Thursday, March 31, 2011

Potty truck!

Stephanie at Where in the World Am I is hosting the State Department Blog Round-up this week and her ‘theme’ is international toilets. I can’t wait to hear the stories!

I don’t have any strange photos of toilets. Usually it’s the situation surrounding the whole toilet experience that gets me more than the actual plumbing fixture.

One photo that I do wish I had, was one that I could never take because I was always driving when I saw it. A truck load of toilets. I saw several of these trucks while commuting to work in Cairo, which was often quite the experience in of itself, but I’d look over, and there’d be this big old pick-up-type truck, piled impossibly high with dozens of gleaming, brand new, polished and shiny, ceramic toilets… glimmering in the morning sun… pepto bismol pink and baby blue… not a one in a box, they were just lashed crazily to the truck, one layer randomly atop another, with piles of thick palm fronds between each toilet as padding. It was fantastic! Sparkling ceramic, flapping palm leaves, beat up truck, lumbering by in crazy traffic. It was like mechanical performance art! (or something...) Of course, I’d exclaim aloud to my husband and/or passengers, “Look at that truck!” … and a bus would drive by, obscuring the view, and we’d be at some break-away point in the road and the potty truck would go one way, we’d be heading the other, and nobody would see it but me. This actually happened two more times. I’d catch sight of a fully loaded toilet truck, heading south (usually) as we commuted north, and try as I might to point it out, as soon as I opened my mouth, opposing traffic would converge on the truck, like protective guardians of some mythological being… nobody but I was allowed a glimpse of the blue and pink cargo… yes, my husband teased me about the imaginary potty trucks, but I swear, they were real!


I am NOT kidding…!

I googled “Egypt toilet truck” and found this image of a truck in Egypt with toilet rolls:


It’s close… but no pink potties… o well…

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lebaneh! Approved by 3 out of 3 Jordanian kitties

Lebaneh – or Labneh – is a very common food in the Middle East. It is, very simply, yogurt that’s had the whey strained out, leaving behind a smooth white product about the thickness/consistency of cream cheese or sour cream.

What can it be used for? I put it on bread, usually. Sometimes for breakfast I’ll have a bagel or flat bread, some lebaneh, a little dish of olive oil, and a little dish of zaatar (a spice mix – with oregano, thyme, basil, sumac sesame, etc. it can vary…) and I’ll enjoy my bread dipped in some or all of these things. I will also put lebaneh on rice dishes, lamb, other grilled meats, etc. I have even substituted it for sour cream when I had no sour cream and it’s pretty good on baked potatoes.

It’s good, and because it’s yogurt, it’s good for you! Well, at least it is according to the internet and all sorts of folk who like to brag about it. Wiki says this:
“…strained yogurt has become increasingly popular because it is richer in texture than unstrained yogurt, but low in fat; since straining removes water and dissolved salts and sugars, by volume, it has twice the protein of regular yogurt and less sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar.”
Sounds good to me, and it tastes great! What more could you ask for in a simple food product? Honor also discovered recently, that these guys approve of it too.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Artsy Crafty Round-Up

Welcome to this week’s State Department Blog Round-up!

Before I distract you too much, make a note to tune in next week with Stephanie – she’s hosting the round-up at Where In the World.

My optional theme this week is arts and crafts, plus whatever else I come across or receive as submissions. Be warned: this post is not happening with any sort of plan or rational order – I say as I pause in the middle to write the intro – welcome to how my brain works! I’m hoping you’ll enjoy the ride anyway.

Just look at this lovely artwork! They are frame-able! The artist is one of the young Nomads in the Nomads by Nature family
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(would you believe they’re chalk? I love these!!)

Donna is sharing some Mother’s Day crafts that her kids brought home. One of the lesser known perks of living overseas is celebrating local AND US holidays. Here in Jordan we get Mother’s Day in March as well as May! A couple of these school crafts are very familiar looking… makes sense, as Brian and Honor are in the same grades/school as Shay and Aiden. Honor was a bit upset when she presented my teacup card and found that the tea had fallen out and gotten lost, but we dug into my stash and replaced it. I had a good laugh at Shay’s note in his card to his mom, hoping their dog won’t ruin it. I had the same thought about our cats regarding Brian’s card to me. I thought Ninja would be unable to resist those bright yellow bits of tissue paper – she chose to chew up the envelope Honor’s report card came home in instead.


Becky at Smallbits has posted photos of custom murals, painted on the walls of her home. Truly, the work of a budding Michealangelo… Michealangelina?

Her little artist is very flexible and does flooring too. Fortunately, Becky has a cure for a day like this!  I can see where her junior artist gets her inspiration though. Read about these most unusual Easter eggs!


Andy at Travel Orders had this observation to share in light of recent world events. So very true, the world is much smaller now, not only due to the job, but the technology. One thing that drove this home to me recently happened during the crisis in Cairo. I was keeping a close eye on our former home anyway, but then I received an urgent message from a civilian friend in Florida asking me if I had Embassy contact numbers because her sister, who was in Cairo to visit with Egyptian friends, was trying to get out and could not contact anyone. The numbers I have were the ones on the website, but of course, her sister couldn’t use the web because all internet was down! Her sister eventually left safely. The interesting thing is that I’ve never actually met this civilian friend, although I adore her absolutely! She was a friend of a friend on Facebook and we went to the same school, at different times. We’ve become ‘virtual friends’ and were able to be ‘together’ over a crisis in another part of the world… so, don’t ever tell me that there’s no value in hanging out on FB, bonding over Farmville!

Check out the redecorating that occurred over at Jill’s place! No my friend, it most definitely does not make your butt look big. On the contrary, there’s something about it, the color? the layout? It makes your eyes sparkle (or is that simply a glint of mischief?)  ;)

Holi painted celebrations Batman! err. I mean… Stephanie. She and her family participated in a rather extreme form of painting in India, even the baby got involved. I’m sure pink hair can be very flattering!

Wander over to Just Us for a glimpse at a wonderfully creative, kid-friendly housing idea! Can we come over and play?

Jess in Manila shares a sweet idea on Lindsey Mae’s Blog – pudding paint! I would have never considered this!! Go see her incredibly adorable artist at work … the smile in that last photo says it all! Jess also posted about a small quake that had them feeling a little wobbly, considering what’s happened in Japan.

Sometimes being crafty is not about decorating your home, it’s about improving the lives of others. Visit Nomads by Nature where, not only should you read her reflections on moving house as a frequent transient with FS, you can also learn about Livro Aberto, which means “Open Book”, an amazing recycling project in Mozambique that recycles packing materials (you know.. the TONS of materials that often go to waste in so many parts of the world?!) into BOOKS! I love recycling, I love books, I love programs that believe that education is the key to the future! From their website:
A quality children’s library equips children with a passport to travel anywhere that their interest and imagination will take them. It opens up to all children a world of diverse people, places and ideas; so that children regardless of ethnic, religious, socio-economic background or other special needs, can travel simply by using their minds. When such a children’s library is paired with a center that excites and fosters children’s language, literacy and learning, the seed of lifelong learning is duly planted.
Meanwhile, back to crafts…

I’ve never made a single sock… yet over at Crafty Foreign Service, we have a super crafter making so many colorful pairs that she can create photographic art with them (and other creations)! I’m jealous, but in a nice way! I love the variegated blue pair in the upper right corner.


Speaking of spectacular socks… Lydia and kids have reached their evac point safely. We’re so sorry you had to leave your hubby and your home! Hopefully this time of unrest and turbulence will calm soon – not only so you may put your family back together, but for the sake of the Bahraini people(!). Knowing what to pack in a situation like this is tough enough when you’re dealing with moving suddenly, or packing for the kids. Departing Manama for Idaho at this time of year can be especially challenging in the wardrobe department! Lydia managed to walk in with no closed shoes for herself. She posted a lovely photo of stripy socks with sandals on Facebook… I almost felt sorry for her, being in such a cold-feeted predicament, but, after seeing a later photo posted of some fabulous looking boots, I’m wondering if she simply wanted a good excuse to go shopping?

Why is crafting important anyway? Isn’t it easier to go out and just buy stuff? Cheaper? Faster? Easier? For your answer, scroll down to the last series of photos on A Fisher Out of Water’s post here and ask yourself how Grandma must feel now, about each and every stitch she invested in this pretty gift… for a very pretty little girl!

Adrian of Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud shares a personal obsession with a phenomenon he’s discovered in New Zealand. (….If I end up counting pelicans this summer, it’s YOUR fault!)


Shannon at Cyberbones has a quilting question. This is a craft I have only just taken my first timid steps into. I gave her my thoughts, but haven’t much experience! Whether you quilt or not, why not drop by and see what’s she’s up to and why. Don’t go over there hungry though, she also describes her homemade lasagna, yum!! (ok, true, it’s in the guise of longing for a bit more convenience here and there, but still, yum!)

Perhaps Shannon and Kelly of Well, That was Different need to connect. Kelly is a long time crafter and word of her quilting skill became known at one of her former posts, Bolivia. Next thing she knows, she helping assist in the creation of a new business! So much of crafting is about sharing, and Kelly really took that to a new level. Her yarn work and examples of dyed recycled yarns are also an inspiration!


 At Rambles and Ruminations, Linsey has written up a very clever and useful guide on How To Play Tourist in Your Own Home Town. This is such a good idea, important too, and she shares a list of great advice! She sets her example lesson in DC, and has a couple of very handsome, assistant tour guides helping her show off some of the sites visited. I love the photo of the boys ‘driving’ the bus!

Kate at Undiplomatic is creating magic in Berlin. She also writes about a couple of subjects that I find very true when it comes to crafting. Some of us just have a need to create. We can be successful in all this ‘other stuff’, but crafting is almost a ‘need’ rather than a want. I get that! She also talks about finding her medium… and find it she did! Felting! Aren’t these lovely? I know another princess who would adore this, but you ought to check out Kate’s beautiful fairy princess model.

Of course the royal baby model has a grin to melt your heart too! Then, you should scroll on down through Kate’s blog and check out some of her other fairy tale projects. Like these pretty elf siblings.

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I’ve had a couple of people suggest I make more of a certain project that they like and go commercial, Like when I made this hat for my daughter:

I don’t think I could take this sort of project commercial, but if I ever find something, I’ll follow Kate’s example and check out Etsy, she has her own market now. Good luck Kate!

I’ve finally posted my own blog post on this subject, btw, I’ve been really trying to get back into crafting. I have been crafting, haphazardly, but I want to make it a bigger part of my life. I want to drag my family into it. I have managed to help some friends with crochet recently, but it was my friends who dragged me by way of local crafting groups … I wasn’t resisting, but I hadn’t actually planned it! I’ve been learning to quilt, playing with computer graphics, gardening, and of course, crocheting.


Whew! I am happy I started this round-up a couple of days ago! I haven’t had decent net, so I haven’t had too much luck roaming around reading blogs on my own, but I have received so many wonderful contributions! If I’ve missed something good that should be included this week, please let me know. I’ll edit this post and add anything that comes in for the rest of today, Friday.

This reminds me… a number of people have had issues with their internet eating their posts as they work on writing up the Round-up. I’d like to share a tool that I use that just happened to come on my newest Dell laptop. I can write and format my blog OFF-LINE. Add photos, insert videos (uploaded to You Tube) etc. If I hadn’t found this tool, Windows Live Writer, I probably would have given up my blog. My net drops out so often… I find that I enjoy being able to start a post, save it as a draft, come back to it when I have time, etc. It works with many popular blog services and maybe you will find it useful.

Crafting Deprived, No More! – Round-Up

Ok, I haven’t truly been craft deprived. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve still been playing around with crochet and dabbling in other things. I can’t help myself. It’s a need. Blogging is a form of crafting and I’ve been doing that. I also feel that gardening is crafting and I’ve been trying to do that whenever I can. It wasn’t very easy when we lived in Cairo and had no decent place for plants, but we did our best.

image I also dug my sewing machine out in Cairo and attempted a few projects for the kid’s school. I’m sure the poor machine was confused. It had been put away when my first child was born, and it didn’t see the light of day again until he got to 2nd grade. We turned him into Benjamin Franklin fairly successfully. The coat was a bit big, but it turned out pretty good for me just winging it. That’s my point though, most of my crafts have been ‘winged’. More doodles than anything. Easy hats, simple scarves, toys that the kids have requested, ie. “Mom will you make a sleeping bag for my doll?” Things like that. I’ve had fun with this messing around, but I’ve been wanting to do more. I’ve wanted projects that I actually have to plan and focus on, that force me to pay attention to a pattern, etc. 

Here’s one project that I picked up recently from this pattern book: Leisure Arts, Leaflet 2801 Touch of Romance. Not too complicated, but I am making a full-size project from an actual pattern! I’m almost done with it too. Of course, I altered that pattern. Brian is the one who asked for it, and he chose the colors. I’ll probably add to the border and leave off the fringe. Fringe in a bit girly for a boy’s afghan.



I like Leisure Arts pattern books and am thinking I’ll help myself to a few more in the near future. There’s one I made, years and years ago, which is a sampler piece with 63 different squares, each a different stitch. I had fun making it, and it is a good learning piece. There is a crafting group here at the Embassy that I have recently joined and one of the ladies had the pattern book… I’m thinking it might be fun to make this afghan again.

I have another sampler leaflet, a project that I started … yikes!… about 15 years ago?!? I need to finish it! This one is associated with another craft I put aside long ago, spinning my own wool. When we lived in the UK in the early 90’s, I joined up with a Spinning, Weaving and Dying guild and learned to choose fleece, at actual sheep fairs, clean it, card it, and spin it into yarn, using both a spindle and a wheel. I had to put my gear in storage and I miss it. One day…

(My favorite sheep – Wensleydale. Aren’t they adorable?!)


Anyway, I was pleased to find that Leisure Arts has a website where they sell resources for many crafts. It means that I am not limited to skimming through what just happens to be available on the shelves at JoAnn Crafts during the short time I’m in the US on R&R.

For yarns, I was also pleased to find that Red Heart also has a good website. Crafters have different opinions about acrylic yarns. I prefer the softer blends myself, but acrylic can’t be beat for washable kid stuff. The Red Heart acrylic is much softer than others, imo, also, no dye lot is a selling point for me. I can’t just run around town, digging through yarn supplies at multiple craft stores if I unexpectedly need more skeins… it’s good to be able to go online and simply order more of exactly what I need. Red Heart carries a huge variety of yarns too, not just their famous acrylics – they have Alpaca/wool, Bamboo/wool,  100% wool and even ‘green’ products made from recycled materials or bamboo. I ordered some of the Eco Ways just to try it out (colors: bark and peacock), and I’m impressed. It is pretty and very soft.

I mentioned that our Embassy has a crafting group. They actually have a couple of groups getting together on a weekly basis. I am not sure who started it, or exactly how it began, but it’s a wonderful idea! One day during the week, crafters get together at one member’s home and share their crafting. This month has been focused on crochet and I was surprised (pleasantly) to be drawn in to help teach even though I am very new to the group. It’s also a lovely social event with much chatting and lunch.

Another night during the week is reserved for quilting. In the past, I played around a little with piecework… scrap quilting based on ideas I saw in books. I had no mentor or teacher. I made a couple of nice floor pillows with the piecework, but have never actually quilted. A good friend took me along with her one evening and I decided to give it a go. I haven’t progressed much. I chose some fabrics …um … actually I got out-voted and my family chose the fabrics. It was cat approved.


I’ve got some tools, and done some cutting. The pattern is the one on the cover of the book (above). I’ve also learned a new word – Thangles. They are paper pattern pieces to help you make precise triangles… pretty cool!


As I progress in this craft and my project, I’ll be sure to take photos and share more. I’m enjoying it!

If this isn’t enough to keep me busy, I have recently dug out my Wacom tablet and Corel Paint Shop Pro and have been messing around with that some more too.

I especially enjoy what can be done with photo-art using paint shop. I am a very random (meaning not very accurate at times) photographer. I point and shoot even when everyone tells me ‘That will never come out’… well, sometimes it does. Often it does. So I won’t stop doing it my way. However, sometimes the photos are blurry (yay for digital and no crazy processing charges for crappy photos), but even the blurry ones have potential. I made this from a photo…


I was snapping photos from a moving bus in Cairo, through dirty windows and caught this flower shop. The photo by itself was trash, but I love how I was able to use Paint Shop to transform it.

Another computer toy that plays well with Paint Shop, is my Wacom tablet. Again, this is something I got years ago, but recently had to dig it out of its hiding place and dust off. I pulled it out to rework some illustrations I drew for a book that I wrote for my kids when they were little. I’m playing with getting it published.

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I painted a flower garden around my couch as a joke entry for Zoe’s Best Disguised Foreign Service Couch Contest, and I also helped the kids with their recent science project. They designed this bit for their poster. It was 100% the kids’ idea, but I made it for them. One of these for each of the kids in the group.


I’m not progressing on any of these projects as fast as I feel like I should. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking the time away from family in order to go to meetings, or simply to sit around and crochet, and sew, or dig in the garden, rather than bake cookies or sort socks or whatever. That’s ridiculous. I’m entitled to play time, just as much as everyone else in our home is! I guess it’s a mom-thing though and I’ve spent the last few years so entrenched (happily so) in taking care of little ones who needed so much of my time, that I got used to not taking my share of the ‘me time’. The kids are bigger and more independent now. So, I’ll wrap up by saying that one of my favorite ‘new hobbies’ is crafting a workable schedule that includes a fair share of ‘me time’ , and trying not to feel so guilty about it! I’m getting there!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Got Nothin’, in other words, the Round-up is coming!

“Got nothin’” can be translated as “Need things!”
(Pixie demonstrates how sad it is to be without things you need.)

Where has this week gone? Frankly, I’m still in last week, confused, and wondering why my weekend hasn’t shown up yet… but here we are, Tuesday, this week, and I’m needing to be rounding up Round-up items!

I am hosting the weekly State Department Blog Round-Up this week, so I better get my behind in gear(!), and I need your help. What HAVE you been up to this week? What’s going on in your part of the globe? A number of bloggers have noted that sometimes it is tough to blog towards a set theme. I understand that completely. My own blog tends to contain posts about what I’m thinking about, posted randomly, when I feel like it. Sometimes it makes sense, other times, maybe not, but I do what I do. I can be inspired by some themes, but some… not so much. I’m setting an OPTIONAL theme of ‘Crafts’ for this week, and I suppose we could re-label it as an “Optional Talking Point” or something, but “theme” rolls off the tongue so much easier. Anyway...

I enjoy crafting, arts and crafts, creating things, making messes, etc. It’s cheap therapy. When the kids were little though, I cut back my hobby quite a bit. I still continued to work on simple things here and there, but nothing I actually had to focus on or pay much attention to. The kids are getting older and more independent now, and I am jumping back into art. Often I feel like I am past ready for this (re)start up, sometimes I am bit (lot) overwhelmed with it, but I’m happy to be going again!

If you are interested in this theme, why not share a bit about the arts you like to participate in, or perhaps, what resources are available where you are, or even share some of the local arts and crafts that are created by local artists in your area that inspire you to shop, if not actually craft yourself?!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Green kids, Cabbage and Corned Beef

St. Patrick’s Day!

My kids insisted we get up early on Thursday morning so they could pick out green clothes, get ready for school, and eat breakfast in plenty of time to allow me to decorate them for St Patrick’s Day fun at school. I am not sure when or why we started this little tradition. I’m thinking that it had to do with lack of a green outfit for one of them, I do not remember… but we’ve been doing it for years now.

Brian wanted just one drawing, his favorite, a dragon guarding a pot of gold
Honor drew sketches on a paper towel of her idea, a leprechaun on one hand, trying to chase gold on the other! Clever girl!
She also wanted a shamrock across her whole face. I didn’t want to do that much marker all over her! We compromised. I did shamrocks on one side, and when she complained that the other was ‘empty’, we added another pot of gold and a rainbow. She was still trying to suggest more as we were putting on jackets to head to the bus!
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No pinching these two!

Another bit of good luck for the day, actually came about the day prior. After dropping Brad off to work Wednesday morning, I stopped at the produce stand on the way home. All the veggies were looking very nice that day, including the cabbages. I usually do not buy cabbage as they grow them HUGE here and I can only use so much. I looked at them wistfully and couldn’t help but think of the many, many years that has passed since I’d last had a corned beef to cook with cabbage. I couldn’t resist.. I bought the smallest cabbage they had and figured I’d come up with something to do with it.

Well, I went home, started my errands, etc, then at lunch, headed off to the Embassy to run some errands, including updating my mobile plan with Zain… they are awesome! Always great customer service!… anyway, I also had lunch with Brad, and some friends, one of whom tipped me off that the Co-op had just received a shipment of frozen goods and there was CORNED BEEF! I stopped by and picked up two briskets! Mmm!

Now, I know that corned beef is more of an Irish-American tradition than an Irish tradition, but my ancestors go way back in America, so I’ll follow whatever tradition I feel like, and every so often, corned beef with cabbage, for luck and prosperity, is a GOOD thing.

After getting my colorful children off to school, I popped the still mostly frozen brisket into my slow cooker, covered it in water and made sure to toss in the spices that came with the meat. I chopped up half of the beautiful cabbage and filled the pot  to over-flowing. (seriously, half the cabbage barely fit, even when I squished it down). I set the cooker on ‘low’ and let it cook all day.

Did you know that cats like cabbage too?
(They also liked the corned beef scraps they got after dinner!)

One thing to note is, when I popped the brisket in the cooker, I had totally forgot that there were other events going on that evening that we might have attended. When I had my coffee and I began to reconsider my schedule for the day a bit closer, I realized that I *could* just save the cabbage and brisket for later in the weekend, but honestly, I was tired! It had been a long busy week, I’d already had a late dinner out earlier in the week with my hubby for our 19th wedding anniversary, and really, all I wanted to do was stay with my family and have dinner in our home. I’m sorry we missed the other things, but glad we stayed in.

To round out our holiday meal, I made mashed potatoes, and Brian’s absolute FAVORITE bread of all time, Guiness Molasses Bread, which is truly easy to make, and Brian is right, it’s amazingly delicious! I didn’t actually have Guiness :(  but I had one can of another Irish Stout and it turned out very good. For dessert, I made vanilla ice cream, dyed green, of course, served with fresh strawberries on top.

For a completely unexpected and unplanned meal, it all came together beautifully. Because she’d been helping me through it all, and had been in the kitchen smelling all the lovely smells all evening(!), I invited our maid to stay for dinner. Normally she’s happy to get home in the evening and have her down time, but she accepted and we had a lovely little impromptu dinner party.

Hope you all had Jolly St Patrick Day celebrations too!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NOT Sharing


You know how kids can be about sharing (or not) furniture that is perfectly big enough for several little tushes? Well, cats are the same. Sometimes all three will pile up in a ball and snuggle… but sometimes one will stake out a whole couch (yes, he DID flip the back cushions) and not share with anyone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cat Storage Device #3

I’m guessing #1 would be boxes, #2 is closets…

Ninja demonstrates the #3 style cat storage system, aka laundry hamper. Manual operation (human opens lid) or automatic (cat opens lid, contains self, closes lid) utility. Added functionality of providing comfort and relaxation for any feline occupant… the feelings of those who might open the containment device, surprising the cat inside, are less calm.


Cat toys not included, but usually added by occupant.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

FS Housing – Round-up theme

This week’s State Department blog round-up is being hosted by Shannon at Cyberbones and her theme is housing. It’s an interesting and important theme, as one of the big challenges of moving overseas is having NO clue where you will land! You know, most times, when people move, they check out the area first, tour a bunch of homes, ask around, etc. Not so for us. You are not likely to have any clue, whatsoever, about the house you’ll be spending the next 2-3 years in before arriving in your new host country, with family, pets and suitcases in tow. Your house is picked out and waiting. Ta-daa! Like it or not. You might present a housing request to post, in advance, with some basic wants and needs, and I truly believe that posts do try to accommodate your list as much as possible, but it comes down to availability. Not available, you’re not getting it. You get what you get. Hopefully Shannon’s round-up will give new FS folk a good overview on the pros and cons of post housing.

When we first arrived in Amman, we were told that our place was one room too small for us and that it was one of the oldest in the inventory… BUT… it was a ground floor apartment. It did have 3 bedrooms, so that was good enough. I have an actual disability with my knees (not just age ;) !) and requested ‘no stairs’, so see, post worked with us to meet this request. On the downside, our laundry room is outside our apartment, in the common basement, in our locked storage room. At least I have the choice of using the stairs or an elevator, depending on how the joints are behaving. It works.

I’ll start with the cons of our place:

UGLY – This apartment has, very VERY obviously, been maintained and repaired in a slap-dash, cheap as possible, manner for many, many years. It’s typical, I guess, for homes with such a high turnover rate. Ours has been turned over too many times. It’s truly past due for a real make-over. 

Typical ‘detail’ found throughout our house…
It was probably fairly nice when new, but the paint has been glopped on haphazardly… it’s on the rock walls, tiles, on the cabinets, tops of ceiling fixtures, etc.
Very sloppy. Door hardware and windows also have paint everywhere. I’ve thought about cleaning it up… but that just ticks me off. I didn’t do this sloppy work, painting neatly really isn’t that hard(!), and there is so much mess that just starting the job of fixing it up annoys me. So does looking at it. If we were to actually buy a place like this, I would be working on it from the get-go. But, this place is temporary. By the time I got it all done, it’d be time for us to move, and they’d be back with the paint buckets and careless painters to slap on another coat for the next tenants.
Some tile is old, dark, ugly, and out of date. I am generally NOT that picky about such things(!) Seriously… I can deal with temporary housing and ugly tile… but I have two bathrooms in this house that can and will make anyone say ‘ugh!’.
The flash on my camera (above) makes this bathroom wall look MUCH cheerier than it is in reality. To add to the prison look of this tiny dark room, check out the window… These bathroom windows are HIGH up, open from the top (our maid can’t even reach the handle) and are screened on the outside. We can clean the inside of the windows, but the outside is just about impossible.
The kitchen has the same tile, but fortunately, it’s a much bigger room so it doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a moldy, mossy grey cave.

I’ll spare you a photo of the master bath. Color dating of the tile puts it at, um, maybe late 80’s… I think? Sand and sea foam green. Better than 70’s colors, but not by much. I’d be happier with the tile, whatever the color, if it didn’t actually look 30 years old. Bleach and scrubbing will only help so much.

The kids’ bathroom is big, bright, and has half-way modern tile, but the radiator is yellowed and rusty (like most in the house), one wall is all glass block tile (not bad, if you ignore the cracks) but they put the sink in front of that, and suspended a cheap mirror on even cheaper aluminum rails, in front of it. Kind of a ‘what were they thinking??’ sort of set up. Doesn’t the exposed wiring just pull the whole look together?
NOTE: Again, when I say that I am generally NOT picky about the superficial looks of temporary housing, I’m very serious. Honest. I’ve been doing this ‘moving from place to place’ for many years, a lot of which was to notoriously bad military housing. Looks are usually far down on my priority list when it comes to housing. I think, what really irks me the most is, of all the other houses I’ve visited here at post, ours is truly the ugliest and most out of date when it comes to structure and maintenance. Most of the other apartments I’ve seen here seem so much newer and modern… they’re actually.. pretty. It doesn’t help that I was raised by a carpenter/handyman, and so these crappy, piddle-y little details are truly glaring to me.

HAZARDS – Ugly is annoying, but I would have refused to stay in this house if we’d had little kids. Either that or we’d have had facilities here making massive safety alterations.

Tower of terror – right in the central hallway of the house, between the children’s rooms, behind two flimsy access doors that lock unless you pull hard, is the central access shaft through the center of the building.
That shaft goes all the way through, basement to roof (I believe it goes to the roof). Not sure an adult could get into that hole, but a small child could. Pets could. And god only knows what might crawl out of it…  Fumes from the generators (for hot water and radiators) in the basement can be smelled in this area sometimes.

Ledges of death – Our patio ends with 5 steep steps leading down to a lower garden (with the trees, on the left) and a gate to the basement apartment on the right. At the far end, you see a wall with a spiked fence on top… pretty sure that most kids would not be able to scale that… good thing too, as there’s a pretty good drop to a garage underneath the garden. Then, we’ve got these cute little planter boxes on the right, with eye-high pointy plants in them. You’re definitely NOT going to keep little kids, or clumsy dogs for that matter, off of these…
It is what’s on the other side of those planters that is of real concern…
yep… much down-ness, with concrete to break your fall…
We have another balcony on the house with a similar, not even knee high, planter box as the only barrier to an even steeper drop in the front.

There’s also a 4ft high ledge on the edge of our garden, which is not too dangerous… it’s likely that the thorn-filled rose bushes would grab a speeding toddler before they hurtled off of this, although I did trim them back… ah well, it’s muddy down there. It’d be a softer landing than concrete.
For watery fun, we have two of these…
unsecured, deeeeep dark water tanks under the building. Right there on the back patio. I often put one of those heavy cement blocks on the lids (they get moved back all the time), but it would only slow a determined child, not stop them. I’ve had little kids over before, and let me tell you, even with numerous adults as supervisors, I was worried the whole time. Ledges, pits, nearly every other plant covered in thorns… I trust my kids back there, but if they were any younger… no.

Lack of basic safety features – Two bedrooms have bars in the windows that do NOT open. One of these rooms opens out over a 2nd floor drop so even if you can squeeze through the bars, you’re still in trouble. No shutters over the glass doors of our safe haven. Yes, facilities is aware of this. It’s an old house. Our car is parked next to the guard shack, but is not in a gate or garage. Every door to the outside locks with a key. Meaning, they unlock with a key. Every flippin’ door is keyed separately too. It’s confusing for the kids. They can manage them now, but couldn’t when we first moved in.

Lack of Storage – Anybody have a linen closet? How about drawers or cabinets in the bathrooms (you know, for your towels, extra TP, etc.)? We do not. Not a single one. How stupid is that?? I don’t think we own a huge stash of towels, blankets, sheets, extra pillows, etc. but, like most people, we have SOME spares… and it sure would be nice to have a decent place to store them! I have a plastic laundry basket for towels in the master bath (classy, I know, but it’s not like it hurts the looks of the room at all – ugly on ugly – it matches). I found an aluminum, 3 tier, wheeled shelf/cart for towels in the kids bathroom. Sheets and things are stored in upper cabinets, over clothes closets (none of which have shelves), that requires a step ladder to reach. Oh, and it would also be really nice to have a decent place to put the vacuum cleaner, mop, broom, etc. We use the cave-like washroom as a storeroom. It’s already cramped and icky, so what the heck…  I put a curtain under the counter (where there are NO drawers!) and hide the vacuum cleaner under there.

Pests – we have ants. They come in through the walls, usually the electrical sockets. I do not trust most poisons around kids and cats, so I wage a constant war with cleansers with bleach, and 409 with orange scent (they hate that!). We have NOT had issues with roaches or black fly as I hear others have. All of our windows are screened, so we do not have much trouble with mosquitoes, and with three cats, we have no rodents. I cleaned droppings from corners in the bathroom when we moved in, but none since. Having cats inside means rodents stay away.

Have I trashed the place enough yet? Ok, here are some ‘pros’. These are the reasons why, although I am usually too embarrassed to invite folks over, I don’t want to move.

Location – we live in an older neighborhood. It’s full of trees, and is pretty quiet. There are some stupid drivers using our road, but not too many. It’s pretty and peaceful. The neighbors are nice. We can open the windows at night and we hear… nothing but the breeze in the trees. Birds in the morning. It’s very pleasant.

Windows – They’re ugly. Leaky. They have bars over them and paint on them. The window treatments are old, bland, worn out and ugly. BUT. We have lots of big windows. LOTS of windows. On ALL sides of the house. I can open it up and let the breeze blow through! We get such a good breeze through the house that I actually have to use door stops to keep interior doors from slamming. Nature’s AC! Plus, sunlight and greenery! We have walls and trees for privacy, and that also works (somewhat) as a shield against dust. (older neighborhood means lots of trees to screen the dust!) Windows are a true luxury!!!

BIG open floor plan – We do not have an office in which to hide computers, file cabinets, (whatever office stuff). We were not even provided a decent desk. But we have space off to one side in the main living room to set office things up on a long folding table. I do not have an office in which to set up a sewing corner, so I took a corner out of that living room… it looks cluttered and squeezed in, but at least I’ve got a corner, it’s even out of the way. That same big room holds our formal dining area, art stuff, full sized electric piano, and off to another corner, two sofas and a TV/game center, as well as a treadmill and weight bench (which is currently converted into a day care for all of Honor’s dolls) … and what the hey… it’s not like the place looks nice enough for formal entertaining anyway, so why not spread out and PLAY?! This older post shows several photos of the big room, before we received our HHE… and also shows off the lovely light from the many windows!

There IS room to PLAY inside! That’s just pure awesomeness!

There is also room to play OUTSIDE. Not a huge amount of grass, and there are the ledges and thorns to worry about, but we have an outside. It is a blessing.

APPLIANCES! – We have REAL appliances! Not a mini-oven that means Thanksgiving chicken rather than turkey, no, we have a REAL oven. We also have a full size fridge and upright freezer.. IN the kitchen. There’s no dishwasher here, although there’s a place to put one if we’d wanted to buy one. I rather like having clean dishes with one wash though. The last 3 places we lived, with dishwashers, we had to pre-wash dishes, run the dishwasher, and check and wash the dishes again when we took them out. Hand washing is not my favorite chore… but I sure like the results. What a concept… clean dishes with one wash! We have a full sized washer and dryer too… they’re down in the basement, which is an inconvenience, but not a big one. My kitchen is big, fully equipped, I have lots of counter space, and TWO sinks! One is a double sink for washing dishes, the other is a single. Good for food prep, and it also has a RO water filter built in. I also have windows in the kitchen (I posted about them here) – better than the real appliances, is natural light!

Heat and AC – It gets cold here, and very, very hot. We have radiator heat, which is effective. The house is leaky and drafty, but we keep warm. The AC, provided by 4 split pacs, is also very good in our house. We have a sitting room attached to our kitchen, which means we can actually have AC in the hottest area of the house. Those who have a kitchen that is cut off from all the other rooms know how miserable that can be. We do not actually like the house to be too warm, or too cold, but it is very nice to have the proper, functioning(!), appliances to make needed adjustments. We had to fight this issue in Cairo! Here, it’s been much easier. We have a number of ceiling fans as well… on high ceilings, which is safer for us tall people.

Marble floors – just the sound of it seems luxurious, doesn’t it? The reality is, wood is much more expensive in this part of the world, so tile, stone, and marble are the common building materials. Wood would be the luxury! Fortunately, I like plain white marble, even though, again, ours is old and looks very dated/worn. I can live with it, no problem. I am a teensy bit jealous of the more modern and pretty look of newer tile styles in friends’ homes, but only a teensy tiny bit. It’s so easy to keep clean, it is cool in the summer, and it gets warm in the winter because of the hot radiator pipes underneath. It is SO much nicer than cheap wall-to-wall carpet or fake wood flooring!

Store room – we have a storage area in the basement, so we actually have a place to keep our luggage, Christmas tree, decorations, etc.  This is a HUGE, usually unseen, bonus of any housing, that most take for granted… until they do not have it.

One major benefit of being in an older house, is that most of the ‘bugs’ you get in new construction have already been worked out before you get there! For the most part, our plumbing works, our electricity works, etc. We’ve had some age-related issues, but they’ve been easily fixed. It’s much easier to re-caulk a pipe that’s leaking because the old caulk has rotted away, than to fix a leak that it caused by poor new construction behind a wall or under the floor. It’s much easier to replace an old broken switch, than rewire a socket that was installed completely back-asswards with no ground wire, etc.

One other thing to note about housing, any housing, is that it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. We did NOT have an AC in the sitting area attached to the kitchen when we moved in. It’s our main TV room and where the kids do homework as I’m cooking dinner. It was HOT in that room… because of the oven, but mostly because it’s cut off from the rest of the house where there was AC and it simply gets very hot here in the summer. I asked, and Facilities installed the AC. Simple. I wanted more light in the corner that I commandeered for my sewing machine… facilities could not provide wall mounted light fixtures, but they did install the ones I purchased. I’ll leave them there for the next tenants. Despite my saying that I do not want to fix that icky paint work, I probably will. Rather than buy the materials though, I’m going to ask for them through facilities first… I think it is an appropriate maintenance request. I’ve got to have them come in and repair some cracking paint on the ceilings in a couple of rooms anyway. It’s completely understandable that facilities should NOT be regarded as Home Depot, and they are NOT at our beck and call for simple silly things, but they do have the tools and the local know-how. I try to always be respectful of the workers here, and work with them. For example, I don’t believe in calling for help changing light bulbs, in general… BUT… when I have trouble with an odd light fixture… rather than break something, I’ll have them come show me how to deal with it properly. That’s a win-win for both sides. No matter what the issue, it doesn’t hurt to ask.