Monday, March 26, 2012

Follow up - clean bookshelves

The bookshelves look good. Very organized, with mainly books, neatly stacked, and just a few items we feel belong there: our Aristotle bust, a Spartan warrior helmet, a couple of Egyptian pyramids, the chess clock, a couple of pictures, and a crucifix. Now if only the rest of my family could respect the order and keep it. And if only the rest of the house could be so tidy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday kids crowd

In our house right now, apart from Courtney and myself: one 6-year old girl, one 12-year old boy, two 10-year old boys, one 9-year old boy, one 8-year old boy, and one 3-year boy. During the weekend, when the kids need a break from playing outside in the playground, they come here. We’re like a children’s watering hole. 2l water + 1l cranberry juice = gone in 2 minutes. Whereupon they invade the playroom.

I’m grateful that our kids have friends, and feel comfortable bringing them home.

And then I’m grateful when they all leave again, to go back to the playground.

Friday-ish Daybook (more like Saturday I have to admit), March, 2012

Outside my window…

Beirut is sunny again, with a very blue sky, a large happy sun, a blue and turquoise sea, and campus is light green, with lots of flowers in the colors of the spring. I can open our balcony doors and windows, and let the fresh, crisp, but still warm spring air into my house. My plants are starting to grow, and the orange trees outside my window make everything smell so sweet. Nature is smiling at me, and I smile back.

I am wearing…

My Eddie Bauer jeans, which have been too snug forever. Now they’re too loose around my butt and they slide down. I guess I missed my window here, somehow.

I am creating…

All the light and fresh air in the house is making me want to create a happy space around us in the house. We spend so much time here studying, working and being together, I feel it’s important that our space is neat and bright. I was thinking about spring cleaning our book shelves. They’re a total disaster. Overflowing with books that are badly stacked, and a dump station for everything and nothing. I even had this crazy idea of painting the inside of the shelves. Courtney would probably kill me if I even mentioned that though, so I won’t let me imagination take over. A thorough organization will probably make it look nice too.

Towards an education…

After my intense working session last week, I am back, helping the boys advance. I spent three solid one-on-one hours with William today, helping him with his spelling and grammar. Both Courtney and I agree that he is slightly dyslexic. Courtney was too when he was young. I’m not too worried. We’re right here, working with him every day, and I can see improvements. August has no trouble with anything, except motivation. He’ll always just do the very minimum. Is it his age? Although I guess he has been quite excited about his piano lessons and a few other projects he has going. This is one of the advantages of homeschooling I guess; there's a lot of room for extracurricular activities when the school work seems less exciting from time to time.

From the kitchen…

I’ve cleaned the kitchen twice, but it still smells like fried fish from last night. We got a couple of bags of those colorful tropical fish that they sell in the frozen section for almost nothing, and fried them up in oil, restaurant style. They were good, but the fishy oil coats everything. I guess I need to bake bread or Swedish cinnamon rolls or something to restore a more pleasant scent in our house.

I am looking forward to…

Nothing in particular. I am enjoying this weekend, every moment of it. Tea and my Kindle. Leafing through a cookbook to find inspiration for dinner. Running the washer, and looking at a beautifully made bed, with all the clothes put away. Watering the plants on the balcony. Pushing Abe on the swing. Discussing ideas, texts, events and plans with Courtney. Running around the track without having to rush home. I am seizing the day.

When I have a moment…

I will get to that bookshelf. But first let me enjoy a lazy day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


So, I’m back. Six days ago I was sent a very large translation file, and I’ve been doing only the very basics, as we call them, since then until now. When my husband has a deadline, he works, eats and sleeps. These are his ‘basics’. My ‘basics’ look a little different.

I wake up, I serve the kids breakfast, make myself tea, get the boys set up with their school work, get dressed, and sit down to work. So far, so good. Then I have to go to the bathroom. To get to my bathroom, I have to walk through the laundry room. As I’m on my way, I realize I need to empty the dryer and fold the clothes that were in there, so that I can fit the clothes that are in the washer, in the dryer. I might be busy working, but everybody is still going to need clothes, right, so this has to be done! I empty the dryer and refill it with the wet clothes, and then bring the dry, folded clothes into the bedroom. Once there, I make the bed and clean up so that I can dump the clean clothes on the bed and sort them. I start sorting clothes, but soon get a feeling that something is wrong. Wait. I still have to pee. So I start walking towards the bathroom, when a boy holds me up. Abraham needs a drink, and the older boys need help with their work. I help them for a while, math, grammar, whatever, and then the electricity goes off so I have to go turn the dryer back on. While in the laundry room, I get that one feeling, like I forgot something. Oh, right! Work! So I go sit down to work. I start translating, trying to ignore the chats and the ‘urgent’ e-mail about other translations, and especially the boys’ claims that they are ready for lunch. And then I start feeling really uncomfortable. A couple of sentences later, I realize I still have to pee! So I get up to go to the bathroom, and… well. you know. The whole thing repeats itself. At some point I make lunch and clean up after that, change Abe or try to encourage potty usage. Then I have to help the boys with their work again, and/or take Abraham outside. Don’t think that I am neglecting work though. Oh, no! I am continuously trying to sit down to work.
This goes throughout the day, until I suddenly realize that it’s really getting to the point where I have to have made some progress, or I’m screwed; usually around dinner time. So I make dinner, clean up, put the boys to bed, take care of preparations for the morning and sit down to work. I mean really, really work. Would you believe it if I said that by now I feel kind of tired? So I get up to get a snack and a refreshing drink, and while I’m in the kitchen I realize I still have to take care of the laundry in the dryer, so I do that, and while I’m at it, collect all the laundry for another load to run first thing in the morning. Because no matter how much work I have, everyone has to wear clothes, right? Back in my chair, ready to start working - I mean, this is it; I HAVE to do this now, or I won’t be able to at all – I get that feeling again, like I forgot something. And guess what?

No time! Because a boy is sleep walking, and I have to get him back to bed.

Aaargh. So there you have it: my basics. But "When do I finish this work I do?" you ask. My answer: it’s amazing how little sleep a person actually can function on for a limited amount of time. At least during the night, you don’t really have to go pee.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A post about something that has not been done

My very smart husband rarely does anything without proper research. He is very thorough. If he is going to cook Indian food, for example, he will acquaint himself with the history of Indian food, various techniques, regions, ingredients and their properties, and anything else most people don’t know about Indian food (which they nonetheless successfully cook all over the world).

Lacking the patience, time, and motivation that my husband has, I don’t always do my research before venturing into unknown waters. Take my newly begun effort to get in shape for example. I remember when the husband got in shape back in between the older boys; he left nothing to fate. He knew exactly how long to do what, and precisely the most optimal way reach his goal. Me, not so much. I feel like I’m fumbling in the dark. I like running, but after a couple of weeks of intense running, it seems I run further much faster, and I’m just not sure how to direct that. 

I used to run three miles and it would take me around 40 minutes. Then I got better at it, and managed to run three miles in closer to 30 minutes, so a couple of times, I ran four or even five miles instead, which took me about an hour. Then today I went to run on the treadmill at the gym - because it was quite windy outside and the field was occupied by football players, whom I find a bit intimidating sometimes - but the two treadmills that show any system were occupied, and I got stuck with a treadmill that only shows kilometers. So today I'm not sure how fast or far I ran compared to other days. I should probably look it up. When I get a moment.

It’s the same thing with other exercise; is there something special I could be doing to focus on certain areas of muscles that are useful at my age? How much should I do of what? For the moment, I just do whatever comes my way. if not running, then “Today’s workout” on the Wii. Sometimes it asks me if I would like to ‘customize a work out’, and I just look at it with a puzzled face. What could I do?

You see, I ask the questions, at least. I just don’t take the time to look it all up, check out the books, and put together a program. Sigh. I should, shouldn’t I? Why not make my effort more efficient?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Daybook, March 16, 2012

Outside my window…

It’s pouring rain! Dark clouds and loud thunders. Everything is soaking wet. This morning when I woke up, the wind from the sea was so strong I thought the palm trees outside our window would break off. The rain was coming down sideways. People are saying this is one of the last storms before spring and summer. After our rain-less years in Cairo, I didn’t think I could get sick of the weather here, but I have to admit that I’m starting to look forward to those sunny, hot, Mediterranean summer days very much.

I am wearing…

My sports outfit; blue sweats, long sleeved black t-shirt, sports bra, since I’m hoping to get my exercise in before lunch. Although it certainly doesn’t look like I’ll be running around the track today. Treadmill at the gym or Mel B Wii? I don’t know if I could make it to the gym without getting soaked.

I am reading…

I wish! Since I have 20,000 words left to translate of this book on project management, and only four days left to do it, I have time only for the bare necessities; housework, exercise, kids. A little sleep.

I am listening to…

I’m sitting in the living room chair with the balcony behind me, and I can hear the rain hitting the trees outside. August is whispering numbers to himself as he goes through his math lesson at the dinner table. William is reading a story to Abraham about frogs, taking a break from Laura’s star, which is requested by our obsessed three year old at least twenty times a day. Abraham repeats every word William reads. Courtney is reading quietly, chuckling now and then when he picks something up that Abraham says. These are all my favorite sounds.

Towards an education…

Prof. Husband has taken over science, which means the boys are sitting through a lot of lectures that are way above their levels, doing assignments I have no idea how they get through, and are following some kind of MIT correspondence course. Prof. Husband says, “it’s not THAT much more advanced!” I’m sitting back to see where this is going. Since these boys’ father interpreted Nietzsche at the age of twelve and solved advanced mathematical university graduate degree problems at sixteen, it might not be a disaster. We’ll see.

From the kitchen…

As this is a busy, busy work week, we went shopping and are prepared for the week that is the week of familiar, easy meals that we could make in our sleep. Taco salad (so easy!), Spaghetti Bolognese (easy and cheap), baked fish with veggies & mashed potatoes (because that’s what we had once/week when I was little), Lasagna (because I already made the sauce for the Spaghetti Bolognese – duh!), cauliflower soup (easy and popular), chicken curry with naan (easy and popular, the boys would eat this every day), borsht (easy and cheap), chicken wings (too cheap! I am the only one in the family who doesn’t like it), Bouillabaisse (our comfort food), sandwiches and Ramen noodles for lunch (easy + the boys can make it themselves)…

What are your “easy meals?” The meals that you end up having a lot, for whatever reason. And why do you? Is it because they’re easy, because they’re popular, cheap, or what…?

I am looking forward to…

When I have a moment…

Just put those last two together!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Summer plans

OK, that’s it for the weight loss blogging. I won’t bore you with it for a while. In the meantime, let’s talk about this summer.

For a young professor with ambitions, the summer is normally the time to write papers or books – publish – and to visit conferences. Every summer for the past four or so years however, Professor Husband has taught extra summer classes instead to earn extra money so that we could visit our family in Sweden and in the US. Eight weeks of hard work has been enough to – together with savings - cover the cost of our tickets and give us enough to travel and spend a few weeks with our family.

This year we have decided to put career first however, and Professor Husband will not be teaching the summer, but spend the time getting publications out and finishing his book instead, which is due in September. This means we will not be able to visit any family, which is sad, because two years, not to mention three years, between visits is so much longer than one year, and far too long in general. We miss them.

As not to be completely stuck in our apartment all summer though, we are thinking about using what little extra money we have to travel to Italy; go on an actual family vacation, like a normal family. Not that traveling to visit family isn’t fun, but it’s not exactly a sightseeing, culturally enriching, educational, vacationing kind of experience.

Italy will tie in very well with our current studies, and to be completely honest, it’s the closest destination (cheap tickets) we can think of that will grant us a bit of a break from the Middle Eastern culture. Don’t get me wrong; I love the people here and in Egypt, and the culture is fascinating, the politics interesting, to say the least, the food not bad, and art, history and architecture captivating. It’s just that it’s very different, and challenging, and I feel I can appreciate it better if I get an injection once in a while of the familiar, western life that I am more accustomed to. Just that. So we are thinking about going to Italy for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Things I have learned while trying to shed some excess weight...

  • You need to eat a lot less than you think. It has been an eye-opener for me to see how few calories I actually need every day, and most of all, how little I actually need to eat to reach my daily calorie need.
  • Calorie intake and calorie spending is like a daily budget; it has to be balanced. If you put energy into your body and don’t spend it all, it will build up. This means that if you want to consume extra energy (e.g. have pecan pie for dessert), you need to do something extra to spend it all.
  • Being in the mood for something sweet does not usually mean I’m hungry. Usually it means I need to drink water. Losing weight makes you very thirsty!
  • Because of this, it is not a good idea to drink beer, and definitely nothing stronger, late in the evening, as this will dehydrate you and make you wake up with a headache and a very dry mouth, otherwise known as a hangover.
  • After about a week of a balanced diet, that sweet/carbohydrate craving after meals goes away. I also feel more full after meals for a longer amount of time, and very rarely snacky.
  • Exercise makes you feel really good! And it doesn't take as much time as you think.
  • Habits (e.g. having a snack and/or a glass of wine in the evening in front of a 100 minute movie) are easy to form, but they’re also not that hard to break if you introduce new habits (e.g. doing a Wii exercise program and then having a cup of decaf tea in front of a 40 minute show).
  • If you don’t eat after 7 pm at night, you wake up really, really hungry in the morning! Eggs are super filling and well worth their calories. For something sweet, I put a teaspoon of honey in my tea.
  • You don’t have to diet to lose weight; just make a few adjustments and pay a little more attention to yourself.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A little less weighed down

My first week of exercise and paying attention to what I eat went so-so. I only went running a couple of times, and ate a little more than I should have. I still lost 1 Lb. It was a good motivational warm up that said, "Look! It doesn't have to be that hard, does it?"

I also received an e-mail from Renee who shared advice that she has heard from others trying to get out of vicious dieting cycles: only eat when you're hungry and stop as soon as you're full. Don't buy junk food so the temptation isn't right there, and drink plenty of water. Good advice, and comforting to know that I have friends out there cheering for me.

My second week, which is just ending, has gone much better. I've been using Lose It! to fill out my  daily intake - roughly - and adding my exercise. The program is really easy to set up, and takes very little time to keep up with. I've exercised every day; mainly running (3-4 miles per session), but also swimming, Mel B on the Wii, and Rachael Cohen's Nestle aerobics video. I've eaten pretty much anything I want to, just a little less, and not all at once. The scales show -5 Lb.

It's a start.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Day Book, 9 March, 2012

Outside my window…

It’s sunny, and I am the boys are taking a well needed extra half day off. Not only have we worked hard and need a breather, but the two schools here, ACS and IC, have the day off, and a lot of the boys’ friends have come to spend the day at the playground - right outside our window. Hours of fun play for the boys, extra time for me to work on my current translation project.

I am wearing…

Sweats, a t-shirt, my sports brah, and sports socks; all to make sure that I get my three miles of running in today! (For my incentives, keep reading…)

I am reading…

Interpreter of maladies by Lahiri, Jhumpa. Just started, but it looks good. It’s part of my book club readings. Also, as I’m translating a university text book on Project Management I’m also reading it. Does that count?

I am listening to…

My children having a blast outside with their friends. It’s a loud, and oh so comforting noise!

Towards an education…

Science review all week; my kids read about life sciences, take tests about life sciences, write papers about life sciences, watch videos about life sciences, and integrate life sciences into everything they do. This is one of the things I like about homeschooling; once you get into something, you can just go all the way…!

From the kitchen…

After a week of smaller portions of uninspiring foods, I’m making a dinner tonight that is a little less healthy: The anchovy scalloped potatoes are already in the oven, and they’ll be accompanied by a small piece of steak (for the others in the family), garlic butter, and various veggie sides (red beet, walnut and feta salad, among others). For dessert, I am making pecan pie – because I can. (If you’ve ever lived in the Middle East, you’ll know the luxurious feeling bag of pecans in your cabinet brings.) If I run long enough this afternoon, I might still be able to keep within my calorie budget.

I am looking forward to…

Swimming with Abraham tomorrow. Since AUB let up on the rule not to let under 6 year olds in the pool, we’ve started going every Saturday, while the boys have their swimming lesson. Last time, which was the first time, he spent the entire hour shrieking with joy, “I Wooove SWIMMING! Swimming is just SO FUN!! I Wooooove the POOL!” It’s like being sprinkled with happy dust for an hour. I just float around with Abraham, holding him up and making sure he doesn’t drown, and bask in his joy; so heartwarming.

When I have a moment…

Tonight! Tonight I am going to sit down on the couch with a cup of decaf tea and watch a show. Just that. I’ve hear Downton Abbey is good, so I’m going to try season 1, episode 1 of that. Oh, don’t get too excited. I’ll probably fall asleep half way through it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Have I turned into one of those moms?

Since I started paying attention to my body a little while back, I’ve been running every day - around the track, weather permitting, or on a treadmill at the gym, when the weather is less permitting. Lately William has been joining me as well. This morning when we left the house, I accidentally grabbed a bib from the towel pile in the closet instead of a hand towel. When William noticed me wiping my sweat with a blue terrycloth bib that said "You think I'm cute? You should see my dad!" he looked at me like I had entered the gym naked, singing songs from the 80’s. When we got back I heard him tell August what had happened, adding, “I was so embarrassed I thought I was going to die!” I really don’t think anyone else noticed. However William was obviously a bit traumatized; my little boy who used to adore me. Sigh.

A friend commented, “This is only the beginning of the myriad ways in which you'll humiliate him by your very existence. Just remind him that you once had to nurse him in restaurants.”

Spot on.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Child-friendly Applebees on Hamra street in Beirut, Lebanon

We don’t go out to dinner very often, or when we do, we’ve tended to stick to the same trusted places where the food is decent, we’ve never got sick, and our kids are welcome. Last night we went out of our comfort zone and tried a new place: Applebee's on Hamra Street. As soon as we walked in, the waiter/host handed Abraham a balloon, one that had been inflated with helium, and I thought, “this looks very promising.” We were told to go upstairs where we would find a waiter and a table waiting for us, and just as we were starting to climb the stairs, our host said, “Wait! I’ve got something for the children!” I thought, “Classic American custom to provide the children with crayons and coloring paper, which will keep Abraham happy while we wait for the food. I like this place already!” The guy walked over to his hosting table where he had a box with toy sets – the Made In China kind with a set of toys placed on a cardboard background covered in plastic. “Wow, not crayons, but actual favors: toys!” When he handed one set to each of the boys my smile froze and their eyes lit up, “Awesome!”

Here’s what the toy set contained: A real-looking gun with plastic orange bullets – the kind that sticks on a window, a bullet holder that conveniently clips onto your clothing, a badge with some kind of bird on it, and a hand grenade.

It’s hard to say how you should react in a situation like this. The fact that an American restaurant, Applebee's, hands out toy weapons to children is already, well, quite tasteless (I doubt the American management would be very happy if they knew), and in LEBANON! At-war-with-Israel Lebanon. AND while just a few miles away, in neighboring Syria, people are being hurt with weapons that look just like these, right this moment, fighting for their own Arab Spring. 

For a start.

It’s so incredibly inappropriate, Courtney and I reacted the only way we could: we laughed out loud and shook out heads, “Oh, Lebanon…” Since we had just watched the news together earlier with footage from Homs (the broadcaster was reporting from Beirut, not far from us), even the boys got the irony.

How was the meal experience in general? Standard American Applebee's. The food was not extraordinary, but not too bad. Chewy steaks, good wings, great milkshakes. Good service. We left with full tummies and very happy kids, not sure if we should be laughing or crying. Mind reeling.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Daybook, 2 March, 2012

Outside my window…

We’ve had several days of stormy weather; thunder, lightning, strong winds, pouring rain, and loud, roaring waves beating against the shore across the street. Today the sun came out during the morning, shining on everything green, and it made me happy.

I am wearing…

My favorite Lindex black & white checkered blouse, a worn out, black H&M cardigan that I have mended more times than I can remember, soft, stretchy black jeans from Kohl’s, thick, black Hanes sports socks, and a pair of Birkenstock that are barely staying together. It’s a comfortable kind of day.

I am reading…

Diane Keaton’s Then Again. I should be reading many other things, like the books for my book club, but Diane Keaton just makes me feel so good and happy inside, I can’t help it.

I am listening to…

The boys reenacting the Dumpling Warrior scene from Kung FuPanda II, using cherry tomatoes. I see a big mess in my near future.

Towards an education…

I’ve been doing assessments over these past couple of days, reviewing the fall semester’s work, while teaching the boys to study and take tests. They are not very good at it. They ask for help when they are not certain about something, yell out for spelling advice, or get themselves a snack in the middle of everything. When they are finished and we go over their answers, they want to correct any mistake on the spot and look up the rule as not to make the same error again. Then when we’re done and I take off points for the mistakes they made, and they only get 94% instead of 100%, they cry bitterly for several minutes with their head in a pillow over their ‘failure’. I tell them that the important thing is that they learned, and that they won’t make the same mistakes again. Besides, 94% isn’t the end of the world. “But I worked SO HARD, mama, and unless I get all correct, it’s doesn’t really count, does it?” I shall call this homeschooling syndrome “Grade Innocence.”

From the kitchen…

Dinner: chicken wings, beans, cucumber sticks, and carrots/potato tartine. We are way overdue our shopping day, and are scraping by on whatever we can find here and there; frozen meats, canned foods… The good news is that I can’t randomly eat food that is around the house, available within a nibble’s reach; the bad news is that every meal takes effort and time, generates a lot of dishes, and might not always contain something from every food group. Tomorrow we’ll go to the store.

I am looking forward to…

Tonight I am going out with my friends to the Hard Rock Café here in Beirut for Karaoke. This is very exciting as 1/I usually never go out, like *ever*, and 2/although I love singing, I have never done Karaoke before. I am very excited!

When I have a moment…

Ha! That will be the day!

Attention to detail

Last night I dyed my hair ever so slightly. I think over the past year I might have just passed that point where I have more grey hair than I can pull out during close inspection, and I’m not quite at terms with the light look it’s giving me. I was blond when I was younger, but over the years my hair has got darker, and I prefer it that way. I went for a darker shade, “chocolate,” and it looks good.

Only one member of the family has noticed; my eight year old. I don’t know if it can be attributed to his age or his personality, but whichever, I am going to put the attention to detail to good use for schooling purposes.