Monday, December 27, 2010

Tales of Two Avatars – Worlds Apart

Tonight, we watched two new DVDs that we got for Christmas. The first, we’d seen before. Avatar, the “Blue Avatar” as Honor calls it. We absolutely love the movie. A lot of critics complained that it was just another good guy, underdog beats bad ol’ superpower bad guy, save the world, guy gets the girl movie. I read complaints that it was just Disney’s Pocohontas, set in space, with aliens instead of Native Americans. Well… it is all that. These are good formulas for good movies. Most classics use the good guy vs bad guy, save the world, guy gets girl, story idea. It works. James Cameron’s version of the tried and true is spectacular! The scenery of his world is breathtaking, and we love the animals and people of Pandora. The kids asked some darn good questions about the situations in the movie too. All sorts of questions about how the scientists were able to use the avatar bodies, and what happens if they are hurt or killed. Questions about how the Navi bond with and communicate with their world. We also had a good discussion about the soldiers. Honor asked that, if a soldier was told to do something bad, should he do it, or go away? (Like Trudy, the Marine pilot, who refused to shoot apart the Home tree and flew off, later assisting the natives in their big fight.) We talked about how, in real life, it’s illegal for a soldier to do something wrong, even if he is ordered to do it. If he did, he’d go to jail. He couldn’t say that his commander told him to do whatever it was. Of course, this was a movie, set in the future, and things might be different in stories, but I thought it was a great question.

Anyway, after thoroughly enjoying that movie, again, we happily opened up the second Avatar movie of the night. Avatar, the Last Airbender. We absolutely love the cartoon series of Avatar, and although we’d heard the movie was not very good, we thought we might enjoy it anyway. No way. It was absolutely, thoroughly, terribly disappointing. Rather than telling a story about the series, or a story set in the world, or just making something up, loosely based on the characters, the movie attempted to tell everything from the first season of the cartoon series in one go… or, at least that’s what we think the idea was. Random pieces and parts were hacked from the story, then clumsily tacked together with no attempt, whatsoever, to make sense of things for those who may not be familiar with the story, or even to make sense of it for those of us who ARE familiar with it … and forget editing. Who needs that?

We know the story, so we knew what the heck was supposedly going on, but even we were asking each other, “What did he do that for?” or “Why did they leave that (part of the story) out?” I mean… if you’re going to try and copy something, COPY it properly! Geez. There were a couple of instances where important things were left unexplained, for example, one character is an enemy, then, (not explained in the movie, at all) hides his identity to help the main character against his own people, and then ends up being saved in return by the main character, who remarks that they could be friends! Later, a character is tied up, then NOT tied up. It was thoroughly random, and truly shoddy.

They couldn’t even get the names right! The main character in the cartoon series is called “Ang” as in “hang”, yet in the movie, they called him “Ong”, like “long”. They couldn’t even get the NAMES right! Avatar (the TV series) was 3 seasons, 61 episodes. I would think that we can claim that the names have been established. Would you make a movie of Charlie Brown and change Snoopy’s name to Snoppy?! What were they thinking?

If pressed to say something positive, I can admit that it was interesting to see the characters brought to life. Most were cast and portrayed fairly well, close enough to be interesting. Not all, of course. They completely missed it on some. The animal characters were done very well, very true to the cartoon, and as realistic as made up creatures might possibly be. I also enjoyed the special effects of the martial arts/magic that the ‘benders’ employed. Of course, the cartoon series did that well too… about the only thing better in the movie, is that the Avatar’s tattoos looked better in ‘real life’ than in the cartoon.

Most unforgivable, the movie managed to murder all the charm, humor, and sense of real friendship that made the cartoon so special. The cartoon series has it’s share of silliness, yet it never lost the seriousness of the story and the characters are very likable. The TV series tells an epic story and is in no way your typical cartoon fare. The movie tries to be too serious, it never found any humor or explained why anyone cared about anyone else, and it lost the whole story along the way. Very sad.

I can recommended Cameron’s Avatar movie about Pandora to families whose kids can handle a bit of violence. There is intense fighting, but it’s fighting for a great cause. Save the world, protect the environment from corporate greed, stand up for the oppressed, etc. There’s no confusion, it is “good guys vs bad guys”. The bad guys are bad, and people die who you don’t want to die, so keep that in mind for sensitive kids. Some of the alien animals are very scary too. I’ve heard rumors that there will be a new release of the movie with parts that are a bit more sensual than this one, which has some gentle love scenes but nothing graphic, and while I do not know what the difference is, you might pay attention to reviews about that. There is also strong language that some parents might object to, if your kid likes to quote their favorite lines!

I will not recommend the Last Airbender movie… I wish I could, but it is so pathetic, so sad…  Do not bother with it! Save yourself two hours. I will however, highly recommend the TV series. If you have, by unfortunate chance, seen the movie and not the series, wipe your brain, and start over with the tv series.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Photo Round-Up

Becky over at Small Bits is hosting the State Department Weekly Round-up this week and her theme is on photos. This time of year, I can not help but reflect on all that has happened through the year… how can I choose just one photo? Some, who have great photography skills and good cameras, may not be too impressed with some of these shots – that’s not the point. These photos capture a few of my favorite moments from 2010.

Gladiators in Jerash   (January)


Kittens in a window




Visiting Pandora (this movie was a big hit with our family…on the big screen, and on my new phone, which came with the movie installed… I told Santa we might need a copy for our library).


Kittens in a sink


Happy Anniversary


and a pinch for St. Patrick’s Day


Easter eggs in our own backyard, first time ever


Pink toes


Curls, lace, and nail polish go a long way towards making sad girls happy again


End of School!


Peaceful kitties


We did so much in the summer (July – August)! Aqaba, Petra, a visit with Brad’s cousin, an awesome US road trip… this is my favorite moment. The kids contemplating their first ever snorkeling attempt at a reef in the Red Sea. It really sums up the spirit of new adventures.


Back to school


Sleepy September… ah.. blessed routine!





Kitten -


Kittens in training


The quiet, normal, regular, plain ol’ family times at home… these are very important to me. It makes me feel this content.

DSC08727The first snow in years!

2010-12-13 08.22.48

May your holidays be blessed, and I hope you are rounding out 2010 with as many happy memories as we are this year. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Random Photo Rhyme








Chase your tail!


What? … you expected a good rhyme??!


Yes, the cat really will climb on top of the mirror to chase her tail through the bars, the top two photos are of the girls with their favorite fetch toys, and don’t ask me why Che is painted on the back of a fuel delivery truck… I don’t make the news, I only report it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Honor’s Flat Stella

Meet Stella…


I’ll hand over the laptop to Stella’s best friend now:

Hi my name is Honor, this is my flat Stella .

Please take her on adventures in your town or your house.

Write a short note about what she did and saw.

Take her picture during her fun time with you.

Thank you from Honor…

Stella is a cousin to Flat Stanley, and is a friend of Honor’s. She is looking to do a little travel and have an adventure over the holidays. She would love to meet friends and family and learn a little bit about you and where you live. We actually have a rather short time (through January 20) to get her out and about before she has to return to school, so we plan on using a special power of teleportation, available only to flat people, ie. the internet and email (a plan that was teacher suggested, and a soft copy of the doll was sent home to share).

If you would like to host Miss Stella, please comment or send me an email (qitty1 at gmail dot com). We would really appreciate your help with this project! Thank you :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

White Stuff! (or, more precisely, white and orange with sand stuff)

I’ll continue my weather rantings from yesterday… Why? Um?.. because it’s the most interesting weather we’ve had in awhile, that’s why. You folks who are, and have been, dealing with more extreme weather won’t appreciate this, but our temps were highs in the upper 70’s, lows in the upper 50’s until, what? Last week? It’s practically mid December and the kids are looking at me in desperation. WHERE is that snowfall? Jordan PROMISED snow! They heard, before we moved here, that we were supposed to get at least one good snow a year and so far they’ve been very disappointed… and it’s almost Christmas!

Instead, we got sand. Lots and lots of sand. The Middle East has been hit hard by very severe weather over the past 48hours plus. The sandstorms we had yesterday continued all day and through the night. Facilities had delivered a new table top to replace the smashed one, (FAST! Thanks guys!) but I’m glad we kept it inside! Around 1am, after I’d just put myself to bed a little later than appropriate, I started hearing huge gusts of wind moving things around on the patio again. Weather Underground said we were getting 39mph gusts about then… I believe it. I was worried about the umbrella. It was on the ground, against the sheltered wall (out of the wind path) and under several chairs, but it was noisy out there. I went out and saw that the umbrella was ok, the other chairs were also still against the wall, but the skeletal frame of the table was being blown sideways! If we’d put the new glass out there it would have flown away like a kite! (well, until it hit the first obstacle… )

As I was outside checking on things… the wind started to sting. Sleet. A slightly painful change from blowing sand… but how neat to feel bits of ice in my eyelashes again! Apparently the wet stuff continued for most of the night, until 4am, when, iaw. the weather history, there was actually snow. Not sure if I should count that as ‘our weather’ though, as we didn’t see it. A text message from the school woke me slightly ahead of my 6am alarm and advised of a one hour delay, I went to the window and saw that the ground was all white. I considered waking the kids, but they’d been so tired last night. I figured that most of it would still be there in an hour. I was right. Not much, but this is official winter accumulation in my book, and for the incredibly warm weather we’ve been having recently, I am actually very surprised we had even this much stick!


Even more surprising was all this… especially as it never quit raining this morning. I’d have thought it would have all washed away by 8am!

2010-12-13 08.22.21

Not sure if you can see the orange mud in corners of the slush here… it was rather slimy. Nonetheless, after squeegee-ing off the ice, our truck was… at least until Brad got it out to the road, I assume…  probably the cleanest it’s been in days!

The kids were tickled to finally see snow (even if it was snow/slush-ish, sorta-almost-ice and/or sleet accumulation.. and not really ‘snow’!).

2010-12-13 08.22.48

Of course, they had to write in it, and while I’d like to keep up the illusion that my little sweeties wrote Honor (heart) Brian because they’re such awesome siblings, the truth is, Brian wrote “Brian (star)” and Honor wrote “Honor (heart) Mom” … but they really are awesome siblings anyway. 

2010-12-13 08.23.27

Anyway, it was still raining quite well, and windy, this morning. I was glad I took my giant umbrella out to the bus stop. Brian decided that maybe mom does, sometimes, know what she is talking about and asked for the hat I’d carried out for him as well, the hat that he insisted he wouldn’t need. The bus came and the kids went off to school.

Brian had finished his Pizarro report last night (the poster, there will be more) and had to carry it in this messy weather. Fortunately it wasn’t a MASSIVE poster and we devised a double-plastic bag carry method that should keep it dry. He was proud of his work, and I was too. He really put a lot of time and effort into his research.


Later, we realized that we’d forgotten to send in school photo forms and money, but so had our neighbor, and he ran ours in too. I think today is working out alright.

It’s now 10:30am, still windy, still 40F (with 33F windchill) and the weather is now …. fog. Well, that’s new… I’m planning to stay inside today. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go have a nice hot shower, and perhaps another cup of coffee. My neighbor joked about everyone freaking out about the “snow!”, but I get it. This is like Florida winter weather. The temps do not get extreme, but the wind and wet make the moderate cold … BITE! Hmm? Maybe I’ll bake some cookies and get out my crochet too. It’s a day to stay cozy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa, Sandstorm, Study, Smash, Storm

One of *those* days.

We’d been seeing rain in the forecast for several days and we were looking forward to it. Nice clean air. Rinse the dust out of the trees. Scour the walls and upper windows, etc. Refreshing. However, we’ve been living in the region long enough to know that a storm front usually blows in with sand, before the clouds and rain arrive. Yesterday was no exception. It was yellow and grey outside before noon and pretty much stayed that way all day and past sunset.

We had signed up for the Embassy’s Breakfast with Santa. Good excuse for a family brunch and some holiday photos. We dressed the kids up in nice sweaters, brushed their hair, and headed out. I guess we shouldn’t have bothered with the brushing. The wind was blowing a steady 20+ mph, and the weather page said we had gusts up to 34mph. The good thing is that Honor was feeling much better and was fever free. She’d missed school on Thursday, and was sick all Friday, with a congestion/fever/headachy whatever it was. Saturday was a big improvement. 

Brian was an awesome big brother and went with Honor to chat with Santa. She’s shy around some people, and talking to Santa was easier with her brother next to her.


As we left the club and headed home, we saw this cat hunkered down. Doesn’t he look like he’s all fluffed up, secured in his solid spot, and is ready to sit out a storm? DSC08775

The wind really started picking up after we returned home from brunch, so I went out and put the patio table umbrella down, just to be safe. Our back garden is very sheltered. The end of the L-shape, where we keep the patio table, has our tall building on one side, a 20ft boundary wall on the other side (maybe 15ft across the patio), a 8-10 ft wall where the gate to the front is, and a 8-10ft wall in the back, where there is also a dense ‘wall’ of very tall trees, which makes a lovely and natural, wind and sun screen.

We spent the stormy evening indoors doing school projects. Here’s Honor, who was beginning to look tired out much earlier than usual (still recovering),  She had a project “My Country” and had fun working with her daddy to fill out the data she needed. It is rather difficult, btw, to do online research when the net keeps going down due to bad winds!


Brian’s class is studying explorers. Brian drew Francisco Pizzaro for his project, and he’s been gathering data for at least a week now. Working on his project at home and in class. He had a map to do this weekend. It had to be handmade, but we didn’t see why he couldn’t trace the outline of maps he found on the internet, especially as it had to be his work to find/cut/paste/resize (etc) the maps he needed to go with his report. He also had to fill in the places, which was difficult because not all of the places were noted on every map – he had to look around, find specific small towns, and place them according to the known major cities. He also had to find a way to note and map the routes of his explorer in a neat  and easy to track way… difficult, as Pizarro was back and forth in places, quite often. Brian found an ingenious way of tracing his map outline:


Because we were busy with homework, and my stove had been turned into a projector, we ordered pizza for dinner. As we were enjoying our first slices, we noticed the wind pick up, and we started hearing screeching noises. Metal on concrete. The chairs were being blown around. (They’re still being blown around this morning… and those things, while they aren’t made of massively heavy cast  iron, are made of a sturdy metal, not lightweight plastic.) Well, no problem, or so we thought. We’ve had some big wind/sandstorms blow through and we’ve been fine, seeing as we’re surrounded by walls and trees. But, an evil gust got past the defenses…


The table got flipped and smashed.

The umbrella was closed completely, and I left it in the table as I always do, and as I’ve seen the embassy folk do with the same type of furniture at the pool during wind storms. Mostly, I left it in because, sheltered or not, I have always been a bit worried that the table by itself might be light enough to flip in a hard wind… it’s good metal, but, again, it’s NOT cast iron. The umbrella pole is solid, and attached to a heavy base, it seemed like a good anchor. The tabletop, a large sheet of glass, unattached, heavy on top, light on the bottom, seemed just as likely to catch the wind and flip as anything. Looking at the remains, now, I think I should have completely removed the umbrella, but found a way to secure the table base to the umbrella’s heavy stand. It was not connected, not made to be. It may have still caught the wind and tipped though. o well…

About this time, the sand turned to hail and rain and the skies really opened up. I think it rained, quite hard at times, at least until midnight. Probably off and on, but it was always wet when I looked out. It was COLD this morning. 43F but with wind chill the ‘feels like’ was at 34F. For us cold weather wimps, that’s frigid! Today’s forecast was ‘showers’, but so far we’ve lots of wind, sand and dust. I think someone at the local weather station is having too much fun. They keep changing the status. Started out "Sandstorm", then "Blowing sand", "Blowing dust", and currently it's "Blowing dust and windy".

The kids have been wondering for weeks, when we would get ‘winter’… well, here it is! Tomorrow, would you believe this…??… I saw “Chance of snow” and “snow” from 5am-11am. O yea.. the kids would be thrilled! The link above goes to a weather forecast, and obviously, is subject to change, but still… THIS…

image … is NOT usually something we see on our weather page!!

//CORRECTION// I just went out and swept up all the glass... in a pile, I'm not sure about the best way to pack it up to get it to the dumpster, that's a lot of glass. Anyway, now I'm not convinced that the table is a light metal like I thought at first, it may simply be heavy fiberglass of some kind ??? I went to move the base and it weighed, oh, maybe a whole pound! I feel less bad about the thing now. It would have blown over, umbrella or no umbrella, attached to the separate base, or not, as easily as the chairs. :p Maybe more easily as the glass definitely made it top heavy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Home Ec

Taught in Home Economics classes – basics of sewing, so the future homemaker might figure out something like this:

Not perfect, but better than it was. To be honest, I really do not like slipcovers. I’d much rather, very simply, have a pretty, comfy, chair with nothing on it but me, and possible a throw pillow, cat, or perhaps child. BUT, I hate the furniture and the upholstery we have, even more than awkward looking covers. After dusty Cairo, I have also learned to appreciate the wash-ability of covers. Unfortunately, no store on earth sells covers to fit a wing chair shaped like this. I’m pretty sure the State Dept had these monsters custom-created to a) either ensure local upholsters and seamstresses received a lot of business or b) drive people like me batty or c) all of the above.

Anyway, I looked at a couple of books for ideas, then grabbed pins, fabric, and scissors. For just winging it, I think it turned out ok. Gotta start learning somewhere, and I have two more chairs to go. I might have to re-do these with better fabric once I feel like I know what I’m doing.

Next lesson…

NOT taught in Home Economics class. How to REMOVE kitty butts from works in progress:


What do you mean, my tail is in your way?


I was actively sewing, moving (trying to at any rate) this pin-filled fabric around, and Pixie jumped up, purred at me, then lay down and went to sleep… what was I supposed to do?


Well, obviously, I got the camera and took a picture… before removing her sweet snoozing little self elsewhere so I could finish!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Tree

Last weekend we hiked to the basement and wrestled all the miscellaneous boxes marked “Christmas” up into the house so we could decorate. Most of these boxes had not been opened since we packed them up two years ago. Last year we bought a ‘stunt double’ tree and decorations to stand in for our missing tree, then lost somewhere in HHE lala-land. After all we’d been through that season, I was not going to have us do without a tree. The cats were hard on those ornaments, it’s a good thing we gave our favorite stuff a time out (nevermind that we had no choice in it).

Our tree is an artificial one… saving real trees for eight plus years now… and looks pretty good for plastic and wire. Having the lights already attached saves us one major headache. Oh, and it comes in a big BOX!


Going by all the sniffing and rubbing, the box and tree probably smell like our former cats that the kittens have sensed on other items, like some of the kids’ old stuffed animals. They love Ramses’ old black sheep very much! We also have a number of little plush holiday toys to sit under the tree that probably smell like Misty and Ramses too. We've had those toys for a long time – they come in handy for distracting little kids, drawn to the tree by all the sparkly pretty things, who NEED something to touch and play with. I’m sure those toys have saved many of our breakable ornaments over the years. These toys have been wandering around the living room a lot the last few days… for some (three) reason(s).

I hung the stockings on the kilim with care.


Our tree is not themed or matching. All of our decor are items that we have collected over the years, or been given, or saved from childhood, or picked up while traveling, or the kids made it in school, etc. Unwrapping each odd bit is a trip through time. We had a ton of help unpacking.


There’s a Santa Claus that I got when I worked at my first job (in HS) at a department store. He used to walk, ring a bell, and play tinny songs. He’s past that now, a bit decrepit looking (rather like one of those dubious-looking guys in front of WalMart with a red bucket), but he’s too full of good memories to retire.

We have a cute snowman figure, knitted by Grandma.

We have glass hand-blown ornaments from Egypt.

Straw and thread items from Germany.

Beads and embroidery work found in charity bazaars, or from relatives adding pretty flourishes on packages, etc.

A few ‘first home’ hallmark pieces from Brad’s mother, who we lost before Brian was born.

We have chunky, brightly painted clay shapes from kids’ crafts.

One not-so brightly painted dough piece with Honor’s baby footprint in it. A gift from her daycare when she was tiny.

There is Bob the Builder and friends, from when Bob was the HERO in this house and while we have outgrown the show, the ornaments still bring fond smiles.

There are tiny wooden ornaments of all sorts (little snowmen, santa, trees, etc) from a set given by a friend. Some carved olive wood symbols and a handmade clay nativity set, both bought at a charity bazaar (the nativity has gained a giant guinea pig, a dragon, and a cat.. Shrek is no longer in the set.. I don’t know why…). There are some old cheapo apples that we had for our first tree… when we had NO decoration stash and just picked random stuff in bulk… they have somehow lasted for 18yrs and become a favorite with the kids. And goodness knows what else…

Our tree topper is an angel that we bought at a christkindlmarkt in Augsburg. I can still picture the snow, and taste the hot gluhwein.

It was Brian’s turn to place the topper. The kid seems almost big enough to reach on his own, but dad held him steady on the step-ladder anyway.


I love looking at our tree. All the memories will not show up in photos, but this is one crazy-full tree.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Never Eaten That Before…

Friday, December 3rd, 2010:  Lauren at the blog Global Geraghtys.  Theme:  I've Never Eaten That Before!

I like good food. I’m willing to try pretty much anything, but I do not go out of my way to eat weird stuff. Why? I prefer food that I know that I can enjoy. I don’t like to purposely choose a meal that I may not be able to tolerate. That’s wasteful. For example, while I have learned that I like some entrails… the heart is the best dark meat…  for the most part, you get down to that level and it’s time to go get another food beast. I also live by what I teach my kids: “Always try things, even if you’ve tried it before and didn’t like it.” You might be surprised. I would never have discovered crab cakes otherwise. I hate crab on it’s own. I’ve tried and tried and tried.. no luck.. I hate crab. But in Maryland, I tried crab cakes. O-Mi-GAWD! I LOVE crab cakes. Figure that out. Also, had I given up early, I’d have never learned to like steak. My mom cooked steak to DEATH – with no spice or sauce. Horrible! I’m talking hockey pucks, except a real hockey puck would taste better as it would have the proper flavor for the thing that it is. One day, I tasted a rare steak, and angels sang. Who knew?

I’m still working on some things, like salmon and liver, and maybe one day I’ll find that right preparation. I’m not holding my breath or wasting my menu choices over them in the meantime. In other words, I won’t usually seek out odd/icky foods, but I don’t say no either. I have usually been exposed to things I’d never eaten before because of traveling. I can’t help but associate places with their foods and I think that’s a very good way to preserve the memories.

Here are a few food adventure/memories worth sharing:

Ishta – Sugar Apples – Offered at a Jordanian veggie stand. They were rather sweet with an odd creamy texture. I liked them, but it was almost ‘too much’ to stand eating more than a couple bites. I found that they were much nicer baked into cookies.

Persimmons – The first time I met Brad’s grandfather, was at a holiday dinner with his family when we were still dating. Brad and his cousins had gone off somewhere to be loud – pinochle or politics were probably involved – and I went into the kitchen to see if I could help out. His grandfather was peeling persimmons and asked if I’d ever tried one. He told me that they have to be almost too ripe before you eat them, otherwise they’re very tart. We talked, ate persimmon, and peeled fruit, so grandmother could make the pulp into cookies. Mmm!

Things in Crete, the Island of cats – I have NO idea what we were eating most of the time. It seemed that all sorts of not-always-ID-able critters were hanging by hooks at the open-air local markets, and the veg for sale was beyond spectacular. We’d go to restaurants, without a clue how to speak or read the local language, and ask for ‘lunch?’, or ‘the special?’, or just point at things in a cafeteria style set-up. People were patient with our ignorance and we never went hungry. At one place, that we visited often, I asked for calamari. It was on the menu in English. We were there very much out of tourist season, so they were out of squid. No problem. Everything was good. We visited the next day and I asked for something else. The owner’s son pointed to the calamari on the menu, then pointed through a window to a bucket sitting on the kitchen floor with water sloshing around. I ordered the calamari and it was THE BEST I ever tasted! Actually, everything we ate in Crete was amazing… and if there were tiny little bones that I could not identify as mammal, aquatic, or avian floating around in the sauce, I just politely scooped them to the side and kept eating!

British food – everybody jokes that it is bland, and while I much prefer spicy food, I had no problems with it – well, except for the fish and chips. They were not something I could tolerate much of, and there were roads I’d not walk down because of the smell of hot oil and greasy fish. I LOVE Yorkshire pudding and miss having a pub ploughman’s lunch with good cheese, fresh bread, and veg. Mushy peas with mint sauce were also a surprising treat.

Hot tea with milk – On a rooftop in Pakistan where I was supervising some workers, and helped them move materials too. When they took a break, they offered me tea. The water, tea leaves, honey and milk were all boiled in the same kettle. I was told later that locals boiled the milk too, to kill germs. The water probably wasn’t any safer than the milk. That tea was piping hot, very sweet, and amazingly good.

Things from catalogs – Like Shannon at Cyberbones, my dad grew a garden. Always. We lived in the suburbs and didn’t have all that much ground to work with, but he had enough food growing to fill our deep freeze for year round meals and still had enough leftover to give vegetables and fruit away by the bag-full. (Large paper bags, many of them… all season long… my dad was a backyard gardening superhero). He got seed catalogs and experimented. He could not resist trying new plants. Usually this simply meant different varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans, but we also grew kohlrabi, eggplant, peanuts, all sorts of hot peppers, radishes and squash in forms that most would never recognize, and anything else that caught his eye. He tried many new foods, not found in the local grocery stores and so was always on the lookout for new recipes. We had homemade pickles, salsas and sauces in jars. We even had fried green tomatoes when storms would come through and knock down plants, leaving us with too many unripe vegetables. (well, technically, tomatoes are fruit, but you know what I mean.)

Street food or food of other dubious nature – You will always be warned to NOT eat street food. What you will not be warned of is that sometimes you WILL eat street food because to not do so, is very rude. I have been handed (literally, by ungloved fingers) pieces of mystery meat from cart vendors, pieces of bread, spoons of beans, etc. Unwrapped sweets or cakes have been handed over. One day, I smiled at a group of nannies and drivers that I greeted/was greeted by every day outside the school as they were eagerly hanging around this sweet elderly man who was feeding them unshelled hazelnuts - from his pocket. I was given a handful and a big beaming smile too. I have been encouraged to taste ice cream made from local milk. I have been given unwashed tastes of vegetables or fruits in street markets (when a vendor pulls a knife out of his pocket and cuts a large slice of fresh mango for you to try, you do not ask when was the last time he washed his knife, or hands, or whether or not the mango was bleached.. you say thank you, and take a bite). I have been given cups of tea and coffee in back alleys of the Khan in Cairo, and platters of whatever from who knows where in rug shops. I have had attendants in a parking garage hand me pieces of their Ramadhan iftar meal that they would be sharing at sundown – food from baggies, the feast arranged on a cardboard box, with diners crouched around on the floor in a circle. Yes, I smiled, said thank you, and ate or drank whatever was offered so kindly.

For the record, it was all very good, made even better for the generous spirit in which it was given, and I never got sick.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Approved – Apple Cinnamon Muffins

I think my kids are growing again. They keep eating. Five minutes after eating, they want to eat some more. Brian’s jeans are probably ok, because we bought them really big, but Honor… I think I’ll be shopping again, and soon. Another pair, barely used, has been outgrown. I usually have to shop online too. These guys are very tall, getting taller, and very skinny. It’s HARD to find pants that go all the way to their ankles, yet are small enough for their waists… even with those adjustable tabs. I’d have to spend hours scouring shops here to have any luck clothing them, whereas I know the sizes of Old Navy, LL Bean, JC Penney, etc. so I’ll hope for some good holiday sales online. I just can’t believe we may not make it through the winter in the clothes we bought this past August!

Keeping these hungry beings fed, with regular food, is easy. They aren’t too terribly picky and will eat their regular meals no problem. Snacks are trickier, esp. when it comes to school snacks that are fairly healthy, low in sugar (I’m not depriving them of sweets, but I don’t send candy, chips or frosted cupcakes, etc), and easy to transport without being smushed and wasted (you know, for those days when they decide to eat nothing, because there is no such thing as consistency!). Well, I sometimes bake and send them off with cookies, but they’re going to be oatmeal cookies, or full of fruit or something. Often they get a variety of cereal bars. I have also been trying different muffins. My banana bread, in muffin form, is the favorite, but I found the following Apple Cinnamon Muffin recipe yesterday, and the kids loved the results.

I subscribe to this blog: Taste Spotting which highlights interesting looking recipes, and it linked to this blog where you’ll find the actual recipe: Apples & Almonds 

Of course, the recipe called for using separate bowls, then adding half of the one mix to the other, then blending, then adding more… blah blah blah… I don’t always listen when told to do things… I was in a hurry and just added the wet ingredients, mixed. Added the dry, mixed. Added the apples. Ta-daa! Worked just fine. I used one red apple (McIntosh, I think) and one granny smith (and I didn’t peel them either, I like the tartness of the peel bits in muffins, not to mention the color). The recipe said “Makes 12” so I made only 12 (see, I *can* listen, sometimes). I bet I could have made them smaller and got 18 muffins. The important thing is, the kids LOVED them! Ok, they did say that I should add more cinnamon, but they love cinnamon, so I am not surprised.

Both ate one banana muffin and TWO of these monster apple muffins for breakfast this morning, and then asked to have another in their lunch boxes. Where’s my credit card? LL Bean jeans shop, here I come…

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Saddest Thing

There are a lot of sad things about Harry Potter… it’s a dark, forbidding tale of woe and danger. There are also grand moments of heroism, magic, and true friendship, and I highly recommend the books to adults and children, but the sad moments abound. Go ahead, those who have read and watched, think about it and try to choose. There is a plethora of misery to pick through.

We watched the first movies in the series this past weekend with the kids. Brian has watched and paid attention to them before, but for Honor, 7yo, who watches movies very haphazardly (much like her mom) this was really the first time that she’s sat through them. She enjoyed the movies very much, is looking forward to the new ones now too, and was very tickled to report to me today that her teacher had asked kids in her class what they’d done on break, and nearly everyone said that they’d watched the movies too. Some said they went to the theatre, which I take to mean that the newest one is being shown here. I haven’t been to the mall recently, so this is (good) news to me.

One thing that confused Honor, was why the kids packed their bags, got on a train, and had bedrooms at the school. When the story in the first movie reached the point of the children going home for Christmas break, she was totally confused. I had to explain boarding school. She was horrified. Yea… me too. That’s my ‘saddest thing’ when it comes to each and every one of the Harry Potter books and movies. I’ll stop right now and apologize to anyone this might offend, but I can’t help it. I’m an attachment parenting advocate and sending children away to be raised by quasi-parents, possibly disinterested or dysfunctional teachers, and god knows what kind of peers, well, that tears at everything I believe in.

Sure, boarding school might be a blessing to some, in the way a well-run orphanage or foster care system might be. Harry Potter definitely benefitted by being removed from an abusive home. Most kids though are ‘regular’ kids from ‘regular’ families. Why put them in an institution for most of their childhood and adolescence?? 

Honor thought it was downright criminal. She interrogated me with the imagination and exaggeration that only a second grader (or a second grader’s parent) might really comprehend. Part logic, part far-stretching maybes. Would the school tell them that the child had to stay? What if they didn’t tell the parent and the child got on the train and couldn’t come home? What if they told them the child would come home, but lied? She was about to lawyer up and go after Dumbledore herself. I was not a very good representative for the defense. All I could say was that the parents would know, and most likely, would have to voluntarily pay for, the child to go to school and not come home again except on holidays.

She was appalled.

Me too.

Think about it. The child has no idea what to expect (unless they have older siblings there). No trusted adults to talk to, and all that can be hoped for is random good guys, although it is also likely that they’ll end up with the uncaring (Snape) or evil (Filch, Umbrage) authority figures. Elder students are given authority over the younger – elder students who may be bullies, or too busy struggling with their own issues to bother with the needs of others. Kids raising kids? Peers raising each other? No hugs as they get off the bus in the evening? No parental help with homework or social issues? No special wake-up on birthdays, no bedtime tuck-in, or after nightmare snuggles, or other little day-to-day love affirmations? And what about the issues children go through as they reach puberty and head into their teens and young adulthood?? As Honor would say… “But! What if…???!!”


If Hogwarts were a day school, perhaps there would be fewer Deatheaters in that particular world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Random Chaos

The kids are off to school. Husband is off to work. I’m finished with my breakfast, drinking my coffee, and planning my day. I hope it smoothes out a bit. It’s not been a BAD day (well, morning, it’s only 10-ish) but it’s been a bit too interesting for the first day of the week after a holiday weekend.

The kids were tired this morning. Too much staying up late this weekend. Couldn’t help it. AFN was running a marathon of the first six Harry Potter movies, two per night, which ended at 10pm. We didn’t let the kids stay up for the sixth movie last night, but their schedules were off and getting up this morning was not as easy as usual. Still, they got up and going well. I even remembered to tell them to put their shoes on before going in their bathroom in case the pipes had leaked more. Brian also practiced his book talk (oral book report) after breakfast with me.

O yea… first work order of the week... Repair busted water pipe under the kids’ sink. It looks like the sealant was simply old, died, and turned to dust. Possibly hastened by the warmth of the radiators we only recently turned on. Should be an easy fix. While placing towels under the sink, which she did before she even came to tell us about the mess… she’s so responsible!… Honor found a huge hunk of glass. Looks like it came from one of the glass blocks that fill the outside wall. No idea how it could have broken as the spot it came from is 12ft up in the air, behind the wall a bit (Hard to explain, but it isn’t anything that we could have hit). I’ll point it out to the facilities guys, but I doubt there’s anything to do about it. This place is so run down. The building is old and crappy. Ugly paint, ugly tiles, etc. Cracking glass blocks are no surprise. I wouldn’t want to move. Not at all. I like living here as it’s very ‘livable’ in so many ways and I like the layout better than most of the modern apartments I’ve been in locally. BUT, some days, I really don’t like looking too closely at things. If it were ours, I’d say we were 10 years past due for a serious facelift.

Anyway, the second work order of the week is the radiators. We had the heat turned on last week and have since discovered that three of the radiators will not turn on/off. In my personal experience, and this house is no exception, there are only two settings for radiators. On or Off. ON equals either “Just right” or “Too hot”. OFF equals “Just right” or “Too cold”. There is a real need to be able to turn the radiators off or on if the “just right” temperature is not happening. Believe me, I’ve tried adjusting the knobs for a setting somewhere between too hot and too cold but it doesn’t exist. It’s actually a pretty good system. I like radiators (we have them near our towel racks…  mmm! warm towels!) and I like the warm pipes that feed them as they run through the floors and make the marble tiles warm, but we do need the on/off function to actually work! Right now, we have two radiators stuck on ‘OFF’ and one (in the kitchen near the oven!) stuck ‘ON’.

What else? After putting the kids on the bus this morning, the bawab called me over and pointed to the truck. We had a flat tire. It had been needing air too often, but today, it was flat. I got Brad, and we went out to work on it, but our bawab (he is awesome!) and the guard took over and changed the tire for us. It’s nice to be looked after so well. We’ll have to get the tire repaired later today. We’re probably due for a couple of new ones anyway.

The flat tire may have been a good thing this morning anyway. As Brad came in, finished getting ready, and was getting ready to leave the house (only slightly delayed) there was a loud screeching noise and a crash. Brad saw the accident on his way out. It was only a block up, on the street that parallels ours. Problem is, that road also parallels the main busy road one more block up. Morons pull into our neighborhood and race down that road trying to cut around traffic. That intersection is one you have to inch forward into to make sure nobody is speeding through… if you don’t know to pull forward carefully, you’ll get t-boned, which is obviously what happened this morning. I’m glad Brad wasn’t in the area when it happened. I foresee large speed bumps in the near future.

After Brad left, the rest of my morning progressed in a fairly normal manner. Except for the cat jumping in the shower with me. Pumpkin lost track of his fear of water when he was overwhelmed with curiosity over the gurgle-y noises the drain was making. He was actually under the spray, almost to the drain, when he remembered that he does NOT like getting wet and leapt out. I was thankful to survive the incident without being climbed. I love that these cats love and trust me enough to run and jump into my arms when they need or want to…. but when I’m nekkid in the shower is not the time I want to be catching a fully armed (clawed) wet, panicked cat! I’m picky that way.

That’s enough randomness for now. I think I shall refill my coffee and spend the next hour or so doing some nice, calm, safe, online shopping.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Long, Lazy Week Off

Last week was Eid al-Adha, and while I hope everyone had a blessed holiday, I am here to report that we accomplished nothing, at all, of any value or purpose, and it was truly wonderful! We had a long, lazy break full of just being together as a family.

We gamed. A lot.


No worries, I made sure to use a comfy, fluffy, warm, if perhaps not OSHA approved, hand rest…


We also watched a ton of movies, and marathons of favorite series on DVD. Honor had the best set-up!


She even slept out a few nights in her ‘fort’. Ninja adores her girl, and slept in the tent with her too.

The cats enjoyed having everyone home. Lots of attention, play, and BELLY RUBS! Assume the position…


Basically, this describes our break…


yea… it was that cozy!