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.
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