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.

A closer look at our medical system/insurance here in Lebanon

Up until now we have barely had any experience with the medical system here in Lebanon: a vaccination or two (which are not covered by our insurance), a couple of ER visits – three, to be exact – and then my blood pressure incident at the end of the summer.

Since I started seeing a specialist however, I’ve been forced to figure out how everything works, and have learned a thing or two in the process.

Just to clarify: the hospital we use is owned by our employer here, and the insurance is the standard employee insurance. But don’t be fooled into thinking this close connection would eliminate a lot of paperwork – au contraire mon frère!

To see a specialist, you need, along with your hospital card AND your insurance card – not one, not two, but – three special, different colored papers with the insurance company’s official stamps and the signature of some kind of head insurance approver/physician. As far as I understand, this physician is supposed to function as a medicine auditor or something, making sure arbitrary or unnecessary tests or procedures are not being administered by the hospital’s doctors. I’m not sure the system works the way it should however, since last time I saw this approving (or possibly disapproving) physician with a request for an Nuchal Translucency Test in my hand, he asked me what an NT scan is and why I would need one.

Then, each time the specialist needs to do a special procedure, like a level two ultrasound for example, or a blood test, you get a paper from your specialist’s office that you have to bring back to the insurance office and receive another one of the special, approved and stamped papers in return.

The initial special procedure request paper that your specialist gives you will contain the name of the requested procedure as well as the insurance procedure codes. If your specialist forgets to enter the codes and/or check off the procedure on the back of the form – or in my case if he is new and not entirely familiar with or more likely, still in disbelief about the whole paperwork circus his work here requires - the insurance office cannot help you at all (and can especially not call your specialist’s office to retrieve the information they require). You have to walk back to your specialist’s office in person – which is on the 7th floor in the building across the street - to get the form filled out correctly, and then bring it back to the insurance office, which by the time you return inevitably is closed for lunch/the day.

If you need to give blood for a blood test, you bring the paper from the insurance office to the laboratory, where you first take a number for the payment/insurance window (and wait forever, because there are always at least 50 seniors before you, AND people always think their business is more urgent than yours, so they keep cutting ahead in line), get your paper checked, computerized and stamped, and then wait until that same number is called from a different window, when it’s your turn to enter the laboratory.

You see what I’m dealing with here? A rough calculation tells me I’ve spent a total of 45 minutes so far with my specialist, and almost two hours doing paper work for it. I look at other pregnant women going for their prenatal visits at the hospital, and I think that by the time their babies are born, most women here must feel that morning sickness and birth were the easiest parts of having a baby in Lebanon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Summer is officially over!

Today the AUB beach closed for the winter. 

I wanted to go for one last swim this weekend, but sickness got in the way. 

Instead I have to remember all the wonderful beach days we had this past summer, and look forward to the next!

Post busy week stress disorder

Yes, I’m here. I survived this past busy week. Imagine that. And no children, electronics and very few adults were injured in the process.

I finished two big jobs, all the while putting three meals a day on the table and serving snacks in between, keeping the house clean, laundry done, keeping up with our extracurricular and social commitments, and home schooling the kids, including the energetic three-year old. I even managed to throw a fantastic birthday party for my – now – 11 year old boy, with cake, an organized scavenger hunt, prizes, pizza and all.


It wasn’t the smoothest week – we might not have done as much history work as I would have liked, and the boys couldn’t do their languages because daddy took the computer that has the Rosetta Stone on it with him to Italy - but we managed. 

It might also not have been a super fun week, or at least not until we got to Friday – party day. At some point, William complained, “Every day is just the same this week! Wake up, eat breakfast, school, lunch, more school, play with our friends, taekwondo, dinner, clean up, read and go to bed. Always the same, day in and day out! I worked so hard ALL week doing all this, and I’m tired of it!” The rant was a little unjustified if you ask me. “Eh, William,” I said, “it’s Tuesday! It has only been TWO days, AND,” I reminded him, “we spent an entire day this past weekend in Achrafyie at your friends’ house, having loads of fun. PLUS Friday we’re celebrating your brother’s birthday.”

Towards the end of the week, Prof. Husband came home from his trip - still really busy with finishing his book manuscript, but home, and my pay check came in. From there on, we were home free.

Or so I thought.

After the party of Friday I collapsed with a really sore throat and a fever, and the next day a bad cold with all that it entails. Snivel. I to cancel all weekend commitments. 

I had a sore throat about a month ago, but it never got really bad. I rested for a day and it went away. This time I’m actually sick; like sick enough to see the house deteriorate around me and not having the energy to do anything about it. There’s a mountain of dirty laundry in the laundry room, and all the rest of our clothes, clean, are piled up on Abraham’s bed, unfolded in a mess. We’re out of most anything, from bread and juice to vegetables and fruit, the boys’ taekwondo belts need new stripes sewed onto them, there are toys and books and CDs everywhere, and don’t even get me started on my grand fall decoration craft plans that are rotting in a bag somewhere. Literally.

Good news is, I don't have a job that I have to finish, so I can just take it easy and take care of myself. Also, the boys are doing a good job helping more around the house. And I think I'm getting better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fall decorations

OK, here's what we're dealing with.

This is what my side table looks like right now:

This is what I would like our home to look like:

or this:

The above two beautiful pictures are from a blog I found through Pinterest. I know, I know, I should stay away from that site right now, but there are so many amazing things to see, and I keep thinking that I might find inspiration if I look at what others have accomplished...


If only there were colorful leaves in Beirut, then I could send the kids out to get some. Or maybe I could have them gather a bunch and then we'll paint them. Wouldn't that be sad, though? A fake fall celebration.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The story of my laundry life

Representative of our perpetual laundry situation, these are the only two settings on my dryer:

That's right. START and PAUSE. Somehow the maker of our dryer must have known , that there is always more laundry in this house.

With a house full of kids, you can START doing laundry, but you can never stop. Just PAUSE. Occasionally.

Daybook - Friday, 5 October, 2012

Outside my window…

The kids are all playing together outside in the playground, the older ones chasing the younger ones around. The sun is shining on them, but it’s not too hot anymore, just in the high 70’s, which makes playing tag so much more enjoyable. There’s a light breeze from the sea, spreading the salty scents of the Mediterranean through my open balcony doors into our home.

I am wearing...

An Old Navy pink maternity ruched slub-knit scoop tee and a pair of Old Navy low-rise waist maternity jeans. Yeah, I'll get to that. Let's say I'm comfortable.

I am thankful for…

So much right now! The blessings of new life, and the ability to provide, teach and enjoy. There’s basically no money in our bank account for the moment (we’re still in that intermediate lapse that happens to us at the beginning of fall every year: we have spent everything we had on trips and education for the new academic year, but we are still waiting for refunds and allowances to cover those expenses) – but I feel so rich and so, so very blessed.

I am thinking about…

Focusing on the present: the professor has a major book manuscript due in a few days, AND an award ceremony he has to attend (abroad!), PLUS some other issues that have to be taken care of in the next couple of weeks, and his business impacts our entire existence right now. I have to stay on top of housework, laundry, shopping, cooking, the boys’ school work and everything else, or it will all fall apart. To top it off, August is turning 11 next week and has requested a party, with pizza, cake, and games, AND I have some pretty large jobs coming in, which means I will be spending a lot of hours working this week. The next seven days will be a big challenge! (Especially since we can’t afford to order out.)

Towards an education…

Slow and steady.

I love, love, LOVE our new Rod & Staff grammar books! THIS is grammar, I keep thinking to myself when I see it. It’s perfect. Together with the Spelling Workout program, our self-constructed “Word-roots, suffixes and prefixes” course, Writing Strands, and a great reading list, our English program this year is very solid.

Everything else is progressing well too. We’re good. In this region, we’re good.

From the kitchen…

I have no inspiration. At all. Last night I made baked potatoes for dinner. In the microwave. With some veggies on the side, and a lot of fruit for dessert (a generous neighbor brought some fantastic fresh grapes down from their property in the mountains, and apples are in season and really good right now). I’m not sure what you can call it, but it’s not cooking.

I am working on…

I am growing a life. Not metaphorically but literally. And it’s more work than I remember: most literature and advice tell me I “will feel better towards the end of the first trimester,” but really, this has come and gone, and I have yet to see any improvement.

Yes, it turned out my out-of-the-ordinary problems at the end of the summer were much more out-of-the-ordinary than expected. I will share details later. For now though, let’s just say: I know, right!?

And if you know of any energy-improving remedies for women in my condition, let me know. God knows I could use some over the next couple of weeks.

I am reading…

In the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, for our book club. I vaguely remember it from high school, but it’s different this time, since I’ve lived in Africa, and I’m older and more experienced; I’m really enjoying it in a whole new light. It makes me think of other books I should re-read. What books would you choose?

Around the house…

It’s not too bad, actually, considering, but our house is bare; I just manage to keep things tidy and relatively clean (much thanks to our cleaning lady who comes once/week) but I can’t seem to get to the decorating part. I would like to create art with the boys, and make our home warm, cozy and fall-like. Now, our living room and kitchen look like someone put everything away and cleaned up in anticipation of something new arriving. Only, there’s nothing in the making, because by the time I’ve finished with the boys’ most essential work, my own work, and the house every day, I’m too beat to do anything extra or creative. Sigh. Maybe I’ll get a refreshing burst of energy this coming weekend. (My hopeful thought at the beginning of every week for the past few weeks.)

Any ideas for easy, beautiful fall crafts that don’t require a lot of special materials?