to prop her kid's camel in front of the burlap tent. It perched there proudly, seeming to mock my tent. The mom to my left leaned over and handed me a piece of play dough, suggesting that I turn it into a saddle for that jaunty little camel. I pushed it onto the camel's back, where a saddle ought to be, and the camel prompted collapsed. The mom to my right glared at me. The mom to my left focused on her own project, even though it had been her suggestion that prompted me to mutilate the poor kid's camel.

I was miserable. All around me parents and kids chatted happily as they cut out tiny camels and people, or made tiny clay furniture that was supposed to go inside my tent. The furniture all stayed outside the tent, as it was clear the tent would blow away in the first desert breeze.

Perhaps sensing my misery, one of the moms smiled sympathetically and said "they gave you the hardest job."

Kyra was oblivious to her mother's complete lack of craftiness. She eyed the bag of sand and decided that our tent would look much better if we added sand. So she happily spread sand under and over the tent, sprinkled it on the campfire and poured it over the camels.

The tent, that poor sad sack of a tent, collapsed again under the weight of all of the sand. All the same, I pronounced our tent "perfect" and Kyra, who apparently has never seen a tent in her short life, happily agreed. We retired to the sand bottle table, where the kids were busily filling bottles with funnels of colored sand. And I rejoiced in the knowledge that We Are Jordan was over for the year.

That is, until I found a note in Ainsley's lunchbox that afternoon, summoning me to her classroom next week for her We Are Jordan event.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Just Your Average Mammal

The rainy season started, officially, last night.

Which is a tad bit annoying.

I mean, yes, I know I'm living in the fourth water poorest country in the world, and so we need rain in order to stay off of the winner's podium, but did it have to start on the first day of a week-long vacation, when my husband is winging his way back to the Land of the Giant Commissary and my nanny is enjoying her well-earned vacation and I am here alone with four children, plus their various hangers-on and all of their laundry?

Could the rain not have waited until next week?

But rain it did, and rain it is, and so I did what any sensible mammal does on a rainy, beginning-of-winter day: I went to the store and bought butter. And sugar. And flour and chocolate. And a whole chicken, for soup. And dried beans, for more soup. And a jalapeƱo, for salsa, because of course chips and salsa would be delicious on a rainy day.

And then I bought more butter.

It seems it is a good thing that my computer is dead and buried, because I cannot post any pictures via the iPad, and I have a sense that if I actually carry out all of my plans for butter comsumption, my pictures will be scary, indeed.

I have the chicken simmering on the stove and some butter softening on the counter. I plan to put my eldest to work baking cookies this afternoon, because then they will be educational cookies rather than woe is me summer is over cookies, and it's always easier to stop after three or so educational cookies. The woe is me cookies generally need to be eaten until one's stomach hurts, wouldn't you agree?

And for any grandparents out there reading this, if you happen to find some girls' raincoats and umbrellas out there for sale in the wide world, feel free to ship some our way. Apparently the girls outgrew last year's coats somehow.

Must be all that butter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Passed

I passed the FSWE. Next up: the QEP.

Loving the acronyms. I was asked to sit in on a meeting this week, and the lady threw out so many acronyms that I simply had no idea what she was trying to tell me. I eventually tuned out and turned my attention to studying a map of the West Bank that was hanging on the wall. Here I thought I knew enough acronyms to fake my way through my day. I think someone out there has a full time job just thinking them up.

Maybe that's the job I should apply for. Acronym Thinker Upper. ATU.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oops I Did It Again

You know, maybe I'm not cut out for life in the Foreign Service. Because here's the thing: if you're in the Foreign Service, you have to go to great lengths to meet new people. And I really, really hate meeting new people.

I'm okay if I have a goal in mind. Maybe I'm giving a presentation, or hosting a party, or asking an interviewee questions. But tell me to walk blind into a party, and I break out in hives.

Just last night, for example, I got to steak night (a semi-regular party at the Embassy) later than usual. There weren't any free tables, and I would've up and gone home except that I'd already ordered my food. So I just sort of stood there stupidly, waiting for an empty table to magically appear in front of me. And this is with people I sort of know! So imagine how terrible I am at walking into a party where I know no one.

And that's the set up for today.

Kyra got an invitation to a birthday party, and she was over the moon with excitement about it. I tried a million different ways to talk her out of going, because I was pretty sure I wouldn't know anyone there, but she was determined. So we went, she and I, though I'll admit we were fashionably late.

The party was at a new little play place in Abdoun. When we walked in, it was crazy. There were about 50 kids in attendance, no joke, plus various parents and nannies. You remember what happened last time I went to a Jordanian kid's birthday party? It wasn't pretty. This time, I was determined not to make an ass of myself, though I did plan to stick with my usual casual jeans/t-shirt/nice shoes combination, even though it would likely leave me underdressed.

So we found the place, and went on up, and they asked us to take our shoes off and store them in the cubbies by the door. We did that, and then Kyra took off into the play place, a vast area full of craft rooms, and water tables, and an entire pretend city. I took a deep breath and talked myself into walking into the mommy room.

I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number of dressed-up Jordanians in the room - I counted about 30 women. And as I stood there in my newly stockinged feet, with my jeans rolled up so they wouldn't drag on the floor, I noticed: not one of those other moms had removed her own shoes. They were all in fancy stilettos and pumps - no need to roll their jeans up. The nannies were all barefoot, like me ( yes, lots of moms brought their nannies to the party, too).

At that point I knew was not going to have a successful party experience, so I slunk out of the mom room and went off to join the nannies and kids.

Things were going okay until one of the moms - whom I know from last year - approached to chit chat. Of course I couldn't hear her - it was too loud and I'm too deaf, so I just kind of did my usual smile-and-nod thing until I realized she was trying to set up a play date between Kyra and her daughter. I'm not quite sure what we agreed on, but it seems she and I agreed on a date of some sort. As we were doing this (?), one of Kyra's teachers wandered by and the mom engaged the teacher in a discussion. I was kind of trapped in between them, and I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could tell they were speaking Arabic, and they seemed to be including me in the conversation. So I just batted my eyes and tried to look as if I was in complete agreement with whatever they were telling me.

I kept it up for a good 5 minutes before the mom asked me a question, in Arabic. I must've been doing a stellar job of looking as though I was following along, but my cover was blown at that point. Even the smile-and-nod didn't get me back in the conversation. Once again, I found myself slinking away down the hall, looking for a new place to hide.

Oh, but they found me. These moms were so nice, and they were determined to get me into that mom room. One of them beckoned me back in there -apparently they were serving dinner. So I got in line - the only American, barefoot in a sea of well-heeled Jordanians.

I was standing there, clutching my plate and trying to decide what to eat, when the woman in front of me turned to me and said something. But what? It sounded almost like.... French? She repeated herself and yes, I'd found the lone Frenchwoman in the group.

Once we determined that I don't speak French, she switched to English. "I though you were French," she explained, "because French women, we often have such long, thin faces."

Yes, perhaps - but I bet French women wear shoes at parties.

We tried to chat as we got our food, but when I turned to find a table, I discovered there weren't any more seats in the mommy room. I stood there with my plate of tabouleh and watched as my new French friend rejoined the women at her table. No seats there. Kyra's teachers were parked at another table.

There was only one seat left, and it had been recently abandoned by the father of the birthday boy. I wasn't sure if he planned to return to his seat, but I had to sit somewhere. So I walked up to the table and asked the four ladies sitting there if I could join them. They assured me that I could, then returned to their conversation, in Arabic, without introducing themselves.

I know, I know. I should've introduced myself to them first. But by that point I was so desperately miserable that I just sat there and choked down my food. I was vaguely aware that the dad returned to the table, saw me in his seat, and left again. It was all I could do at that point not to burst into tears and run from the building. I nibbled on my food for a few more minutes, then excused myself and left the table. The four women didn't acknowledge my goodbye, engrossed as they were in their conversation. They weren't mean; they weren't rude. They just clearly did not care one bit that I was at their table. And really, why should they? They were all friends; I was the awkward new girl.

Sigh. I really wish I were better at this party thing. You'd think, after all these years in the FS, I'd have it figured out, but I don't. I'm forever wearing the wrong clothes, or taking off my shoes when everyone else leaves theirs on, or sitting in the wrong chair. That's one reason I like blogging. Because even as I tearfully locked myself in the bathroom and texted a friend about my lack of footwear, I thought to myself "yes, but now I have something to blog about!"

I was homesick tonight for America, where, generally speaking, I know the rules and can make it through a kid party with my ego intact. Kyra, however, had an absolute blast. So viewed in that light, the party was a huge success.

Still and all, I have to stand tall and shout it to the rooftops:

God Bless America, home of the brave and land of the drop-off party.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quick Update For the Grandparents

The house is empty.

Well, as empty as it can be with just 4 kids, 1 dog, 1 cat and 2 parents.

Last weekend our Jerusalem relatives came for their first visit since moving to the Middle East, and it was so fun catching up with them. At the same time, Uncle Sean flew in from Los Angeles, via France, where he'd gone for business (rough life he leads, no?).

We spent a day hiking through Petra - no small feat with 6 little kids in tow. And we spent a few lazy afternoons at the pool. After the Jerusalem folks went back to work, Uncle Sean stayed on to entertain the beasts. It's his talent, and they adore him.

We also took him/ sent him to Mt. Nebo, Jerash, Ajloun and Rainbow Street. And basketball practice, of course.

This past weekend we piled in the car and drove to the Dead Sea. Love that place. We floated and swam and ate and water-slided (water-slid? What's the verb here?). At dinner Aidan ate 2 pieces of steak and a piece of chicken. He asked for more. I got him 2 more steaks and some pasta. He finished that off and said "that steak is good, but it's really filling!" Ummm, duh - anything's filling if you eat four servings worth, kid.

Uncle Sean is winging his way back to LA now, and the kids miss him already - even Ainsley, who couldn't quite remember his name. She kept calling him Uncle Brian. Or "the Red Guy," because of his red t-shirt. But this morning, when she awoke and he was gone, she sighed and said "I lub him, mama."

Still no computer, so still no photos to show you. But my lovely sis-in-law posted some photos of the whole family at Petra, so if you have her blog address, go there to see our smiley family. I'd give a link, but I'm not sure if she wants the extended audience stopping by. And speaking of my sis-in-law, can I tell you how awesome it is to have her in the region? My brother-in-law chose wisely and well, and I couldn't have a more perfect friend if I'd chosen her for myself. I think I won the in-law battle all around.

And now, for my traditional end-of-post:

It's late! I'm tired! Good night!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Road Trip Math

11 Gormans. 2 cars. A 3-hour caravan to Petra, which is, of course, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

1 son noted with displeasure that 3 trips to Petra in 1 year is 2 trips too many.

A long day, that. But, despite the fact that my kids are becoming completely jaded by our international life style ("Oh, gawd, mom, the Great Wall again? Seriously? That is so boring!"), we all had fun. Tragically, there will be no pictures, as I have no computer upon which to download the photos. Hopefully I can get my sister-in-law to email me a few of hers one day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Foreign Service Exam, Part 4. Or Maybe 5.

I took the Foreign Service written exam, way back in the dark ages of 1999 or 2000. I passed. But we were in Moscow, and they wanted me to fly to DC for the oral exams the day before Thanksgiving, my personal favorite holiday, so I said no, thank you. I took the written exam again in Kazakhstan. I passed. But have you ever priced a ticket from Almaty to DC? I couldn't afford it, especially when it was likely I'd fail - most people do. So I said no, thanks. I took the Foreign Service exam again, in 2005. I passed. We were in the States at the time, so I decided to go ahead and try the orals, knowing I likely wouldn't pass.

I was three months pregnant with Kyra at the time, not far enough along to show, but far enough along that my pants didn't fit. So I invested in an inexpensive pair of stretchy pants from Old Navy. I looked quite professional, if I do say so myself. That is, until I stood up after the interview section and the stretch kind of de-stretched, causing me to fear I was about to lose my pants. I clutched at them in a weird sort of desperate way that appeared to alarm my examiners, though no more than I'd already alarmed them when I answered one of their interview questions by telling them my family was more important than any job and I'd always put that first, yada yada, in a response that clearly had no place in a job interview. Seriously, what was I thinking?

But, here's the crazy part: I passed the oral exam. I did! And then I passed the Russian exam, and the security clearance check, and the medical exam. I passed them all. So they offered me a job. But, you know, Kyra had just been born at that point, and I couldn't find a nanny whom I adored, and then they informed me that they'd be sending me to Moscow just as soon as I finished A-100, despite the fact that my husband had his onward assignment to Beijing already and so I guess you can guess the last part.

Yep. I said no, thank you. I turned down the job.

But now I'm done having kids, and I'm tired of dead-end EFM jobs, so I decided maybe it's time to take the test again. I registered for the first available test date in Amman, which happened to be today.

"Get a good night's sleep," one pal told me yesterday morning, by way of advice.

And then I checked my voicemail.

Aidan stayed home yesterday with a nasty cough. The call was from him, but when I reached him, he could hardly talk. "I can't breath," he wheezed, so I rushed home to grab him and brought him back to see our Embassy doctor. (Who, by the way? Picture the most Norman Rockwellian doctor you possibly can, and that's our new doc.) The doctor checked him out and sent us to an ENT, not at our usual hospital, but at an entirely new-to-me and not-at-all-easy-to-find hospital. The ENT stuck a camera down Aidan's nose and told us that we were lucky: he didn't have epiglotitis, which would have earned him immediate hospitalization. Instead, he was diagnosed with a severe infection of the larynx, treatable - hopefully - with antibiotics.

Also, he said I needed to sleep near Aidan in the night, because if his breathing became more labored, we'd have to get him back to the hospital right away.

So much for my good night's sleep. But okay, I reasoned, I can do this. Not a problem, to get a bit less sleep.

We went home, ate dinner and started getting ready for bed.

Which is when some nasty bug caught ahold of me. I went from "my stomach kind of hurts" to full-on vomiting within about 30 minutes. I was sick, sick, sick, feverish and throwing up. So I curled up next to Aidan and spent most of the night next to him, awake, nauseous and listening to his raspy little breaths.

This morning we returned to the Embassy for a follow up with the doctor, who also wants us to follow up with the ENT. That's scheduled for tonight at 6. I tried to eat some breakfast, but gave up and went with apple juice instead. Right before the exam was scheduled to start, I gulped down some iced tea in an effort to calm my stomach and stay awake. And I dragged my carcass into that exam room and sat down and plowed through that test.

Now? Now I'm exhausted and still a bit sick. It's almost time to take Aidan to the doctor, so I'm going to get their dinner on and try to eat something myself.

What a day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Girls' Night Out: $2000.

Wasn't it Chekhov who said that if there's a gun on the mantel at the beginning of the play, it needs to go off by the end?

In honor of that literary master, let me begin by saying I am writing this post on my iPad.

Now. Let's get started.

I was invited to join a group of women on a Ladies Night Out adventure downtown. The 12 of us met at one friend's house and hopped in taxis to Rainbow Street, where we wandered and shopped our way through Souk Jara, an open air street market that runs every Friday evening during the summer. We then made our way to a trendy little restaurant that overlooks the Citadel, the ancient Roman ruins on a hill in the middle of Amman. We sat outside and ordered drinks (my margarita was about $10), appetizers (my share was about $8) and dinner (salad, $12).

After a lovely evening of chitchatting, we walked back to the first circle and hailed a few cabs to take us back home.

Fun, right? It really was, and I was so pleased to be invited out with such a fun group.

I got home early - maybe around 10? - but everyone was already asleep. Ahhh, bliss: not to have to brush teeth or read bedtime stories!

So this morning, I woke up. I made breakfast and showered and did all of those other usual morning things while I waited for Bart to return from the gym.

When he returned, he casually asked, "so, did you have any trouble starting your computer this morning?"

Ummm, no. I didn't even try to turn it on. May I ask why you want to know?

Well.

It turns out that last night, while I was out drinking my salary in one margarita glass, my husband was watching a movie with the girls. On the computer. The MacBook, to be specific. My MacBook, to be more specific still. And it just so happens that, in the course of the evening, Ainsley managed to spill a bottle of Gatorade. On the computer. On the... Oh, you get the idea. My MacBook, my beautiful almost-new MacBook, is now dead.

After Bart 'fessed up, I ran to the machine and picked it up. A few bright green drops of Gatorade leaked out of the bottom, sort of like tears. Only, you know, bright green.

So now I have no computer. I also have no rough drafts and no pictures of Jordan, because I'm an idiot who always cheerfully says, when asked if I've backed up my computer, "oh, I'm sure I'll have time to do that tomorrow!"

The computer is packed on rice because I've heard sometimes that cures iPhones that have fallen in the toilet. (to which I can only say: ewwww.) But I have little hope of reviving the beast.

Our friend Mike says I can't blame Bart: he insists that, by virtue of being a man, Bart was genetically predisposed toward failure when being asked to watch 50% of his children while his wife went out carousing. Who knows? All I know is, it's time to start saving for a new computer.

And a backup hard drive.

So, in sum: Ladies Night Out was really, really fun. And also really, really expensive.

The End.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Busy. Oh, But I'm Thinking A Lot About Blogging. State-Blogging, To Be Specific.

I had my first school board meeting last night. And basketball season started for the boys this week - twice a week, in the evenings, for both of them. Kyra starts ballet and basketball next week. Ainsley, thankfully, doesn't have any after-school activities for the next couple of months. Aidan has after-school soccer starting soon. Oh, and he had his first after-school play-date today.

I, meanwhile, am working half-days. And still studying Arabic! And trying to work out. And packing lunches. And making dinners. And cooking bran muffins every second day because the kids don't like cereal and I'm too cheap to pay $8 for a box, anyway. And updating this blog.

What's that? Okay, I admit it, I'm kind of failing at updating this blog these days.

But can you blame me? I mean, I'm kinda-sorta busy. Also, there's the fact that various factions in State seems to have worked themselves into a swivet over a few of my blogging pals. What gives, State? It might be time to put some specifics in the FAM, so people know what the rules are, sort of the way we know about cost constructing travel to CONUS and applying for special needs allowances. We could use some rules! As Diplopundit pointed out today, the letter writer in this month's FSJ suggested that we all go back to writing in diaries and stuffing them under our pillows (ummm... not recommended in China, I hope!), or apply for jobs with the Huffington Post (wouldn't THAT get people's attention, if all of us State bloggers suddenly picked up that sized audience!). I get it: the writer doesn't like blogs. But to try to pretend he doesn't want to ban them outright, and then offer those flippant suggestions as replacements, is a bit disingenuous.

Look, people are going to blog. More and more and more, you will have employee bloggers and spouse bloggers and even kid bloggers. We've built this community, and we turn to each other for advice and support and laughter. (Also, pictures of nasty gigantic spiders lurking in bathtubs - you know who you are....). Many of us, myself included, started our blogs as a way to keep far-flung family members in the loop. So not only do these blogs tie us into our communities, but they help us keep our ties to our families back home.

We're not going away, even if the Huffington Post does come calling. (oh, but Arianna? I'm right here if you need any new writers...)

Now, don't get me wrong: if some senior official gives me a call and tells me that either I take down my blog or my husband loses his job, there isn't even a question but that my blog will be gone tomorrow. I'm not willing to fight that fight if my family's livelihood is on the line.

But does that have to be the choice? Why not give us some basic rules, FAM-style, so we know where the lines are drawn?

So here they are: The Rules. Written by someone with no departmental clout whatsoever (yes, that'd be me), because the people in charge over there haven't had the time to develop a list themselves. This is just my starter list - any of you other bloggers have rules to add?

First: Don't Bite The Hand That Pays You. We are all of us, employees, spouses and children alike, representing the United States government every time we walk out our doors. I might be "just" a spouse with a spouse job and not much say-so in the Embassy, but when I'm here, to many of my neighbors out in the wide world, I AM the US government. So as a blogger, I am not allowed to criticize the work that the Department of State is doing, in Jordan, in the region, in the world, even. That's not my place. I won't do it at a dinner party, and I certainly won't do it on my blog. Doesn't matter what I think of our position on Palestine: if it differs from the USG-position, I can't put it on my blog. Even if it's the same as the USG-position, I'm likely going to avoid discussing it, anyway. This is a personal blog, after all, not a government-sanctioned one, so those types of discussions really don't belong here.

Second: Use the Past Tense. If you're going somewhere tonight, don't tell me about it until tomorrow. It doesn't make sense to advertise your whereabouts to complete strangers, through your blog or any other means. It's like cancelling your newspaper before you go on vacation, so no one realizes you're gone. It's just safer that way.

Third: Limit the Details. I might tell you my street is narrow and crowded and full of Land Rovers, but I won't tell you if it is three streets up from the Embassy, right side, next to the Mexican restaurant. That's too much detail. I'll show you pictures of my house (assuming it's presentable), but only from the inside. You won't see the front of my house. You won't see pictures of my alarm system. You won't see any of the measures that keep me safe here at post. And speaking of pictures:

Fourth: No Pictures Without Permission. Don't post pictures of non-family members without their permission! If your colleagues don't permit you to post their pictures, don't do it. And don't post their names, either. First names, I think, are generally okay, but again, with permission! If you're not sure if they'd like it, don't put it out there.

Fifth: No Gossip. About those colleagues: watch what you say about them. I, for one, have had the privilege of working with some smart, talented, funny people over the years. There are some seriously smart people working on your behalf at most Embassies around the world. (Also some odd ones, but hey: you'll find those strange birds in any profession. Just don't call them out on your blog!) But, really, even if what you want to say about someone is a compliment, you really ought not talk them up without permission. There are loads of people who agree with our FSJ letter writer that blogs are scary things, and you don't want to draw attention to those types of people, or to your blog, by posting details about such colleagues.

Of course, some colleagues won't mind being talked up in your blog. Say, for example, you have an acquaintance named, oh, I don't know, let's call her Kate. And let's just suppose, for the sake of argument, that "Kate" - who reads and adores your blog - has compiled a master list of names of people in the Embassy, ordered according to which Harry Potter character they resemble. Now that's funny! But - while you might feel free to mention "Kate's" list on your blog, it would not be appropriate to publicize which employee most closely resembles Dobby. (For the record, if there were such a list at an Embassy near you, my name would most certainly NOT be on it. I don't bear a resemblance to any of the characters.) (But of course this is a fictional example. Heck, I'm not even sure if there is anyone named Kate here at post.) Point is, if your colleagues say it's okay to mention them, then you can. But ask, first, so they don't go all Snape on you.

But, as usual: I digress.

Really, all I want to say is that, if no one will make the rules for us, maybe we need to make them ourselves. It should be basic common sense, in most cases. But your ability to blog should not and cannot depend upon the kindness of your boss. If you are following the rules, you shouldn't get slammed simply because your new boss doesn't approve of blogging. They cannot tell you that posting a picture of your baby at a doctor's appointment is a violation of your child's medical privacy rights, because that's simply not true (trust me: I asked a lawyer). But they can restrict things you want to say if those things contradict the work of the Department. Of course they can. They do it in the private sector, too. That's how Dooce got dooced.

So that's what I think: Don't discuss policy; don't endanger yourself or others by posting details of upcoming events; don't post pictures that show the front of your house, or the school, or the car; don't talk about colleagues; don't post photos of colleagues without permission.

Of course, some of these rules vary a bit from post-to-post, which is why common sense comes into play. I wasn't so concerned about posting photos of my street in China, because the threat level there was quite different from here. But I still looked at every single picture before I posted it, and I weighed whether the picture had a potential to give away more than I intended. When in doubt about something I plan to post, I often run it by my employee-husband: if he were to tell me that something didn't seem right, I wouldn't post it. I trust his judgement on these types of things. (That said, he hasn't read this, and yet here I go posting it.)

What say you, fellow bloggers? Do these rules seem right? What did I get wrong? What did I leave out? Because I'm not going to start keeping a diary under my pillow. But the State Department has been very, very good to my family over the years, and I don't want my little blog to cause a diplomatic incident. I want to blog, in a way that makes me happy but doesn't endanger anyone or break any rules.

So, what are the rules? Let's go ahead and update the FAM ourselves, you and me, so State bloggers like us have some guidelines to follow. That way, when State is ready to sit down and print up some rules, we'll have a place at the table and a place for them to start.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Big Fat Jordanian Wedding

The first clue that something was amiss was the brawl that took place directly across the street from our house.

First there were a couple of guys shouting, next fists were flying, and then a dozen or so men threw themselves into it, either punching each other or pulling others apart.

At the time, we were in our front yard, setting up for a party of our own. We were hosting a, shall we say, extremely senior person within our community, along with 60 or so of our favorite people, and we were putting out candles and tables and wine glasses in preparation for the upcoming evening.

But apparently, the neighbors directly across the street were hosting a party of their own. A wedding. And to start things off right, they had a big fight. The police came, and mobile patrol came, and the gendarmerie guys showed up, and all of the neighborhood boabs turned out.

With all of this attention, the fight ended. And the wedding party started.

There was music. Loud music. Loud Jordanian music.

And there was dancing. Right there on the street, as the wedding couple came out after signing their marriage contract.

And all I could think was, dear god, let this be over before our party starts. Because our candlelit dessert party was definitely going to be eclipsed by this wedding.

Our boab went over to talk to the wedding party (this after he finished cutting our flowers and helping us set up tables) and determined that their party was scheduled to end an hour or so before our began. So instead of stressing, we watched the festivities and took some photos. Oh, and we also hoped fervently that the brawling guys wouldn't plot a return during our party. Nothing like having a fist fight, or some festive firing, take out the VIPs at your party.

Our party went off without a hitch, and it was actually quite lovely.

But look at their party:





Now I'm all partied out. I think this was the third major event we hosted since returning from R&R. We had another party in honor of a super-way-high-up-in-the-DS-chain-of-command-guy when he paid a visit a few weeks back. There were about 30 people in attendance, all of whom wanted some face time with him. He's a great guy - if this is a mark of the type of person running DS, I'd say we're in good hands.

Funny story: this is the second time he's been to our house for dinner. The first time, last year, everything was going swimmingly, and we were all in the living room chatting, when Ainsley stormed out of her room, pointed directly at this very senior gentleman and sternly said "I told you to BE QUIET!!!!"

Thankfully, he laughed. And accepted our second invite. But I don't think Ainsley won any awards for diplomacy that night.

I also hosted a CLO newcomer coffee last week. There were about 35 people, mostly women, half of whom I didn't know, who showed up for coffee and pastries. Which would have been great, except that my oven exploded a few days before the event. Exploded. As in, blew up. Glass everywhere.

They came to deliver a new oven the next day - crisis averted! - except that, on their way in the house, they dropped the new oven and it broke. As in, I still didn't have an oven. And the party was in two days.

As my dear blog friend ADA noted, it was God's way of telling me to stop hosting all of these damn parties. He took out two ovens, trying to get his message across.

All's well that end's well, though, and I had many, many friends offer to bring baked goods to the CLO coffee. We had cinnamon rolls and banana bread and wheat bread and quiche and fruit and tarts and.... I didn't make a thing, unless you count the coffee.

So that, in part, explains my radio silence these last few weeks. Consider yourself up-to-date. Me? I'm off to bed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yep, I Deleted It

Thanks to everyone who gave advice about my situation with the neighbor. In the interest of NOT giving her any more ammunition to use against me in her private battle, I decided to delete the post. But I do appreciate the many comments I got. You were all, of course, correct. It's an unwinnable war, and I don't have the energy or desire to fight back. Anyway, thanks to all - I have some awesome commenters out there in the wide world.

Thanks especially to my Dr. Seuss-quoting commenters, who gave me quite a laugh today, just when I needed it. Here's one, back at you:

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a great balancing act.

The Tooth Fairy. Again.

Well, it's official. As parents, we now run the range from "pay for preschool" right up through "pay for orthodontist." Thank goodness we still have a few years before "pay for college" starts.

Shay is having his last two baby teeth extracted this weekend in preparation for braces. The teeth refuse to come out on their own. How much does the tooth fairy give for teeth that have been forcibly removed, anyway? It seems to me that one should get a little extra for that, even if one no longer believes in the tooth fairy.

And in related news, Kyra lost her first baby tooth today! And then promptly lost it again. It's somewhere in the house, but we don't know where. No matter: the tooth fairy will pay a visit regardless. I'm just not sure how to explain it when she eventually finds the tooth in a sock drawer or something. Any experienced tooth fairies out there want to weigh in?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Istanbul

Falling further and further behind - in blogging as in life.

But at last, and with apologies to the grandparents for the delay, here are a few photos of our whirlwind trip to Istanbul.


We stayed at a little hotel in the middle of the old part of the city. It was quaint, it was inexpensive... it was right next door to a mosque, from which the call to prayer thundered every morning before sun-up.


We went on a boat ride our first day there - we figured it would be a good way to see a lot without carrying kids. Istanbul from the water is pretty spectacular.





We also went to the Grand Bazaar, where of course we found ourselves looking at carpets. We loved this one, but ouch! Carpets are too expensive for this family with four kids who need to go to college. I think we have plenty as it is. The girls did enjoy being carried around while we shopped.



The kids were remarkably tolerant of the vast amounts of walking we required of them, though Ainsley had to be carried quite a bit. Sometimes, not even the promise of an ice cream cone just around the bend could get her moving.




We were worried about visiting a Muslim country during Ramadan - we would never recommend that you visit Jordan during Ramadan, because everything is closed and you aren't allowed to so much as sip a bottle of water during daylight hours. Miserable. But Istanbul wasn't like that. We ate and drank what, where and how we wanted. At night, crowds of Muslims joined in the Old City to break their fast, and it was quite an experience to walk amongst them as they broke bread together.


I'll leave you with a few random images shot in the Blue Mosque, at the Topkapi Palace and at other places around town.

Definitely a trip worth taking...













Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Second First Day of School

Does that even make sense? It's been a long day.

Today was the boys' first day of school, so once again I am posting first day pictures. What a difference a year makes. Last year they were so nervous - as was I - about what was in store for them. This year, they know the drill.

I doubt you'll be seeing much of my oldest child on this blog anymore. He's not really thrilled to have me post pictures without his authorization these days, and since he's taking a digital media class, it'll be hard to sneak anything past him. They'll be building websites and other fun things, like - I can't even say it without shuddering - using twitter. I guess I'll have to get on twitter just so I can follow him. Sigh.

Both boys are pleased with their teachers. One is less pleased because he doesn't have as many pals in his classes as he'd like, but it'll all work out.

All four kids have crashed and the house is quiet. Should I take advantage and read? Or go to bed early? I think my pillow calls.

Anyway, here are my kids, all growing bigger by the minute.




Please. Write your own stuff.