Monday, February 28, 2011


Was it really eleven years ago? We were posted in Moscow at the time, but we encountered a dangerous situation and had to leave with 24 hours notice. I trudged around a snowed-in DC for days, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, while the higher-ups tried to decide what to do about my husband. Eventually, they sent us on to Los Angeles, while they debated some more. And so, because of a truly awful situation in Moscow, my husband was on hand for the birth of our first son. He even got to spend several weeks with our new son before they finally decided he could return to post. I followed a few weeks later, with this teeny tiny creature in my arms for the entire flight from Los Angeles to New York, and then on to Moscow.

I didn't know how to change a diaper, or give a bath, or nurse a baby. My husband had to cut those tiny fingernails, because I was too frightened of hurting the baby to try. Even that soft spot kind of terrified me.

Oh, but he's eleven now, and pretty soon he'll be taller than me. Where did the time go?

..............................just two years old, in Kazakhstan

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Writer's Block


I hit "send" on my last blog post, and then happily left the computer behind for the weekend. When I returned to my desk, I discovered that my last post had gone a teensy bit viral. I've had approximately 13-and-a-half skazillion blog hits in the past 24 hours.

I also got quite a few comments. To all of you commenters who told me how brilliant I am, I can only say: you are absolutely right. To those of you who disagreed with my basic premise, well, obviously I'm right and you're wrong.

Seriously, though, it is a tricky issue, and there are lots of ways to look at it. You've provided much food for thought in the comments section, and I'm trying to respond to those of you who have an email address attached to your comment (lots of you are "noreply@blogger" people).

The question today is: what next? Clearly I hit a nerve with my last post. If I continue on the topic, I run the risk of turning into a whiny EFM. But if I post pictures of my dog again, well, I'm a one-hit wonder. It's enough to give a gal a bad case of writer's block.

What to do, what to do...

Oh! I'll tell you about my husband's birthday celebration.

He's been working the crazy hours lately (and when I say lately, I mean since about 1994), so I thought it would be nice to take him away somewhere for a night. I made reservations at a little hotel in the mountains near the Dead Sea. I had to find one family to take one boy (thanks Jenna and Brett!) and another family to host the other boy (that'd be you, Craig and Vladi - thanks!). Then I got a sitter to camp out for the night with the girls. I had to make sure the guys who work with Bart were on board - after all, there were more demonstrations planned for Friday in downtown Amman, and I was pretty sure my husband would be uncomfortable skipping town, even if he was only an hour away, unless his guys were all okay with it. And I wanted it to be a surprise. It was almost as tricky as evacuating Libya, I swear.

It would have worked, too. He had no clue what I was planning, until a few nights ago at dinner, when Aidan happily announced "I get to have a sleepover with Alex and Peter when mom takes you out!", to which Shay replied "You dummy, it was supposed to be a surprise about the hotel."

Still, he didn't know where we were going until the morning of, when I showed him the hotel's website.

We drove down to the Dead Sea, then hung a left and headed up, up, up into the hills. Once we reached the top, where there was an amazing view of the Sea below, we turned right onto a narrow, windy and steep (we're talking 15% grade) downhill road. We ended up in a narrow valley, where the hotel perched between rocky hills, with waterfalls all around. It was beautiful, though the safety-mom in me couldn't help but think about flash floods. I wouldn't want to be there in a heavy downpour.

We drove along until we came up to the hotel, but I couldn't find a parking lot. I turned around and went back to the entrance gate. The attendant couldn't direct me to the lot, so I decided to turn back around and ask in the lobby. When I pulled forward, I ran the car right over a small stone wall - took the bottom right side completely off the car.

My husband, bless his heart, merely looked at me and said "May I assume, as part of my birthday present, you'll be taking care of getting that fixed?"

You have to love a man who can say something like that as part of his car is lying on a narrow desert road in the middle of nowhere. Though I imagine if we could've seen the thought bubble above his head, whatever he was really thinking would have been equally, ahem, amusing.

I think we can all agree that his birthday surprise didn't get off to quite the happy start that I'd envisioned. But no matter. We had a great time. We went to dinner in the hotel, and we actually talked! To each other! No one interrupted. And not once was the word "dummyhead" spoken. It was almost eerie. In the morning, we went to the gym together and then ate breakfast by the waterfall. Everyone should breakfast by a waterfall at least once, don't you think?

It was all quite relaxing.

Which is good, because as soon as we returned to Amman, we had to: pick up Aidan, pick up the girls, pay the sitter, pick up Shay, go to the school for Talent Show tryouts, take Aidan to church school, get the grocery shopping done, go to church, send Shay to basketball, make dinner, pack school lunches and make 2 dozen cupcakes for the school.

It was worth it, though.

Now: does anyone out there know how you can get a 6-foot long part for an American-spec Honda shipped to Amman? I'm thinking Father's Day....

Friday, February 25, 2011

Current Events (Or Why We Deserve This Pay Cut)

My blog pal Shannon, famous across the blogosphere for her homemade ricotta cheese and bug-eating boys, has volunteered to host the RoundUp again. (And can I please get an expert opinion here? Is it "Roundup"? "Round Up"? Or maybe "Round-up"? I'm going with RoundUp for now, but I'm thinking Zoe's background as an editor might give her the authority to make our final decision.)

Anyhoo, Shannon has chosen current events for her theme. She wants us to talk about how current events might be affecting us at post. Connie already wrote about the crazy sonic-boom-thingies that we were hearing here in Amman. I'm pretty sure Amy's got the earthquake covered, and the Sherwoods have a lock on evacuation this week.

Here in Jordan, I'm hearing much talk about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers, so that's going to have to be my angle.

In a nutshell: our pay is on the line. Life After Jerusalem and several other bloggers covered the details, which amount to this: Foreign Service officers currently have to take a steep pay cut when they move from DC to their overseas posts, due to something called "locality pay." Several years ago, when the powers-that-be were convinced this was a problem (why should I move to Yemen, or Libya, or Beijing, or really anywhere, if I'm going to make 25 cents on the dollar more to stay in DC?), they moved to phase in overseas locality pay so that this disparity would disappear over time. But now, led by Mr. Reed, some of our politicians have decided to call this an "automatic pay raise," and they want to do away with it. Only for State Department employees, mind you: other agencies overseas get this locality pay, and no one's talking about touching it. LAJ, did I get my facts right here?

Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here's what I think: This is all your fault.

Seriously. Your. Fault.

And here's why.

Whenever Mr. or Ms. Important Politician decides to come to post, you all leap to help out. I've seen this happen at every single post where I've lived. You get a cable that Congressperson So-And-So is coming next week. It's probably a national holiday. Or a weekend. But they're coming. They're flying in business class, and when they arrive, you scramble to meet them. With a motorcade. You take them to meetings with other important people at your post. You sit at their fancy dinners at the Foreign Minister's palace so you can take notes. After you drop them off for the night at their fancy hotels downtown, you slog back to the Embassy to write your cables before making the long trek back to your home in the suburbs somewhere. You kiss your sleeping kids, argue with your spouse about why you couldn't come with her to her doctor's appointment (she doesn't speak the language well, but you do). Then you go to bed.

You wake up before dawn so you can get back to the Embassy and pull cables for the congressperson, who needs to be up on the news as she breakfasts in her hotel. And then you set off for another day in motorcades, running from meetings to lunches to parties to concerts, ignoring the calls from your kids' school, because you know your spouse has that covered and you don't even have time to eat.

While you're doing this, someone else at the Embassy is taking the congressperson's spouse shopping for pearls, and then maybe to a fancy lunch at a local hotspot. It could be the CLO; it could be your wife. But someone is out sightseeing with the congressperson's hangers-on. Maybe a quick visit to the Great Wall, or Petra, or the pyramids. This could be a weekday, or it could be a weekend. Either way, whoever is taking these folks out has cobbled together extra childcare and cancelled that dentist appointment in order to be available.

The visit is over, and the motorcade races to the airport, where Important Person waits in the VIP lounge. Even after Important Person takes that business class ticket and boards the plane, you still sit, and wait. You wait until wheels-up, because that's what you do.

You go home. You brush your teeth. If your kids are awake, you apologize for missing their school concert, or their teacher conference, or their birthday. You promise to do better. You eat a bowl of cereal over the sink and you think about all of the catching up you have to do back in the office tomorrow. You know you'll be late at work again, and you don't quite know how to make it up to your spouse. Your feet hurt from standing all day, and your ears hurt from being chewed out by some congressional aide who insisted on carrying classified information back to the hotel and didn't understand why you couldn't let him.

Meanwhile, Important Politician stretches out in his business class seat and listens to his wife talk about the pearls! And the silk scarves! And the amazing food! And IP thinks back to that Foreign Service Officer he just met. And he thinks: what a great life that guy has! He goes to parties at the President's mansion. He drinks fancy wine. He drives around in air conditioned motorcades, with people saluting him as he walks into government buildings. He goes hiking - in the middle of a work day, even! - on the Great Wall. What a cushy life he leads, thinks Important Politician.

So you see, all you Foreign Service Officers out there, it's your fault all of these congresspeople think you deserve a pay cut. They have no idea what work you put into that recent visit. They don't know what you just gave up in order to make sure their visit was a success. They don't understand that your life isn't all cocktail parties interspersed with awesome trips to exotic locations. They don't know that you live in a place where your every move is recorded. Or maybe you live in a place where the locals want you dead. Or you live in a place where your baby has nightmares from the malaria medication. Or your spouse isn't allowed to work because the host government forbids it. Or maybe you're black, and the locals don't like black people. Or maybe you're gay, and that's a punishable offense in your host country. Or you're a woman, so you have to cover up when you walk outside. Or the signs are all in Arabic, so every time you leave the house, you're lost, and you can't ask for directions. Or maybe you went permanently deaf in one ear while you were serving in a country without proper medical care. Important Politician didn't see any of this from the window of the Prime Minister's residence.

And the truth is, maybe you'd do all of this work even if they cut your pay in half, because it's important, and it's challenging, and you love what you do, despite the obstacles. If they had to tighten belts across the board, if they had to reduce everyone's pay, in every single agency, you'd probably accept that, because you want what's best for your country - heck, I think you've proven that already just by being here, in Country X.

But they don't get it, these Important People. They don't know just how hard you work for them, and for your country, because when they show up at your post for a long weekend in December, you work your asses off and not a one of you ever tells them you need to go to your daughter's Christmas pageant, or you need to help your spouse find wrapping paper, or you need to get your sick kid to the doctor. You don't even point out that you're working weekends for these people. You just do the work you're supposed to do, regardless of the weather, the date, the personal sacrifice.

And so they don't know, even when they should, and they just see an easy way to cut some money from the budget that won't impact their constituents. When they make these financial calculations, they don't even see your faces.

How can we change this?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Choice

I met him back in grad school and he was just the cutest guy ever. He was also, even then, a better person than me - hard-working, churchgoing, marathon-running.... the list goes on. One example: it used to drive me crazy that some of the other grad students cheated on tests. Seriously? Grad students should know better. But he was quite complacent about it, pointing out what I tell my kids all the time now: you can't control what other people do, so worry about your own performance, and things will happen as they should. Even now, when I get all high-on-the-horse about something, he brings his own more grounded approach to the situation. I was gossiping about some hideous kid at our last post, and he refused to hop on board. He merely mused "I wonder what they say about our kids when we're not around?"

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm one of those lucky gals who married out of my league. I chose wisely, and I'm grateful every day for my choice. I'm a better person today because I married him.

Happy Birthday, z.

Small World

I read a lot of blogs. Mostly foreign service blogs, it seems, when I look at my reader. Which is why I have friends, some of whom I've never met, in half of the countries around the world.

And so it happens that one of my blogging buddies was in Christchurch, standing right in front of the cathedral that collapsed, just at the moment that the earthquake struck on February 22nd. She's written a frightening, goosebump-raising account of what happened.

Another friend, currently in Chinese classes at FSI, has just written an excellent post about what it's going to mean if Congress moves forward on their plan to cut locality pay for State employees. For my family, it will mean an immediate 15% pay cut. That's no small amount when you're a one-income family living in an expensive city. To hear the rhetoric, it seems our politicians think State Department employees aren't regular, middle-class Americans, and we are somehow leaching off the American public by collecting our pay. I guess they don't know that my husband regularly puts in 12-hour days (in fact, by law, he's required to work at least 10 hours per day). I guess they don't know he works weekends. I guess they don't know that he has literally put his life on the line to keep other Americans safe. I guess they don't care that our whole family works for the government, every day, merely by putting ourselves out there, presenting an American face to a foreign public, even in countries where it might be dangerous to do so.

Anyway, these are just two of the posts I read recently that made me think.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Week

It's Book Week at Kyra's school this week. A local bookstore, Hakawati, has set up shop in the lobby, selling kids books in Arabic and English. One day the students wore pajamas and read books all day. Another day was "grandmother's day," and the grandmothers all came in to read books to the kids. Today a local children's book author, Luma Azar, came in to talk to the kids. Moms and grandmas were invited to listen.

It was thirty minutes of storytelling and singing, all in Arabic. Most of the moms and grandmas participated; I simply tried to smile at the right parts.

Many of the stories were about animals. Funnily enough, I just learned the word for turtle, and I thought at the time, when am I ever going to need this word? Imagine my surprise, then, to find a word I knew, right splat in the middle of all the chatter about bunnies and sheep and birds.

I bought a book and the author autographed it for Kyra. Now I can practice reading with her. Soon I'll be able to read and write the word for turtle, and just imagine how far my world will expand then!

The word for turtle, in case you're all curious now, is "sulhafa" (سلحفاة). Now you, too, can hold a small bit of random Arabic knowledge in your brain.

You're welcome.

Monday, February 21, 2011

All Together Now: "Awwwwww"

Because it's been awhile, I thought I'd share a couple of photos of our hairiest children.

First up: Kiwi, the once-stray cat, makes herself at home in the kitchen. (That's Shay's Science Fair experiment off to the left - the cat seems interested in watching his plants grow.)

And next: Yogi the Giant Schnauzer, getting giant-er by the day.

I usually put Kiwi's food in a dish near the kitchen window, and she trots outside after she eats. One morning I put her food out, then sat with my back to the window to work on my computer.

"Cat!" said Ainsley, pointing behind me.

"Ummm, hmmmm," I replied, distracted.

"Cat!" she said again.

"Yes, the kitty is eating," I responded, without looking up from my work.

"Wrong cat, mama," she said this time.

I looked behind me, and sure enough, there was another cat poking its head through the window, eating the cat chow.

Where was the dog, you ask?

Yes, well, he seems to think that cats are okay, so he didn't say a word about the stray in the kitchen. He chases Kiwi all day long, just because he wants to play. Sometimes she lets him lick her face, other times she hisses and hides under the couch. I guess no one told them they aren't supposed to get along.

P.S. You might be interested in knowing that we have to import Yogi's puppy chow, at a cost of about $100/month. That dog can eat! But it's okay, I'm sure it'll all seem worth it when he graduates from medical school and thanks us for all of our support.

Have a great day everyone!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dead Sea, Round Two

Well, this trip to the Dead Sea was far and away better than the last. Bart was sick, so he almost didn't make it, but at the last minute he decided to pull it together and come with us.

The first afternoon, we sat around the pool and enjoyed temperatures in the low 70s (it's still in the 50s in Amman, just 45 minutes away). We watched the girls swim while the boys played football with friends.

It seems half of the Embassy turned up at the Dead Sea Marriott on Saturday afternoon. Kyra's friend Ashlee was there, and she met a couple of new friends as well. Shay and Aidan found their friends Scott, Sarah, Mohammed, Yousef, Hannah, Colin, Andrew, William, Chloe.... there were more than that, even, all playing football on the lawn above the Dead Sea. The kids all stayed away from one section of the resort, though: one of the kids apparently spotted the school principal hanging out over there, and nothing clears a room of vacationing kids quite like a school administrator sighting.

When evening fell, the kids all met up in one of the hotel rooms and played computer games while the adults went to dinner. When I snuck back to check on the kids, I was amazed at how well they were all behaving. We didn't stay late at dinner: Kyra and Ainsley were with us, not with the kids, and after a full day of swimming they were exhausted. We split a 2nd room with another family, and our boys slept there with their son - the boys were thrilled to have a sleepover in a hotel room, even if they were right next door to their parents. In the morning, they chose to go to breakfast with the other family, so even though we were at a nearby table, it was quiet and peaceful at our table, with just the two girls to monitor.

This morning we awoke to a cold wind and a nasty dust storm. The kids didn't want to leave, though, so we let the girls hang at the hotel playground while the boys played with their friends. It was so windy that the Sea had some serious whitecaps. The air was brown with dust, but it still reminded me of a fall day on the beach in California. I was starting to feel homesick until I realized that the waves were blowing sideways, rather than blowing into shore. Not California, after all.

We drove back home through dust and wind and rain. It's been pouring here in Amman all afternoon, which means the family room is flooded - when it rains hard, we can't keep the water out.

The kids are all asleep, hopefully dreaming good dreams about their weekend. Me? I'm so pleased it wasn't a disaster like the last trip. But of course, we'll never be able to take a vacation again without their posse of friends.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

And We're Off!

Things are getting crazier and crazier in the Middle East. I was sitting in the Embassy cafeteria on Thursday, and every time I looked up from my book, there was a new image of rioters on the television, but each time a different city was listed on the screen. Very unsettling.

To my friends Jen and Drew - stay safe over there in Bahrain. I also have a friend in Yemen, friends in Baghdad, blog friends in Saudi, Bahrain, Tripoli and Jerusalem, and real life friends on their way to Abu Dhabi (my blog pals in Cairo and Tunis are long gone). So you can see I have a personal stake in the safety of the entire region. Our Jordanian protests made CNN yesterday, but all was quiet in my neighborhood. Take that back: all was quiet except for the gunfire. I believe it was just "celebrate your kid's good exam grades gunfire," which as everyone knows isn't technically dangerous. Unless, of course, you're underneath the bullet as gravity kicks in.

Don't know if today will be quiet, though - the United States just vetoed a UN resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal, and I can't imagine my Palestinian neighbors are going to be happy about that. Since I'm a Foreign Service spouse, and my blog isn't anonymous, I won't be telling you what I think about that.

Instead, let me say that we're going back to the ER today for a follow-up visit for Shay's arm, but I think it should be fine, given the fact that I can't get him to stop throwing his football. I'm guessing the pain is gone.

After that, we're going down to the Dead Sea for a very last-minute overnight stay. That is, if my husband wakes up feeling better than he did yesterday.

Back soon with pictures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Changing My Blog Name

I have a friend from grad school days who wrote to me recently. This friend wishes to remain anonymous, and so I'll call him, let's see, "Jim Dentistman."

Anyway, Jim had a great suggestion. He thinks I should consider changing the name of this here blog to "Email From the Emergency Room."

Yes, well, perhaps Jim is right. My kids spent an inordinate amount of time the other evening calculating who'd had the most ER visits, on the most continents. Aidan was disappointed to learn that he's the only kid in the family who hasn't been to the ER in Amman (yet) (knock on wood) (but not with your forehead), but when I pointed out that he has the lifetime hospitalization record, he seemed satisfied. For now.

We've had ER visits in Jordan, China and Russia. We've had emergencies in countries without emergency rooms, so we've gone to the Embassy clinic instead (that'd be our accidental overdose in Kazakhstan). No emergencies I can think of in Armenia for some reason, though we did have to leave the country to seek medical attention at one point. We've been in ambulances in China and Finland. We've even been on an air ambulance - trust me when I say you never want to do that. Further trust me when I say you should never, ever, ever travel without medical evacuation insurance - that little trip was 60K for the airplane alone.

Let's see: surgeries in Moscow and Helsinki, California and Virginia. MRIs in Hong Kong, Washington DC and Beijing. Ripped off toenails in Amman and Scranton, Pennsylvania. Blood work in London and DC. Babies in 4 cities and 2 countries. Ultrasounds on almost every continent.

And that's just what I can remember. I've blocked out the really bad stuff.

So I'm thinking Jim might be on to something here. Email From The Emergency Room, indeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jordanian Emergency Room Visit #3

Today, you get two posts for the price of one.

We had approximately one zillion kids playing at our house this afternoon - it was a national holiday, and the kids had to go somewhere. Just as two parents came to pick up some kids, and Bart was leaving to take more of them to basketball practice, Shay chased down a football, tripped, and landed hard on his elbow.

I propped him on the couch with an ice pack, but he kept getting more and more uncomfortable. The arm didn't look swollen, but he couldn't move it at all.

As soon as Bart returned from basketball with Aidan, Shay and I headed out to the Arab Medical Center ER, where we were met by the orthopedic surgeon. Nice guy, spotless English - he took us off for x-rays, and a team of folks muttered over the x-rays in Arabic before deciding that the arm is not broken. It looks as though Shay tore some ligaments, though.

So now, we're $150 poorer. Shay has his right arm in a sling, and he's banned from sports at least until Saturday, when we'll go back for a follow-up visit.

Some people will do anything to get out of studying for a spelling test.

Happy Prophet Mohammed's Birthday, everyone!


Bad things happen to good people. Kids get sick. Men cheat. Cars crash, and parents die.

I get that, I really do. I've seen too many people, in the Foreign Service and out, going through awful, awful things, things that would probably break me.

People ask me, is it hard to be away from your family? And the truth is, it usually isn't. Because you're so busy living your day-to-day life that it doesn't occur to you, most days, that the people who love you are all very far away.

But sometimes, just sometimes, this Foreign Service thing sucks. When bad things happen to far-away loved ones, this Foreign Service thing can seem like a Really Bad Idea.

I have a dear friend - one of my best, most lifelong friends, who went through a divorce awhile back. It was a typical story: her husband, who seemed like such a good guy, just up and decided one winter day that he didn't want to be married. So he left. He abandoned her, and he abandoned her baby. He forgot to mention at the time that he was leaving for someone else, someone he'd casually knocked up.

Up until then, they'd had the marriage that everyone else envied. They'd seemed happy, and comfortable, and loved. When he walked away, with no warning, you can imagine how she felt. I can imagine how she felt. What I didn't reckon on was how I'd feel.

Here's one of the people I love most in the world, being hurt so carelessly by one of the people she loved most in the world. And I was beyond angry. Still am. I ran into the guy when I was in the States last summer, and I wanted to drive a stake through his heart. He just chattered on as if everything was normal, as if hadn't just been unmasked for a fraud, a liar and a cheat. Oh, I was angry.

But I had to leave my friend behind. I moved here, to Jordan, and left her still reeling, still trying to clean up the mess he'd made of her life. When we talk, now, I get angry all over again. And I wish I could be there for her, not just via phone and internet, but in real life. I wish we could just hang out over coffee and talk about what a jerk he is, how much better off she is without him. I wish we could talk about other things, too - just leave him behind and talk about important stuff, fun stuff.

And I hate that I'm here and she's there, and there isn't anything I can do to help, and there isn't any stake I can drive through his heart, and there aren't any jokes I can tell, or coffees I can buy, to help her through this.

I was talking to an RSO friend over lunch today, and I mentioned this feeling of helplessness I have in this situation. My friend said something important. She said that she tries to do good things here, for her Foreign Service "family" at post, because if she can't be there for her real family, she needs be here, doing things that make a positive difference for the family she's building in Amman. She's right: overseas, we band together and make our own families, so we have someone to take care of, to bicker with, to worry over. That's the only thing that gets us through the rough patches.

All the same, it's hard to be far away when loved ones need you. I hope my friend back home knows that she isn't alone, that I pray for her every day, and wish everything good for her, every day. Still, I wish I were there with her.

Really, truly there.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It Only Took 3 1/2 Years...

Hey, lookee there!

Can you see it over there, over to the right of this post?

I made it to 100 followers!

(and it only took 3 1/2 years to do it.)

Does that mean I'll have 200 followers in 2014 or so?


Lots to say, no time to say it. It's 10:15 p.m. and I haven't even started my Arabic homework. Also, I'm sick. As are both girls. Neither of whom is asleep yet.

I spent hours today driving kids all over Amman: to church school, to science fair team meeting, to basketball practice.... Thankfully, Amman is relatively small, so even when you're stuck in traffic (at the same light, for the 6th time today!), it's hard to work up any serious anger about it. Plus, I've found that there are jerky drivers here, but none so bad as Beijingers. After a mere five minutes on the road in Beijing, you'll have a serious case of road rage. Here, not so much. Actually, I'm probably driving worse than the locals these days, because I keep trying to read signs in Arabic and forgetting to focus on the road.

What else?

I got the loveliest email the other day from a woman who reads my blog and wanted to pay me some compliments on it. I've never met her, but did she ever make my day. I was in the grumpiest mood ever, and her email cheered me right up. You all should try emailing someone a few kind words out of the blue. I'm going to do it myself. I figure, if she made me that happy, the least I can do is pass it along, right? In other news, someone I know in real life described me as "intimidating," which I am choosing to believe is a compliment. But I am the furthest thing from intimidating you could imagine, so it cracked me right up.

I also got a care package in the mail from my parents last week! In addition to the barley I requested (for some reason you can't buy it here), they sent supplies for sushi making. Do I have great parents or what? So Aidan and I spent the afternoon rolling sushi. It made for a delicious dinner, even if we all ate at different times: Bart and Aidan ate after church; the rest of us ate after basketball. The whole concept of family dinner time went right out the window when basketball season started: between 2 boys we have 4 nights of basketball every week. It's killing me.

And with that, I'm off to down some decongestants and try to dream a bit.

Special thanks to my hundredth follower. Is it you, Sarah? You're all the way at the top left, so I think it must be you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

SuperBowl Sunday [Night]

I'm really not into football, but I seem to be raising two boys who are obsessed with it, which is how I knew last Sunday was SuperBowl Sunday.

Here's the thing about the SuperBowl: it's an all-day event in the States. Overseas, however, it's all night. Here in Amman, they threw a party at the Embassy for those who wished to come in and watch together, with breakfast served at 4 a.m. (I believe kick-off was at around 1:30 a.m., local time.)

No. Thank. You.

I told Shay he could set his alarm and get up to watch it here at home. I half-believed he would sleep through his alarm, but no: he made it through the whole show. And then I survived his play-by-play account, beginning at 6 a.m. Monday morning.

Here's something you maybe didn't know. We watch American television overseas through AFN, the Defense Department's television network. We can watch many of the same shows you watch back home, albeit at odd hours, and - get this - without commercials!

The Department of Defense has worked out some sort of deal where they can show current programming as long as they cut out the commercials, so instead, they make their own commercials, which are pretty uniformly awful.

Actually, some of the spots are interesting - they might talk about a specific moment in military history, or have a "Guess this Capital" type spot. Others are on topics such as motorcycle safety, suicide prevention or the perils of smokeless tobacco. All are low-budget monstrosities.

Maybe you didn't know this about me, but after grad school, I spent my pre-Foreign Service years working at an advertising agency. The agency I worked for always has several spots in the SuperBowl, as it's one of the biggest agencies worldwide. So I know from ads. And these spots make me crazy! Though I have to admit, it's gotten better since they've stopped showing those awful World War II reenactments during Dora the Explorer. One minute, your 2-year-old was watching Swiper swipe something, and the next, she stared gape-mouthed as a Marine used his last breaths on this earth to empty his weapon into a group of oncoming enemy soldiers, thereby earning himself a posthumous Medal of Honor. Parents complained about the awful juxtaposition for years. Now, they save the gory stuff for the other channels.

There is absolutely no purpose to this post, except that I happened to be reading Advertising Age Magazine this morning, and it mentioned that there was one ad made this year specifically for AFN, and specifically for the SuperBowl. It occurred to me that some of you might not know about our peculiar overseas television situation.

So there you have it: The SuperBowl is over, the green team won, and there was no reason to watch it without the commercials. Especially not at 2 in the morning.

But try telling that to a 10-year-old.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rolling Rs

Big day in Arabic today: I learned three new swear words. (Shukran, Ghadeer!)

Turns out, if you can't roll your "r"s, there are some words you need to avoid saying. I can roll the r, thank goodness, but the only other remaining student in my class cannot. (Yes, everyone else left the class for a variety of reasons. We're like a bad reality show: just two of us left standing. She's waaay better than me, but I'm determined to try to keep up the pace.)

Let's see, what else?

Aidan is home sick: I got a call from the nurse's office that he was throwing up. So I brought him home to vomit on my floor instead of theirs. He's asleep now, and I'm hoping when he wakes up, whatever it is he's gotten will have worked its way through his system.

Either way, it's terrible timing. I am scheduled to go to both boys' classrooms tomorrow to talk about what a real-life writer does all day (other than cleaning up vomit, obviously). So now Aidan's going to miss my talk.

Wish me luck. What does a real-life writer do all day, anyway?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Arabic Tests

I get frustrated when my kids come home from Arabic classes and they still can't even count to ten much of the time. But then I remember: I keep mixing up six and seven, eleven and twelve. (sitta, sabaa, ihdash, ithnash.... I challenge you to get these right every time!)

Last night after dinner, Shay casually mentioned that he has an Arabic test today, but no worries, he knows it all.

I might have hit the roof on that one. Hello? Where are your study sheets? As far as I can tell, you don't even remember the difference between six and seven. I never see you reviewing the work. You don't bring your workbooks home, so who would even know? On and on I went.

He insisted he was ready. The quiz is on the days of the week (which I know), the months (which I've seen) and the seasons (which, ummm, maybe I need to study more myself). He then proceeded to rattle off the days, months and seasons, faultlessly (okay, I'm not sure about the seasons, but the one I recognized sounded right).

My jaw dropped and I congratulated him.

Then I asked him to count to ten, and once again, he got stuck on six. But I decided to let it slide.

This morning, he was outside waiting for the bus, and I saw him strike up a conversation with "our" policeman (we have a rotating cast of big guys with big guns outside our house - feeling better, mom?). Most of the guards with whom I've spoken don't know much, if any, English, so I wondered: is Shay speaking Arabic to the guy? I so wanted to know, but I knew if I went out to listen, they'd stop talking and the guard would go back to, well, guarding.

Guess I'll have to wait until he gets home from school to find out.

Meanwhile, for those of you who might be interested, here's an article about what, exactly, the U.S. Embassy does during a crisis like the one in Egypt right now.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


When I started blogging, the only people who read this were relatives, so I didn't have to worry about what was appropriate to post and what wasn't. Now, I can see from my stats page that people across the globe read this - not tons of people, mind you, but these are clearly people I don't know. I also see that I have quite a few readers here in Amman.

Because of this, I struggle sometimes with what's okay to write about. I don't want to invade anyone else's privacy with any of my stories. But some stories cry out to be told.

That said, I need to write this down, because it's eating me alive. If there is anyone out there reading who is somehow involved in these stories and doesn't like what they're reading, please, contact me and I'll edit this post accordingly.

We've had all sorts of medical stories coming home from school with the boys. First there was the kid who fractured his arm when he was walking backwards and tripped. Then it was head lice in one son's class. Last week, the school sent home a message saying a case of H1N1 had been diagnosed in my son's class. I wondered: Could it get any worse?

Yes. Yes, it could. It did.

When Aidan came home and told me that one of his friends left Jordan "for a long time" to see the doctor, I just shrugged it off. Kids leave all the time, for consults or surgeries or even dental issues, and they usually reappear eventually. Besides, "a long time" could mean anything from a week to a year when you're a kid.

But a few days later, he came home talking of how they wrote notes to his friend during class.

And then yesterday, he came home with his big brother, who told me the teachers explained that the boy will "have to take medicine for six months, and his hair will fall out, and then he'll come back to school."

He has cancer.

And he's only seven tiny years old.

This clearly isn't my story to tell. I don't know the parents, though I know of them. I know the boy through the stories Aidan tells of their playground adventures. He's a beautiful big-eyed boy, and his whole world has just changed.

The family left post in search of treatment, leaving behind kids who want to know what cancer is, and parents who want to cover our ears and pretend we never heard this tale.

Having a sick child is even worse when you're overseas. Because, you understand, you have to leave home to try to find help for your baby. And you have to leave your job. When we were posted in Kazakhstan and Aidan got sick, we left, and we never went back. Bart was lucky that he works for the USG, because he knew he'd be able to keep his job, if not his assignment. A sick child in the Foreign Service changes everything - you can't bid on the same jobs, which affects your promotability. You have to cobble together sick leave, or family leave, or vacation days, while you try to figure out what's going to happen. You have to take whatever assignment they offer - usually nothing good, because those positions were all filled during bidding. If the child is sick enough, you can't go anywhere at all - for awhile Aidan was "Class V," which meant he - and we - couldn't leave the States. So you have no home, no job, no routine, and usually, no support network of friends in this awful new place where you've landed.

This family isn't Foreign Service, so I don't know what happens to their jobs. Hopefully the jobs - and the accompanying health insurance - stay while they are gone. But I know they must be thinking about their future, both in terms of their son's health and in terms of their careers.

I've known so many parents who've faced tragedy overseas. Friends have lost babies at birth, or watched as their kids had life-saving heart surgery, or brain surgery. I've known kids who've been misdiagnosed because of poor medical care at post, losing valuable time to fight their illnesses.

But I cannot - cannot - come to grips with this. From everything I've seen and heard, this boy is a sweet-tempered, smart, friendly little guy, and I just ache for his family, having to go through this.

So - pray hard for the family, please. Pray for their son, that he does, indeed, emerge from the other end of this healthy, and whole, and back again playing with his friends at school. With or without his hair - but definitely without his cancer.

Please. Write your own stuff.