Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More of these!

My father always had a garden growing - and in Florida, there were about three full seasons for planting - and I love love LOVE fresh fruits and vegetables!!! I'd choose to munch cut-up raw veggies over candy or chips any time! But, who has the time? Ok, I know that you can buy buckets of tasty, ready-to-eat fruits in veggies in US supermarkets - in the produce section or take-away salad bars - more expensive, but very handy... but I don't have that here. Before I quit to stay home, we had time to throw a quick dinner together after work (20 minutes or less please), get the kids homeworked, bathed, etc. then to bed - and then collapse until our bedtime so we could get up and do it all again the next day.

Now, instead of a once weekly shopping trip to the commissary, I can hike over to the local street market and browse the greengrocers, bakers, etc. I hope to find a good butcher too. I also have the time to scrub/soak the veggies, and do all the prep work needed to have dinner ingredients and veggie snacks in the fridge - ready and waiting to be grabbed in an instant.

I am sure I will still need some cooked or canned goods, but the fresh stuff is such a luxury! Honor was able to take carrot sticks as a snack to school today... I never really had time to put such good stuff in the kids' lunches before! (they pack snacks actually, they buy hot lunches). Even Brian, who is meat-and-potatoes like his Dad, had to admit that the fresh stuff tasted and even smelled better than the frozen or canned - and much better than the 'fresh' produce the commissary brings in from overseas - he did add that even though it seemed very nice, I didn't need to serve it all in one meal!

I brought the batch above in yesterday (all for about $10 - no doubt 'foreigner pricing, but cheaper and better than the commissary!) and cooked up a Humble Pie with some of the ingredients. (I substituted croissants for the bisquits; seasoned the beef with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and red wine; used mexican cheese blend; and Chicken Corn Chowder) The artichokes went well with that dish.

The beans may be doomed...

Our bean planting experiment had moved outside because the plants were growing tall and stretching out to the sun. They've been happy out on the balcony for the last few days, but today, winter has arrived. The wind is gusting hard, the temp is currently 48F (which is darn cold for this time of night - 10PM - it will only get colder before the dawn), and it is supposed to continue with the wind, rain and cold all night. Tomorrow the wind gusts are forecast up around 50mph! I can't really move the pot back inside either - I'd worry about the pot leaking on the wood floors, or there being some critters in the pot now that it has been outside for a bit. I did set them, and the other taller plants, off the edge of the wall so they do not get blown down. We'll see how it does come morning!

Looks like we're heading into the coldest night we've has this winter... I bet even the Sphinx is wishing he had a scarf ;-) ! What's with this weather? Did someone lose a bit of their winter?? This doesn't belong here! We've had tons of rain this year. Today had rain and wind. At one point, my two internet weather news sources were both saying 'wind' but one insisted it was raining, the other said 'sand' - it was, what? Mudding?

Science Project

Brian has his first science project due this Thursday and we have managed to get it done in plenty of time. It was actually a rather difficult assignment - not that it was too complex for him, or too difficult for a 2nd grader, rather, there was very little to work with. His assignment was 'Sailboat' ... ok ... sailboat ... well.... what about sailboats?? The papers he had showed some examples of how to make little sailboats, and how to set up a poster board, but that seemed more like arts and crafts than science! The hard part then, was how to turn 'Sailboat' into a 2nd-grade science experiment. BTW, we have learned that most science projects out on the web are for 4th grade on up... we found very little for younger elementary kids. Anyway.... we decided to test the effectiveness of different shapes of sails, and Brian and I had a lot of fun figuring this out together and making up his project:

Proud - and hard-working - scientist!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Diva who has two eyes

Honor sings...

I admit, she was getting to be a bit too much of a drama diva here, but Honor has really been enjoying the songs she learns at school, and she does very well at remembering the words. Well enough to teach me as we drive home after school.. "Ok mom, just echo me..."

She was having fun this evening showing off to Daddy when he got home from work. You can't see in this video, but she was standing on the 'stage' (aka) step-stool that Grandpa and Grandma gave her. Here are a couple of stills:


btw, the cute little ruffley dress she is wearing is a traditional Egyptian outfit- a galebeya - as one Egyptian friend said, "It is pure 'Baladi' (meaning: local, rural, village)." This is what approximately half of the Egyptian women you see (not in these colors exactly, and without the girlish ruffles) wearing. Most other Egyptian women wear 'regular' clothes. One Egyptian lady I know said that she has never in her life worn a galebeya! I just laughed and told her that she ought to give it a try. They are as comfy as PJ's! (Yea, and sometimes are about as stylish as PJ's - but why not?! Other galebeyas can be quite fancy and formal.) Long and sort-sleeves, long dress. Any color will do. They tend to be 100% cotton with embroidery or other decoration. I think they are comfortable for lounging and housework. Brian likes them for sleeping in and for dress-up days at school. Brian doesn't really think of them as 'dresses' - the boys' style are more like long shirts, and he is used to many of the men around here wearing them. I just got the kids matching galebeyas in a dark red snake-skin print! If I can get them dressed in them at the same time I will post a photo - Brian loves red dragons and this particular find was a hit! (and for 15LE, about $3, each - how can I complain?) Honor likes the soft, plain styles for sleeping in, and the rufflely, glittery, sparkly ones for wearing. It is hard to let her wear them to school though because she has a hard time running, climbing and sliding in them. Some friends and I made a trip to a local village this weekend and last week too to buy some galebeyas, tunics, and rugs. It was quite the drive, and I have a bunch of photos to add to my website - when I get time. ...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Old beans...

..make good bean soup, and will still 'hatch' into bean plants. We are on the 3rd floor (over the garage level) and have no yard or garden. Our balconies are FULL sun - which in Egypt, can be brutal. We really have no place for growing things, but I keep trying anyway and am trying to teach the kids a few things along the way.

I found this old bag of dry bean soup mix in the back of a drawer (no clue how it got there, but it must have been there a long time!). Dry beans are pretty stable though, so I decided to cook them anyway. Before starting the dinner, I let the kids pick 3 beans each to try and grow. The soup was very tasty, by the way.

We set the beans on wet paper towels in plastic baggies to retain the moisture. I wasn't sure if they could still grow, but they sprouted very easily, and after a few days, I moved the seedlings to a pot. The picture below shows the 5 plants that made it, after about 5-7 days in the dirt. The short, thick plant in the back is a navy bean, the tallest is a ?pinto? bean - the extremes were, of course, the beans Honor picked out (tallest, shortest, and a lazy no-show). Brian's are all neat, orderly, and the same size - I think he had a black-eyed pea, a black bean, and some other smallish bean. Logic and chaos - they even impose their personalities upon their plants!

Hopefully the plants will continue to do well. I am not too good with container gardening or even keeping houseplants alive. I will try to post updates later - if these poor little plants survive that long! It's been a good experiment for the kids though - they check their plants every day, and as the beans have been growing so fast, it's been rewarding and has kept the kids' interest.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Those icky chairs...

I should not complain about free furniture, but I will. Free, meaning, it is cheaper for the govt to furnish our house than move our own furniture overseas - which makes sense, I agree with the idea... but how about casual, informal furniture for families with small kids, and leave the high-backed dining chairs with white upholstery for those who do more formal entertaining .. you know, a selection would be good... But no... so, the first thing I did was buy seat covers for everything and we've made do. So have the kids, and you know, high-backed chairs make for awesome fort building!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What was that?

Last night, about 1030-1100pm, we were sitting in the living room watching a DVD and heard this loud 'BOOM' - it was in the distance, but loud, and still near enough to rattle our windows. This isn't too uncommon. There are military around here and they occassionally blast things. But of course, we will likely never know what shook the house. Unlike in the US, where you can expect such a loud noise to make it into the news - either immediately, or at least by the next morning - it is rare to get an explanation about anything here.

Brad and Brian heard a series loud blasts while Honor and I were in DC last year, and it wasn't until several days later that they found out that a propane tank truck in Giza (about 4-5 miles away) had blown up. We'll see if we hear anything!

At least it didn't wake the kids - today is their first day back at school.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hey! That's my laptop!

Captain Computer Takeover teaches his trusty companion, Lt. Showmehow Myturn, how to get into Mom's stuff...

"First, go to Facebook.com, then add 50 assorted fish to the aquarium, pet our (fluff)friend, randomly Ninja attack several dozen pirates, Superpoke everyone on the list..."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Rock and Roll Barber Shop

Last Sunday, Brad had to go to work and the kids were home with me, still on winter break. They were getting very creative with building 'stores', 'pet shops', etc. in various parts of the house. It reminded me that Brad had asked for a haircut. I called Brad to see if he would be home at his regular time, then I asked the kids if they wanted to make a barber shop - oh yes!

Brian came up with the name:

Honor set out the price list - both signs were on the door for Daddy to see when he got home. We had a barber chair set up, a cash register, and in keeping in theme with the shop name, we put on 'rock and roll' T-shirts and had good music playing.

Most barbers do not take your shirt, but Honor insisted that Daddy would get hair all over his, and made him take it off. She did give him 'one of those things that go around his neck'.

Brian also gave Daddy something for his neck.

I did most of the hair cutting, Brian helped serve drinks and did other assisting, Honor helped brush and sweep.

After I cut Brad's hair, Honor asked me to cut her hair a little, she wanted a bit of bangs, and Brad trimmed my hair - he had a good deputy hair stylist. Brian was not interesting in cutting or having a trim! BTW, The rule in our house has been set: Only Mommy or Daddy are allowed to cut hair, but we make sure to let the kids have a turn when we do have haircuts, so they can let a little of that experimenting urge be relieved!

By the way, the pictures above were taken by Brian. Both kids are getting good at taking photos.
After the haircuts was clean-up time. Look who's (mostly) big enough to wrastle the real vacuum cleaner now! (and it was not so long ago that she was afraid of the machine. :-) ! )

Oh, and let's not forget the important part - three dollars please!

Just curious...

Dear Sis Nancy and her wonderful husband Jim ... no reason to ask, really... I know you'd complained a little, but just remind me, I was wondering what it cost to mail all these spectacular and noisy toys.. just.. you know.. no reason... idle curiousity.. I wasn't planning anything ...

I'm kidding! The kids LOVE the toys!! Thank you so much!! We made picking the box up from the Embassy into an outing today. Brian had wanted to go to a 'nice restaurant' as part of his birthday, so we drove downtown, got the box from the Embassy and parked nearby. Then we all walked over to one of our favorite Lebanese restaurants and had a late lunch/early dinner. I will try to post more pics on my website later on when I get the rest of my Christmas photos organized.

Thank you again for the lovely gifts - and for getting them half-way around the world to us. When the kids hopped into the box and started burrowing into the packinging with their toys - really, I had nothing to do with it! - well, I knew I had to tease! (Yea.. you guys always said you would get us back!)

Lots of love, to all you, from all of us.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Brian and the Birthday Dragon

Last summer, I found instructions for creating a dragon cake that looked easy enough for even me to manage - I do not usually do well with fancy cake decorating! Brian has LOVED dragons since he was a tiny thing - appropriate as his Chinese horoscope states that he was born in the Year, Day and Hour of the Dragon. We thought we'd give this cake a try. (I had a emergency spare cake mix in reserve.)

If you've checked out the website with the recipe, you will notice that despite a lack of confidence in my own baking skills, I immediately deviated from the instructions. Brad says that it is impossible for me to follow a recipe, step-by-step. He may be right.

Brian wanted a blue, not a green, dragon - that sounded reasonable. I did not like the shape of the neck and head. So I shortened the tail, and used the extra cake pieces to shape a more dragonly skull. Oh, and used lots of blue!

We didn't like some of the candies called for as decoration, and we didn't have chocolate covered graham crackers for the back ridge, so, Andes candy mints made the ridges, star-shaped red marshmallows with a bit of red frosting made the eyes, and rather than those strange 'candy orange jelly slices' as claws, we used red skittles. Purple skittles made nice nostrils, and a bit of red licorice made the dragon smile... and that made the kids smile.

The instructions called for fruit roll-up wings using skewers - but warned that the weight of the wings could cause them to droop. I used chopsticks instead, with the thicker end pushed into the cake to provide a better anchor.. they didn't droop at all.

Brian shares his birthday with our co-worker's daughter, and he and Eliza shared a party at our apartment. Eliza's mom brought over pink castle cupcakes! It is too bad that we weren't more organized, and did not decorate and accessorize more in theme with our baking. At one point in the day though, in keeping with the spirit of things, the boys, armed with swords and shields, got into a battle with the girls, armed with tiaras and wands.. unfortunately though, I was not armed with my camera to capture that silly moment.

We did get a good shot of the birthday kids after they successfully blew out the candles on the flaming fire-breathing birthday cake - thereby dooming the castles the dragon had guarded, to a swift and decisive plundering by all the knights and fairy princesses in attendance. The dragon was quickly devoured too - how often do you get to 'carve' a birthday cake with kids asking for 'a leg', or a 'tail', or 'white meat or dark'.. and the 'wing meat' was such a hit that we had to go back to the pantry later for the rest of the box of fruit roll-ups!

As you can see, Brian was thrilled with the Battleship game and Legos that Grandma and Grandpa sent... looks like his friends were too... Thank you!!

Happy Birthday Brian and Eliza!

Remember this?

Hey sis...

Remember these (not the kids, I know you know them! ...the blades from Mom's old hand-mixer!)

They still work - for making cakes, and giving kids a fun treat!

I get a laugh every time I use the mixer - it has to be older than both of us, and it still has its '5 Year Guarantee' sticker on the handle!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Halloween - finally...

I have been behind on posting pictures on my webpage, but we had so many fun pictures of Halloween, I just had to go back in time and catch up a bit:

To the webpage!

There are a couple of nice videos there too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Cairo Traffic

Ok, we have obviously been here too long. Traffic here is weird. There are no rules.. .even simple things like go one way and only one way, on a one way street... especially if that street is filled with cars speeding at you.. in the dark... with no lights on.... no rules.. we've gotten used to it! And that is also weird.
It is affecting the kids too. When Honor and I went back to DC, we had to travel everywhere by taxi. On one of our first rides, the driver stops at a red light and Honor asks, "Why are we just sitting here?". I tried to explain that he stopped because the traffic light was red. She wasn't buying it though, "But there is nobody in the way. Why can't we go?" Yea... I could see the driver eyeballing me strangely in the rearview mirror! I had to explain that we were from out of town... way out of town! There are traffic lights here, and they even light up and go through cycles, but, like the lines on the roads, street signs, etc. they are for decorative purposes only. You stop at a red light and you will get rear-ended.
I caught Brad talking like a native a while back as we were looking for a parking spot near the club... he points over to the side and said, "We could have gone up that curb and parked on that sidewalk if someone hadn't put all that trash there!" I cracked up, and actually had to remind him of what he said... where in the US do you find it acceptable to climb up curbs and park on sidewalks?? But, if you go around and check out the sidewalls of most SUV tires here, you will find that they are scraped up from people doing just that! (Yes, ours fit that description! Better scraped up tires, than someone driving by and scraping your mirror/paint off!) .
Random adherence to where one should park, and where to drive, is (sort of) officially endorsed too. We were driving down a major road one day, and came across a huge construction crane parked across the roadway... we just sort of stopped, and checked it out... There was a bit of room to the side, but it was very tight. The local guard came up, shrugged, apologized, pointed at the gap, and suggested, "Maximum left?". We got through... maximum left.
Of course, I have had the guards on my side as well. While driving down another very tight (ie. one narrow lane only, fold in the mirrors so they don't scrape) road, I had a guy walk out in front of my car - I had to stop or hit him! - and kneel down in the road, remove a manhole cover and start messing with things below... I was not happy with this, nor were any of the drivers in the growing line of cars behind me! This was actually a downtown road in the middle of the day. Fortunately, a cop looked up, saw that I was a foreigner - you could see the anger build! - and he ran up immediately and started giving the guy an incredible bawling out.. good thing I couldn't understand a word of the dialect or I am sure my eardrums would have been scarred. Some of the things drivers behind me were yelling out the window were quite spicy too. He pushed and shoved the guy as well... I was actually thinking there'd be a fight! But the guy was scared, and he cleared out of the way. I'm not 'for' police 'highhandedness' in general, but there are times when it really fits the situation!!
I've also learned that it is possible to parallel-park donkey and horse carts - who'd'a thunk it?. I have also learned that neutral is the 'parking' gear here so other drivers are able to push your car out of the way in order to get their car in or out if a spot... I have seen people parallel-park in a space that starts off no wider than 4 feet, but by bashing back and forth, moving the cars in front and to the rear, they make a spot!
I've learned other driving techniques... like how to face down a bus going the wrong way and make him back up by just turning off my truck and acting like I was going to sit there and read a book until he moved. That was another incident on a one-lane, one-way road - with a line of cars behind me. We 'pushed' that obnoxious bus driver all the way back to the main road - he had to have some of his passengers get out and guide him, but he was wrong, and everyone made sure he knew it!
What made me think of all this, was the drive to the commissary the other day. I found myself annoyed that they had paved part of the roads between our home and the store. When we first got here, I used to be thrilled with new pavement! But now I know better. New pavement is a problem because you have to re-learn where all the holes, bumps, ridges, or even open manholes are! (Actually putting manhole covers on the manholes is one of those 'rules optional' things I was telling you about above.) Old roads are good because you can memorize where most of the hazards are! New roads still have holes and bumps - but you no longer know where they are, nor are they very visible because all the new pavement blends together!
At least I am getting better at remembering 'US rules' when I go back home!