Monday, February 28, 2011

My two-year old's art

A lot of people ask me what I do with Abraham while I help the older boys with their school work. The thing is, I don't really do anything separately with anyone. Abraham either plays with his toys, which we keep where we can see him from the dining room table, or he sits with us at the table drawing, painting, playing with play-doh, "writing," or crafting. In fact, he spends a lot of time there with us, marker or pencil in hand, and his drawing skills are improving by the week.

For the moment he starts out by making a lot of little dots, and then he either circles them or connects them. After he finished the picture to the left, I asked him what he had made and he told me without thinking about it, that it was an airplane, "Aey-pane, mama!"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Busy week and happy birthday!

Following our determination to keep busy and not get hung up on clouds or other disheartening bothers, we’ve been – you guessed it – busy this week. The boys made a push for it as far as school is concerned (or I guess I did the pushing and they the shoving), and I am very happy with their progress this year. They are excellent students, really. Because they’re doing so well academically we’ve been able to concentrate even more on extra-curricular activities, which means we all got a good amount of exercise this week (baseball, running, soccer, gymnastics, taekwondo, swimming, and tennis), as well as attended several social activities and made a lot of awesome food. We also watched “The King’s Speech” and other interesting movies and shows (it really did rain a lot this week!), listened to and played a lot of music, and produced some amazing art projects. My husband and the boys also performed some pretty wicked science experiments (or maybe that should be listed under academic achievements - it all blends in when you homeschool, anyways). Basically; they lit a small fire and place it under a glass in the microwave, producing plasma. To be honest, I was not very excited about it because many things could go wrong, and our microwave, my new Pyrex oven dish, and other things could break, not to mention the danger it posed to the boys. All went well, however, and the experiment was a success: the plasma really did look like an alien space invasion!

Then today we celebrated my husband’s birthday. The whole day it poured outside so we didn’t go anywhere (the boys played outside for a bit in the morning, but that’s it); we stayed inside and enjoyed Courtney’s new presents (a juicer, among other thing – have you ever tasted juiced lettuce? Yuck! "What else can we juice, honey?) had tapas (goat cheese wrapped in Parma ham, bacon wrapped dates, cherry tomato salad, cheese coins, baked brie, etc. – mostly courtesy of the recipes of Tina, the Swedish chef), the boys watched a movie and played a lot of games, my husband and I worked a bit, had champagne, sushi, shrimp and coconut cake. "Happy Deweeee!" Abraham sang (when we presented the cake to the birthday boy), and blew out all the candles himself, his second birthday still fresh in memory. So cute.

It was a truly decadent day, preparing us for another working week. Bring it on!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cloudy, dark, rainy, stormy and cold days in Beirut

It’s past mid-February and I haven’t posted for over a week. I have no real inspiration, nothing extraordinary to tell, and no constructive or at least not expressible thoughts.

I haven’t felt this down in years, and I’m thinking it’s probably the weather. To combat my inclination to sit around and do nothing, or rather my desire to sit around and do nothing (as a homeschooling mother of three boys whereof one is a very active toddler I hardly ever sit down – period), I did some research on my feeling down symptoms earlier this week, focusing on what I can do to feel better. I am a very practical person and as much as I would like to dive into studies discussing the reasons and elements of depression, I simply don’t have time to sit around and ponder (at least not on these types of problems for the moment). I need my energy, inspiration and zest back: projects and ideas are slipping through my fingers, articles are not being written, the house is deteriorating, and the children’s schooling is uninspiring.

Before I give you a list of advice the literature seems to agree on are helpful in situations like these, let me just say this: there are a lot of badly written articles and lists on the internet, and it seems that most websites get their information from each other [plagiarize]. There is also a lot of cheesy self-help literature published. 

Below list is based on a few studies I found interesting, and some of the advice these eager self-help ‘experts’ offer: I figured that whatever I could retain in my downward state would be worth writing down.
I have started to follow some of the below advice, and although I haven’t noticed any significant difference in my mood yet, my life has certainly got a little more interesting.

1. Be curious and engage in activities outside of your comfort zone. Do things that require new skills.

As a first tiny step in this direction I started at mealtime to use recipes I would usually dismiss, and cooking new exotic or unconventional dinners. It doesn’t really take that much more time – I just need to be a little more organized when it comes to shopping.

Courtney and the boys have got engaged in a couple of projects that basically involve growing bacteria. They have large containers fermenting in the laundry room, and we have already got to taste the outcomes: soda, cider, and home-made yogurt.

2. Be thankful. Write down things you are grateful for and think of the good things in your life.

Incidentally, I just read a funny and inspirational blog post on this topic the other day. For every bad thing that happens throughout my day I try to think of a few things related that I am thankful for. It does make make me appreciate my family and the experiences we have had, along with the simply things in life, like a blue sky, comfortable sneakers, or finally finding a fabric softener I love the scent of (Aroma therapy, limited edition something).

3. Change your thought cycle by writing down the negative thoughts you often have and take them apart by analyzing the main problems and finding solutions. Write down the things that make you unhappy and plan on improving them. Then don’t ruminate or dwell, but do something constructive about your situation.

This is probably the most difficult advice to follow. Even with the problems and solutions on paper, the long-term outcome seems so far away for the moment, and the effort needed so big, that without inspiration or strength, it’s too daunting.

4. Socialize and interact with people; friends and strangers. Do a good thing and show acts of kindness and generosity.

We do this every day, and although it helps to get out of the house, it gives but a temporary boost. Really; I need to be able be alone and feel happy, and hanging out with friends or talking to people around Beirut does not exactly help this. Although it is fun.

5. Get healthy – exercise and especially outdoor activities will make you feel better, and a balanced and healthy diet along with a lot of water will make you feel more energized, stronger, and more capable.

Now this I can do: running has always inspired me, and despite my overweight, I can still enjoy an hour on the treadmill or around the track. It’s fun and makes me feel strong indeed.

6. Set a happy scene: plants in the house, flowers, pleasant music and a good smelling house will make you feel good and relaxed at home.

We had a small gift exchange for Valentine’s Day, and the boys gave me some scented candles. The only problem is that Abraham blows them out as soon as they are lit. “Happy Deeewwie a meee!” he sings - reminiscing his recent birthday no doubt - blows out the candles, and gives himself a round of applauses.

I’ve also tried to pick up some plants around town, and Courtney has downloaded some new music for us to play throughout the day. I have to agree that it does make doing stuff around the house more pleasant.

7. Schedule your time so that you maintain a balance between ordinary and fun, inspirational activities. Make time to see friends and other mothers, and definitely make time for yourself. Also, make sure you schedule happy time with your children: do something fun!

Apart from singing in a choir I have also joined a book-club, and I just finished our first book, The Bastard of Istanbul, yesterday. Not only will this be a boost in my social life, but I will also end up reading a lot of books I would not usually pick out – killing two birds [or advice – see advice number one!] with one stone!

I think I got the happy-time with your children advice from a site aimed specifically at homeschooling parents, and I find it a very good idea. While feeling uninspired, it’s easy to just do the bare minimum as far as school goes. It really doesn't have to be like that at all though. With a minimal budget we are limited to doing things that are free and within walking distance, however I’ve made a list of things we will do over the next couple of weeks, and the boys are always so happy about new adventures that I’m sure we’ll end up with plenty of exciting new experiences.

Hopefully over the next couple of weeks I will find my zest again. Although I don’t feel any great improvement yet, I must say that researching, making lists and trying new activities has kept me and everyone else busy, and our household seems a little more creative than usual.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our high electricity bill

It’s a cloudy day in Beirut, dark and chilly, with rain hanging in the air. Because we’ve been overwhelmed by the electricity prices here we are trying not to use our heaters. Every month, a guy from the electricity company comes to check our meters and collect payment. Every month we’ve been shocked by the amount on the bill, however the first couple of months we figured perhaps it was high because of the air conditioners and the fact that we had not been charged for our first month yet. Then we received another enormous bill, without having used heaters, A/C or anything that would use a lot of electricity. We don’t even have a television! 

So we did some research; turned things on and off while checking the meter. As expected, it started to run when we used the washer and dryer, which we suspected and have tried to be careful about. We also discovered our problem: it turns out that as modern and fancy this house is it has ancient water heaters without thermostats to regulate the heating of the water. Unlike water heaters that we have been used to in the past, our current water heater doesn’t turn off when the water has been heated - you actually have to turn the breaker off to make it stop running. Basically we’ve continuously been running two huge water heaters since we moved in here. Sigh. I’m glad we finally figured this out because we were starting to wonder how we are going to survive in Beirut when our savings run out - too bad it had to cost us hundreds of dollars to discover this though.

Now we turn the water heaters off in the evenings, and back on in the morning, and then off again during mid-day. It takes the heaters well over an hour to heat up water for a shower or bath, and the water doesn’t go as far as when we had the heater running all the time, but this is a sacrifice we have to make. There’s enough for a 15 minute shower, a bath for the boys, or doing the dishes. To compensate for not having hot water all the time, we’ve also bought hand sanitizers for the bathrooms. I wonder if this is what the other people in our building do, or if they just wash their hands in cold water. I sure hope that is not the case at the plastic surgery clinic on the second floor. Although they probably don’t have to worry about their bill.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Birthday pictures - Abraham turned two!


Abraham helped make the cake of his choice - chocolate cake. For his birthday he got a toy kitchen, which we overpaid for at the Virgin MegaToyStore. He loves it! And the older boys play with it too. Abraham doesn't look like a baby anymore, does he?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, my boy!

Sana helwa ya gameel...!

Two years ago this morning, I left Maadi and went to the Al Nada maternity hospital on the small island of Manial in the middle of the Nile in Cairo, Egypt. It was a scheduled cesarean section so I didn’t have to go through the pre-labor a birth usually entails, however several things went wrong and the after-pains were difficult. (Read the whole story here.) Thankfully there was no life-threatening or permanent damage, and the outcome of the event – a beautiful baby boy whom we named Karl-Abraham [Karl to celebrate his Swedish heritage, and Abraham to honor our Egyptian life as well as our American family] – is currently playing with his new toy kitchen here in Beirut, Lebanon.

As I remember those special days in the hospital, the noises and the smells, the neighborhood and the mosque down the road, I can’t help but wonder what it looks like today. I’m sure women are having babies as usual, however those children are born into a different Egypt from the one two years ago. The hospital is close enough to Tahrir that they can probably hear the chanting of the thousands of protesters laboring for a better life.

I’m not going to go off on the whole labor, pain, birth parallel here. A better writer than I am would probably be able to produce a beautiful piece on the matter. I will simply say this: on my mind today is my wonderful Abraham, my boys, and the future of Egypt, and I feel… optimistic.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egypt is bleeding

Having written that last post, I feel the need to add that just because my expat friends have left Cairo safely, doesn't mean that Egypt is not in trouble, and that I am not worried. My point of that last post was to say that I am not really worried about my expat friends' safety. What I am praying for is the people in Tahrir and other parts throughout Cairo and Egypt fighting for democracy, freedom and justice. Actually, I am praying for all of Egypt and the future of the Egyptian people. I just heard through friends that one of the most prominent Egyptian bloggers, Sam Sandmonkey, has been arrested, and other friends that have spent every waking hour at Tahrir since this whole thing started left yesterday in the afternoon and went home to safe Maadi, because thugs were throwing molotov cocktails at them. Mubarak is not resigning, and he's using every ugly means possible short of bombing his own people to suppress this revolution. The situation in Egypt is currently bad, indeed.

Live your uncertain life the best way you can

We have talked to many of our friends in Cairo over these past days, and most of them have left Egypt by now on the US government chartered evacuation flights. Most of them did not directly fear for their personal safety, however lack of cash, internet, and the inability to work made staying in Cairo inconvenient for the time being. Some friends are thus currently in Istanbul, some in Athens, and others in Germany; a few continued all the way to the US, and have safely arrived. Our Canadian friends are being flown by their government to Paris. The cost of the tickets is to be reimbursed, and the price is $400, one way. Had we been in Cairo, it would have cost our family $2000 to get out, and then we would still have to get tickets to Sweden or the US, and back to Cairo. Adding that to the fact that Maadi really doesn’t seem very affected at all right now, I can see why some families choose to stay, or at least not all go. The grocery stores are open, delivering as usual, people are going out to eat and for walks around the neighborhood, and as far as I’ve heard, the CAC facilities has been opened so that people can use the track and playground. The future is uncertain of course, but I guess you could say that about anywhere, and worrying about it – I have learned – does not help. It is good to have a plan, of course, but in the meantime I prefer to live the way the Lebanese do: take one day at a time, and enjoy life as much as you can, because you never know what might happen tomorrow.

On that note, I will now go pick up Prof. Husband’s new glasses - replacing his old ones, which he accidentally stepped on last night and bust into pieces, along with some things for Abraham’s birthday party on Saturday.