Saturday, October 13, 2018

Spin the Wheel

One of the reasons the blog has been suffering as of late, like a neglected child left in a basket on the steps of the firehouse, besides the fact that Elise and I have been crazy, ridiculously, beyond busy, is because we are deep, deep in the throes of bidding on our next posting. 

Like it or not, we have to leave Jordan this summer. The job I am in now is only two years. No option to extend. They left out that part when I signed up for the job. In fact, they’ve recently hired my replacement, so we really must go. 

Elise has been training like mad for her first triathlon in two short weeks from now. She is ready. Even if she doesn’t think she is. She will toe the starting line on the edge of the Red Sea just a few days before we may hear where we will move to this summer. 

For some reason — I’m not exactly sure why — this bid season has been particularly gut-wrenching and especially stressful. The list was very good, and we could easily imagine ourselves on any one of the four corners of the globe. We started researching and reaching out earlier than last time; that, in part, has made this time around very long. We’re just ready for it to be over. 

We talked over all the possibilities with the kids. They have been more involved (and curious) than ever. They’re no longer tiny babies in bucket seats we sling over our shoulder and head out. Nor are they quite the petulant teenagers we have heard about, filing ardent protests of having to move and leave friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends. They are excited by the move. Like Elise and I, they are thriving in this lifestyle. 

We submit our final list this Friday and may hear something by the end of October. The last two times Elise and I have bid, we reached the end and still didn’t know where we were going. I am hopeful that is not the case this time around. 

Or, as they say in Arabic, inshallah. 

Wadi Rum, Part Two

We left the house for the four hour drive south at 8:30, in time to coincide our arrivals with our friends from Jerusalem who were driving up from an overnight in Petra.

The King’s Highway connecting Amman to Aqaba on the Red Sea was completely turn up and made driving like a spectacle out of Grand Theft Auto, 18 wheeler’s hurtling down the wrong side of the highway, random barriers, shoulders, not to mention pedestrians popping up out of the middle of nowhere. The drive was long than we had intended and we arrived after our friends. But after proceeding through the visitors center and paying our 1.5 JD (the residents’ going rate) per person, we drove a few more km to the parking lot in Wadi Village where we were met by our Jeep which would 4x4 us out to the camp.

The Jeep was actually a tricked out Toyota FourRunner. It was the only vehicle in the entire village, giving the rundown landscape a disorienting “Children of the Corn” feel, as though every vehicle was a clone of the other.  But given the terrain, the mode of transportation made sense. It was either FourRunner or camel. You decide. 

We were met by a striking man in a long white robe. I’m sure the gown has a traditional name but I don’t know what it is. It was surprisingly immaculate given that everything else in Wadi Tum was covered in several centimeters of red dust. He had the eyes of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates or the Caribbean”, piercing and ringed in black as though circled in mascara though he wore no makeup. 

He loaded our luggage into the front seat of the Toyota as we loaded into the back l, squeezing onto two bench seats on either side of the flatbed truck. We then bounced over the last few meters of rough asphalt that was Wadi Village. The road ended and the desert began. We were soon sliding over red sand. 

Wadi Rum looks like the surface of Mars. In fact, the Matt Damon movie “The Martian” was filmed there.

In addition to the traditional Bedouin tent, many of the more upscale tents have taken the Martian theme and run with it. Hence, the dome tent, a round white pod. Most have their own facilities and air conditioning. You can really spend as much or as little as you want to on accommodations in Wadi Rum. We opted for the former for our first sojourn to the red desert. 

The Jeep maneuvered across the desert floor, navigating around and between colossal red rock formations rising on either side of us like stone giants. The Jeep tumbled by the occasional random caravan of wild camels before pulling up to our camp, Memories Aicha Luxury Camp. 

We were guided to the sheehsa/coffee area where we were reunited with our friends from Chennai. Neither of us had lunch yet so we let the kids scramble up the rock escarpment which rose steeply on either side of the tent city while we waited for lunch to be served, a family-style serving of maqlooba, a Jordanian chicken and rice dish. “Maqlooba” means “upside down” in Arabic and that is exactly how the dish is prepared. 

After lunch, in order to avoid the somnambulism brought on by such a heavy meal, we went on Jeep excursion to see some of the nearby sights, our family in one Jeep, the other family in another. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Wadi Rum

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to meet friends who are currently living in Jerusalem in Wadi Rum for a night of glamping.  It was our first trip to Wadi Rum; we had been planning to go for a while, but had yet to fit it in.  It definitely did not disappoint.

We were picked up in the parking lot just past the visitor center.  We would be driven in a 4x4 "jeep" out to the camp. 

These are just a few shots from our arrival.  It’s been a couple of weeks and I wanted ed to get these up. More photos to come!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Will You Lay With Me?"

Almost without fail, as Elise and I are putting the kids to bed, saying goodnight, tucking them in, and kissing them to sleep, one of them will ask us, "Will you lay with me?"

I am ashamed to admit, the first time one of them asked me this question my first thought was, "Why?"

A parent laying with their child was a concept that was completely foreign to me. I had done it with Sam and Clementine (Peter never needed it, though he is one of the quickest now to ask me if I will lay with him) when they were babies to help them falls asleep, but they didn't need help falling asleep now.  They were big kids with long days, school, math, recess, after-school activities, sometimes swimming, and tennis and soccer practice. Surely, they didn't need their father to help them go to sleep. They had to be exhausted. I know I was.

Elise asked me if my mom or dad ever laid with me when I was a kid. I thought about it for amount, then shook my head.

"No," I told her. "I don't think so."

Evidently, Elise's mom used to lay with her when she went to sleep, and Elise remembers that being the time when she downloaded her day, when everything came spilling out, in the dark, in whispers. She tells me she has the same experience now with Sam, though the role are reversed.  Sam is now the one downloading to her.

As a single mother, I believe it was probably everything my mom could do just to get three boys into bed. Doubtlessly, she, too, was exhausted.  Perhaps, ready to do something, one thing, anything, for herself, or just go to bed.

I don't lay with them every night. Many times I do I end up falling asleep, and Elise has to come get me and tell me to turn the bathroom light out. Elise reminds me they won't always want to lay with me. So, as tired as I am some nights, when they ask me to lay with them, I pause before answering. "Just for a minute," before tucking in next to them. I notice they return many of the same comforting gestures I've used on them with me. Peter puts his arm around my chest. Clementine interlaces her fingers with mine.  Sam strokes my hair.

The day they don't want me to lay with them anymore is probably sooner than I would like. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Guy Box

We have a lot of legos. I mean A LOT OF LEGOS. I won't say too many legos. The kids would say we don't have enough legos. But we do -- almost -- have an unmanageable amount of legos.

When the kids get a new set, they usually complete the initial construction within a day, if not an hour.  The set will stay together for a few days, at least, or a month or so, at best.  At that point, it becomes disassembled. Sometimes, this occurs in dramatic fashion. It is smashed on accident, in play, for example, as part of some cataclysmic accident or natural disaster, or in a fight, dueling factions pull and tug until the structural integrity of the lego model is compromised.  Other times, it disassembles gradually, a piece falls off here, another piece falls off there, until, piece by piece, it as devolved back to its constituent bricks.

Those bricks are then picked up.  At that point, they are rarely kept together, so the set can be reconstructed. We put them into plastic bins by color. We started with one white bin, one blue bin, one grey bin, etc. This made the task of reconstructing sets a bit more challenging. Though we kept all the original instructions, in order to rebuild a X-wing starfighter or Chima tank, we have to sift through the colored box for the piece we were looking for. This is difficult, but not impossible.

Over time, however, one white box had grown to three. Three black, three light grey, three dark grey, a box of tiny lego tires, a whole box of just windshields, a box of "lights", multicolored translucent pegs, a box for Lego Friends (a special line of "girls" legos) and elves featuring mauve and fuchsia-colored pieces, and the guy box.

This made the task of reconstructing old sets nearly impossible, because the individual act of finding each piece among all the plastic bins became -- literally -- liking seeking the proverbial needle in a haystack.  The kids are discouraged because it takes hours of sifting through bins to find a piece and so each step in the construction process takes much longer than it did during the original, right-out-of-the-box build. When the kids ask me to "play" legos with them, what they are really asking is for me to be the one to help them find the bricks they are looking for.

I remember one time when we were living in Oakwood Falls Church while I was in language training.  During language training, I can't take leave, so Elise took the kids (it may have been only Sam and Peter then) to Washington State to visit her parents.  I stayed behind and everyday after class, I would come back to our apartment and spend a couple of hours putting all the sets back together for them. When they came back from vacation, all the legos that had been in a million, tiny, mixed-up pieces were all whole and ready to play with again.

Given the sheer volume of legos we have now, I could never do that again, unless they went away for six months and I would never want them gone that long.

All the lego instructions for every lego set are also available for download online. So, when the kids ask me for a new lego, I ask them which one they want, then download the instructions from the lego website and we set out to build it with the pieces we currently have.  Pete and I had really good luck building a Star Wars B-wing this way in India. We would have to, on occasion, improvise and use pieces we had in substitution for pieces in the instructions we didn't have, but this presented an additional challenge to the build I enjoyed.

The guy box is a separate monstrosity. Each set comes with lego guys, yellow-hued men and women with identical smiles and lobster pincers for hands. We have a whole box of heads, arms, and legs. But it is also like a prop, or dress-up box for these people, because all the miscellaneous firearms, swords, scuba tanks, chalices, walk-talkis, handcuffs, and chest plates that come with the men get thrown in the box, too. The guy box is kind of my favorite box. Darth Vader, a great white shark, firemen, crocodile people, superheroes, elves, lifeguards, brown bears, ninjas, and more all live in the guy box.

I completely understand there is no substitute for a brand-new, right-out-of-the-box lego.  The bigger, the better.  No matter how many lego pieces we have, or regardless of whether or not I know where this set will ultimately end up in a few weeks or months, I completely get the thrill and excitement of new pieces and new instructions. A Friday or Saturday morning filled with the sound of fingers sifting through hundreds of plastic lego pieces is usually a peaceful one; the noise, irritating at first, can sound like shells tumbling in waves at the beach after awhile. In the end, it doesn't matter how many legos we have. We're at the point of no return now. What's a few hundred more? 

Kid's Baking Challenge

One of the kid's favorite shows is the Kid's Baking Challenge on the Food Network. 

In the show, a dozen bakers between the age of 8-12 compete in various baking challenges. It's hard to watch the show and not want something sweet right before you go to bed.

Sam had the idea that he wanted to make macaroons, so he and Elise spent Friday morning in the kitchen. They didn't quite have all the ingredients and equipment they needed, but they tried anyway, and though they didn't come out quite right form-wise, the taste was good enough to merit a second attempt in the coming weeks.

Clem -- not to be outdone -- also wanted to participate, so I had to make tiny cupcakes with her, if for no other reason than to keep her out of Sam's hair and space. We even had enough cupcake batter left over to make what we called a "skinny cake", basically a cake that was about a centimeter high. I may be on to something! All the taste and only half the calories!

The skinny cake

Tiny cupcakes

Tasting her wares!


After a little bit of a rough start, soccer season has officially started!

I say a little bit of a rough start, because there was some ... okay, quite a bit ... of confusion surrounding sign-ups and practice schedules.  For example, three kids showed up for Sam's team's first soccer practice.  I have never played soccer, but the last time I checked you definitely needed more than three people on a team to play. 

There have also been some adjustments getting used to new coach's.  Peter's coach, for example, is as old as my dad and is like a jidou on the sidelines.  As he coaches the kids, he switches back and forth between Arabic and English, so every kid on the team only gets about half of what he is saying unless they are perfectly bilingual; Peter is not.  He also yells, "Shoot it!" every time any kid has the ball regardless of where they are on the field, even playing defense.  I get that I think he means, pass it, kick it, dribble it, score, whatever, just do something with it.

Sam's coach, on the other hand, is a young gun out to prove something.  Sam is growing fast.  He is in fifth grade and almost a middle-schooler.  Almost.  He is still a kid with a big heart.  I think his coach sometimes thinks he is running drills at Camp Lejeune.  Sam will play hard given the right motivation, but he is like me.  He doesn't respond well to being screamed at.  I remember one occasion swimming in college when the coach yelled at me and I also remember thinking, "This is swimming. Is it really worth yelling about?"

The first week's games went well, though, despite the initial hiccups.  Peter's team was demolished, 1-8, but he did score their only goal!

Pete's team huddling. 

Peter in action. Of all three kids, he actually did the most running. This is one of the rare moments he was standing still. 

Okay, so maybe he did more standing around then I remember. 

Clementine was -- by far -- the most colorful player on her team.

I'm not exactly sure she understand yet what exactly it is she's supposed to be doing.

And she had her fair share of standing around, as well. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Summer's Over!

School's back in session and Clementine is enjoying first grade!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Smoke and Water

We were very much looking forward to our visit in Washington state.  Of course, everyone was excited to see the grandparents, but we were also looking forward to clear blue skies, the scent of pine needles in the air, and maybe even one or two long hikes through the hills surrounding Spokane.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other designs. Eastern Washington is hot in August. Very hot. One day the mercury topped out at 109 F. There were also numerous wildfires in the area. I read in the paper one local wildfire was started in a debris pile, when sunlight focused through a window ignited dry paper and building materials.

We headed into town most everyday. The kids splashed in the giant fountain at Riverfront Park and rode the carousel. The first day at the park, we hadn't brought towels or swimsuits, but that didn't stop them. They stripped down to their shorts and made the ride back to Cheney damp, but happy.

Of course, no visit to Eastern Washington would be complete without the pilgrimage to Wolf Lodge. We decided to head over to Idaho early with Uncle Dan and Aunt Janice, stopping at Lake Coeur d'Alene for a quick dip. 

The water wasn't quite as refreshing as I had remembered it, and we weren't able to spend as much time there as we would have liked for the sheer brutality of the heat. But the swim -- short as it may have been -- was sufficient to work up appetites in advance of steak, trout, and krebble. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

The last segment of our trip found us spending time with Elise’s parents in Eastern Washington. Unfortunately, most of the time we were there temps were close to 100 or above and air quality was poor due to wildfires spreading through the area. All limiting the opportunities for outdoor exploration.

The weather broke temporarily shortly after Dan and Janice arrived from the west coast. Broke enough, at any rate, for a morning outing to Greenbluff to see what was in season.

What was in season — much to our good fortune — were peaches!