Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday, Friday...

Went to get school supplies.

Passed at 9:30 in the morning what appeared to be a Harley convention at the Blue Fig, complete with leader truck that said "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Chapter."  So if you're into Harleys and are checking out Jordan, you're all set.  As we passed, saw a big burly biker in big burly biker clothes helping his petite and very conservatively dressed companion off the bike.  Wish I'd taken a picture.

Got to the school supply store through some eerily empty streets, found it closed.

Walked to the 24 hour bakery.  Need to take a photo of the inside of the store.  Wish I could post the smell of the place.

Drove to another area of the same neighborhood and walked in circles trying to find The Pampered Pet, a pet supply store.  If you're looking for it, go to the road in Swefieh parallel to Zahran (Circle Road) at 6th Circle.  Behind the Hardees/etc is a McDonalds.  Standing in front of McDonalds, go left about half a block and look down into the first alley way.  You'll see the big sign.  You just won't see anything driving by (it's a one way street, and there's no sign along direction you're driving), and the sign is at sidewalk level since it's a basement store.

Drove to PetCharm Clinic, a vet recently opened in Abdoun, right passed the British Embassy and in the same building as the Z&Z Store.  It doesn't open until 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Picked up a few items in the Z&Z Store.  It's actually 2 Z words, but folks usually refer to them simply as Z stores.  This one has 2 levels, the main floor is dry goods, upstairs holds a deli, freezer items, household goods, etc.  I found powedered sugar and ginger cookies.  Some of the items in the candy/cookie aisle were worth capturing on film.  Particular names always bring out a chuckle.

Took a break at home.  Put together Nicholas and Jonathon's rooms. Ian worked on the kitchen, master bedroom, and living room.

Went to Mecca Mall.  Wow.  It's huge and seems like it had haphazard add-ons whenever they needed to expand.  Miles grocery store looks amazing, reminiscent of Wegmans.  There's a Forever 21 which shocked Rebecca.  A Starbucks.  Computer parts stores.  Artisan stores.  Clothing stores of course.  On the top floor is a movie theater, a 4D theater, and a bowling alley with 12 lanes.  There was no pattern to floorplan that I could see, but looks like a great place for the teens to be with a lot more to check out, far more than City Mall.

Stopped by VetZone Pet Health Center, met the vet (who knew me from Facebook) and saw the new office.  It's gorgeous.  We borrowed a humane trap to try to capture the mom cat and her 3 kittens who visit our yard periodically. Wish us luck.

We returned home to drop off Rebecca.

Drove to Le Royal Hotel to pick up a friend of ours from our time in Chennai.  He had a stop over on his way to an AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan) position.  I got lost leaving the hotel, took a wrong exit off a circle toward city center instead of home, made enough turns to wind up right back in front of the same hotel and take the correct exit off the circle.  Second time's the charm.

We parked at home and walked over to the Blue Fig for dinner.  Sitting outside was pleasant, the food was OK (I'm not sure we picked the best options off the menu, both Ian and I had sandwiches which were fine but not stellar), and we caught up with our friend.  I'm surprised he was awake and coherent after his Chicago-Amman flight, but he was.

Dropped him back off at the hotel.  He departs tomorrow but we'll be seeing him again soon as he passes through Amman on his way home for R&R.

At home I said goodnight to the kids and went to bed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

HHE delivery + furniture pick-up + First Day of School = Busy and Tired

What can I say about yesterday other than it started early, ran late, and involved a lot of dust.  The house is still filled with piles of items here and there.  Tennis rackets in the den, cat houses in the music room (yes, we have a music room!), school supplies in the living room... you get the idea.

I did not take photos of the boxes.  It's too depressing to realize how much stuff we have.  Stuff is a nice term for what I really want to stay.  Why do we have so much stuff that we now have to find homes for, and keep clean, and maybe even use?  Why?

Because it's what makes a house feel like a home.

Our carpets will go on the floor.  Our art will go on the walls.  Our trinkets and reminders of trips past will make their way into the curios.  The closets are no longer empty.  The Starbucks mugs make us smile.  Ian is reveling in his new recliner.

So no, we don't need all this stuff, but stuff makes our American senses happy and therefore we keep it.

7th grade
At the same time our HHE arrived, GSO showed up to removed several bed sets, several dresser sets (4 of the 5 bedrooms already have wall units), and mirrors.

Of course the kids missed all this because they were at school.

6th grade
The kids made do with what we had before our HHE arrived. I figured our shipment would be here in plenty of time before school started.  I was wrong.  No backpacks. No lunch boxes.  No notebooks.  I'd picked up some mechanical pencils and some Arabic notebooks, thinking the rest of our stuff would be here in plenty of time.  As it was, they were fine for Day 1, and now that we have our supply box they're set.  Except for spiral notebooks... how is it we have not a single spiral bound notebook?  Binders, folders, dividers, pencils, pens, erasers, scissors, sticky notes, composition notebooks, it's all in there.  But no spiral notebooks.  And now that I think about it, no loose leaf paper either.  Yeah, I planned well.  There's a school supply store here for items the kids need immediately, but it comes at a cost.  I'm sure you consider an $8 5-subject notebook as highway robbery.  I know I did.  Here, the same 5-subject notebook costs 10JD, or roughly $12.50.  I'll pay it, but I don't have to like it, right?  But here's a silver lining, a trip to the supply store can also mean a trip to the awesome bakery down the street, and the savings there makes up for the cost of supplies.  Kind of.

11th grade
9th grade
We unpacked all day.  The delivery guys opened every box and most of the contents ended up tables, couches, floors, bookshelves.  But the house is relatively box free and that is awesome. The kids got home and jumped right in working on their rooms.  It was important to find the box with school supplies, and the backpacks and lunch boxes.  Supplies, done.  Backpacks?  Not packed anywhere expected, but when we'd given up by 10 p.m. I saw a box that we'd walked past dozens of times.  Voila, backpacks.  And clothes, which were hiding the backpacks. The kids have space to carry their laptops (required for all 4 of them... I'm not sure how that's going to work, to be honest), P.E. uniforms, and all the other necessities.  It's all good.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

School starts Tuesday.

Today being Sunday, and therefore the first day of the week in Amman, was registration day at the school.  I had everyone's folders pulled together, they had their own folders.  They wanted originals but seemed surprised when I said there were originals in my folders and I wanted them back.  The counselor wanted transcripts.  Oops, I brought report cards.  Don't think I ever got a transcript from Gar-Field for Katherine.  The other kids I have transcripts but had left them at home.  I think I'll deal with all that later on, once school has begun and things are calmer.

Same with the Nurse.  I didn't have their full vaccination records filled in, but as she said "You're Embassy?  You're over-vaccinated."  So she's not concerned about having the official stuff on the first day.

Even easier with the Accountant.  "You're U.S. Embassy?  All set."

Signed up 3 of the kids for swim team.

Bought some P.E. uniforms though they don't appear to be required.

Successfully avoided the PTG.

We had a very upset Rebecca after she spoke with the HS principal and he told her she could not skip to 10th grade, her HS credits from last year don't count, and while she's free to take summer classes to advance in her courses, she would not receive credit for them.  For example, she could take Alg2 next summer in order to take pre-calculus her sophomore year, but she would get no HS credit for the Alg2 class.  She is less than impressed with this turn of events.

And she's not at all excited about school starting at all.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting antsy

Supposedly our HHE (HouseHold Effects... all the stuff we've successfully lives without since June 15th by living in hotels, my parents' house, and our home here with a welcome kit, AKA junk that's unnecessary but makes a house feel like a home) is in country.

In-country is a lovely term.  Jordan isn't big so it's here somewhere, nearby.  All our thousands of pounds of stuff we don't need but still, for some reason, desperately want.  Paintings, toys, clothes, kitchen goods, movies, even some furniture.  Rugs.  Rugs will be nice.  We don't have any big rugs which would go nicely in this big house, and people keep saying Jordan is not the place to get rugs, so not sure what we'll do about that.  Of course, these are folks who've served in Pakistan... Egypt... Turkey.  I'm sure they know what they're talking about, but still. Amman has no nice and decently priced carpets?

Actually, all that other stuff would be fine to have, but what I really want...

School supplies: Backpacks, notebooks, paper, folders, pencils, lunch boxes...  It's all in there.  And from what we know, our HHE should arrive sometime... after the kids start school.  It's been nearly 10 weeks since we packed out and I really, truly thought that everything would be here by now.  I didn't take into account Ramadan or Eid-al Fitr.  And of course looking back, I simply should have shoved at least their backpacks and lunchboxes in a box and mailed it to ourselves.  There are stores here that sell school supplies.  Istiklal Library in Sweifieh.  Carrefour in City Mall.  Some items tend to be of dubious quality at high prices.  Actually, just about all of it is priced high and I can't bring myself to buy them when I know that in a few days, maybe a week, we'll have our own stuff again.  I'm hoping the first week of school the teachers will be lenient about "stuff."  They should be.  Right?

Sunday is registration day.  Monday is orientation day.  Tuesday is the first day of school for the new 6th grader, 7th grader, 9th grader (?) and 11th grader.  Wish them (and me) luck.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Which Ian Geeks Out

From: Wil Wheaton dot Tumblr

Thought you might like a little exchange my wife and I had with our sons, 12 and newly 11. She is reading “Ready Player One” to them — they still like to be read to at night — and there was a reference to you in there, as I’m sure you know. They didn’t know who you were, and we expressed some exasperation when they didn’t know. My son Jonathon said, “I don’t know about those ‘Olde Nerds,” pronouncing it as “Old-ee.” When we tried to explain via a reference to TNG, they immediately turned up their collective noses. “I only like the (new) movie “Star Trek,” Nicholas said, “the TV shows were, just, bleah. Old.”

So there you have it, Old-ee Nerd. Now keep in mind these kids are not entirely uneducated in the ways of geek. Their favorite video games are Oblivion, Skyrim, Diablo III, Minecraft and Portal. Jonathon, who celebrated his 11th birthday last weekend, had almost all Minecraft and Portal-related gifts (including a ThinkGeek talking Portal turret.) But you, sir, are simply too “old.”
Email from WWdN reader Ian H, who identifies as “also old”.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Online Education has come a long way.

Coursera: Organized, time regulated, on-line courses through schools like Princeton.

Khan Academy: Learn/Review/Refresh on your own time.  Heavy on all areas of math but also touches Biology, History, SAT prep and loads of other areas.

MIT Open Courseware: Free lecture notes, exams and videos.

Harvard Open Courses: Videos of classes.

What sites have you found?

Monday, August 20, 2012

As we wind down summer 2012...

The kids start school next week.  It's been a long, busy summer.  Almost like two summers in one.  Three weeks in the States and the last 5 weeks in Jordan split the summer into two distinct parts, both fun in their own ways.

So what does an FS family do when summer draws to a close?

Plan next summer.

Our R&R point is London.  The kids have never been to London.  Aside from the airports in Frankfurt in Vienna, and 3 days in Brussels when we did our round-the-world, the kids have never been to Europe.  Next summer we remedy that by a tiny sliver.  UK, here we come.

So, what is "can't miss" in the UK?

London, of course.  We have a string of shows we want to see, so we'll most likely spend a week in the city.  Enjoy the green.  Absorb the moisture in the air.  Walk and walk and walk.  Tower of London. Piccadilly Circus. The regular touristy stuff.

I'd like to train down to visit Penzance.

I'd like to train up to Edinburgh and get in to see the castle.

I'd like to take them to Cardiff Castle, which also means going to see The Dr. Who Experience.  Oh yes.

But never been to Ireland either.  Want to go to  Cork, so UK and Ireland.

What else?  Recommendations of things not to miss?

Guess who's 11?

On the 18th Jonathon turned 11, finally.  He's been waiting a long time to turn 11.  A whole year.  We celebrated at camp on the 16th, and brought in 60 cupcakes from Sugar Daddy's to share with campers and counselors and the Front Office, Ian's temporary digs.

On the 18th we took him to lunch at the Embassy snack bar and swimming.  Ginger the cat didn't like a visiting dog and treed himself.  That's what's caught Ian's interest.

There's the cat.  Up in a tree.  Silly cat.

Back at home, we had cake and opened presents all while Skyping with grandma and grandpa in Virginia.  Jonathon got lots of new clothes, a sheet set to match his room, a new Monopoly card game I might actually play, a clock from his biggest sister, an iPod from his brother and Minecraft legos.  Jonathon's room will be decked out in Portal deco, so we also got him a plush turret to guard his door, and Rebecca's gift hasn't arrived yet... shhh.

The next day we went took our first family movie trip to City Mall.  Hoodlums everywhere.  And when I say hoodlums, I mean that outside the doors (and being kept out by the security) were packs of boys, ranging in age from about 11-18, dressed like the Sharks and Jets, hustling people.  We had another discussion on why the girls do not go anywhere on their own.  Anywhere.  Why we keep bags close, wallets and phones in front pockets, and how to keep your distance from shady characters.  How sometimes it's best to make eye contact ("Yeah, I know what you're up to") and sometimes it's best to simply move swiftly and surely.  And how it's a good idea when you can park in a 1JD lot, to park in a 1JD lot.  It affords your car a little it of protection, and gives you personal space to get into your car uninhibited.

We saw "The Amazing Spiderman."  Another remake.  It was good though, better than I expected.  And there were 2 other people in the theater.  Just like in India, purchasing tickets involves choosing your seats.  Unlike India, purchasing tickets is just as expensive as the U.S.  It's too bad, actually, because the theaters are nice and it'd be fun to go more often, but not for 8-9JD a person (7JD=$10).

Here's another tip.  People don't like when you clean up after yourself.  There aren't even garbage bins at the exits.  We clean up anyway.

Since Sunday was the first day of Eid al-Fitr, Ramadan fasting is officially over.  The mall restaurants were all open and we treated ourselves to Pinkberry (warning: the Pinkberry site has music.. loud music) and ate it right there.  If you like tangy frozen yogurt loaded with fresh fruit, check out Pinkberry.

At home again, we finally had the tortellini with alfredo sauce that is one of Jonathon's favorite meals, and we ate it while watching "Bourne Identity" all together.  I can't recall the last time we had a movie night at home with everyone.  Why "Bourne Identity"?  At City Mall we saw the trailer for the new Bourne movie and I figured it's time I saw the first three.  Until now, I've only ever watched the first one up to the Embassy scene.  That part is so ridiculous I never made it past.

I think Jonathon had a good birthday celebration.  Next year he'd like to have a party.  I think we can manage that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to the last few days in DC - Holocaust Museum

We had a week in DC and near the end of our time we went to the Holocaust Museum. It's been on our To Do list for years, and the plan was to only take the girls because of the subject matter. As it turned out, we all went. Ian had meetings in the morning, and the museum doesn't open until 10 a.m., so we walked down and met up with him there. FYI, I paid for tickets so we'd have them. They were $1 each and ensured we wouldn't wait in line for hours as timed tickets are only freely distributed in the morning, for times throughout the day. But the tickets I got were for later in the morning and after all that, I actually read the information page on the website. Here you go:  "With identification, members of the armed forces (including retirees), law enforcement personnel, and federal government employees may obtain complimentary passes for themselves and their families in person at the Information Desk on the day of their visit."  So Ian showed his badge and in we walked. After drinking up our water and sodas. No beverages allowed inside. And no photos either.  The first stop, especially if you have kids, is Daniel's Story, a walk-through of how Daniel's life changed. It's slightly interactive and gets full quickly so everyone ends up shuffling along. It's a good intro for kids who aren't familiar with the history.

Slugs = legal hitchhiking
The permanent exhibit covers 3 floors.  It begins with the history of the region and the rise of the Nazi party, and culminates in a room of remembrance.  There is a lot to take in.  The walls are covered in items to read and absorb, and in several of the areas there are 10-15 minute videos to watch: the history of Judaism, propoganda, Nazis around the world.  Near the end is a room with several aspects unsuitable for children.  These are walled off and only adults of certain height should be able to peer over the walls.  

When we entered the elevator for the ride up, the guide told us the exhibit should take around 90 minutes.  We emerged 2 1/2 hours later and still didn't see it all.  Very well done, and too much to take in.  We needed air.
A pit stop led to a Zen moment.
Right next to the museum is the Tidal Basin.  I'd promised the kids during our DC tour that after the Holocaust Museum we would ride on the Tidal Basin boats, and so we did.  The only ones with canopies are 4 seaters and there were 5 of us, so in order to avoid any fried children we rented 2 canopied boats and attempted to race each other across and around the basin.  Easier said than done.  Those things move at a snail's (or slug's) pace.  And as if our walk to the museum wasn't long enough, or the 2 1/2 hours walking through the museum wasn't enough, we now pedaled our slow-as-molasses way across the basin to the Jefferson and then over to the MLK Jr. memorial.  Going back to the dock took even longer.  I think the tide was going out and we were pedaling and pedaling against it for what felt to our thighs like hours.
The kids were just plain too tired to walk back to the hotel.  We hiked past the set-up for the FolkLife Festival on the Mall, it was quite a mess thanks to the powerful storm we had the evening before, and took the Metro "home."  The day was so hot we stopped at the Whole Foods right off the Metro stop and enjoyed some extra fruity and vegetablicious smoothies.  I think we all chose the only 2 drinks that didn't involve spinach.  Or beets.  I'm all for spinach and beets, just not in my drink.

I can't say enough about DC.  I love it.  It's the only city so far that I've found feels like home.  Yes, it's expensive. And if you can, it's best to ignore the whole political side of it.  So the subway isn't a great one, and it has trouble with large capacity or any flake of snow.  But I like it's low stature, no massively tall buildings that make you feel like an ant walking down the street.  I like how much is free: museums, arts, performances, talks, tours.  And if you add in southern MD and northern VA, your options quadruple.  I like the green spaces.  I like the history both big and small, you can turn a corner and find a tucked away garden with another statue.  I think that's why the George Mason Memorial garden is now one of my favorites.  The guy gets no love, stuck on a parcel of land between two fast-moving streets.

The next day we took it easy, there was nothing we wanted to see if it involved traipsing in the heat again.

So we had people over instead.

Patricia and Jade are sisters who went to middle school with me in Niamey, Niger.  Tell me it's not a small world. Trish lives in Rhode Island and Jade in Washington State, and they were both in town for a memorial service and family reunion.  They were awesome and came by the hotel to hang out for a bit and catch up.  Trish and I have kept in touch, she came to our home in Woodbridge last year when she was in town.  Jade I haven't seen since I left Niamey in 1988.  Yes, it's a small world, and they are two amazing women.

In the evening we decided to do one final big thing, and attended a little show at the Kennedy Center.  "Shear Madness" is one Ian and I have seen many times.  Marymount shuttled kids to see it, with cheap tickets, every year.  This time we brought our own kids.  It was the first time Jonathon had been to the Kennedy Center.  Nicholas went on a class field trip, Rebecca saw "South Pacific" for her 13th birthday with her grandparents, Katherine and Rebecca went with us when they were much younger, though I can't recall the performance.  We weren't dressed up, but "Shear Madness" is a low key performance.  It's also funny and interactive, and though I had a kid (or two) who weren't excited about going (!!), they all warmed up to it.  Honestly, I think it was a great wrap-up to our time in DC.

It's always nice to get to be tourists in your hometown, whether it's natural or adopted.  I'm looking forward to going back.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back in DC... a Capitol tour.

We wanted to go up the Washington Monument.  It's still closed since the earthquake last August.  DC doesn't do earthquakes.  We wanted a tour of the White House.  No luck there either.  Ian had spoken of his Capitol tour during his FSI class, so we got tickets and went.  The tour was shorter than we expected, packed with people, but interesting.  Trying to find a parking space in the city during the work week is a trial, we eventually found one several blocks away and with an online parking meter.  Notice to others... if there is still an old meter, use that first. As the time gets close to expiring, charge up the online meter.  That way you can get up to 4 hours without going back to your car.  The thing with the new online method is they don't let you recharge.  Two hours is two hours.  We didn't figure it out before running for our tour time so only had 2 hours in the Capitol building and Library of Congress before running back to the car.  Next time we'll know. Of course next time they'll have taken out all the classic meters.

We arrived on time, early enough to be nearly first in line for our time slot and time to wait.

I will say this above all else, the Capitol has spectacular art and architecture.  Interesting tidbit, each state is allowed 2 statues in the Capitol building, and they can be statues of anyone they consider historically significant.  Periodically the statues change according to what states want to represent, but they vary widely from the expected politicians to Helen Keller.  

The star marks the center of Washington DC.  It gives your compass rose street address... NE/SE/NW/SW.  The star is found in the crypt level, directly under the dome.  The dome is spectacular in itself.  There's a painting that works around the middle of the dome where it begins to pull into itself and the trompe l'oeil work is 10 feet high.  The space is vast.   Not St. Peter's Basilica vast, but vast nonetheless.  It's also important to note that the congressman don't actually work in the Capitol building.  They all have offices elsewhere, except for the big whigs, the Senate and House Majority leaders.  If you're interested in the symbolism incorporated in buildings like the Capitol, reading sites like The Vigilant Citizen can be fun  (I won't link to it... there's some bizarre stuff over there).  Otherwise, just check out sites like the Architect of the Capitol.

After the Capitol tour, we took the underground path to the Library of Congress, that gorgeous packed building seen in so many movies.  Pick just about any movie that involves a search into American History, and the Library of Congress has a good chance of being in it.  Again, the architecture is stunning, the exhibit of Thomas Jefferson's library was very cool (no pics allowed), the ancient map exhibit is always one of my favorites, but, and it's a big but, there's no walking through any part of the actual library.  A small glassed room lets you have a peek into the study room, a very short very small peek. Honestly, it was a bit of a let down.  I guess I need to buddy up to someone who works there to get nice and close to all those wonderful books.

The evening we found ourselves in Georgetown visiting friends at the University Hospital who'd just had a baby. SO cute.  No photos as I didn't ask.  The boys were too young (as non-relatives) to visit in the room so sat patiently in the waiting area while the girls held and cooed at the new baby.  Very awesome.  We didn't stay too long, they're new parents and exhausted after all.  So we drove down to M Street, walked around and found dinner at Johnny Rockets.  Sandwiches are eh, milkshakes rock.  It was early on a work day and the place was empty.  Just the way we like it.  Georgetown cupcake is just down the way and the line was short, so we picked up some cupcakes for good measure.  Are we the only nation willing to pay upwards of $3+ per cupcake?  We can make them at home for roughly 5-10c including frosting, right?  Insanity.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Back in time, to the Museum of Crime and Punishment

After our day at Arlington National Cemetery, and Ian passed his exam (woohoo!), we had some time to do activities as a family.  A while back we'd bought discount tickets to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment so off we went.  Malaria came too.

There were a lot of interactive activities that kept the kids interested and occupied. Crimes began back in the middle ages and the various torture devices used to get "the truth."  I learned quite a bit about Bonnie and Clyde and various Wild West sorts.  Al Capone, a whole slew of mobsters.  And modern day hoodlums and traitors. There was a lot of looking at pictures and reading as well, but a safe needed opening, plenty of quizzes needed answering, and then of course, the line-up.  The kids faced one-way glass and listened to the instructions to step forward, repeat words.  They were both guilty from where I was standing.

And then of all things, they escape from jail!

Rotten criminals.

Across the way from the Crime and Punishment Museum is the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (same building, right across from Gallery Place Metro) .  It was Ian's chance to see the Art of the Video Game exhibit, just like Rebecca did earlier.

To finish out our day, we ordered Chinese into the hotel.  This was our king suite sitting room.  It rocked.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Swefieh Tour

The CLO's office regularly organizes awesome tours, whether it's to Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, or the Swefieh neighborhood near the Embassy.  Today was the latter (we won't make it to Egypt this year).

Swefieh reminds us of India.  The roads are tight, people park in weird places, electrical wires hang in dangerous waves, and the shops are plentiful and packed in.  It's where to go if you need a watch battery.  If you need shoes repaired.  If you want good falafel and amazing bread.

There is a 24 hour bakery in Swefieh.  It. Is. Divine.  They don't bother with packaging most of the food stuffs, it's rolled straight out of the ovens on those tall multi-shelved baking racks, and folks fill bags with all the hot steamy goodness.  Flat breads, sliced breads (ok, yes, they are packaged), rolls, buns, bread sticks, white, whole wheat, sesame seeded, cakes, cookies, treats of all kinds.  We walked out of there with a bag of 4 large flat breads, 6 demi-baguette types, a bag of fresh bread sticks, a loaf of sliced bread, a lemon and chocolate bundt cake, all for 4.50JD.

Nearby was the "Calories Snacks."  I believe it was closed.  Most sit-down food stores are still closed during the day for Ramadan, which precludes places like the bread shop or Pinkberry or the Starbucks drive-through.  If you bring your food or drink home (Pinkberry will package your frozen yogurt with ice packs for the ride home), then all is good.  But no sitting in a cafe' enjoying your cool beverage.

Here's a juxtaposition for you.  On one side, Amman is a growing, packed city with malls filled with Breitling and Louis Vuitton.  On the other, litearlly across the road from the Taj Mall, we had to stop for a herd of sheep apparently grazing on the asphalt and not on the scrub a few feet away.  A couple honks brought the shepherd running down the way to shoo them off.  We don't see much in the way of camels in the city, but the periodic donkey and plenty of sheep and goats are around, even across the street from the Embassy.  The thing with Amman is there are loads of empty lots.  Some appear empty but actually are garden plots, so they are tended to.  I'm not sure they are actually, legally, garden plots, but that's what they are for now, as long as a building isn't going up on them.  Apparently at some recent point in history the cost of land in Amman skyrocketed so while there are loads of big expensive homes in clumps, it's not uncommon for every other plot to be empty.  It doesn't help that this city is really really hilly.  Houses are built right into the hills which is quite the challenge.  I should take a photo of our street from the bottom of the hill, and you'll see what I mean.

It is a beautiful city though. And small. I know we're sort of on the edge of the city, but with only 3-3.5million people in the city, and nothing immediately beyond but olive groves and lots of sand, it feels very small.  Of course, we compare everything to our last post.  Chennai had 4 million in the city, but nearly 10 million with its suburbs.  Amman doesn't really have any suburbs so 3 million it is.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Guess What. We've been in Amman for a month today.

We've been here a month and with that comes a little clarity to our circumstances. The adrenaline has worn off, the jetlag is long gone, we're even making some friends. We've driven around the city, done our grocery shopping, gone to work and camp, received our UAB, hung out by the pool and at home.

So here goes, 5 things we enjoy about Amman, and 5 things we aren't so thrilled about.  Of course this list isn't all there is to Amman, but here's a taste.

The Good:

1) Driving around.  Folks don't honk, people even follow signage and lights.  Sure, it'll get worse once Ramadan is over and school begins, but for now, driving is nearly fun.

2) The Embassy folk, from every division.  The GSO folk, the CONS folk, the front office folk, the AESCSA folk, and all the folk in-between.  Helpful?  Oh yes.  Kind?  Yes to that too.  I know that not everyone gets along (there are a lot of Americans here, personalities will clash), but for the folks we interact with nothing but nice.  And the LES staff?  One word.  Awesome.

3) The weather.  It's warm with blue skies, and the breeze is cool.  Every day.

4) The food.  Hummus.  Flat breads that come in so many flavors and styles.  The honey has a tasting station in the stores and all the honeys are labeled according to their pollen source.  And I'll admit it, the lamb is good too.

5) The city.  It's gorgeous.  When the setting sun hits the hills and lights up all the sand colored buildings, it's simply stunning.

The Bad:

1) The littering.  The city provides dumpsters and trash pick-up.  OK, not enough, but still, put your trash next to the dumpster if it's full.  Instead, trash is strewn around the streets every night.  You might think it's the wind's fault, and some of it is, but far from all.  Take pride in your city, people!  It's beautiful, but not when there are McDonald's containers in the median.

2) People stare.  We're not that odd looking, and enough people speak English here that even our speech shouldn't attract attention.  And yet, there we are.

3) Ramadan.  Ok, let me 'splain.  There's nothing wrong with Ramadan, but our American senses have a bit of a hard time not being able to eat and drink in public (who knew we drink so much in public? Hello Starbucks.).  This is simply nitpicky on my part, because we do eat and drink during the day at home and at the Embassy.

4) Limited internet and cell phone. Texting is more expensive than a phone call, and there's no such thing as unlimited internet. This one is from the kids.

5) The neighborhood.  Like it it not, this is still the Middle East and should anything go awry it won't come from inside the borders, it'll be something happening in a neighbor's yard.  Can't let it color our every day activities, but also can't ignore it.  No, can't ignore it at all.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Going back in time a bit... back to DC

So last time I mentioned our little vacation in DC, we went to the National Zoo.  The next day was a work day so Ian was off to FSI for his last day of language.  (He tested the next day and got his 2/2 in Arabic.)  We went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit with the grandfather my kids never met.  When we arrived we skipped the usual tourist paths, which is actually tough to do since tourists are corralled and guided towards the hill where the Tomb of the Unknown is and other familiar spots.  Check out the interactive map on the website and I sure didn't know there were so many monuments in the cemetery.  Apparently we also walked directly past the burial site for Admiral Grace Hopper on our way to the columbarium.  No relation.

We passed several burials, either in preparation or in progress.

After much searching, we found him.  It was very hot and long walk from our hotel and the columbarium has no shade.  But the cemetery is peaceful and no one minded the search.

Ian's father died before I ever met him.  Oddly, and sadly(?), it's one of the things that brought us together.  He died from complications from diabetes in the fall of my senior year of college, shortly after Ian and I met and started dating.   Ian flew home to Ohio for the funeral but then was going to drive his father's car back to  school in Virginia.  Something in me said that two days of driving alone right after losing a father sometimes isn't a good thing.  I flew out to Ohio and we drove back together. 

So we don't forget again where he is.  I'm sure we'll be back sometime.  Since it was Ian's last day of language he got off early and picked us up from the cemetery, letting us avoid a long hot walk back, or an expensive Metro ride. We didn't make it up to the "popular" sites, but that can be for next time if we don't walk to the cemetery in the first place in summer heat.  It's a big plot of land.  We drove to Target to pick up a few items and had some lunch, then relaxed at the hotel for the afternoon.

Dinner was at Front Page.  But first, dessert from a nearby cupcakery.  We also stopped in a book store and got each of the kids who wanted one a puzzle book.

Front Page was so loud.  There was a young professionals happy hour going on and they didn't keep it down to a bearable level.  Thank goodness we left before the karaoke and quiz night.  The food was excellent, even the French onion soup I had.  It was too hot to eat any more.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ruins in the center of Amman.

A few weeks ago Ian, Rebecca and I went on a little tour in the center of the city. Roman ruins anyone?

History at our fingertips, all over the city.  At the entrance to the amphitheater hawkers were selling piles of Roman (and other?) coins dug up around the city.  Every time a building basement is dug, every time land is leveled for new construction (which doesn't happen often, I admit... homes are built into the side of the hills) there is the opportunity to uncover real ancient history.

It's pretty awesome.