Thursday, February 28, 2008

Homework Helpers

Honor usually has a nap after school every day. She will be up until 8:30pm, so she needs the sleep still. Brian has varying times that he arrives home from school - depending on his after-school activities. Often, the first thing he does when he gets in the door - after putting his stuff down and hugging me - is to go look for his sister. If she is sound asleep, he will kiss her and let her be. If she is waking up a little, he will try to hurry the process along. I like that they miss each other during school - never mind that they often see each other at lunch recess!

Brian does his homework (usually only 20 minutes of work, plus reading a book with a 'reading log' short activity). He can get done in about 40 minutes... if he can refrain from playing. It is tough. Sometimes though, homework is what Honor wants to do, with her brother, as 'play'.

Brian's class was given an hieroglyphic alphabet project. They had to write their names in heiroglyphs and make it into a cartouche to be added to a class poster. Brian thought this would be so much fun that he actually called Honor in to do this with him. He did his work, and showed Honor how to write the letters of her name too.

The last two weeks I have also recruited Brian to help Honor with her homework project. Once a week, she has a mystery bag to fill. She must choose an object, then think of 3 questions to ask her classmates - clues, so they might guess the object. Once I explained the concept to Brian, I set them off to work on it. Honor picked the object, and with a bit of help from her brother (only a bit, she's actually good with this) came up with the questions, and Brian wrote them down for her. They both signed their names on the paper.

We are also in the habit of quizzing Brian on his spelling words at dinner. I have told him that if he gets all his words correct - PLUS all the challenge words (only earned if he gets 100% on his regular words pre-test) - then I will let him choose dinner (ie. probably McDonalds!) one night. I am not above a little bribery. Honor likes to spell too, and is branching out beyond the handful of words that she was previously comfortable with. She is trying very hard to sound things out now and is getting more accurate. It makes for a fun activity at the table. One thing that I haven't figured out how to do yet is give Honor a goal, like Brian's dinner-deal. She doesn't have spelling tests! She hasn't actually asked yet, but if she does, I guess I will have to come up with something.

I hope the kids continue to work together like this. I realize that there might be some natural sibling tensions as they get older, but I like it when they cooperate.

What's that on your head??

A cat! With collars and leashes.

I haven't been posting much because our internet is still frustratingly flakey. I finally managed to add the photo to the BBQ and Bubbles post from the 22nd. I have to admit I'm hurting when the internet goes down. I cannot get to my NEWS!!! How can I survive without the news??

Anyway... I am not sure why walking around with a toy cat was so entertaining, but what I liked is this is such a good example of the kids competing peacefully with one another. They are both very intense kids, but in different ways, so most of the time they aren't butting heads. There are times when they want to do the same thing, but even then, they often help one another. Or at least, they inspire one another. This project was a case of the latter.

Brian decided his cat needed a collar and tag. So he got out the craft supplies and made one. Honor saw it and decided to do so as well. She is working hard at reading, writing and spelling, and with a little spelling help from Brian and I, she even wrote her own tag.

Then they started running around with cats on their heads. Some things I try to analyze, some things I just enjoy...

Friday, February 22, 2008

BBQ Ribs

No picture - we ate the evidence!

I had not had ribs this wonderful since leaving the US. There is a great restaurant in Maryland called Red, Hot and Blue and that was the place where we last indulged. For the last homemade BBQ ribs, we might have to go back to my dad's BBQ-ing days back in Florida - he was good enough to go pro. I miss good BBQ!

We do not have a grill, but for some reason I went ahead and picked up 2 racks of ribs at the store anyway. I had to. They called me. I decided to slow cook them in the oven, and they turned out beautifully. Brian said it was the best meal I've ever cooked - of course, he says that sometimes, but the way he said it, and the fact that Brad and Honor also loved them, the cats were going crazy at the smell, and even the Betta fish chowed down on scraps, well, it really made me feel successful. Here's how I did it:

I preheated the oven to 225F. I got two large cookie sheets, laid out a long piece of aluminum foil in each, and placed a rack of ribs in each. Foil turned up to catch liquid. I was not sure if 'bones up' or 'bones down' would be the best way to cook them... sometimes it can matter... so I did one of each. They both turned out fine.

I mixed about a quarter a cup of cider vinegar, a half cup of water, 1-2 tbsp of hickory smoke flavoring, and a dash of lemon peel. (Forgive me, for I do not measure.) I poured half the mixture on each rack. Then, I took two more pieces of aluminum foil, covered each piece of meat, and rolled the edges up carefully - to seal in all the juices and steam. I put both in the oven (they barely fit - guess it pays to check the size of your pans first!) at noon.

At 1:50pm, I had to leave the house to go get Honor from school, so I turned the oven down to 200F. When we got back, I checked that the foil had not leaked (no - I suppose I would have had to make sure they still had fluid otherwise), then Honor and I went off to a birthday party. We got back at 5:30pm.. oh the house smelled wonderful!!!

At about 6pm, I nuked some whole baking potatoes, then placed the mostly cooked potatoes in an aluminum pie pan with butter, salt and sliced onions. Covered it with foil, and popped them in the oven on the bottom rack. I took the ribs out, turned the oven to Broil (moved a rack up higher - not the top space, but close to the broiler, with room enough so the ribs would not spatter the elements. )

I mixed half a stick of butter (melted in the microwave), about a cup of commercial BBQ sauce, half cup of brown sugar, some honey, dash of chili powder, dash of cumin, and a few tablespoons of rum in a bowl. I poked a knife through the foil, and through the meat, to test doneness - the knife went through easily. So, I opened the foil on the ribs (sliced down the middle) and basted the ribs on the top side. I put them, still uncovered, in the broiler for about 10 minutes, then removed the pans, carefully turned the ribs over - very tricky because they were amazingly tender! - and repeated the baste and broil. I removed them from the oven, and let them rest about 5 minutes as I set the rest of dinner on the table.

The ribs were perfect! The sauce was nicely glazed, the meat was done just right.. to the 'almost but not quite' falling off the bone stage. It was an amazing meal! We polished off one rack of ribs Thursday night, and one Friday. To reheat the ribs on Friday, I put them back in the oven at 325F for 20minutes. I will have to do this again.

BBQ and Bubbles

Thursday was the kind of day that truly makes me appreciate my decision to become a stay-at-home Mom. Actually, this whole week has been that way to an extent. The first few days of the week, Honor was home sick. She doesn't get sick often, and she wasn't very ill, but she had a fever, was all stuffed up and not sleeping well, and she stayed home Monday and Tuesday. We read books, watched movies together, and painted our nails. I ended up catching a little of what she had, and Tuesday we both had a fever and did a lot of napping too.

Wednesday, Honor was feeling better and went to school. She was up for ballet as well. She was very pleased to have behaved good enough in class to earn a piece of candy from the teacher... before she started class, only Brian could brag about earning sweets in Taekwondo for winning a race, or behaving well, or whatever. Is this an Egyptian thing I wonder? Or will ballet, Taekwondo, and other activity coaches bribe kids with sweets elsewhere too? It seems strange to me, but I do not mind. Both kids have a good attitude towards sweets - they are not taboo, and are usually available when they ask, so they do not go crazy over them when offered the chance. Anyway... Thursday...

...was a regular school day. I stayed home and tried to catch up with the housework that went by the side the first of the week. I also started some BBQ ribs slow-cooking in the oven at noon. Honor was still stuffy, but getting better, and went to school. I picked her up at the regular time and brought her home. Got her dressed up in a new dress that she has refused to wear UNTIL this party, and we walked the few blocks to the club for a school mate's birthday party. This is the first such birthday party she has been able to attend! All of her previous invites have been during the week! I could never take her to a (for example) "Tuesday at 2pm" party! I take that back - she did have one, recent, weekend invite, but she was already obligated to a party of a non-classmate friend's party. It has been hard because Brian's invites have always been for days and times that we could take him - always! Good for him, but hard on Honor. But, this THURSDAY, at 3:30PM, I got to take Honor to a classmate's party!

Ok, it's not she is deprived of entertainment, but it has been hard to always tell her no. Especially when, inevitably, most of the other kids get to talk about the party before and after - except Honor. She had a great time, and I very much enjoyed hanging out with and talking to some of the other parents. We had to leave a little bit early, because we had to walk home and be there before Brian's bus brought him home to an empty apartment, but it was a nice afternoon. Later on, Honor was so tired out that she had a full-scale tantrum, but that was ok - I was there, I knew why, and I was where I was supposed to be. With her when it happened. Not walking in the door at 7pm to hear about it second-hand and wonder if I was getting the whole picture. She was so worn out, that she was tired and cranky today and had another tantrum, but we were able to talk about it and calm down fairly easy.

I know, I have been talking about Honor a lot here - I get details to talk about with Honor as she is with me more because of her age. But, with Brian, I get validation when he walks in the door after getting off the bus. A look, a smile, a hug - I know he is glad to see me, even on days he does not say it... and he is actually saying it a lot. In all - I feel I really made the right choice. I believe Brad can see the change too. This is what I am supposed to be doing.

I guess I should close with this happy image from Thursday:

Yay! Bubbles!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Those dinner conversations...

This one was my fault, I started it..
Me: "Brian, why is your chair half-way across the room? Are you being anti-social?"
Brian (laughing): "No!"
Dad: "Do you know what anti-social means?"
Honor (Never to be left out): "I do!"
Dad: "You do? What does it mean?"
Honor (without batting an eye): "Guess!"
(After a slight pause, we crack up. Honor must now know, that we know, that she doesn't know what the word means, but she doesn't flinch.. she's so smooth! She stays so cool, icy cool, and ... )
Brian: "I don't know Dad, what does it mean?"
Honor: "I know what it means Dad, but you better tell Brian."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One thing we will NOT miss about Cairo

A friend sent me this photo of a traffic accident on a bridge we use here in Cairo. There was supposedly, at least one fatality - a pedestrian who was, as very typical, wandering across heavy rush-hour traffic. Looking at some of the 13 cars that ended up behind the first car, and knowing that very few people wear their seatbelts, knowing that there is no such thing as 911 emergency response, and getting to the hospital involves being thrown into a car or other nearby vehicle and driven by civilians.. I would be surprised if there had not been other fatalities as well. One good thing to see in this photo was that some of the hardest hit vehicles appear to have been more modern cars (and bus), and therefore, safer. (Of course, if you don't wear your seatbelt...) Many of the vehicles on Cairo roads - most of the taxis and minivans - are very old and look as if they would have made the Yugo look like a high-end car even if new.

People ask us why we do not go out and about much in town. Well, we'd love to! But, if we cannot be guaranteed a safe ride - say, in our own modern SUV with seatbelts and airbags (which cannot happen all the time because parking can be a challenge), or, in the modern car our driver uses, then we really do not want to take a chance with our lives. We have only ever let the kids ride in taxis if there are no other alternatives. There are thousands of traffic fatalities here annually, we are working hard not to be one of them.

I was looking for a news article on this accident which happened on 12 Feb, but found only this one from the 7th: accident article

Some articles on Egyptian traffic:
Egypt, US work together..
Traffic from an Egyptian police point of view
Article from al-Ahram
Travel guide about driving in Egypt
Traffic, to help you understand Middle Eastern democracy

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Happiest Valentine's Day

I have to say, that I thought our Valentine's Day was going quite nicely - but we were, quite nicely, outdone!

The kids had made their cards for their classmates... no 'storebought' cards this year - Brian's class had cards to fill out (for writing practice and so the kids could put more thought into it) - postcards with a "to:", "from" and a space for a personal note. Honor's class just made whatever the kids and their parents felt up to. Honor and I made little construction paper postcards. I wrote the "To:", she wrote the friend's name, I made a heart (for love, Honor insisted) and she signed her name. Brian also gathered up candy treats for his classmates and taekwondo friends.

So, off we go to school and the kids had a party filled fun day. Brad had an exciting day at work with two earthquakes. I never felt them as I was up and running around both times. Brad was on the top floor of his office building and had a couple of interesting rides as the height of the building amplified the movement of the ground. The quakes were actually centered in Greece, but they traveled.

Let's see, I made a nice dinner and a heart-shaped brownie dessert. Brad brought home a huge beautiful bouquet of red and white carnations and a handful of pink roses. Rather a lovely little Valentine's Day with just this, BUT the best news was in my email. My best friend from high school, Dorothy, wrote and told me that her wonderful boyfriend, Jesse, chose this day to ask her to marry him. She accepted. I am so very happy for them both! They are so wonderful together! We first met Jesse when we R&R'ed to Disney World in Florida. Dorothy brought him over to Orlando to meet us. We liked him right away, and we were very happy to see them together again during last summer's R&R in Sanibel, Florida.

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY to everyone! Especially DOROTHY & JESSE!!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Speaking of Dancing...

Brian decides it must be his turn to get some dancing in. This past Friday, the HS dance team held a fund raiser for uniforms. All 1st through 5th graders were invited to a 3-hour Valentine's Dance Clinic. The idea was that the dance team would teach them a new routine, and then the kids would have a performance for their parents at the end of the event.
There were about 50 kids there for the clinic (so hopefully the fund-raising part of it was a success) and it looks like they all had a great time. They had three hours of dance practice, snacks, Valentine craft making, face painting, and eventually, the show. Unfortunately, our video camera jammed up and we didn't get a video, but I caught these shots (you have to sing "Do you believe in Magic?" yourself though):

The audience approves!

And I think Brian had a very good time with it:

Egypt Day

The elementary students at Brian and Honor's school have been exploring and studying Egypt and Egyptian culture since the beginning of the school year and this week they had a show to celebrate all that they have learned. Both kids' classes had Arabic songs they have been practicing for weeks. The elementary school also had a dance team that did a very nice job with some traditional dance routines. I didn't get a good picture of Honor while she was singing because she was too busy trying to read the screen behind her. She posed prettily in the audience though:

Brian waves to all his fans - Honor's class was in the front row and they know Brian because of Honor. All the kids were all yelling his name and he was trying to wave at them all at once.

and he has a chat with friends after their song:

And here are a few shots of the dancers. They did a lovely job, and everyone enjoyed the show:

Finally! Ballet lessons!

We've been trying to get Honor in a ballet class again for awhile now. Brian is old enough to participate in the after-school activities provided on campus, but Honor is not. So, while big brother gets to stay late and do all this fun stuff, (cooking, board games, origami, and, of course, Taekwondo) Honor has had to come home and nap... life is so unfair when you are only 4 years old!

Finally, several places have started up ballet classes... all at once! My friends and I were receiving several calls a day from different studios competing for our business. It was very silly.. I had to stop callers and ask where they were calling from, and as I am NOT a number person, I was having a heck of a time remembering who said what was available at ??what?? time! Finally, we settled on a place that is within walking distance from the school, and had two classes at reasonable times (ie. before Brian gets on the bus after his activities, and beats us home to an empty house).

Honor is very pleased. She has been very patient, but she is obviously very tickled to have her own special activity after school now too. It also gives me additional excuses for exercise. When we drop the kids off at school in the morning, Brad continues on to work. I turn around and walk a mile back to the house. For Honor's ballet days, I will have another mile to walk in the afternoon. We have our driver pick us up after the class though. I don't mind walking around town, but don't really like to have the kids out near this traffic.

Anyway, here are a few photos from our happy little dancer. In ballet you must learn poise and posture:

You need balance:

and you must be very flexible, which is not always as easy as the teacher makes it look:

She eventually got it though (with a little help)

and had so much fun that she can hardly wait until the next class!

As it is stated here in my hypothesis...

Brian did very well with his science fair presentation. (The science fair was 31 Jan, but we've been very busy, and the Egypt's internet was severely crippled for the past week - I'm catching up!) He got high marks, and a good comment about how well he presented his experiments with different kinds of sails.

Explaining his project to the judge:

and to some fellow 2nd-graders:

We are very proud of how well he did. He wasn't just pasting pictures on cardboard, he really worked very hard on the experimenting that we did to create this project.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Yay! We won!!

Beep! Beep! Bee-bee-Beep!!! Beep! Beep! Bee-bee-Beep!!! Beep! Beep! Bee-bee-Beep!!! Beep! Beep! Bee-bee-Beep!!!

Wait a minute? Do I even like soccer.. I mean.. football...? C'mon, get in your car and beep your horn! Everyone else in Egypt is! We do not watch sports, but we are caught up celebrating Egypt's win of the Africa Cup of Nations, whether we meant to or not. I think all several million people in Cairo are driving around blasting their horns and cheering.. I am only barely exaggerating. It is LOUD out there!! But a very happy and excited loud - Yay! Go Team! (??)

Beep! Beep! Bee-bee-Beep!!!

Aboutraika lifts champions Egypt to record sixth African crown
First Published: Feb 10, 2008
Egypt's Mohamed Aboutraika celebrates their victory against Cameroon in Accra stadium during their 2008 African Cup of Nations final match. Egypt won 1-0.

Egypt's Mohamed Aboutraika celebrates their victory against Cameroon in Accra stadium during their 2008 African Cup of Nations final match. Egypt won 1-0.

Egypt retained their African Nations Cup crown here Sunday when Mohamed Aboutraika lifted the champions to a 1-0 win over Cameroon and a record sixth title.

The defending champions ensured they held on to the trophy when, after a slick passing movement, Aboutraika struck in the 77th minute.

The result was the Pharoahs final act in what has been a hugely impressive campaign in Ghana which saw them build on defeat of the Cameroonians in their opening group game to record victories over Sudan, Tunisia and Ivory Coast in the semi-finals.

The only minor blemish on an otherwise perfect passage to the continental trophy was the 1-1 draw with Zambia.

Egypt were adding the 2008 trophy to their wins in 1957, 1959, 1986 (on penalties against Cameroon), 1998 and 2006 with coach Hassan Shehata joining an exclusive club numbering just two of coaches who have won back-to-back titles.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pizza Dough

Brad's Internet Pizza

Recipe By :unknown
Categories : Breads

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
3 cups flour, all-purpose
1/4 ounce yeast -- approx 1tbsp
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water -- warm 110degrees

Combine warm water and yeast and let sit 10 minutes. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Mix in oil and yeast and water mixture. MIx well. Spread out on a large pizza pan. Bake for approximately 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Top as desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Use above recipe for Bread too. Add spices (rosemary or cumin) for extra flavor. Make dough, roll into ball. You can let it rise a little (15-30 minutes), or just throw it in the oven. Bake 30-35 minutes until brown and sounds done when tapped.

Another idea is to make a meat/bread roll baked dish. Either use leftover meat (chicken, ground beef, roast, whatever - cheese is good too) or cook up a small batch of something. Make the dough. Roll it out flat on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes (as you would for pizza). Top with the still-warm meat, and roll into a log shape. Bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on how much meat is in the bread - you will have to keep an eye on it.) Good with gravy - or not!

"good dough"

NOTES : While we were in temporary quarters after we first arrived in Islamabad, I wanted to make pizza, but had no dough recipe, no transportation, no cookbooks, etc. We did have a laptop. Brad went on-line and found this very simple, but very good, pizza dough recipe that has proven to be reliably good, simple, and very useful for many different dishes. It also calls for ingredients I always have on hand - no running to the store. We call it internet pizza, but actually, I have use this recipe for other dishes more often than for pizza.