Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Watch Out Amman.

I'm on the road.

Ian has been driving since we got our car a couple weeks ago.  I had my first venture this morning, dropped the girls and Ian off at the Embassy.  Easy.  Been on that route plenty of times, no surprises, and no one on the road. It's so quiet in the mornings here, I'm curious to see how things change after Ramadan and with the start of the school year.  Actually, no I'm not.  I'd like for it to stay just the way it is.  Thanks.

Mid-morning the boys and I drove over the to the Taj Mall and parked in the scary underground lot.  We can walk to the mall but we were there for groceries and no one wants to walk home with 50 pounds of frozen fish and brown sugar.  It was a pleasant grocery run, barely anyone in the store, in and out was a breeze.  I have got to take a picture of the grocery cart moving sidewalks.  In order to get your cart of groceries from the store (on the main floor of the mall) to the parking lot (in the underground garage) there are slanted moving sidewalks instead of escalators, and the carts have slatted wheels that lock into place on the sidewalk so they don't roll down into the glass walls below.  It's brilliant.

We bought ingredients for full meals which might seem kind of Duh, but you'd be surprised when you're starting from scratch.  We've had plenty of snack foods at home while we ate lunch every day at the Embassy, eaten out Thursday nights at the pool, ordered in on the weekends.  When we did cook, everything so far has been seasoned with salt and pepper.  We now have chili pepper, oregano and a BBQ spice mix.  Baking potatoes with topping options.  Enough frozen fish for several meals, and chicken too.  Ground beef is expensive, so I bought a package for either chili or spaghetti sauce.  The face wash was refused by the scanner so the checkout girl didn't bother ringing it up.  That was a touch annoying, but we were already having troubles with the scanner and a bottle of hand soap, I wasn't going to push it.  But hey, we found lemonade mix and peach tea mix!  Score.  Lunch was mac&cheese and chicken nuggets.  Spoiled?  Yeah.

It was a good morning.

But I think I'm getting a false sense of my own abilities, because in all honesty I get freaked out upon arrival in any new country.  Here I don't speak Arabic, I can't read some of the signs, the traffic has a mind of its own.  I'm terrified of getting lost.  Terr-i-fied.  I don't know what would happen if I got lost.  Probably nothing.  But maybe something.  And that's what preys on my brain cells and makes me freeze and unwilling to take chances on some things that I know would actually be pretty awesome and would show I actually am capable of getting myself around and where I need to be.

Because for all my bravado whenever we move, I'm still just plain scared inside.

And now you know.

And life goes on.

Tomorrow I'm off to another "new" spot, simply that I haven't been there on my own yet.  Donna offered, and I gladly accepted, for her to show me around town on Sunday and that has been a huge help.  I know where I'm going tomorrow because of her.  More than that, I know the trick of getting in, where to park, the door to the building, and all the rest.  Honestly, it's the details that make me nuts.  I can have an idea of "go to the 5th circle" but what about the rest?  Donna took all the mystery out which means tomorrow I can focus on driving and driving alone.  It might even be fun.


I'll put on a smile anyway.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Settling In

What to say.

Our UAB arrived and it's unpacked. We packed poorly.  Never have we packed this poorly.  Movie projector?  Check.  Cable to play movie projector?  Uh....  xBox 360? Check.  220v cable to play xBox 360? Uh... and yeah, managed to blow the 110v one we did bring.  Medical box?  Nope.  Safe?  Nope.  Did we ensure that there was absolutely nothing glass in our shipment?  Nope.  It all broke.  Did bring cat litter and cat food, so we're set there until our orders arrive.  Brought lots of swim stuff, none of which we really need since we had stuff in our suitcases.  A box of books?  A drying rack that won't fit in our laundry room until the welcome kit boxes are out... and I didn't pack hangers anyway.

Yeah, lousy job.  I thought I'd done well, and I did organizationally, but not with the specifics.  Rats.

The boxes are still in the house.  I keep having thoughts of turning them into a really cool multilevel cat house.  Today is the first day the boys and I are home (they are taking a break from summer camp this week) and yet time seems to be absent today.

This morning we rode in with Ian anyway.  The boys were bummed they didn't get to sleep in, but them's the breaks.  The PPD tests needed to be read (all clear).  The bandages had to come off of Jonathon's chin (he's fine, no stitches, hardly a mark at all after 4 days under wraps after banging his chin into a metal pole).  Dry cleaning needed to be dropped off and picked up.  Three suits for 14.50JD.  I checked on the CLO library to see if anything needed tending.  All was well.

A friend, Donna, brought the boys and I home where I dropped them off (Nicholas wasn't feeling too well anyway, after last night's McDonald's delivery... really not a good idea if you're wondering).  Donna then drove me around and showed me how to reach important places.  Like the ER.  I missed the CLO hospital tour on Thursday that would have brought me to the nearest hospital, ER, lab, random doctor's offices, so Donna is a Godsend.  She's got 4 kids also... 2 older boys, 2 younger girls, so she knows of what she speaks.  We'll be visiting the lab this week for a blood test so I have to know where to go on my own.  I should probably try driving somewhere casually before actually being under stress to do so.  The orthodontist is in the same building, so if all goes well we'll be spending a lot of money there.

After the walk-through, she drove to several other important spots.  The school, where she sits on the Board so could walk in and give me a quick tour.  A stop in a small market by her home which also has the newest butcher, The Meat Master, that everyone raves about, and an alternate Starbucks.  Closed for Ramadan.  Rats.

I came home in time to have lunch with the boys before the housing walk-through.  One of the FMO folk walked me through the filter change date for the potable water, the check on the diesel (full) and propane (full), the water tank (full), etc.  Some items have been tended to, like the broken pane of glass in the living room, the metal blinds that wouldn't come down in the master bedroom, the washer that's leaking all over the laundry room.  Honestly, there's nothing to complain about in the house.  There are always little things, little inconveniences, little quirks to every home.  It's just in how you manage your expectations.

And now I remember that I forgot to ask about the alarm system.  It's not set quite properly so beeps 3 times every 40 seconds or so.  I've gotten so used it I don't hear it most of the time.  Rats.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Hopefully not more in the Rats department.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some things don't change at all.

Our accident prone kid is keeping up his trend.  Last week during summer camp he managed to step on a thumbtack by the snack bar.  It was lodged in his heel nearly the full length.  Yesterday he cracked his chin open on a metal bar at the playground.  The med unit says it doesn't need stitches but he has some stitch tape and a bandage and can't go in the water for a couple days.  Since half the time the kids are at camp they are in the pool, this makes for a boring day when you can't get wet.  This morning he's hanging out with me in the computer lab playing some games while the kids swim.  This afternoon camp is watching a movie, so he'll rejoin them.  Tomorrow I'll have him in the afternoon.

I should probably keep Nicholas out of camp as well.  He burned his nose badly the beginning of last week.  It peeled, then he neglected sunscreen again, burned the new skin underneath, and it's going to look like a 90-year old man's nose if we're not careful.  I've taken to simply pouring the sunscreen on his nose and cheeks and sending him to camp looking like a clown.  It eventually soaks in and seems to be working.  I can't wait until the colored zinc sunscreen (Zinka, through Amazon) comes in.  He needs a physical barrier, not just a chemical barrier. And who wouldn't want a green nose?

I ordered a swim shirt for Ian.  We're going to go to the Dead Sea at some point and Ian burns bad on his neck and shoulders just walking around town.  I'm not going to bother trying to cover up all of him with sunscreen in a 104 degree salt desert.

Speaking of ordering stuff, yeah, I'm doing a lot of that. I know people laugh at certain things folks order when overseas, but that's OK, go ahead and laugh.  I ordered toilet paper.  Last week in the co-op I bought a 4-pack of TP for over $4.  The stuff at the local stores can be cheaper, but it's cheaper both in cost and quality.  You know, one of the things that makes living abroad in any country is the quality of the TP.  You can argue with me if you like, but I won't listen.  Good TP matters.  It really does.  I've put several things on automatic order through amazon, anywhere from 2-4 month delivery times.  Since most has to come through the Pouch (DPO won't let me get TP.. I kid you not), it'll take a while to get here anyway.  I think I've heard 4-6 weeks.  That's OK.  TP doesn't go bad.

I've actually forgotten some of the stuff I've ordered.  That makes mail day like Christmas.  What's in today's box?

Speaking of Christmas, our UAB arrived.  We have our own sheets and towels, and much like TP these are the sorts of things that make a home feel comfortable.  A goal for this weekend is finding paint for the kids' bedroom walls.  Each can paint one wall, or part of a wall.  Paint, we've heard, is expensive, and after the last time when we painted 4 walls in several rooms, we decided this time to scale back.  Accent walls are all the rage.  That's what interior design magazines tell me anyway.

We received games, our medical records, cat food and litter, tupperware, dishware, water bottles, bedding... it was all welcome.  Several items broke.  Picture frames.  Several items crushed.  Not even sure how that happened as usually they were packed in rubbermaids, inside the triple walled UAB boxes.  U.S. packers are not good, that's all I can say.  So many items were simply piled into the boxes, not wrapped.  Paper padding was on the top only.  I'd packed items into rubbermaids to separate them out, but those boxes were put in the UAB boxes without any packing material in them.  Everything shook around.  We gave them the box for the coffee machine.  They packed the box.  They packed the coffee machine.  The coffee machine was not in its box. 

For as much as I complained about the waste and the weight from the packers in India, nothing broke.  Nothing was ruined.  There's something to that.  I wish there was a way to get a happy medium.  Enough paper and padding to prevent breakage without wrapping individual rubber bands.

We're settling in.  A little more each day.  No word yet on our HHE.  First the house has to absorb the UAB before I can think about where all the HHE stuff we've lived without for 6 weeks will go, and for what purpose do we have it in the first place.  I like simple living.  It's easy, even if it's at times a little frustrating.  It's more frustrating having too much stuff that constantly needs cleaning and putting away.

But that's sounds like I'm complaining, and I'm not. 

I like Amman, a lot.  I like the people I've met, I like the house, I like the Embassy grounds and all it offers.  I like that my husband is so capable and my kids are so adaptable and that the water is clean even if it can give you an upset stomach.  I like the groceries and all the options available here.  I like the ease of Amazon.com and the choices in local restaurant and clothing stores.  The city is gorgeous.  The breezes are refreshing.  The call to prayer is familiar in a way I haven't heard since middle school.

I miss part of the U.S. but we're going to be fine here. 

Probably better than fine.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Welcome to Amman

Amman, like all our posts, is nothing like anywhere we’ve been before.  Landing here after our stop in Vienna, Austria with its wind farms, crystal clear lakes, and rolling green hills, was a study in contrasts.  Amman is anything but green, though it’s built in a series of seven hills, and water is scarce.  From above, the city is a sea of white and tan shades.  From the ground the shades are a little more distinctive, but not much.  Driving through town doesn’t give anything in the way landmarks at first glance.  It’s one sandstone colored building after another, with a variety of pillars, carvings, balconies and gated yards.  Only after a few times of making the same turns over and over do the individual buildings start to differentiate and every circle (they do love traffic circles) take on unique aspects.  Over the past week we’ve been driven around to stores, I took a CLO bus tour of the circle road and highlights of the city, and we’ve ventured out on our in the car we bought before we even landed.  Ramadan started last night so mornings, especially Friday mornings, are the time to wander around town without any traffic on the road.  Friday and Saturday are the weekend.  Sunday is the first day of the work week.  It takes some getting used to. 

With Ramadan, the local workday hours are shortened to 6 hours, people fast from sun-up to sun-down and at sun-down it’s time to eat and hit the streets and be social.  Which means that at sun-down we hunker down at home to avoid crazy traffic.  Crazy traffic is relative though.  It’s been described here as organic, and I suppose that’s a fitting term with cars weaving in and out almost effortlessly.  But people do yield.  They do stop at stoplights.  They do not turn right on red and only a handful drive fast.  You’d be surprised how many Porches, Lamborghinis, etc. we’ve seen.  Definitely not a car we would bring to dusty, dent-happy country.  We’re enjoying the Dodge Durango.  It’s red.  We’ve never owned a red car, and while it’s currently more sand-colored than red-colored, it’s very comfortable and very high.  People tend to give us way.  We’ve driven to dinner at our sponsor’s house (thankfully all Embassy folk live nearby) and to the Carrefour “all the way” at the City Mall on the other side of town.  I think with the absent Friday morning traffic it took us around 5 minutes to get home.  Getting there took a minute or two longer with several wrong turns involved.

Our home is three floors of tile floors and 10 foot ceilings.  The top floor houses Katherine’s en-suite with access to the roof balcony.  There’s also a room set-up as an office that will become Jonathon’s bedroom, and the laundry room that overlooks the neighbor’s tennis court.  That is where the insects come in.  Jordan doesn’t have much in the way of nuisance insects but we still have enough mosquitoes and the periodic spider that I blame the laundry room, the room with the leaking washer and extremely noisy dryer.  The middle floor has a bedroom for Rebecca and one for Nicholas with a shared bathroom, a den, and the master suite with a storage/dressing room.  This is the floor where we spend most of our time.  The main floor has a large combined living/dining space that we don’t use for anything at the moment but a puzzle on the dining table.  The kitchen has a 4-seater table and a 2-seater island, so when we sit down to dinner we’ll squeeze in together between the fridge and the freezer.  It’s not perfect, but it’s cozy.

I think we're going to be happy here.  It will be a short while of inconvenience as we rattle around a large, empty house with lousy bed covers made from material better suited for curtains or upholstery, and a fridge full of easy foods and take-out.  But our air shipment is expected some time this week and hopefully we'll get some painting done in the meantime.  Several orders have gone in to Amazon.com and Drugstore.com.  Before we know it, we'll feel like we've always been here, and never want to leave.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day at the Zoo, and Prometheus.

On Sunday the 17th of June, we made our way to the zoo.  The DC National Zoo is a sad piece of work.  They try, but let's be honest, it's too small.  Big cats and elephants and even all the little guys need their space, and the Zoo just doesn't have it.  The more we learn about their intelligence levels, the more imperative the space and intellectual stimulation becomes.  As it was, roughly a 1/3 of the zoo is under construction so it makes for a quick visit.  A hint to the wise... if you visit after 4, the park is yours to enjoy.  Shade, open paths and a lovely silence.  Well worth it.

Malaria came to enjoy the day with us.  As did Penguin and Cow.

Malaria and Jonathon are intrigued
by the prairie dogs.
Malaria stays "cool" like the big cats.

Lemurs get lonely, so there are lemur
shaped toys to play with.  Look along
the upper left corner of glass.
Penguins get hot in the
summer sun, misting is
The small mammal house is always a favorite.  There seemed to be a smaller variety of animals this time, with quite a few repetitions through the windows.  That's OK I guess.  There was a baby monkey type thing, and that wasn't repeated.

Penguin looks bored by his similarly
shaded friend. Perhaps because
 panda doesn't own a scarf and hat.
Hey Panda!  Over here! Malaria wants
to say Hi!

Panda, where are you going?
Panda come back!
The panda is always a highlight, but honestly I'm not sure why.  Ok, he's cute but he doesn't DO anything.  Not like otters.  Otters rock.

Malaria likes rock sculpture slimy
things, but would be happier with
actual warm blood.
Penguin is scaring small children.

Everyone is having fun.
Everyone is still having fun.

Lunch at California Tortilla.
Malaria was starving too.
Eating at the zoo is crowded and expensive, so we had lunch at the nearby California Tortilla, a place I'd never heard of but one Ian has taken the girls to after their scuba diving intro class.  As always, we bought way too much food.


Our day wasn't just about visiting the Zoo.  We wanted the kids (and Malaria) to enjoy a movie at the "famous" Uptown Theater.  The Uptown is where, while in college, Ian and I saw "Gettysburg."  That's a long movie, even with comfy seats.  Thank goodness for intermission.  The Uptown has a single screen, so you get what they show.  This time was "Prometheus."  Yes, it's rated R.  Yes, we had the kids with us.  No, I do not recommend following in our footsteps.  Even Malaria spent most of the time with his eyes covered.

On the way back to the car, we walked through the entire Zoo again, only this time in the quiet of near closing.  We swung by the fisher cats who weren't doing any visible fishing. The otters were unavailable but we enjoyed their sculptural counterparts.  The elephants were doing elephanty things.  The red panda was sleeping.
Malaria wishes they were real.  He
loves otters so much.
Penguin is chillin'.  Get it?  Chillin'?
Malaria remember vividly
the times of the dinosaurs.
Ah, the good old days.
Malaria hangs with the coolest
 bear at the zoo.

After a long day at the Zoo, Malaria and Cow relax for the trip home.

But he really dug the dippin' dots.
Malaria likes the strawberry shortcake OK.
At the end of the day it was time for a snack and the trek back to the car.  There had been no available parking in the Zoo lots, so we meandered through the neighborhoods behind and finally found a street side spot not too far from the rear entrance.