Monday, May 27, 2013

Nothing But Time

Normally, I think of all sorts of ideas for blog topics, but then find I lack the time to write them all down. Something about being a working mom-of-four, perhaps?

Tonight, though, I have all sorts of time. The Secretary of State is back in town, for the second time this week, and I pulled the overnight shift at the press filing center.

So I am here in the center, trying desperately to stay awake. It's only 1 am, which means I have another five hours to go. Yawnstretchyawn.

There are no reporters here. They mostly finished their work a few hours ago and headed up to bed. I've talked to exactly two human beings since I arrived here. Come to think of it, if it weren't for the fact that it's the middle of the night and I love my sleep, this could be the perfect job for a lazy introvert like me. I don't have to talk to anyone! Or do anything, really, except eat cookies. Tragically, I am down to my last two cookies. Why didn't I think to bring the whole box, exactly?

Anyway. Here I sit with hours of free time stretching ahead, whether I want them or not. And, technically speaking, I should probably stay awake. If I can. Yawnstretchyawn. The last time I pulled an all-nighter was, well, never. Even in college, if the paper wasn't done by 1 am, I slapped an ending on it and went to bed.

So what to do with these hours of free time? Blog, naturally!

Today, Sunday, we celebrated Memorial Day here in Jordan. Because we have a Sunday-to-Thursday work week, we celebrate Monday holidays a day early. The Embassy was closed (Ha! Closed, but everyone was working to support the SecState visit, so not much of a holiday for anyone.). The school, however, was in session - they don't get all of the American holidays.

So after I got the kids on the bus, I went to the gym for a quick workout, then met my husband for lunch at an outdoor cafe, followed a visit to the coffee shop. Aside: there is now officially a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise here in Amman. Joy of joys! I have already been twice, and I am currently suffering severe flashbacks to the days in the late '90s when me n my friend Pete, who is now a famous published children's author, used to sneak out of work at the ad agency just about every afternoon to go to CB&TL. I miss those days. I really do. And if your kids haven't read any of Pete's books, go start with Herbert's Wormhole. It's an awesome book, as are both its author and its illustrator Ro, another ad agency type from back in the day.

Anyway. We sat there, my husband and I, talking about big topics like The Past and The Future. You know: the stuff you can't cover with kids underfoot. He leaves for Baghdad four weeks from today, which means there's been a lot of Future talk in our household recently. The whole thing is starting to feel really real. Sort of. We're trying to figure out how to divide tasks like banking, how to manage the kids' expectations, how to keep in touch with one another, how to celebrate the big holidays without a dad in the house... that sort of stuff. It's really quite surreal, the fact that this is going to happen any minute now.

Add that to the fact that we have a "sort of" onward assignment to plan for as well. Awhile back we were assigned to Moscow, Russia, which means we will theoretically be heading there next summer for a two-year tour. I say theoretically because, as those of you who know us in real life will likely recall, we actually had to leave Moscow twice when we were last posted there. The first time we left, it was the Americans who told us to leave, with less than 24 hours notice, because Bart's specific situation there became suddenly tenuous. If it weren't for our awesome DCM, who fought hard to get us back, that would've been it for us. But fight he did (thanks John!), and we returned, only to be kicked out a short while later by the Russian side.

Hence the "sort of" qualification. We have the assignment, yes we do, but I'll believe it when we're actually ensconced in our tiny house on the compound in downtown Moscow. Until then, I'm going to assume that anything could happen, and I refuse to do any planning for the post. It's the perfect place for us in many ways, as we're both Russian scholars (we met in graduate school, when he was the cutest PhD candidate at USC and the two of us taught Russian to pay our way through school), but if it doesn't work out, that's fine, too. I'm a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and so whatever happens in this case is exactly what's supposed to happen, nothing more, nothing less.

So you see? Big topics in our household these days. The Past. The Future. Four weeks from now. One year from now. I'm floating through it all, myself, watching it all unfold somewhat dispassionately, which drives my husband up the wall, no doubt. But for me, it's not real until it happens. Which means four weeks from now, I'll have to deal with it. But not today. Today, it was enough to simply sit in the sunshine and share a meal with my husband, squeeze in a workout, and take a nap in preparation for tonight's marathon sleepless adventure. I'll deal with Baghdad when it gets here. Which it apparently will, four weeks from today.

Ready or not.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Luxor (and that's a wrap!)

Tricked you! After my last post, admit it, you alhamdolillah'ed because you thought I was finally finished posting photos of Egypt.

How wrong you were.

But this is it! I promise! No more vacation photos after this until I save up enough money for another vacation. That could be awhile: I have four kids to put through college, after all.

So where were we? Oh, that's right: Egypt! Have I mentioned recently that we went to Egypt? Our last stop was Luxor, and our morning started with the sounds of Aidan vomiting. Well, actually, that isn't quite accurate. I awoke around 4am, when the boat took off sailing for Luxor and had to pass through some locks on the way.

(I was determined to wake up when we went through the lock so I could go up on deck and take pictures for my dad. My dad, if you didn't know, is a little bit obsessed with locks. Every time we go to Seattle, we take the kids to the locks and watch the boats making their way through while the salmon climb the fish ladder. I think my dad loves watching the grandkids watch the boats. I think he's also hatching a scheme to sneak onto one of the boats when no one is looking so he can float off to anywhere they'll take him. He hasn't discussed this plan aloud, mind you, but you can see it in his eyes.)

Anyway, I woke up and I heard shouting and felt bumping and I knew: it was time to go upstairs with the camera. But my bed was so cozy and it was too dark to take decent pictures and anyway, my dad's been thru the friggin' Panama Canal, so did I really need to send him a blurry photo of some measly little lock in the middle of nowhere?

I stayed in bed. And it wasn't until an hour later that I awoke to the sound of Aidan, sick.

It was clear that he wasn't going to be able to go on our planned excursions for the day. So after much reasonable, rational, even-tempered discussion, Bart and I came to the joint good-parenting conclusion that the best thing would be to have Bart stay on the boat with him in the morning, and I'd stay with him in the afternoon.

And that is how I ended up going to the Valley of the Kings (No photos allowed! Aren't you relieved?), where King Tut's tomb was discovered in the 1920s, the Colossi of Memnon and the alabaster factory with just three kids in tow. Bart took Shay on the afternoon excursions and I stayed behind on the boat with the rest of the kids. By late afternoon, Aidan was feeling better, so we hung out by ourselves at the pool until sunset.

That night was our last night on the boat. At some point in the middle of the night, my doorbell rang. When I staggered to the door to open it, Shay rushed past me (he was sleeping in a separate room), ran to the bathroom and proceeded to vomit everywhere. (Jill P, I know you are shaking your head sympathetically right now. I can feel it. Someday, you and I will co-author a book, Vomiting Our Way Across the Globe.)

And that was the end of our vacation. Shay was sick the whole way back to Amman, poor guy, but he managed to hold it together when it was time to board our flights, so we made it home without question.

Okay, so it wasn't the best ending to a vacation ever. But I'm so glad we decided to go. I've been kind of fascinated with Egypt ever since King Tut came to Los Angeles when I was a little girl, and now I can say I've been.

What's next? I don't know. If I had all the time in the world, and money were no object, there are all sorts of places I'd go, starting with Zanzibar, probably. Because: Zanzibar. It just sounds all romantical somehow. But I'll settle for a night at the Dead Sea if I must.

Hatshepsut Temple

The view from the top, looking back.

Working on an alabaster pot.

I would call these "ancient tools," except they apparently still use them to carve alabaster.

In front of the Colossi of Memnon.

Showing off their alabaster statuettes: Kyra got a cat, and Ainsley got - what else? - a crocodile.

Bart took the rest of these pictures. So you're on your own here, guessing what you're looking at.
A temple, maybe?

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Working Mom

Early evening and I was still at work.

Well, I was working, but I wasn't, technically speaking, at work.

There were six of us hanging around in an underground garage, waiting. Not really talking much. Just standing there, staring at the entrance.

My cell phone vibrated in my pocket, but before I could check on it, I heard a noise coming from the entrance. Sirens. Engines roaring. And around the corner came the motorcade: car after car pulled into the garage, right in front of where I stood.

From one of the vehicles, just a few feet away from me, a DS special agent leapt out and pulled open a car door, stepping back to allow the Secretary of State to exit the vehicle. He walked right past me and into the building, followed by an entourage of agents and foreign service officers and all sorts of hangers-on.

No, he didn't notice me. And I didn't follow him in. My job was to escort the travelling press into the building and into the press filing center after the Secretary had gone in and gotten settled.

I did just that: I walked them in and got them set up in the filing center, where they had just a few minutes to work on their stories before we had to dash back to the motorcade, which was leaving for the Palace shortly.

Back in the underground garage, I could feel my phone buzzing again, but it was my personal phone, not my work phone, so I decided to ignore it for awhile longer. I stood and watched the hive of activity, trying not to pass out from the exhaust fumes all around. With the reporters back in the press vehicles, I had nothing to do but stand around and wait for Secretary Kerry to rejoin the motorcade.

He eventually returned and hopped back in his car. The entire motorcade peeled off for the palace in a blur of flashing lights and squealing tires and blowing exhaust.

It was 7pm, but I wasn't going to be finished working for hours: I had to staff the filing center until well after dark.

I finally had time to check my phone though, and I found a message from the nanny:

"What's for dinner?"

I should tell you that my nanny is great, and the kids love her, but she cannot cook. This wasn't a problem when I hired her, because I had no intention of working full time and cooking is one part of parenting that I take great pride in. I love to do it, and I do it well. When I make dinner, my kids eat healthy food and mostly enjoy it. So I didn't want a nanny who could cook. My plan was to take care of that myself.

But now? Here it was 7pm, an hour past dinnertime, and there was no food in the house that she knew how to cook (read: no mac n cheese or rice). I scrambled to think of something I could order that would get there quickly, and I finally settled on a chicken kebab place. I texted her what to order (from memory - do you think I'm ordering take out too often these days?) and trudged back to my now-empty filing center to wait for my reporters to return.

The kids mutinied.

My husband texted to tell me they did NOT want the chicken. They did not want the leftover pizza from the night before, either. They did not want anything at all in the fridge. And by the way, he texted again: we're out of peanut butter.

Sigh. This working mom gig is really not easy, is it? I spent the night in my filing center, feeling like a total failure, chewing on tootsie rolls and wondering how to find a better balance between being a decent mom and being a good-enough employee.

I never did think of a way to do it right. Does anybody really know how? But this morning, the first morning of the weekend, I holed up in the kitchen and got to cooking frantically, trying to catch up, to build some food equity so that next week goes better. I made a batch of black bean soup, a double batch of chicken stock, and a triple batch of Turkish lentil soup before it was time to leave for the baseball field.

I'm still not quite sure how to balance it all. And what little balance I have now will fly right out the window in four weeks, when Bart leaves for Baghdad. But for now, tonight, I'm feeling better, knowing as I do that those containers of soup are stacked neatly in the freezer, awaiting the next time my work becomes all-consuming and my kids rebel against the idea of soggy cheese pizza or boxed mac n cheese. My own Tupperware talisman, keeping disaster at bay...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Crocodile Temple! And some other stuff.

Where were we? That's right, more crocodiles.

We sailed to Edfu after touring Philae Temple in Aswan, and the next morning, we got off the boat to tour Kom Ombo Temple. The guide told more stories about falcon-headed-god-people, but Ainsley mostly just wanted to look into the deep pit that was used to hold crocodiles or water or something, I can't remember what, I was too busy making sure she didn't fall into the pit.

There was a museum at the temple that housed a collection of crocodile mummies. Ainsley was highly dissatisfied with the museum: she had apparently assumed that the crocodile mummies would all be staggering about on their hind legs, holding their stumpy little arms out zombie-style and trailing mummy wrappers in their wake, a la Scooby Doo. But these crocodile mummies were just, for lack of a more exciting word, dead.

(Aside: When Shay was about the age that Ainsley is now, I took him to the "Dinosaur Museum" in D.C. He was sooo excited to go! But when we got there, he took one look around and sadly said "awww, there're no dinosaurs here. It's just a bunch of bones.")

After touring the site and dodging packs of super-aggressive vendors, we grabbed some lunch and then headed out for a horse-and-buggy ride to Edfu Temple. Somehow my horse-and-buggy got split from the rest of the group and I had a scary few minutes there when I was pretty sure the boys and I were about to get robbed-or-worse. Short version of the story: we survived. Slightly longer version: never tell your buggy driver you're from America. Fortunately I told him we were from Jordan, and the mean-looking guys who surrounded our buggy just minutes later seemed less interested in us once the driver told them dejectedly that we weren't American.

All in all, a good day. We docked that night in Esna and stayed up late, sitting on the roof of the boat, slapping away mosquitoes and mortifying the children with our off-color jokes and spot-on imitations of the tour guide. 'Twas a nice evening.

That paint is, like, a squazillion years old. Yet it still looks better than the walls in my living room.

Gritting my teeth: "Take the picture before I drop her..."

Very deep pit. With not much to stop a kid from falling in. Unless you count the vigilant mom clinging to the kid's  shirt.
The happy family. Errr, families. 

Just plain ole dead. Not spooky at all.

Also not spooky. Kind of cute, actually.

Ainsley's horse-n-buggy driver didn't try to have her killed. For the win.

Temple of Edfu

"What was so wrong with our idea of hanging out at the pool all day, exactly?"

Sunset. Lovely.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Turns out I have smart friends. They don't all look smart, mind you. But some of them are.

I'm back on iPhoto, apparently, thanks to all of y'all. So here's another set of photos for the grandparents. These are of Philae Temple in Aswan. Frankly, after wrestling with iPhoto all afternoon, I'm not much in the mood to tell any stories about Philae. Be thankful I linked you to wikipedia, at least, and go read up if you want to know what it is.

Best part? The guide was telling us stories about all of the ancient Egyptian gods, and I swear he thought the gods were really real. So he'd tell us, for example, about how Isis flew all over looking for pieces of her husband's body, and she found a piece right here on this very spot. Not an imaginary piece. A real piece. As if her falcon-headed self was real. Or he'd tell stories about how the gods were fighting, or shouting, or turning their heads into crocodile heads with cow ears and suns on top. It was funny how very real he managed to make them seem, despite their unfortunate overuse of animal body parts. Funny, that is, until someone-who-shall-remain-unnamed in our group (*cough stj cough*) also started referring to them as real people. So of course we all made endless fun of her for that.

Read on, grandparents. For the rest of you: I'll be back with a real post eventually. But first I'm going to post a few sets of photos. So maybe come back next week if you're already tired of looking at photos of someone else's adorable grandkids?

Apparently there was some sort of a uniform requirement?
Head of a falcon. Horns of a cow. And is that a basket full of turkey drumsticks balancing on her head, there on the right? Yup. Totally real.
Sweating buckets. Yet still so adorable!

Not sure what she's doing. Walking like an Egyptian, maybe?

My little reader.

On the boat at last after a long day of temples and High Dams and overpriced perfume shops.
View from the boat.

Because nothing says cute like posing in front of a hot tub with your dress stuck down the front of your pants.

Yes. We packed swim suits. Why do you ask?
Please. Write your own stuff.