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?


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


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.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Girls' First Day of School

Sorry I've been offline.

You know the saying: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, and I've been generally grumpy over the past few weeks. Small stuff, like someone here at post who is driving me INSANE with annoyance, and big stuff, like trying to figure out why some State bloggers are allowed to blog, while others are, shall we say, vigorously discouraged. Mix it all together with an unhealthy dose of mid-life, mid-post crisis, and there you have it.

So allow me my moment of silence, and I'm sure I'll be back with some cheery stories soon.

Meanwhile, I had to share the traditional first day of school photos.

Today was the first day for the girls: Kyra is in kindergarten (yikes!) and Ainsley is finally in pre-school. I say finally because all last year she begged to be allowed to go to school with her sister. She even learned the school song ("We are little but the world is in the palm of our hand./ Hand in hand we walk,/ hand in hand we stand./ We will reach for the sky/ taking small, tiny steps..." and so on).

So now it's here, and she's finally in school. Other kids cried and clung to their mothers. She ran straight into the froggie classroom and threw her arms around the teacher - whom she's met just once - giving her a bear hug.

Tomorrow the boys start up. So tomorrow morning will be frantic, with missing shoes and half-eaten breakfasts and where the heck is the bus anyway and you already have braids you don't need pigtails and Put On Your Shoes NOW the bus is here!

For tonight, though, I'm enjoying these pictures of my babies.

Please. Write your own stuff.