Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Week in Links

There are things you just have to see to believe.

Boo, Susan Komen. (Jen says it better than I could.)

I can see the future!

Perhaps the funniest lawyer on the inter webs.

Fabulous writer. Beautiful person. Go buy her book.

Sesame Street? Really?

That's all I've got for today. Back soon with a post I think I'll have to title "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Engagement Ring."

But first I have to figure out how to say "multi-party system," "capital gains tax" and "hard-line, extremist, right-wing republican leadership" in Russian. Among other things.

Back in a flash, no doubt!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

(Insert Sheep Joke Here)

So there we were, Carolyn and I, on Christmas Eve, sneaking out of the house to make a Starbucks run. It was just me and my sis-in-law, who was visiting from Jerusalem - the rest of the family was at the Royal Automobile Museum, and the two of us were supposed to be home wrapping presents. But we figured they'd never find out if we snuck out for an hour.

(Ummm, we figured wrong. Shoulda hidden the coffee cups.)

Along the way, we were comparing Jerusalem and Amman. I live in west Amman, which is actually pretty cosmopolitan - I mean, hey, we have a Starbucks, for goodness sake.

But, I pointed out as we walked, even in my fancy-ish neighborhood, we frequently see kids on donkeys, sheepherders with their flocks and guys on horseback.

Really, she asked? Sheep and donkeys, really?

Really, really, I told her.

We were halfway through a narrow dingy alley as I said this.

Suddenly, we heard the sound of bells directly ahead. At the other entrance of the alley, an entire flock of sheep was approaching. A big flockin' flock, along with several sheepherders, a few dogs and a donkey. Carolyn and I had to squash into a little gateway to avoid being - well, not trampled, exactly, because they were just sheep, after all - but there was definitely not room enough in the alley for all of us.

We couldn't stop laughing at the scene, put there in front of us just as we were in the middle of our livestock discussion. And of course, we both said, never in America. Never would you see such a thing downtown, one block from Starbucks, in a high-end section of a major metropolis.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

QEP: Passed.

That's right. I passed the QEPs. Next up: the Russian language exam and the oral exam.

Go, me.

p.s. It has been brought to my attention by a friend who shall be referred to henceforth only as C.A.L. that my blog has become a bit - how shall I put it?- BORING as of late. Apparently I'm just showing pictures of cute kids and not inserting any witty text or any cliffhangers of any kind.

Cliffhangers, hmmm. Are you ready, C.A.L.? Let's talk Russian test.

If I want to have a shot at getting accepted into the FS (and do I? That's a whole'nother cliffhanger!), I have to prove I can speak Russian. Which, no big deal, because I totally can. Or at least, I could - way back in 2004. Since the last time I've used my Russian, I've studied both Chinese and Arabic. Which means, not that I can speak Chinese and Arabic, but that Chinese and Arabic are taking up valuable brain real estate, and might possibly choose to rear their ugly heads right when I'm trying to decline a masculine noun into the dative plural, or conjugate a past tense verb of motion, or something tricky like that. It's highly probable that, when asked a question about Russian culture, my brain will misfire and I'll start shouting names of vegetables in Chinese.

Also, maybe you'd think I could start studying Russian, or something useful like that? But here I sit, blogging about Chinese vegetable names.

Anyway, that's all to say: if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Or, as they say in Petersburg, que sera, sera.

See what I mean?

Back soon with pictures of my cute kids, just for you and C.A.L.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekend Siteseeing: Umm ar-Rasas and Mukawir

Our fabulous CLOs organized a day trip to Umm ar-Rasas and Mukawir yesterday.

It was a beautiful day: blue skies, cool temperatures... as opposed to today, when is is raining, icing and snowing all at once outside.

Our first stop was Umm ar-Rasas, which is now officially my favorite ancient Roman ruin in all of Jordan: better than Jerash, better than Umm Qais.

It's only partially excavated, but the exposed pieces are so fascinating. You can peer right into the ruins of a Roman house. And a Roman church. And even a Roman well, which is rather deep and not blocked off in any way. Scary. The kids kept finding bones all over the site, which added to the mystery. The guide suggested that we stick to the paths rather than risk falling in some partially excavated ruin, but the kids, being fearless, clambered atop everything. I was worried, actually, that my son might accidentally destroy an ancient Roman arch, but in the end, we left the place pretty much intact. At least, it wasn't any less of a ruin after our trip.

We only brought Aidan, as Shay has been sick and we weren't sure the girls would be up for the hiking. He had a blast running around exploring with his friends.

(This place is really, really old. Well, except for the sign. I'd guess that it's relatively new.)

Next, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Mukawir, which is known as the site where Salome danced her dance and convinced Herod to bring her John the Baptist's head on a platter.

It has a spooky past, but an incredible present. It is high, high, high atop a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, and you can see the hills of Jerusalem far below in the distance. Truly amazing.

(There it is, on top of that mountain. And yes, you have to hike up to the top, but it isn't so bad.)
(With the zoom lens...)

(No, I am not that short. But the hill is that steep. Mukawir is back there to the left. And the Dead Sea is waaaaay down there, behind us.)

(The view from the top of the mountain...)

(Hello, Friend-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, behind us in the picture. You're famous now, in a bloggy sort of way. That'll teach you to make silly faces.)

(Phew. He's gone. Quick, take another picture before he comes back...)

(Looking back up at the road we drove in on... told you it was steep.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Diplomats Do When They're Not Busy Doing, Well, Whatever It Is That Diplomats Do.

(sketch by Kyra)

We made it, folks.

We're at the halfway point (halfway-ish, at any rate) of our tour in Amman.

The Foreign Service has a little graph that shows the stages of foreign-service-ness at a post: you know, first six months, euphoria, next six months, bitterness and denial, and so on. I'd link to it, but I'm way too lazy to do a google search. Any one out there know the one? Send the link my way, please, and I'll link it in later. That is, if I'm not trapped in bitterness and denial.

I shouldn't still be trapped in bitterness and denial, because (as attentive readers will have learned in sentence two, above) we're at the 18-month mark. I think. I don't remember exactly when we arrived. And I'm too lazy to look that up, either. Come to think of it, is the eighteenth month marked by laziness and sloth? I'm thinking it might be.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The halfway point. And there's a good chance we're going back stateside for a few years after this (can you hear the grandparents cheering on both coasts at the mere thought?). So we're engaged in a typical mid-tour diplomatic activity.

House P0rn.

That's right. This is - or ought to be, anyway - the stage on the chart where a typical Foreign Service family starts thinking about where they might want to live back in the States.

We go on the internet and surf realtor sites almost ceaselessly, drooling over remodeled kitchens and walk-out basements and fireplaces. We picture a life back in America, down the street from Target and Wegmans and that awesome pho restaurant.

Then we pull out our calculators and add up the bank statements and remember the college funds and sigh deeply.

We return to our real estate sites and plug in a smaller number when it asks how much we might want to pay for a house. But of course this is Virginia, and so those teeny numbers don't give us fireplaces, or basements. They do give us chain link and pick-up trucks on the lawn, or a dead tree in the front yard. They don't give us Lake Barcroft, or Falls Church, or Clarendon.

So back we go to our calculators, and we try to figure out how to save an additional one or two hundred - thousand! - over the next year-and-a-half. You know, on top of the college funds.


I can't quite remember what months 18-24 show on the little Foreign Service mood graph - desperation and resignation, perhaps?

Oh, well. It's still fun to dream.

And we do have a little townhouse already, bought when we had just two small kids and not a clue that the universe would be sending a couple more our way. So maybe, just maybe, we should stop looking at real estate websites and start googling "how to fit six people into a three-bedroom townhouse."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What We've (They've) Been Up To

Bart had loads of use-or-lose leave to kill off, just in time for his parents' arrival. I, on the other hand, had basically no leave at all at the end of the year.

So he spent a week ferrying his parents around while I went to work.

Thus it turns out that, technically speaking, I wasn't at the baptism site that day. I didn't see the sun glinting off the rooftops of the churches. I didn't see the mighty green Jordan River flowing by. And I most certainly didn't see the de-mining operation that was taking place on the other side of the river (Boom, boom, boom - welcome to the middle east, mom and dad!)

I wasn't there. But the pictures are on my computer. And so they're fair game for my blog, don't you think?

The Jordan River up close...

...and from afar...

Where it all went down (maybe, probably, possibly), back in the day...

See the teeny tiny Jordanian flag off to the left?

It looks beautiful, doesn't it? Like a painting. But those are mines being blown up across the border.

Monday, January 9, 2012

On The Plus Side...

Four days.

Three doctors.

Two x-rays.

Two antibiotics, two inhalers, two kinds of nose drops, two medicines to make you fall asleep, one nebulizer, countless cough drops and gallons of lemon tea.

But he's still coughing.

On the plus side, it's apparently NOT pneumonia. You know, yet.

Also on the plus side, the doctors are all awesome. And English-speaking. And conveniently located near an actual parking lot - not always the case here in Amman.

Also on the plus side: since I'm stuck sitting up listening to him cough, I have time to update this here blog!




I think I'm pretty much out of pluses.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

So, It Turns Out Chicken Isn't a Vegetable

There we were, sitting in La Mirabelle with Nana and Pop, watching as the waiter put our plates on the table.

I'd ordered chicken nuggets for the girls to split - usually a hit. But this time, Kyra took one look and asked (not in her inside voice, either) "Is that PIG???? If you eat PIG, WORMS will grow in your BELLY!!"

I shushed her, because gross, but she refused to take a bite of the suspect chicken nuggets. (Pig nuggets?)

That was last week. Then, the night before last, I roasted a whole chicken, carved it, and put it on the table. She ate a few small pieces of white meat, then picked up a drumstick and carefully looked it over.

Holding it delicately between two small fingers, she held it aloft. "Was this," she asked "a bird who used to walk around?"

Pause. Gulp. Yes, Kyra, I replied. Yes, it used to be a bird.

She dropped it back on the plate with a grimace and announced firmly: "Then I am definitely not eating that."

And there you have it, folks. It appears we're going to have yet another vegetarian in the family.

At least they haven't tried to go vegan on me yet.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year, Same Old Me

It's been awhile, I know, and mostly by design. I like to keep quiet this time of year.

Bart's parents have been here, so we've been busier than usual with guests and travel. But that's a fun kind of busy, so yay. Once I find the time to download the pictures, I'll post some photographic evidence of their journey halfway across the globe.

They leave tomorrow, early, and tonight I am awake with a coughing child. Again. It's okay, though. I'm using this quiet time as an opportunity to eat the leftover holiday peanut brittle. All of it. I know, right? Good thing my New Year's resolutions didn't include "eat less peanut brittle."

Actually, I have no real written-down resolutions. Just some thoughts in my head that I resolve anew pretty much every day of the year, and then fail at by 7am each morning. You know, things like " be more patient." It would be a lot easier to eat less peanut brittle (especially now, as the bag appears to be empty, alas).

New Year's isn't my thing, anyway. I find the whole spectacle to be depressing. It hits right around the same time as my birthday, and I usually use the opportunity to fall into a "I have accomplished nothing in the past year" funk.

This year is no exception. I mean, yes, I suppose I got a job in 2011. Actual, gainful employment. But, in order to do that, I gave up writing for publication. No time, you see. So now I can't call myself a writer anymore, but I can call myself a spouse, with a spouse job. You spouses out there know what that means. It doesn't do to dwell on these things in the dark of winter, at least not in a house devoid of peanut brittle.

In 2011, no one close to me died. No one was born. Status quo there, thanks be. I did a lot of traveling in 2011: to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, to Petra and Aqaba, to Turkey and Germany. But I did not go back to America. I did not camp in Wadi Rum. I did not hike Wadi Mujib. I did not get to Tel Aviv, or Syria, or Egypt. See all the "did nots" I worked into my list? This is why you don't want to invite me to your New Year's party. It's one day when I'd rather stay home and sulk.

But here we are and it's January 3 over here as of a few minutes ago. New Year's is over! It's time to return to our regularly scheduled programming! No need to dwell on the past, or resolve to do better in the future. I just need to resolve to stay awake until coughing child falls asleep. Also to hide the empty bag of brittle deep in the trash can. And, while we're at it, I should remember that tomorrow I will be tired, very tired, because I will not sleep tonight, and neither will my spouse, and my in-laws will leave in the morning, so my children will be sad, and grumpy, and possibly all coughing. So I hereby resolve that when tomorrow begins, I will be patient. With them, and with myself, and with anyone else I happen to encounter.

At least before 7 am.
Please. Write your own stuff.