Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reading Buddy

I still remember when Sam was in kindergarten and one of the 4th graders came to his class to read to him as his reading buddy. It is so true what they does go fast!

Now, Sam is the 4th grader going down to the kindergarten rooms to read to his reading buddy!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Amman Citadel

We have traveled around Jordan to see some of the sights, but we had yet to see the biggest site right here in Amman, the Citadel.

Occupying the highest point in Amman, the Citadel site has been continuously occupied since the Stone Age. For that reason, it has ruins from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods.

The most striking feature at the Citadel is the Temple of Hercules, an ancient Roman temple, which can been seen from many points throughout the city. The kids are very into the Percy Jackson series and Greek gods and goddesses in general, so this was a pretty easy sell. 

The coolest part of the Temple of Hercules were the small remains from the actual statue itself that once stood inside the massive temple. I was surprised to learn archaeologists had little definitive proof the statue was of Hercules. They assigned the statue to Hercules based on the size of the statue itself which stood over 13 meters high. Since the statue was so large it must be of a demi-god thought to have super-human strength, right? Below, is a photo the remains of the statue, a few fingers (which are about as big around as my leg) and an elbow.

Here, Elise and the kids are checking out a 4,000 tomb cave. 

Water nymph. 

Nymph of another kind. 

At one point during our visit to the archaeological museum, Peter ran up to me and started pulling on my hand, "Daddy! Come see a dead baby in a jar!"

Naturally, I was reluctant to follow him. I was even more creeped out to learn, they then buried the dead baby in a jar under the living room floor. Eww. 

The kids also enjoyed the display of ancient bus station chairs. 

Also prominent at the Citadel site is an ancient Umayyad palace. I didn't get a good shot of the Gateway to the Palace, a doomed structure that acted as the entrance and waiting room for visitors to the ancient palace (because there was a wild Jordanian youth running around on the roof), but I did get a few shots of the interior. 

I told Clementine the beam of light she found reminded me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones uses the Staff of Ra to find the location of the Well of Souls. Harrison Ford hold the staff up to the sunbeam, the ray is filtered through a stone at the top of the staff to a single beam of laser-like light that points to a map drawn on the floor indicating the location of the Well of Souls, final resting place of the lost Ark of the Covenant.

Honestly, I don't know how much longer we can keep them from watching the movie. They're basically reliving the entire plot in real life. if on is Sam cracking his whip, doing his best Indiana Jones impression. 

Peter has recently picked up the Percy Jackson series, and he and Sam are bonding over reading the same books. 

No words. 

Kid's Bake-Off Challenge

We recently sat down as a family and watched the Kid's Bake-Off Challenge on the Food Network. Kids not much older than Sam's age participate in various baking challenges. Each episode, one kid is crowned the winner, while one kid finishes last and must leave the show. (I am hesitant to call this kid the 'loser'. This type of reality TV is heart-breaking enough, but there really are fewer things sadder than seeing a 10 year-old little girl pull her cake from the oven, then pop it out onto the counter, only to watch it goo all over the place because it isn't done. She was instantly reduced to tears.) 

Anyway...the kids were inspired. So, on Thursday afternoon, we baked mini chocolate bundt cakes to decorate as volcanoes as we had seen on the last episode of the show, the Volcano Cake challenge. 

Once the kids were finished decorating their cakes, they were asked to leave the room while the judges (Elise and I) deliberated. 

Clementine's is at the top in the following photo, and...yes...the entire middle of the bundt cake is filled with sprinkles!

As they do in the show, we asked each of the contestants to step forward and tell the judges about their creation. Each contestant was awarded a first place ribbon in different categories and everyone survived to move onto the next round, because that's how we do reality TV in our household!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

International Peace Day

Sam's third week of school ended with a celebration of International Peace Day. 

Kids...! I didn't even know Sam was playing the xylophone!

For International Peace Day, parents were invited to attend their child's morning meeting. During morning meeting, after greeting one another with various ways to say 'Peace', the children were given a chance to define peace and what peace in their home might look like.

Afterwards, Sam's class joined together to sing John Lennon's "Imagine" for the parents.

Later in the day, each class would contribute to a flower mandala in the school lobby.

With three morning meetings and two parents, someone was going to get the short end of the stick. This year, it was Clementine. When Peter and Sam's morning meetings closed, we went down to her homeroom to check in. We stuck our heads in the door to find Clementine grimacing at us. She couldn't hold that face long; it soon melted to tears, "You missed it!" she cried at us.

Fortunately, we are babysitting Yertle the turtle this weekend, which did bring a smile to Clementine's face.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sam's Second Week of School

PTA Picnic

Saturday afternoon, we headed to the school for a Welcome Back picnic, sponsored by the PTA. It was a pretty easy sell. We only had to use two magic words, "Water slides!"

Clementine went down once, but thought the water was too cold!

The Cantaloupe and the Howling Moon

I have written here before about disappointment and was fully prepared to write about disappointment once again.

A few days before promotion announcements were released, my office in Washington released a notice advising employees around the globe that promotion numbers would be down this year. This -- in and of itself -- didn't come as a surprise. There was no overt mention as to why promotions would be down, but you didn't have to read between the lines. Ever since the election, the leaves were in the tea. Hiring freeze, budget cuts, and down-sizing.

This year marked the fourth time I was up for promotion. Many in my cohort had already been promoted; some were now on to their next promotion.

It's difficult not to divorce feelings of self-worth from failure to be promoted. By definition, a promotion is extrinsic recognition of your value as an employee and the granting of additional responsibilities as a result. Promotion panels -- people I have never met in person -- decide whether or not I get a promotion by what I and my supervisors write in my performance evaluation. The difference between being promoted and not being promoted is how I capture my work on paper and not the work itself.

I'm not bitter. I'm really not. In an organization with a global scope, I have no better way to compare someone working in Ouagadougou to someone working in Guangzhou. It is -- as they say -- what it is.

But divorce feelings of self-worth from failure to be promoted is something I have had to do for each of the last three years when promotions are announced and my name is not on the list. Each time I was passed over for promotion, I had to not only come up with reasons why it wasn't my year, but also build myself back up, convince myself my value as a person, a husband, a father, and an employee wasn't linked to my promotablity.

This usually isn't hard to do. After a few hours of wallowing, I'm usually conscripted into some task that has nothing to do with work: make school lunches, give baths, listen to Elise or the kids complain about their day, get asked to help build a lego B-wing. The people who love me most, who lives I affect the most, don't care at all that I wasn't promoted. My value in their eyes hasn't changed at all. If anything, the way I deal with this disappointment will factor into their estimation of me as a husband and father more than how I deal with being promoted.

If I wasn't promoted, I would have to find a new job in a few years. I didn't tell Elise this, but I had already started to think about what we would do if I wasn't promoted. I didn't want to be blindsided. That had happened to me once, and I promised myself I wouldn't let it happen again. Not to me, not to Elise, and especially, not to my young family.

The story is well known by now. I was working in commercial real estate in South Florida when the global financial crisis hit in 2008. I went almost two years without a paycheck, cashing in all my savings, 401ks, turning in cars, everything. I tried to catch a falling knife and paid dearly for it. I wasn't going to do that again.

I was luckier than most. I got an amazing new job that has taken me to Washington, D.C., Brazil, India, and now the Middle East. I like this job. I think I am really good at this job. I didn't think I was a very good commercial real estate developer. If only because I didn't like the idea we had to cut down so many trees. (It's a lot more expensive to move a tree than just cut it down; The bigger the tree, the cheaper it is just to level it.)

A few days after the notice about promotion numbers was posted, I received an email from my career development officer back in D.C. He just got out of a meeting with HR who told him they were on schedule to release the promotion lists before Labor Day Weekend. Labor Day coincided with Eid Al-Adha in Jordan, so we would be treated to a five-day weekend, and we decided to make our first trip down to Petra.

We drove to Petra on Friday, September 1. After a long day hiking, we hung out by the pool, had a few beers and an early dinner, then went to bed with the kids, turning the lights off around 8:30 or 9:00.

The next morning was Friday night in D.C. Peter was smooshed up next to me in the queen-sized bed. I carefully extricated myself from beneath the covers, careful not to wake him and tip-toed across the thin, hotel-room carpet. I reached for my Blackberry, but before I could turn it on, my iPhone flashed with messages from Facebook:

"Paul - a million congrats on your promotion!"


"PAUL - Congrats man!"

I quickly set down the iPhone, trading it in for the work Blackberry, unlocked it. The promotion lists were out. I pulled up the notice, opened it, and quickly scrolled through the names in alphabetical order, skipping to the H's.

I had been promoted.

I took the Blackberry to Elise and showed her. She hugged me. I tried telling the kids, too, but they were already engrossed in a morning cartoon on the hotel TV.

A few nights later, Elise and I went out to Rainbow Street. Ostensibly, to celebrate, but we would have gone out whether I was promoted or not.

We started at a rooftop bar at the east end of Rainbow Street called Cantaloupe. It was dusk when we settled at out perch, ordering an Amstel (see previous posts about the merits of drinking bad beer overseas), a glass of white wine, and an appetizer of grilled haloumi cheese, similar to the queijo coalho we had in Brazil, and looking out over Amman as the sun setting behind us, illuminated the ancient Roman columns atop the Citadel soft hues of pink and orange. The city lights began to twinkle on, as did the neon stripes running up the many minarets, followed by the call to prayer.

When you are down in the city, immersed in the streets, the call comes to you, first faintly, as though far away. As running water moves, so does the call, until it finds you. When you are down in the city streets, you hear one call, the call coming from the local, neighborhood mosque. There is one voice, one song.

But sitting high above the city, there wasn't just one call. There, we could hear all the calls to prayer. First one iman, one prayer, then a second, and a third, floating up, hanging over the city like clouds of song, at first disparate, as though two of the same song, started one at a time, they are discordant at first until the moment they are synchronous, if only for a moment, before becoming discordant again, magnified by a third and fourth, then a hundred songs, all at once, carrying over the city, from minaret to minaret.

It lasted for several minutes, and Elise and I could not compete with it, nor did we really try.

After Cantaloupe, we had planned to have dinner at Sufra, but I had failed to make a reservation, so we dove into the nearest shawarma stand and ate like locals, pressed up against glass looking out onto the sidewalk cafe outside.