Thursday, December 27, 2012


Day one of equestrian at Saifi Stables.  Saifi doesn't advertise.  At the turn off the main road there are a number of road signs for everything from an Autism support site, to soccer fields, to stables, and the shooting range.  Saifi isn't on of them and I asked the owner about it.  She was honest and said they have plenty of business and don't want folks to just wander in.  They board 65 horses both school owned and privately owned, have 150 students, offer classes to all ages and abilities, and are perfectly content with their current clientele and word-of-mouth advertising.  Rebecca really liked their instructor, Bruno, and caught on quickly to posting.  Jonathon took a little longer and doesn't quite have the rhythm, but with a little focus and patience (two things he is genuinely short on) he'll get there, but he had fun anyway.  And with lessons comes horse care.  They manage tack, clean hooves, the fun stuff.

If they stick with it, looks like we'll need to purchase a few supplies.  Boots, pants, and helmets.  Suggestions for online sites?


Jonathon, Rebecca, and teacher Bruno

After lesson time we returned home to get rid of the horsey smell, met up with Ian for lunch, and the boys spent a little more time practicing on their Ripstiks.  Rebecca gave it a whirl too.

There was minimal blood drawn, so a successful day for all.

BTW, it's December 27th and it's 57F outside during the day.  Jealous?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

One Little Word

First, read this blog page and you'll see what it's all about:

One Little Word 2013

It's not a resolution. It's not a promise.  It's not an unattainable goal.  It's an idea.  An opportunity to focus on  small instances and change your way of thinking, change your reaction, stop and consider your options.

It's true that sometimes a word just screams at you (in a good way) and sometimes it whispers.  Either way, you know it's the one for you.  It pulls at you, it touches the thoughts and ideas that are swirling in your head, it feels right even as it feels potentially really difficult.  Look ahead at the year to come and you'll often see big decisions looming, big changes.  That one little word can help you tackle those opportunities in a new way.

This year's word is different for me.  Usually I pick something like Restraint or Patience, words fitting for a mom of four including two teen girls.  They are constant battles but since they are already in my daily list so I'm on a different angle now.

So what's your word for the year?

(You didn't think I was going to tell you mine, did you?)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Just the six of us.

My father already said that they'd never come to our house for Christmas (I think he's joking?) because we don't do tradition so much.  After all, for our Christmas meal today, no roast and mashed potatoes.  No spiral ham. No green beans or carrots.  No bread rolls, no cake, no anything that resembled a typical Beaulieu holiday meal.  We didn't even eat at the dining table.

Nope, our meal today was a brunch in front of the TV, the movie showing was "Elf," with a side of Buddy Special.  Buddy Special, you ask?  Oh you know what I'm talking about.  Breakfast of spaghetti noodles covered in, well, whatever awful sweet stuff you want.  Syrup, candy, marshmallows, chocolate, chocolate sauce, pop tarts... whatever.  Of course we only did small bowls, and the expectation was that if you make it, you eat it. Three of the four did, so I call the brunch experiment a success.

The sillies.
In addition to the Buddy Special, we added fried eggs, honey mustard sausage, toast, a meat roll wrapped in bread baked in the oven, and a huge pile of chocolate chip pancakes courtesy of Rebecca.  Coffee and hot chocolate rounded it all out.

"Elf" is our favorite Christmas movie.  I'm hard-pressed to pick another one that makes me laugh as hard or tear up as quickly.  I'll take it any day over "Miracle on 34th Street" or "A Nightmare Before Christmas."  OK, the original animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is right up there with "Elf," how could it not?  

 Post indulgence we had church and a desire for Pinkberry to squelch.  The church was empty, the mall was packed.  There are about 1/2 dozen Catholic churches in Amman and each one had a single Christmas Mass.  We went to the 4 p.m. service and as we pulled into the lot at 3:55 the entire family asked whether I had the right time.  The lot had 4 cars in it.  The church had about 30 people.  I was right, by the way, and by the end of Mass there were maybe 60 people.  It's the fewest number of folks, even in a Muslim country, I have ever seen for a Christmas service.

The mall was the opposite.  The line for Santa... well, there was no line.  The mob for Santa was several hundred strong.  In fact, there was more than one Santa.  We passed the one sitting on the throne with a rather unsavory looking elf, then while we ate our Pinkberry another Santa came down the escalator with two walking candy canes.  There's doing Christmas, then there's doing Christmas the over-the-top what-the-heck-is-that way.

Taj Mall definitely does the latter.  But they also do decorate beautifully.  Every corner, every store, every hall, and every wall is decorated.  It may be 50F-something outside, there may be a controlled and relatively small march of 100 or so Syrians on the bridge by the mall, the call to prayer continues at its regular intervals, and yet inside the mall it felt like Christmas all over, from Santa to carols.

Tradition.  It's something the holidays are built on, and yet as we move around the world, as our kids grow up, and as we absorb our host cultures, we release some of those trappings little by little.  Kelly at Well That Was Different had a great blog post about just such changes in expectations and how it can lead to a much calmer and more personal holiday. I see our holiday traditions continuing to evolve over the coming years.  After all, this year our tree barely had lights on it, much less a single ornament.  Even the cards and few candy canes we dared to add last night before the gift opening were on the ground and in pieces this morning.

We have cats (in case you didn't know) which means that for a year or two, we skip the ornaments.  It's OK.  New ones will still be added to the collections, we'll just have to wait until the kittens are no longer kittens in order to enjoy the march through history on the tree.

Our kids just aren't into big sit down meals.  And that's OK too.

We'll continue to allow our traditions to adapt and evolve (a new ornament each year representing something from their year).  We'll continue to have the kids initiate their own (Christmas brunch, totally the kids' idea). And we'll continue to keep some long-held traditions alive (Christmas gifts after midnight, who can wait?).  After all, we didn't do Santa and they are fine.  We make rolled Christmas cookies every year, and that's fine too.

The best holiday tradition is one that -involves- family in its determination, in both senses of the word.

It's what we're finding with our kids, and I'm more and more OK with it.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Photo Christmas!

Words tomorrow.

Sleep now.

Merry Zzzzzz......

Twas the day before Christmas...

And all through the house
The kids were bored senseless
And itchin' to get out

So we piled in the car
All but the one
Who was sleeping and snoozing
And clearly no fun

So we went to Saifi Stables
To check out the horse play
And signed up two kids
For an assessment on Thursday

Right next door was a range
Target shooting galore
But it appeared all empty
With no one in store

Off to Climbat we drove
On the way to the Dead Sea
The walls had no climbers
So the kids did more than three

Hunger pains hit
So we returned to town
Stopped by Meat Master
And at Taj Mall we found...

Some last minute shopping
A tasty dinner of kebabs
Little icky snow cones
And then home for the jobs...

-Of finishing wrapping
-Repairing the tree
-Baking some cookies
-Relaxing with family

We wish you the best
This holiday time
With snow or without
It can all be sublime

Stay warm, stay cozy
And though presents are nice
Time spent together
Is worth any price.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Night Out

A Christmas gift.

Left the kids behind and spent a night at the Marriott with my honey and with all the bunting and carols and gingerbread houses.  The quiet room, with no clutter or cats, was a welcome change for a night.  We checked out the hotel, including the Champions restaurant.  Apparently they printed these out months ago.

In the morning we visited our favorite bakery and had Starbucks.

We really are two very quiet people.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Holiday Duststorm

The sun at sunset

It's 40-somethingF outside. The wind has been roaring all day, leaking through the windows and doors.  Our eyes hurt, there is a gritty taste to the air.  During the day hillside views were masked by a brown curtain, while at night the lights along the street were haloed and hazy.

Cats. Because cats are cool.

Zaytoun napping with Nicholas.

Shawarma letting the blood drain to his ears.

Shawarma on the kitchen counter, like he's not supposed to be.

Legless Zaytoun.

Zaytoun using Falafel as a pillow.

Falafel's pretty eye.

Squinty sleepy Zaytoun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A little wrapping help.

Hopefully the kids won't look too closely at these images.


Yeah, that worked.

The cats were determined to help.  Something about a roll of paper really intrigues them. Or terrifies them.  Or both. When the paper is unrolled it's great fun to bat about and chew on.  When it's on the roll it is a dangerous enemy that must be killed immediately.

Obviously the only one who doesn't care about any of this... the tree, the little dangley things, the packages, the paper... is Tandoori. He sleeps.  All day.  And when the kittens walk by, his look of disdain is all-encompassing.

It would be nice if he at least pretended to care about the holiday, though.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Elf on the Shelf, not my kind of thing

If you're in the States, there is a good chance you've heard of this latest holiday phenomenon, the Elf on the Shelf.  I don't quite get it, but what I've gathered is someone wrote a book, attached a little toy "mischievous" elf to it, and the rest was left up to parents.  Elves move around the house at night during the Christmas season and there's a morning search party where excited kids run around hunting for the elf and whatever trouble s/he's gotten into.

Apparently the elves are designer too.  You can get a blue-eyed, blond, boy elf, or a brown-eyed, brunette, girl elf, or any combination therein.  There's a DVD of the story, snow globes and ornaments, a plush toy, even elf clothing options: all the typical trappings of a holiday tradition.

Until this year, I'd never heard of it.  And even if I had, like my issues with Santa, I wouldn't have the time or energy or creativity to put into an elf program.

But the Elf on the Shelf triggered a memory of my parents' tree.  There was an elf there, or something that made me think of an elf.  It's a little frightening and a touch creepy.  Honestly, I never really liked that ornament.  But until I learned that the book was written in 2005 (I guess anything that survives more than a couple years is considered a bona fide tradition), I really thought maybe we'd had the Elf on the Shelf elf since I was a little kid and just never knew it.

As it turns out, close... but not quite.

It's an old ornament with its own little history, and in some respects it could be considered cute.  But yeah, I'm still glad it's on my parents' tree.

And I'm glad that we missed the Elf rage last year (was there one? Maybe it's like Tickle Me Elmo and unless you have a kid in a certain age group all the hoopla just bypasses me) and it's no where to be found in Jordan.

See, so many blessing to be thankful for.

Non-traditional gingerbread house, FTW.

Orange? Yes, orange.

The cats thoroughly enjoyed the candy balls.  They are all over the kitchen floor.  Falafel has eaten several.  They cannot be good for her.

The kit was a Home Depot kit, I kid you not, therefore the orange icing.  My parents find the neatest things.  

The icing kind of... exploded... on the roof.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Not Your Typical Holiday Concert

Honestly, I was expecting far worse. Isn't that a terrible thing for a parent to say? With the reports from the boys after hearing the matinee' I was fully expecting a muddle.  What we heard was far far better and I'm proud of Rebecca and Katherine for sticking with their little groups.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Some of it was traditional. Here the middle school and high school choirs combined.

And the combined band made a decent rendition of a carol mash-up.  I give great big kudos to the band director for doing what he can with the limited human resources he has.  In the middle school band there is a single trumpeter, a tiny little guy who didn't play perfectly but did a fine job with what essentially were large sections of solo work.  All together the group gets a fairly good sound, even, as Katherine says, most of them have difficulties counting to 4.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Earlier this year I bought a book aptly called Make-A-Mix.  I figured that rather than continue to order or locally purchase packaged mixes (spaghetti, chili, taco, pancake, etc.) which I've been doing all along, it's time to manage it on my own. The Make-A-Mix pancake mix is sitting on a pantry shelf now, though I keep forgetting to put the cooking directions on it (add one egg and 1 1/2 cups milk to 1 1/2 cups whole wheat mix).

There are 3 kinds of mixes.  The Dry and Semi-Dry are combinations for the pantry shelf. With lemon pie filling, herbed stuffing, granola, pancake, brownie, graham cracker crust, these are the basics I look for. The Freezer and Refrigerator section continues its usefulness. From meat mixes and freezer pie crust to chocolate syrup, cheese sauce, chicken gravy and cookies (though we all have our favorite cookie recipes already, don't we?), all these need to be kept cool or frozen. The Special mixes move back to the pantry, into spaghetti and chili seasoning, as well as hot chocolate and something called "Russian refresher."

But let's back up.  I can hear all those chef types yelling "You bought pancake mix?  Lame!"  I get it, I really do.  It's not like I only use packaged products but when cooking for six I freely admit I cut corners.  I'm also no chef so anything that's put together with "add milk" on its label is a wonderful gift.  The kids get a basic start with cooking too. Of course it's not as good as emptying all the cupboards on the counter and creating a masterpiece of from-scratch marvels, but refer to the earlier part of this paragraph: I don't cook.  I certainly don't experiment.  And I really really like the limited mess of a prepackaged or preprepared foodstuffs.

On that note though, it's time.  Before I know it there will only be two of us living at home, and keeping a cupboard of easy to prepare packaged foods is no longer going to cut it.  My husband will frown.

When we left Virginia I got rid of a number of cookbooks, about half I'd guess.  Of the ones I kept, one of my favorites is one I stole from my mom, or maybe she gave it to me, I can't recall, the Pillsbury Kitchens' Family Cookbook from 1979.  There's a microwave cooking section, from the age when microwaves were a wonder not a staple.  There are plentiful gelatin recipes. There are also wonderful and unfussy cookies and a delicious beef stew. Others on my shelf are a Cooking Light book, a Weight Watcher's book, Bittman's How to Cook Everything, several others, as well as my standard go-to, a binder filled with website recipe printouts.

My favorite recent find was a website of 2-ingredient snacks and treats.

See my second paragraph.

One of the 2-ingredient recipes combines self-rising flour and natural yogurt to make pizza crust. Pizza crust that involves no yeast and no rising. Yeast baffles me, though I know it shouldn't, but even as I seek out recipes for delicious breads the yeast makes me simply sigh.

I haven't looked far and wide for self-rising flour in Amman but I know it's not at my usual store.  But even if it was widely available, I thought "This should be easy enough to make and keep in my pantry."

So I pulled out Make-A-Mix.

And there's no recipe for self-rising flour.

A quick All Recipes search popped one up instantly so I'm not at a loss (and yay! no yeast!) but I have to say that the book disappointed me.

It shouldn't have.  Right in the description on Amazon it states that there are "67 make-ahead shortcut mixes for everything from all-purpose cake mix to meatball mix. These can be made on a weekend-or whenever there’s free time-and used to speed food preparation on busy days. The mixes are a key ingredient in one or more of the 306 recipes that follow."  There are 306 recipes, recipes I don't really need or want, while missing mixes I could use. 

In fact, to make the book more applicable to someone like me, I'd cut out the recipes entirely, fill in the mixes gap, and add a section on substitutions.  International substitutions, like what passes for yogurt or sour cream in other parts of the world. What are all those different kinds of sugars? When the only item on the shelf is labeled "farina" will that do? Spices, flours, pastas... they all play different roles and are listed under different names and are of different qualities.

The purpose of the book for me is to use the recipes I already know and love in my other cookbooks, when I can't buy Italian dressing, a cake mix, or taco sauce, or when I can't find a particular spice or seasoning.  I want it to supplement the books I use, not a collection of barely used meal ideas.

But that's me.  

Others may find the book a jumping off point for a new home and fresh start in the pantry. 
If you don't already have a favorite kitchen resource, Make-A-Mix is worth checking out.  But if you're one who already likes to experiment or has a knack for knowing which spices go together or even knows how to pull together a basic bread, this book probably isn't for you.