Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Day Yesterday

So, I don't think I'll be as specific as I was yesterday about day-before-yesterday, but here's a basic outline of how our Friday went (which is like Saturday in the US, without the soccer games).

Up at 7:15ish (that Monk episode, remember?). Abbreviated devotionals and Bible reading. Kids had muffins and peanut butter, applesauce muffins this time. I grabbed a Larabar, and ended up eating 1/2 of it in the car (hm, gotta remember to eat that other 1/2 before it becomes mush in the bottom of my purse...). ML and I showered. Various kids were directed as to what to wear.

8:19 out the door. I noticed the time, because we said we'd leave at 8:00 or 8:15. Not bad. For us. Picked up JF & JBF and RH & SEH. They sat four across in the middle of the van (oops, still need to do that post), MS sat in the middle up front, and the three younger kids sat in the back-back. Love having a nine-seater van!

9:15ish arrived at W. Academy, a small school for ex-pat kids in the capital. in spite of the fact that a good friend was the principal there for several years, we'd never actually seen the building. And if we hadn't had directions, we certainly wouldn't have seen it this time. Ex-pat schools don't exactly label themselves prominently these days. :-/ For a rummage sale, though, we will go to the ends of the earth.

Seriously, we were hoping to find a few things being sold by those leaving or not needing them anymore. The school does this yearly as a fund raiser. You pay a registration fee to have a table, and they have a bake sale, so that's where they make their money. Specifically, I was hoping for a crockpot. I'd love a 220 v. one, but I'd even take another 110 one, since A) I'd really like to have two, and B) the lid of my current one is cracking (which, if you know my cooking style, is traumatic).

No crockpot. Nothing much of value to us, really. I got a couple of Dr. Seuss books I'd been wanting us to have. ML found a couple of books for himself and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book that MS and JW have been devouring. Actually, MS made out the best of all of us. He found several Star Wars figures that they've been having the best time with, and he got MA a purple dragon beanie for Christmas (shhh, don't tell).

The F's and the H's made out pretty well, though, so I guess it was worth coming. Oh, and I got to have some fresh, homemade sushi! I discovered about a year ago that I love sushi, so this was a nice treat. Although the majority of the kids that attend the school are from the US, many are from other countries, and apparently, some are from Korea, because this was touted as "Fresh Korean Sushi." It had crab, tuna, carrot, yellow bell pepper, and cucumber. It was so yummy!

From there, we had to decide what to do with the rest of the day. The F's and H's had other plans and were splitting off at this point (after stashing their purchases in our car, which was quite a feat, because I had about 10 bags of give-away clothes waiting to be donated as well as our stroller in the back already; fortunately, ML has good genetic packing skills).

If we'd made a good haul at the rummage sale, I would have been willing just to head back home. It was killing me, though, to think of having spent all that money on gas for the trip ala fadee (sorry, for nothing). Even though gas prices are going down here, it's still a chunk of cash.

So, we decided to drop our friends at the park where they were going to picnic and head to the mall to get some Christmas shopping taken care of. Dropped them off. And then remembered: it's Friday, it's 11:00 AM, and the mall doesn't open until 2:00. :-/ Well, the food court opens at 12:00, but the stores, not until 2:00.

Fine, we need a few import items only available in the capital, and MS wants to get JW's Christmas present at the bookstore at Cozmo (a British department store/grocery store that now has a bookstore and an electronics store). We head there. Traditionally, ML heads to the bookstore with the older three kids, while ZL and I do whatever grocery shopping we have to do. This time, MA decides to stay with me. This probably has something to do with the cute kiddie-sized carts they have and the fact that she spotted one as we entered.

I don't have much to get, just MA's rice milk, and I check for a few things that have been mysteriously absent from grocery stores here recently. Nope, they don't have baking spray, yellow cake mix or decently priced wheat pasta either. This happens here. Something that's always been available will just disappear for a few months. And then reappear. With no explanation. Except when there's new packaging. That's apparently an explanation. Here, they can't quite seem to time getting old packaging off the shelf and new packaging to replace it without a several month gap. But these items are made elsewhere. They're imports. Guess the shipping was off this month. Whatever. We can definitely do without them. At least they had tricolor pasta. I'm holding onto the illusion that that, at least, is better than white.

They also had mild salsa, a cheaper Oxi-Clean alternative, and the rice milk. ML & I went back and forth as to whether it was cheaper/better to get things to eat at the grocery store or eat fast food at the mall. There is Subway, so we at least wouldn't be eating greasy, but we decided on lunch meat, cheese (for everyone, because this is one of the two stores in-country that carries goat cheese now!) and crackers from the store. I was also able to get some pro-biotic yogurt drinks for the non-dairy-allergic ones among us and 100% orange juice for all of us. Oh, and the crackers were organic stone ground wheat (on sale BOGO; cha ching). So, I think all in all we netted a better health benefit than eating at the mall.

The two little shoppers and I joined the other three upstairs at the bookstore. ML chased ZL through the store (the reason why I normally take him shopping with me; I think life will be a lot more peaceful once he learns how to read, which doesn't look to be too long at the rate he's going) while I priced a few potential Christmas gifts. I didn't end up buying anything, but MA spent some of her money on a Berenstain Bears book, and MS bought JW's Christmas present (hm, I never did ask him what it was; ML approved it, so maybe I'll just wait and be surprised).

We had lunch in the car. The weather was beautiful, so it was actually a pleasant experience. Then, we drove to the mall.

Hm, it was only 1:00 when we arrived. Remember that Monk episode? ML and I were a little sleepy, and ZL was dozing off, so we instructed the older three to read quietly, reclined our seats, and took a power nap. :-P I'm sure the mall guard at the nearest entrance (we were in the parking garage near one of the doors into the mall) thought we were crazy foreigners. Oh, well. Guilty as charged.

Refreshed by our power nap, we head in at about 1:30. Just enough time to herd everyone to the bathroom, change Z, and start hitting the early-opening stores. We head to the British Hastings-type book/video/CD store and check out a few more Christmas options. We decide on Asterix books for the older two boys (shh, don't tell that, either).

Oh, I forgot to say: our family tradition is a book, a DVD and a toy/game for each child, hence all the book shopping. Next, the DVD shopping.

We were telling JF the other day about having a couple of kids' movies that had soundtracks both in Arabic and in English. We bought each of the older kids one a couple of years ago for Christmas. We have a Madeleine one, Treasure Planet, and Monsters, Inc., I think. They were supposed to help their Arabic learning. Turns out they don't just spontaneously watch them in Arabic. Imagine that. Guess we should push that more.

Anyway, I wanted to add to that collection, both for their benefit and for ML and I to watch to further our Arabic (I also know that these will be cool for them to have as they grow up; souvenirs of their childhood in this area of the world), so we headed to a store I remembered having original DVD's with actual multiple soundtracks (as opposed to copies, which usually only have English with Arabic subtitles or only Arabic, which seems kind of cruel to give as a Christmas present: "Here, have a movie that you really like in a language you mostly don't understand." :-) We ended up with Jungle Book and The Incredibles, with the understanding that we'll skip that weird demonic JackJack scene at the end. (You know by now that you're not supposed to tell, right?)

The power nap was wearing off, and all our feet were getting a little sore, so it was time for coffee. Starbucks, here we come. Yes, Starbucks. There's one on every corner here, too (not opposite corners yet, but practically every corner nonetheless). Fresh squeezed orange juice for the kids. I love that about Starbucks here. They all have those big orange juicing machines. Nice to have a healthy option. For the kids.

While there, we ran into the national manager of ML's center and his brother. We knew they were meeting JF and RH to watch a movie, but it was going to be at another mall cinema. Turns out the times at this one were better, so they were waiting for them. Also turns out that it was the manager's birthday, so we bought him a frappachino. He is one of MA's favorite people in the world, so they had a great time being silly while we wait together.

JBF and SEH were just about to head back to our city on public transport, so they were happy to hear that we were leaving and could give them a ride back. Perfect timing. We hit one more store to look for cheap toys to go in the kids' "sussy bag" that they get to pick from when they finish a workbook. None to be had, so we headed to the bathroom one more time and loaded up the kids.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. We dropped our friends off at their houses (deciding that the guys definitely got the best end of the deal, since the ladies had to carry all of the purchases up to their houses, which are on the 4th and 5th floors), went home and vegged. Oh, and ML and the kids talked to his parents on the computer, a weekly tradition. No Monk episode this night, though. We were a little tired.

(I hope no one's expecting such novels from here on out. I think this is going to be an exception, rather than a rule. Just trying to keep everyone's expectations realistic.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Excuses, excuses...

Our internet was down yesterday, I promise! I unplugged the modem when I went on a visit (MS was home, and we try not to leave the internet on when kids are here by themselves), and it never recovered. Thank goodness a guy who works for the phone/internet company owes ML a favor and gave us a replacement one he had. Otherwise, it could have been a week before we would have gotten the problem solved (it's a company-issued ADSL modem).

So, my plan for yesterday was to post a day-in-the-life-of rundown of what happened. I guess I'll just have to do that today (for yesterday, because it was slightly more interesting/typical than today, although today was interesting, too, so maybe I'll just do both to make up for the lost day).

6:15 Wake up: I want this to be earlier (see next item), but when I was setting it earlier, I was going back to sleep and not getting the kids up on time. Hopefully, I can progressively move it backwards.

Go to the bathroom (read two Psalms; hey, if I didn't multi-task, I'd never get anything done)

6:30 Get kids up: Yep, that's when we get our kids up. Why? Because we're sadistic, slave-driving, up-with-the-sun kind of people. Um, actually, because we discovered that, for some reason, this was the magic hour at which they have to be up in order to fall asleep before 11 PM consistently. And, trust me, it is *not* good for children to be awake until the hour that their parents need to go to sleep, because, either the parents (especially the mother) get no time to themselves or they stay up past when they should to get that time. So, we get the kids up at 6:30.

Journal and worship while supervising the kids with their devotionals and Bible reading. Worship music playing on my computer at the table nearby (having closed the e-mail program earlier so that it wouldn't tempt me).

7:30 Serve kids breakfast: Pumpkin muffins with peanut butter (ZL had a plain muffin and a banana, since he's allergic to peanuts). I'm pretty sure this was the morning I had bananas and homemade peanut butter and milk. Yum!

8:00(ish) Start School: This day, we had "kitchen school." I had a pile-up of dishes to do, because we'd been without water earlier in the week, and I still hadn't gotten back on top of them, so the boys (and MA occasionally) brought their school books bins into the kitchen and worked on the floor/stepstool. ZL watched Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers on the computer in our room (he got these on DVD, but wasn't really watching them, so I pulled them off into iTunes, and we're getting much more use out of them), as he has been doing recently while we get school started.

10:30 Break to Get Ready: I get myself dressed, and direct MA & JW as to what they need to change into.

11:00 Ready to Go: I have a visit with a new neighbor that's recently moved into the building. All of the women in the building are going to visit her. Change ZL and put him down for a nap.

11:30 Go: My downstairs neighbor and landlady is finally ready to go, so we head upstairs. I leave MS at home working through his schoolwork list (JW brings the rest of his non-computer work with us) and looking out for ZL, who will sleep for 2-3 hours.

The visit consists of Saudi coffee, tea, cake, more Saudi coffee, pudding, and Turkish coffee. And lots of chattering. The women in the building love this opportunity to catch up on what is going on with whom as most of them don't see each other outside of these large group visits (they all have 4-5 children and are very busy). Occasionally, someone actually asks the new neighbor a get-to-know-you question, although she is actually in the room for very little time, because she is busy serving all of the above.

JW works nearby until he is finished, and then goes to join MA, who is watching cartoons. I call MS a couple of times to check on him. He's fine. ZL's still asleep.

Once the Turkish coffee is served, we are free to go but stay to visit a few more minutes. I hear from ML that Z is awake downstairs, because he has been out running errands and dropped by to leave me some items I'd asked for. Z is watching Blue's Clues, so is not likely to wander and get in trouble, but I know I need to leave soon. We stand to go but then need to tour the new house, so that takes a few minutes. There is much postulation as to whether the rooms are larger or smaller than the ones in our own apartments, especially the kitchen, although the landlady assures everyone that they are all built to the same specifications (which makes sense, since the building's sides and stairwell go straight up :-).

1:45 Arrive Home: a little wired from all of the sugar and caffeine. Direct JW and MA to do their computer school work (memorization songs and Rosetta Stone Arabic). MS has worked diligently while I was gone (Thank You, Lord!!!), so he is almost done with his schoolwork.

2:30 Lunch: Apple butter, butter sandwiches for the kids; a little cottage cheese and salsa for me, but I'm not really that hungry after the visit, even though I didn't eat all of the cake I was served.

3:00 See MA Off: a friend called and asked MA to go to the park with her, so she goes downstairs to wait once her mother calls to say she's on the way. This was the first time the girls handled the entire process themselves on the phone (although we got on at the end to confirm the details). It was very cute.

Miscellaneous: supervise schoolwork and switch out some more summer and winter clothes of mine (the kids' are done; yay!)

3:30 Back in the Kitchen: finishing dishes and making Applesauce Muffins to have for breakfasts and for the visit that ML is having at our house tonight.

Kids are straightening living areas (MA put away dishes before she left and straightened the visitor's area, I think).

4:30 MS is Done: He has worked diligently today, and we already did science read-alouds earlier in the morning (oops, forgot to put that in there), and we're done with history for the week, so I postpone literature read-alouds to the weekend and let him have some free time (although I have to call him back several times for math corrections and/or a job that I see is not complete).

5:30 Transition: MS gets into his Taekwondo uniform. I finish up in the kitchen and do some straightening. He leaves about 5:40 on the bus.

6:30 Exercise: While monitoring the muffins, which are still baking and grilling eggplant for dinner. Not easy. Especially when over 1/2 the time I'm wearing wrist weights. :-P

7:15 MS and ML Home: ML brings MS home when he comes home from work, because the TKD center is in the same building (plus, the bus home tends to be more rowdy than the bus there).

7:30 Eat Dinner: grilled eggplant sandwiches (with grilled onions for the adults and mozzarella for everyone except MA & ZL, who get goat cheese). The kids eat in our room, since the living area of the house is already clean for the visit. They watch TV show episodes while they eat. I read one of MS's school books, since there is no internet (normally, I would do some blog/post reading, since it's not a big sit-down family meal).

8:00 Get Visit Things Ready: I made up some Crystal Light, since ML's friend is diabetic, arranged the mini muffins on a plate, took glasses from the china cabinet to the kitchen so they could be ready to serve in. ML got the coffee maker ready, since we decided it was okay to serve American coffee, because he's been to our house before and had Turkish coffee here. I ended up being able to just set the things on the dining table for ML to serve himself, since they got themselves tea from our tea/coffee set-up when they arrived (RH, one of ML's co-workers came, too; the visit was with a student friend whom they've come to enjoy for his deep thinking and literary knowledge; they read Arabic folk tales together last night). Often, I will come out and make and serve the tea, baked goods, and coffee. Tonight, I just stayed back in the other end of the house (I love how this house is set up to make that possible).

8:30 Visit Starts: The guys hang out in the visitors area while I continue reading and the kids watch episodes and eat, if they're still at it.

9:00 Put the Kids in Bed: Usually we do this at 8:30, but I got a little bit of a late start.

9:30 Continue Reading: I venture out for some chocolate at some point in here. :-) Although I cover my head when out on the street, I do not in my own home, so I just make sure I have on a long-sleeved shirt and am not dressed slouchily when ML has guests.

10:30 Visit Wraps Up: ML & RH are nodding off (fortunately, this is a good friend, so he understands), so they call it an evening.

10:45 Watch Monk: For some strange idea, ML and I decided that it would be a good idea to watch one of the Monk episodes that RH & SEH loaned us before we go to bed, even though we've both already been nodding off. It was a decent episode, but I think we would have been much better served by going to bed.

11:45ish: Go to Bed.

So, there you have it. A day in the life of CBK. And now it is time for me to go to bed again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cake for Breakfast

Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake! (reference old Bill Cosby routine [just listen, if you click; the video is just some guy lip-synching to it])

We have a family tradition that evolved from the need to get rid of leftover birthday cake. :-P We never ate it all, because after the sugar-rush of the party, I was loathe to feed it to the kids again. And ML and I didn't want to eat it all by ourselves. In ML's family growing up, his dad would eat the leftovers for breakfast until they were gone. I decided that cake was no worse in sugar-content than donuts or pancakes with syrup, so we now have cake and eggs for breakfast the morning after a birthday party (I've discovered that morning is actually the best time to feed sugar, if you're going to; it gives them time to work it off before naptime/bedtime; really). Cake leftovers? Taken care of.

Seriously, it's no worse than many other sweet breakfast options (although those particular options are just treats for us, we have a limited number of birthday cakes to do away with, too). And, truth be told, I think the main reason I chose to institute this tradition is that I want to go down as a fun mom. Hopefully, this will balance slave-driver mom who rules during school hours (and even she is trying to reform to become more fun, so maybe there's hope...).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, Z!

This is going to be close to a wordless post. Today was Z's birthday party (his birthday was last Friday). Several friends with young kids came over, we had cake (yay, ML; his cake decorating just keeps getting better & better), and we opened presents. Short but sweet (like this post :-).

Pardon the quality of the photos. We win Mother and Father of the Year Award for not being able to find our camera for the entire party. ML found it later, but it was, of course, not charged. We'd been looking for it for several day in anticipation of needing it for birthday stuff, but today (after all of the birthday events, of course) ML went back and looked in the drawer where it was supposed to be was there. It was just buried. :-/ So, we took pictures with ML's camera, hence the graininess. Sorry!

Monday, November 3, 2008

I have a confession to make.

I hope that no one reading this will decide to stop being my friend, but...(no, this doesn't have anything to do with the election; however, don't ask me about that; you probably don't want to know)...I have a housekeeper. Not like Alice, but a lady comes once a week (Monday mornings; this is a timely confession) and cleans my house. There, I said it.

She washes any dishes that are dirty, and, although I try not to leave a huge pile, there are weeks... She cleans the floors and vacuums. She dusts. She cleans the bathrooms. She brings in and hangs out laundry (otherwise, that is [recently] the kids' job; yay!). And she folds any clean laundry (notice I make no such disclaimer as to not leaving a huge pile there; I do sort the laundry afterwards, though). Oh, and she changes any sheets as needed (I put out clean sheets on the beds that need to be changed).

Anyone ready to disown me?

Here's the deal: I've discovered, during the times when I've been without househelp here, that I can A) keep the house clean/straight and B) homeschool the kids or I can do A) and C) meet with people here or there's the A) and B) option. However, I cannot do A), B), and C) for a sustained period of time.

Therefore, we budget to bring someone in once a week to clean (roughly $15 each time, in case anyone's curious; up from around $12 when we first started having someone come almost 5 years ago). I'm okay with that. Especially on Mondays. When my house gets a big ol' "re-set," as I explained to my friend one time. I'm very okay with that on Mondays. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and actually relax for most of the day (okay, so I front load our week and hit school hard and heavy that day, but I relax on the housekeeping side of things).

Some other random details for the curious: we had a wonderful Indonesian lady who cleaned for us for 3 years from around Christmas of the first year that we lived here. She was *amazing*! She cleaned perfectly, tackled projects like cleaning curtains on a rotating basis without having to be asked, and had a very happy disposition. She disappeared around Ramadan last year. My best guess is that she was trying to get out from under the man who brought her here. Not an abusive situation, but he controlled the jobs she took, and I'm sure she wanted more say and may very well have fulfilled her obligations to him and needed to make a clean break. Unfortunately, I realize in hindsight that I think she was asking for more money to stay on with us (she was very cultural in asking in such a round about way that I didn't figure it out until I put some things together later). It was not until I tried to replace her and learned how much the going rate was that I understood. I would have gladly paid her more to keep her on, but hindsight and 20/20 and all that.

So, I fished around for someone new to come while struggling to keep my head above water doing it all myself, encountered a couple of examples of what I was not looking for. And finally, an ex-pat friend who was also looking for some help thought to ask a lady she knew who has three live-in housekeepers/nannies (hey, go to the one who knows, right?). Rich Friend knew of an Arab lady looking for just such work. She wanted to be selective in who she worked for, so she could keep her dignity (it's not a popular job choice), and Rich Friend promised her that we would be a perfect option.

She's been coming since late Spring/early Summer, and I'm pleased. I've had to do a little more directing than I had to do previously, but that's hardly a hardship. She's now cleaning for three of the four ex-pat moms in our little circle, and the fourth is trying to figure out when she can work herself into the schedule. Oh, and today she asked me to teach her to cross-stitch, which means she considers me enough of a friend to ask. She's been shy, so I was blessed by that.

Well, my secret's out (okay, not so much a secret, but you may or may not have known). I hope everyone's okay with that. If it makes you feel any better, I met my challenge to myself of keeping the house clean for the three months we were in the US last time with only a little help from ML. Of course, I wasn't homeschooling during that time, but we did have a big social schedule. I guess not all hope is lost for me. :-)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A new restaurant

We went with some other ex-pats (one family, two couples) to a new restaurant here in town tonight. No, you don't understand. We went to *Not* a common occurrence. Well, there was when Burger King opened, and Pizza Hut remodeled a while back (we also have Popeye's, but that's it). No, we're not suffering too much in the fast food department (unless you count not having Taco Bell, which we do count and do consider suffering). It's just that it's A) unhealthy and B) expensive (maybe 1 1/2 x's what you'd pay in the US).

It's one of the things that's very different about where we lived in the West Bank and here. There, the town was more isolated/self-contained. Therefore, you had pretty much everything you could want/need from furniture to restaurants. Here, with the capital only an hour's drive away, if you want a nice restaurant or a wide selection of furniture, you go there. The furniture example has been changing for a while now, and you can find so much more than when we first moved here. Hopefully, the restaurant situation tide will turn, too.

So, this new restaurant is called Saj Wok. Roughly translated: "kebob wok," maybe? "Saj" is related to the grilled meat that they do here, which may or may not be on a skewer. It's an attempt to introduce a new concept but relate it to a familiar one. Familiar is necessary around here. So, they have huge woks, which they light on fire and then cook the meat in (the fire in the pan itself is gone before they put the meat in; I guess this is to superheat it?).

The meat is all chicken, but you choose different flavors of sandwiches, and they wrap them in a bread very much like a large tortilla. The end result is kind of like a chicken burrito. They have Mexican, Indian, Barbeque (as in grilled, not the sauce flavor, much to ML's disappointment), Spicy, and Chinese. I tried all but the spicy. ML was coughing and choking as he ate it. If it had that effect on him, I'm not touching it. I liked the Chinese, the Indian, and the Mexican. They had a variation of veggies (i.e. the Chinese had cabbage, like an egg roll) and each had its own sauce/spices. MS and Z had mexican. MS came back for seconds, so he apparently liked it. JW & MA had Indian, and JW came back for seconds. MA later, though, asked to come back to the restaurant again, so I think she enjoyed hers, as well, but may just have been too distracted to ask for more.

We ordered a *ton* (a "wejhba" or "meal" of each kind, which was two good sized "burritos" each), so we have leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, even, which is always nice.

Bottom line: it would be a good option for an in-town date night (we usually drive to the capital, but occasionally are just not feeling like the trek or would rather save gas money), and we might take the kids occasionally. We could probably put it as one of their options for Mommy/Daddy dates.