Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunlight and Rainbows

In the year 2000, we lived in a house with a window in the kitchen. There were other windows visible from the kitchen too. Then we moved. And moved. And moved. And moved. And… you get the picture… and while we had fairly good luck with our housing, we had NO sunlight in the kitchens… sigh. Even when the kitchen was against the outside wall… no windows. I mean, really!? Extremely poor planning if you ask me. If any of those homes had actually belonged to me, I guarantee you, a window would have happened!

A decade passed.

Just about…

It felt longer…

Finally, 2010, and look! We have finally been blessed with WINDOWS!


Kitchen and sitting room. Windows with sunlight and greenery flowing in all over. The photo above is natural light, early morning, most of the sunlight still blocked by the garden walls. Isn’t it inviting? Care to join me for a coffee? There is also a big window over the main sink, which is to the left out of this shot, that brings in more light as the day advances. Lots of lovely sunshine coming in there, so I hung a couple of crystals in the window to catch the rays. Nothing like colorful streaks of light, romping all about, to bring instant fun to your day. Rainbows all over the kitchen.


The kids love the rainbows, but probably not as much as the cats. Cats reeeeally like rainbows.


Just ask Ninja…


This naturally bright kitchen is one of the main reasons why I love this apartment. The sun, the garden, the fresh air through the windows and doors… it’s all good. It makes the whole me feel sunny.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I love to travel the world by internet and to learn about various places and posts as seen through the eyes of other expats and foreign service bloggers. I’m not under any delusion that I might be studying for a particular future post, the future moves around too much! I simply enjoy the stories, adventures and photos of my fellow uprooted and transplanted wanderers.

Not only do people pack up and go elsewhere on a regular basis, they are often accompanied by their non-human family members. We can read blogs by human travelers all over the web, but did you know that there is now a doggie blogger posting about life as a diplopet? Noostie has a blog at FS Tails telling tails, I mean, tales, about life as a foreign service dog.

Noostie's closeup 

Several of Noostie’s posts give information and ‘been there, done that’ advice about travel. There are also guest posts from other famous diplopets. Our very own Princess Pixie was recently published as a guest blogger, and she provided a bit of local information for other pets who are looking to bring their families to Amman. (They grow up so fast, don’t they? One minute they’re chasing their cute little tails and pouncing on plastic spiders, and the next they’re reaching out to sponsor their peers.)

If you are accompanied by an outgoing diplo- or expat-pet, who would like to share their experiences with overseas travel and life in random countries throughout the world, please have them contact Noostie at FS Tails, as guest bloggers can help expand this travel resource and journal – by pets, for pets (and their humans). Traveling with our animal family members can be tough sometimes, and it helps to have advice from seasoned travelers, tips and tricks, do’s and don’t’s, and local resources when possible.

Thanks for sharing Noostie!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Belly rubs!

Can’t you just read his fuzzy little mind? “I need my belly rubbed!”


He’s getting to be a big guy! His sisters are still very dainty.

“Why’d you stop?”


I’ve never known a cat who NEEDED as much holding, snuggling, and belly-rubbing, as Pumpkin. Ramses was a snuggler, but he didn’t like to be picked up and cradled like a baby too often… Pumpkin insists upon it. He still does his ‘somersault off the shoulder, upside down into my arms’ trick… he does it more often than simply climbing into my lap and rolling over… it puts him in the perfect belly rub position.


I am pleased that we have been blessed with schools that do so much to promote reading. Both kids truly enjoy books and do not have to be pushed to read… quite the opposite, we have to take books from their hands at bedtime. Every night. This is good.

One event this year was Library week, where books, reading, authors, etc. were shared and celebrated. One day was set aside for the kids to dress as a favorite character. Honor has been reading a bunch of Princess and fairy books, so she decided to go as Tinkerbelle, and Brian, who didn’t want to dress up, didn’t have to. He’s enjoying the “Encyclopedia Brown” series and so he dressed as a regular kid (I did manage to get him into a polo shirt, like the cover illustration, rather than his usual t-shirt), and he brought one of his books.


After I took this photo, “Encyclopedia Brown” went off to do his homework…


and TInkerbelle went out to the garden to color rainbows.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jordan’s Treasure

I love olives, any and all, and enjoy them alone, in salads, baked in bread, you name it. I also love a good olive oil and use it for nearly everything… even plain, for dipping bread. Mmm! When we first arrived in Amman, I was thrilled to find olive trees on the streets of our neighborhood being harvested. The local grocery stores have a wide variety of oils, and you should see the selection of olives in the delis! I tried a few oils, and eventually found Jordan’s Treasure Extra Virgin olive oil. Quite simply, it is good. It tastes great, it smells great. What a nice surprise then, when I found myself at the factory that produces it! Brian’s class sent home a last minute notice about a field trip, asking for permission and chaperones, and all I knew was they would be going to an olive farm and oil pressing plant; no details. I didn’t expect to be called to assist, as I chaperoned the last field trip and usually the number of spaces for parental companions are limited, but I lucked out.

First place we stopped, was a farm out near Jerash. This was a nursery, and the class was to learn about olive trees. One of the first things I noticed were the paintings and flags everywhere. Even this small building, probably a simple utility building, was displaying national pride… I like it.

DSC06416The classes were given a tour of the greenhouses, and taught about two types of grafting. (From wiki:) “In stem grafting, a common grafting method, a shoot of a selected, desired plant cultivar is grafted onto the stock of another type. In another common form called budding, a dormant side bud is grafted on the stem of another stock plant, and when it has fused successfully, it is encouraged to grow by cutting out the stem above the new bud.”

DSC06419 DSC06433

This nursery was a very professional operation with temperature controlled greenhouses. Each greenhouse could grow about 210,000 small cuttings to be used for rootstock. We learned that it takes about 2 years to produce a small tree, ready to sell for planting.

Cuttings, planted to ‘root’.


The kids were also told about the importance of good soil, and the need to mix in crushed limestone, to keep the ground porous, and ‘bitmus’ (compost), to feed the young plants. We saw the greenhouses with more mature trees, and wandered around a little.


There were beautiful big trees to provide shade, and a lot of lovely flowering plants.



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To get to the next part of the ‘class’, we piled back in the buses and headed to the main road. Then we stopped, because the bus got a flat tire… hmm? Fortunately, the driver had the tire changed in about 10 minutes, and we were on the road again.


I love to look out the window as we drive around. There were so many fruit stands alongside the road. I also saw potted plants, pretty pottery, honey, dried fruits, etc. Too bad we had no time to shop.



We drove through a small town…


Past (far off in the distance!) Ajloun castle


I love this big blue door! Of course, I’d rather it be attached to a finished house, but you gotta start somewhere.


Eventually we arrived at the oil processing plant. We were told that, at harvest time in the fall, the farmers handpick the olives, and bring them to the plant to process. The plant processes the oil for the farmers to take for their own use, but also buys oil. This particular brand only uses organic grown olives. They also work with the farmers in order to obtain the olives at the peak of the season (when the acidity is the lowest) and ensure that the olives are handled with as less crushing as possible (which also keeps the acidity low). Extra virgin olive oil is obtained in this manner… the lower the acidity, the better. Apparently some farmers wait until the olives fall, but too far past the prime season, and the pH goes up. (I linked to the website, above… check it out as it’s very informative).

The olives are cleaned and debris removed.


The entire fruit is crushed, pits and all. Who knew? This plant uses a cold press method as heating the fruit destroys some of the flavor and aroma.


The oil, and a waste water, is removed from the pulp by centrifugal force, and the pulp is packed and dried into a dark wood-like substance - ?jift? – that can be burned like wood-pellets. (All these cool facts I never knew about olives!)

This was my view of Brian for most of the tour. Back to me, listening to our guide.


I was impressed to see the huge storage tanks. They had 5, 8 and even 20 ton tanks of oil! The plant was closed when we visited… everything was shut down, much was taken apart, and the employees were busy scrubbing and cleaning the facility and equipment. However, even though the pressing season is in the fall, they continue to package and ship the stored oil throughout the year.


What I buy at the store.


This brand, because it is certified organic and is produced to such a high standard, is endorsed by the crown and often given as gifts. I’d have to say, it’s a gift I wouldn’t mind accepting, it’s good stuff!

O wait, they did give us (adults) a little gift. Thank you!

DSC06484 The children were shown a poster portraying an ancient method of pressing oil.


The engineer at the plant also showed how easy it was to chemically test the purity of olive oil as well. By that time though, we were running out of time and had to rush back to the school, so we didn’t hear as much about their laboratory, etc.

On the way back, I was able to catch a few more shots of the scenery… such a nice day!


Unfortunately the photo of the dresses was a bit blurry… I liked how the pretty fabrics looked in the sun, blowing in the breeze. 

DSC06473 Some old buildings on a hillside.


Ah… rooftops! I love the signs of life seen on rooftops. Yea… I did this in Cairo a lot too. I get this way about palm trees too.



Sunday, April 18, 2010

We’ve got Spores

We’ve got spores in our house, but not in a bad way. It’s the latest PC game we’ve been playing as a family. Spore, by EA games.

Basically, a player creates a race of creatures, and helps them survive and evolve.

Our youngest likes to use the creator in the game to invent new creatures, which is actually quite fun, but the rest of us have had fun playing the game too. You can start your game with a basic primitive critter, wiggling around in the goop of creation, and you do your best to help it survive. You earn points as it goes, feeding and fighting. What it eats and how you play, effects the genetic points and traits earned. The first guy I created was darn slow, and apparently, very tasty. I had to make him turn and fight to survive. Everything wanted to eat him. When he managed to crawl from the muck, he earned the genetic trait “carnivore”. Had he managed to stay sheltered more, he may have been an herbivore or omnivore. Isn’t he a cute little bug? I named his race “Crunchy”… it turned out to be appropriate, as he had to crunch or be crunched to survive.


Well, I thought he was cute… but I suppose other critters remembered him from the primeval kiddy pool, because no matter how hard he tried to ‘charm’ other creatures to be his friends, they were either terrified or hateful… so he had to eat them to live.

Finding more DNA points and accomplishing quests allowed my a creature to become a very successful predator as he evolved.

CRE_Crunchy-09f42c51_ful Brian and Brad had better luck with the whole social thing… nobody liked my race! Wait. I take that back. There were a couple of tiny little critters that were not afraid of him. They adored him so intensely that they followed him into battle and adored their little selves into extinction. Sigh… Eventually he evolved into a tribal state, with a whole new set of objectives to fulfill in order to survive, succeed and evolve.

CRE_Crunchy-09f42c4f_ful By this time, I gave up on teaching this guy manners and let him embrace his vicious genetic tendencies. He tore through the tribal stage, learning to hunt as a group, fish, and domesticate animals so he could spend less time hunting, and more time eradicating the competition. Hey, it’s what worked for him. A tiger without stripes is still a tiger (and this guy has stripes).

Eventually my guy advanced enough to move into a civilization stage, and despite going in labeled as ‘aggressive’ military,  he finally managed to make a couple of allies… only a couple… but enough to eventually make it to the space age. The civilization and space age allow you to create buildings and vehicles, as well as customize your creature's accessories. It sounds simple, but the graphics and interface are really good and it’s fun to use your own creations in the game.

Brad managed to get a race to these later stages completely peacefully – earning the racial trait of religion. He’d convert others to his way of doing things. Brian played an economic game… which is somewhere in the middle.  I’m not done playing this particular race. Crunchy is now allied with a couple of other space age races, and is filling the role of galactic police. When his buds need help, they know who to call. 

The game is not just about eating things and fighting. Your character has to earn resources in order to advance, to equip his vehicles, protect his cities, etc. He must provide factories to increase production, but not too many factories, because without devoting some resources to entertainment, the people will be unhappy. You must colonize planets in order to gain more resources, but of course, this costs. Some planets are nothing but bare rock and the player will want to terraform the planet to increase production and therefore profits. It is a bit of a puzzle as you must adjust the atmosphere and temperature (with costly tools), then add plant and animal life in order to keep it stable. There are quests and errands you can take from other races in order to gain friends and allies. There is even a bit of business involved as you trade resources for cash. You need to be smart about how much you buy and sell items for so that you can turn a profit. Buy low, sell high, save up to buy what you need to run a good business, and allocate resources efficiently … getting a kid to think in math and economics is not bad game play! I also believe there are good, basic, lessons to be learned regarding ecological balance, evolution, cause and effect, and diplomacy.

It’s a versatile game that allows you to start play at whatever stage you feel. You can start as a cell, or create a tribal guy and go from there, etc. Spore allows multiple games to be stored, good for a family. Rather like the Sims games (Which is less of a kid game. It's good, but has adult situations/humor.). In Sims, each house/family is a separate game, and in Spore, each ‘planet/race’ is a separate game.

You can also upload or download creatures from the Spore homepage – there are some very creative folk out there – which makes the game even more interesting. You never know which of your, or someone else’s, creatures will show up in your game as a creature, or fellow intelligent race. One example, that had my husband and I giggling like kids (the real kids were in bed at the time), is when Crunchy was still in the tribal stage. He and his gang were running into a canyon chasing some ferocious food-animals, when they were attacked by a rare epic creature. An epic is a HUGE version of a creature. The ironic thing is that this epic was another of my creations (not grown from a cell, but something I’d made while experimenting with the creator). I have to say, it looked awesome in giant-sized action. I made one heck of a monster! But it ate my entire tribe. Yes, we were laughing, but only because it was so unexpected. There they were, running through the woods, professional hunters on the move.. and like an old fashioned monster movie… Godzilla suddenly appears atop a slope, poses and roars mightily, then rampages down and destroys everything! What the..?!? Fortunately, the game is very forgiving and lets you start again at your last save point, as many times as needed, which is especially good for when Honor plays. It is tough to play at times, and unlimited do-overs helps avoid frustration in younger (or older!) players.

We enjoy this game and recommend it for families, but remember…

…beware of epic crabdragons!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Keeping the Streets Safe

You can thank us later, Amman. Really, it's not a problem, 'twas nothing, Ma'laish, our pleasure even. You see, the streets of this beautiful city are just a little bit safer these days because of us. We removed a threat that you would have never expected. You can sleep deep with no worries... ok, with less worries... all due to a small sacrifice on our part. We adopted cats who would likely have grown into a fearsome mafia had we not removed them from the harsh realities of living on the streets. A ginger crime wave, nipped in the bud. They still have the criminal instincts, but the only thing these cat burglars can burgle nowadays is our belongings, and we are willing to bear this burden, dear neighbors, to keep you safe.

How do I know these guys are hardened criminals? Well, Ninja has been busted multiple times for breaking and entering. She narrowly escaped after a major assault last night. We even have photo evidence of the deed. At 21-hundred hours, witnesses heard a loud crashing noise coming from Honor’s room, followed by an angry shout from the inhabitant (something along the lines of “Ninnn-jaa! Leave that alone!”) We rushed in and this is what we found:


Yes, Honor’s room is always cluttered, but usually the shelves remain upright, not detached and flung to the side of the room. We know that she must have been searching for some of Honor’s small stuffed animals because those are her favorite collectibles, and Honor’s hiding them, only encourages Ninja to search harder.

Pumpkin is the least devious of the sibling trio. He is, perhaps, an innocent, led astray by his more clever siblings. His crimes are restricted to vandalism, as he seems to possess an intense drive to take things apart and see how they work, and petty theft associated with his need to feed his habit. He suffers from a serious addiction to bread (ok, HE doesn’t suffer, but the bread usually doesn’t take it too well). We are hoping that he will turn his life around as he matures and possibly lead his sisters towards a more civil and socially responsible lifestyle… in the meantime, we are locking the bread in the microwave to keep it out of his reach. He has not figured out how to ‘reverse engineer’ the door latch, yet, as he has done with so many other things.

Ninja may be the most brazen, daring, and active member of the gang, but Pixie is definitely the brains of the operation (whatever that ‘operation’ may be … our analysts work night and day, but we have yet to crack their master plan). She watches everything we do intently and knows our routines inside and out. Pixie will take your headphones out of your ears, the straw out of the glass you are holding in your hand, and the sausage off your plate, before you even realize she’s in the room, much less on your lap. She’s run off with vitamin E gel tabs (we always get them back fast.. easier said than done… no chemistry experiments allowed). She’s quite adept at standing on her hind legs and pawing through cabinets left open overhead, and this morning she even leapt from the floor to my shoulder to gain a better view into the higher shelves of the cabinet I was accessing… planning for a later attack, I assume. I have seen her trying to open doors – reaching for doorknobs, tugging at cabinet doors. She also has a slight tendency towards gambling as she’ll jump into any dice game that she can and makes lively sport of it. Lately she’s been stealing battery operated flashing balls from the kids. She’s figured out how to operate them too. We’re not sure if this is part of the grand scheme, or if she’s merely indulging in a passing fancy for a new luxury toy. Trying to start a new fad in fashionable kitty electronics. With Pixie, I believe we should hide the credit cards and car keys…

Now, perhaps you think I am exaggerating. How much can a small cat carry off anyway? Well, perhaps the average small cat may not be too dangerous, but this gang has been practicing since kitten-hood. Ninja will still haul around socks and the small animals that she adores (she just now ran by me with Rainbow Kitty, her – and Honor’s - favorite beanie baby, and is in the corner growling at Pixie, daring her to try and touch her ill-gotten treasure), but she has been training to move larger objects, like robes, throw pillows, and jackets. I’ve warned the family that she may be tired of filching one small item at a time and could be ready to move up. I can see her filling up bags with her loot of choice, and have caught her in the act, making practice runs with empty bags. She’s getting stronger. Still don’t believe me? Well, don’t take my word for it, again, I have proof:


(...and did you catch that at the end, she’s even moving a piano … a really small piano ;D but it’s a start !)

Cats are too clever… humans are lucky that felines do NOT have thumbs.

Movie by Honor :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nuclear Easter Egg Salad

explosion2_e0 cracked_egg_chick  explosion2_e0

Today was grocery day, and I headed off early in the morning to visit my favorite local grocery store – Cosmo, it is such a friendly place! I went early because it can get crowded, and it was, as always, such a pleasant shopping experience. From the garage guy who cheerfully waved me through, to the lady at the bakery who served my bread and pastries, to the helpful staff of the deli – the man who got my order, and the lady who double-checked that I was being waited on – to the polite woman at the spice stall who answered all my questions, then told me that she was happy to meet me and to have a nice day. (btw.. What is vanilla powder? I do not know, but could not resist getting a couple of scoops so I can experiment! I also found baking soda and powder in bulk… how cool is that?) The frozen foods area by the butchery was being remodeled... they were walling things off as I got there… and I needed the milk behind the barrier! Unlike another store I won’t mention today, was I out of luck? Ignored and disrespected? No way! There was a staff member stocking a nearby aisle and he went right over and cheerfully brought me all the milk I needed. Then, I finished it all up with an efficient cashier, and a bagger who did not squish the bread or break the breakables… what’s not to love?

So what does this have to do with Easter eggs?? When I was at the deli, where I had to get a new stash of ‘squeaky’ cheese (Halloumi - which does not melt when grilled, so makes a tasty side dish. Served in small quantities – it is salty!), I also picked out a chunk of feta cheese and a small dish of labneh (yogurt cheese balls) with herbs and spice. While I was waiting for my order, I wandered over to look at the selection of olives (so hard to resist those!) and ready made salads… and there it was… the hot sauce I adore! A whole bowl of it. It was labeled “Hot Pepper” in the display, and on my take-away container, but that doesn’t really help me. What is it? How do I get the recipe? It looks like a thick, deeper red, Thai chili sauce, but it is not sweet like the Thai stuff. To me Thai chili sauce is like sweet&sour with just a hint of chili… it’s very good, but it’s NOT the sauce I love. The “Hot Pepper” seems to be made of ground red chili peppers – skins, seeds, and all – perhaps a bit of oil, salt, and perhaps a hint of sugar. It’s HOT, but it is sooooo yummy! I’ve had similar sauces in Chinese restaurants (in the US and Egypt), and I’ve eaten it with local foods in Egypt as well. We were invited to Iftar dinner, which is the breaking of the fast at Ramadhan, with the guards in our garage one night, and they had this sauce to go along with rice and chicken. They warned me away from it, saying it was “too hot”. I explained that I was raised on my dad’s homemade chilis and I would probably love it… I was right. The next few times that we dined with these guards, there was a huge bowl of the sauce… the man who’d brought it to the meal had told his wife, and she made extra, just because I’d liked it so much!

You know I didn’t resist buying some this morning – I was sane and kept the amount small, knowing that it will only be me to eat it. I brought my lovely fire sauce home, and for lack of anything to serve it with for lunch, I put it in the fridge. I started making up an simple egg salad for my meal – I used the last two Easter eggs, one colored orange, yellow and red with a dragon drawn with crayon, how appropriate?? When I reached for the salt and pepper, I automatically grabbed the chili powder and parsley as well… and then inspiration struck. Heh heh! Chili sauce! To heck with the powder! Let’s just say, my eggs were so good the dish was sparking!

I am lucky to have found a supplier for my lovely condiment of choice, but I would really love to know how to make it! I don’t think I can Google “Hot Pepper” or “Hot Pepper Chili” and have much luck… or rather, I wouldn’t have much ‘specific’ help, there’d be too much! Does anyone have any ideas? Again, it is a thick, almost paste-like sauce (a bit runnier, with oil). It looks like whole, unseeded red chilis were run through a food processor. I can’t place the oil as it takes on the flavor of the spice… it’s a very light oil. It is slightly salty, and slightly sweet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


ambiance (n.)  ambience, atmosphere, mood, spirits, vibes

Yet another reason to have pets – ambiance. I mean, they constantly emit sparkling rays of love!  You can’t help but feel hugged.. just look at them!… it gets all over you! That’s got to be healthy.

This is also an example/excuse of why we ended up keeping all three kittens, they are all very close to one another. They fuss and fight and try to push each other around… as all siblings tend to do… but they also play very nicely together and are always very sweet to one another as well.


Love is spread. I did my good deed for the day.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Easter of Firsts

Holidays in a new home are always nice… even if there is an attached learning curve. Where to set up the Christmas tree, how to gather a birthday party crowd, etc. This new home gave us a couple of ‘firsts’ for Easter.

Pixie (and her siblings) LOVED the excitement… AND the loot(!) of their first Easter. Not as much as they loved their first Christmas tree, but they had fun. Imagine trying to dye eggs with a cat determined to run off with one .. or at least roll it off the table and eat it. It’s a good thing these cats do not have thumbs, they manage to ‘steal’ enough as it is… Little furry pirates!


As we are still trying to figure out what to do with parts of our family room we have boxes cluttering up the space in a couple of areas. Add to that the fact the kids have been playing and ‘re-decorating’ the area over Spring break, and, well, this room is a mess! No matter, it made for good indoor egg hiding.


In previous years, we’ve always had to hide eggs inside because we lived in an upper floor apartment without a yard of our own. This year, we had real hard-boiled eggs, and plastic eggs with candy - good chocolate… the kids aren’t very picky, nor do they ever eat that much of the candy(!), but if we’re going to have to help them with it, it might as well be stuff we like too - and we didn’t want to these foods to be out on the ground. Indoors works.


Egg hunting can be a work out.


Hooray for little tiny cute animals! Honor was thrilled to find that a number of the eggs held these surprise ‘friends’!


Even though there was plenty of fun to be had searching for eggs inside, the Easter bunny could not resist our lovely garden. This is definitely a first… our own private back yard egg hunt!


Someone likes the money he found in these plastic eggs!


That Easter bunny must be tall!


And these are truly amazing plants.. most of the time they just grow plain ol’ flowers, but in fall we ‘picked’ kittens here, and in Spring we found eggs, what next??


Hope you all had a wonderful Easter celebration, however you chose to celebrate, with the ones you love.