Friday, April 26, 2013

Other updates

So either my fever, which hit 102 overnight, finally burned itself out, or the Excedrin I took at 3 a.m. is just making me feel 100 times better for a little while.  Either way, so glad to not have the fever/chills right now.  The coughing, sneezing, congestion, and blocked ears are all just annoying.

In my haste to get up a blog post yesterday I neglected a few important details.

1) Nicholas struck out twice at yesterday's game... and hit a double.  It. Was. Awesome.  I still don't care one bit about baseball, except when something like that happens and I see my kid just light up.  Add to that he was switched to first base (from left field) due to the first baseman out sick, and he got two runners out.  This whole baseball thing is teaching my kid that good sportsmanship exists (after basketball and football in Virginia I don't think he believed it was true, here the other kids on his team are all helpful and supportive, high fives go around even for a strikeout), but it's also teaching him that speaking up can yield results.  When the first baseman didn't show to practice, he asked the coach who would fill the spot, then volunteered himself.  He tried the same thing when he did football a couple years ago and was so readily dismissed he gave up.  This coach listens and encourages.  Nicholas was moved to center field near the end of the game to give another kid a chance at first base and that's just the way it goes.  Good stuff.

2) Jonathon had a private riding lesson.  Rebecca had alternate plans and the other kids from his class didn't show (which is a good thing since one of them clearly is terrified of being on a horse which means the instructor spends a good deal of time cajoling her into doing anything while everyone else just walks in circles).  So with plenty of space and the full attention of the instructor, Jonathon was cantering on purpose around the ring.  He's done it a couple times before when the horses freak out about something, but to do it on purpose is a nice change of pace.  Hah.  Punny.

There's Too Much to Catch Up On

So here's everything from the past week in one post, from this side of the Mediterranean.  Ian was in Germany this week for a conference and I'm assuming there will be some photos shared on FB.

Nicholas had his birthday last Saturday.  He's officially our 3rd teen in the house.

We took him to Magic Planet.

He opened gifts.

And loved the popcorn bucket from gma and gpa.

A cookie cake for school, a baseball cake for home.

I started work on Sunday as a CLO at the Embassy.  The person I'm replacing is still there for a few weeks which is awesome.  Sorry, no photos.  There was a Local Staff Breakfast on Thursday morning, the Easter Egg Hunt on Friday morning, on top of all the regular stuff like housing visits and meetings, Mgt meetings, a Cyber Security Awareness seminar, etc etc etc.  I signed up for part-time.... I'm not feeling very part-time at the moment.

I received the box from my FS exchange partner.  I sent her a box of items from Jordan, she sent me a box of items from Thailand.  When she asked if there was anything in particular I'd like I asked for a frog.  Not only did she send a frog, she sent a friend for the frog, which is totally awesome.

Wooden pig!

Nicholas got braces.  He chose dark blue and now gets to eat a lot of pudding, jello-o, and ice cream.

Wednesday afternoon were parent/teacher conferences for the high school girls, and student-led conferences for the middle school boys. Student-led conference entailed the boys creating presentations on their laptops for showcasing highlights from each of their classes and talking about them.  Sorry, no pictures. Rebecca's teachers all raved about her.  Katherine is still struggling some.  The boys have been challenged this year, which is great since they'll be better prepare for starting high school with its increased demands.

And Jonathon and I participated in the Embassy Peep-o-rama contest at Easter Brunch.

The Peep-C-S.

The traveler with his pet.

The x-ray guy.

The luggage scanner guy.

Waiting for arrivals... mail bag... lost luggage.

Dead Sea poster.

With the arrival board.

Outside the airport.
Lost luggage office.


Second place ribbon.. out of 2 adult entries ;)

The winner!

Marines at Post One.
 And now I have a nearly 100F fever, feel lousy, and will go to bed.  It was a crazy long and busy week. The kids and cats don't quite know what's hit them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Travel Tip: Amman-Petra-Dead Sea-Amman is too much for one day.

A friend of ours from our time in Chennai came for a visit.  She's currently serving in a UT and takes breaks as often as she is allowed, and I don't blame her.  Places to be outside, walk around, Jordan has them.  The one thing she said she really wanted to do was Petra, and for good measure we encouraged her to stay overnight at the Dead Sea as well.  Two birds and all that.  What I don't suggest is trying to do it all in one day.

I do encourage a visit to Petra in the winter/spring, during a week day, before noon and after 3 p.m.  There were times we were the only people visible and audible in the Siq.

It's fabulous for more than absorbing the vastness of the Siq and Petra in general, because without people shuffling along in front of and behind you, pushing you along to take a quick snap here and there trying to get an angle without folks traipsing through... you see some very cool stuff.

And every time you go, the sun is a little brighter or perhaps hazed over, the time of day is an hour off from your last visit, the sky is a little bluer or a little yellower, the rays cast new shadow angles.  You walk down the trail in the middle this time, or maybe the side.  Any way and time you go, it's a place that can be visited and revisited time and again without boredom.

And Petra has really cute, friendly cats.  This little girl was very thirsty so we shared a drink during our break in front of the Treasury.

Further into the Nabatean city (fewer tombs, more paved road and excavated buildings), take the stairs on the left up to the Brown University excavation of a temple.  Next time perhaps we'll take the path on the right up to the Byzantine church, but this was the temple's turn.  A little lady was very persistent in wanting to sell her trinkets and ancient coins.  A little too persistent as she followed us around a bit, then after retreating back to her mat spent more time just yelling her requests to come see her items.  Kelly explored a little further in the temple while I took the time to sit and soak in the sights, and rest my weary feet.

I wore the wrong shoes and my feet did not let me forget it for a moment.  Multiple trips and near ankle twists and for several hours I simply gritted my teeth and pushed on.  It's not like there's a Timberland outlet cave stall.

The challenge of Petra, for those who dare, is the Monastery.  Before our first visit we assumed that Petra was the Treasury (no, we didn't really read up, however we were not alone in that mistake). Yes, the Siq is gorgeous and the Treasury is a work of art.  But there's so much more beyond.  It takes a couple hours of slow and steady walking to reach as far as the restaurant at the "end."  There's no fast walking, not with the uneven ground, the stones, the sand, the old road... a slow and steady plod gets you there, with stops for photos of course.  But at the "end" you have the decision whether to continue on to the Monastery or to turn around for the 2+ hours back.  Remember all that sand on the way down is still there for the way back.  And the entire return trip, all several kilometers, is uphill.  It's tiring.

But, well, you can keep going anyway, knowing you'll add a significant chunk of time to your visit with another kilometer or two and roughly 800 steps upward.  The Monastery is worth it, just take your time.  There was no crowd to fight against, so we didn't worry about taking 5 steps and taking a break, then another 4 and taking a break.  Do watch out for the donkeys. As sure footed as they are, the most you can hope for is not careening off the side into a canyon.  They still slip and jostle and miss steps as they bound up and down the hillside. Some portions have average steps, other portions are so worn that it's more slide-like than stair-like and takes full attention both up and down.

Go ahead and tell me it's not awesomely impressive.  It's cut in one piece from a single rock face.  We made it, and sank into a couch at the Monastery cafe.  Kelly was so kind and bought both of us a drink and a sandwich.  Considering we left Amman with coffee and tea in hand at 8:45 a.m., stopped for a few minutes in front of the Treasury for a water/oranges/crackers snack, and reached the Monastery at 3:30 p.m., we were due for some sustenance and rest.

We took a couple of silly photos to prove
we were both there.

The climb and descent offer amazing views.  The grandeur is there.  Not the Grand Canyon sort of grandeur, I haven't seen anything yet that matches the Grand Canyon, but the beauty of Wadi Mousa in general and Petra in particular is inarguable. The skies are often a shocking blue, the rocks vary from deep red to gold and white, and even streaks of blue can be found.  There's no doubting that when you look at these hills and valleys you see history far deeper than carvings and etchings.  With upheavals from earthquakes and weathering from wind and water, sliding a hand along the gentle curves of the Siq connect you directly to history a million years old.  A rock casually kicked aside (or tripped over in my case) has strata formed by millions of tons of pressure.  A little rubbing with a touch of oil (happened to have some sunscreen on my hands) and the rock practically glows.

Man made is awesome.  Nature made is spectacular.  I honestly am looking forward to going back and seeing what else we can "discover."

But next time with the proper shoes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Good Adrenaline vs. Bad Adrenaline

Good Adrenaline

Playing his first baseball game in his entire life, Nicholas walked twice, got two runs, and nearly caught a ball in left field.  Nerves got him there, he's usually an awesome thrower and catcher.  Today we had our first experience with Amman Little League.

Baseball food is not peanuts, crackerjacks, hot dogs, or nachos.  It is wraps with freshly baked bread (baked right then while you wait) with labneh, zataar, tomatoes, and olives.  As well as whatever snacks we bring along.  There are so many teams playing between 8:30-2:30 each Friday, from T-ball to Seniors, and it seems like every other person is an Embassy person.

Warming up, next at bat. Awesome uniform, Kid.

Needs a little work on his stance, but he can determine if
a pitch is a ball or a strike.

Across the street is Amman Waves, one of the
water parks.  It's not open and it looks iffy.
The Reese's played as visitor.  
There are rules to Little League I never knew.  They play through 6 innings or 1 hour and 45 minutes, whichever comes first.  There's also a run maximum per inning, 10 runs scored and you're turn is done.  Our game managed 4 innings until time ran out, and the Reese's won 15-1.  Nicholas was excited about playing on a team that not only does well, but that he participates in fully, and where all the teammates are encouraging and friendly.  High 5s were everywhere, even for strike outs, for a job well-attempted.  And there are snacks at the end.  You know where we will be spending Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for a while.   I never wanted to be a baseball person, I don't care about baseball, but I'll be the first to admit that watching my kid play, the good attitude of the other players, and the way his self-confidence is improving makes it all worth it.

Bad Adrenaline

Today was a rough day at riding.  Above you see Rebecca on Sandy.  Below you see Jonathon on Cheyenne.  Sandy and Cheyenne don't get along.  When Cheyenne gets a little too close to Sandy, Sandy starts to shy, and when Sandy starts to shy Cheyenne turns around, and when Cheyenne turns around Cheyenne kicks.

When Cheyenne kicks out, Jonathon falls forward and tries not to fall off, while frantically trying to get Cheyenne to move to the other side of the ring, which doesn't work because he's not that in control yet, and instead gets frightened and mad.  When Cheyenne kicks, Sandy jerks away and freaks out, and Rebecca jumps off the horse to avoid getting kicked or getting thrown.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Rebecca ended up on the ground twice, and Cheyenne ended up on the lunge and walked around the ring while the others did their exercises.  After the other students were done and Jonathon had the ring alone he was given about 15 minutes of private lesson to make up for Cheyenne not behaving with the other horses.

Rebecca was shaken, Jonathon was shaken, I tried not to watch too much.

The main stables, home to privately
owned horses.

Sandy is a good little horse with
moments of attitude.

The kids are given some horse care chores.
They both were completely wiped out at the end.  Stress, anxiety, frustration, it all took a toll.  The important thing is that they both want to go back next Friday.  Get back on the horse, kids.  It's the only way to know that it's all OK.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A 20-degree change

Let bunny take the wheel.
A change of scenery was desperately needed for the family.  Since our trip in January we haven't left Amman and while I really, really love living here, sometimes you just need to get out of the house, out of the Embassy, and out of the city.  Ian has had a rough few weeks and even has visitors this week in his office, but I really didn't want to skip town without him.  That means leaving later than I anticipated.  But on the flip side, where I thought we'd have to come back early today he actually took the day off so we could stay as long as we wanted.  Shorter on one end and longer on the other and we all got to take a break from the norm.

A nicer beach than the Movenpick, for sure.
We tried out the Holiday Inn, primarily because the Marriott and Movenpick are so expensive and we were booking last minute, not knowing if Ian would even make it. The folks at the front desk were a little surprised we were there, commenting that "Usually the American Embassy people stay at the Marriott."  It's true.

It's a resort all on its own, the other resorts can be seen further down the coast but the Holiday Inn has public land on either side.  It's a smaller resort with several pools, a small spa, a few restaurants, a snack bar, and an artificially created beach that is partially under construction.  The rooms are nice and can sleep 3 with a king and a couch bed.  The WiFi is free.  The minibar contents are complimentary.  A complimentary minibar makes any hotel 5-star with my kids.  

We had temps in the 80s with a cool breeze.

Actually, when we arrived, everything was quiet as it was later than I hoped and the beach and pools close at dusk.  We also remembered, too late, that a board game is always a good idea.  Next time, Scrabble or Ticket to Ride, Tsuro or Monopoly Deal.  Or all the above.  The lobby has great seating with huge square tables perfect for a TableTop night.

But we didn't.  We had a late dinner after exploring the resort (for those who are curious about the buffet: 11 and under eat free, 12-18 are at 50%), sent 3/4 kids off to their room, then watched the Caps-Lightning game instead.  Free WiFi!  Ok, I passed out since I knew the ending, but still.  Free Wifi!

At first thought it was salt...
Today was our day to enjoy the Dead Sea.  Rebecca and Katherine came down this way early in the school year with their classes.  Jonathon too.  Ian and I came down for a day away, one of those special days the Embassy is off for a U.S. holiday but the school is busy teaching.  Nicholas had never been.  Honestly, the one time we'd gone it was pretty hot, the food was OK, and the flies were atrocious.  It was good to say we'd gone, but not a very memorable time.

This time was different.  Sadly, staying at a hotel is one of our fun things to do.  I guess we're spoiled like that.

This is just some weird sweetener.
Oh right... breakfast is included with the room too.  The buffet breakfast didn't compare to Movenpick's, it was far smaller and much more basic, but again, Holiday Inn is a functional hotel and the breakfast is plenty functional.

On top of sleeping in a hotel and free minibar contents, a buffet breakfast tops my kids' list of awesome fun things.  Ah, buffet breakfast.  If it has an omelet station even better, and a waffle station?  The best.

I still don't know what's in the yellow packet.  Something sweet and corn based.

Unlike this stuff, which is so fresh and real we looked at it and had no idea what to do with it.  Clearly you cut a chunk off and then... what? I told the kids you're supposed to milk it with your hands.  I'm sure that's right.  It wasn't next to the tea or the pancakes, but it was next to the Middle Eastern foods, but not the Middle Eastern desserts.  Maybe it's a snack just as it is.

I'll continue to ponder on my own time.

Of course the big attractions at the Dead Sea are not the sweeteners but the sea and the mud with the floating and the salt.  The Dead Sea will helpfully point out every nick, cut, and scratch on every millimeter of your skin. The salt gets on your lips and in your eyes and into every crevice. Mud offers a little protection, and lots of minerals and such, until it runs off.  I think I read somewhere that staying in the water for a long time isn't recommended due to high levels of certain minerals.  Well, if nothing else, you get dehydrated fast, so there's that.  

After the mud runs off then the oily, slick sensation takes over and sticks until a shower cleans it all up. In the end it's actually kind of gross and painful, in a fun and mucky sort of way.  After about 45 minutes everyone was out and ready to hit the pool.  After the room, the minibar, the breakfast buffet... the pool.  Any hotel, whether it's by the remote Dead Sea or in the middle of Washington D.C. is better when it has a pool.  Or three.  Or five.  Or more.  One of the reasons so many families pick the Marriott is for the large number of pools, one with a slide or two.

If you have kids, you know the power of the swimming pool.   If you're a parent you know the power of the hot tub.

If you have teen girls, you have no idea what goes on in their heads but you humor them anyway.

And if you're a mom with 4 kids with a husband who is with them all in the hot tub, your view should involve your toes and a Kindle.
From the girls' room.
Even if there is but a single day to renew and rejuvenate, enjoy it.  Who am I kidding, if there are 10 minutes to renew and rejuvenate, enjoy it.

No one recommended the Holiday Inn to us, but I'm going to recommend it now.  No, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but the rooms are comfortable, the food is simple, the service is decent.  It's a nice place to stay, affordable, and honestly, the size is attractive.  There aren't a thousand places to eat or wander, nor is it a country mile hike to reach the water.  There's a lot to love about the Holiday Inn and I get the feeling we'll go back.

The hotel across the street.  Just because.