Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jerash, from Nicholas's perspective

There's nothing better (imo) better than getting photos from a kid's eye view.  Nicholas took these from our trip and they make me smile.

On the drive there.  The hills are lovely.

Another amphitheater view.  So pretty.

He's got a good eye.  


The ACS Spooktacular was weeks ago, but the Embassy Halloween party was reserved for October 31st.

The boys waited in line for trick-or-treating.  The line was as long in back as it was in front, and just kept growing until the doors opened and we began with a trip through the happy Halloween side in the South Chancery.  Various sections in the Embassy decorated parts of hallways, to treat the kids and participate in the decoration competition.  My favorite was a trip through Candyland with Gloppy (you know, the guy in the molasses swamp) greeting all the kids.

And the boys said we were going through the scary side in the North Chancery.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I don't do Halloween.  I certainly don't do scary Halloween.  And the boys made me go with them through the scary Halloween halls.  Through the hanging heads.  Through the Haunted Hospital.  Through the Marine trauma unit.  Through the people grabbing at our feet, and the hands grabbing through dark holes, and the severed limbs lying on tables and dead people coming back to life.  It was awful.

And the worst part. The thing that made many many kids cry.  Being slowly and zombiely chased by this thing here ----

Thankfully I didn't see Katherine in the dark misery of scary Halloween goriness (did I get enough Halloween adjectives in there?).

Yeah.  Small favors.  I'm still going to have bad dreams of that thing up there.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012


What an impressive site for Jordan.  It's described as Rome Away From Rome and less than an hour from our home in Amman.  Even cooler, it's where the ACS graduation ceremony is traditionally held.

One of the attractions is a gladiator and chariot show in the hippodrome.  We'd scheduled our arrival for the afternoon show, only to discover that it wasn't being held.  And hasn't been held for several months.  Bummer for the 6 kids in our party, and all the adults too.  But that's not to say there wasn't a chariot experience to be had.

Rebecca and Jonathon

Katherine and Nicholas

Ian and Hamsa
What remains of the city is small in retrospect, but vast enough to take an afternoon of walking.  We didn't hire a guide but relied on a Jordan guidebook and general knowledge of ancient Roman city design to figure out what we were looking at.  Really though, the greatest attraction for Jerash, and greatest detraction to historical preservation, is the ability to climb all over the city.  The archaeology experts must have conniptions when it comes to Jerash.  The dig is a bit of a mess, really.  Carved stones are piled everywhere, sometimes in orderly rows. Columns are stacked haphazardly, many with portions upside down and sideways. Stones in the museum are free to be touched.  I think one of the kids jostled Zeus' lightning bolt.

Overlooking the circus.

The amphitheater.  Where the graduates walk across the stage.

We were so parched and had planned so badly that aside from me with sunglasses none of us wore hats, or had water, or were prepared at all for hiking up and down hills and rocks for several hours.  At the Temple of Artemis our wishes were answered.  A water vendor.

Many of the carvings were in Greek.  The Romans stole everything from the Greeks.

At the end of the day we were all still smiling, so even though we were dusty and thirsty and hot and tired, it was worth it.  We'll be back for graduation in the spring, and probably a few more times if there are visitors or CLO trips or newcomers to post.

On our way we passed the turn off to Ajloun and Ajloun Castle. Wildlife and trees are what we hear about Ajloun. Trees are a big deal in Jordan.  We passed the exit for the Scandinavian Forest.  I'm guessing that one is filled with Christmas trees and reindeer.  We haven't been to Aqaba or any of the wadis (valleys). We haven't gone camping or ridden along the sand dunes. There are ancient castles from all through history scattered around the countryside.

These are our tasks for the coming year.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Welcome Zaytoun.

I fully blame the person we went to dinner with tonight.

We'd been meaning to get together for dinner with a family here since we arrived.  The chosen restaurant, Reem Al Bawadi, is a fun place with a large outdoor eating area and just as large indoor eating area.  The food is all served for the group and it's typical middle eastern fare.

But we didn't know where it was, so they showed up at our door and we'd caravan over, with Donna in our car giving directions and Ian in theirs.  While shifting people around, her husband (who was supposed to just walk around the van to the driver's seat)... didn't.  Instead he walked towards our house, and returned to our car with a kitten in hand.  

That girl up there.

He plopped the filthy meowing bundle of fur in Donna's lap and the car erupted with "Can we keep it!"

We were on our way out, and I wan't about to do kitten duty just yet.  So we made the next best decision.  The kids put it in the glass enclosed entry way.  And we went to dinner.

Two hours later we checked out what this purring mess was all about.  Chunks of her fur have been cut off, most of her whiskers are snipped short.  There are areas that feel like there is either a skin issue or perhaps just clumps of dirt stuck to the skin.  Her ears are typically dirty.  But she purrs like there's no tomorrow.  When Rebecca walked into the glass entry she came right out and started up the rumbling machine.  This one seems to know people and isn't starving.  No idea what happened to her, why she was treated badly, but she's had a little towel bath and a good drying rub and a bowl of kitten milk.  Tonight she'll spend the night inside a carrier with a fuzzy blanket and a bowl of kitten milk. Tomorrow she'll visit the vet.

Our family just grew.  Again.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Last night was enchiladas for dinner.  We went to the awesome bakery in Sweifiah and one of our purchases were the huge round and seemingly paper thing Arabic bread.  Cutting one piece in half to create two large enchiladas worked perfectly.

We had leftover baked chicken, so I set Jonathon to shredding it into a large pan.

Add in a can of corn.  Or slice some off fresh cobs.

Add in a can of black beans (we didn't this time because I couldn't find any at the store).

Add in a small jar of garlic tomato sauce.

Mix together and heat up.

Cook up a cup of wild rice mixed with white rice.

Open a can of refried beans.

Make a package of enchilada sauce (larger quantity and cheaper than a can)

Shred some cheddar cheese.

Chop up tomatoes.

Shred some lettuce.

Pull out a jar of salsa.  Or make your own.

Get sour cream.  Or in our case, plain yogurt.

Spray oil into 9x13 dish to keep bread from sticking.

Open up the flat bread.

Rub some refried beans in a swipe about 1/3 of the way into the bread.

Spread out some rice on the beans.

Spread out some chicken mix on the rice.

Sprinkle on some cheese.

Fold up one end of bread, roll up short side to cover mixture, fold other side, roll up into rest of the bread.

Place into dish.

Line up more enchiladas until dish is full.

Pour enchilada sauce over top of each enchilada.

Bake in oven on high (sorry, my oven doesn't really have temperature settings) for 15 minutes.

Pour a swipe of enchilada sauce onto plate.

Place enchilada on enchilada sauce.

Sprinkle on cheese.

Add toppings: yogurt, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kitten Craze...

Because who doesn't love kitten photos? OK, lots of people don't.  But that's the beauty of having my own personal blog.

Shawarma can sleep any way, and in any possible position.

Falafel sleeps very silly too, but since she's a little lady she tends to curl up more often.

Helping out with homework.

Who doesn't love a kitten in a basket?  A patriotic kitty at that.

It looks like she has no eyes, but she does have one.  And dark jelly bean toes.

And she's still as tiny as can be.

More toes.

Tussling.  It's what they do 90% of the time they are actually awake.. which is only about 50% of the day.

 They are just as doofy as they look.  And they are so much fun.

Stayin' Alive: Shopping on the internet.

The Foreign Service is a family and a small one at that.  There are people you adore, people you... don't..., you don't burn bridges -ever- because you never know who will be posted together next, and you always know you can connect to people who are in your future post.  We need places to compare notes, commiserate, and offer useful advice. A new page called Trailing Houses has come about for such useful stuff.

When the local economy doesn't have familiar items for less that double or triple what you're willing to spend (i.e. cereal).  When the local economy has items that simply won't cut it (i.e. diapers). When the local economy doesn't have clothing in your size (i.e. India).  When the local economy doesn't have food items for restricted diets (i.e. diabetes).  You get the idea.

So here you go, fellow FS folk, a little list of useful links.

Hands down #1 was Amazon, and specifically Amazon Prime.  Everything you can possibly need to set up a new home.

If you're a Target fan at home, then Target online is great.

Walmart also has a good following, as well as CVS.

From there, there's a wide variety of favorite sites for everything across the board.

For spices and blends (unless you're in Asia or the Middle East, of course): Penzeys

For party goods: Oriental Trading Company

For standard clothing: LLBean and JCPenney and Kohls

For conservative women's clothing: Holy Clothing

For dresses and professional wear: Eshakti and ModCloth

Home and personal items: Drugstore and Soap and Alice

Babies need their own stuff: Diapers and CVS

Kids do too: Carters and Old Navy

School supplies are so expensive at post: Discount School Supply

Reusable items to lessen waste: Reuseit

Books, for those who don't own a Kindle: Book Depository and Paperback Swap

Gifts if you can't find anything local: Etsy and Prezzybox and ThinkGeek

Shoes: Zappos and 6pm

Groceries: Buy The Case and Netgrocer and Amazon Grocer

Cheese (order during the U.S. winter): Cougar Gold and Tillamook

Portable sizes: Minimus

Make-up: Eyes Lips Face and Avon

School Uniforms: French Toast and Target

Pet supplies: Pet Food Direct and Amazon

Adapters and Converters: Voltage Converters

Retailmenot and Ebates are two good sources for making some money back or getting discounts on your purchases.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Senior Project

The other day on the way home from swim practice, Rebecca and I got to talking about Senior Project.  Every senior does one, it spans the year and involves something of interest to the student.

Writing 12: Senior Seminar/ Preparation for College: This course provides a culminating experience of the ACS education, as well as setting students on the path for a successful transition to college. The three major components are: the college application essay, senior seminar and senior project. Senior Seminar encourages critical thinking about the nature of knowledge, helping students make sense of what they've learned in and out of school in preparation for the higher order thinking required at the college level. The Senior Project allows students to demonstrate their ability to design and participate in a multi-phased, research-based learning process, while preparing for their future in higher education and the work force.

Rebecca is considering the ACS swim program.

Currently the team has no school pool.  They meet up at Cambridge High School 10-15 minutes away from ACS (determined by traffic, of course).  We have huge hopes that the plans we've seen for an ACS pool and an ACS auditorium/theater will get to ground-breaking very very soon.  That would mean by Rebecca's junior year ACS would have a pool of its own and the swim team would have a home.

But having a place to swim is only the first hurdle.

Rebecca's 3 years of summer swim team with the Dale City Frogs opened her eyes to what a swim team can be.  Not the highly competitive Olympics-bound sort of team, but a team that is cohesive, that has pride in its sport, that's focused on competition as much as it's focused on team building.  The team needs a purpose, for one thing.

The goal: Improvement.  And to have improvement you need a starting point and a finishing point.

For the Frogs, the starting point was a week into the season with time trials.  So far, there have been no time trials with the Piranha Scorpions (we're not sure if the team is one or the other).

For the Frogs, the finishing point was the last day of the season with Divisionals with recorded times and plenty of ribbons to go around.  So far, there have been no meets, and I'm not even sure which schools have a swim team.  Swimming in Jordan?  Not a huge draw.

The other day we were speaking with one of the team organizers about a meet.  As of now, nearly a full quarter into the season, all we have are hints of one coming up in late November or early December, but I've also heard we won't actually know until right before it happens.

Practice times are currently one hour three times a week.  With an ACS pool, that would be adjustable.  Early morning practices for serious swimmers.  More after-school options.  Longer practices.

There's plenty of room for Rebecca to bring some order to the team.  There are also options for bringing out team unity.  Team caps.  Team towels.  Bringing attention to the team at Pep rallies.

And on top of all that, fundraising through bake sales at practice times to subsidize purchases.

Becca wants to get in the pool and coach the younger kids.

We talked about possibilities to lead stroke clinics outside of regular practice times.

How about asking the Olympic Jordanian swimmer to come and teach a clinic?

Getting really bold, there's the option to talk to the Embassy, make connections in the States, and sponsor a professional swimmer or coach to come to the school for a clinic, and open it up to the community.

And for something long-term, how about organizing swimming into ISAC or AAC?  ISAC and AAC are the regional athletics and activity exchanges in the region.  Last week the varsity volleyball team was in Kuwait, and currently ACS is hosting the JV volleyball tournament.  It extends even to Chorus and Band.  ACS is hosting those as well this year, students will arrive from schools in Oman... Kuwait... UAE...

When we were in India, the teams traveled as well, and swimming was included in the full athletics program.  Not only did AISC host the Big Bad Blue meet with local Chennai teams, but the big travel meet was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with teams from Bangladesh, other cities in India, and (when peaceful with an open school) Pakistan.

Chances are pretty good that not all of this will, or even could, happen.  But there are so many possibilities.

Last year one of the Senior Project students organized the first ACS homecoming.  It occurred in the winter for the basketball season (ACS doesn't have American football), and this year it's happening again even though that student has graduated.  The 11th graders fundraise for it and organize it.

The same could happen with the swim team.

Rebecca could do so much and perhaps even leave a little legacy behind.

There's lots for her to think about.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Camera Charger(s) Found


They were still in a suitcase pocket from our move here.  The camera battery lasts a good long while even with very heavy usage, but it doesn't last forever.  

But since I found it too late to get any photos of the kids dressed up for the school Halloween party there is no proof of our football player, angry bird, and couple of frightening homemade monster type girls.  Halloween isn't my thing but the kids clearly enjoy it.

Nor do I have proof of the girls volunteering at the hot dog stand at the Diplomatic Bazaar yesterday.  We had samosas from the Indian food booth.  The chutney was awesome.  No jerseys from the Russian or Canadians booths.  Bummer.

The only other purchase, aside from food including Nanaimo Bars, was a mug from the Canada booth. Very cool.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fixing Him Up

I feel like such a heel.

This evening Ian and I brought Tandoori to the vet. Things were just not right with him.  Disdain for the kittens goes pretty far, but his behavior was beyond crotchety old cat grumpiness.  Something was really off.  There were patches of sticky stuff on his fur.  In fact it seemed like he wasn't cleaning himself as normal.  He slept a lot.  I know, I know, he's an adult cat, it's what they do.  But this was different.  He slept all the time.  Didn't interact with anyone.  Didn't play with anything.  Didn't sit on my lap... didn't sit near me.. in fact there were entire days where I barely saw him. His miserable meow (he's never meowed properly) was worse, broken and weak.   He gave me a baleful yet angry stare.  I blamed it on the kittens and their rambunctiousness irritating him to distraction.

He walked gingerly.  He smacked his lips oddly, even after drinking water.  He didn't really eat, even wet food.  He kept himself in a ball, and once even hissed at me when I pet him.  More often if I pet him he would turn take a step away and turn his back to me.  He seemed hunched and balled up.

He seemed very very unhappy.  The kittens didn't help, but they didn't seem like the sole cause either.

So we made the snap decision to go to the vet.

He doesn't have a fever, but the issue he had a couple weeks ago with something stuck in his throat (the xrays didn't show anything stuck but an exam showed there had been something) hadn't gone away.  His throat showed inflammation and infection.

The poor guy can't swallow.  And he hurts.  And kittens are annoying.

The vet shot him up with an antibiotic (we had some in liquid form, but if he won't eat I can't mix it in food, and if he hurts he'll claw me to shreds if I try to squirt it in his mouth) and an anti-inflammatory.

We then left him in his carrier for a few hours.

And now that we're all home....

He immediately ate some soft food.

He climbed up and sat on the arm of my chair next to me, and let me pet him.

He hissed at the kittens a bit, but also just watched them walk by along the floor.

His ears are up.

He clearly feels better.

And I should have known and done something days ago.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Day Off From Work Brought Us To the Dead Sea

Sunday is normally a work/school day.  Our Monday holidays are taken on Sunday, so this week Columbus Day for the Embassy was observed on Sunday.  But the kids didn't have off.  So on these rare occasions when Ian doesn't have work while the kids are in school, we try to do something fun.

This time, it was a quick trip to the Dead Sea.

We opted for a Day Pass a the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and we now know why people stay over night when possible: a day pass for two is 100JD.  The Day Pass can be used for access to the beach and the pools, as well as a small lunch and not much more.

I will say this for the Movenpick resort.  The room areas are quiet and charming.  It's like walking through an old castle village, each door leads outside to a shady courtyard pathway.  There are numerous pools, a man-made beach (visible in the above photo), and easy access to the Dead Sea, complete with pots of Dead Sea mud.

The Dead Sea is kind of amusing beyond the cool factor of being the lowest point on Earth.  The bobbing up and down, the inability to swim, the slick feel of the water.  When you first get in, swirl your hand in the water.  You'll see the same shimmery movement as when you add salt to a pot of hot water.  I can do a pathetic freestyle in the Dead Sea but it's tough on the neck since you really can't put your head under water.  A drop on your lips tastes awful.  Getting it in your eyes would be extremely painful.  

Lunch was good, we each had a salad to offset the heat and humidity.  Returning to Amman was a blessing in that regard.  No heat, no sweat, and definitely no flies here in Amman.  I don't know where the flies came from by the sa, but dozens settled on us immediately while we sat in our lounge chairs waiting for drinks and they didn't let up until we made our way to the sea. Even when we moved to eat our meal they followed, and when we returned to the lounge chairs the cushions were covered in flies.  Above all else, the flies were an annoyance and a distraction and seriously hindered relaxation.  We could have also used better signage around the expansive resort, but wandering is enjoyable as well.

On our way back home we stopped at Jesus' Baptism Site, a mere 10 minutes down the road from the Dead Sea resorts.  There is a shuttle to see the sites as well as an hour+ of walking involved so we decided to save it for another time, perhaps when my parents' visit.

We also stopped at a tourist trap souvenir spot.  Ian picked up a little box to hold his business cards on his desk at work.  There are beautiful game tables for sale as well but 1000JD (or even the very special price for us of 500JD) was too much for a little table.  We have time to keep looking.

We'll go back to the Dead Sea, no question.  When it's a bit cooler and less "fly season," overnight at the Marriott with some of the kids.  It's an easy drive (if we can figure out the proper turn on the way home), and a nice change from the hills of Amman.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


From the ACS guidelines:

HIGH  SCHOOL SERVICE GUIDELINES- No family member can be the recipients of your community service.
- Playing a musical instrument or playing on an athletic team will not count as service UNLESS it is a game/concert for charity or you are working with underprivileged kids in music or athletics.
- No credit will be given if the hours are not registered online.
- You can perform community service within the school such as tutoring, teacher/secretary/library assistant, recycling, helping the PTG, helping at school-sponsored events or leading an activity for students.

HIGH SCHOOL SERVICE GUIDELINES - Students cannot receive any payment for their service (money or gifts).

Ten hours is nothing.  For Confirmation they had to do 20 hours, and plenty of programs require a whole lot more. Katherine earned her 100 hour pin after a year of volunteering at our Virginia hospital emergency room and in its gift shop.  And I get the strong impression that 10 hours is merely a kicking off point here in Amman.  Last year the high school offered up more than 4000 hours.  Rebecca's class has 40 kids.  The entire high school is less than 200.

Rebecca started by helping out the boy scouts with a rescue swim program.  Today I signed up both girls to sell hot dogs at the Diplomatic Bazaar.  We've encouraged Katherine to start up a weekly woodwinds after school clinic.

This volunteering thing is fun.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A little of this, a little of that.

Today I will knit.

That's not what I'm writing about though.  That was more of a reminder to myself that I really should keep on knitting if I'm ever going to finish this little blanket.  Did I ever show you which one I'm making?

What you can't tell from the image is that each color uses a different stitch, so it's a good practice blanket for someone learning to knit without getting bored.  I'm not using the pastel colors so mine will look quite different, but not.

I ironed yesterday. Whee.  Ian is set for another week at least.

The main floor is still decent from our party on Sunday night.  We hosted a small gathering of Wardens, which sounds rather ominous but has nothing to do with the local jail population.  Wardens to the Consular section are connections we have out in the community, who receive messages directly from the Embassy and impart them to the Americans in their area.  Warden messages are often dispatched in times of trouble.  But Wardens also send information back in to the Embassy.  In essence, they are our eyes and ears within the city and across the country generally relating news about protests or unusual activity.  They are an invaluable resource and one the Consular section wanted to thank.

I also want to thank my friend Jen Dinoia of the The Dinoia Family website. Jen is a breast cancer survivor, and she doesn't support the Komen Foundation.  It may seem an odd thing, but Jen has explained very well over the past couple years since her diagnosis and through her surgery about why she doesn't view the Komen Foundation as a worthwhile group.  She has opened quite a few eyes to her experience with them and to the foundation overall.  So thank you Jen for reminding us that helping individuals is far more important than lining the pockets of a cause that sells "pink ribbon pasta."  Is breast cancer awareness really a pasta bowl ideal?

A little background on Jen... she's doing the single mother thing to her 3 kids while her husband in on an unaccompanied tour.  She was diagnosed early early into his first attempt at doing an unaccompanied tour, so he dropped everything and came home within days to take care of her and get the family through the next year or surgeries and treatments.  They are a remarkable family.

Speaking of remarkable family, the gloss has worn off a bit from ACS.  It was bound to happen of course.  Homework, even the minimal the boys get, is not really fun.  Some days are better than other (Computers and PE on one day surely beat out Math and English on another).  But overall the kids are doing well.  Rebecca is enjoying swim team quite a bit.  She's a leader in the pool and coach has her dubbed a captain.  She is regretting a bit not going out for volleyball and it's taking her a while to remember that international schools are different.  With 40 kids in the freshman class, she can go out for anything she wants just for the fun of it: for the teams here it's not a matter of only picking athletes who already are fully talented, but of developing those abilities.  Rebecca is struggling a bit in school, if only for the fact that she's still attached to Virginia and is fighting full assimilation into the ACS culture.  She'll get there, I have no doubt.  Nicholas is happy to be here and he's doing well in his classes.  He's big on organization so keeping up with his classes isn't too difficult, though he's finding the new processes take a bit of getting used to.  Since the school has a 1:1 laptop program he keeps sticky notes up on the screen to jot down his assignments.  It seems to be working for him.  Jonathon's personality "flaws" make it more difficult for him than it should be, he's so, so headstrong.  His grades are excellent, but his social challenges continue.  Katherine is doing well in most of her classes.  She too is getting used to the new workload and the different caliber of teachers and classmates.

ACS had a Back to School picnic recently, last week we had Back to School nights for middle school on one evening and high school another evening.  The freshmen had an additional Back to School Orientation last night.  I think we're all quite saturated with Back to School activities five weeks into the school year.

But that's how it is.  One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.  Life is an adventure whether we're seeing a wonder of the world or keeping the cats from clawing the furniture.  Life has its twists and turns, as parents, as students, as spouses.  We just try to keep one step ahead and make the best judgment calls we can with the information we have.

And now, on to knitting.