Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's Been Awhile...

I know, I know: I'm neglecting this little blog of mine.

But my parents are here, as you know, and they're running me ragged. We've been to the baptism site and Jerash. We've been through a protest, albeit accidentally ("Look, mom and dad! Guys with banners and guns hanging out of trucks! Welcome to Jordan!"). We've been to the school Talent Show, at which Shay juggled. We've been to Mt. Nebo, Madaba and Rainbow Street. We've eaten more falafel than I can possibly count. We're leaving shortly for Petra and Aqaba, then back again briefly for an Arabic cooking class before driving to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

I'll be back soon with pictures and loads of witty anecdotes, I promise.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baptism Site

I took my kids and my parents to the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ this past weekend. Bart didn't accompany us, because as you might imagine, he was rather busy at work. Here we've been reassuring my parents that "everything's fine in Jordan!", and the day after they arrive things take a turn for the worse. Sorry, mom and dad. Our bad!

Anyway, they're here, so we're going to see what we can and eat all the middle eastern food we can find. Hence our weekend jaunt to the baptism site, just north of the Dead Sea, near the town of Bethany.

On our way down toward the Dead Sea, we encountered a convoy of buses going the other way, with banners and flags and men hanging out of windows. Turns out they were heading toward the protests, while we were going in the opposite direction.

This visit was much nicer than the first, back in September. Back then it was well over 100 degrees and painful just to breathe. This time around, the high was 67 degrees. And there were no flies!

We took a few pictures just to prove to the relatives that my parents did, indeed, make the arduous journey to Amman. Here they are, in no particular order.

That's the Israeli flag. And we don't have much of a zoom lens on our camera.

I've saved the best for last: Here are the girls, baptizing the new Barbie dolls their grandparents gave them, right there in the River Jordan. It was a solemn moment.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


My parents flew into town couple of days ago, and this is what unfolded shortly after their arrival.

Needless to say, my husband has been a bit busy at work, and we've all been busy showing them around.

More from me later...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

No, I'm not a month ahead of myself.

Yesterday was Mother's Day here in Jordan, which means I get to celebrate it twice this year!

All day long, random people emailed and texted to wish me a Happy Mother's Day. And my kids all made Mother's Day cards at school, too.

Coincidentally, Connie chose "arts n crafts" as her suggested RoundUp topic. I groaned when I saw that. Seriously, Connie? Couldn't you give me something easy, like "Today's Trip to the Emergency Room," or "Stupid Things I Said in Arabic This Week"?

But it all worked out in the end, because I have some crafty things to show you, after all. Just not mine.

So without further ado, I present.... My Mother's Day cards:

In case you were hoping for a closer look, here's Aidan's card. And no, Twinings Tea is not (yet) a proud sponsor of this blog (though considering the sheer number of their products I consume before noon each day, maybe they should be).

Why tea? I'm glad you asked. Here's the note inside:

("Here's a gift for Mother's Day.
I'll try my best in every way.
But when you get upset with me,
Relax and have a cup of tea.

Shay went for the more traditional crumpled-tissue-paper-faux-rose design.

And inside, his loving ode to his wonderful mother:

("Happy Mother's Day! I hope Yogi doesn't ruin it!")

Tragically, my husband is out-of-country - so no chocolate or roses or massages for me. Oh, well - there's always another Mother's Day in May.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guess Who's Back?

That's right, Reda the boab returned to Amman a few hours ago.

You might recall that he left for an extended trip home in January. In his case, home is Egypt, and within days of his arrival, the whole country fell apart. I am fairly certain the two events were unconnected, but we won't find out for sure until I figure out enough Arabic words to ask him if he climbed on any tanks while he was there.

I did manage to ask, in Arabic, how his family was. And I told him we watched Egypt on TV, and we were worried about him. He reassured me that in the town where his family lives, all was fairly quiet. He even told me my Arabic is now "kowayyes," which translates roughly to "gee, your arabic still sucks, but not quite as bad as it used to!" So there's that.

The girls were thrilled to see him, and immediately decided to use him once again as their own personal jungle gym.

I predict the poor guy is going to need another vacation from our family within a month.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Foreign Service - A Kid's Eye View

I think I just found Foreign Service blog #399, which means I am this close to winning that prize from Hannah over at a slow move east.

Hannah, meet Hannah.

Hannah is a lovely young woman here at post who recently decided that the world needs another Foreign Service blog.

But hers is different. You see, she's a Foreign Service kid. As far as I know, there are only a couple other diplokids blogging about their experiences. But theirs is an important perspective. I know a lot of FS parents who wonder what we're doing to our kids by packing them up and shipping them around the world every few years. Through blogs like Hannah's, we have an opportunity to get input from one of those kids.

Please stop by her blog to welcome her to the blogosphere. And if you have any ideas for topics you'd like her to address, toss 'em her way. She's a smart, articulate and classy young writer. I think she might have something to teach us all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring in Umm Qais

Our fabulous CLO organized a trip to Umm Qais last weekend.

Religious folk amongst my readers might know it as the likely place where Jesus drove the demons from a man into a herd of swine, who then rushed oinkily down the hill, plunging to their deaths in the Sea of Galilee. I was hoping Jesus might see fit to drive a few demons out of my kids, but no - I believe, given events of this week thus far, that he might even have driven a few extra demons into my littlest angel, who has apparently decided that her last few months in the Terrible Twos ought to be worthy of the title.

But I digress.

It was a beautiful day, with green grass and spring flowers and blue skies and floaty white clouds and rocks.

Lots and lots of rocks.

And as 11-year-olds across the globe know, rocks are boring.

Of course, if you put 15 kids together on a site full of ancient Roman rocks, eventually they will discover that they can climb them.

Or throw them. Or jump off them. Or even find a few that are in the shape of a bridge, which they will then scale, sitting on the very edge as their terrified parents look on.

And heaven forbid they find that they can scale the back of a few and end up on the roof of a building (yep, that'd be Aidan in the middle up there).

It was a beautiful site, full of history for the historically inclined.

And have I mentioned the rocks?

Those are my three beautiful boys. All together now: awwwww. Behind them is the Sea of Galilee. Or Lake Tiberius. And the Syrian border. That's the Golan Heights back there, too. Go ahead and google it if you have time - I'm not even going to get into who owns what and who thinks they own it and who used to own it and so on.

Somebody famous was buried down there in that crypt. Maybe two somebodies, even. I'm not sure: instead of reading the sign, I was trying to persuade somebody else's kid not to jump off the wall. It was nice, for a change, to see other people's kids doing crazy stuff. It's apparently not just my kids who think of these things.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few more pictures of rocks. Roman rocks. Enjoy...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Post Housing: A Personal History

It seems like all I ever do these days is link to Shannon. But once again, she is hosting the RoundUp. This week's topic is housing in the Foreign Service: the good, the bad, the downright peculiar.

So I'm going to start with our second post, Armenia, where we had a beee-yew-tiful house. Hand-laid parquet floors, crystal chandeliers - I seriously worried when I saw it that they thought maybe we were the Ambassador or something.

But then I looked closer.

For starters, the kitchen was about the size of a large desk. It had a sink and a stove. About two feet of counter space. No dishwasher. No garbage disposal. Also: no refrigerator. There wasn't room for a refrigerator in the kitchen, so we had to put it in the entry way. It wasn't the most efficient kitchen space I've ever been in.

Also, there was the little matter of the sauna. Yes: the landlord installed a dry sauna in the basement. It looked like the real deal. But GSO warned us never to try to use it, because it wasn't properly grounded, and was therefore an electrocution risk.

The best thing of all in this house? Well, if you went in the basement, you'd discover a gigantic stone fireplace - useless in the empty basement. Beyond that there was a wooden bookcase. And get this: if you pushed on the corner of the bookcase, it would swing around to reveal a secret room. Just like an old episode of Scooby Doo.

I loved that bizarre house, with its gigantic generator in the front yard and the boarded up fountain/pool/whatever in the back. We had a pomegranate tree, grape vines and the most wonderful Armenian neighbors you could imagine.

On to Kazakhstan, where we landed and were told we'd be in temporary housing because our house "wasn't built yet." I expected a loooong wait in the temporary apartment, but the house went up fairly quickly - and shoddily, too. Again, the landlord went to great lengths to fancy it up, with heated floors in the kitchen and entry. But he skimped on the pieces that no one could see, which is why one fine day the drain in the upstairs shower failed, sending water cascading inside the walls until it reached the circuit breaker, which broke. There was a gigantic exploding POP! before the lights went out. And we were without a shower for some time, as it had to be removed and re-worked.

But the view from the kitchen window made up for all of that. If I looked past the Korean Ambassador's residence - he lived directly across the street - past his gigantic Korean flag, past the trash burning in the vacant lot beside his house, I had a direct view to the snow-capped Alatau mountain range. I didn't even mind washing dishes when I could watch the sun make its way across that range.

And then there was Beijing. The paint was white, locally produced, and if you scrubbed at a handprint on the wall, the paint would come off, but the handprint remained. The ceiling in the garage fell on me one afternoon when I was folding laundry and a pipe in the ceiling burst. I didn't find out until I'd been there for two years that the windows in the sunroom didn't actually lock (so that's how they got in!). My master bathroom had TWO baths, one of which grew black mold at a feverish pace, while the other wasn't tiled over, so was just for show. Bonus: there was a chandelier directly over my bed that consisted entirely of naked brass mermaids holding fishing rods. Why, oh why, did I not take a picture of that chandelier? No one believes me now. (But I can't wait to see the google searches that bring people to this post...)

To be entirely fair, the house was big and comfy, and the neighborhood was terrific, if you didn't mind having guards watching your every move and writing it all down in their little books every time you stepped in or out of your own house.

I won't complain about our apartment in Amman. Sure, there are things I would change if I could. But I'm happy here, and my family is happy here, so even though I don't have a secret room tucked behind a bookcase, or a view from my kitchen window, or a naked mermaid chandelier (not one naked mermaid in the entire house! I've searched high and low!), I can't complain.

Through all of these moves, we continue to make payments on our oh-so-small townhouse in Virginia, so that the kids have a place to call "home," even if we never return to it.

I wonder if I can find a secret-bookcase-installer in Virginia?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Future Card

I've never been the sort to make New Year's resolutions, at least not out loud.

So why am I doing this? I decided to copy my friend Laura F. and give up Facebook for Lent. That's right: I even deactivated my account, so I wouldn't be tempted to take a peek.

There's no big reason, really. I just figured I could spend those minutes during the day more productively. I have a couple of Lenten goals for that re-gained time. Do you want to hear them? No? Well, then go find yourself another blog to read.

First: I'm going to spend more time each and every day working with that beast of a dog, Yogi the Giant Schnauzer. He's getting quite big, and while he's very smart, he's also stubborn. He knows sit, stay, down and shake. But he hates to heel, and he hates to come when I call him. So I need to spend more time getting him to understand that I'm in charge of the leash. Expected bonus: if I keep him busy, it's less likely that he'll notice the hose in the back yard, decide to play tug-of-war with it, and pull the entire length of metal pipe out of the wall, causing the boab to call the Embassy's emergency maintenance people to our house early one morning.

Not, of course, that Yogi has ever done such a thing. Ahem.

Also, I plan to spend a bit of extra time writing instead of reading. I haven't submitted a thing for publication since I moved to Jordan, because I've been busy getting settled in and working on private writing projects. It's time to get back into the groove and see if I can get my name back out there.

Now, I didn't spend all that much time on Facebook. So it's not as if I'll end this experiment with a perfectly trained dog and a published novel to my name. But I figure: Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection, so it would be good to look inward and reflect on where I'm going.

Shay was looking at baseball cards this morning, and he said one of them was called a "Future Card."

I asked what that meant, and he said that it imagines the player in the future, and it gives you the stats for what they should be able to do in the next twenty years.

So I've been thinking about my own Future Card today. What will it say about me?

I'll be thinking on what I want it to say over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, you can reach me through email, phone or this blog.

But not on Facebook.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dead2Red Relay

We drove back to Aqaba this weekend. Well, most of us drove. Bart and Shay ran.

They participated in a race called the Dead2Red Relay. Their team of ten started at the Dead Sea at around 4 pm on Thursday and ran through the night until they reached Aqaba, some 150 miles later.

I wish my husband weren't so tired tonight - I'd make him guest post here and tell you what it was really like. But in true journalist fashion, I interviewed him, and he said it was the hardest race he's ever run. It wasn't his longest race - each team member ran right around 15 miles. But they were sprinting a kilometer at a time, and between turns they sat in the follow car, trying to stay stretched out and awake.

By the time they arrived in Aqaba, they were all exhausted and sore. But think of the poor drivers! They had two vans for their team, and each van had just one driver. Michael drove our car (I went to Aqaba with another family), and he had to drive about 20 hours straight, through the night, no stopping to rest, at about 5 miles an hour. That man deserves a medal. Oh, wait - they all got medals!

I think this will be the experience that Shay will remember most from his entire stay in Jordan. He was thrilled to get to participate with the grown-ups, and he made his daddy very, very proud.

At the starting line, 4 p.m. Thursday.

Shay takes a turn with the Dead Sea in the distance.

Night falls. Shay runs on.

Friday morning in the desert. Still running.

One lone picture proves Bart ran the race, too. (I have pictures of the other teammates, but since I didn't ask their permission, I don't want to post them here.)

A confused bystander cheers on the runners.

At the finish line, Friday at noon.

Back at the hotel, Shay crashed and burned.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Tooth Fairy, At Last

Aidan has been wiggling furiously at one of his upper front teeth, desperate to get that thing out. All of his friends have lost scads of teeth; he only lost two last year, and none at all since second grade started.

He sat at dinner the other night, wiggling the tooth instead of eating. I casually mentioned to Bart that something terrible happened with the Tooth Fairy at a friend's house. It seems their daughter's tooth fell out, but instead of bringing money, the Tooth Fairy left a note saying she couldn't bring any money until the girl started behaving better. Do I have hard-ass friends or what?

Even though the story wasn't directed at the kids, technically speaking, it sure got their attention. Aidan even stopped pulling on the tooth and offered his own moment of silence for this unknown girl who was so brutally mistreated by the Tooth Fairy.

But he was pretty well-behaved for the next hour or so!

I am proud to announce that the tooth finally fell out a few days ago.

And the Tooth Fairy did bring cold hard cash, in the form of two crisp Jordanian Dinars.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Upside of Scatterbraininess

I don't care what spellcheck is telling me: scatterbraininess is too a word.

Tragically, it's a word that describes me all too well these days.

Every morning, before I leave the house, I stand in my kitchen and go over my mental checklist. Embassy badge? Check. Wallet? Check. House keys? Check. Arabic folder? Check. Kyra's lunchbox? Check.

Then I leave the house, closing and locking the door behind me.

And then? Almost every morning, I unlock the door again and go back for something I forgot, like sunglasses or checkbook or scarf. I do this at least once every morning.

At breakfast time, I trot between pouring cereal and looking for matching socks and checking email and feeding the cat and taking Ainsley's toothbrush away from the dog. I'm a multi-tasking monster, but the tasks are so disparate that I get confused sometimes and put the socks into the refrigerator before handing the dog our family's toothbrushes.


Today, though, I discovered the upside to all of this confusion rocketing around in my skull. See, the Embassy is holding a "Walk to Baghdad" event. Starting today, everyone who signed up has to wear a pedometer and measure our steps. We're supposed to walk enough steps to make it all the way to a virtual Baghdad, which is about 1 million steps away.

I signed up, not because it's one more thing to keep track of, but because I'm sort of curious how far I actually walk in a typical day.

I put on my pedometer this morning at 6:30, and when I got to the Embassy (yes, I walked), I saw some friends looking at their pedometers. "I've already gone 300 steps," said one. "I'm at 275," said the other.

And me? I am proud to report that before I even left the house at 8 am, I had already logged 1500 steps as I scoured the house for socks and toothbrushes and sunglasses.

Baghdad, here I come.

With or without clean socks.
Please. Write your own stuff.