Sunday, December 30, 2012

After Christmas rest

The first three weeks of December were really, really crazy, and although most of the activities were enjoyable, and the stress positive, it physically exhausted me this year. I was so tired on Christmas Eve, having stayed up the night before wrapping presents until the wee hours, but with the goal – Christmas day – in sight, I pushed on: ran errands, cooked, prepared. I even managed to put together a Swedish Christmas Eve feast, complete with pickled herring, scalloped potatoes, beet salad, and ham. We lit candles, had mulled wine (which I boiled, to get the alcohol out of it) and homemade ginger snaps in the evening. The kids got to bed late, giving us a late start on putting out the presents, eating the cookies and milk, and enjoying the quiet magic of anticipation, as we do every Christmas Eve. Sometime after 1 am we were done though, and I could finally get some sleep (“some,” being the keyword here, since our kids have this fantastic ability to sleep past nine on any given school day, but somehow manage to wake up very early every Christmas Day morning).

Christmas Day was perfect, but as always, went by in a flash (which is why I enjoy our Advent and Christmas Eve celebrations so much, because they make Christmas something more than just a moment). We got the kids really great gifts this year, just right for their abilities, interests and characters. Abraham jumps off energy at all times of the day on his new trampoline, and can sit for hours with his moon sand. The boys sail around campus with their friends on their new roller blades, and relax with their games at home in the evenings, or work on their Chemistry set with papa.

Christmas Day dinner was probably one of the best ever, with a perfectly cooked turkey, tasty, creamy gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberries, candied carrots and a superb stuffing; pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert, and of course the customary candy buffet in the evening. I enjoyed it all thoroughly.

The day after Christmas we still had to run some errands, but after that, my body told me to stop. My hands were swollen, my face puffy (my blood pressure probably way higher than I would like to know), my body tired, and crying out for water, fresh veggies and fruit, vitamins, minerals and fiber. I’ve consequently spent the past few days doing basically nothing, which in my world means housework, some light exercise, and spending time with the kids and helping my husband with his work. I’m still not quite ready to start back up again, but we have no plans for new year’s eve and just a couple of commitments over the next few days, so I will simply continue focusing on just growing a baby, if that’s all right, until I’ve regained some strength.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A little creativity

I wanted some kind of Christmas pillows on our couches, so I bought red ribbon and used white IKEA fabric I had left in the closet. I am quite happy with the result. (That's our electrical seven armed Scandinavian Advent candelabra in the background.) So easy, AND pretty, right?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Belly on stage

This message is brought to you in the middle of our two-day Christmas concert.

You haven’t seen me lately, because on top of everything else, like school, work, house, kids, Christmas parties, book club, and let’s not forget pelvic rest, etc. I’ve been attending dress rehearsals this past week. Last night’s opening concert went well, and I hope tonight’s final concert will be just as great, as Courtney and the boys are coming to watch me (and the rest of our choir) perform.

Me and my big belly performed all dressed up on stage. I even managed to get my hair to look nice last night, which – you have NO IDEA – is unusual, to say the least. I still felt the way I always do when pregnant; like a big, fat whale, but… a pretty one. As we walked past the audience to get on stage, a lot of people noticed my belly and whispered to each other, “Look! Something, something, pregnant!” however there was also a little girl, about the age of six, who pointed to me and “whispered” (I think the entire Assembly Hall heard it) to her mother, “Look, that girl looks like Hermoine!”

She didn't notice my belly, and she called me a *girl*! [happy, delighted snivel] AND witch, granted. But it’s a compliment, right?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in America

In general, I am an impressionable person. I get wrapped up in other people’s stories and emotional state, and I cry more than other people – I think – about things that really shouldn’t concern me. I can even get choked up at the end of stories related to our school work, for example Anne Frank’s diary, that I read out loud to the boys.

When terrible, horrible things happen in the world, like yesterday, I have trouble keeping my eyes dry, and it’s much worse now that I am pregnant. But at least yesterday I wasn’t the only one crying – I saw President Obama on television wipe tears from his face as he addressed the nation, and I’m pretty sure he can’t blame it on pregnancy hormones either.

I think of these poor children, their families, friends and community, and as a parent I imagine what it must be like to go through something like this. It’s unfathomable. To come home and see your child’s toys, clothes, even wrapped Christmas presents hidden away in closets, and know that your boy or girl is gone forever. You will never speak to them, hug them or read to them again. Like President Obama put it, “They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own…” Gone.

When I got home last night, after I heard the news, I walked into my boys’ bedrooms and hugged and kissed them more than usual. I’m sure a lot of you did too. Kissed and hugged your own kids, that is. Did you cry too?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Homeschooling two weeks before Christmas

We’re on the home stretch: I’ve given the boys each a list of work that they have to complete to start their Christmas break, e.g. "Get to Lesson xx in your grammar book," etc. There’s about 5-6 days’ worth of work on their lists; they can study really, really hard for a few days and be done with it, or they can do a bit every day and be done mid next week. I leave it up to them. They'll have to be fairly strict though, since there are a lot of activities and other events scheduled in the next couple of weeks as well.

Alongside the regular subjects, we’re also baking gingerbread cookies, making a gingerbread house, pickling herring and beats, singing Christmas carols, reading books about Christmas, telling stories, listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies, and everything else that Advent entails.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy festivities

Yesterday was a good day. The partying was fun. Especially Abraham had a great time at the birthday party he attended. The dinner with my husband’s conference buddy (he teaches at a university in Turkey but they hang out at philosophy conferences a few times/year) was great. I made lasagna with Bolognese sauce and bacon, a couple of salads and home baked focaccia. For dessert we had Swedish cinnamon rolls and other little treats. A group of Prof. husband’s colleagues joined us for drinks, and the evening got *very* late but interesting and fun. You might not believe me, but a room full of philosophy professors + drinks + good snacks = a recipe for an evening filled with inspiring ideas, thoughts and laughter. Their geekiness becomes particularly obvious when they, midst an intense existential discussion filled with wisdom and impressive arguments that only decades of serious study of ideas can produce, break out into high-fives over an ontological argument used wittingly in reference to Wittgenstein. (I’m improvising here, of course. It might have been a different argument in reference to another philosopher, or vice versa.)

This morning, I'm a bit tired, but feel good; not drinking sure has its perks. My philosopher - on the other hand - requires a lot of water, aspirin and a horizontal arrangement, but such is the price for this kind of merriment, I guess.

Oh, and yes, if you’re wondering about the argument and what it might have been… you’re so BUSTED! Philosophy geek!

Today I’m keeping my feet up – the boys want to put up the tree, but I’m thinking we might wait until Gaudete; we’ll see - until it’s time for yet another party this afternoon/evening. It’s the kind of party you don’t talk about here, because the people that would throw a party like that are not appreciated by a lot of people here the way they should be, since there is a conflict between this and their country. So, since talking about such a party might cause trouble, I won't. But I'm excited, anticipating fun with good friends and great food (really, you can't go wrong when the common culinary theme is "fried in oil"). Shalom, my friends.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Here we go!

Brace yourself, dear reader. 

Our ‘Advent busy marathon’ starts tomorrow with one job, two parties and a dinner – all in one day.

“Don’t worry,” I said to my OBGYN at my last appointment during which he noticed some slight complications that warrant precaution and extra rest, “I will take it easy and rest a lot. Stay off my feet and drink plenty of water.”

I guess I’ll just have to squeeze that in too, while I’m busy getting through everything else over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The History of Christmas, a summary

I put this together for the boys the other day, mainly because we were discussing Viking traditions and festivals, and because I couldn't find one site that I felt summarized below topics in a satisfactory manner. Some parts of this text are from Wikipedia and/or various other general sites on the history of Christmas, and some are from our History of the World, our Usborne Encyclopedia of the History of the World, and The Story of the World.

Ancient and Pagan mid-winter traditions

Many early cultures held mid-winter celebrations; in Mesopotamia, Persia, Babylon, Ancient Greece and Rome. 

The Romans celebrated a winter feast that entailed masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits). The Romans also “decked their halls” with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles.

In Scandinavia, the Vikings celebrated jólablót, or midvinterblot (mid-winter blood), which was a sacrificial feast held on the darkest day of the year (look up: 'solstice'), to honor the return of light – or the rebirth of the sun. In some areas people tied apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return. According to some traditions, children would during this celebration place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin's 8-legged flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. To do this, he would enter homes through chimneys.

The name jól probably comes from Jólner, which was one of Odin’s many names (in Sweden, Christmas is still called jul, remember?).

Christmas as a Christian tradition

The story of Jesus Christ's birth is told in New Testament's gospel of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew, but the actual date - December 25 - is not mentioned anywhere. In 350 AD, Julius I, a bishop of Rome, chose December 25th as the observance of Christmas, and in 354, Liberius the emperor established the holiday. The December date for the holiday probably arose from a desire to provide an alternative to the Roman and pagan mid-winter feast.

Traditionally, Christians would fast seven weeks before Christmas (as before Lent) which meant they were not allowed to eat meat. The Swedish tradition of dipping bread in ham broth on Christmas eve is a remnant of this.

The word Christmas comes from the Old English 'Cristes Mæsse,' meaning the 'mass of Christ.' 

By 1100, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe.

The origin of Saint Nick – Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Nicholas, bishop of Myra (now Turkey). He was known as a generous man, particularly devoted to children. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims that he could perform miracles.

According to legend, a nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood. The generous Nicholas, hearing of the girls' plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman's house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney, where they were captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry.

After his death around 340 AD, St. Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, which greatly increased St. Nicholas' popularity throughout Europe. Sometime around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor; the feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the protestant reformation, celebrations of St. Nicholas faded, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where St. Nicholas - Sint Nikolaas (in Dutch) transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes.

Dutch colonists brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the name of Santa Claus emerged. 

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children, portraying Santa Claus in a way not quite seen before:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, …

As the years passed, Moore's description of Santa Claus evolved further in popular culture into the legend we see today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our home school curriculum, subject by subject: Math

It’s easy for me to tell you about our math curriculum, because from third grade and up, we’ve been using one program only (at least so far!): Saxon Math.

Before third grade, we used printables or home made worksheets, and the Math Made Easy books (partially because we weren't able to get the Saxon Math books since we were abroad, and partially because our self-made program was more efficient at this stage), to cover all the areas of basic mathematics:
  • ·         Addition & Subtraction, with carrying and borrowing AND Graphs, Tables & diagram, skip counting by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, 100s, even and odd numbers, Addition/Subtraction facts with sums of 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, and missing addends, e.g. 7+_=1, Doubling numbers from 1 through 9
  • ·         The clock – time, telling time to the minute, Ordinal numbers and the calendar
  • ·         Roman numerals
  • ·         Measuring units (metric system: length, liquid volume, weight, etc.)
  • ·         Shapes & Fractions, symmetry, solid shapes (sphere, cone, cube, cylinder, etc.)
  • ·         Money; value of coins, writing sums, e.g. $0.89 = 89¢, fractions of a dollar, e.g. 4 quarters or 10 dimes in a dollar, as well as conversions: 15,000 Lebanese pounds = $10, etc.
  • ·         Multiplication 0x – 12x, 10 by heart,  and dividing numbers in half
  • ·         Number words from 1-100, converting word problems into number problems

This prepared them enough to start the Saxon Math 5/4 book in third/fourth grade without too much time and effort spent.

I think that the structure of Saxon Math is ideal: each lesson involves a specific problem or concept, and it’s followed by a mixed practice. The way a new concept is introduced in each lesson almost always works for us, and I really appreciate the way Saxon Math repeats concepts over and over again in each mixed practice, which guarantees that nothing is overlooked or missed by the student.

It is a bit of a commitment: it takes my boys between 40 minutes and 1 hour every day to get through their math, and add all the tests, worksheets and extra investigations, you can say that Saxon Math is not exactly a quick program. Prof. husband, who studied advanced math in high school, and majored in physics his first couple of years at the university, has deemed it worth the investment though, and so far I can say that it must be, since both older boys are at the top of their class. Ha ha. (Seriously, all they do is work though the program, and any time I give them an external grade test, they score 100%.)

To read more about our general philosophy of education, read here.
To read more about our general curriculum idea, read here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Enriching our education with music

Finally! It took some searching, and a bit of trial and error, but we have now found a guitar teacher that seems sweet, able, reliable and willing to come teach William once/week. I am so thrilled for him, and relieved for myself, since this takes a bit of a load off my responsibility. I felt it was a thorn in our educational program, actually, that we were not able to teach William the instrument of his choice. Now this thorn has been removed, and we can focus our music sessions on music history and theory, while both older boys benefit from their music lessons.

I am so happy!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent crafts with my boys

Today we visited the German Christmas market, walked around town a bit with the boys, and then spent the evening preparing for advent by putting candles out, making Christmas wreaths and crafts. My legs are swollen, but I feel good. Better. It was a good day.

We made this wreath for our window facing the playground.
This is our front door.

Braided hearts. I love these!

Got our candles set up for 1st Advent tomorrow.

Abraham did really well and only needed a little help finishing his stuffed heart.

August mastering the Blanket Stitch.

William was the most industrious, creating two hearts and a teddy bear.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The blues

Today was a hard day. Since my last prenantal appointment I had to up my blood pressure medication, and it’s bringing me down – as in, it makes me feel down. It’s a common side effect, apparently, but a feeling I am not very familiar with, frankly, and as a very practical, down to earth, no need to ponder/better to take action – kind of person, I’m not sure how to handle it, because it’s interfering with the way I usually handle things.

I usually bounce out of bed in the morning and take care of whatever needs done – no matter how challenging physically or mentally; I’m full of energy and determination. I’m organized, plan well, and keep control. Hardships or bumps in the road, cranky or sick kids, mean people – nothing gets to me, and I usually have the endurance of a marathon runner!

Now, I wake up and stare at the ceiling, thinking about all the things that need to be done, and wishing I could go back to sleep. It’s very disturbing. I go through my day feeling slightly lethargic, and today when the boys strayed from their school work, something that would usually send me off immediately chasing them down and getting them right back on track, I didn’t get up, but actually welcomed the silence around me.

This is one of the busiest times of the year, and I can’t afford – time wise, inspiration wise, and energy wise – to be feeling like this. I’ve spent the evening trying to come up with ideas to help me back on my feet: lists, snacks, outdoor exercise, etc. but I sure could use some ideas from you, dear reader, as well. 

So, please, what do you do to inspire yourself? Where do get your boost from when you need one?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our general curriculum idea

The most common question I am asked regarding home schooling is, “Which curriculum do you follow?” and most of the time, the person asking assumes I am following a specific program. We don’t. We use the general structure of the classical education, but everything else, we’ve patched together or have made up ourselves. I say “we” because although I am in charge of most every day teaching (which is why I sometimes use “I”), our children’s curriculum is something my husband and I have worked out together.

Based on the classical approach to education, the focus of our first four years – the grammar stage - is facts and memorization. The subjects we study are English, Math, History + Geography, Science, Music + Art, and starting in third grade, Latin, and fourth grade, French. It’s all quite basic; the goal is to build a strong foundation in English and Math, and add as many facts as possible, as well as curiosity.

The next four years make up the logic stage, where the student learns to ask and answer questions about the facts: Why? How? etc. The subjects studied during this stage are English, Math, History + Geography + Religion + Social studies, including some philosophy, Science, Music + Art, Logic, Latin and French, adding German and/or Spanish after a couple of years. Why so many languages, you ask? Studies show, that if you start learning a language before the age of twelve, your chance of learning this language well, including the acquisition of a perfect pronunciation, is much bigger. I am living evidence. Also, they are learning these languages because I know them, my husband doesn’t, and we both feel I have a clear advantage. So we are passing on that advantage to our boys.

During the last four years of the primary education – the rhetoric stage - the student learns to articulate arguments in an elegant and convincing manner, defend ideas and engage in critical thinking. Since we haven’t got here yet, I don’t have an exact plan on what to focus on or include yet, but I assume that in addition to our regular studies and progress (with the addition of certain subjects, such as Greek), we’ll have to at least spend some time preparing for AP exams and the SAT.

Every year over the four year cycle we follow a theme:

1. Prehistoric and Ancient
2. Medieval
3. Early Modern
4 Modern

This year is a medieval year. Most of our subjects relate - as far as possible - in one way or another to the central theme of the year. This approach is best described in The Well Trained Mind. Our only exception is science: since last year we rotate the four science subjects – biology, geology + astronomy, chemistry, physics - in yearly cycles. More on why and how we do this when I discuss our science curriculum.

Sounds fun, right?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Philosophy of education

We started out our home schooling journey by reading about several approaches to homeschooling, including works by Charlotte Mason and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind. We developed our initial curriculum, inspired by the university education we received at the Catholic University of Leuven as well as the best parts of our pre-college education received in the US and Sweden respectively, based on the classical approach to education. Our education is language based, interdisciplinary and systematic, with an emphasis on character and on great books; the study of classical subjects, such as history, grammar, logic, Latin, Greek, mathematics and science.

We believe that this specific approach to education will enable our children to study and become most anything they desire. We believe that the outcome of their classical education will be a solid knowledge base and an effective tool for learning, research and expression. We also hope that it enables them to become responsible and sensible citizens.

Sounds good, right? To me, as a homeschooling parent, it is important to have a philosophy worked out, for inspiration, of sorts, or perspective, so that when I realize that the toddler has rolled out an entire pack of toilet paper rolls in the hallway while I was trying to teach my second grader the phonetic sound ae without success, and it turns out the fourth grader spent the entire hour hidden away with a video game somewhere instead of doing his math, I know why I’m torturing myself I choose to home school.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wild Turkey 101 in Beirut

In the past, my husband (and I) would buy a couple of nice, if possible rare, bourbons to enjoy throughout the holiday season every year. We’d not only drink the bourbon but use it to make candy and other delicacies. After moving to the Middle East where bourbon can be rare, our tradition has depended on availability, and even here in Lebanon where alcohol is readily available, it can be tricky to find real bourbon, let alone a nicer bottle.

Last week we looked through the stores where we usually shop, to no avail, but remembered on our way home that Score Market sometimes has Jim Beam and on occasion even Maker’s Mark. On our way there, we passed by that relatively new liquor store on the same street, and peeked inside. Imagine our surprise when lo and behold, tucked away in a corner we found a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 – in our opinion, the most superior bourbon in its price range. We reacted like typical western expats in the Middle East: my husband grabbed the bottle immediately, clutching it – even though nobody else was looking to buy it (we were the only customers in the store!) - while I looked behind the other bottles to see if there was another one, following our expat instinct and rule, “if you find something you like, stock up! You never know if there ever will be more of the same product.” We looked at the shop holder and asked if he had any more of the same bottle, and he, a little surprised by our excitement, told us no, but that he could get more. We then looked at the price, and it was probably the cheapest Wild Turkey 101 we had ever seen. How lucky! We paid for the bottle and promised to come back for more.

And since everyone had such a great time at our Thanksgiving dinner and the bottle nearly vanished, it will be sooner than we thought. I’m hoping we can save some so that I can have a taste of it - sometime next year.

Of course, if you live in Beirut and you are looking for a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, then I made everything up in this blog post. There is no Wild Turkey 101 anywhere.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving dinner in Lebanon, v. 2012

Here we go; our Thanksgiving dinner menu, including drinks:

Pre-dinner drinks: Freshly homemade Margaritas, with a virgin alternative for those in a family way

  • Peanut soup (Yes, he’s fun like that, my husband; he likes to cook and try new, odd-sounding foods)

Drinks, main course: Peppoli Chianto Classico 2010 for the adults, 7Up for the kids, and water for the pregnant lady
  • Roast turkey with bread stuffing and gravy
  • Creamy mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potato orange casserole
  • Succotash
  • Derby day asparagus
  • Martha Stewart’s Roasted pears and red onion
  • Ocean Spray Cranberry sauce (Oh yes, if you lived in a place where finding a can of Ocean Spray tucked away on a shelf is an instant tears-of-joy inducer, you would too!)
  • Two types of corn bread (one Halal and one pork infused version)
  • Chicken pot pie
  • A fresh salad (Yes, we did. And get this: mainly because the kids wanted it. Go figure.)

Dessert drink: Wild Turkey 101 (found by chance in a store near Jeanne D'Arc - I will tell you more about this in a later post)
  • Pumpkin pie with freshly whipped cream
  • Dark chocolate fudge cake

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Busy Thanksgiving eve

Yup, you guessed it; I got sucked into another work project. It took a little extra time to finalize the files that were due beginning of this week, but now that is done, and I don’t have another impending deadline until the middle of next week, which means I can spend some time catching up on the house and enjoy Thanksgiving weekend. We are having friends over for dinner tomorrow, and the preparation began already this morning, with Courtney making chicken broth. We still have to get a couple of last minute ingredients for our complete feast, and will go past the grocery after my prenatal check-up today. Then we will come home and cook pies, make stuffing and a couple of other sides that can be prepared in advance. Oh, and I also have choir rehearsal, which I probably need to prepare for a bit. In the meantime, the boys are studying their lessons, and Abraham sat down to watch the Tales of Beatrix Potter ballet from 1971.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dead dryer :(

When we arrived in Lebanon in the fall of 2010, we went down to Corniche El Mazraa and bought a Campomatic dryer in one of the appliance stores there. Earlier last year, the drum seal started coming out, and since this summer, clothes will occasionally come out of the dryer with black marks on them, after getting stuck. A sign that it is time to replace the drum seal! I managed to contact Campomatic earlier this fall, and they provided me with a phone number for their service department, however then we had to watch our spendings, and I have had to hold off on calling them. This weekend, sadly, our dryer got tired of waiting for a new seal and died completely. It’s an electrical problem; possible, easy and cheap to fix, I hope. I cannot do the home schooling, work, the rest of the house work, and manage all my other obligations without a dryer. It has only been three days, and I can tell you this is a fact. Several people have told me that they do just fine without a dryer – even wonder why I need a dryer, since we live in such a warm climate - and I’m sure not everyone needs a dryer, but with three boys, a fourth on the way, full time school and lots of work, it’s just not for me: too many clothes and not enough time!

Is there something like this that you will not live without? (Apart from all the obvious things of course!)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Just regular boring old home schooling

There are so many amazing homeschooling blogs out there, written by parents who seem to have time and energy to do it all; every day there’s an exciting craft, activity, field trip, or project, all documented in a well written post with amazing pictures. I feel both inspired by these blogs and inadequate, isolated and mediocre. We do extraordinary school-related things sometimes but most of the time we just get through our regular every day work. I almost never take pictures of anything because every time I get the camera out, it turns out the boys have taken the batteries to use in their Wii remotes (Santa is SO giving them rechargeable batteries with a charger this Christmas!), and really, most of my blog posts are written in a tired, sorry state and almost barely make sense half of the time.

Still, I hope you are able once in a while to pick up on my passion and enthusiasm for home schooling. It’s definitely there; I love teaching my children and learning alongside them, and although special activities, crafts, trips and projects are fun and great for a change of pace at times, I find the everyday scholarship awe-inspiring.

To celebrate our ordinary, day to day school work, I am going to dedicate a blog post each to our standard subjects over the next couple of weeks. What subjects do we study? Why? What do we want to get out of our studies? How much time do we spend on each subject? What materials do we use? How are the lessons structured? How do we assess the results?

Before I can start though, I should describe to you our educational philosophy, our approach to learning and scholarship, our academic ambitions and motivations [for our children] and our general curriculum. Make sure to check back soon for a post on all that!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Speaking of gender equality...

End of the work week round-up

Guess what I’ve been busying myself with? That’s right; lots of work. And then the regular school work of course, house work (except for laundry, which I’ve successfully ignored all week, resulting in everyone looking a little… odd, at the store today), the 3-year old, social commitments, and everything else that usually takes up my days. I tried to focus extra on every boy one day each this week, and although I’m not sure it will always work, it was a good strategic move, well needed at this time. August got a good shove in English and Latin, as did William actually, and Abraham, who often is left to work or play by himself while I work with the older boys (and then acts accordingly, that is, he turns into an attention-seeking, mischievous, stubborn out-of-tune-with-mama nightmare preschooler), got an entire day filled with exciting activities and special, stimulating time with mama. This last day was in fact the best invested hours I’ve spent in a long time. He turned into a little angel, and tonight’s bedtime was a breeze.

We lasted the whole week – 7 days exactly – on the $140-shopping we did last week. It’s wasn’t impossible, albeit a bit time consuming and arduous, since making the kind of food from scratch that you end up cooking when money is short, takes time and produces a lot of dishes (as does trying to brush out my hair without conditioner, ha ha).

Today we went to Spinneys armed with our new bank cards, and bought food for a couple of weeks, plus all those things we were holding back on last time; cereal, bread (despite this fact: the problem with making your own bread for a while, is that you realize how much tastier fresh home baked bread is than store bought) hot dogs, sandwich meat, condiments, foil, nuts, coconuts (yes, my boys not only look a little odd sometimes, but also have some peculiar favorite foods), conditioner (yes!), fabric softener, tortillas, sea food, etc.

We’re armed for a good weekend filled with some work, rest, exercise, and fun.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Baby's strong kicks

I can't quite remember when I felt my boys' kicks for the first time, but I do remember that - just like this time - they start out as light flutters, that have me wondering, "Might those be baby kicks?" Eventually, the feeling is so distinct and so frequent, that the baby's kicks are a natural part of my day. I don't remember the kicks getting very hard until the third trimester, however this baby has quite a jab that, even this early, makes me stop occasionally and think, "Whoa! Another little strong boy." It's comforting and pleasant, and I can't wait for when the boys start being able to feel their brother move as well!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gender equality

I grew up in emancipated Scandinavia. My mom was a 1960’s and 1970’s typical feminist, who went to women’s camps, and spent a lot of time and effort revolting against the male biased norms of our society. My dad and mom shared all house work equally, and there were years when he did more because my mom was involved in politics and spent several nights every week in long meetings. It’s thanks to people like her, that my brother today enjoys a long, paid paternity leave for example while his wife works, and that I can enjoy so many funny parenting blogs in Swedish, written by stay at home dads.

My husband comes from a more traditional home and society, the rural mid-west, and over the years I would say we have met somewhere in the middle. In theory we are on the same page, and obviously there’s a lot more to gender equality than housework, but I still think that practical application is important. My husband doesn’t run the household with me, but he (mostly) does his share when prompted, and he steps up when necessary. Obviously, compared to a lot of men here in the Middle East, he is a house wife saint personified.

How will our boys turn out? In general, they help out with housework more than I even remember my younger brother did when he was their age. They treat any female with respect and despite the common media culture, express a firm view on the relationship between the genders that I am proud of. I'm thinking there's hope.

Although there’s always room for improvement. All three boys for example, have at separate intervals explained to me that there are two types of toys/games/books/movies: there are toys/games/books/movies for BOYS, and then there are toys/games/books/movies for BOYS AND GIRLS, such as My Little Pony, Dora, and dolls.

Like I said, still a bit of work left there, but I’m hopeful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sometimes you speed up without noticing

I finished my present work this afternoon. Early - the delivery is not due until tomorrow afternoon, or as the people I work with call it, Tomorrow EOB (= End Of Business). There was no indication I wouldn’t need every minute of my time, however I’ve been very focused and suddenly, there it was; finished. This meant I could spend the rest of today recuperating, taking care of the house, check my planner, and prepare for the rest of the week.

Yesterday morning when we discussed our plans for the week, I told the boys that I would have to rely on them working independently Monday through Wednesday (which is enough work for them but not exceptionally challenging), but now I can surprise them tomorrow morning with the launch of an extensive Viking project, involving essays, presentations, map work, crafts and a lot of reading. 

They’ll never know what hit them!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fifteen years of happiness

Fifteen years ago yesterday, I put a ring on a young man’s finger, and received a ring in return. This beautiful, amazing man and I promised to love each other until death do us part. Only God was our witness. We stood there trembling from cold on a deserted, freezing, windy beach in Oostende at sunset, made a toast to our eternal happiness (a 1986 Margaux, served way too cold) and proceeded to a small, cozy, fireplace equipped restaurant that served dark beer, fresh paté and warm wine.

We were officially married later in a courthouse halfway across the world (after we managed to save up money for tickets), but this day – 11-11-97 – is the day that is etched into our rings, hearts and minds forever, as the day we said, "I do."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Continuously nearly falling off the line

It’s really storming again today: heavy rain, thunder, lightning; I’m constantly being thrown off line, which is very bad, since this entire day was a working day for me. As I do this specific project through a remote desktop server, my work has been lost and then recovered again more times than I can count since this morning, and I haven’t got even half the work done that I was supposed to today. I still have a couple of days left before the deadline, but I was hoping to have the bulk of my work done this weekend, so that I could focus on the boys’ schoolwork this week. Now I’ll have to work Monday and Tuesday while the boys get through their basic work, and all the big history, science, and other projects, like special papers or writing assignments, will have to be done towards the end of the week, leaving no time for review.

Sigh. How come balancing motherhood and homeschooling with a professional life never feels composed? 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cheap, simple pleasures

Yesterday it rained, there was thunder and lightning, and the temperature went down to 23°C. The whole day was kind of dark and damp, which was fine, because all I had to do was go shopping and then work. It was even nice, since it has been kind of warm and damp lately, and the crisp breeze was refreshing. 

The boys went out and played in the rain. Ever since we lived in Egypt, they ask to go out and play every time it pours, and I’m fine with that, as long as I don’t have to go with them! Abraham’s rain boots from last year didn’t fit – his feet have grown almost 2 inches! – so he wore crocs. The boys splashed around in the puddles in the playground for quite a while, while I made hot cocoa and when they came back in, I threw their clothes in the washer. Their cheeks were red and rosy and they smelled like rain. What a treat!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Finally: shopping done!

It’s going to take five business days for our new bank cards to arrive, which made shopping this morning a bit of a challenge: all we had was some cash left, and we were out of everything from laundry soap, toilet paper and flour, to salt, sugar, any kinds of cans and fresh produce.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and healthy snacks for three growing boys, one pregnant woman with cravings and a grown man - for an entire week – for under $140. It was hard: the laundry soap alone here cost $20 and the dish detergent $5, milk – we consume about 1 ½ L/day – cost $26 altogether (I know! It’s insane!), but we did it. Yes, really.

I wasn't able to get any of the quick foods I buy for busy work weeks, like hot dogs, frozen fries, frozen berries, fish sticks, ham for sandwiches, etc.; in fact, it will not be our most pleasant week food-wise, but I think we’ll get through it. We have to.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Half mission accomplished

Got some work done today. Failed to restock our kitchen. We were getting ready to go when I realized that our debit cards expired at the end of last month and that we had forgotten to go to the bank and pick up our new ones. The bank was closed for the day and we had no way of getting any money. A classic.

What did we eat? Courtney made corn bread for breakfast that we ate with eggs and gravy. We made smoothies out of frozen melon and strawberries, had McDonalds burgers for lunch, I found some kiwi hidden in the fridge that was perfectly ripe, and for dinner we found a pack of pasta and tomato sauce that we had with fresh bell peppers. Odd, but it fed the family. It’s amazing how much food we've managed to come up with in our house after we ran out of food.

Tomorrow we will shop. Inventive cooking and tons of work don’t go together very well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Oh, what a day!

For various reasons, including remote server and program problems beyond my power, I’m way behind on the big work project I’m in the middle of – or that I’m supposed to be in the middle of, but that I, in reality, am just starting to get into – and I needed to really, really just spend the entire day today working. 

But then the morning was a big chaotic mess because Abraham had an accident in his bed, and then we all got swiped away by the election frenzy - by the time I started looking around the house to start the day, we were half way through the morning, the boys were getting hungry and I realized there was no food. So I made a shopping list and summoned everyone to a shopping round. By now though, my dear husband had fallen sound asleep after having stayed up most of the night watching the election coverage, and he was out of commission. I refused to go to the store alone since we needed so much [and I really just needed to work] – we’re even out of those items that virtually never run out, like emergency UHT milk and bread crumbs – I found some left-overs to feed the boys for lunch instead, putting off the shopping. After their meal I had to help the boys with their school work, spend some time with the 3-year old, and clean up. I might or might not have attempted to start my work. Mid-afternoon the little one started climbing the walls, so I asked the boys, who by the way only made one mistake each on their math assignments today (Hurrah! – Maybe trauma was the way to go?) to take him out to the park for a little while, until our piano teacher was due to arrive at 4 pm.

When they left I sat down in front of my computer; finally, work!

I was just getting into it when I heard loud banging on our front door, and screaming in the hallway. When I answered the door I saw blood – Oh my gosh, there was so much blood! – streaming out of August’s mouth, seeping through his fingers that he was using to cover his red, panic-stricken face. His mouth was just a big blood-covered mess. To the sink and cold water, ice pack, towels – lots and lots of towels; do you have any idea how much a mouth can bleed?! – then to the couch, comforting and trying to calm August down enough so that we could assess the damage. His pants were covered in blood. “Are your teeth OK? Can you feel if your teeth are hurt?” Praying. Everything is there; his teeth are intact, thank God! His head is fine, except there’s a deep cut in his lip.

He had run too close behind the swings, and a boy’s foot had hit him in the chin, which made him pierce his lip with one of his “fangs” (he has really sharp teeth on the sides).

I’ve been in this situation several times now: do we go to the ER or not? Does he need stitches? Is it a real emergency situation? It was really hard to see because of all the blood and swelling.

At this point our poor piano teacher shows up and I’m thinking “Oh my, what are we going to do now?” when August insists on having his lesson. Maybe it will help him calm down, I think, so they went ahead. 

In the meantime I made dinner: a pack of fish sticks and some white fish from the back of the freezer, along with some odd potatoes, carrots and cauliflower that were left in the vegetable box in the fridge. 

When dinner was ready and August finished with his lesson, it was time for me to go to choir, but by now the swelling in August’s lip had gone down a bit, and it was easier to see the damage. Both Courtney and I agreed that the cut indeed was something a medical doctor should have a look at. It was still bleeding and just really, really deep.

So off we went. The usual drill: triage, cashier’s office (where they always ask me the same questions, “Are you Courtney? What is your father’s name? Who is Abraham? – They always ask this; I’m thinking there’s some kind of attachment to our file requiring them to ask about an “Abraham” every time we show up. – is this your daughter August? Why does it say he is a girl in your records? etc.), then the actual ER. It was all over fairly quickly and without much waiting or pain. Because the cut is exclusively in his lip, the surgeon explained, they will not sew. It should heal by itself. Keep it clean. A nurse administered a tetanus shot, and we were on our way. I went to choir and August went home.

After choir I put the boys to bed, and cleaned up after dinner. August had some Ibuprofen for the pain, and William read to Abraham. There I was, past 10 pm, with hours and hours of work left to do, and still no groceries in the house. How?!

For the first time in a very long time I thought “I could really use a drink.” Normally I might have had something, because I do drink - not excessively and not all the time of course, but I really enjoy especially Italian wines - or if the mood is right, gin & tonic or a margarita. Oh, and Galliano. However, naturally, when I’m pregnant or nursing an infant, I can’t, and especially when I’m pregnant, I even have a bit of an aversion to alcohol, so it wasn’t a real craving, but an idea about a certain situation. You know, like in the movies, when people say, “Gosh, I could really use a drink.”

I made some soothing chamomile tea with honey, plopped down on the couch, and sitting absolutely still, I could feel the baby kicking and tumbling inside my body. What a treat. Sigh. 

Everyone’s fine. We all got through today. August’s teeth are intact, and he’s going to be OK. We’ll go grocery shopping tomorrow, and I’ll work tomorrow. Thank you Lord, for watching over us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Test scores and tears

Do your kids cry when they don’t score 100% on tests or exercises that involve some kind of reward? My 9-year old spent 10 minutes on the couch today bawling, because he forgot the $-sign in three of his math-test answers, which in our family warrants a 0.

I don’t push my kids very hard, I don’t make a big deal out of these things; I just tell them to fix the mistakes and encourage them to believe that by thinking about it, they won’t make them again. I have started trying to use carrots and rewards to eliminate unnecessary mistakes in works that they deliver. E.g. once/week I’ll tell them, “If you make less than 3 mistakes on this math lesson and mixed practice, you only have to do the lesson practice tomorrow, and can skip the mixed practice.” This is what we tried today; since William forgot the $-sign in three answers, and made two other minor mistakes (similar – forgot the units), he doesn’t get the reward today, but gets to try again tomorrow. No biggie, right? Wrong! This whole incidence resulted in a complete meltdown.

We don’t learn for testing - in fact, we have probably done just a fraction of the testing other kids have done at their school - but I do want my boys to develop skills that will help them score well, when testing becomes necessary later on in life. Eliminating silly mistakes is a step in this direction. But how to motivate it without tears and disappointment? Or maybe learning to handle failure is part of the educational experience?

Later today, William had a grammar test on which he scored 49/50. It cheered him up a little, but then of course he spent quite some time fretting about his one mistake.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Expanding my comfort zone

I’m not out and about a lot. I homeschool the boys, I work from home, take care of the house and the kids, socialize with neighbors in the park, and all this pretty much occupies most of my time. I get groceries, of course, go to my prenatal check-ups, choir and music group practices, and run errands, but this is all within walking distance. I’m not the kind of mother who explores markets, souks, shops around for the best manicure in town, visits fares or exhibitions, go for drinks, or try new and interesting restaurants with my friends. I always imagine these activities take a lot of car rides, time, and effort that I just don't have.

Today though, I did something I haven't tried here in Beirut before. I desperately needed new glasses, went out, and found a shop close to campus where the optician seemed competent. I got a new prescription, and even got a new set of frames, that were not brown or black. I know, right! The optician was really helpful in recommending a style and color, and I didn't have to pay an arm. 

Then – oh yeah, it gets even better! – then I went to get my hair cut at one of the places that one of my more chic friends had recommended - also close to campus, but still! – AND I threw in a pedicure while I was there. And I didn’t choose blue or transparent nail polish, but went with a winter color; a fancy dark Bordeaux. It looks great. The hair cut is so-so, but I’m never going to be happy unless my sister-in-law cut my hair, so I count it as a success that I didn’t run home crying. It’s not badly done, but nothing like the hair cut I wanted. It’s 2-3 inches shorter than I asked for, and while I wanted him to cut my hair straight off, he rounded it towards the front and layered it. Then he blow-dried it into a really strange arrangement which pretty much blew away as soon as I left the salon.

Exhausting. But... interesting.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shouldn't count my chickens

I should add to my previous post on Lazy Parenting that obviously we still have one baby to raise, so as the Swedes say, 

I shouldn’t praise the ice until I’ve crossed it all the way. 

Maybe this boy will be totally different. And perhaps we should try something new. For the sake of fairness, I’ll put this baby in a crib, get a pram, bottle feed and use the cry-it-out method for bedtime.

Ha, ha, just kidding.

Attachment Parenting is for lazy parents

Although we never sat down and marked off techniques on a sheet of paper, our natural parenting instincts often overlap with the much loved and hated Attachment Parenting approach. To be honest, our motivation is not just driven by research showing that breastfeeding is good for baby, but there’s also a fair amount of convenience involved. I just can’t imagine myself getting up several times at night, sit in a rocking chair nursing my baby, put him back down in a crib and then go back to sleep in a different room. I’m more of a reach over in bed, nurse baby half asleep and then doze off again kind of person. I don’t think I could sleep properly if I couldn’t hear my baby breath. I breastfeed because really, it’s the easiest way to feed baby anywhere anytime. And it’s cheap! When they’re older it’s still the quickest way to put them to sleep, and really, would I want to struggle with weaning and all that it entails (engorgement, upset child, sleepless nights, etc.) when it can just happen by itself eventually? Ha, ha, ha. I wear my baby because it’s the most convenient way to transport him and keep him happy, and I just don’t like hearing a baby cry, so I respond immediately if I hear it and do whatever needed to make it stop.

Yes, you’re right. Maybe ours is more appropriately called the Lazy Parenting method, actually.

Anyways. How has all this worked out for us? We have three healthy, independent boys that never really cried at all, weaned themselves without any drama involved, go to sleep by themselves and sleep in their own beds all night without ever coming back into ours. The biggest challenge I’ve had is resisting the urge to pick them up and bring them back into my bed when I go to sleep. Happy kids, happy parents.

Of course we never tried anything else. Maybe there are easier systems, more efficient, or short cuts to a secure, happy, independent child. And all children and families are different of course, so maybe all this doesn’t always work. I’m glad it has for us though, since we’re …you know, lazy parents.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Because sometimes it's nice to just be alone

Yesterday I went out to run errands, alone. Why does this warrant a blog post? I’ll tell you!

Usually when I run errands, Abraham comes with me, because every time I get ready to go somewhere, he’ll say “I really, really want to come!” or my dear husband has some odd errand that he needs to run and since he hates going out alone, he asks if he can come. Often I end up with both of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my husband and children. Since we homeschool, I see my kids most of every day, and since my husband works mainly from home, I usually see him most of every day as well. In addition, we all enjoy doing things together, as you might have noticed, and a lot of our spare time activities involve the entire family.

So maybe I enjoy going out alone sometimes; just me, my thoughts and my list. I get through everything more efficiently; there’s nobody holding my hand, walking with a sluggish pace and stopping to look at everything, and there’s nobody asking to go to Starbucks for coffee or stop to browse for electronics we have no intention of purchasing at Virgin. Also, I can go off and rummage through the clothing piles at Eldorado for a few minutes, without anyone sighing from boredom, or chat for an extra minute with the man at the fabric shop.

Yesterday I did both, plus everything else on my list (or sort of, a couple of the things I couldn’t finish: the optician wasn’t in so I couldn’t get my new prescription, and I really didn’t see a candelabra that I liked/could afford). I was only out for less than two hours, but it was quite invigorating. I even stopped to have a snack (yes, when you’re pregnant a small cheese burger is a “snack”) and enjoyed eating it on the go, alone, without having to wipe someone else’s mouth or hear complaints about the lack of nutritional value in McDonald’s food. 

It was a good and well needed break.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Finding maternity wear in Beirut is...

...practically impossible, if you, like me, don’t have a lot of money to spend, and/or don’t have a car to drive around seeking out special boutiques all over town. There’s no Motherhood or Old Navy. A few weeks ago, I even took a taxi to the ABC mall, because I had seen on the H&M website that they would have maternity clothes (neither their store in Hamra, nor their store at the Souks have it). Turns out, they don’t sell H&M mama at the ABC mall either. In fact, the shop holder told me, the only H&M in Lebanon that has maternity wear is in Sidon, a 45 min. drive south of Beirut. Really? I mean, really?! I asked them if perhaps they could bring in a few items for me, even offered to pay in advance, and they just laughed at me, “We can’t do THAT!” Nice customer service, H&M – not!

Quite desperate I found a small boutique in Hamra a couple of weeks ago that sells maternity wear, but unless I would like to be mistaken for a pregnant prostitute, there was nothing there for me to buy. Then I remembered having seen the occasional maternity t-shirt in the medley of clothing at Eldorado on Hamra street. It’s a store that sells brand clothes that for some reason were rejected by the original shop. Like an outlet, I guess. Sometimes they have a lot of nice items from a variety of brands like Calvin Klein, Target, Walmart, H&M, C&A, Part Two, Vero Moda, etc. and sometimes they have nothing. I went, searched through their piles, and… I didn’t find a big collection of maternity wear, but I did come upon a small stack of H&M mama ¾ sleeved t-shirts with ruched sides in various colors, Large and Medium. Good enough for me! Paired with the jeans and pants that I have from earlier pregnancies, my two skirts and one dress, I’m good!

I'm not chic or fashionable, but at least dressed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We are not alone!

Today we met another American homeschooling family living here in Lebanon: our first and only, so far. It was great. There’s no secret handshake or a homeschooling fellowship with passwords and symbols, and I have yet to meet a homeschooling family anywhere that homeschools for the exact same reasons as we do, or use the same material. But we do have that one thing in common; our choice to teach our children at home. It was very nice to meet them, and to know that we are not the only weird ones in this established school-centered community. And making new friends is always fun too!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's a...!

While writing this, our cleaning lady who comes once/week (God bless her and the fact that we can afford it!) is beating the dust out of our couch pillows in the living room as if her life depended on it, I’m helping my fourth grader with his paper on Charlemagne, and my 3-year old is playing some kind of loud music game on the iPad right next to me on the other side. So; if there’s something in this blog post that doesn’t quite make sense – now you know why.

I went for one of my regular prenatal check-ups this morning. When I was pregnant in Belgium, I went to see a midwife for my regular check-ups, and she would measure my uterus to make sure it was growing, check my blood pressure and then we’d listen to the baby’s heart beat with a Doppler. In Egypt I barely had any check-ups, and the ones I had were similar to my Belgian experience. In both countries, I only had a couple of ultrasounds and they were performed in a special ultrasound center/hospital. Here in Lebanon, I see an OB-GYN over at the hospital. He has an ultrasound machine in his office, and uses it for every check-up. It’s great to get to see the baby every time I go. Today he examined the baby’s private parts and was able to determine the sex of this baby. And guess what? You may now officially call me and my husband the mighty boy-makers! That’s right. The boys were a little disappointed at first when I told them, “Because,” they said, “we really needed a girl on our team.” Whatever that means. But they’re already over it. I know my mom will be very disappointed too – sorry mom! – but what can you do? I’m happy. Boys are great! And no, we didn’t have this baby so that we could try for a girl. A lot of people ask me that question. I find it a very strange idea, but maybe some people keep having babies for such a purpose.

I have to admit that I did, when I first found out I was pregnant, walk through the little girls’ section at H&M one day while shopping there, just to have a look. There were so many cute items, none of which had pictures of Angry Birds, zombies or boys on surf boards/tractors/motorcycles on them. I looked and I thought, “Oh wow, I wouldn’t even know where to start! Everything is SO cute!” Sigh. Oh well, oh well. Think of all the money we’re saving, right?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012!

As usual, AUB this year organized trick-or-treating around campus housing for a couple of hours on a weekend close to Halloween: All children must be accompanied by an adult. Only for residents or by invitation only. Only knock on doors with decorations. Very civilized.

Last year we ran out of candy after 20 minutes because Courtney handed it out by the handful while I went out with the boys. This year we were better prepared, and I think there were fewer kids - probably courtesy of the Eid.

Abraham and August went as zombies, William as an assassin, He's not wearing his full costume in the picture because he was still putting it together as we were walking out the door. He has a bit of a hard time making his mind up sometimes. For blood I mixed corn syrup with red food coloring, It worked really well.

The older boys went ahead, and I walked with a couple of friends and their little boys. The three, a zombie and two dinosaurs, were super cute and got extra candy in most places.

All three of my boys came home with a full bag of candy each. Abraham stuffed his face and then had his mandatory meltdown, because it wouldn't really be Halloween without a screaming three-year old, now would it? It was great!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Here's Abraham's illustration of what he wants to be for Halloween:

a zombie!

You can see the fake blood around his mouth, right? The make-up around his eyes and the matted hair?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Doctor's visit

I took Abraham to the doctor today. I have found a family doctor at the clinic that I like and she had 15 minutes open today. She is very, very young and obviously not very experienced, but this means that she looks things up twice, and is very thorough. She is not arrogant or ignorant like some other doctors I’ve met here, and she listens to me and is attentive.

She examined both Abraham and me very thoroughly. It is obvious that she likes Abraham; she takes her time to chat with him, and he’s always very cute and well-behaved in her office. He takes deep breaths and says “Ahhhh!” when she asks him. Today he clarified several times, “NO shots today!” just to make sure she understood that he had no intention of receiving any vaccinations. (Last time we went was for his boosters.) He is extremely ticklish and starts giggling as soon as she gets her stethoscope out. When she looked at his spots today he started laughing out loud. She thought his infection was still viral and since there were some signs that he might be improving, that we should wait a couple of more days – if he doesn’t get better he’ll need antibiotics. I like this approach.

I however was diagnosed with bronchitis and a sinus infection. The fever, my sinuses, and my chest spoke for themselves. Hello, Augmentin.

Here's an interesting fact for you: this is my fourth pregnancy and I got sick like this during every single one of them. I had pneumonia at 10 weeks with my first, bronchitis at 14 weeks with my second, pneumonia at 12 weeks with my third, and now bronchitis at 16 weeks with my fourth. When they say that your immune system is weakened during pregnancy as not to attack the baby, they really aren't kidding!

Before we left, the doctor also got a Doppler out to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Abraham listened for a long time, and then looked at the doctor. Then he looked at me and asked, “Is the doctor going to take the baby out now?” He wanted to meet him brother/sister. I told him that the baby needs to grow a little more - that he’s not ready to come out, and our young family doctor, who looked a bit shocked, piped in, “And I’m certainly not ready either!”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sickness prevails

Little one is still fighting sickness today. We managed to stave off the cough a bit (thanks for advice!) though – I’m not sure what helped because it was a multifaceted attack, involving everything from Vicks Vaporub and honey, to some homeopathic cough remedy my neighbor gave us. But he still has a fever, a lot of snot (Abraham is still not a very efficient nose blower), and this morning he threw up. Now, last time we were in this situation I took him to the emergency room, because that time his vomiting was accompanied by heavy, labored breathing – clear signs of pneumonia – and sure enough, a chest x-ray and two doctors confirmed that diagnosis. This time his chest doesn’t have that sound, however perhaps there’s no reason to wait for it? On the other hand though, I would really like to see him recover from this without antibiotics (which they will prescribe, pneumonia or not), and as I’m still not recovered myself, I’d rather not have to hike up the hill and spend hours in a hospital (in vain, if he still recovers without intervention), when we could be snuggled up on the couch together. Sigh. Adult decisions, why are you bothering me?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cough, cough

I am searching the internet for cough home remedies. Abraham has been keeping everyone awake for several nights now with his persistent coughing, and it doesn’t seem to ease up during the day. He doesn’t have a fever – there’s just *a lot* of snot. I’ve tried honey and lots of cold drinks, even paracetamol. I could take him to the doctor, but she would just tell me he has a cold with a cough, and prescribe paracetamol and cough syrup (I’ve made that trip many times before – that’s how I know), so why waste the hours and energy?

I might just end up going to get some cough syrup, however the road blocks and protests following the assassination in Ashrafiye yesterday are slightly discouraging my enthusiasm for leaving campus (as is my own cold, actually), although I’m sure Hamra is perfectly safe and unaffected.

You don't happen to have a secret cough remedy up your sleeve, do you?


Right after the explosion yesterday, I went down to the playground with the boys, and met up with other parents in our community – as always, on a day after school. We didn’t know then, that it was an assassination that had happened, just that someone has detonated a car bomb in a busy district not too far away. Some parents I talked to live close to the site, and even heard/felt it. Since the explosion happened right before school lets out, they still had to leave their homes and (drive a long way around to) pick up their kids (right after they busted out of the elevator they were in, which stopped when the electricity went out due to the blast). Another family had visitors here from overseas, that they had sent downtown for a day of sightseeing. We all hoped these innocent bay area-tourists remained oblivious of the incident until they could get back. We even made a joke about it. Another mother commented that when they moved here, she said her criteria for staying was that there would be no kidnappings and no car bombs, and then we all laughed out loud about that.

It may seem crazy that we would choose to live here, in the middle of all this, but it has come so naturally, and there are good things that drew us here. I used to wonder, when hurricanes strike the same US town several times, why people would stay and choose to live there, but now I kind of understand. The thought of just packing up and leaving is impossible: this is where our work is, our stuff, our lives. And the idea that the majority of people here would let anything really bad happen again is irrational. I have faith in the future of Lebanon, and hope that the situation in Syria will resolve soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The art of procrastination

My dear professor is still finalizing his book manuscript. I will not comment on this extensively. It is painful to watch, that’s all I’ll say, although there are some not-as-unpleasant parts about it.

Yesterday when I came into the kitchen to prepare a meal for our dinner guest later that night, I found that my husband had got our nicest cut of meat out of the freezer and proceeded to start making salted cured beef. The other night I was working on a translation when I smelled the sweet aroma of homemade caramel apples from the kitchen, also the creation of my man. He even threw in some caramel popcorn that the boys and I enjoyed with a movie. All the while the dear professor went back to his work, of course.

Me? I just clean up afterwards, and enjoy the treats his procrastination produces.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Our boys' night terrors

Our two older boys have always suffered from night terrors. Both started around the age of five or six years old, and I would say both of them have started to grow out of it over the past couple of years.

In the beginning it was very frightful of course, and we didn’t know what to make of it. We did some research and understood theoretically what it was and that it wasn’t anything directly harmful to our children or a sign of a bigger problem, but still it is so forceful and scary that it’s difficult not to react to it.

Also, although there is some research and theories, we soon realized that there’s more to our children’s night terror than the literature holds, and/or these theories are incomplete and the entire problem requires further research. This means that we’ve had to discover a lot of things on our own, figuring them out as we go. Scientists say for example that a child that is sleep-walking or having night terrors should not be communicative, however, we have sat down with our boys during a night terror, got them to calm down and answer questions (correctly, such as history questions or math problems, or “What’s my name? What day is it?” etc.), eyes wide open - they’re still completely asleep, and remember nothing the next day. Also, the boys will do logical things, like try to open the front door (which we know to lock carefully) and when they can’t, knock, all the while obviously playing out some kind of scary dream; talking, screaming, gesticulating. That’s another thing; researchers claim that children cannot experience a nightmare AND night terror at the same time, and say that children in a night terror state are not dreaming. Obviously though, ours do.
All this is freaky, however not disturbing – what bothers me is when I can’t calm them down as they scream in terror about someone pushing them down the slide, taking their Ninjagos, or some kind of creature chasing them.

Now, after years, however, we’ve got used to it and having tried preventing it in all the recommended ways without much luck (solid bedtime routine, calm sleeping environment, etc.) we know it’s something that just happens. So, when Abraham, almost four years old, had a few nights of terror recently, we knew to handle it with ease. Try to calm him down, get him back in bed, and wait it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spelling challenges

Spelling is a subject my oldest son flew through like a breeze. The Spelling Workout program was just right for him, and without any effort he has acquired a perfect command of all existing spelling rules in English.

My fourth grader on the other hand has always been struggling. Until last year, he still mixed up b and d consistently, as well as read a lot of words backwards, especially three letter words: ‘was’ always turned into ‘saw’, ‘God’ was ‘dog’. It made for a few laughs during reading time, sure, and at first I thought maybe he would just grow out of it, but last year we realized this was a serious matter, and something we have to work on. One of the problems is that he knows all the rules, but when it comes to applying them to actual words, he gets lost. 

We have chosen not to label his condition, since 1/ the label's main purpose is to determine what to do with children in regular schools that don't keep up with the lesson plan, and 2/ there seems to be as many programs and solutions to this kind of challenge as there are children (although we are of course following general common advice recommended in this kind of situation; one-on-one tutoring and special attention and education [kind of hard to avoid when you homeschool, ha ha]), but have designed a special program this year, hoping to overcome the bump that we are facing.

We are still using the Spelling Workout program, but are complementing it with extra reading practice and word recognition, word roots/suffixes/prefixes and spelling memorization. 

Google will tell you that the average college educated person knows 20,000 - 25,000 words, and there’s obviously no way my son can memorize the spelling of all those words, but we’ve started with a memorization program with the 1000/2000 most common words in the English language, and I figured we could get at least 3000 more words done within the next couple of year. Spelling workout provides about 7000 words, so I figure, come high school, my son will know for sure how to spell at least 10,000 words, and in reality probably about double that, since he actually is starting to recognize patterns and related words daily. We just have to stick with it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shopping day

Despite suffering from a bad cold, I still endured a two-hour torture session, a.k.a. our bi-monthly shopping, at Spinney’s in Jnah this afternoon. We really had no choice. There was no food left in our kitchen, at all. Not even cereal. I wasn’t up for it, naturally, but now – with a restocked kitchen and yummy things in my tummy - I’m glad we went and that it’s over with for a while.

I’ve probably mentioned it before: the days immediately following a shopping session are the best, since there are still a lot of meals to choose from, including fancy fruits, different kinds of lettuce, and other treats. Towards the end of the second week we start running out of the good stuff and/or the choices are so limited, cooking and eating gets a bit boring. Then we start running out of everything, and cooking turns into a challenge. When we enter the “innovative soup” stage, the whole family knows a shopping tour is inevitable within the next 24 hours. Three lists are written out, a two-week menu created, and off we go.

So here I am tonight, after a wonderful taco salad for dinner, enjoying a freshly made strawberry/kiwi/grape fruit salad for dessert; satisfying a craving and (hopefully) curing my cold with one meal.