Monday, December 30, 2013

So, Cairo is full of old stuff

The one thing everyone goes to Cairo for is the pyramids.  Lucky us, our hotel breakfast room had a great view.  The Mena House Hotel (formerly part of the Oberoi family of hotels) has quite the location, and the grounds are wonderful.  A few degrees warmer and the pools would have been a stop each day.  Accepting that it was late December, we just enjoyed the scenery.  It's a little depressing how quiet the area was as tourism in Cairo, and Egypt in general, is suffering greatly.  The Mena House had entire wings dark and closed off.  The staff was minimal.  The breakfast room sparsely filled.  And every stop we made was essentially us, our guide, and our security guard. That says a lot, when you think about it.  No parking lot was full, even the vendors were sparse.  Cairo is a city holding its breath.  Which was great and not-great for us.  On our second day, the security we saw had the kids a bit confused.  As one put it, they felt both safer and not.  After all, the security is there, which is good... but it's there for a reason, which is not.

The Pyramids are impressive and it felt like we had them all to ourselves.  I won't bother with the history of them, but it's one of the few times I felt like we should go back to a place.  Well, not exactly.  I wouldn't go back to Cairo, we're pretty much done with it.  But I'd definitely go to Egypt again to see Luxor and travel along the Nile. There's also a ring I have my eye on...

While in Cairo, we did what all good tourists do.  Take silly and obligatory photos with ancient ruins.


Looking up the Great Pyramid.

 We highly recommend Memphis Tours for your Egypt travel needs.  From airport pick-up to airport drop-off, they were there every step of the way.  They arranged hotel, took us to destinations, bought tickets, arranged lunches, and provided a great tour guide.  The kids said it was one of the best trips we've taken.  I think a lot had to do with the length of the trip, long enough to have fun (though swim suits were in order, even with the chilly temps, oops) but not so long that everyone was worn out.  We returned to the hotel mid-afternoon each day so were free to watch movies, take naps, order room service, and just hang out.

More tomorrow....

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cairo or Bust

Months ago I mentioned that our bubble of Visit-ability seems to be shrinking daily.  The news in our part of the world tends to be a little, how do you say, disconcerting?  Worrisome? On the edge of craziness?

So we decided to go to Cairo.  It's not exactly calm in Cairo, or Egypt in general.  Alexandria just came off Ordered Departure last month.  But there's a referendum scheduled for next month, and things are generally calm, so we took the plunge.  No River Nile Cruise as I'd have loved to do, but a quick in-and-out trip to see the highlights of another ancient civilization.

Like this:

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas is Christmas, no matter where we are.

Some traditions hold through the generations, but what are traditions if new ones don't crop up as families meld together?  Case in point: Christmas Eve dinner.  As a kid, the tradition depended on where Christmas Eve was held.  If it was with my maternal grandparents it involved waiting to spot the first star (which I wonder sometimes if it wasn't Saturn pulling tricks), then having a dinner that involved fish and an assortment of Polish foods.  In my parents' house the chicken soup was simmering on the stove as a light Christmas dinner before heading off to Midnight Mass, which sometimes was held at midnight but more often started at 9:30, 10, 11... or some other time.

Last night, we had Chinese food and sushi.   Because we like Chinese food and sushi.  And NoodAsia delivers.

And we watched the third episode of season 2 of "Sherlock" in anticipation of the new season starting soon. Zaytoun was thrilled, that's for sure.  "Sherlock" is one of those shows you can watch over and over again, a rare find it seems and each episode is a movie in itself, 90 minutes of cleverness.  Zaytoun, suck it up, you have no qualifications to comment of such a great show.

Each year, another tradition we follow is the gingerbread house building.  I don't make one (I don't want to ruin Christmas quite that fast) but my folks send one to the kids each year and each year we pick a time to put it all together.  This being the first year I'm working full-time, gingerbread house building happened Christmas Eve.

She should really get that monkey, uh, baboon, off her back.

My kids are decent artists.  A couple are better than others, but on the whole, they can and do create lovely things.

Gingerbread houses are not one of them.

There's a cat with tentacle legs in there.

Yes, candy corns do belong on a gingerbread house, why?

Someone figured out that simpler is better.

Even Ian got in on it.  Yes, it was under duress, but when there are 6 pieces to a house everyone has to put forth an effort.  His turned out to be a camel.  Well, that's what he told us.

The boys and I played a game of Ticket to Ride: Asia (I misjudged a transfer city and lost out my longest route... ack!).  Nicholas was our champ which highly irritated Jonathon and I think I've learned that until they are, say, 30, board games are not a good idea on Christmas.

A little Sergeant Frog, a couple kids took naps, and then... midnight came.  Our midnight tradition began because of Midnight Mass... we'd come home from church, have some soup, and then open gifts.  Stockings were completed on December 6 for Saint Nicholas Day and we don't do Santa, so all the gifts have been wrapped and placed under the tree over the past couple weeks.  When midnight Christmas morning strikes and the faux fireplace on TV with Christmas carols is playing... hot cocoa for those who want some... everyone picks a comfortable spot and someone is playing Santa, it's time to open gifts.  When the kids were younger we had a Santa (the one pulling out gifts and making sure it's not a dozen presents for one person at a time) and an elf (the one passing the gifts around, helpful when you have extended family).  This year, a Santa sufficed and Katherine stepped up.

If the tree looks a little disheveled, you should have seen it last year with no ornaments and missing half the branches.  The cats were slightly better behaved this year.  At least they didn't pre-open any packages.

The grandparents were very good to the kids this year, they sent new sweaters, calendars, and ornaments to everyone.  Jonathon was only 1/2 dressed as per the norm, so he donned his new shirt as soon as it came out of the package.  Donned.  I feel like that word is only used during the holidays, isn't it, thanks to a certain Christmas carol.

Nicholas got a new dog.  Maybe we can burn the old one.

We may be years behind the trend, but pillow pets were still on the wishlist.

Katherine made out like a bandit this year.  Really, both girls did.  OK, all the kids did.  I'm not sure what got into us.  And the kids were really good to each other and us as well.  There were useful items for the girls' upcoming Week Without Walls trips, items for the kitchen, clothing, toys, items for work and items for fun.  A new day planner I was hoping for. RC Cars for the boys. Matching Capitals cups for Ian and I from my folks, which totally rock.  He even got a new bow-tie from them, for our hopeful attendance at next year's Marine Ball. Cameras for each of the girls (hello Cairo, Addis, and Paris!).  iPods for each of the boys.  And yes, an iPad for Katherine who is heading off to college soon (no word yet where).  And of course plenty of quirky stuff.  A Settlers of Catan cookbook for Jonathon, 4 seasons of Glee for Rebecca (order from people!), and a Bag of Holding for Ian. New games, new books, new bath suds, oh my!

To think that several packages haven't arrived yet.  It feels like we went overboard.  Again.

Traditions evolve and they'll do so again in 2014 when Katherine will for the first time be a visitor rather than a full-time member of the household for the holidays.  I look forward to another year of change and growth in our home, and am so thankful that no matter the rough patches we remain our little family.

I had one Christmas wish this year.  It'll take work, it'll take time, but it'll produce awesome dividends if... no, when... it comes to pass.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a very very blessed and happy 2014.  And may all your Christmas wishes come true.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Cats Get Their Gifts. Seriously.

Christmas Eve and the cats get gifts.  Santa clearly has a thing for pets over husbands since the three gifts I'm waiting for Ian didn't show. Seventy pound cat tree?  Check.  Small but significant gifts for actual person?  Still waiting.  Hmph.

 Cat tree goes up... Shawarma cat plays in box.  Falafel and Zaytoun cats decide to rip the hanging mice off before we were done building.  See that sad little string hanging there, all mouseless?

Easiest cat tree to put together, ever.  Clear directions in five* quick steps (*each step contained about 5 steps, so... 25 steps? Still easy though, really.)  Handily, the first level lines up right with the radiator and we picked a nice sunny spot with a view of the garden.

Even Tandoori was intrigued.  Not intrigued enough to check it out with all those -other- cats on it, but later on, when the others had departed to other rooms I found him sitting on it and staring out the window.

But guess what.  Huge cat tree with missing mice still doesn't equal the coolness that is the gift from the grandparents... a mechanical "mouse tail" under a little blanket that spins stops and backs up and spins again, and essentially drives the cats nuts.  They love it.

A Very Mewy Christmas to All.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Theljmageddon or Theljpocalypse?

In so many parts of the world, December means snow.  In many areas, November means snow.  I know there are places where September can bring snow and it doesn't melt until June.

We are not one of those places.

In a normal Amman winter, snow is a possibility sometime in the winter months, more likely in January or February. Inches brought Amman to a halt last winter, the kids had several snow days while it melted.

But this.  This is ridiculous.

When you've got the King of Jordan out pushing cars, there's a disaster in the works.

Hopefully he didn't have to watch for a truck swerving into him.

When you've got enough to build a lifesize car out of snow with barely a dent in the snowpile, the world is at a standstill.

Photo: 5 days in, and the driving conditions are still something like this: THANKS TO ANONYMOUS! #TShow
What did they use for the lines?
When there's enough for a little Petra, well I don't even know what to say.

Photo: Lool
Clever.  Wish we'd thought of that.
When parts of the school collapse, the kids get a week+ added to their holiday.

The high schoolers eat here* when it's warm.  *Used to.
There are stories from far and wide across the Middle East, from Jerusalem to Riyadh, from Amman to Cairo, about the white stuff that ground us to a halt.  Like fools we went to a party on Friday night even when every other event over the weekend was canceled.  Breakfast with Santa?  Nope.  Movie at the Mall?  Nope.  Cookie parties? Nope.  Thursday night peppermint shots?  Nope.  That last one I looked forward to simply because it's an unusual offering at the Oasis, only for the month of December.  Edible peppermint cups with a shot of vodka.  I'd probably ask them to hold the vodka, knowing me.  But even that small thing, postponed by nearly a foot dumped on our doorstep, with nearly 2 feet dumped just north of the school.  Amman is on a set of hills and we're lower than many of them, so friends  from the "other side of the Embassy" couldn't leave their homes for days.  Some ran out of water.  Some ran out of diesel.  Donna wrote a fun blog post about the party we did make it to on Friday night, smack in the middle of what ended up being blizzard conditions: 25 mph winds with heavy snow blowing sideways,with already about 6 inches on the ground.  Our drive home was slow, partially due to waiting for people to figure out they couldn't make it up an ice rink of a hill, and then inching our way around cars abandoned on both sides of every street.

Kids don't see the white knuckle aspect of traversing a nightmarish winter wonderland.  Well, maybe Jonathon does as I told him he couldn't speak the entire drive home on Friday night.  He's a bit of a distraction with his non sequitur chatter.

They did enjoy the following day, once the snow had slowed.  We only added another inch or so on Saturday, so the kids were out playing with the neighbors and sliding down our hill.  Note to you all out there: Beach boards work in the snow too.  Even those wooden skimmers for right along the water's edge.  People called us crazy for bringing along 2 big snow boards (Costco is awesome, btw).  People?  Ian.  We're moving to the Middle East and I'm packing snow pants and snow boards.


Before this snow hit with's <1 inch projection, locals were discussing the worst winter in decades that was to hit Amman in 2014.  I guess they might be right.

But then I went and ordered snow boots and new snow pants for the kids which will guarantee no more snow for the rest of our tour.

You're welcome.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Over Thanksgiving weekend we went to Jerusalem with 44 of our closest friends.  I swore when we got there we'd never go back.  By the time we left I felt like there was enough reason to revisit the Old City and surrounds.