Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weekend dinner party

We spent part of this past weekend plotting, preparing and cooking a dinner for friends who came over on Sunday. One of them is a French, professional chef, and we wanted to make something special, or at least tasty. Our budget doesn’t allow us to splurge often, but we do enjoy cooking together, so it was a nice treat.

I think what we enjoy the most about cooking is the ideas and the final touches. The most time consuming part – at least in this part of the world – is the “hunting and gathering” as we used to call it in Cairo: the part where we walk from store to store trying to find and buy all the ingredients we’ll need. It can be very frustrating, and often costly. This time it wasn’t too bad though.

I find the second most time consuming and tedious part about cooking something nice – and this is because good cooking requires fresh ingredients – is the cleaning, washing and cutting. It is not my favorite part, but I find it quite satisfying to know that everything we consume is fresh and thoroughly prepared.

Our menu:

#Three types of home-made pasta (thanks to a good friend, we trail around the world with a most useful pasta machine)
  • Sea Bass filled Ravioli with seafood sauce (How did we make it? We started with three large, uncleaned, freshly caught Sea Bass, and went from there...)
  • Chestnut filled Ravioli with Mascarpone and Sage sauce (This one started with a kilo of fresh - unroasted, uncooked still-in-their shells chestnuts)
  • Artichoke Ravioli with thyme butter (This one started with six small, fresh artichokes)

#Falsomagro, which is an Italian meat dish that is anything but “magro”, served with an Italian soup, or rather a leek mold – cooked leek blended with ricotta, nutmeg, eggs, Pecorino, and a few other ingredients – with a pureed vegetable sauce on top, and Aubergine (eggplant) Pecorino

#Bomb au Chocolat – which is a chocolate mousse and meringue cake, served with Chamomile tea.

I think everything turned out well and that it was very much appreciated. We all had a good time. We don't have that many friends here in Beirut, and no extra money, so we don't get to entertain here in Lebanon the way we used to in the past - it was fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

All done cast!

Today, Abraham and I:

- walked over to the AUB Medical Center’s orthopedic pediatric surgeon’s office in the rain – 5 minutes.

 -waited in the AUB Medical Center’s orthopedic pediatric surgeon’s waiting room – 42 minutes. I didn’t bring any toys because I figured a waiting room associated with anything pediatric would have toys or some kind of entertainment for children. There was nothing. Nada. So we looked at the passport pictures I had in my wallet, walked around the waiting room exploring the information leaflets they had there about colonoscopies (I kid you not), looked out the window and tried to spy red cars (0 - it seems you are required to drive a black car to enter the hospital premises), talked about what the doctor was going to do, and – I have to admit only Abraham was this energetic – climbed all over the waiting room furniture.

 -saw the AUB Medical Center’s orthopedic pediatric surgeon, who removed Abraham’s cast, looked at his x-rays and briefly touched his arm – 3 minutes.

That’s it. As Abraham put it,“Boo-boo all gone.” All the way home, Abraham sang “Bath-time! Bath-time! Bath-time!” and as soon as we got home he jumped in the tub. After two full weeks of can’t-get-your-cast-wet, he finally got to do one of his absolute favorite things: take a long, nice bath.

Buildings in Beirut

Next to our house here in Beirut, snuggled in between buildings is a small empty lot with some trees, bushes, and a lot of mud. The boys like to play there for a little while in the mornings, when there’s not enough time to go over to the campus playground but the urge for some fresh air gets too strong. Sometimes cars park on the side of the lot during the week, although I would think twice about it because not only will your car get very dirty but you’d also risk getting stuck in the mud. But parking is very hard to come by in this area, so I can see the attraction. The lot belongs to an abandoned house that was bombed during the war. It’s intact, but full of bullet holes, the windows are busted, it was obviously on fire at some point, and parts of the façade is coming down. It must have been left like this for a while, because weeds are growing on the run down balconies and into the rooms of the house. Or at least we thought it was an abandoned building until I saw a moving truck this past weekend move the last tenants out from the top fifth floor. Personally, I don’t understand how someone was living there. The building was standing up, yes, but barely. Maybe it wasn’t as bad up top as it looks on the ground and first floor, but I surely would be a little more than nervous stepping in and out of a building every day that looks like that.

Apparently, the building has been sold to a new owner and that’s why the people that have been living there had to move out. “It will be worth 12 million dollars when it’s rebuilt.” our concierge told me. With our rent in mind, I don’t doubt that for a minute. There are quite a few buildings like this in our neighborhood – bombed and abandoned, waiting to be or in the process of being rebuilt – and more than enough people wanting to live in this area to fill them up once they’re finished. If the Lebanese can keep war away, there’s a lot of money to be made here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Arm in a cast - another week to go...

Abraham has worn his cast for a week now. The first couple of days he didn’t move his hand at all, and slept very badly, obviously in pain. Every time I accidentally touched his right hand or shoulder he whimpered in pain. Then he slowly got a little better, and now – after a week - he’s using his arm as much as he can with the impeding cast in place. He pulls off the sling that keeps his arm up, and he has tried to pull of the cast several times too. Then he noticed that it was hard and heavy, a little like wearing a weapon, and has started taking advantage of that when playing with his brothers. I can’t wait for him to get it taken off, and I can’t believe we have another full week to go.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How it came that I painted a picture of Elmo on a canvas in the wee hours of Friday morning before my tea

The morning after Abraham’s accident, the morning after the night I had barely slept at all, I woke up a little worried that it was going to be a difficult day. I figured Abraham in his pain and agony would want me to hold him, cuddle him, comfort nurse him, and that I would have to suspend my next 24 hours or so to just keep him from whining and crying. I had to carry him out of the bedroom and he was whimpering. I wondered how I would get through even just the morning. When we entered the dining room we were met by last night’s set up for Art Friday; I had arranged all the colors, brushes, palettes, sheets and canvases the night before – before the accident – and had not had a chance to clean it up. What a mess! When Abraham saw it his face broke out into a huge smile – it was like the sun came out after a big storm – and he motioned towards his high chair, apparently having forgotten all about his broken arm, happily exclaiming the words “Aimeeh. PAINTING! Mama?! Aimeeh PAINTING! Yeah!”

He stayed in that chair for almost two hours, paintbrush in hand. He looked a little awkward at first, trying to figure out how to do everything with one arm disabled, but he soon got it. Somewhere in between a picture of a dog and daddy I fed him some yogurt, and managed to drink my tea. Lots and lots of it.

I should have figured. There are two things in particular that Abraham loves to do. Take a bath and paint, and the first one is out for the next two weeks. But I was too tired to think ahead like this, and would never have thought to set up the painting project that morning. What a stroke of luck!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Our ER experience and a broken arm

Last night I was cleaning up the kitchen, while Courtney was reading on the couch and watching the boys rough-house. Abraham was climbing up on one of the boys’ back and grabbing his neck, when suddenly the older boy got up and bent forward, causing Abraham to thrust forward while his legs flew up in the air. Preventing a dive head first into the hard wood coffee table, the older boy grabbed Abraham’s arms and pulled him back onto his back. Abraham screamed. I came out of the kitchen and picked him up, trying to comfort him. He usually only cries for a minute, and he would definitely stop when offered a bit of comfort nursing, but he kept crying, and he wasn’t moving his arm. I waited a bit to see if he calmed down, but I knew there was something wrong. Courtney and I suspected that his shoulder perhaps was dislocated, so I grabbed my ID card and (what I thought was) my credit card, put my rain boots on, wrapped Abraham up in a fuzzy blanket, and literally ran over to the ER, a good solid 200 meters, through the drizzling rain and cold. My heart was pounding and I had a big lump in my throat. Abraham cried and the suddenly he looked up and said cheerfully, “Is naining, mama!”

I had no idea what to expect when I walked through the sliding doors, but as a mother with a mission and one mission only, I addressed the first person I saw wearing an AUB badge, “I need a doctor.” I must have looked very serious, because almost immediately we were brought into a room where a nurse filled out a paper, took Abraham’s blood pressure, and then brought us to see a doctor. In fact, we saw lots of doctors. I’m going to guess because it’s a teaching hospital, all the residents wanted to have a look at Abraham. They were all very sweet, in their early 30’s, and spoke nearly perfect English with an American accent. Only one doctor examined him though, and every time he touched Abraham’s arm, he screamed a painful cry, “No way!! No way, no doctor fix it!! No way! Mama, fix it!!” It was quickly concluded that we would need x-rays, and paper work ensued. Our insurance file was not in order. Could I pay and then claim the money back? Of course. When I reached into my pocket to give the secretary my credit card however, I noticed that in the hurry I had grabbed my cash card (they look exactly the same, only the Mastercard has a small Mastercard symbol on it). After quite a bit of going back and forth, where I tried to convince them to go ahead and take care of Abraham first assuring them that I would send my husband to pay afterwards, Abraham and I were sent home to get means of payment. “No payment, no treatment.”

So I picked up Abraham, who cried as soon as I moved, in the blanket and ran the 200 meters back to our house in the rain, grabbed my Mastercard and gave Courtney a quick update, and then ran back again. I didn’t have to wait at all, and the process took only a few minutes. After having settled our payment we were brought into the x-ray room, where a very skilled technician took tons and tons of pictures of Abraham’s arm, shoulder and hand, all the while he was screaming himself hoarse on the stretcher. As horrible as the whole thing was, at this moment it was a good thing that Abraham couldn’t move his arm, because it made this part of the whole experience go quickly and effectively. After the pictures we got to sit back down in the ER area – Abraham calmed down as soon as he was back in my arms, and the doctors analyzed the x-rays and called the orthodontist down for a consultation. In the meantime Abraham was talking to me about all that he saw; “The doctor go THAT way, mama!” There was a baby crying in a separate booth next to us, “Baby cwying, mama. Baby want watch Beggie tales, mama? Make baby happy, mama?” Good thinking. Veggie Tales might have worked. He was trying really hard to be good, while bursting out into little sobs now and then, obviously from pain. Still very interested in everything and everyone around him. After a few minutes, the orthodontist examined Abraham’s arm once more to rule out nursemaid elbow (which is very common in young children apparently), but it was very clear that the problem was a hairline fracture on the elbow. The orthodontist proceeded to put a fiberglass cast on Abraham’s arm – he was being really good through the whole thing – stabilize it with a sling around his neck, and let me give him pain relief. The doctors told me to come back with Abraham in about two weeks, that the fracture should be healed within two-three weeks, and then sent me off home. On my way out I had to pay for the cast in the cashier’s office, and while the clerk was processing my file, Abraham fell asleep in my arms, exhausted, shirtless, wrapped in William’s blue, fuzzy blanket. It was almost one in the morning when I stepped into the wet and dark street for the short walk home.

Courtney was waiting for us, having spent the evening helping the boys, who were in tears, get to sleep, reassuring them that Abraham was going to be fine and that he knew they had not meant to hurt him, yet trying to get the message through that they will have to be more careful than they had been that night. What a difficult thing to manage.

I didn’t sleep much that night, waking up every so often to check on him – I slept the kind of sleep you sleep when you have a newborn, or when you’re watching over your child; alternating and light. Considering everything, it was a good night, and when everyone woke up we all had a long talk about everything that had happened in bed, all cuddled up. “Aimeeh bwoke aaahm, mama!” Abraham said with a cheerful voice. So pitiful, so brave.

Midnight ER admission, $40
Infinite amount of x-rays, $40
Cast, $40
My baby getting good and speedy health care, which helps him heal without any permanent injury, priceless.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rainy and stormy days in Beirut

After a fairly clear morning, yesterday early afternoon it started raining, and thundering and lightning a bit. The boys were disappointed because we were supposed to meet up with friends at the playground, but when it rains, nobody comes there after school. For a while it seemed like there was still hope though. Once in a while the clouds scattered and the sun came out, the wind drying everything quickly like in a car wash, but then only to be soaked again by another bout of rain. It was as if the sky couldn’t make up its mind: sunny or rainy day?
Today the sky is thick with dark blue and grey stormy clouds, and the rain is coming down like in a shower, pouring, filling up the streets, creating huge puddles, rivers and small waterfalls in the gutter. I can hear it gushing through the drain pipes on our house. The sky is constantly lit up by lightning followed by a murmuring thunder, and looking out the window I can see that anything that can is being pulled and pushed at by the strong wind gushes. Is that rain or hail? I’m sure the boys will tell me, because they are doing that which they do every time the sky opens up like this: hanging out outside, wearing their rain boots and rain coats. “We’re just going to go outside and look at the rain a bit, mama.” they say, and take Abraham with them. It makes me a little nervous to let them out by themselves like that, but they stay inside our building’s premises (a driveway down an alley with a small dirt lot and paved parking all around), and Courtney and I have decided we can trust them to stay clear of any possible car. They know to come back inside after a little while, too.

In the meantime, I’m looking out the window towards the sea, to see if the sky will clear up anytime soon. We can’t see the sea from our balcony window however, as I joke sometimes, we do have a very good view of the one building that is blocking our view of the sea. I know the sky I see behind it is the sky over the water, and that’s where the weather always comes from. I’ve never lived in a place before where the weather always only comes from one direction. It’s convenient.

And now I hear the boys at the door. Time to take care of wet and muddy clothes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras! Welcome, Lent.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Late, this year, but then almost all the more welcome. This year more than ever I am feeling nervous about Lent. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have friends here that go through the same experience, and that it has been a while since we did. Will I be able to keep up what I set out to do? How will I get through this? I am thinking about the big questions, all that is, while trying to prepare. I feel like this is a time that I am supposed to enter celebrating, but despite efforts, it’s more difficult than ever.

To mark the occasion of Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday as it is called in Swedish - tonight we had a nice home cooked Chinese dinner, wine, Swedish “semla,” and pumpkin pie for dessert. When we lived in Belgium, our friends or we would throw a huge Mardi Gras party every year. We would invite a bunch of friends, listen to music, talk, and most importantly eat and drink ourselves sick, making fasting the next day no big feat, or even desirable. Still today I think of some of the things we’d serve with a nostalgic, mouthwatering yet almost sickening feeling. Little French pastries filled with cheese, cream, onion, and bacon, anyone? Washed down with everything from Galliano shots to Margaritas? Mmm and yuck!

Since our move we have had trouble finding friends with a similar tradition, but have nonetheless kept it going within the family – albeit not as decadent (it’s just not possible) - and today was no exception. Sending out thoughts to all our friends out there celebrating Mardi Gras tonight, we raise our glasses in grace, and say our goodbyes to all that takes our minds of what is important, while welcoming a time of contemplation, thought and effort.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning languages - French and Latin

Twice a week the boys have French with a tutor who comes to our house. It’s a nice break for me, because not only do I know the boys get an excellent education in a specific subject without me having to put a lot of work into it, but I also get an uninterrupted hour in the middle of the day to get things done (the hour usually coincides with Abraham’s nap or quiet time).

Today during their French class I decided not to run errands or do other jobs, but to sit and read while half listening to their lesson. Their French tutor, a young woman, is absolutely amazing. She’s organized, speaks clearly, and is patient with the boys, adjusting her lessons and pace to their needs and abilities perfectly. During this afternoon’s lesson she was talking to the boys about clothing, asking them what they are wearing, what color their clothes are, etc. At some point she mentioned the French word chapeau, and William spontaneously blurted out “Chapeau is a hat. That makes sense, because the Latin word for head is caput. Chapeau, caput.”

I have indeed started teaching the boys Latin this year (we started last year but didn’t get very far), however our lessons have not been a priority – it has been a couple of weeks since we studied the word caput - partially because I was starting to worry that studying two languages at age seven was a bit too much for William. He didn’t ever seem to retain anything in Latin class. I guess I was wrong about that! Not only did I feel proud of William for making the connection and reference, but a wave of happiness came over me in seeing some of our hard homeschooling work pay off. It is moments like these that make it worthwhile.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Putting my sewing machine to use...

As soon as I got my grandmother's sewing machine back, August and William jumped at the opportunity to learn how to sew, by making themselves some very useful Sith-Lord capes.

I have yet to find a shop that sells nice and decently priced fabric. There's a very cute shop down our street that has a lot of buttons, lace, crafting equipment, extra needles for my sewing machine, thread, etc. but they don't have a very good selection of fabric. The other day I went into a fabric shop on Hamra street and nearly fell down when she started quoting me the prices. For a cheap type of cotton fabric, which the store down our street sells for a couple of dollars a meter, the lady wanted $24 a meter, and that was after some imaginary discount she gave me. When I looked again, too shocked to speak, I noticed it wasn't just the same type of fabric but the exact same fabric as down the street.

Watching Swedish movies in Beirut

Last night Courtney and I finally watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or The Man Who Hates Women, as it’s called in Swedish. Courtney thought it was boring, slow, that the plot was too simple, and that the movie was way too long. I loved every moment of it: the familiar sites, the views, the Swedish kitchen utensils, the roads and houses, signs, the language, the actors – older, Swedish famous actors that I’ve watched on screen for as long as I can remember (Sven-Bertil Taube is a legend!) – everything about the movie made me happy. The plot was very Swedish, or rather Scandinavian, as was the pace of the movie. It was perfect. And, it was as close to taking a trip to Sweden as I will get for the moment. Watching the movie, as horrible as the story was at times – the rape scene made me sick to my stomach - gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of comfort and familiarity (and it wouldn’t be a true Scandinavian movie without a rape scene anyways). And homesick for Sweden.

I’ve asked Courtney to get a hold of In a Better World (The Revenge, in Swedish), which won an Oscar last week. I can’t wait to see it! Another mental trip to my favorite country.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book clubbing

Last Friday I attended the first of hopefully many book club meetings at a friend of a friend’s house. A friend of mine here has put together a book club: organized meetings and ordered and distributed books (big kudos to her!). I am quite excited about being in a book club with a group of ladies, most of whom I don’t know very well, because 1/ it’s a good opportunity for me to chat with other women and make friends, 2/it makes me read books I myself might never have chosen to read, 3/ it makes me have to think about what I’ve read, as well as find out more about the author or the context of the story, and to formulate ideas and theories about the literature, and 4/ it allows me to visit people’s homes, which appeals to my interests in human habitats, décor, and architecture.

The first book we read was the Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. I found that it was an easy read, unevenly written, with good parts and not so great passages. I’ve read a couple of articles by the author, and an in-depth interview, and for a university professor who seems quite established in life, I think her writing is young. If I didn’t know her age, I would have guessed Shafak to be around her 20’s. The structure of the book was obviously imitated (chapter names add up to ingredients of a certain dish), and some of the descriptions sounded like they came straight out of one of August’s writing course assignments. However, there were interesting formulations here and there, and the general idea of the book was fun. She definitely hit on something there, the mysterious past of Armenian grandmothers. Despite the cliché, I do like it when everything turns out to be interwoven, and destinies catch up with mysterious pasts. Though I found the unwrapping of the mystery came too late and was presented in an awkward way; the book had a classic “Goodness I need to end this book now so I’ll just lay it all out at once” ending: anticlimactic.

The characters of the book were interesting but inconsistent and there were many contradictions – religious, cultural, and political. What’s with the Kentucky thing? And for those of us who travel a lot, really, the paperwork involved in the main character’s trip would realistically constitute a novel by itself. An example of inconsistency: at one point the main character spends her last cents on books, and in the next chapter she buys a plane ticket to travel across the world. How?

The political message of the book – the terrible destiny of Armenians in Turkey - was obvious but not very well argued, and I missed a clear point. (Although it seems the Turkish government disagrees with me here, because they had the author arrested on accounts of having insulted Turkey, after the release of her book. Charges were later dropped.)

Anyways; if it hadn’t been for the book club I would not have read the book, and getting to discuss it in an interesting and comfortable setting made it well worth reading.

Now onto the next book: Herta Muller’s The Appointment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Making plasma: a homeschooling science experiment gone right

End of last week, my dear Husband, who was a math and science whiz during his high school years with too much time on his hands, decided to share some of his “cool” experience with the boys. The experiment was to involve fire and our microwave, and to produce plasma - the “coolest ever!”light show in our microwave. Now, I’m already a little careful with microwaves in general. The boys forget about the no metal rule sometimes and leaves spoons in their tea cups. This freaks me out. Add the fact that my husband was going to use my new pyrex oven dish as well, and you can guess that I wasn’t very happy.

Still, ignoring my protests and words of warning, the male population of our family (everyone else but me) proceeded to light a fire using matches and candles, put the fire in my oven dish, stuck it in the microwave and turned it on. Oh boy did that look cool! It was like an alien space invasion. Plasma, looking like a blue crazy light, whipping around the microwave. “AAAAAWESOME!!” the boys yelled in unison.

Science experiment [I have to add: this time] = a few dollars, getting the boys hooked on science = priceless.