Friday, October 29, 2010

Small bits: I never knew... State Department Round Up

This week's State Department Round Up is hosted by Becky of "Small Bits" here:

Small bits: I never knew... State Department Round Up: "Blogregator"

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School related goodness

School for the kids has been great in so many ways this year. Their teachers are amazing and the kids are highly motivated for class and homework. I’m not saying that they LOVE homework(!), they’re kids! But they’ve had a great attitude towards it this year. Get it done. Done right the first time. Then they’re free to play. Getting good marks is a goal. They have also been enjoying their specials and the teachers for those classes (art, PE, music, Arabic).

Their liking school, having fun, is important to us… they do like school and it shows. Their report cards were amazing, and today we went to their parent teacher conferences and had a great chat with both teachers. Brian’s teacher asked that her students be included in the conference as well, so Brian was part of our session with her. I liked that she asked him what he liked about his report card, and what he thought of some of her comments. He was also included in discussion of what to work on for future goals and improvement. I’m feeling mighty proud of our kiddos right now!

Other school fun to report on was a field trip Honor went on this week. Her class had the opportunity to visit the farm of a fellow student and get a little hands-on exposure to plants and animals, the subjects that they have been studying in class for their science lessons. I lucked out and got to tag along as chaperone. Actually, the chaperones did more than just tag along, we were delegated as group leaders and guided our assigned kids through their lessons.

The kids had many science-related activities to get through. Identifying plants and flowers. We had worksheets with photos and clues. It was a scavenger hunt, and once the plant or animal was found, there was often a question or two to answer about it. DSC08443

Another activity had them picking, washing, and cutting up fresh veggies for a salad to eat at lunch.

DSC08414

DSC08416

DSC08420

In addition to plants, they had to identify, count, and answer questions about animals. Ducks do NOT stay put in order to be counted, btw, and when chickens run in amongst the scurrying ducks, counting gets a little silly.

DSC08432

They also had a chance to sit and draw what they saw around the farm.

DSC08427

They had a chance to plant some seeds.

DSC08452

A highlight was feeding the goats and cows. Our group had this activity last and it was so hard to wait, but we finally had our turn. I love this photo of Honor and her friend, hay in hand, heading off to the animal pens, chatting all the way.

DSC08454

Details about the keyboard…

I’ve had a couple of questions on our new keyboard and realized I should share a little of how we came to make this choice.

I’m going to be lazy and copy/paste what I answered on facebook!

I'm not a pro! Never took lessons myself so I'm a newbie with these things. One thing I did know for sure is that I've seen kids who take lessons on typical keyboards, who aren't used to the feel of real piano keys, they have a hard time switching over if they try to play on a real piano. Piano keys are weighted and how the key is pressed and held matters a lot. So, I wanted a digital piano, rather than just a digital keyboard, but it had to be able to go through the APO system! Plus, I didn't want to invest in a top of the line model in case we decide, in a couple years, that we'd much rather rent a piano every few years and this one would end up taking up space in storage (We couldn't find rentals here! So counting on that at every post might be a bad idea!), and well, even though I didn’t want to spring for the top model, I really did not want a cheapo one that sounded like crap and wasn't inspiring to play on!

But what do I know??? I Googled… a lot…

Yamaha and Casio seemed to be some of the best digital pianos for home use. On Amazon, the reviews on the available Yamahas gave me the most positive impression.

This is the one we got: Yamaha YPG535   It sounds good, the key touch is slightly lighter than a piano, but only slightly, and the kids can't be lazy... they have to press the keys properly to make the proper sound. My only 'gripe' is, for playing, you have to turn the volume up (1/2 to 3/4 of the dial, approximately) for 'normal' piano volume, but when my daughter starts playing with the programmed music of the digital keyboard, the volume must be turned down or it's too loud! The digital display is big (for a keyboard) and tilted a little toward the player better than some I've seen. It came with a sustainer pedal, power supply, and (not shown in the Amazon ad) a music stand that fits on top. The bench I found separately Bench with storage.  We just got it, so I can't give a great review, but it came very well packed, was easy to put together, and so far, we like the piano and the bench.

Here are other models that I really liked. I read in a couple of places though that while these were very nice, for home use the older models were just fine, another reason (besides worry about shipping something expensive through the mail!) to not go for the newest and shiniest.

Yamaha DGX-630

Yamaha DGX640W

Yamaha YPG635

If you can go to a music store and test drive a few models though, it would be worth it. Amazon might have better deals, maybe, but you'd get to see before buying. The ones we saw locally were insanely expensive. At least 1000JD ($1500) for the good models and 400JD to 500JD for small digital keyboards, and I didn't see anything I really wanted, so I was shopping 'blind' on the web. I'm happy with what we got though.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Music in the Mail

Music is good for you and our family enjoys all sorts. We have always joked that Honor came with her own soundtrack because if she isn’t talking, she’s singing, or humming, or doing something to make noise. Brian is getting to be pretty good with whistling. He hasn’t got a good range of notes, yet, but he can pipe out a recognizable tune. His favorite tune to whistle is THIS would you believe?? As for actual music lessons though, outside of school music class, we haven’t been pushing it. We waited until Brian showed an interest (signing up for keyboard class as his music ‘elective’ this year helped motivate him), and until Honor seemed old enough to sit still and pay attention. The start of this school year seemed to be a perfect time.

Homework and taekwondo limits the opportunity for lessons to once a week, but they have a wonderful teacher and the kids like their classes. Our only problem was a lack of an instrument to play at home for practice. Honor had a small toy keyboard. Perhaps 30 keys. Enough to practice the notes, but it was… well… lame. Our neighbors then loaned us their keyboard and the kids have gotten more out of practice since then. They’ve been playing for about two months total now, working hard and having fun, and we needed an instrument of our own.

Thank you Amazon.com!

The biggest box of mystery treasure… EVER!

DSC08484

If the head fits in, so will everything else. DSC08486

I’ll get this part out for you.

DSC08488

Parts is parts

DSC08489

Two seconds after I get the last bolt in place, Pixie acts to protect her reputation as Queen of all places UP.  First, yet again…

DSC08491

Ta-daa!

DSC08493

Of course, the best part was yet to come. The test drive. Brian has just got to the point of playing pieces with both hands like this.

 

Honor doesn’t have supplementary lessons at school, so she’s not as far in the lesson book as Brian is. She does get some extra help here and there though, see…

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Belts

Brian and Honor both have been enjoying the work-outs at their new Taekwondo school. The coaches work them very hard (very, very hard!), but they are always laughing and having fun too. Brian has had taekwondo before, in Cairo, but the school here started him at white belt again. They’re young and it’s all good review. Brian wasn’t concerned as he didn’t feel it was a negative. Review, work hard, and there’s a chance he’ll move up faster than new students. They had their first exam today, and he has already jumped one belt! Honor only went up the one, but she did a great job and she’s not jealous, she knows that Brian has more experience than she does. I like that they work so well together in class, and I really enjoyed the fact that they got to test together today.

Warm up…

DSC08384

Then Brian and Honor get ready to test first.

DSC08386

They start the poomse (form) together, although Brian left Honor behind on this as he’s much more confident with the movements.

DSC08387

They had to demonstrate their kicks and punches.

DSC08393

DSC08394

No boards to break, but they had to demonstrate their abilities and strength against pads the instructor held.

DSC08396

DSC08400

Finally, their new belts were presented.

DSC08402

DSC08404

Honor earned her white with yellow stripe, and Brian jumped to a yellow belt. I am so proud of them both!

DSC08405

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where I am, right now

It’s time for the RoundUp again, and Becky at Small bits is our hostess. Her theme this week is "A picture from the place I am now." Physically, mentally, whatever. I wasn’t sure I had anything.

Then Ninja came to play…

DSC08376

That look of tired contentment… that is where I am at this week. The state of contentedness. I’ve had a good week, I’m ready for the weekend, but it’s been good. Ninja shows off this state of being better than I do though, so I’m glad she modeled. She was also smart enough to bring pink… well, it could be that she brought me the pink sock to wrestle and play fetch with because pink socks are her FAVORITE socks in the whole world. Green socks are pretty good, black will do in a pinch, but pink is the best and has always been the best, throughout the whole history of sock games! But, we could also pretend she was participating in the RoundUp this week.

Also for Jen… hugs(!)…  and prayers that all is going well with your tests and treatments.

DSC08381

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do NOT rip the calendar off of the wall!

No, I’m not hiding from a birthday or any sort of dreaded appointment. “Do not rip the calendar off of the wall!” is just something I found myself scolding the cat for this morning. The things that we have to tell these (too clever) cats are much more entertaining than what we use with the kids. With the human kids, it’s normal stuff… “Put your shoes away.” “Don’t bug your brother when he’s doing homework.” “No, you may not have a snack, it’s almost dinner time.”, etc.

With these cats, it’s a whole ‘nother ball of yarn.

The calendar on the wall was just one of those things that are UP, that a certain cat decided might be better DOWN. They like to make up things go down.

Other stuff that I’ve found myself saying recently (usually more than once):

“Do NOT harass your brother when he’s trying to use the litter box!”

“Do NOT harass me when I’m trying to clean your litter box!”

“If you bite your sleeping sister until she gets mad, expect her to bite you back. Do not come running to me, I don’t want to hear it.”

“Leave the spoons alone!” …. which goes along with:

DSC08368

“Brian will NOT share his cereal with you!”

(Cat on table with food is a not allowed… I fussed at both guilty parties: One for breaking rules, one for not enforcing them. Brian told me that he just thought it was funny how closely she was watching him take each and every bite… spoon down, scoop, spoon up, eat, spoon down… he wasn’t sure if she wanted the milk, or his spoon, as Pixie loves both! )

While we are in the kitchen…

DSC06887

“I do NOT need help cooking! Get OFF the counter!!” (They definitely got in trouble for this… after I grabbed the photo… cats on counters, or tables, when there is food present is a BIG no-no! … and they know it! Even when I am cooking yummy looking boiled eggs… )

“No eggs!” (What is it with these cats and eggs?? I get even one puny, lonesome, egg out of the fridge and they are instantly frozen with fascination! Food that is a ball, or a ball that is food?!? Yet they really do not like to eat them. Arrgg!)

… anyway…

“Stop smacking me through the curtain when I’m trying to take a shower!”

“Bring back Honor’s sock so she can get dressed! Brian! Grab Ninja and get the sock!!!”

“Do not eat, wrestle with, or steal the homework papers!”

“No, you may NOT sit on my shoulder when I’m cooking dinner.”

Often heard when the kids are trying to play a board game: “Hey! Pixie’s got the dice! Get her!!!” which will be followed by the noise of a herd of kids and cats chasing merrily through the house until the dice can be (temporarily) recovered.

“Pumpkin, No! Don’t! Stop! There’s no room on my lap! Don’t jump up onnnaaack… me.”

“Get down”

“Stay down”

“Yes, still stay down… still… I mean it!”

“Staaaay…”

“Don’t look at me like that!”

Getting ready to go out is tough too.

“Get out of the sink so I can brush my teeth!”

“Hey! Get back here! Give me my lipstick!”

“You do NOT need another Q-tip.”

I’ve mostly given up on “Don’t eat the parsley plant”, and “Get out of the drawer!” and I have definitely and completely given up on “No, I can do it by myself!”, because obviously, I can’t. Kitties MUST help with everything! They even follow the maid around, getting in her way, as she tries to mop, vacuum, do dishes, scrub the bathrooms, and especially, fold laundry (because laundry is warm and fun to burrow in, and there are SOCKS!). Good thing she likes the cats too.

Cats are excellent at doing crafts and school projects.

DSC08359

DSC08357

And are the BEST at opening boxes. Last year, at Christmas, our main problem was keeping the tree decorated as three climbing kittens had too much fun with their first ever Christmas play-toy… um… tree. This year, I’m sure that not only will we be re-decorating the tree on a daily basis, but all presents will have to be double or triple taped if there is any hope of keeping the box openers out. A single strip of tape does not stand a chance.

DSC08372

Yes, she is digging under the tape with her claws as she’s trying to lift it with her teeth!

DSC08373

She managed to pull up the tape enough to reach a paw into the box so she could feel around… and was instantly inside, neck-deep, digging through the loot as soon as I opened it all the way. Just like the non-fur-kids, cats know that good stuff comes in boxes!

Do I really think that these animals understand when I talk to them? When I tell them “No!” or whatever else I may find myself saying? Oh yes. I am convinced that these guys know English, at least enough English to know what’s what. I reprimanded Pixie for hopping up on the table the other morning before I set out the kids’ cereal bowls… see, she’d heard me open the drawer with SPOONS in it and got excited! She got down, but stalked over to the doorway, sulking, and complaining out loud the whole way. If she was a human ‘teen’ I’m sure that her hair would have been flipped in annoyance, and there would have been a fist angrily planted on a hip. But, then she looked back at me over her shoulder. I looked at her too and said “You can NOT have the spoons, but I love you anyway.” … to which she immediately spun around and ran to me for pets and loving. Yep… she knows exactly what I say! 

Car Stuff

I had asked our bawab to do a thorough scrub of the car interior yesterday, as it was a bit overdue, and I went out too, to do a little maintenance. Our truck now has brand new wiper blades, front and back, and a rear wiper arm that functions again, meaning, it doesn’t hang down sadly in a pathetic and broken manner. Hopefully it’s fixed for good, not temporarily, this time. We’ll see. I had better tools to use yesterday. I changed the air filter, checked the fluids, and even replaced an interior bulb (tricky) and the rear turn signal bulb (easy).

I’m not sure that our poor old SUV knew what to do with all of that positive attention! I only mention this to share a good online resource:

I love shopping at D&M Auto online for car bits. I’m pretty clueless about car stuff and it’s the best website I’ve ever had to deal with. Good, personal, customer service, fair prices, and excellent quality. Friendly to APO and military/government employees too, and items ordered show up fast and packed well.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Productive Day

I sat down to write, but before I even started, I got distracted. I was simply going to post about some recipes I baked with this afternoon, but when I searched my blog for one (I couldn’t remember if I posted it before or not) I came across this entry from about two years ago. I was in my first year as a stay at home mom, still somewhat confused, unbalanced, missing work, etc. but I was having one of those “THIS is why I quit” moments. This little flashback made me feel very good. For the record, I still miss working, I still miss the folks I used to work with… but I know that leaving was the right thing to do, for me yes, but more importantly, for my family. If you don’t feel like visiting my past, here’s a glimpse of why I was feeling validated that day…

image

Yea… being at the school, getting greeted like that. I needed it. My kiddo obviously did too! Tons and tons of these “little things” have come our way since I decided to stay home, and not just for me. Brad works, but that mythical concept of quality family time? Believe!!!

Anyway… where was I?? Banana bread! That’s it. Good stuff! I can’t find my recipe posted in the archives, so here it is, the recipe my family used for many, many years in order to cope with having overly prosperous banana trees in the backyard:

Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 whole eggs, beaten

3 whole bananas, smushed

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup minced nuts

1/4 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup maraschino cherries

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Add all other ingredients, mix well. Bake in two, medium sized, greased loaf pans at 325F for one hour.

So, what makes this recipe so good? Because it is so incredibly flexible! It tolerates ME, no matter how haphazard my cooking may be day to day. Don’t feel like putting the effort into warming the butter to room temperature so it creams properly with the sugar? That’s why we have microwaves! Are your eggs a bit puny? Add a third. Can’t wait for the bananas to get overly ripe? Go ahead and use them when they are bright yellow. Waited too long and half your bananas are too brown to use? Substitute some finely diced apples. When I was young we had trees with the small, fingerling bananas and we’d use 6 or 7 of those in the recipe, but changed it to 3 of the ‘regular’ sized bananas after leaving Florida. The recipe was still delicious. Nuts, chocolate, and cherries are also optional.

Today, I made this recipe with bananas and apple, no nuts, and instead of bread, I split the batter into two dozen muffins (used muffin papers). Baked at 375 for about 15-18 minutes. Mmm!

Since I was feeling so wild, carefree, and substitional… I went on to violate the vegetarian nature of Egyptian koshary. This (link) is a good basic recipe, but I tend to add more tomato sauce, garbanzo beans, and top with sauteed onions and garlic. Today, I also felt like meat. Not much meat, but for some reason, I felt that the tomato sauce HAD to have some ground beef in it. It turned out quite nicely.

Finally, the one recipe that I did NOT substitute with… well, I barely substituted, instead of raisins, I used a mix of raisins and sultanas, that hardly counts!… is this, Raisin Bread!!! I found the recipe on Cynthia’s Tastes Like Home blog. I enjoy reading her blog, then, bonus(!), you get to click over and read more at her actual recipe site. This recipe is still a work in progress tonight. The batter worked up nicely, the first rising went well, and it’s in the loaf pans, rising again, getting ready for the oven right now. I’ve never made raisin bread before and so far this has come along very well, and very easily!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Election Festivities

They are LARGE, garish, block your vision and blind you at busy intersections. They blow in the wind, pull loose from their mooring, and dangle long ropes into traffic… but they are bright, cheerful, and make me think I should be celebrating.

octphone 063

octphone 065

If you look at the row of trees on the left, you can make out a line of signs, like every 15-20 feet, aaallll the way down the road.

octphone 067

It’s election time, and the signage is spectacular. No buildings draped with bunting, like in Cairo, but there’s plenty else flapping in the breeze, distracting drivers. 

octphone 068

The circles and intersections are filled … never mind that these billboards block your view as you come into merge into traffic.

octphone 070

One sign that I haven’t caught yet is a general notice about the elections. It’s cute little cartoon voter. It, and many of the other signs actually, are filled with almost stern admonitions about how voting is your duty, a responsibility. Also, there are many comparisons to voting being equal to ones rights and freedom. Pretty neat really, (but hopefully these colorful traffic impediments will be down soon… I almost had a loose rope catch (hit) the front of my truck today.)

Traditions

My friend Lydia of Here, There and Everywhere is hosting this week’s State Department Blog RoundUp and the following is her (optional theme):

What traditions have arisen in your life because of the State Dept?

Wow. That’s actually a hard one. Traditions? New ones arisen? I’d think the biggest, most life-altering aspect of foreign service is the picking up and moving, but I’ve been doing that since a week after my HS graduation ceremony 25 years ago. I graduated, joined the Army, and headed off into the world. I married a soldier and kept going. The switch to civilian life was barely a speed bump in our path.

I believe that one of our ‘newer’, and perhaps very best tradition, one that I can give credit to Embassy life for, is the family vacation. Yea. Pretty sad, but that’s a fairly new concept for us. I went on vacations as a kid, but it would be a week here, or camping over a long weekend, or overnight at a relative’s or whatever. Then, as a single lady with a workaholic streak, my only breaks were running to visit family over a long weekend or other spur-of-the-moment trips. When Brad and I married we were a family of two work-a-holics, with different schedules, different priorities, and never the same days off. We had too many ‘use it or lose it’ leave incidents.

Eventually, we became parents and the need to visit family became more important. We still had some learning to do though. Structured R&R came to the rescue. You have to plan for it. In advance. Work it into the schedule. Buy tickets. Even before you start planning, people start asking you what you are going to do. It has taken awhile, but this odd concept of leaving work, going away, and taking a well-earned break together has finally sunk in, and it is a very GOOD thing.

We’ve been fine-tuning this amazing ‘vacation’ concept as we go too. In the beginning, we felt guilty if we did not spend every second with our far-flung relations, but over the past few years, as our kids have grown from unconcerned little playful beings, to opinionated, memory-saving, book reading, documentary watching, desiring to explore, little adventurers, we have branched out.

We started out carefully … a week at a Disney resort before heading to see family.

dsc00005

Hooray! That worked. We had a BLAST! And no-one spontaneously combusted because we took some time away for ourselves.

We decided that this family bonding stuff was very good for us and repeated the experiment with a stay at a lovely time share in Florida.

01jul07_013

Life events interfered in ‘08, and we PCS’ed during the summer of ‘09, but this summer we jumped right back into our ‘new’ tradition and, after entertaining a visiting relation here in Jordan for a week, we had an amazing and inspiring road trip down the left coast of the US - from Portland, Oregon to Monterrey Bay, California. It was exhausting, it was COLD, but we had so much fun.

DSC07578

Definitely a wonderful tradition… and all thanks to the need to take R&R.

The only trouble now is… figuring out what we want to do next time!  I think we won’t have to worry about it too much, the kids are already making plans for what they want to do.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp – Halloween Plans

Welcome all, and thank you for dropping by my blog as I take my first turn hosting the RoundUp. I hope that those who wrote blogs following my suggested theme had fun doing so, and that the ideas we have blogged about this week that I am compiling here are found to be useful and entertaining. I certainly enjoyed your responses!


Lets go ahead and get this over with… Announcing the winner of our RoundUp Halloween decorating contest: Shannon, at Cyberbones in Malawi.


Did you know we were holding a contest? I didn’t. I hadn’t planned any contests, but I suppose we can find competition everywhere.


catdogjackolantern


I’m not going to copy any of Shannon’s photos, go check them out yourself for the full effect, I’m sure you will agree that she wins, hands down, and while it is creepily inspiring, I’ll probably skip using this idea this year as there will be little ones (and me) at our party. Maybe when the kids are older. Shannon’s prize is one gift suggestion directed at all those who are responsible for sending her prezzies: Duct tape, Caulk, Spackle, and/or chewed up pieces of gum, to plug up EVERYTHING that even resembles a hole or gap or teensiest of crawl space in her walls, fixtures, windows, plumbing, etc. (btw, these items are to be sent in addition to, not in place of, the good stuff she should be receiving… just sayin’).


Chelsea of A Fisher Out of Water nominated a post that inspired her to embark upon her own decorating adventure. As she says, “Those rats are pretty sweet!”  They really are! I completely understand having vast landscapes of blank white walls to fill in, what a great idea!


Zoe of Something Edited This Way Comes has been busy decorating, but in order to do so, first had to embark on an eerie stuff-finding expedition into the depths of her home. Those are some crazy keys! I thought our laundry room key was weird.


A Daring Adventure claims that she’s been lazy, but it looks like she’s ahead of me in prepping for the holiday. I’ve been planning, but not doing much actual ‘doing’. What a great apron, and I love the idea of using books to decorate! Oh, and thank you for sharing the donuts … sigh… there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…


image


When was the last time you visited a Pumpkin Patch? I never went to one as a kid. I lived in Florida where it was too hot and humid to leave a carved vegetable out on your porch, unless you really like the ghastly rotting effect… but I learned how very special a visit can be when we took our children to one (in a colder climate!) when they were very small. If you haven’t had a chance to visit one recently, tag along with the Perlman family. How cute is that?? I don’t know of any pumpkin patches locally, but I know that Amman has pumpkins because we carved some at school last year. I hope we’ll find them again this year, if not, I suppose we could carve a watermelon??


If I can have a Decorating Contest Winner, then I’ll name a winner for ‘suggested’ Halloween recipes too.


It’s not wing of bat or eye of newt, but leg of frog and bowl of turtle is close enough for me. Again, I don’t think I’m going to follow this idea, even though it is rather creepy and Halloween-y. Maybe next time… or not! (Although I get the impression that the entrees were not what freaked out Kolbi the most.) Her prize is our continued adoration and appreciation for starting this whole RoundUp business… sure, I know that she already owns this prize, I’m just putting it in writing to make it official.


image


What would Halloween be without Costumes?




Donna at Email from the Embassy managed to fit the sewing of a darling little mermaid costume into her very busy schedule. How Sweet! (and very creative too!)


Zoe at Something Edited This Way Comes, with the help of her storage room exploration assistant, has previewed the most adorable little gnome costume I’ve ever seen!


While Sara, at Wife – Mommy – Woman is still working on the costumes for her kids this year, she has shared some wonderful photos from years past. My fave is the gangster baby!


Overdosed on cuteness yet? Ok, I’ll cut you a break and share with you an awesome Devil Mommy illustration posted here at Tuk & Tam.  … oh wait, my mistake, that is totally cute too! So, is Nia planning on a career in law? She presented a powerful case against pot pie… much better than I ever managed, way back when, when my mom made me eat that stuff.


image


Parties 




Party planning, when you are posted overseas, often must happen weeks (months) in advance, which is one of the reasons I chose this particular theme at this particular time. As much as you may want to shop local and make from scratch, often it’s simply not feasible, not available, nor reasonably priced, or, maybe you do NOT want to do these things and would rather someone else did the work. Mail order can be a life (sanity) saver, but you have to start early!


A friend and I are getting together and holding a joint party at our home for Halloween. We’ve been shopping, gathering ideas for food and games, and contemplating decor. I’m also set for costumes for our kids, and have shared a couple of good resources on my party planning post.


Emily of Our Life has gone past the planning stage, straight through to the decorating for, and successfully pulling off of, a Fall themed dinner party. She even offers priceless advice, in convenient list form. What a beautiful job with the table… and yes, I’d have probably cried too, after the assault upon the chocolate! (Smart kid!)


Accomplishments/assignments/promotions




Life After Jerusalem completed her first 8K race. Finishing is a great personal accomplishment in itself, but she was running for a more important cause, the Brain Aneurysm Race for Awareness in memory of her mother. Way to go! (and I hope your ‘marathon’ of home repairs has reached it’s finish line too.)


Jill posted about an accomplishment that was not a happy one for her. It was a stressful situation and she had to make a very tough choice. Being a single mom is hard no matter what, but there’s an added level of difficulty thrown in when you are not really a single parent, but suddenly and temporarily become one due to your spouse’s deployment. Psychologically, that’ll get you. Your learned ‘I can do this’ confidence is confused as heck because half of your team is not there, even though it is, but is not physically present! (Does this make sense?!) Keep on hanging in there Jill, it’s tough work to adapt to the situation you are in, but you are doing an amazing and inspiring job handling everything that comes your way!


Tour & Travel Adventures




Donna at Email from the Embassy and family had a visit to a most spectacular historical site here in Jordan this past weekend. They visited the baptismal site of Jesus.  (Next time read the guide book, ok? We really do not want you melting into the landscape and becoming a permanent part of the local relics.)


Lydia at Here, There and Everywhere is enjoying her new home in Manama and, as is true in many places where English is a common lingo, she is also having too much fun finding English used in random ways.


The Monestel Family has made it to the one year mark in Bangladesh and has a lovely post, reflecting on the past 12 months in their current home. I loved reading about how well their children have adapted to the expat lifestyle.


I posted about Shannon’s close encounter of the creepy kind above, but you have to admit, living in critterville may be worth it for moments like this


Newly arrived in Africa, Nomads by Nature are working hard settle in… but not so hard that they aren’t able to sneak in a bit of fun on the water near Catembe. Prawns and beer and a day in the sun!


image


Ok, I think that’s it. If I missed something good, I apologize. I posted the items submitted, and even managed to browse a good number of blogs myself (thank you fickle internet!). If I’ve made any mistakes, please don’t be shy. Let me know and I’ll fix them.


Next week the RoundUp will be hosted by Lydia of Here, There and Everywhere. She’s currently broadcasting from Manama, Bahrain, but was formerly blogging in Cairo, as my (almost) next door neighbor, and more recently from the US. She’s married to a great guy, she’s the mother to four wonderful, not to mention quite adorable and sweet, children and has a great sense of fun and humor - as demonstrated by this little (in theme!) video which I happened to find when I popped by her blog to check the link.


A big thanks to all who participated – writing, contributing, reading, etc. I appreciate your taking the time to help keep the RoundUp going ‘round.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Costumes, Crafts, and Party Goods

***NOTE*** Friday is fast approaching! Please send me your submissions – what you’ve written, what you’ve read – as soon as possible so we can get it included in this week’s State Department Blog RoundUp. Thank you!***

Buy costumes at BuyCostumes.com  It works for us. True, the crafter-mom part of me is disgruntled as she thinks she should be allowed to make the costumes, but the kids want particular disguises, and we do NOT live in the land of JoAnn’s Fabric and Crafts. Fabric and notions can be costly anyway, then add on the shipping, and by the time I ordered all the bits and bobs I’d need, I might as well have bought it ready-made… so I do. Buy Costumes is a great website, with fun costumes and accessories, and fair prices. They carry very elaborate costumes, that obviously cost more, very cheap simple costumes, and pretty much everything in between… many, many choices for kids and adults! Most importantly, they ship fast, package well (to survive APO handling) and have proven reliable for us over the past three years.

I lucked out this year because Honor wants to wear the same costume she wore last year… she was very cute as a leopard!

honor

Brian wanted a new costume though, and he chose Snake Eyes from GI Joe. He makes a great ninja!

DSC08363

DSC08362

(sorry these photos are a little blurry… it’s hard to get ninjas to  STAND STILL! :D  !)

The Leopard dress is a higher quality costume… an actual well-made dress, sturdy headband, etc. Snake Eyes is a typical kids’ costume. Thin, stretchy (but good cloth) body suit with velcro snaps. It will likely hold up well this year, maybe next… but by next year, he’ll have outgrown it! The pants are already too short. Maybe, with enough taekwondo lessons behind her, Honor will want to be Snake Eyes next year??

Another awesome shopping resource… for all of your party planning, not just Halloween, and not just for little kids… is Oriental Trading Company. They have everything that you could possibly want, separate, sorted by theme, whatever, and it’s sold in bulk! I had never heard of this place until I’d been overseas for a few years. I was always wondering where the Embassy, and other people, were getting the great party favors and decorations! I found out, and this is one of the most popular resources. Check it out. Oh, but do yourself a favor… sign up for their emails so you can shop after you receive a ‘Free Shipping’ advertisement. We have also had very good luck with receiving our orders quickly and in good shape from this company. They do sell bulk goods, and some of it will be, obviously, better than others, but the customer reviews are a very helpful feature. The favors and supplies are comparable to what you find in US party stores, and it’s much better than anything I could ever find in Cairo or here in Amman.  For our party this year we were able to order a pinata, candy and toys to go in the pinata, goody bags, prizes, decorations, crafts to do at the party, plates, cups, plastic ware, balloons, and cute boxes to use for our planned cookie exchange. There’s no way that we’d be able to find all that stuff locally, of decent quality or at a decent price, and most probably not in Halloween theme!

For our actual party, we plan on decorating the day before, planning meals in advance, yet opening the menu up to allow others to bring favorite holiday potluck meals.. if they want to. We bought Halloween craft kits for the kids to do… some for the little kids, some for the bigger ones. My friend found ‘bobbing apples’ … plastic apples with little prizes in them. I picked out a bunch of long, skinny plush snakes and large balloons. I’m hoping I can push the snakes into the balloons, blow them up, then tape them to a sheet or something in the backyard. Kids will be blindfolded, turned loose with a toothpick, and have to go find a balloon to pop to win a snake. Other balloons will be empty or have a piece of wrapped candy in them. If the snakes don’t fit in the balloons, I’ll have to make snake ‘coupons’ to trade in. We will also have a beanbag toss, and lawn darts (inflatable!) to play with. My house is going to hate us, and we will be hiding the cats away in a back room for the day, but I think that we are going to have some fun!

One last idea for you folks still in the US… you know those little cookbooks that are sold by the cash registers? Often they have specials for holidays with recipes, decorating ideas, crafts, etc. Grab some. Sure, you can use the internet, but if you’re like me and like thumbing through books too, remember that you’re not likely to find these little gems overseas.

Wow! This post sounds like a paid commercial! But honestly, I’m not a pro. The above is all based on my personal experience and opinion, and I only want to share by giving my personal reviews. (Of course, if any of the companies mentioned above wanted to send me some sort of compensation for the free advertising, I wouldn’t say no, but that’s not the purpose of this post!)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Random Products

Do you like broccoli? We do, and it’s good for you, but what if you don’t like it and yet still wish you could have the health benefits? Don’t despair, there’s an answer for you – Juice!DSC08308

It’s 40% broccoli, but tastes like the 10% or so kiwi juice that it also contains. It’s actually pretty tasty, unlike the Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato – this was a discovery by Donna at Email from the Embassy, and this product was not an experiment to repeat.

If you wish to forego the healthy stuff and revel in the sugary carbonated drinks, there’s always 7-UP.

DSC06209

I love how well they did the logo. The Arabic letters sound out ‘Seven Up’ and although Arabic is written right to left, the letters still portray the familiar English logo. (Which is on the other side of the same bottle, in case you really have to be sure of what you’re buying.)

DSC06210 And last but not least, a food staple that I cannot do without, hot sauce.

DSC08304

Hot sauce is written in English, with the Arabic “shitta hara” beneath. Hara is hot. Shitta is … actually the word for a pepper. But it makes me wonder…