Thursday, November 22, 2012

Another dose of kittens. Yup, thankful for kittens.

Zaytoun has settled down and settled right in, even with Jonathon.

Shawarma is just as tolerant as ever.  Kids forget he's alive sometimes.

Zaytoun likes to watch TV.  Any TV.

And we've decided that's a face we can love.  Little Olive.

Shawarma is happiest touching people while napping. 

Silly Zaytoun.  This toy is NOT for you, Shawarma said so.
All toys belong to him.

Shawarma got distracted, so Falafel took over toy guard duty.

Falafel napping in the yarn, position #1.
You'd think they ate all the turkey today.

 Position #2, 5 minutes later.

Falafel, position #3, 5 minutes later.
My project is extra fluffy with all the cat hair added to it.
So tired from so much napping in a basket.

So so tired.

Even Tandoori wanted in on the Cute Cat action.
Tandoori overseas the doofuses.
He has no patience for them at all.

Finally, the toy is hers to sit on.

She crawls up people and curls up to nap.

And thankfully the others have accepted her
and her annoying little sister  hijinks.

Shawarma is so lazy that sometimes eating is exhausting.

Thankful for another adorable lapcat. 

So much to be thankful for.

There is no shortage of life changing and life sustaining things to be thankful for.  Yes, we live in the Middle East, and for that I am thankful.  I'm thankful for our time in the Philippines, our time in the U.S., our time in India, our time here, and even our time in Togo.  We still talk about Togo a lot and most often it's about the good times we had there. 

I'm thankful that no matter where we live, we have each other.  So far, we have never been separated for a holiday.  That may change.  That will change.  But for our family life so far, we have always been together, for every birthday, every Christmas, every Thanksgiving.  Some year Ian may do an Unaccompanied Tour.  And in 18 months we start losing children to the great wide world. Thanksgivings truly won't ever be the same again.

I'm thankful my husband works in a job he loves, and with that we live where we live, the kids go to schools that challenge them, and our daily experiences are ones that shape each one of us in ways we won't fully understand until we're old and gray. 

I'm thankful my parents are as involved in our lives as they can be.  We write snailmail letters back and forth, because nothing is more wonderful than getting real mail.  We Skype when we can though not as frequently as we'd like.  No matter what happens, they are there to support us.  We have never been evacuated, for that we are thankful, yet if we were we have a place to stay.  We are grateful for them.
I'm thankful that we have always had enough, and more, food for our family. This Thanksgiving was no exception.  Of course I cheated.  The turkey was made by the Embassy kitchen, as was the pumpkin pie.  The cranberry sauce came out of a can.  The dressing, cornbread muffins, and au gratin potatoes came from boxes.  The gravy was instant.  Only the green beans and carrots were homemade, and honestly they were my least favorite parts of the meal.  But that's OK.

We had an appetizer time beforehand.  Deviled eggs, something we'd never made before.  I think that might have been what tried to poison Ian.  No one else came down ill after dinner, but he thinks the eggs did it.  Camembert, white cheddar, and pate' with garlic crackers rounded out the starter and it was a nice way to start the feasting.  I'm thankful for healthy food.  When making the deviled eggs a single egg floated to the top and out it went.
I'm thankful for beautiful things that are also useful.  The metal plates, bowls and cups from India make me smile. The table covering from South America was given to us by friends.  These things remind me of good times and friends.  I'm thankful for good friends, long-time friends, who are few and far between, for they are one of the most beautiful things in the world.  In our lifestyle, fast friends are quick and often born out of convenience and necessity.  These have a place as well that we are thankful for, but it is the friendships that last beyond the year, beyond the post, that we truly treasure.

Our health is something we never take for granted.  We all have our issues but none that we have not or cannot overcome.  We are thankful to live in a place with good healthcare.  Nicholas sees an orthodontist, Jonathon saw the dermatologist, Katherine sees her doctors, an xray is a phone call away, and pharmacies are everywhere.  When things go badly

We're thankful for our little furry family members.  They create such a mess, are beggars, and are quite irritating in the middle of the night, but it's all good when they curl up on a lap and drop into a dozy purring puddle.  (I couldn't help sharing some turkey and leftover pate'.  I know,  I know, I'm teaching very bad habits.)
Thanksgiving.  It's worth doing every day of the year.  After all, it does not take being happy to be thankful.  Rather, it is being thankful that makes us happy. I read that somewhere, and yeah, it applies.

Happy Thanksgiving friends and family.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dad-Son Project, or How I Lost My Bedroom Floor

But first... this is totally normal here.  And every single game for sale was pirated.

But we actually went to the mall today for this project, something Ian has been waiting to do for a while so that Nicholas could do it with him.  I think Jonathon wanted in on it too, but not this time.  Ian has been buying parts for a couple months and aside from the power supply that never showed everything was assembled and waiting a long weekend.  A stop at Mecca Mall fixed the power supply problem (NOT from the store pictured above) and now the boys are spread out all over our bedroom floor.

It's a lovely case.  Though one has to wonder: Why make something so large and bulky as we size down everything else?  We all have laptops, even our last PC was a Mac, so no CPU.  And now we have this big thing.  I get that it's easier to see all the parts and learn what they're all about, and this machine will be the boys' game machine so they'll put less crap on their school laptops.  I get it.  I'm clearly not a computer geek.

Meanwhile, Jonathon (who was not welcome to be part of the building process, poor kid), entertained himself reading old issues of PC Gamer.  Someone at the Embassy dropped off a year's worth of magazines and even I enjoyed reading up on SkyRim and Minecraft, two games I see a lot of on our xBox (and yes, I play Minecraft.  I'm in good company... Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, just got hooked.  If you've never heard of Minecraft you clearly don't have kids between the ages of 9-14).  Currently he's learning some new stuff about a PC game called "Faster Than Light" which I guess is a lot of fun.

Ian is spending time during the build explaining to Nicholas what each part does and how they work together.  For all their geekiness I'm excited to see how well the whole thing works.  It's been quite a few years since Ian built his own, our first few computers were all frankenmachines from leftover bits gathered from my folks. 

Hrm.  They don't have a monitor.  I wonder if they've noticed?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

OK, we'll keep her.

As expected, learning to play with other cats and being schooled by them is developing a much better behaved Zaytoun (lovingly called Potato, even though her name means Olive).  She's still a biter but it's less, and her claws don't come out as much with people.  She will also climb onto a person's lap for nap time.  

And Shawarma too.  Can't even recognize him as the malnourished little guy he once was.  He's such a lovable, floppy, dork.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hello Long Weekend

As Ian said on Facebook: The new fighting to our west, in Israel, just eclipsed Jordan's own gas price riots, which in turn eclipsed the civil war to our north, in Syria.

Yup, our little pocket of Middle East sanity is slowly... changing.

A personal account of some of the happenings around town can be read on Donna's blog.  You remember Donna.  She... pardon, her lovely husband... threw that mangy feisty ringwormed kitten in our car a few weeks back.  Yesterday she had a close encounter with what's going on and how things are getting a little crazy again.

Aside from the Jordan Times coverage: Calm prevails across Jordan as protesters vow to return to the streets,  the world news is picking up some of the Jordan news, more of the Syrian news, and a whole lot of the Gaza/Israel news.

It's a quiet time at home for another long weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What a week.

We have a not very nice kitten on our hands.  Not only is she all teeth and claws, and hisses and growls... with us, with the other cats, with everything... she had a bad case of ringworm, and she shared.

Honestly, I didn't take the risk and the vet's warning seriously.  Thankfully, ringworm (not a worm, a fungus) is not dangerous and is treatable.  It's a strong little fungus though.  It spreads easily.  And it doesn't like to die.  After a visit to the dermatologist and an unpleasant scraping, Jonathon is now on an oral anti-fungal as well as a cream and a body wash, and it will still take several weeks to go away.  Ian and aren't as badly hit, we'll stick with the external care.  Jonathon missed 3 days of school, and though he's back in today it's a good thing there's a 3-day weekend coming up. And to think I was worried it might be chicken pox.

At the same time I killed the washing machine.  It was off balance with a blanket and some jeans and by the time I got upstairs to the walking, thumping machine it had torn its drum right out of its socket.  Apparently it's not the first time the machine has had issues because on closer inspection the front panel (that also popped off) was being held on by a strip of tape.  Time for a new machine, and one was installed today.  Because with ringworm in the house I do a -lot- of laundry.  Jonathon's sheets have to be washed daily as well as his towels, the kitten towels after she gets bathed in anti-fungal shampoo, any blankets he uses, and of course his clothes.  We use an anti-fungal spray on his pillow and mattress.  It's way way worse than lice.

Then I went to make dinner and the propane was done.  Good thing the extra was full, even though it required a wrench to open it.  And then I couldn't get the cabinet locked again.  So I just left it open.  The refill came today and the supplier locked the cabinet for me.

And gas prices went up 15%.  It was expected as the subsidies were unsustainable.  Now we'll pay about $100/tank.  The Jordanian population is very unhappy and taking it to the streets.  Should be an interesting holiday weekend.

On the plus side, we have hot water. So I am not complaining.  Just stating that this week has been a little less than stellar.

But even with the ringworm and the buster washer, there are always bright spots to any week. Last Friday we went to dinner at Crumz with Ian's OMA and her husband.  It was a really nice time with good food and great chatter.  The girls were off at the mall for dinner and a movie with friends, the boys were home fending for themselves.  For all the angst of having teens and preteens in the house there are some definite perks.

Saturday was Rebecca's swim meet.  I use the term "meet" loosely.  It was what it was, for what you can do in single lengths in a 20m pool, single timers per lane (who most often did not stand up to mark to the time, much less lean over the edge to see a touch) who also did recording, and everyone gets a medal regardless of place.  Yes, "meet" is a loose term, but the spirit was there, the kids had fun and Rebecca has more info on what she could do for her senior project.

And Sunday we had rain - lots and lots of cold, steady rain. Some tunnels flooded and there were suds on the streets.  I understand oil slicks, but does this mean that a lot of cars are leaking soapy stuff? On Sunday the temperature topped out around 51F.  It will rise to the low 70s this weekend but in any case, the request is in for the house heat to come on. The girls' rooms both have open walls on 2 sides and each has sliding glass doors.  Their rooms are very very chilly.  Apparently we have underfloor heating, our A/Cs can switch to pump heat, and we have radiators.  I get the feeling when the heat goes on we'll be cracking windows in this place in order to breathe.  Not complaining.  I'm always cold.  Right now sitting in the den with jeans, long-sleeved shirt, windbreaker, socks and shoes on.  My feet are still cold. And my fingers.  And my nose.

Today Jonathon went to school and I had time to clean.  Thanksgiving is at our house next week so there's plenty of stuff to do. The kitchen needs some real help after the past 5 days, but so does the rest of the house. The dust is collecting, the vacuum is feeling lonely, and I believe I actually need to purchase a mop.  The girls have a Thanksgiving  potluck at school next week as well, not sure about middle school yet.  It just means I have a ton of shopping and cooking and baking to do. Just like everyone else.

As any good baker does (which I am not, and which they never do), I'm going to try a new recipe.  This one... Pumpkin Crunch Cake.  Sans pecans, plus Go Lean Crunch.

Now to order a turkey from AECSA.  There's no way I'm comfortable cooking one in our oven.  It'll be amusing to see how everything else turns out with our stove top and oven the way they are. Cross you fingers for us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy 10th Anniversary 110th!

As of this month, Ian has been part of the Foreign Service for 10 years.  Two years in Manila, Philippines (Cons/EAP)... 1 year in Lome', Togo (Cons/AF)... 3 years in Chennai, India (Cons/SCA), 3 years in DC (HR/WHA) and so far 4 months in Amman, Jordan (Cons/NEA).

Starting college, kids pick a major. Lots of them go Undecided, try out a few things, and eventually pick a line of study that matches their interests.  In the Foreign Service there is no Undecided period.  Following his journalism work history and his degree in Political Science, he chose Public Diplomacy.  The face of the FS, the ones out there talking to the press, releasing statements, doing stuff that makes us look good.

There's a twist.  Every new officer has two directed tours, and one of them has to be a Consular rotation.  Everyone puts in time at the visa window.  Everyone.  And so Ian's first position was at the window in Manila.  Manila is ranked pretty high in the interview numbers.  It was normal for each officer to do 70-100 interviews a day, and there were a dozen+ officers on the line.

It didn't take long for him to realize that Consular interested him far more than PD, and he began the difficult steps to change his Cone (because changing anything in any government is more painful than it should be).  The Cone is equivalent to a college major.  Within your Cone are certain expectations.  Most Cones strongly encourage a concentration in one of the world zones (Africa/AF, South Central Asia/SCA, Europe/EUR, Western Hemisphere/WHA, East Asia & Pacific/EAP, Near East Asia/NEA) and that makes sense.  If your Cone is Political, it behooves the Department to get you all trained up in matters of that area, and then keep you there.  The Political atmosphere of Amman is far different than that of Manila, and the two really have no interaction, but Amman and Israel and Syria and Lebanon have a lot of issues that cross over.

Consular is different.  Applicants have small differences around the world (in Togo it was heavily lottery related, in Manila there were a ton of K/fiancee' issues), but the process and the interactions are the same.  There's a book that has all the rules in it.  Rules are good.  And when a rule is a little fuzzy you use your brain and your gut to make a decision. There's no flip-flopping, no over-ruling.  For many, Consular is a challenge.  Having that sort of power over the lives of individuals can be intimidating, and some don't cope with it well.  Ian has a great ability to separate the case from the person when needed and make a decision supported by law, because he's memorized most of the FAM and what he hasn't memorized he knows where to find or who to ask.  It's part of what makes him a great Consular Chief.

He's also an out-of-the-box thinker which suits Consular work well.  If you know anyone who is part of the Foreign Service or even part of the State Department, most any question can be answered with "It Depends."  Because Cons works with thousands of individuals around the world daily, each with unique stories, varied qualifications, assorted goals and unusual histories, there are always applicants that don't fit the  rule book, and there are the other cases that Consular works with too.  American Citizen Services doesn't just deal with the tourist who loses a passport, it works with American deaths abroad, kidnappings, child abductions, and lots of other things from the nasty side of life.

He's good at it and he feels his work matters, as it certainly matters to the folks on the other side of the window.  Having a Consular Chief who is passionate about his work, about getting things done in a timely manner, and about doing it legally and honestly, is what makes him so good at what he does.

He should be proud of the past 10 years, and I know he's looking forward to starting at least another 10.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Marine Ball - Happy 237th Birthday!

The Marine anniversary is November 10th and last night we celebrated at the Landmark Hotel with the MSGs, Gunnery Sergeant Pence, and a couple hundred Embassy friends.  We were honored to be invited to sit at the Ambassador's table with a good view of the ceremony.

The Marines are a treasured memory for me.  No, my father wasn't a Marine, and I haven't been a Marine nor am I married to a Marine, but Marines were a long time part of my life when I was younger as we moved from Embassy to Embassy.  I remember my parents getting all dressed up to attend the Balls and participating in them as well.  I remember Marines at their post.  I remember I looked up to them, how sharp they looked, and how they Sir'd and Ma'am'd everyone.

We went to our first Marine Ball in Delhi during our Chennai tour.  It was a pleasant affair but limited because we simply didn't know anyone from Embassy Delhi.  We ate, we danced, we enjoyed the ceremony, had some cake and flew home the next day.

This time we had many familiar faces around us and it was nice to see people all dressed up in their finery.  Jessica, the Gunny's wife, did a wonderful job with arranging the Ball, though she professes to have had only a small part in it (I don't believe her).

It was a nice evening.  There are things I would have changed, but considering I didn't arrange it or have any role in it I have no room to complain.  We had an "official" photo taken and were home before midnight.  Late night owls we are not.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jonathon's view of Jerash.

One of my favorite things to see here is the olive groves.  The hillsides and valleys are marked with rows upon rows of olive trees which are currently near the end of harvest season.  There were several opportunities to help families harvest but we missed out.  They are an extremely popular activity, both through the Embassy and through the school.  Next year I'll have to move quicker.

The entry to old Jerash.

Big old arch.

The "museum"?  Some items had placards, some did not.

The amphitheater where the ACS kids graduate.
It was a little strange in this amphitheater.  A bagpiper played American tunes, like Amazing Grace and Yankee Doodle.  Sounded great with the acoustics, but was still a bagpipe.

The old city and the "new" city.

Circus from the side.
 Things always look a little different from nearly a foot lower than me.