Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On Pinterest, DIY's and inspiration

Although looking at cool or inspiring pictures makes me feel good, it can be quite destructive in that it wastes time, and I’ve had to create certain rules for myself when it comes to Pinterest. I’ve also noticed it can create frustration because of the accumulation of uncompleted projects and non-realized ideas. I don’t think I’m the only one with this problem. Today I read complaints by a couple of pinners/bloggers about the frustration of having too many DIY’s, accompanied with complete lists of tips for dealing with them, or course. I had to look it up. DIY: Do-It-Yourself.

Now all this explains a few things.

Already very busy moms are spending time online sharing ideas on how to deal with a busy, messy life. Said busy moms now feel like they need to get creative and organized, and start collecting ideas, or even create their own ideas, because who wants to be inferior? A pile of projects and ideas builds up, and before you know it, these busy moms are overwhelmed. Especially when a majority of their to-do’s are labeled “Do It Yourself!” They go online to find ideas on how to deal with being overwhelmed by trying to juggle too many things. And the cycle starts over, only with a heavier load.

Everybody is sick today. The 3-year old didn’t sleep barely at all because of his cold. , the 10-year old has a fever, a cold and a sore throat, and the 8-year old has a sore throat. Homeschool today consists of a lot of tissues, cups of tea with honey, and educational movies. I have a very sore throat and a slight fever, accompanied by no inspiration. Can you tell?

Monday, February 27, 2012

200th post from Lebanon

It’s my 200th post since I started this blog when we moved to Lebanon. Dear reader ( yes, I mean both of you), thank you for stopping by once in a while. Although I write the posts in this blog with no other motivation than to satisfy an impulsive desire to write and to share some of the experiences we enjoy - or endure - in this crazy part of the world, I hope that someone, somewhere out there can get at least some use or enjoyment out of the information I share.

As a celebratory gesture to mark this petty 200th post occasion, and to attempt improved regularity in my posting, I will introduce a new recurring feature; the Friday daybook. I see it all over the blogosphere, it’s very popular, and I realize I am not being original in any way, but I always enjoy reading these little snippets of someone else’s everyday myself, and thought I’d give it a go. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weighed down

I’ve started some kind of… something. I need to lose a lot of weight, but I'm like the worst dieter ever, so saying that I'm on a diet would be incorrect.

I have dieted in the past. A year after I had my second baby I lost 8 kgs over three weeks on the Atkins diet. It was really, really hard. I was always thirsty, always felt kind of icky (from eating too much bacon and eggs, no doubt), and I craved apples and strawberries so bad I couldn't stand it). The weight stayed off, and I guess three weeks seems like a small sacrifice, but it really was unbearable. I’ve also tried weight watchers, but the weight loss was slow, and at this point in my life, the whole counting calories and point system is much too complicated.

What I’m doing now is

1/I'm trying to think about what I put in my mouth, and not eat like I'm used to. Although I certainly know what's healthy and not, I have not cared one bit over the past couple of years about what I eat. I’ve eaten what’s cheap, easy, at hand and tasty. I’ve eaten because something was there in front of me, or because it was easy. The result is devastating. In the past I've only weighed this much while pregnant. And not like first trimester pregnant, but really pregnant.

The good news is that it’s not hard for me to restrict my eating, since I’m not very particular about what I eat or the size of a meal, as long as it’s tasty and at hand. Vegetarian, no red meat, just salads, no bread, whatever; I’m cool with all foods (as long as there’s some variety). The bad news is, it’s going to take a long time for me to lose all this weight, and I don’t know if I have the mental capacity to keep myself focused. I’m so used to putting everyone and everything ahead of me, that I can see myself moving this whole dieting business to the back burner if it takes too much of my time and effort. Why go through the effort of making a salad when Ramen noodles are so much quicker?

2/I've started exercising regularly, like, every day. I run around the track - or on the treadmill at the gym if it's raining - for about 45 minutes every day. If I can manage, I like to do this around sun set – after school is done but before dinnertime, while the kids play in the playground. It is so beautiful and energizing to run under a pink, purple, blue, yellow and red sky, against the blue Mediterranean, it takes my breath away every time I come around the track so that I have the sea in front of me. If nothing else, this splendor along with the wonderful feeling I get when running, will encourage me to keep going. Then after the kids go to bed I do 30-45 minutes of Mel B, which is a Wii fitness game Courtney got for me. It’s not exactly cardiovascular, but it's fun and it gives me really sore muscles so I figured it must be doing something. Most of all, it keeps me from watching TV with snacks and drinks in the evenings. See, there’s some strategy here.

I’m no health guru, and there might be more efficient ways for me to lose weight and get into shape, but I figure that if I can keep this going for a while, I might start seeing some results soon. I hope. What do you think? Do you have any advice?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Grocery shopping in Beirut, Lebanon

Nobody in our family likes shopping, and least of all grocery shopping. Because of this, and in an attempt to save money, we only go to the store once every 7-10 days, filling out with only fruits and vegetables in between.

Before we moved to campus, we did almost all our shopping at Idriss, which was just across the street from our old apartment. For alcoholic beverages, pork products and a few other special items that we couldn’t find at Idriss, we would hike up to TSC at Concorde once in a while. Now that we live on campus, Idriss is no longer the most convenient store for us. Traffic through Hamra makes it the least accessible store of all, and walking there and having the groceries delivered is not an option after what happened when I tried it last time. Two of the delivery guys followed me home hand-carrying my grocery bags. Not only was the whole ID-card process to get them onto the AUB premises a hassle, but during the entire walk through campus they made embarrassing passes on every single female student they met. Then of course they wanted an enormous tip since the walk was so long and inconvenient. TSC at Concorde is not very accessible any more either, since it’s a too long of a walk for Abraham, and again, because of traffic through Hamra, taxi is an unpleasant option.

So what are the grocery stores we’ll go to?

Spinney’s in Jnah is our best alternative, because it a/has most everything we need, b/the prices are among the best in town, and c/it’s easy to get to, via the Cornishe past the beach. Even if there’s traffic, it’s usually not as bad as anywhere else. We always call a taxi company, who charges the standard 10,000LB each way, and there’s rarely any hassle.

Monoprix in Jnah has the best deli and bakery in town, and we love going there for all their wonderful cheeses, cured meats and breads, however there’s no alcohol there at all, and other groceries that we rely on, such as cereal and cans, are more expensive and the selection is not optimal. An added value to Monoprix though is their home department with everything from lamps and curtain rods, to toys and electronics.

TSC in Jnah is gross, with most of the grocery area taken up by a restaurant where people seem to mainly sit and smoke. Yuck.

I've been to Fahed's past Ashrafiye a few times, and it's a good store for things like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other household items especially. They have most of everything, with good prices on cereal and a lot of ethnic foods, including American foods. It's the store that is the farthest away from us though, and their meat section and deli leave a few things to desire. 

Spinney’s in Ashrafiye is well stocked (they even have fresh pork!), prices are excellent, and we could do all our shopping there all the time if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so, so horribly hard to get to because of the traffic. Really, it’s awful. The store is also a little bit crowded compared to Spinney’s in Jnah.

The TSC signature store downtown is nice, although again, the restaurant - which takes up a large part of the store - bothers me, the prices are significantly higher, and they don’t have everything we need.

I've heard of other stores, like Euroshopper, but after our recent discoveries in Jnah, our exploration desires in this department have faded a bit. Will keep you posted though.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A calm Friday night by the raging sea

Last night was a non-eventful Friday night. The kind of Friday night I love, once in a while: no commitments, stormy weather outside, no work, and nothing urgent hanging over me. An entire evening to watch a movie with the boys, bake cupcakes, make popcorn, finish off school work and chores at a leisurely pace, fold and put away laundry, change the sheets on all the beds, and read on the couch. Towards the end of the night, the adults watched a movie together, Take Shelter, which got 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a bit late for me – I drifted off to sleep several times – but the movie was well done, and the ending didn't bother me as much as endings like that usually do. 

Once in bed, I fell asleep to the sound of the strong wind, beating rain and loudest of them all, the Mediterranean. The winds were pulling on the palm trees outside my window, and once in a while I could hear something break off somewhere, and swish away. Every crease in the house made a singing, winy sound. The sea was very, very loud. I heard thundering waves crash against the shore, pounding the boardwalk, over and over again with the heavy, raging sea.

When I woke up it was light outside and I looked out the window; the waves were still big, but not as wild as they had been during the night. 

During the morning, the sea has calmed down, and now the sun is even peeking through. Time to get moving!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A little bit of everything in just a few days

Where did the week go? OK, the whole week isn’t gone yet, but the work week is practically over, and it went by so fast. I know I spent a fair amount of the first couple of days doing laundry after our trip. I also spent an entire day and then some hours another day working. And then there was Valentine’s Day here, which was a holiday. Not because of love, but to commemorate the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005. The boys had two parties that day, and I ended up staying at the Valentine’s party (with Abraham, who had fun playing with his friends), chatting with some friends over a glass of wine, while the older boys went to a birthday party. What mid-week decadence! Then there was all the cleaning, cooking, and toddler care, of course, not to mention that I – since I’ve recovered from my flu – have been back to exercising every day. That kind of thing takes time.

Oh and yes, the boys and I have had an intensive school week, doing special projects – apart from our regular subjects – on the human body and the ancient cultures of Sumer and Egypt. The boys don’t remember everything from our travels in Egypt, but with the help of pictures and stories, I’ve managed to revive their memories enough to make our history lessons quite exciting. 

Our conversation will go something like this:

“William, do you know what the Rosetta stone is?”

“Yes, I do. It’s a stone tablet with Hieroglyphic and Ancient Greek writing on it from the Ptolemaic era. Thanks to it, we now know how to read Hieroglyphs.”

“Do you remember the place where the stone was found?”


“You’ve been there. It’s in Rashid, near Alexandria in Egypt. Here is a picture of August leaning on the replica of the Rosetta stone in the exact spot it was found.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

End of our mini-vacation: returning the crappy car to the hotel

What sore muscles we all woke up with the next day! We had planned to visit Baalbeek but canceled and decided to save that trip for another time. We were all just too tired. When I returned the car later to the Gefinor Rotana, I complained. Such a prestigious hotel – The Gefinor Rotana in Beirut - should not have such a crappy car rental service. A car rental company should not – and certainly not as established as Europcar - rent out old, bad, dirty cars. Ever. And you really shouldn’t promise “immediate” service if you have no means of delivering it. We will never rent from Europcar/Lentacar at the Gefinor Rotana in Beirut again, and I already advised some of our neighbors who inquired about out rental experience not to rent from them.

How did the rental car representative react to my complaints? Did he offer me a refund? Free extra days? No. Nothing. He didn’t even apologize. He noted that he was aware of what had happened. And that was that. Bad, bad, bad!

So there you have it. Our little mini-holiday was not all smooth and pleasant, but it was really great to get out of town a bit and experience something different. And the moments that were good were truly wonderful. As soon as we find a better car rental company we will give Lebanon another shot. I still really want to visit Baalbeek, and we definitely need to hit the slopes again soon.

Mini-vacation day four: skiing

We had been told that there would be crowds of people at the ski resorts, but traffic to Faraya was surprisingly sparse. In fact, the roads were so calm, I wondered what was wrong. Had somebody issued an evacuation of Beirut without our knowledge? When we first spotted the snow, approaching the resort, the boys started jumping up and down in the back seat, shouting from joy. 

We were a couple of kilometers from Faraya when we finally ran into the crowds. A long, long line of cars, inching their way up the last couple of kilometers to the bottom of the slopes. It had taken us about an hour to get this close, and we proceeded to spend another hour in line. When we finally reached the entrance to Mzaar ski resort, we were told by a military man that we could not enter because our car was not a four wheel drive. What?! So after all that waiting, we had to turn around and park along the way. I really, really wished they had told us earlier, or put up a sign. Sigh. We proceeded to walk the last kilometer to the slopes, uphill, through water and slush, between cars. Me, carrying Abraham. By the time we got to the slopes we were exhausted. We ate our sandwiches – there’s nothing like a tasty, home packed lunch to cheer you up! - and proceeded to find out where we could get the lift passes and rent equipment. Both proved to be easy and not very expensive, although we barely needed the latter. Since it was the first time skiing for the boys, we spent the next couple of hours going over basic techniques and not covering any real slope. I showed the boys how to plow and turn, and use their bodies to control their skis, and I spent a lot of time helping them up after a fall. Although I didn’t get to try the slopes, I was excited to be back on skis and happy to see the boys learn. Next time I do some more advanced skiing. For Abraham we rented a sled, and after the boys got tired of skiing, we spent some time sledding with Abraham. We stayed until we were all too wet and cold, not to mention tired, to play any more, and then we headed home. What a great day!

Mini-vacation day three: a breather

We didn’t get food poisoning, but on Friday morning Courtney woke up with a master cold, so we decided to take a day to rest. I used the car to compliment our shopping at Fahed’s with some more shopping at TSC. Our entire family hates shopping and dreads the necessary taxi trips to and from the store three to four times/month, so I was hoping to get enough stocked up so that we wouldn’t have to go back for a while. I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the house, doing laundry and getting ready for our trip the next day – destination: Lebanon’s snowy mountains.

Mini-vacation day two: Tyre

We set out early on Thursday morning, armed with home-made sandwiches, drinks and snacks, as well as two guidebooks, heading south, destination: Tyre. All was going well – very well in fact, with close to no traffic and a beautiful coastal drive in wonderful weather – until the signs that said “Tyre, 26 km” suddenly were covered with warnings, and information in Arabic that we couldn’t make out. Unsure what to do, we figured we’d keep driving until we came upon something. Very soon we did: large, white tanks with "UN" written on them, barricades and a check-point with very professional looking soldiers with big guns, who had us turn back around. We drove to the previous exit and got off the highway. After a quick check on the map, we decided to go inland and around to circumvent the area that seemed to be blocked off. A few wrong turns, several UN check-points, and a wonderful picnic in the beautiful mountains later, we arrived in Tyre. We parked by the port, and walked through the souk (check out the electrical wiring!), spent some time on the beach (the Mediterranean always takes my breath away, no matter the season!), and then visited the archeological sites. There were a few other tourists there, but no more than we could count on our one hand. The sky was blue, the sea breathtaking, and the boys enjoyed the Roman remains, the Hippodrome in particular, which was very well preserved.

Before leaving Tyre we had dinner at the highly recommended – by both Globetrotter and the Lonely Planet – restaurant Le Petit Phoenicien. Why not round off a great day with some fresh seafood and good Lebanese mezze, right? Well. One very old man ran the restaurant himself, and both had obviously seen their better days a long time ago. Only the fish was fresh. The rest of the food that the man served us was rotten. In fact, Courtney only smelled the tabbouleh and the hummus before deciding not to eat it, but I had to taste it. Boy do I regret that! Definitely rotten, with some other unidentifiable taste on the side. How in the world did this restaurant ever end up in such recognized travel guides?? Even the bread was stale. We picked a little at the fresh fish, and had the complimentary oranges, hoping we would not all be sitting with our heads in a toilet later that night. Courtney noticed that the man saved the food we had rejected, and put it back in the containers it came from. Euw. On our way home – which we found a better road for – we concluded that it was the worst meal in a restaurant we had ever paid for. And it was expensive!

For more pictures from Tyre, see them here.

Mini-vacation day one: Car rental break down

We haven’t traveled around Lebanon much since we moved here. First we didn’t have the money, and then we didn’t have time or quite the confidence or knowledge enough to put a trip together. Since Christmas though I’ve had a growing desire to get out of town and explore something new, so I went online one day and reserved a car for a few days during the week between semesters.

We rented our car from the Gefinor Rotana hotel close to campus here in Beirut, so that I could walk and pick up the car. Last time we rented a car, it was from Sixt over on Mazraa, and although we were very happy with them, their offices are so far away that I had to take a taxi to pick up the car (or pay a fee for delivery), and then back home after returning it, adding inconvenience and extra costs. Walking over to the hotel seemed like the perfect solution.

The lesson we learnt here is that a convenient solution is not always the best solution. Our first day, excited to set out and leave Beirut behind us for a day, we decided to drive across the mountains to Anjjar – not too far away, yet far enough, and it looked interesting. After an hour and a half of driving on the Damascus road, somewhere in a small village up in the mountains, the car broke down. Just like that. It over-heated and died. I called the number the guy at Gefinor Rotana had written down for me, and it didn’t work, so I called him directly. By chance I had got his number while filling out the paper work at the hotel. He pretty much quoted our car rental broschure and assured me that someone would come to us with a replacement car “immediately, within ½ hour!” I wondered how in the world that would be possible, since it had taken us and hour and a half through some pretty heavy traffic to get to where we were, but I thought that surely he must have something figured out, or else he wouldn’t commit to such service. Stupid me. (I should mention here that as an added touch to this already unpleasant experience, my cell phone - of course – ran out of battery after our initial call, and I couldn’t keep calling the guy to find out why nobody was coming or when we really could expect help. We just had to wait patiently.) After well over two hours of sitting around waiting with three antsy kids, a guy showed up with a really dirty, icky car – inside and outside. Of course we had no choice but to take it. It seemed to run fine, although it too obviously needed servicing, and the tires were very worn. Since most of the afternoon had been lost and it was too late to continue to Anjjar, we turned around and headed back to Beirut to at least get some shopping in. The boys were very disappointed but thankfully accepted the reality. Driving into Beirut, I managed to find Fahed’s, which Courtney had never been to, and we got some well-needed shopping done.

While we were sitting around waiting for our replacement car, we witnessed some kind of procession that took place by the local church in the little village we were stuck in. What seemed to be a very important man whose face we had seen on posters along the road was greeted by the congregation, a band played, and some kind of mass followed. Then there were fireworks – big ones. I’m sure they were amazing, but nobody could really tell since it was still light out. Yes. Immense fireworks during day-light. Why would someone put on fireworks while the sun was still up? Although we haven’t found an answer to this question, we later figured that the procession and the important man had something to do with this.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We haven't had much time together...

...so, this weekend we rented a car to get out of town for a few days. I will fill out the details of our adventures here in the next few days, but I already wanted to share a few pictures from our trip to Tyre today.



Friday, February 3, 2012