Friday, April 27, 2012

Not so healthy but happy week

Yes, we are alive. The three year old recovered quickly from his puking bout, but my oldest son had a bad tummy for almost a week. Today, finally, he had a normal day with all that it entails, digestive-wise (I will spare you the details). I got a sore throat mid-week, just out of the blue; although it hasn’t gone away, it doesn’t seem to be getting worse or turning into anything bad, so I guess that’s good. Better than my legs.

After a month and a half of happy, steady running around 4 times/week, between 5K and 5 miles each time, my body finally put its foot down in protest. It started out as a dull ache in my shins (which I should not have ignored), and finally became unbearable, especially after running; a classic case of shin splints. I’ve had it before, when I was younger, during heavy soccer training season or summer running camps. In Swedish it is called benhinneinflammation (leg membrane inflammation). Two weeks of rest, and then a more carefully constructed running schedule should do the trick. In the meantime, I will be exploring the very popular low impact elliptical machine to keep the calories burning.

Although we are not in top shape health-wise, we had a fairly good week school-wise. Today we finished off the school week with something fun: we put a plain bar of soap in the microwave and watched it grow into a huge cottonball-like solid foamy mass. So awesome! Then we let it cool, crumbled it up, added a little water, banana scent and blue food coloring, mixed it back into a paste, and put it in molds to make cute little blue, heart shaped bars of soap. My friend who sometimes flirts with the idea of homeschooling one of a couple of her kids commented, “Oh wow! That sounds so cool! What were the science facts you illustrated by doing that?”

Hmmm. Yeah, well, actually we had heard that it was really cool, and so we just wanted to watch the soap grow in the microwave. Although I guess I did explain to the kids why this happened and how, the chemistry around it, and what a soap is made out of, so perhaps there’s some science there.

I suggested to William that he should wrap the soap bars in little tissue paper packages and give them out as part of the gift bags at his birthday party next week. His answer indicated though that he doesn’t think homemade, banana-scented, baby blue, heart-shaped bars of soap is something a nine year old includes in a birthday party loot bag. What a pity.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Go away, stomach bug, go away

I am writing this while continuously glancing over towards the couches to see if my 3-year old - who is wrapped in a red wool IKEA blanket and slouched over a large, orange mixing bowl while watching Special Agent Oso on Disney Junior – is getting ready to vomit. After a long, rough night that involved a lot of sheet changing (why is it that my children always have to throw up in MY bed?), washer & dryer, and holding bowls while rubbing little shaking, crying bodies, I just fed Abraham a piece of toast, and I’m waiting to see if it will come up or not. The water he drank a little while ago has still to make its reappearance, so I'm cautiously hopeful.

I’m also listening for my 10-year old, who is in one of the bathrooms, to see if he’ll need any help. He spent a fair amount of last night on a toilet, poor boy. At least he is too big to be vomiting in my bed.

It’s gorgeous outside; sunny with a blue, clear sky, warm but not too hot, and everything is green and in bloom with flowers in sparkling colors anywhere you look. I hear happy kids playing in the playground, and the soothing sound of waves coming from the sea in the background. What a perfect day it would have been for a family Mediterranean outing. Sigh.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Happy birthday to me!

Today my beautiful boys presented me with these amazing sunflowers, to wish me a happy birthday. Tomorrow I get to turn 30+ years old, again. I'm getting very good at it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I see the moon

Yes! I finally found my camera cable, enabling me once again to upload pictures from the camera to my computer. First out is this nice shot by the professor.

My dear husband spends quite some time in the evenings on the balcony, looking through the telescope. He has seen some amazing things this spring. Here is a picture he took of the moon the other day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

On Homeschooling in Sweden - a sad story

I’ve been following a debate in the Swedish media that concerns homeschooling (in Swedish), or more precisely the reinforcement of the law that regards homeschooling in Sweden.

Last year, a bill was passed that practically banned homeschooling in Sweden, forcing the 100 or so families that were homeschooling to apply for a special permission to homeschool. Because of the strict application of the law, all but one family were denied, and the homeschooling families either moved to neighboring, more free countries, gave in and sent their kids to school, or ignored the state’s notice and kept homeschooling their children. The ones that stayed have now been sentenced to pay a fine of $50/child per week or day that they keep their children home from school. I know. It’s insane. But just wait, it gets worse.

The current debate that I have been following was started by a couple of representatives for the Swedish liberal party – yes, this gets more and more bizarre. They are asking that not only should families that keep their kids home from public school (because they want to homeschool) have to pay a fine, but social services should also come and take their children away from them should they continue to disobey the law.

These women – these are people with real political power in Sweden - want to ruin a group of children’s lives by snatching them away from their loving family, and place them in foster care in a system that is harsh and nothing anyone should have to go through, JUST TO MAKE A POINT, and receive political attention.

"Ohhh, but these parents are brainwashing their kids. They might be teaching them that evolution is false, or that – gasp – they should worship God in a certain way. These kids might be taught to relate to society in an *inappropriate* way!" It is our duty as righteous Swedes – because we always know what is objectively best for everyone – to make sure all children are given the right world view and values. And if they don’t like these values that we in Sweden maintain, then they shouldn’t live here in the first place. If they want to live here, it should be by our laws and ideas."

This is not an actual quote (you figured that), but - I kid you not – the content of the argument. Especially that last part is so disturbing, my cheeks turn red when I think about it. I always thought of Sweden as an open, liberal, tolerant, and open-minded country, but now, my view unfortunately has had to change. In general, the entire Swedish debate on homeschooling is so filled with prejudices and misconceptions that I wouldn’t even know where to start. Did you know that Sweden and Germany are the only democratic countries in the world that don’t allow homeschooling? (Making them Class B democracies.)

There are many reactions to the Swedish law from all over the world. Here is one in English, with links to other sites and articles.

What do I think? I agree with the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights – by which, technically, Sweden should be abiding, since when they became a member of the European Union in 1995, the convention was added to the Swedish law - that it ultimately is the parent’s call to decide which educational system is best for their children, "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." Maybe we need to suggest a law where social services remove politicians from their position of power if they can’t suggest regulations that follow the law.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An update on the whole getting in shape thing

It has been a little over a month since I started my new regimen of exercise and controlled eating. Let me re-emphasize that I am not really on a diet (you saw my Easter menu!) since I want this to be a slight lifestyle adjustment rather than a temporary state to reach a goal. I’m just not eating everything in sight anymore and not everything at once, and I’m spending one hour a day on myself, exercising. 

The results so far? I’ve lost 10 Lbs, and I can run three miles in 35 minutes without ever stopping. I still have to walk a bit to make it all the way to four and five miles, but I’m working on that. OR; if I run slower, about 5 miles/hour, I can make it to four miles without stopping, and then if I walk half a mile, I can run the last half mile a little faster, making it to five miles in just about an hour. I’m pretty sure all this is completely unimportant, but I’m having fun pushing myself and trying to run faster and longer. I was thinking that if I can keep this up, maybe I can run the Beirut marathon next year, at least the 10K.

My clothes are a little less tight, but most of all, I feel stronger and healthier. The weight loss is not without physical complications though: I’ve got acne, which I haven’t had since junior high, and I don’t smell very good. Apparently it’s normal. Burning protein releases ammonia (which is why my sports brah smells like a chemical vat after each workout), and most important, during weight loss,

“…you enter a chemical state called ketosis. In this state, your cells make chemicals called "ketone bodies" from fats. […] Ketone bodies have an odd odor to them […]. Once you enter ketosis, it's common for others to smell ketone bodies on your breath and in your sweat, which can give you a foul, sickly-sweet odor.”

Nice, huh? Most impacted are of course my dear, very understanding and forgiving husband, and the Lebanese soap and deodorant manufacturers, not to mention the Listerine importer and redistributors (who must be having a ball, since Listerine costs a fortune here).

But oh well. What is it they say? There’s no silver lining without a cloud? And a bird in the hand is better than killing two with one stone, as my dad used to say.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Post-Easter now-what-feelings...

Yesterday, the day after our Easter feast, I sat here on the couch and felt a bit sad. Melancholic and uninspired. All throughout Lent I thought that I would be happy after the Easter weekend, invigorated and spirited. Instead I felt like my strength – my chi - had drained away with all the feasting (actually, mainly the work it entails: cooking, dishes and cleaning up), and without any particular signs of appreciation from my family, it seemed like it was all just a bunch of work for nothing. Not to mention all that extra running I did, just so that I could eat some extra treats (that weren’t quite right anyways, because you can’t buy my favorite treats here). Sigh. Even spiritually I felt kind of the way you feel when you get to the end of a long, amazingly written and very exciting book, like David Copperfield. You love the ending, but finishing the book is upsetting, because, well, you are done with it - you go from complete and perfect satisfaction to nothing. Not that I am done with God, no, and I do realize that Easter is not the end; “Surrexit Christus, spes mea,” right? Still, I think I’m experiencing some kind of anti-climax here. A “now-what-moment.”

So; now what?

Where do you turn for inspiration? Do you read? What do you read? Do you do something special? What? Please share!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Traveling along the Mediterranean coast

What a beautiful weekend! A clear blue sky, warm sun, light breeze. We packed up the car and drove south, following the Mediterranean coast, past Saida and Tyre (Sour) – the blue, green sea on one side, and breathtaking mountains on the other. Mid-day we deviated from the coast ever so slightly and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a restaurant in the main Center Square of Nazareth. We visited the only museum in the world to have over ten million visitors each year, the well-preserved home of Jesus of Nazareth, and then drove up to the Sea of Galilee to take in the amazing view. We then drove back following the coastline past sunny, riviera-like Tel Aviv, with its luxurious hotels, apartments, restaurants, and beautiful but crowded boardwalk and beaches. We stopped for the night in wonderful, historical Jerusalem, where we sat in the square and enjoyed a delicious “world fusion” cuisine meal, surrounded by people from all over the world of all religions and cultures, gathered here to honor and enjoy together the history and importance of this magical place. There’s nothing like sipping a nice chardonnay overlooking the Old City at sunset, while hearing the sound of the call to prayer with church bells ringing in the background, and watching people rush to the Temple to worship. Jerusalem is truly a symbol of mutual respect, symbiosis, and a love of God and mankind.

The next day, Easter day, we enjoyed the very early morning mass in Jerusalem, wanting to avoid traffic along the sunny, open highway, for our drive down across the Suez canal, past Ismaila, and onto Cairo. After just a short stop for lunch overlooking Lake Bardawil with the Sinai desert laid out behind us, we arrived in Cairo in the evening, just in time for the evening call to prayer, greeted by our good old friends in Maadi. It’s so great that we still live within driving distance from our old place of residence, and that the highway along the Mediterranean coast is so well maintained, making the trip easy and quick. It is no wonder, since the wealth of Egypt, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon are among the greatest in the world, thanks to the tourism and foreign investment this perfect set up has generated.

Meh. Sadly, not true. But it’s OK to dream, right?

Imagine all the people
living life in peace.

Easter menu

Easter Eve (celebrated according to the Scandinavian tradition)


Roast chicken with spicy pasta salad with chili, red onion, and parsley, Scandinavian creamy potato salad, and tossed salad with cucumber, kumquat and cherry tomatoes

Dinner (served with a nice bottle of sparkling wine)

Gubbröra = Anchovy, egg, caviar, red onion and dill mixed with sour cream served on whole wheat bread with lettuce, smoked salmon with mustard and dill sauce, grilled chili and garlic shrimp, creamy scalloped potatoes, and pavlovas with raspberry and whipped cream for dessert.

Easter Day


Mimosas (made from the rest of the sparkling wine), eggs Benedict, and fruit salad

Dinner (served with a bottle of local red wine)

Roast lamb with artichoke, green beans and grilled cherry tomatoes, and roast potatoes. Radio cake (chocolate cake with almonds) and Lebanese sweets for dessert.

Because sometimes we feast.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring time in Lebanon

As soon as I find the computer cable for my camera, I will post some pictures. The flowers I got at the AUB plant sale last week are so beautiful on our balcony with their vibrant colors – blue, yellow, pink, red, purple, green and orange - and bring spring all the way into our home. We’ve been keeping the doors open to let the damp winter air out, and the warm, dry spring inside. The jasmine and orange trees are in bloom, creating a magnificent perfumed air in the evenings, that I just can’t get enough of. The world looks beautiful, smells good, and feels nice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One bad day

Last week I took on a job that I probably shouldn’t have. I knew the end of last week and the weekend were going to be busy, but I figured I could probably squeeze in enough hours to get the work done. Then suddenly Sunday came along, and I had too much work left. I worked all day and all night, until 3:10 am, to get it sent off in time. I didn’t do a very good editing job, but I knew there would be an editor. At least I got the project finished in time.

Today I got the review back, and the editor wrote about me to the project manager, “...the translator shows an immense lack of respect for […] writing rules” and, “…he/she has no knowledge whatsoever of […] punctuation rules and poor knowledge of proper grammar.” I looked over the changes that had been made, and although there were more mistakes there than there should have been, there certainly were not enough to warrant this kind of assault. (You’re just going to have to take my word for it – it wasn’t that bad - really!) I have edited far worse translations myself, without feeling compelled to attach any comments, and certainly not launch a personal, offensive attack. In fact, when I am paid to edit, this is what I think I should do – correct other people’s mistakes – and not spew patronizing insults about someone I know nothing about. The only thing that would make me say something to the project manager would be if the translation was incomplete, or made absolutely no sense at all. (Unfortunately, this has happened.) But then I would state this simple fact, show some examples, and leave the rest to the project manager. I would certainly not generalize or try to defame the translator. One mistake I had made in the text was followed by the comment, “This is unacceptable!” I mean, really, what kind of person does that?

I was hurt, put down, and professionally discouraged. I’m thinking that maybe I’m not skilled enough for this job.

And then the taxi driver called me a whore when I wouldn’t pay him an extra $5 for the taxi ride home from the store. The official rate set by the City of Beirut is 10,000 Lebanese pounds, which is about $7.50. Usually taxi drivers will still try to get more though - at least from me, a foreigner. This taxi driver was no different, and asked for $10 initially. I followed protocol and negotiated the fare before getting into the taxi. After just one exchange, the taxi driver agreed to 10,000, and we took off. Then during the five minute trip, he said that he wanted $10 after all. Since I’m “so wealthy,” and since he took the wrong turn in the beginning and had to drive further than he should have, and I really should pay more. When we got home I handed him a 10,000 pound bill as originally agreed. He threw the money on the ground, and continued to call me names – at least I think so, although my Arabic class has yet to cover the section “Insults by taxi drivers,” so I might be wrong.

Oh, and school didn’t go so well today either. The boys are tired and in need of a break. I feel however that we really need to push through these next couple of days until Easter so that we don’t fall behind. This makes me feel stressed, tense, and the boys frustrated.

So there; I’m no good at my job, I’m a rich and selfish whore who is not welcome in this country I live in, and I’m a stressed, bad homeschooling mom.

Well. Thank you, dear reader, for watching me roll around in my own self-pity for a while. You can go do something more pleasant now, while I get up and brush off my clothes, wipe my tears and take a deep breath. I promise tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Things tend to pile up, don't they?

Birthday parties, drinks with colleagues, dinners, school projects, accidents, work... A lot of things prevented me from doing a lot of things this past week, among them writing my Friday Daybook. I apologize and will make it up to you, I promise.