Wednesday, April 30, 2008

School day (and not) with kids`

Today was a fun day, but tiring. I'm gonna feel it. We got the kids up and to school as normal. From the school, Brad continued on to work. As has been my routine, I walked the (approx) mile back home. Good way to start my day. I had breakfast, coffee, got some laundry going and did some basic picking up. Then it was time to change, and leave again.

I walked back to the school. Children in Honor's class cannot go into the big pool without an adult. One-on-one. They are very strict. So, I go as an adult. We saw Brian's class finishing their PE session as we got there, but he missed us this week. Honor's teacher has her swim with me most of the time we were there. She is getting stronger in the water. We also switch out, Honor goes to the splash pool, and I assist a couple of other kids who have permission from their parents to go in the big pool. The kids only have a 40-45 minute block of time, but it is nice.

When time's up, we return to the class and help the little ones back into dry outfits. Then they go off to lunch. I said goodbye to Honor and left. I wandered out to the field to see if Brian was at lunch recess so I could surprise him. Nope. Didn't see him. So, I walked to the gate to leave. One of his classmates came up to me, out of the blue, and told me that Brian was still in the lunchroom. I liked this - I like that the kids' classmates know whose mom I am. I went to the lunchroom, but saw Honor's class before I found Brian. I said Hi to her, and as I did so, Brian came up and hugged me. Another of his classmates had seen me and pointed me out to Brian. It was good to be there. They told me that they enjoyed the surprise visit - but not as much as I did, I am sure.

On my walk home, I stopped by the club to swim. Yes, I was just in a pool, but only as a support post. I wanted to do some laps. As I entered the pool though, I hear, "Yay! It's Ms. Connie!" It was our friends' daughter, and her friend, both who are on Easter break from their school - a British school with a different schedule. Their parents were working, but they'd been brought to swim by their nannies. Well, I gave them a good glare and demanded to know who said they could skip school and go swimming! They weren't scared. I did manage to get in 8-10 laps, but mostly I chased kids, threw balls, hoisted kids in the air, let them chase and dunk me, etc. Who needs laps for a good work out?

I got home in time to change and go back to school (with the driver this time - whew!) to pick up Honor. While she napped, I finished the afternoon by catching up on ironing. Then, Brian came home and brought me his meal-winning spelling test, which saved me from standing up more in the kitchen, and Brad came home at a good time this evening. So, I may be achy all over tomorrow, but I sure had a pleasant day today.

Food in a box

Item name / Qty. / Price (LE)
Chicken Fillet (spicy)(Medium Value Meals (sandwich + medium French fries + Coca Cola)) / 1 / 20LE

Filet-O-Fish (Medium Value Meals (sandwich + medium French fries + Coca Cola)) / 1 / 16.82LE

Cheese Burger (Happy Meals (sandwich + regular Mcfries + regular drink + toy)) / 1 / 10.91

Chicken MACDO (Happy Meals (sandwich + regular Mcfries + regular drink + toy)) / 1 / 11.36

Subtotal 59.09LE
Delivery Charge 4LE
Tax 10%
Grand total 69.4LE (approx $14 when a tip is added for the delivery guy)

Occasion: Brian finally maxed his spelling test - regular words (easy) and challenge words - an extra (harder) word list given if he maxes his pre-test at the beginning of the week. He was aceing all of his spelling tests last year. He was obsessive about studying. This year, he hasn't been as driven. I finally asked him why, and he said because there is no contest to it! Boring. Arrgh! He pushes himself and does well in most everything else (not handwriting, but most everything else) so I wasn't sure of a good reason to drive him harder. He likes school, why ruin the fun? But, it is kind of frustrating at the same time. We know he can do better, so why not?

I resorted to bribery. I am not really sure if that is a good thing or not. The only other alternatives seemed to be ignore the 'slacking off' in this one area, or push him to push himself harder than he already does. Why not bribery? I mean, we have to eat something anyway. So, I told him that is he maxes the regular AND challenge list, he could pick dinner. It's been several weeks since the challenge was issued and this is the first time he got it. I still believe that he hasn't been trying very hard. But, he really liked the power of choosing dinner. Fortunately, McD's here delivers (via our online delivery service: OTLOB ) so we didn't have to go out .. I was too tired for it. Let's see how next week goes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lycopene and Beauty Rest

Cairo Mama, this one is for Ian... Honor agreed with him (when she was his age), and adds that tomato products, with a few smashed peas, are probably good for the hair as well.

Moms should get danger pay

But I guess that is what chocolates are for. Honor is our tool user. She must do for herself. She's been trimming her own nails for about 6 months now and is getting pretty good at it. This morning she wanted to do my nails. Welllll ...ok... (eep!)


She knows to stay out of my nail polish. That is one of those parent-only things. I do her nails when she asks and only if she has earned a 'big girl' treat. She has also been advised that only mom and dad allow hair cutting... although the last trim I had was by Honor (with me holding the hair). The kids know we let them have as many choices as possible, so they have been pretty darn good about respecting the lines we draw. So far so good.... !!

The end of the velcro age


Velcro shoes for kids are an amazing development. Shoes on. Shoes off. Adjust them yourself as you play. No adult help needed. We've had the kids in velcro or slip-on shoes since forever. I think I had a pair of sneakers that tied for Brian when he was about 1yr old, maybe the same for Honor, but not since. They were too much of a bother. I always had to try 2-3 times to tie them comfortably. We had knots. They could not "do it myself!". So, velcro has been the shoe of choice.

Well, Brian is outgrowing kids' shoes. There are still plenty of velcro closure and slip-on type shoes, but now, a lot of the coolest shoes in his size are tie-shoes. I ordered him a pair, and we pulled them out of the box. I know he's been tying some knots - his taekwondo belt - but wasn't sure about shoes. I had him try them on and give it a whirl. He was a first time pass. A little slow, but he has it. With a little practice he could be comfortable wearing them to school where he needs to be able to get them on and off easily for PE, swimming, taekwondo, etc.

Honor (in the photo) put them on and tried her hand at tying too. She gets it about 75% of the time - her odds are better when Ramses isn't batting at the strings as she is working. She's been practicing with yarn. We have little bows and knots all over the house - on door knobs, dresser drawer pulls, table legs, etc.

So, in game-ese, I guess we've leveled up. That wasn't hard at all.

Messy Dresser Day

Dresser, meaning, what we put clothes in, not how we put clothes on - although the kids' mismatched jammies might mean that we can use both meanings. The kids' dressers are their treasure-display areas. Otherwise known as cluttered up dust magnets. I want them to enjoy their treasures and display favorite toys, but I also need them to understand the need to keep it easy to clean - whether I am cleaning, or they are! I figured they were big enough to take this project on.

I had them take everything off of the dressers. Put things away that shouldn't be there (markers, crayons, coins, etc.) Throw away trash, and donate the things they no longer like to charity. I also let them know that if they had something they really wanted to keep (like a special statue that my Dad gave Brian) but no longer wanted on their dressers, we could store it away.

Honor tackles her room. She likes to help, and my letting her use real cleaning supplies is a bonus. I personally wish we didn't have to use furniture polish so much, but the dust here is dreadful... I'd actually cleaned these dressers last week and they are noticeably coated in dust again. A duster just redistributes dust. Damp cloths leave spots... o well...

The pink post-it notes seen in Honor's room are labels for what is in the drawers - written in words, and with a small picture. This has helped her keep her own room picked up and put away.
Brian is hard at work too. He wasn't as interested in starting the project, but enjoyed himself when it came to reorganizing his things for display.
He got rid of a lot. Put many things away, and he even relocated a lego-lizard house he'd had on top of his dresser into an unused drawer. Somehow he managed to accidently clean off his desk too - amazing things will happen once you get these little helpers going.
Much better! He still has the things he enjoys on display, but it is much less cluttered. It looks better, and future clean-up will be easier.
Honor now has room to display her (plastic) flowers as she wishes, and she put a lot of things back where they really belong. Hats in the hat drawer. Baby clothes in the baby drawer. Pretty things in the dress-up drawer, etc. She even noticed that her trike was dirty and gave it a good cleaning without being asked.
Turn about is fair play. I had been taking pics of the kids while they were cleaning, so Brian picked up the camera and got one of me as I put laundry away. Yes, that closet is organized! Closets were last week's project.

'Meeting' the newest cousin


The kids enjoy seeing pictures of their cousins on the computer with Daddy. So keep it up everyone! We love to see our family, even when we can't really see you.

Dad time


Brian continues to be enthralled with Age of Mythology. Just ask any of our friends or neighbors - he tells everyone about it. It is good bonding time with Daddy, and it is good to have his help pronouncing some of those strange words from the legends too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Age of PC games


Brad gave Brian our copy of "Age of Mythology" this weekend. He's made it to level 10 already. It's a well made PC game. Great animation and fun to watch. It's a base-building strategy game, as well as having quests and battles. It may not be historically accurate, but it's still a neat way to get familiar with elements of ancient mythology.

Friday, April 25, 2008

W(did)JD?

There is a BIG beautiful church next to our apartment building. Huge. Unfortunately, the congregation seems to have crossed over into the realm of "bigger than you bully"-ness, that well, you know, it happens... Instead of nice neighbors, they are selfish to the extreme. Wish it were more of the typical pretty bells, hymns, nice people milling about, etc. I don't have to be a part of it to appreciate the beauty of someone else's house of prayer. Most churches, and mosques, are nice neighbors. Yes, that means I also enjoy the omnipresent call to prayers here. Spirituality, Religion - it adds good atmosphere to a community :-)

Now, we know it is very crowded here. We also know that parking can be very difficult. We know that acceptable noise levels late at night are set at an extremely different level here than in the US. But this church goes beyond the norm. I think the Sports Club, that is actually closer to us in the back - that hosts sporting events and concerts(!), is actually a more polite neighbor than this church.

I also realize that this is Coptic Easter. A time for celebration. Understood. But that only excuses so much. Driving the kids to school yesterday, I had to thread through cars parked on both sides of the road that we barely fit through. Got to an intersection, and some woman was stopped with her flashers on. Parked. In the middle of the road. I honked. Mind you, this is early in the morning in a residential community, but what could I do? One (tight) lane, no place else to go. She shrugs. I honked again. She inches forward, but you can tell, she doesn't want to actually go anywhere. Two other cars approach the intersection from 2 other directions. THEY are also blocked. We all BLAST our horns - eventually, dimwit turns down the empty quarter, drives - ohmigoodness! - all of 30-40 feet, and finds an easy, empty spot to park. How inconvenient?! The rest of us made our ways through. I continued threading the guantlet, although we did have to bump mirrors with another SUV in order to get through (happens often enough).

All day, parking on all the surrounding roads was much more stupid than usual - people are too lazy to drive a little further, but that is typical, at least most got their cars, mostly, out of the road. And it is a special day. Ok. Extra grace extended. But in addition to cars sticking out in the road all over the place, these people think it is ok to stand around IN the blocked roads and talk with their friends. So, as driving over people is generally frowned upon, and there is NO other way around, LOTS more honking. Not us this time.. we walked on our outing this evening. What makes it particularly selfish is, that unlike most other places in town, there are actually plenty of very good OFF-the-road places to stand and talk near this church! But they are always in the road instead. Because that's what they want to do, and nobody else matters.

Then there's the noise. On a regular basis, they are noisy neighbors. Celebrations, parties, whatever - I don't go, I don't know what they're doing... Add in frequent weddings with LOUD music and dozens of cars honking repeatedly in celebration (for 30 minutes or so after the wedding). They are noisy. Thank goodness our apartment is as far away, on our block, as possible from this church.. but they are still loud. Late into the night.

Last night there was a LOUD concert. We didn't go out and check exactly where it was coming from, but there were no extra lights at the sports club, the noise was coming from the direction of the church, and when we passed by earlier, they were definitely in-progress of setting something up. Everything else is housing. Even if it wasn't them, they are rude enough so often that I feel no guilt for pointing at them with only an assumption to back me up. Even being completely around the block from them, our windows rattled. We could feel the music through the floor. And we don't get much noise through the apartments - this building is solid concrete and brick. We barely hear our closest neighbors. This noise went on to 10-11pm at night in a residential area.

Then... following a day of dropping temps, high winds, and high humidty... there was this incredibly BRILLIANT flash of pure white light. A couple seconds later... rumble GROWL rolllll GRUMBLE boooom THUNDER. Just once. And then, no more music. Blessed quiet. Hmm? I have no idea what happened. As I said, maybe it wasn't even that obnoxious church where, apparently, they think they are big enough to have earned a waiver from the Golden Rule. (Hopefully no one got struck!) Maybe it was just time to end the show anyway. I would not be too terribly surprised to hear that they'd set off some incredibly inappropriate explosive device. (Pretty sure it was thunder though.) No matter - I really appreciated the 'semblance' of divine intervention. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vampires?

A blog friend, Cairo Mama shared a great website about homemaking. It's called Fly Lady, and it attacks housework requirements with a positive and practical approach. They have cute acronyms/codewords for things. FLY (Finally Love Yourself) and living in CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). So, using baby steps, the Fly Lady tries to teach others to FLY, and gradually, with as little muss and fuss and stress as possible, organize their homes and lives.

Today I found a similar website, Ideal Bite with daily emails of easy tips to make your life more green. Taking baby steps, or rather, little bites, instead of trying take big bites, ie. trying to do EVERYTHING at once, which makes you get frustrated, and overwhelmed, which will eventually cause you to give up. That's no good...

"Ideal Bite offers bite-sized ideas for light green living. Welcome! We know that you would just love to "do the right thing" for yourself and the planet if it were convenient, fun, inexpensive, and made you feel good. But until now you have lacked a good source of advice for real people leading busy lives."

So, FLYing and biting, hmm? I don't want to be a mosquito.. blech!, I'd have to squish me. I think vampires are much cooler... organized and Earth-friendly vampires. Perhaps I need a t-shirt with a green bat carrying a tie-dye and purple feather duster... most people wouldn't get it, but that's the kind of t-shirt I like best anyway.

I'm not paranoid...

...the weather really is out to get me!

We've had a heat wave blow in (with sand). It should be in the 80s this time of year, but yesterday, it hit 100F by 1030am and didn't drop below 100F until after 6pm. I had to go out in it from 2-3pm. That's when it hit it's max... not too surprising...that is a hot time of the day.

1:30 PM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C Clear
2:00 PM 104 °F / 40 °C Blowing Sand
2:00 PM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C Clear
2:30 PM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Clear
3:00 PM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Clear
3:30 PM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C Clear
4:00 PM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C ...

Today I thought I'd be safe. I had to walk a mile back to the school today at 1030 to help Honor's pre-K class at the pool. That should still be a cool time of day? Yes? No.

8:30 AM 91.4 °F / 33.0 °C Clear
9:00 AM 95.0 °F / 35.0 °C Sand
9:30 AM 100.4 °F / 38.0 °C Sand
10:00 AM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C Sand
10:30 AM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Sand
11:00 AM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Sand
11:30 AM 102.2 °F / 39.0 °C Sand
12:00 PM 102.2 °F / 39.0 °C Sand
12:30 PM 102.2 °F / 39.0 °C ....

hmmm?? I have to head out again at 2pm... with a driver, fortunately... but, I dunno, seems like I'm being followed. It did cool down after I got to the school, and I spent about 40 minutes swimming with the kids. I had a lot of fun with Honor's class too. The little ones have to stay in the splash pools unless accompanied one-on-one by an adult in the big pool. That was where another mom and I helped out. Brian's class doesn't require moms(!), but we did see him leaving PE as we were walking over to the pool from the classroom. It was good to see him and say hello - he's got a lot of preK fans.

Well, you know what, we'll see what else the weather gets up to today, but really, I don't care :-) This morning, as I was walking home after dropping the kids off, a gardener that I pass by and regularly say hello to, gave me a bundle of pink gladiolas, just out of the blue, so come on sun, bring it on! You're not melting my good mood :-)

btw, I got the weather info from: Weather Underground, a very good resource.

** Update for 2pm outing:

12:30 PM 102.2 °F / 39.0 °C Sand
1:00 PM 104.0 °F / 40.0 °C Clear
1:30 PM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Clear
2:00 PM 106 °F / 41 °C Widespread Dust
2:00 PM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Clear
2:30 PM 105.8 °F / 41.0 °C Clear

See! I knew it. Guess the weather just likes attention - and I guess I'm happy to oblige by commenting on the interesting bits :-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dragon and cat

I've always thought that Brian was my little dragon. His Chinese horoscope has 3 dragons in it. He's always loved dragons, and I can even remember him roaring himself hoarse at 7months old - he saw a dragon on a movie and spent the rest of the day crawling around 'Roar'ing!

Honor, on the other hand, is our third cat. She is independent and playful.. do not try to force her to do anything, she'll get to it when she's ready. She has a very natural affinity with cats as well.

The kids can be so similar to one another, and yet... so extremely different. Yesterday, we saw a bit of their animal personalities show through again. I cannot easily find good clothes that fit them locally (and I hate to roam all over the place shopping - yuck!). They are very tall, and very skinny. I wait for sales at Old Navy, JC Penney, Gap, and The Children's Place and shop on-line. Recently, the Children's Place had a GREAT sale and I stocked up on summer clothes - both kids had outgrown most of their old stuff. T-shirts, shorts with adjustable tab waists, skorts (skirts with built-in shorts), and loads of pockets for all. The box arrived yesterday.

Honor attacked her clothes like a kitten with a pile of new toys. She pounced, she grabbed and tossed. She tried things on, posed, and danced around the room - when she tripped over the box, she giggled and danced on - she meant to do that.

Brian got his items, conducted inventory, examined the things carefully, then like a dragon with gold or other sparkle-y treasures, stashed his clothes neatly away in a bag.. warning his cat-sister not to mess with HIS hoarded goods!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How big is bunny?

We did not have the camera handy today, but it was a day for us to see how big the kids are getting.

Honor: while picking up her room, hung a clothes hanger back on the closet rack by herself; no step-stool.

Brian: Could carry 4 books in one hand. We know this because he offered to carry our books for us on the way to dinner.

Honor: Cleaned up a cat's 'accident' without being asked. (Not something we usually ask the kids to do, but she just went and did it anyway)

Brian: Picked Honor up, several times, so she could reach the monkey bars at the playground.

Honor: tackled things at the playground with more confidence, and success, than usual.

Brian: On his own initiative, encouraged Honor to play with him at the playground, and remembered to 'treat her like a big girl, while keeping in mind the actual difference' - something that can be very difficult!

Honor: With spelling help, wrote the 3 clues for her mystery bag homework. (show & tell, but the other kids have to guess the object based on the clues given.)

Brian: On his own initiative, patiently helped Honor play a game that involved writing and drawing.

They also had an interesting what-if conversation - I think this is proof that they really are listening to my "What would you do..?" questions that I often give them instead of straight answers! But this is good. Honor asked Brian, "If mom and dad were sick, and I had to stay home and take care of them(!), and you still had to go to school, what would you do?" Brian said, "I'd ask for (our driver)'s phone number, call him (Brian has only dialed the phone 1-2 times, and so this would be a big task for him.) and ask for a ride. Then I'd meet him downstairs to go to school." And you know, except for the fact we probably wouldn't want him going to school if we were that sick(!), they'd probably pull it off too - probably even remember to get cash to pay the driver. They also mentioned calling the guards if we were really sick. Yay! They listen!

Both were also big helpers in grocery shopping, putting things away, emptying waste baskets and taking out garbage this evening. Both also had instances where they chose to ask and adult for help - very mature! - rather than not do something, or do it anyway and possibly break something. (ie. Brian's screen door got stuck, rather than force it, and mess up the screen, he asked for help). And both chose to bring a book, rather than a toy, to dinner with them at the club.

There were a lot of little things like this all weekend. Picking up their rooms well, playing together well, we even planted a bunch of seeds in pots for our balconies. You know the classic "Pat the Bunny" book? Well, I've had the thought "How big is bunny?, Sooooooo big"... going through my head quite a lot!

Let them eat spinach!

We do not believe in 'kid food' in this house. We have always fed the kids the same thing we eat. I have been careful about hot spices, especially when they were younger and sloppier, but that is about the only exception. I don't expect them to like everything we like, but I expect them to give it a proper try. And not just one time, but every time I serve a dish. Foods that are prepared differently, taste different. Tastes also change. I think they are pretty adventurous and do not argue (much) about trying something - esp. as they know we will not make them eat something if they do give it a good try and really do not like it.

But I can be such a mean mom. Sometimes I push the limits. As we get to the end of the week, I have to look at my stash of fresh produce that needs using up. This week, I had way more onions, no carrots, only a few potatoes, and green beans. I wanted to make meatloaf, but meatloaf without carrots or celery can be boring, so I hollowed out a bunch of my surplus onions (easier than it sounds) and stuffed them with the meatloaf mixture. I covered the whole dish with tomato sauce and baked it. I cooked the green beans, and the small amount of potatoes. Then, because I've been wanting to experiment - and I know that extra veggies means more meat leftover for dinner the next day - I decided to make spinach balls. Spinach, bread crumbs, eggs, feta cheese and parmesan cheese, rolled up in balls and baked. Poor hungry kids - all those onions coming at them at the table.. even though I told them they just needed to eat the meat! Sent them right to the green beans and spinach balls! That's one way to get them to eat their green veggies!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Birthday Party, part II

Or, a giant birthday-themed playdate - whatever you call it - We had fun!

In past, we held a big party for Brian at the club, but this time was Honor's turn. We could not schedule it for her actual birthday though. I don't think it really mattered to the kids in the slightest! We invited Honor's classmates and our friends' children. The club helped us contract a wonderfully large bouncer, and they catered the pizza and cake. Despite it being quite hot, everyone played themselves silly. And it was hot too. Everyone turned pink, and not from sunburn! Fortunately the club kept the water and punch stocked and cold. One good party take-away idea was beach balls. I got a pack of 12 beach balls from Oriental Trading Company and tossed them out. They were fun to throw in and out of the bouncer. The 'cave' under the bouncer castle was, at one time, filled with them. There was even a good game of dodge/kick ball going on in the lawn. Much better than balloons or even punch balloons (I've saved them away for the next party!)!



Click on photo below for bigger pics, captions. Select 'slideshow':
birthday party

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Veggie surprise

Because we live a good hike away from the market, and I do not keep the car during the day, running out for a week's worth of fresh fruit and veg was getting to be a time wasting pain. I was about to give it up and go back to the not-as-nice stuff at the commissary. Then I found a flyer for the The Veg Box. For slightly more than I'd pay if I bought it myself and had it delivered, and much cheaper than the commissary, I can now have a week's worth of fruit and veggies delivered right to my door. It saves me at least an hour of shopping - so worth it! And the fun part is - I have no idea what will be in the box! Oh, there are always the basics - some potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, etc. But the extras are the fun part. Sometimes we get broccoli, sometimes cauliflower. We've got red cabbage, and fresh (shucked) peas. The fruits vary depending on what is in season too. Oranges, grapefruit. We always get apples. Strawberries. This week we got peaches (and they are good!), as well as melon and bananas. For veggies, we got green beans, mushrooms, and eggplant. Yum!

Tonight I will be cooking up the green beans, and using the mushrooms sauteed with onion and garlic as a topping for steak. Probably a tossed salad on the side. We got two meals out of the eggplant. I made stuffed eggplant parmesan - Brad and I liked it. The kids thought it had too much tomato. I can't really link to the recipe because I changed it so much that it barely resembles the original - I can't help myself. Brad asked me if I did anything according to the recipe I found. I said, well, it's got eggplant in it. (recipe below, as usual, no exact measurements, sorry!)

STUFFED EGGPLANT PARMESAN
1 large eggplant
olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup port wine (fresh tomatoes and wine were my substitute for 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained)
1 6oz can tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup(-ish) finely diced zucchini (onion and zucchini were my additions, you can leave them out)
1 cup crushed crackers (I used ritz; the recipe called for 1 1/2 cup soft bread crumbs, about 3 slices)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese - about 3-4 slices or 1 cup shredded (I used cheddar because I was out of mozzarella. Cheddar was actually very good, but I'd like to try with Mozzarella next time.)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Eggplant - Trim ends off and cut in half lengthwise. Hollow out the eggplant with a sharp knife. I left a shell about 1/2 inch thick. I should have gone thinner at the top edges. (The bottom cooked nicely, the tops did not get soft enough.) Place the shells in a baking dish and set aside. Cube the eggplant carvings and saute in the olive oil until soft. Remove to papertowel covered plate.

Meat - Brown the ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks. Add garlic and onions and saute until softened. Add diced tomatoes, port, zucchini, tomato paste, salt and pepper. (I probably added oregano and basil at this point as well - I find it hard to stay out of the spice cupboard.) Simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Stir in bread crumbs (or crackers), parmesan cheese, and sauteed eggplant.

Assembly - Stuff the eggplant shells with the hot meat mixture. When you find that adding additional tomatoes, onion, and zucchini has provided more meat mixture than will fit, go get a large bell pepper. Top and core the pepper, cut it in half lengthwise and place in baking dish with the eggplant. Use up the remaining meat. Top with cheese.

Bake for about 25-35 minutes. Shells should be soft enough to cut with a table knife or fork.

Serve and, for adults, simply, enjoy. For kids, complain about the weird purple veggie and demand meat in the red pepper only, or, refuse the red pepper in favor of the weird purple thing, but spend 3 hours picking out all the tomato bits. Goes good with green beans.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gotta spread the word

A new blog friend.... "a babywearing mama of a super-cool son" ...who I wish I'd known while they were still in Cairo(!).. pointed me to a great homemaker helper website, the Fly Lady. I was surprised when I linked on it because I was already familiar with the website, even though I wasn't (yet) a member or subscriber. I've been googling crockpot hints and this site has popped up several times. I think I also hit on it for an albaster cleaning hint, but I may be mis-remembering that. I signed up for the emails and love it already. They are so positive and humorous! Not to mention.. useful.

One feature is a daily email directed at kids. Today's cleaning/organizing challenge for kids was to go through their socks and get rid of those that were no good or too small. What a simple, but great, idea for a kids' organization project. Not too big or overwhelming (unless you are a tired little girl named Honor, she opted out - and it gave us a good chance to talk about fairness - do the work, get paid; don't do the work, don't get paid - fair!), and it was actually a useful job. Not makework. I have had the kids doing work around the house - more so than the housekeeper did, that's for sure - but I am not making them slave. I am trying to keep jobs reasonable and fun for their ages. I feel they are quite capable of doing the work, they just need to get in the habit of doing so (they are), and of understanding that some work we do around the house because that's what families do - ie, work together - and some work will be bonus work. Extra work that will earn a bit of cash. So, where to come up with these 'special' jobs? I think I finally found a source of ideas.

If earning wasn't a big enough lesson, I am trying to find a good way to add in lessons of savings and bills. For one thing, we do not hand the kids cash. We do not usually have them do any shopping locally. Having cash is pretty much a waste for them here. They have no need for it. So, except for lectures(!), how to teach about money value? Well, working. Not allowances. No freebies. Work, for money.

We've started writing down what they earn. Might as well learn 'on-line' banking with virtual cash from the get-go! I am still thinking about the details, but I want to come up with a ledger or spreadsheet - that I maintain, but they can look at - that will show what they earn - a total 'in'. How? (1$ from laundry, 2$ from cleaning mirrors, etc.). What they spend (ie. money 'out'). "Mommy I reeeeallly want this webkinz thing"- so, maybe I order something on-line and give them the invoice when the item arrives in the mail. Brian is also reading well enough that we may explore a bit of comparison shopping. Then, they can subtract their costs from their 'free-to-spend' balance, which might also be a good lesson in taxes and S&H charges! I also want to show them how to set aside a certain percentage (or perhaps just a set amount) per month from their earnings, into a savings account (real ones, so they can see interest too), and know how to watch (be aware of, and not overspend) the balance of their 'free-to-spend' total. I'd like to maintain this on a single sheet - not as a competition really, but so they can see what happens, either way, if they make different choices.

I think I have the idea behind this big lesson down. I just need to find a way to package it for a 7yo and 5yo to see and understand. Preferably off of the computer, a print-out on the wall or something, and even better would be a format that both kids can understand... that's going to take a little more doing, although Honor is pretty handy with numbers, so maybe it won't be too hard to figure something out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Finally...

After all these (3 whole) years of being in this apartment, I have finally had a bit of spare time, enough to personalize and organize and frame pictures, etc. Finally! I am not big on picture-perfect homes. I think a house should be comfortable and welcoming. Stuff should be out and available for use and play. Couches and other furniture should be comfy (and washable!) There should be places to plop down and read, or play games. Kids toys and art should be as big a part of the decor as mom and dad's. etc.

BUT.. I still like to have my pretty things. I like to have my stuff and clutter organized. I want my tools, homework material, or whatever else I want to work with, available, not buried. Working full-time did not allow me the free time to make that happen. It takes awhile, after moving, to figure out where things go anyway, but having a housekeeper who put things where she wanted - and she stacked things randomly! - meant I had to undo alot before I could ever do new things. Finally though, I think I am getting somewhere with this place... even BEFORE we have to move! Amazing!!

One thing I did was to move some furniture about. Not much I could really do. Windows, wall-mounted lights, electrical outlets (plus the required bulky transformers) limits a lot of what we can do with this space, but I managed to open it up a bit. I like an open, bright, inviting floor-plan. I want people to walk in and make themselves at home; help themselves to the bookshelf; kids wander right over to the toys, etc. Brad's first reaction upon returning home was "Hey! We have a plant." (pointing to the one on the floor, lower right) I pointed out that we'd had that plant for awhile, but could now actually see it. Then he looked around and asked, "But where's our couch?" heh heh... I think I earn domestic goddess points for rearranging a room well enough to hide a whole couch!
The couch is not in the sitting area, where we now have plenty of TV, game, coloring and computer room. (oh, and plenty of space for sleepy cats)
It's not in the play area.
ah-ha! Not too hard to find after all. Still usable for movie watching, but a much more inviting place now, for lounging and reading.
I also managed to get out and find a framer for our whirling dervish tapestries. These are a couple of the items we picked up at Khan al-Mukhayimah. The tent-maker's section of the historic Khan al-Khalili market in downtown Cairo.
I had a couple of our Papyrus pieces framed finally too. Unfortunately, I do not know how to photograph glass items very well and the glare mutes the colors.
A couple of dancing Bedouin dolls - I picked these up at a little craft fair somewhere.
The sun...
and the moon.
A few brass lanterns. We use these for decoration. Some people wire them and use them for light fixtures. I think I'd like to get a few more for that purpose. I think a selection of different styles would be nice on a deck or porch.
Some of our pretties.. found here and there at Khan al-Khalili and elsewhere. The dragon is Mushoo. We got him at the Crazy Brothers shop. I think he's one of the funkiest, yet most awesome dragons I've ever come across! (No comments about the dust, btw, I clean all the time but cannot keep up! It just proves we live in a desert! Well, that, and the weather has been so nice I've been leaving the windows open alot.. nice fresh air, with nice fresh dirt.. arrgh...)
Lotus flower carvings from Upper Egypt.
A papyrus that Brian picked out for his room. (Again, wish I could photograph it better, the colors are sadly lacking in this photo.)
The papyrus that Honor picked out for her room.

Ok.. enough posting about our nicely rearranged house. Time for me to go clean it! (yea.. the windows are still open. I'm trying to enjoy the cool breezes while I can).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My faith in her faith

Once upon a time, my mom had me attend her Southern Baptist church. The close-minded fundamentalism of that church clashed so badly with who I was, that not only did I leave it as soon as I could, I also tried to turn my back on everything spiritual. Didn't work. To make a long story short, I found too many miracles in life and nature for that to happen. Maybe one day I'll say some things about Paganism and Druidry, but in the meantime, I'll just say that while it is still not my calling, I've made peace with the religion of Christianity, and understand now that my problem was not with the religion, but with a certain set of it followers.

I read my sister-in-law Christine's blog tonight and her words were like going to church. A good and uplifting service. Not one of those, well, other types... (be good!) I am so happy for her, and for the strength she gains from her faith. We live far apart. No phone calls or regular visits. I've been very worried about the stress and worry that she and her husband must be going through as they work on an international adoption. She entitled this blog entry "God's Promises , and that is what she spoke about, but it was also a clear and strong testament to her faith. Reading it immediately lifted from my shoulders, much of the burden of worry I had been carrying for her. I know, that she knows, that she has someone stronger to carry all such burdens for her. Of course, I knew of her faith before, and that was always a relief, but this new affirmation strengthens my faith in her. I am still going to worry and pray for her and their new son(-to-be), after all, that's my job as SIL and aunt! But less so, as of tonight.

It is wonderful, isn't it? That the strength that she shows in her faith, can strengthen my faith, in her, and in general, and bring me such peace? To me, it's akin to proof that giving out free smiles, hugs, and other random acts of kindness, really does make positive waves in the world. Christine rippled the pond by throwing out a pebble of faith. Let the waves spread. Thanks sis :-)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring has sprung!

I have been enjoying my morning walks more and more now that the air is cleaner and the flowers are blooming! Well, today the air was not cleaner. Today we had an ugly sandstorm that lasted pretty much all day. The day I took these photos was beautiful though. A friend of mine who lives in England said he had an unexpected snowfall for his daily dose of weather. I asked him if he would trade for sand, but he didn't seem interested. Anyway, we've been enjoying the blue skies (except today, when it was grey and/or yellow), warm temps (except for the times they've been sweltering, we hit 102F twice during spring break), and lovely flowers (no excepts, they are lovely!).
I am trying something new with this post. Embedding a slideshow with Picasa. We'll see how it goes; click the top photo to link to the album, or just watch the small version below:
Spring Flowers

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Honor!

Honor starts getting ready for her birthday back in January, when Brian has his birthday! This year has been no exception. We wanted to have a big party with friends on her actual birthday, but could not book the club. We'll do that next weekend. It will probably be more of a giant playdate, with friends and classmates, but we'll have a cake and pizza, etc. Brian had a big party previously, this year it is Honor's turn. He's just happy that we are renting the same bouncy castle as he got to play on recently at one of his friend's parties, and that some of his friends will be there too.

Honor's class made a big deal of her at school on her actual birthday, then she got to choose what we had for dinner that night. Papa John's pizza! We decorated the living room. Brian and Honor helped set up the table. Poor Brad got stuck late at work. I held off as long as I could, but eventually I put in the order and just hoped he could get in about the same time the pizza arrived. He beat it by about 10 minutes.

After dinner, was cake time. Pony cake! Honor reaaally wanted a pony cake that was like Brian's dragon cake. I wasn't sure if I could translate it. The dragon cake was tricky enough (for me), but how was I to make a pony? The dragon sort of lounged, laying down, on the platter. Ponies do not lay down like that! Not healthy ponies. We wanted a pretty and cute pony, not a flopped on the ground, ill pony! I had to figure out an up-right cake.

I baked two round layer cakes, cut one in half, put the halves together - that was the body. I made a 1-piece head and neck shape with part of the other half. It curved from the platter, for foundation. and up, leaning onto the body pieces, which I'd cemented together with pink frosting. I realized that, with the ears I'd put on the head, and the rounded back, I was making a pretty good rabbit cake. Rabbit was not on the menu. So, I lopped off the ears, and flattened the back. I used the back pieces to make legs, and I ate the ears. Now, with the 2-layer-thick body, plus legs, and the 1-layer-thick neck and head, I had made a very good representation of the Sphinx. "My Little Egyptian Landmark" was not our theme!

So, try again. I realized that the pony really needed a mane to fill out the shape properly, so I added some extra cake pieces on top. I mixed blue food color into the last of the pink frosting, and painted the mane and tail violet. I used extra frosting on the mane.. and lots of prayers... so that the whole thing would not slip apart until after we sang Happy Birthday.

When Honor got up from her nap, she helped me choose some candies to decorate with. She made sure I added a candy corn horn so it was a unicorn pony. We also sprinkled some colored sugar (an treat from an Easter goody bag) on the mane and tail - as magic pony dust. And most importantly, she reminded me to draw a rainbow on its butt. No proper pony goes around without some cute tattoo on it's read-end... I've never really understood that, but I dutifully drew on a violet rainbow! Cake time!

Brian gives his little sister a big birthday hug. Ramses steals her chair and hopes for goodies.

Ta-daa! The pony cake made it to the table without its head falling off!

Make a wish!

Our Happy Birthday girl.
The fun part, part two. Opening prezzies. Oooh! What's this?
She's been wanting this match game for months! Brian and Daddy got it for her.
Her own Barbie learning laptop game. It is full of fun games, the only problem is it will either play English or Spanish, depending on how you set it after you turn it on. Honor hasn't quite mastered that yet. Fortunately, she's just as happy to play with the Spanish as she is the English. Maybe she'll teach herself the language?
Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the lovely gifts!
A baby! Honor loves her baby dolls now and this one came with outfits for her to change.
Sweet baby snuggles!
Honor models the new dress up dance costume from Grandma and Grandpa.

Baking a cake for class

video

Honor's class allows parents to bring in a birthday cake or cupcakes during snack time, and Honor wanted to help bake something to bring in. She got the ingredients out. She measured the water. I did the oil. She cracked all the eggs. She even did all the blending.
She said she could do it herself, and I could go away. She'd call me when she needed me. I couldn't resist sneaking in for a photo though.
After the cake had been baked and cooled, Honor put the frosting on all by herself. BTW, is cousin Julia missing a smile? Honor seems to be wearing one lately that reminds me of Julia very much!
After the frosting, we had to decorate. Those tubes of colorful frosting can be tough to squeeze and maneuver at the same time!
Rrrrrr! Good thing she's a tough cook!
Ta-daa! Such a Happy, Happy Birthday cake!! Honor's classmates loved it too, the pan came back home completely clean!

Work, work, work

One of the benefits, although the kids will not always admit it, to getting rid of the nanny, is now I am able to get the kids more involved in household chores. I'm not being a slave-driver, little kids shouldn't have to slave, but they do need responsibilities and a good understanding of family teamwork. They weren't getting that when we had a nanny/housekeeper.

I'm not saying they aren't helpful. They are cheerful helpers. But they went to school, we went to work, and the nanny did the house stuff while we were out. The house would be messed up when they left, clean when they came back - tadaa! Magic? No. Work.

When I quit to stay at home, I let the nanny go. I was tempted to have her come in for ironing once a week, or some basic heavy cleaning. It gets so very dirty here that mopping, dusting, re-mopping, etc. is a heavier chore than I have ever seen anywhere. But, knowing the nanny, it would have been tough to get her to leave after a proscribed time. Better a clean break. I may start sending the ironing out though. I hate it.

A major difference though, is that my focus is on the kids and Brad, not the housework. I can now help Brian with his homework at 3:30pm when he gets home, rather than 7pm when I used to get in. I can get dinner on the table at 7pm, rather than out of the freezer at that time. I can get Honor to ballet, and accompany either child on field trips. I can also properly sort, organize and put things away, rather than dust and stack. And I can let a job be done slowly and sloppily (to be redone later after bedtime) by a kid who wants to help, because I'd rather have streaky mirrors cleaned by a 5yo, than perfect mirrors done by a housekeeper. We're learning a little about chores being done because we are a family and work together, and extra chores done for a dollar.

The kids fuss a little, but they can also be very eager helpers. Since the short time that I have been home, I now see a significant improvement in their ability to pick up when we tell them to. They also, finally, 'get it' when I tell them, no, I cannot do that now, I have work to do. If they really want my time free, then they'll ask - what can we do to help?

Brian does the laundry. He's done sorting, switching the laundry from machine to machine, and unloading the laundry. This was his first attempt at putting away a whole basket of laundry.
As you can see from the photo above, Honor's room was a disaster area. Brian was working for a dollar. Honor was working because I told her to find her room!
Brian is also getting very good at handling his homework on his own when he get in. I am there for questions and other help, but he takes the initiative now.
You know those hard-to-reach socks and things that hide back in the back of the dryer? Well, they are no match for Honor!