Friday, January 28, 2011

Sharing the State of the Union

Brian was home sick today. Not too sick, but he had been coughing and congested enough to make his throat sore. He usually doesn’t complain unless he has a real gripe, so, with the addition of a mild fever yesterday, I took him to the doctor to rule out strep. We’re heading into the weekend, and strep is not good to ignore. The test was negative. Thankfully it all pointed to a viral issue causing drainage that caused the pain. I decided he should stay home because he hadn’t slept well. He took advantage of the quiet time to play a lot of PC games and read, and was feeling much better by bed time.

In the afternoon, I loaded up Obama’s State of the Union speech on You Tube (text here), and suggested that Brian watch some of it with me, just so he could see his President in action. I explained a little bit about the Democratic and Republican parties and about the bickering that both have been guilty of, which is not good, but that having more one party, is good. It keeps both sides ‘honest’. It sparks argument, but, it also brings much more input to the table when there’s a problem to solve, etc. It makes discussion happen, which is good, even if it’s heated. Brad and I had watched the speech last night, so I knew to also explain the significance of the members of both parties sitting mixed up together in the audience, rather than on opposite sides of the room. I also explained why people wore the white and black ribbons. (wiki article)

I didn’t expect him to want to sit through the whole speech. He’s only just turned 10yrs old. I simply thought he ought to listen to his President speak about issues, for a little bit. He sat through the whole, hour long, video. He even paused it multiple times and asked questions.

Some questions were fairly simple, like why did people clap some times, and other times, they stood up and clapped. Why did some not stand? Why wasn’t President Obama wearing a ribbon? He also had some very good vocabulary questions, like what is a frivolous lawsuit, loopholes, pre-existing conditions (re. health care), deficit, or the New Start treaty, etc.?

I enjoyed watching what he approved of, what caught him by surprise, and what he didn’t like.

At the very start, he put on confused look over Obama’s mention of “every race and faith”. Why? Well, I had to explain that while there is a lot of tolerance in the US, some people are still hateful, and that some members of the majority religion in our country will sometimes forget about our Constitutional rights, and is often guilty of trying to insist that we are a Christian nation, dismissing those of Jewish, Islamic, Native American, Pagan, etc. faiths. Brian was indignant. He gave me the first of a few “What the..??!” looks he used during the speech, and said, “No! We are not!” We’ve talked about the wide variety of beliefs Americans possess. Our living abroad, amongst Muslims, Copts, Christians (and others) has led us to many discussions about our own nation. I liked that he thought it somewhat ridiculous for our President to have to remind people of such an obvious fact, “We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people;…”

Anyway, Brian really perked up every time he heard a goal expressed with numbers. As in, having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, and “setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” He doesn’t get that math stuff from me.

He was appalled at the high statistic quoted for kids not graduating high school, but otherwise, he really appreciated Obama’s push for educating our kids. He actually turned and grinned at me several times during that part of the speech, and when Obama mentioned that education needed to go beyond high school, he said “That’s why you’re saving for our college now!” Yep. Sure is.

He couldn’t believe that other countries have better internet than we do… so true… and was enthusiastic hearing about plans to improve that. He loves computers!

He looked concerned when the freezing of federal salaries was mentioned. He was quick to connect that to his daddy. And he didn’t understand why a “permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans” exists… well, what can I say? I don’t understand that either. I’m against punishing people for being successful, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a society with a wide variety of group needs and responsibilities. There needs to be a fair way to tax at all levels, without stifling the motivation to succeed.

I don’t think Brian understood all of the talk on the military situations, but he had a lot of questions about the New START treaty and why that is important, as well as what Obama meant when he talked about US relations with countries such as China and Russia. I thought it odd that Brian was more interested in other areas, and not so much the Middle East, but then again, the Middle East has been his home for most of his life, so perhaps hearing about China and Asia is more intriguing because they are ‘foreign’?

He enjoyed hearing about taking care of our soldiers, and proud to hear of the mixed races and religions in the ranks, but he was confused over the mention of gays being forbidden to serve. When I said that yes, it really was true, homosexuals are now discriminated against and kicked out, I got another one of his disgusted and incredulous “What the..??!!” looks. Then, when Obama said that “The American Dream” was why he could stand and speak to us now, I had to explain suffrage, civil rights and voting rights. Another baffled and disgusted look from Brian… (yea… people were/are *that* ignorant kiddo…)

We had a very interesting discussion throughout the whole of the speech. It really was very positive, yet also, solidly grounded in reality. Obama’s overall message, of having to work together, and that real change will take hard work, sacrifice, and time, was wise. Or, as Brian would say (roll eyes) “Duh!”

Later on, when we were talking about it over dinner, Brian told his dad his favorite part of the speech. I thought it might be the catchy “We do big things.” that Obama used to wrap things up. No. Instead he chose: “What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow”.  This line came at the beginning of the speech, and yet Brian remembered it almost word for word later that evening. Let’s hope our elected representatives can do likewise.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rocking Chair and the History Channel

We’ve been having a very mild winter. Our coldest temps have been in the low 40’s. Mild. Which is probably for the best because we are not acclimated to anything much colder! A little bit of humidity lowering the ‘feels like’ temperature is tough on us! This morning was one of those days. Only 45F, but it is foggy and windy out. As we headed out to catch the bus, we remarked on the chill, the dampness, and that we could see our breath in the air.

Honor asks, “Do you remember the hotel with the rocking chair and the History Channel?” I had to think a moment. We travel a lot, and Honor remembers everything(!). This sort of question could reach back many, many years, but, I assumed that she meant something from our most recent trip, our R&R plus road trip last summer. I asked, “Do you mean the hotel on the coast in Oregon?” It was actually a sweet little vacation home we lucked into, but that was what she meant. She said, “Today feels like Oregon. I like Oregon!”


Then I pointed out that, in the morning silence of our neighborhood, all we could hear was the traffic several blocks away. Not the horns, but the rushing sound of the wheels. It sounded like the ocean in the distance.  Just like in Oregon. She loved that memory!”


We did a ton of adventuring last summer. A very busy tour of the Pacific Coast, the kids often talk about many of the sights they saw and the things they got to do, but I am also pleased that they remember the ‘little things’ as well. Like sitting inside a cozy cottage on a cold, rainy evening.. after a tiring day of hiking the beaches… snuggled into a rocking chair, and watching the History Channel.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What are you looking at?


Not at my blog, I hope, for enlightenment, news, or any sort of answers. Sorry. My poor blog has not been getting much love over the past couple of weeks! We’ve been working on getting back into the swing of things. Winter break was nice, but school started off again full speed ahead. Add in the after-school activities, and we’ve simply had a very full schedule. Busy, but in a good way.

Soon, I hope to share some lovely photos sent to Honor for her Flat Stella project, but they are still finishing that up in class and I want to wait until they are done.

I’ve also started the New Year off by tackling a bunch of ‘fiddly’ projects that I really do not want to deal with, but are things that need doing anyway. For example, rather than merely putting the Christmas decor away, I sorted through it all, organizing and getting rid of stuff. Did the same with my make-up and toiletries. All the girly stuff that I keep in the bathroom or my dresser. Not a big job, honestly, but it was one of those bothersome boring things that needed to be done. I don’t have a lot of fancy expensive jewelry, that’s not my style. I prefer artsy silver, leather cords, and unique pretty stone, over dainty gold or generic looking gems. The kids also have their own little keepsakes, that I hold safe for them, and we have a few items that belonged to grandparents, or are otherwise ‘special’ if not of any actual value (like my dad’s dogtags, or a favorite keychain, pretty rocks, etc). I sorted it all so that if the kids want to explore, they can get into things easily, without making a mess, and so I’ll still be able to find what I need when I’m looking for it! I want to sort my craft goods and yarn stash, go through the kids’ closets and pj/sock drawers/shoes/toys. I also need to sort their books. I’m NOT looking forward to the filing cabinet, but paperwork is on my agenda too. Thank goodness we have part-time help to tackle the bulk (time-consuming) housework so I can focus on this stuff. I have NO excuse not to do it, so it’s getting done! Next thing you know, I’ll have my ebooks organized and my music arranged in nifty playlists … or, you know, not…

In addition to the house and family busy-ness, I’ve been trying to fill my time with more crafting, reading (yes, actual books… I used to do a lot of that and I miss it), and also, music. I’m trying to re-teach myself guitar (but I need a real guitar, Honor’s small one is not working well for me), and I am trying to follow along behind the kids’ in their piano lessons. I’ve made my way through their books and have reached “Jingle Bells”… I’m not as good as the kids are, despite my several years each of violin and guitar lessons. I can read the music, but piano is different. I think it’s starting to click though. The kids come by it so much easier! They are doing so well that it’s hard for me to believe they’ve only been playing since September of last year. They are very helpful too. The other night, as I struggled with a song, Honor came over, sat next to me, and started talking to me like their teacher does. “You play the right hand only, I’ll play the left..” etc.

It’s been pleasant, to be this happily busy, I was feeling like a slacker with the blog though, but that’s life, and life is good. :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good Intentions

How cats can interfere with your plans to accomplish work or other projects.

You start out with good intentions. Gather your supplies, say, to do artwork. You set out a workspace, carefully gather paper, scissors, glue stick, and markers … and a needy cat climbs in your lap. Aww! Just a few pets… what could it hurt?


Before you know it, the cat starts purring, demanding a few more pets, and tries to push you over into a more comfortable nap position.


Next thing you know, you’re fully committed to snuggling, belly rubs, and possibly a snooze.


Art is forgotten, the cat wins. (Again).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Piano: 4-Months of Progress

The kids have been enjoying their weekly piano lessons, and although we didn’t get this song in class, in time to learn, record and post it for Christmas, I figure it is still a great time to share a progress report.

They’ve been playing piano since the beginning of this school year, and both are good about practicing. Honor even incorporates the piano into her ‘playtime’! If she has a class for her dolls, they get music lessons along with the regular math, spelling and art!

Here is Honor:


She continued to practice this song so much, that when she went to class yesterday, she played it perfectly on the first go for her teacher. Instead of the regular smiley face, the teacher drew star fireworks for her on the page. Honor had also moved ahead to the next song in the book, which they hadn’t gone over in class, and she played that perfectly as well.

And here is Brian, playing the same song, but with an organ voice


Brian is actually several songs ahead of Honor in the books (Alfred’s Basic Piano Course, books 1A and 1B), but I don’t have video of his playing any of those. He is taking keyboard lessons in school too. The kids were enjoying Jingle Bells, so why not stick with the theme?!

A great bonus with the digital piano is that the kids love playing with the sounds! They will play their songs over and over again, trying each with a different ‘instrument’, until they find a favorite. Brian likes Jingle Bells with the organ. Honor enjoys it with “tubular bells”. In the meantime… the ARE playing their ‘homework’ pieces over and over and over again. What a great way to make practice fun!

As for the key strokes used when playing our digital piano, with weighted keys, vs the real piano at class, the kids aren’t having much problem with that. The first week or so there was a little confusion with ‘this’ is how to press the piano keys, and ‘this’ is how to press the digital piano keys, but they seem to go back and forth easily now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Naps – Do’s & Don’ts

Nap advice from the pros, in order of appearance: Ninja (the 1st two photos), Pixie, then Pumpkin.

Let’s start with the Don’ts

Do NOT trust floppy old State Department furniture. It will eat you.




Do NOT forget which way is up. Butt goes down, head goes up, or your nap will be interrupted by people laughing at you and taking your picture.


Do NOT expect to get much sleep when napping with awake children. (Do expect a lot of attention and love.)


And for heaven’s sake… do NOT ever attempt to take the Princess pillows away from a comfortable Pixie. Go somewhere else!


Now, for a demonstration on proper napping techniques… Do’s

Do Lay your head down


Do Grab a soft blanket


and snooze… or… DSC09055

Do find a nice lap, flop over on your back, and toss your dignity to the wind


(Except for the photo of Brian and Honor, all photos were taken by Honor, which is why most of them feature Ninja!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Birthday Boy, and Beasts!

I can’t believe it. My not so little boy is ten. Double digits. One decade. How time flies!!! I asked him what he wanted to do for his special day, and while we talked about going to the Red Sea to spend the day at a resort, Brad had to work, and it’s chilly out, so Brian said he wanted to hang out, play video games, have burritos for dinner, and a dragon cake.

I made a dragon cake a couple of years ago that turned out great. Brian and the daughter of a good friend share a birthday, so we shared a party that year. Knights and Princesses. Our friend brought pink castle cupcakes, and we had a blue dragon to guard them.

As we had already had a blue dragon, Brian asked for a red dragon this year. I told him that I had no idea how to make red frosting! White frosting plus red food color, makes pink. He suggested that I make it as dark as I could, add red wings, and it WOULD be a red dragon. He’s such an understanding and forgiving kid! I think the color turned out fairly good considering, but if someone has any suggestions on how to make real red, please let me know!

Anyway, this is not a masterpiece, like so many of my blogger friends are capable of… I mean, there’s Shannon at Cyberbones, who says that she doesn’t like spiders (and with good reason) yet she makes this cake for her son. And Genesis of Expat Mom, who never fails to make me hungry after reading her recipes. She made this cake for her little boy. Then there’s Danie, who blogs with her sisters here, she posts the most spectacular photos of desserts and other kitchen miracles. I’m probably missing someone so don’t feel bad if I left you out. I’m jealous, but can admit that desserts are not, and probably never will be, my strength. I’m in awe, and inspired, which always keeps me going back to try again!

The cake was from a mix, and actually turned out perfect (…that doesn’t always happen), and the frosting was also from a can, with color added. I carved it according the the original plan (here) but we don’t like how the head looks there, and we adjusted it. Brian and Honor helped cut (and eat) the candies we chose to decorate with.

DSC09108   Finished, with wings.


We had Brian’s favorite food, burritos, for dinner, then he opened his presents. Honor and Ninja helped. Brad got him the PC game he’s been begging for. Plants vs Zombies. I haven’t played it yet, but apparently it’s an award winner. It sure made Brian happy!


We also got him a pile of books. He loves the Alex Rider series, and he’s been asking for The Lord of the Flies, after hearing about it on Brain POP. He got those. I love that both of our kids love books!


Ninja got some of her favorite prezzies.


I think Honor enjoyed helping Brian as much as Brian enjoyed his gifts!


Then it was time to light the dragon.


I think this kid had a very happy day!


The evening was a little more dangerous. Brian decided to join his sister, who’s been camping in the living room for a week or so now, and he set up his new tent next to hers, to try it and his new (Christmas present) sleeping bag out… little did he know how hazardous that would be…

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Time out!

Ninja loves Honor. So much! Sometimes Ninja wants to spend toooo much time with Honor. She wants, no, needs(!), to ‘help’ her more than Honor wants to be helped! We can always tell when Ninja has been too ‘helpful’. She ends up in time out!


Actually, Honor is the one locked in a room, Ninja is simply unhappy to be locked OUT!

What was Honor doing? Setting up a daycare for all of her dolls. Ninja kept messing up her ‘homework folders’. Of course, Pixie kept interfering with ‘art class’ but she’s not as persistent as Ninja is.


No worry about Ninja being left out and neglected though… as much as the she’d like you to believe at times. Honor truly does spend a lot of time with her.



and Ninja is often a part of Honor’s games, even when asleep.


Besides, if Honor is too preoccupied to play with Ninja, she’ll come after me (usually with her Panda bear toy to beg a game of fetch!).

Speaking of being busy… I best go get that way. I have a special cake to make today!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eclipsing Amman

Although we missed out on last month’s full lunar eclipse, because it wasn’t visible from the Middle East, we were in a good place to see today’s partial solar eclipse. We don’t have any of the proper viewing equipment, and we only have simple digital cameras (although our Sony Cybershot is pretty good for point and shoot) but, thank goodness for a little cloud cover!! It allowed me to take some decent photos. The kids were very excited about the opportunity to see an eclipse… Honor jumped at the chance to wiki it, and that smart little cookie even knew how to spell eclipse properly! Brian looked up several methods for safe viewing, and we tried a pinhole camera method, as well as reflecting the sun with a mirror. Neither worked very well for us. Maybe it would have been better during a full eclipse? I simply aimed the camera in the general direction, zoomed it as far as it would zoom, and snapped lots and lots of photos. I actually managed to get some rather nice ones.

Here’s one right before the eclipse.


and during…


The photo below is my favorite. I love the light on the clouds.




the end!


Monday, January 3, 2011

A Hat, With Flowers

Over summer vacation last year, I carried with me a bag of miscellaneous, brightly colored, craft floss (which is like embroidery floss, but it doesn’t separate into strands) and an assortment of crochet hooks. I had no actual craft in mind, but it was mobile, easy to stick in my purse during our travels, and I knew I could keep myself busy with it.

I started off crocheting a rectangular ‘doodle’, but at some point Honor told me that she wanted a hat. That request eventually evolved into a hat with flowers or ‘those poofy things’ on top (pom-poms).  I unraveled the rectangular thingy, then started again in a circular manner. One string knotted to the next as the floss was slippery and I felt that without knots, it would fall apart. Random color order. Single crochet. I increased stitch amounts, keeping it flat, until I reached a good size for the top of the hat, then kept it at that circumference until it looked deep enough (Honor tried it on here and there), then I increased stitches to double, in one round, which made for a ruffle-y, floppy brim, and then I crocheted that for a couple of inches and finished off.

The flower trim I made up as I went. Sorry. No notes. I could try to write something up if someone is really interested, but it might be best if you made up our own, or found a book with thread crochet motifs.

I didn’t work on this little project regularly. It was a ‘keep my hands busy’ project that I could carry with me and work on a little at a time, so, a little at a time, I finally got it done! I think it turned out very cute, not as cute as the girl wearing it, but cute.




And to model her new hat, Miss Honor!



Sunday, January 2, 2011

Farewell 2010

Last year ended well, and the new one has started off nicely. We’ve been enjoying some quiet family time and I’m loving it! 

School wrapped up with a winter concert. The kids had to sing a bunch of songs we’d never heard of before. It was cute to watch them practice, following along with the music on the school website, but I have to say that I was tired of all the emails reminding us about it. It was great to finally attend the concert!  Honor’s grade sang several songs, and Brian’s grade performed either songs with the band, or piano. Brian played a couple of simple songs on the piano. I didn’t get any good photos at the concert as the lighting was bad, but the kids looked awesome in their dressy clothes.


I was relieved to find that we had dressy clothes to fit them, as they’ve been working so hard to out-grow everything! Fortunately, we’d picked up a few larger sized things over the summer that still fit. Brian wore a pair of my boots (laced unisex short boots, desert boots or something) as he didn’t have any dress shoes. I offered to get him some, and he looked at a few websites, but he said that he’d never wear them again, so why not just use mine?

Later, Brian practiced his oral report on the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Honor helped by reading along with his notes. We thought he might want to take her to class on his report day as his official assistant. 


This was a big project for his class. They had several weeks of work to do on it, with research, setting up a time line, writing up a narrative, cue cards, making a poster, and finally giving an oral presentation. Brian worked hard on his and his grade showed it. He had nearly prefect marks throughout his whole score chart, as well as wonderful comments from his teacher. We were very proud of him… and he was very proud of his work too!

Anyway, after a last, half day, of partying, school finally closed for the winter. We’ve been having fun, hanging out, playing games, watching marathon sessions of our favorite shows, etc.

A few days before Christmas, the kids tested in taekwondo again.

Honor earned her yellow belt


and Brian earned the next belt up, yellow belt with a green stripe.


They were thrilled to have been so successful, and rather than leaving after their test, they put on their belts and did another half hour of class!

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. I was amazed that the cats did not tear up the packages, but they’ve been very good this year. Only minor damage to the tree, and they left the presents alone. They loved the excitement of box opening time!

Ninja was quite interested in the treasure Brian found in his stocking.

DSC08956  Miss Sweet-tooth liked the candy too.


Brian got the nerf machine gun rifle he’s been begging for. We’ve discovered that the cats like this toy too… the kids shoot the nerf darts, the cats fetch the nerf darts!


Christmas hugs!


The cats also scored a number of their favorite ‘toys’… rolled up balls of wrapping paper and boxes!



They, I mean we, also received lovely flowers from our gardener. Amazingly enough, the flowers lasted a good length of time, despite being nibbled. I could always tell when they’d been at the vase too, because the cats would have flower-breath!


We brought the year to a close with friends at an early New Year’s Eve dinner party. It was very nice to hang out with families that we like, but do not see enough of, and to meet new folks too. I’m going to need to find a recipe for beef and chicken empanados, as the kids have discovered they love them. Our hostess offered to let them fill their pockets, and I’m surprised that they didn’t do just that! They did grab a couple of handfuls each.

We headed home before the crazies got out on the roads (well, before most of the crazies came out… they were starting to make an appearance). Then, the guys spent the last couple hours before midnight playing StarCraft while Honor and I watched “The Corpse Bride”. As midnight approached – yes, they both managed to stay up this year – we poured the champagne and made our toasts. The kids don’t like wine, so after clinking glasses, they poured their token sips into our cups. We set off virtual fireworks and other party props on my Facebook apps (is there nothing FB can’t do?) and then we went outside in our pj’s to scan the skies for any streak or flash of light that might be the baby new year flying in. It was cloudy and raining though, so all we saw was grey sky, but even after the guys went back in to finish their game, Honor and I stayed out and continued the search. We stayed out until we were freezing and had fun looking at the night sky. We didn’t see anything but grey, but we listened to the festive fireworks and horns honking.

I hope your holidays have been as cozy and pleasant as ours have been. We’ve been blessed with some wonderful family togetherness time. Happy New Year to all, and may the coming months be full of happiness and blessings for you and your loved ones.