Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Unicorns

Today, three of us got sunburned out in West Irbid.  We should know better.  Say hello to the first Wild and Free Adventures Triathlon and Duathlon.

She was so relieved there was a "No Swimming" sign.
Then bummed when swimming was OKed for today.

Looking towards the Jordan Valley area.

Red Bull was a major sponsor.

The muck when we first arrived at 9 a.m.
There's a lake in Jordan.  It's far away, anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours away from Amman.  A dammed river, the water level is steadily dropping still.  The Jordan Valley is a major agricultural zone so every drop of water matters.

When the race organizers first checked the course at 6 a.m., the lake was clear.  A brisk wind brought in muck and plenty of it.  While it wasn't solid enough to walk on, it was plenty strong to support growing grass and rocks.

Rebecca was the youngest participant aside from one boy who did the short race.  Actually, let me 'splain.  There were 4 races run (Sprint Triathlon - 800m swim/15km bike/6km run, Sprint Duathlon, Novice Triathlon - 400m swim/10km bike/4km run, Novice Duathlon) , with a bunch of categories including the adult class, the 18 and under, and the 16 and under.  The only category that did not have multiple categories was the team race, where each person completed one portion.  Rebecca was part of a team.

On your mark...

The muck pile had grown so much while we waited (an expected 9:30a.m. start time became an actual 12p.m. start time, I'd expected to be home by 2, we made it back to the school at 5:30) when a large traveling muck island crashed into the already existing muck beach.  The entry point for the swimmers moved from the near rocks to the far rocks.  There were about 25 swimmers.

And they're off.

Photo of swimmers in a lake just don't do the sport justice. Her swimming partner was an ACS math teacher, the swimmer for the ACS team.

To complete 800m meant swimming from the rocks to the far buoy, along the coast to the near buoy, then along the muck island back to the rock... checking in and then doing it all a second time.

She and Mr. Lewis swam neck and neck until the last 1/6 of the race when Mr. Lewis pulled ahead, but the marker was up at the transition stage at the bikes where her teammate was waiting, so Becca ran ahead of Mr. Lewis while he stopped to pull on shoes.

She came in 4th out of 25.  Against the cold, and the current, and the sticks and muck and swimmers twice as big as her.  Because, you know, she rocks.

They were completely covered in muck because the lake was filled with it.  It filled her hair and her swimsuit.  Not as bad as Mr. Lewis though.  And some of the swimmers swam through the muck island instead of around it, which looked to be about as fast a snail moving through molasses.

Down at the ecolodge.  Leftover ruins.
Becca had to take a potty break (why she didn't do so in the lake we don't know, she says she was busy swimming), so we went down to the EcoLodge.  The "lodge" is rustic.  Cabins do have power and even AC, but without bathrooms, and the fields around are filled with all sorts of nasty plants and bugs that simple want to attack you.  On our first trek down (thank you, coffee) we went with another ACS teacher, her kids, and her visiting parents.  We took the running track which at points was barely passable with the nettles and thorns.  Thank goodness we wore jeans, but it still hurt.  We took the road back which was long and steep.  The second time we decided we would be smarter and went the back way because we "saw a path" that led directly from the road to the restroom.  Only it didn't and the nettles and thorns were even worse that way, with a path that quickly fizzled out. We pushed our way through, came out scratched and itchy and hot and sweaty, and swore about how much we hated nature. Again the road brought us back.

We made it back to the finish line in time to see our two ACS team runners cross.  Our young biker finished his leg 4th overall and in front of our adult team.  He would have been far ahead but he blew a bike tire and waited for a replacement bike.  Our runner made up the time, only to be sent on the wrong path and have to make his way back by traversing over some barbed wire and getting hurt in the process.  He came in about 10 minutes after the ACS teacher team.

Our two teams were the only 2 teams racing, everyone else raced as individuals.  Our kids (all freshmen) were treated as adults, as there was no category for student team.

In this race, there's no award for 2nd place.

Does it look like they care?  Nope.  They rocked the race, and are already talking about next year.

Just to the right of middle are the bathrooms.
Between the road and the restrooms is a field of nastiness.
Don't let how pretty it looks fool you.
Nature sucks.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kids and Cats.

Videos from dinnertime yesterday. Bad video because the room was dark.  But up because Becca asked.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

*yawn* *stretch *smile* See&View

We're all a little tired today, and a nap is called for.  We had a nice brunch out at Blue Fig, along with several other Embassy families, after a rather memorable morning with those same families.

The line outside for security formed at 5 a.m.  We joined in at 7 a.m. so definitely did not get the front row, but while the ballroom could hold 1500 people, we expected only to fill half.  It was cold outside.  Remember how I said yesterday started at about 80 degrees then dropped like a rock with the sandstorm?  This morning was overcast and threatened to rain and 47 degrees.  None of us wore coats because we're dummies.

Let me just say, the Secret Service guys are awesome.  Don't tick them off, like the Peace Corps folks waiting with us did and were unapologetic about, and they are very cordial.  They made sure Jonathon's pop tart went safely through security.

This time was a little different than last time when we met President Bush in Manila.  No chairs to sit on while we waited, for one thing, which can make for a long wait when the President isn't expected until 9 a.m.  Ian didn't have to work this one either.  Last time he was off doing his thing, managing the arrivals at the airport  (and had his photo taken in front of Air Force One) and then dealing with the press corps all day.  We didn't see him.  We also didn't see Katherine as she was at Malacanang Palace for the children's welcome.  That's where the photo of Katherine and Mrs. Bush was taken.  The other 3 and I sat in the heat of the Ambassador's yard and waited for hours.  That's a long time for kids 2, 4, and 6.

This time Ian was with us.  Our friend, Donna, had airport duty and had her photo in front of Air Force One.   It felt like the rest of Embassy was busy with the visit, while Ian held down the Consular fort.  Katherine was with us as well, but hung out with her friends.  The boys were in the affectionately labeled Petting Zoo.  All kids between 7-14 were corralled off the ballroom, which allowed them to play (Nicholas had cards), read (Jonathon had a book), make noise, and hang out with their friends and not underfoot.  About 15 minutes before the President arrived they were shuttled into the ballroom and situated on risers so they could all see and, more importantly, shake hands with the President and Secretary Kerry.  Our boys were in the mix somewhere, but being "so far" in the back of the general assembly I couldn't find them.

About 10 minutes late (yes, it matters!) the guests of honor arrived.  And the deluge of cameras began.

And iPads.  I wish I had a pocket full of rocks to throw at every single iPad that was held for photos, and worse, videos.  If I wanted to watch the whole thing on a screen I would have stayed home.  Not that it was live fed anywhere, but you know what I mean.

Secretary Kerry was a Foreign Service brat starting around 11 years old, and it was great he spoke directly to our kids, and to us, as one of us.  Personal note, his voice is deeper than I expected.  And no, it doesn't matter one bit.  Just sayin'.

Well bummer, my short video of President Obama didn't even get in focus.  Thanks iPad person.

Nicholas and Rebecca shook his hand, the rest of us were not so lucky, but that's OK.

Getting to see him in person was a privilege.  Thank you Mr. President for taking time out of your day to meet with us, it meant a lot.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Truffles and Schtuff

There's nothing going on *she lied* so here's a smattering of stuff from the past week.  Actually, most are from today.  And yes it is a lie that nothing has been going on, just that we're not part of much that is going on.  Recently was the Red to Dead Marathon Race (well, longer than a marathon I guess, it takes about 3 hours to drive and the race is run over the course of an entire night), coming up is the Dead Sea Marathon in April, I got a job as the new co-CLO at post, and President Obama is in town this weekend.

But I'll show you a photo of canned truffles.  Because why not. 

Do people actually buy canned truffles?  What does one use canned truffles for?  For a second I thought they were chocolate truffles in a can, but no, they are the kind that a piggy would dig up with his snout.  In a can.

In other news, we brought Tandoori to the vet early this afternoon.  He's the only one of the 4 that requires a vet visit for nail clipping.  The others I can do in their sleep.  But then I can also touch their bellies and their paws and anywhere else without fear of retribution.  Tandoori is skittish and perpetually on edge.  Touching his paws is a no-no at any time, except at the vet office where he's so freaked out he freezes up.  So we toss him in the carrier and go.  The other cats find this the perfect time to check him out. Or taunt him.  We can't really tell.  Tandoori kind of puts up with Shawarma but the other two get nothing but hisses and swipes and general bad language thrown at them.  So when Tandoori gets shoved in a box the other take it upon themselves to irritate him to no end by stuffing their noses through the bars, staring at him, and sitting on top of the cage.  Tandoori takes it, he knows they have the upper hand.  We also figure he's sending them "I hate you" vibes through the bars anyway.

At the vet there were the standard cats in carriers, a couple of unusual cockatiels, a parrot that talks but not to us, and well, a pet monkey.  Vets in Jordan are few and far between and finding a good vet from the limited options is difficult.  We are so lucky to have Dr. Ala'a who treats us well and our pets even better.  But because of the lack of decent vet care, the ones with good practices treat every kind of animal.  Dr. Ala'a sees reptiles and primates and birds and rodents in addition to the standard cats and dogs.  People as far as Aqaba bring their pets up to VetZone for care.

The lack of vets is a result of few people who own animals as pets, and of those people, few who bring their animals in for regular check up and vaccinations.  There are so many stray animals on the streets it's a regular sight to find run over cats in the road.  Today we saw a dog that had been hit and left on the side of the highway.  Feral cats are regularly attacked and tortured.  Feral dogs are so unwelcome that they are regularly poisoned or shot.  It's a sad state when feral animals are so poorly treated.

The kids had their riding lesson this afternoon.  When we went to the vet I wore a sweater, then realized it was nearly 80F outside.  Changed into a polo for the stables only to have a sandstorm blow in and the temperature drop nearly 20 degrees.

This is a view of the valley by the stables, the stables are up on a hill.  Usually, you can see for miles, rolling hills, houses, green fields, olive trees in neat little rows.  Not so today.  The wind was whipping around, the sand was blowing, and when the rain started to drip ever so slightly the car got a nice layer of mud on it.  The horses were none too thrilled with the change in weather either, most just hunkered down and waited it out.

Meanwhile the kids were in the indoor ring (thank goodness) learning all about which leg to follow when moving up and down (posting or rising trot) during a trot.  I never knew that even mattered, but apparently it does, and it takes time to figure out.  Lesson after lesson they are told to keep their back straight and look straight ahead, and now they're told to pay attention to a horse leg that's under them.  It was a challenging class but I'm glad they are learning the technicalities.  Apparently the instructor will include cantoring in a few weeks, which should be quite enjoyable to watch.  I like sitting in the indoor ring as well.  Not only does it keep us out of the sun, rain, and sand, it keeps the horses from getting distracted or freaking out from the sun, rain, and sand.

It's an early to bed kind of night, to prep for an early morning.  Have a good weekend, all.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Celebration of Cultures 2013

Today our school held its annual Celebration of Cultures.  In most schools it's called International Day but it's all good.  Everything (from my end) went without a hitch.  The only thing was the entertainment ran roughly 20 minutes behind schedule and we were scheduled 30 minutes before the end of the day, and we weren't even last on the list.  Each country is given a table and encouraged to create a basket for the silent auction, a game for kids to play or an activity, a giveaway at the table, and some form of entertainment.  We tried to do it all.

The table came together nicely, and our President Obama cutout drew people to take their photos.  Each elementary kid went around the gym to every station and answered a question to get a stamp or a sticker.  We also gave them a choice of a pencil or a magnet and then sent them around the corner to get a brownie and some lemonade.

Norway and Sweden set up a mini IKEA.  Pretty awesome.  The table in front was ready to entertain the smallest of our visitors.

Canada went all north woods and maple syrup.

The stage was set aside for Jordan and Palestine, and the auction items table was right in front.  By the end every basket happily had bids.  The U.S. basket was my project and while it was worth less than $100 it sold for 150JD, over $200.  Yay!  Apparently one of the draws were the movies, non-pirated movies.  Whodathunk.

Poland was represented!  The offered pierogies and later when I stopped by they had chrusciki.

France called in the service of Paul's bakery and set up a mini bistro.  Cheaters.

Ian stamped passports.  The irony was not lost.

Katherine represented Auntie Sam.  She spent the entire time dressed up, even while playing the national anthems with the band after the parade of nations.

Our entertainment portion was.... get this... line dancing.  I asked a friend from the Consular Section to teach Rebecca and me some dances, then we taught the neighbors, then we put on three progressively more complicated dances and had audience participation.  The little kids seemed to enjoy it. Jonathon passed out cowboy hats and bandannas to the participants and Auntie Sam passed out brownies to the audience. I was in borrowed cowboy boots and so glad to be out of them at the end of the day.

No photos or video, sorry!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Outside Amman

Fridays are our slow days.  Much of the city is quiet and closed at the very least until noon.  It's the day we head a few minutes out of town for horseback riding lessons for Rebecca and Jonathon.  

I really like that drive, especially after the rains.  The hills are green until sections are plowed.  The olive groves stand out, all nicely washed with their dark olive green leaves.  There aren't many trees in Amman, but right outside there are clumps of little woods, and to the north of Amman there is even Ajloun Forest.  Jordan does have trees but they are sporadic and the government tries hard to protect them.  The people are not so kind.  There are rashes of arson in the forests during the dry season.

There's quite a bit of dust in the air.

With the rains and the grass come the herds of goats and sheep, following the fodder.

But Friday is also the day that much of Amman heads out and picnics.  They picnic everywhere, along the sides of the highway, under the trees, even in tiny patches of dirt in the medians.  Honestly, it's a little bizarre. One of the lovely things about the stables is there's little directly around it.  Lots of open fields, olive groves, and rolling hills.

It's a perfect place for people to hang out.

They park along the road and set up among the trees.  Some picnic like "normal" people, a basket of food and a blanket to sit on and they are good to go.  Some sit right on the ploughed dirt which I try not to hold against them.

Under the olive trees.

Others go all out.  They bring bikes and toys for the kids.  Plastic tables and chairs.  A grill for roasting meat.

 On our way back to the city...

There are several spots with stands of trees.  They all lean a little (or a lot) thanks to the powerful winds that blow through, but there they are... trees!  Today we had a period of fierce winds and the sand/dust to go with them.  I left the car window cracked at the stables.  Yeah, bad idea.

People love to picnic among the trees.

I wish they were as keen to clean up their garbage, but that's a totally different topic.  It's also a lot to ask of people who feel no qualms about opening their car windows and tossing all their refuse right out for someone else to worry about.


We went to riding today.  I took some longer videos and accidentally deleted them so here you get about 10 seconds of the kids.  Ooooh fun. Next week I'll try to do better.  They are definitely improving.

Becca's horse wouldn't move no matter how hard she kicked.  Eventually she used a little whip to encourage him along (that sounds terrible, doesn't it? honestly, it doesn't even touch him) but I guess he didn't like that so much.

Well no, he didn't appreciate it.  While she was taking his gear off, he stepped on her foot.  We'll see how those toes look tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5-minute/1-month Project from Pinterest for Anyone With Coins in Their Pocket

So which is it?  Five minutes or One month?

Do you have magnets and a hot glue gun with glue sticks... that you can find in less than 5 minutes?  Then 5 minutes.

If you have to order parts, like I did with the magnets, then one month.  

A hot glue gun, with glue sticks. It's not any good without the glue sticks, trust me.  Also, if you're like me living in a place weird plugs and 220V power, a transformer is quite important so you don't explode the hot glue gun and give yourself 3rd degree burns.

Magnets.  I used 1/2 inch magnets so that they'd fit on most coins.  If you're going all big coins, then bigger magnets are fine, and if you're going all tiny coins, smaller ones would be better.

A big box of random coins.  You have one, you know you do.  How about that collection of state specific quarters nicely tucked away, wouldn't it be great to see them?  How about those coins from Europe before the Euro came into play?  Lived in a bunch of remote places?  Dump them all out and find your favorites.

The hard part is picking which side to face out.  I figured numbers weren't all that important and the face sides were usually more interesting, so that's what I went with.  Place a drop of hot glue in the middle of the coin, press in your magnet, and it's done.

Sprinkle them on your fridge around your travel photos and reminders to fill the ice cube trays.

Now what to do with the other 300 coins?  Ideas?