Prof. husband returned safely from Turkey, if not entirely without mishaps. As I waited for him to come home on Monday night, monitoring his trip’s progress online, his flight status suddenly went from delayed to canceled. What?! Among all the illnesses and sleepless nights, I couldn’t believe it. A search later I could conclude that he probably would be on a later flight that would land him at our house sometime in the early morning. His lecture that day would probably be missed, but at least he would be home. Sure enough, around sunrise I heard the door rattle, and his precious steps enter the boys bedroom. I heard quiet hugs distributed, and then I felt a kiss on my cheek. Moments later I snuggled back to sleep with my husband beside me, home at last.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
Prof. Husband left for a conference in Turkey early this morning. Although he’s an invited speaker, the trip is paid for, and it’s going to look very nice on his CV, he was hesitant to leave. Not only had he not quite finished his paper, but he also has a lot of other work to do, hasn’t had much sleep lately, and really wasn’t up for the traveling.
Flying places takes a bit more effort in the Middle East, or actually, it’s not the flying itself, but everything surrounding it: Americans are upset because of the new x-ray machines at airports, but they have no idea how easy it is to travel in the US. Security levels are about the same everywhere, including here, but the paperwork here is more picky, and you can get in trouble for the most trivial thing. A friend of ours wasn't going to be let on a plane because the signature in his passport differed slightly from the signature on his credit card (this objection came from an airport official who writes in Arabic). The most tiring thing about it is that it’s unpredictable and completely depends on whoever you’re dealing with. At least in the US you know they’ll be strict about the weight limit, and if you’re over, well then you pay – there’s a solution. You know you’ll go through an x-ray machine and exactly what items you should not be carrying. Here there are rules, obviously, but in too many situations have I been exposed to arbitrary, unpredictable and unannounced regulations.
In any case, Prof. Husband is off, he took the phone, I’m sure it will be great, and I’m left with the boys for a few days. Let’s hope all goes well.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
A few days ago I managed to grab the last turkey at Idriss, an American Butterball turkey, and today I cooked it, to perfection, along with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, corn, green beans with caramelized onions, cranberry sauce, and Beet, Walnut, Pear and Blue cheese salad. The boys made a fantastic pumpkin pie with shipped cream. It was just us, our family, and dinner was a bit disorganized, but still very nice.
Abraham came down with a fever last night and a stuffy nose. I think his throat hurts too because he won’t eat. While I was cooking he was watching Sesame Street with the boys, but as soon as dinner was on the table he wanted me to nurse him to sleep. So while everyone ladled food onto their plates I had no choice but to lay down in the bedroom with Abraham. Thankfully, he fell asleep almost at once, poor guy, and I could join the rest of the family. Dinner was very tasty, although we’ve never had one of these Butterball turkeys before: are they injected with something? It wasn’t bad but it seemed artificially juicy.
We were also not able to sit for as long as we usually do because Professor Husband is leaving for a conference in Turkey in the morning, and as always, he’s slavishly following his credos “Thou shall not write thou paper until the very last minute!” As soon as etiquette allowed therefore, he jumped up and anxiously continued his work.
It is evening now, and the kitchen is clean, Abraham is asleep – again – hopefully down for the night, and hopefully on the mend, the boys are listening to their audio files (they’re finishing Tom Sawyer), and Courtney is typing away in a battle against the clock (he’s being picked up at 3:15 am!). I am enjoying some wine while finishing off my husband’s packing, and thinking about all that I am thankful for: a wonderful family, near and far; food & shelter with a generator in the basement; the opportunity to do something exciting in my life with people I love, and to visit and live in places I never thought I’d go; friends, near and far; faith and the inspiration I have to do my best every day as a mother, wife, teacher, and person; and for everything else that makes my life and that of my fellow human beings so amazing.
Monday, November 22, 2010
In the US school system, it seems a child will usually start first grade the year he or she is six years old on 1 October (At least this is what it is like in the schools I know of). In Sweden, a child will start first grade the year he or she is turning seven (even though he or she might not be seven quite yet when school starts). In Belgium, a child will start school the year he or she turns six years old. These are the school systems we’ve taken into consideration, although the main factor in determining when to start a certain grade level for our boys has always been their maturity and readiness. Imprudent, I know, but hey, it’s our school system and we can do what’s best for our students! So August started first grade the year he turned six, as incidentally did William, only August was just six, and William was six and a half years old. This means that although there’s only a year and a half between them, they’re two full grades apart. Now William is almost a year ahead of his grade level in everything except for reading and writing, where he’s right on track. I can’t push him any faster without those two most essential subjects however, so on top of practicing these two particular subjects intensely every day, he’s doing a lot of extra activities, like art, music, and reading to Abraham while I work with August. He, on the other hand, is right on track in all his subjects but behind in writing, as in English composition. His handwriting is nice, and he has no trouble spelling, but putting together a text using his knowledge about paragraphs and topic sentences is quite a challenge. He’s doing fourth grade work in everything, and very well at that, but really; he writes like an early third grader or sometimes almost a second grader. Of course, again, because this is our school and we can do whatever we want, for example adjust our curriculum according to our students’ current needs, I’m slowing down all the other subjects for the moment to catch up with this particular one. “Operation Writing Camp” has been going on for a few weeks now, and I’m hoping that if we keep it up, we’ll see some progress soon.
Today, on November 22, Lebanon celebrates its Independence Day. It seems like it should have been November 8, but sometimes in history people do – in retrospect - pointless things, so it’s today.
After having been part of the Ottoman Empire for the longest time, Lebanon became a French Mandate during World War One. During World War Two, while France was occupied by Germany and busy fighting the Nazis, with a little help from, well, France’s enemy it seems (I have to study this further because the sources I’ve consulted so far are either a little vague or differ), Lebanon declared its independence. Fighting broke out, British forces involved at this point as well, afraid that the Nazis would take over Lebanon and Syria, but the violence ended, General Charles De Gaulle visited Lebanon, and France announced that Lebanon would become independent “under the authority of the Free French government.” Elections were held, and very soon, on 8 November 1943, the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the French Mandate, saying “Thanks so much, but we’ve got it from here.”
This could have been the end, right? France took offense, however, and without further ado threw the entire new government in prison. At this point in history though, the great bullies of the world could no longer do as they pleased, and following international pressure, the French released everyone on 22 November 1943 and accepted the independence of Lebanon.
Although the history of Lebanon has been rocky since that day, it seems at this point – I’m SO going to end with a cliché here – that the future of this beautiful country looks bright. Oh, and isn't Google being cute, too?
Friday, November 19, 2010
I was helping William memorize the four times table today, which I find an arduous and tedious task to be honest, and I was complaining to Courtney that it’s on days like these that I wish someone else was educating our children. He pointed out however, that even if William was going to a public school, we would probably still be doing this repetitive quizzing with him until we knew he had the entire table memorized, as no teacher could possibly sit down with every student in their class like that. That’s when I remembered all those evenings with my dad, asking me over and over again to recite things that had to be memorized, everything from Latin verbs and German tenses to, that’s right, the time tables. I also remembered my friends complaining about how much homework their children have, and how hard it is to get them to do it after school every day, and how difficult it is. So, I guess if we’re going to have to do it, we might as well do it. Or something like that.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
After a full week of cooking from The Big Book of Curries, I’m a little tired of the ginger, garlic, lemon, coconut milk, curry, and rice combo, and have decided we’ll take a break for a few days. It’s a nice cookbook, and the recipes are elaborate enough to be interesting. As always, we add about three times the spices the recipes call for, which makes the food to our taste, but that’s what we do with most anything we cook. We’ll definitely use this cook book a lot in the future. For today though; bakes potatoes, a green salad, and steaks.
I took the boys to the movie theater yesterday to see Megamind in 3D. The theater was absolutely packed! Lines to buy tickets, lines to get candy, and all seats occupied. The Lebanese are a little better than the Egyptians at standing in line, or actually, they have a sense of what this might entail – as opposed to the Egyptians whose culture does not include anything like it at all. Still, there were a lot of university student aged kids who tried to get ahead. At one point when we were in line behind two children and their mother to buy popcorn, a guy came up and stood right next to William, trying to get ahead of the boys in front of us. He was holding up money, ready to make his order. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I said to him, “Are you seriously trying to get in front of these KIDS? You’re trying to butt in ahead of KIDS who are about to buy candy? No. There’s a line. Get in the back of it.” and I pointed to the end of the line. He looked very intimidated and backed off, just to send his girlfriend up a few moments later. I told her the same thing, and she too backed off. Everyone around me gave me appreciating looks. Goodness.
The movie was all right. I have a weak spot for Will Farrell, which helped. He does Megamind’s voice. The theater was not ideal for 3D however, and we didn’t get the best of seats, but all three boys enjoyed it so much, it was well worth it. Next time we’ll go on a weekday though, when it’s less crowded. The boys want to see the new Harry Potter movie, which is out today, I think. Living within walking distance of a movie theater is fun. Now if only we could find a baby sitter so that Courtney & I could enjoy it too.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Yesterday I packed up the boys and walked downtown. It’s about a 20 minute walk through busy streets, but there are sidewalks, and the traffic moves fairly slowly, so it’s not so bad. It was a beautiful day, and we had a view of the sea almost the entire way. Yet, it seems people here don’t walk very much, because on our way, we probably had at least ten taxi drivers ask us if we needed a taxi.
We had two destinations in mind: H&M and the Mega Toy Store. No, that is the actually name of the toy store. Also, I was under the impression that H&M was part of the famous Beirut Souks, which I had been wanting to see for a while. It was very easy to find, but goodness. I was coming from Cairo, where a souk is a local market with fruit vendors, meat vendors, bird cages, chickens running around, stenches you can’t even imagine, people yelling, discussing prices, along a dirt road in a narrow alley, clothes lines up above, and the Beirut Souks were nothing like this. It looked like a giant outdoor extra fancy mall, with women in D&G jeans, high heels, and Armani sunglasses chatting on their Blackberries, while their dressed up children sipped chocolate milk at an overprized café. More women in clothes directly from the Versace window, having lunch with their girlfriends; really, it was like a set from Sex in the City. And there was I, with a giant jogging stroller, in my Eddie Bauer jeans and blouse, pink flip flops bought at the end-of-summer sales at Walgreen’s last year, and my boys dressed in soccer shirts from last year’s league, matching their torn shorts.
We entered the store with caution, but soon felt at home: H&M is Swedish after all, practically ours. William picked out clothes to try on in the fitting rooms, and August’s entertained Abraham by showing him the various Sesame street shirts, while I browsed through the store. Soon I noticed that my kids were by far the best behaved ones in there. There was a girl about eight, wearing a dress that must have cost a fortune, her hair obviously done by a professional, screaming at the top of her voice, stomping here feet in the ground, demanding something from her mother (who was obliviously chatting on her Blackberry). Two other boys, about the age of William, were walking around taking most things they could grab off the racks, “dropping” them on the floor, and a few other kids were just running around, yelling, out of control, no mothers to be seen. These women were not shopping with the kids, they were just bringing them along, probably because schools are out this week due to the Eid. I was surprised not to find more nannies or maids in tow, actually. I wonder why that is.
After having purchased a few pajamas, we walked over to the Megastore Building. The toy section was in the basement, and it was quite a feat to get down there with the stroller, but we made it. It was the most expensive toy store I’ve been in here in Beirut so far, but the selection was also larger. I even found pegs for peg art, which I’ve been searching high and low for, since this would be perfect for Abraham to do while we’re doing our school work around the table. The peg art boards were sold out however, though the shop holder told me they would be getting more before Christmas. All the Lego was double the price anywhere else. They had some really cool things though, and I’ll go back there for some Christmas shopping closer to the holidays for sure. All we got for now was a little bucket of Play-Dough for Abraham, and on the top floor August picked out a movie that I way over-paid for, although it was nothing compared to what the boys really wanted; the complete collection of Harry Potter movies, and all the Star Wars movies. I myself eyed the complete seasons of the Wire, which I’ve heard is great, as well as 30 Rock, but there was no way I was going to spend that kind of money.
Noticeable was that none of the mothers and children we had seen just a block away in the clothing stores were in the toy store. It was just us.
Our walk home was a bit unpleasant; Abraham wanted to play with his Play-Dough in the stroller, but since this meant it would all be lost on the ground on our way home, I had to pack it away, and he screamed (for a good solid 15 minutes) himself, hysterical, to sleep. I had thought we might take a look at the TSC signature store (which was also in the Souks), to find out what that is, but it would have to wait. Finally home, Abraham woke up happy, and the boys were excited to wear their new pajamas.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Tonight we made another recipe from the new cook book, and it was probably the best one so far: Lebanese Chicken and Apple Curry. What was so Lebanese about it, we couldn’t figure out (is curry a typical Lebanese thing? Or apples?), but nonetheless, it was amazingly tasty! In fact, everyone was so hungry and excited when it got on the table, along with the pita bread and fresh mint leaves, that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture. Tomorrow, Thai Prawn with glass noodles.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
For our anniversary this year I gave Courtney a cook book, but since he doesn't have time to cook for the moment, I've been using it - to everyone's delight. Every day this week, I’ve been making something new. Tonight I made an extra effort and chose a couple of recipes: Vietnamese Beef Pho (which is like a noodle and beef spicy soup), Quail Eggs with Masala-Spiced Sea Salt, and Cumin-Spiced Moroccan Carrot Salad (which was really easy and surprisingly tasty!), all served with Spring Rolls with Chili Sauce (which I bought freshly made at Idriss). It was awesome! Abraham had four (4!) quail eggs!
Friday, November 12, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I don’t get out much without the boys. Since Prof. Husband works pretty much all the time right now, and we don’t have a nanny and haven’t found a baby sitter yet, I just can’t. I have one night a week however, that is only mine (or at least for a couple of hours), and what I do is, I sing. I joined a choir one of our first weeks here. It’s a big choir, and the director is awesome. I get to meet people I wouldn’t usually ever talk to, I get to sing, use my brain, and not nurse, or dress, or cook, or clean for a while.
I love singing. Ever since I was little I’ve sung in a choir, joined groups, or done solos at school. I don’t have an amazing, breathtaking voice, but I have a strong, solid voice with a nice vibrato, and I’m really good at finding – and keeping – a pitch and a count. This makes me a great choir member, and I’m used to being put in whatever section needs help or a push. When this choir director heard me sing, he decided I would sing with the alto section this year. I was happy, because I like the alto section; it’s a little more challenging that the soprano section, which usually sings the melody.
For our Christmas concert this year we are doing a couple of pieces that require solos, and today, whoever wanted to try, was allowed to sing the solo part of their choice. I signed up for a gospel solo, which I had been trying out for at home. When I heard the others sing before me, I thought I had a pretty fair chance at getting the part, however as I stepped up to sing, I got so incredibly, acutely nervous, that I choked up – I mean really; I couldn’t hold a note – and completely and utterly blew it. I’m trying not to think about how awful it must have sounded, but I know it was bad enough. It didn’t come out the way it had at home at all. I’m disappointed. It would have been so much fun.
Why do I suddenly get nervous like that? I used not to. I was the talkative, forward, open and fearless girl. What happened? Most importantly, how can I work on it?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
The sun is shining bright from a sky that is intensely blue. It’s warm outside, almost hot, between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If I listen carefully I can hear the sea, the waves rolling, just a mile away from my home. We will go down soon for a Sunday walk along the Cornishe (waterfront). It feels like eternal summer by the Mediterranean Sea; vacation, flip flops, the strong, sweet smell of sunscreen and salt, sunglasses, light dresses, stop for a drink, people out and about, enjoying the heat from the happy sun on a leisure Sunday. Except, at the boys’ request, because we’re actually not far now - 'tis the season! - Christmas music is blaring out from speakers in our living room; voices singing about Christmas cheer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, snow, and stars on a dark winter night. There's a scent of pumpkin pie - the smell of late fall and holidays - coming from our kitchen. Would you believe me if I said that I’m having a bit of trouble associating?
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Although we are still looking for a way to integrate outdoor and/or sports activities into our everyday routine, we have at least managed to turn Saturday mornings into our default mega sports time. The whole family eats a big breakfast with eggs and whole wheat grain (cereal, porridge, or muesli) and then heads over to campus for an hour and a half of Taekwondo (the older boys), tennis (the Husband and I), general ball play (Abraham), followed by an hour of swimming class (the older boys), an hour on the treadmill (I), and a bit of ‘toddler and otherwise busy father’ one-on-one (Husband and Abraham). No matter what else we have planned or not planned for the weekend, I love everything about our Saturday mornings: not only do we get plenty of exercise and spend time together doing something fun, but strolling across campus is a treat since it’s relatively quiet, and as always, beautiful. (The view of the blue Mediterranean Sea still takes my breath away!)
Friday, November 5, 2010
Today we went to the campus playground after lunch so that the boys could play with their friends, and then the boys finished their (schoolwork) math when we got home, while I made dinner. I love Friday afternoons; as soon as the boys finish for the week, they let out a shriek of joy and pride, “Done!!” Their reward is immediate: all-you-can-handle-screen-time until bed time!
I remember when I was young and going to school, that Friday afternoons where nice, but to see the boys work extra hard on Fridays to finish early, is truly a blessing. They get such a satisfaction out of it.
Saturday mornings are busy, with Taekwondo immediately followed by swimming, all the while Courtney and I play tennis (with Abraham), still, Friday marks the end of the work week, and the boys’ contentment makes it all the more special.