Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Paris with Kids

Our trip got off to a rocky start. The van from my office arrived on time to whisk us off to the airport, but I think everyone was a little taken aback and didn’t quite know what to think when they sent an armored van. I guess they wanted to make sure we got there safely.

We’ve always been told to arrive at the airport three hours before our flight, but every time we do, we end up spending two hours in the terminal waiting to board the plane. This time, I got us to the airport two hours before our flight, assuming we would have time to spare, maybe even get breakfast and a coffee at Starbucks. When we walked into the terminal, we instantly realized something was different this time. 

We had never seen the airport this busy before. We fell into the queue at the Royal Jordanian counter and waited. After about 30 minutes, we made it to the front only to be told there was “something wrong” with our tickets.

“What do you mean, ‘wrong ‘?”

“There was a change made to your ticket, but a new ticket was never issued. You need to go over there.” And the woman behind the counter wagged her finger in the general direction of the RJ sales desk. 

After explaining to the guy at the sales desk that my office bought the tickets for us, he said he knew Yara and would call her. I sent a frantic email, knowing a phone call to my office would go unanswered on a Friday morning. 

We waited 15 minutes for Yara to work some sort of magic on her laptop at home, and voila! We had tickets. We squeezed our way back to the front of the line, but we were running out of time fast. When we got back to ththe front of the line to check our bags we were told the kids car seats counted against our luggage allowance. We knew this to be patently false and tried expressing this to the young woman behind the counter in no uncertain terms only to have her evacuate the scene, presumably to quit, have a cigarette, or find back-up. When she finally deigned to return, she go into an argument with Elise for putting two car seats on the conveyor belt at the same time instead of just one when all Elise was trying to do was help her reach the car seat so she could put the luggage tag on it. 

We checked our bags and dropped the car seats off at the oversized baggage drop and got into the customs line. We usually breeze through this part, because there is a separate lane we are able to take advantage of that is always empty. Today, however; the lane was filled with “Fast Passers” like at Disney World, people who paid an extra five JD to slip into the lane reserved for crew. 

The clock was ticking and flight crew after flight crew cut in front of us. The flight crews of a dozen airplanes cut in front of us until I went to the woman supposedly in charge of directing the queue and told her we would literally never make it through customs if every single crew membe is able to freely move to the front of the line. When that didn’t work, I told Elise and the kids to follow me and went to the front of the line. I know the customs agent was channeling some choice Arabic words about Americans, but at that point public diplomacy was out the window. In all seriousness, there was nothing I was going to do to sour U.S.-Jordanian bilateral relations.

We had one hurdle to go, but it was a biggie... security. Without fail, the security agents at Queen Alia airport regard Elise’s cameras as though she were trying check a bail of marijuana, elephant tusks, or live explosives. Without fail, they make her unpack her entire backpack every time. They must recognize her by now because for some reason she was finished before I was done putting my belt back on. 

We ran to the gate, just making our flight. 

Fortunately, the flight and getting out of the airport at Charles de Gaulle was uneventful...smooth, even. We were soon checked into our hotel in the Latin Quarter, one block from the Sorbonne. 

The skies were dark and thunderstorms threatened, but we set out nonetheless for dinner. We returned to one of the restaurants Elise and I had gone to on our honeymoon 12 years ago, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole.

Elise and I had stumbled upon it purely by happy accident. We had just finished visiting Notre Dame and were headed to dinner. We had gotten a restaurant recommendation from somewhere, but when we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered to our mutual horror the menu had pictures a la Denny’s and an English translation. We politely and discretely backpeddaled into the cobblestone street, but having no back-up dinner plan we meandered mostly aimlessly back in the direction of Notre Dame. 

We passed a dark alleyway when something there caught our eye. It would be the Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, then a tiny hidden gem in the mammoth cave mine that is Paris. We sat on the sidewalk and shared a bottle of wine, in love, like true Parisians. 

The opportunity to return — 12 years later with our three children in tow — was the thing of dreams. And while the visit was very different in so many ways, it was no less memorable. 12 years has brought changes to the neighborhood. Not bad, but not all necessarily good, either. 

The street from Notre Dame to the alley where Au Vieux is located is now completely covered with sidewalk hawkers and cheap tourist shops selling bottled water, t-shirts, postcards, and tiny Eiffel Towers. And sadly the restaurant, though small, was entirely filled with Americans, which was not the case at all 12 years ago. Elise and I had trouble figuring out what could have happened. Did it get a write up on TripAdvisor? 

As I mentioned, the evening was dark and stormy, and no sooner had we paid our check and surrendered our table did the skies open up and begin to drop large hailstones. Waiters and busboys darted into the street to wheel their mopeds to safety as the hail pinged off metal car hoods and roofs. 

It stopped as quickly as it started, and we were given enough of a respite to make our way back to the hotel for the night. 

Stay Alive, Part Two

One day of vacation and I already feel like the end of the hot, long summer has come. We just needed a break. All of us. 

Sometime it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. And when you’ve been working an incredibly busy and sometimes stressful job that includes hosting high-ranking dignitaries; where the possibility of being evacuated from your home for security reasons is openly discussed for over a year. With hardly a break. It does catch up with you, I guess. 

I recently took on a new portfolio at work that may have been affecting me in ways I didn’t realize. I’m responsible for housing for over 320 families. Many of them have never lived overseas...much less in the Middle East...and sometimes don’t quite understand that things don’t quite work the same way as they do in the States.

I think it would take a toll on anyone if a large part of your job was fielding complaints from people who are also stressed out for reasons that may have nothing to do with their leaking shower. I confided to a colleague that my psychology education may come in good use because I recognize more often than not, a complaint about housing is a symptom of a greater malady that likely has nothing to do with one’s housing. 

Elise says I’m perfectly suited for the job, and I do legitimately like helping people. I feel personally responsible for their happiness while having to realize at the same time there may be nothing I can do to make them happy. 

The last few weeks of summer were hard, but Elise reminded me the last few weeks of summer are always hard. Now; that the summer is coming to an end, I can recognize it for what it was an era: a period that is passing. The kids will look back fondly on this summer, and for Elise and I too memories of hardship will fade, as well. 

It doesn’t mean I’m above sending the kids off to summer camp next summer. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Stay Alive

The past couple of weeks have been rough. The summer is too long and weighs on us, pushes us down with both hands. I think we are all waiting some release. Me. Elise. The kids. Maybe especially the kids. While Elise and I just want quiet, a place that doesn't move or change for a few seconds, the children are filled with boundless, limitless energy and no channel through which to funnel it.

Most days I am happy to wait on them. They are my children and I depend on them for my survival as much as they depend on me for theirs, but there are days, more numerous now, where one more disagreement on overhead lighting or one more request for a sip of water exasperates me. Sometimes for no other reason than because I know Elise is more exasperated than I.

It is unfair of me to say that I am not looking forward to our trip back to the States when there are so many who are eager and excited to see us. But knowing I have a memorial service for my mom staring me down, trapping me as a pair of headlights captures a deer, hopefully suffices in some way as explanation.

Elise says it is a horrible idea to have waited, to have to dredge up all those emotions all over again. I agree with her.

Though I don't know what I could have done differently. Even though my mom was so sick for so long, and we all knew she would pass eventually, and we all began to know without doubt when the end was getting closer, I still seemed woefully unprepared to put together a funereal.

I know there were those who would have helped, but I had no idea where to start. It's not like I had ever planned a funereal before. I could have turned to my dad, but at the time, I wasn't sure what role he would have or should have. If any. My mom's complete shuttering of that part of her life and surgically-precise extraction of my father from her life made any dealings with him awkward at best, tortuous at worst.

Events where both my parents had to be present -- regardless of how joyful for me -- were always fractured in some way, because I would have to consciously split my time between them on opposite sides of a room, tent, or auditorium. Weddings, graduations, birthday parties were all bifurcated, cracked in half like a broken egg.

It seemed impossible them to plan a funereal. It still seems impossible.

I'm not looking forward to the trip.

When I share this with friends at work, I don't tell them the whole story. They assume it is because I have to visit my in-laws, and I acquiesce reluctantly, because that is the path of least resistance and gets me out of having to go into details. In reality, staying with in-laws is the only part of the trip I am looking forward to. There, I know I will get to go on long runs through wheat fields, go to Wolf Lodge for steak and trout, and drink good beer. But it is more than that, too.

Two weeks ago, I had been swamped at work and didn't plan anything for the weekend. Mostly because I didn't have time to, but also partly because I didn't really want to do anything. But weekends without plans -- while fine on paper -- are a disaster in actual practice. Forward momentum is the kids best friend. When we are on the move, things go well. When we try to be still is when things fall apart, when the bickering and fighting, the pinching and scratching and name-calling begins. I know my brothers and I weren't any better.

Mostly for that reason alone, last weekend, I arranged for them to go horseback riding. They had a blast, but the lesson was only forty five minutes. When we got home, around 10:00 in the morning, it took them only a few minutes to begin complaining about how bored they were. So, we organized a water balloon fight. It took us 45 minutes to fill the balloons and about 3 1/2 for them to pop them all, then we were right back where we started.

So, I let them watch TV.

I told Elise I was going to get my haircut and to Meat Masters to buy steak and sausage for the week's dinners. I got in the car and drive to get gas.

I pulled up at the gas station. I've been taking Arabic for almost a year now, two times a week, but I still don't know how to say "Full" or "95". Fortunately, even the gas station attendants in Amman speak English.

I turned out of the gas station and started back up the hill to Sweifieh, listening to music, and lost it. I almost had to pull over. The last time this happened I was driving through Ballston on the way back from picking up carry-out at Ravi Kabob.

We are standing in the shadow of this memorial service. All of us. Especially Elise who is the emotional sherpa for all five of us.

I was listening to Jose Gonzalez "Stay Alive" when the dam burst:

There’s a rhythm in rush these days
Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone lean

Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know
Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow
There’s no place to run and no gasoline
Engine won’t turn
And the train won’t leave

Engines won’t turn and the train won’t leave

I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive

Well the way I feel is the way I write
It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies
There is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming
Open your eyes

Look into the sun as the new days rise
And I will wait for you tonight
You’re here forever and you’re by my side
I’ve been waiting all my life
To feel your heart as it’s keeping time
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive

Dawn is coming
Open your eyes

Sometimes, as a middle-age man you feel like you are in the middle of an ocean with a sail and no breeze. The days you grew up behind you and the days you children are grown ahead of you, it can be easy to forget they are growing up right under your nose.

We'll do whatever just to stay alive.

We need this trip as much as this trip needs us. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ready, Set, Splash!

Another checked off the summer bucket list...have a water balloon fight!

Saifi Stables

The kids went for their first horseback riding lesson this weekend. I had heard there was a good stable in Amman. Not surprising given our proximity to Saudi Arabia. I didn't know what to expect, and instead of just a ride or a walk, they were given an orientation session where they learned some of the basics of riding and taking care of their equipment and the horse.

I forget the names of the kids' horses, except for Clementine's. Her horse was named Itsy Bitsy. 

The three of them essentially had a private lesson where they learned to balance in the saddle and even trot. Sam impressed their instructor when he hopped into the saddle. Seriously, he looked like the Lone Ranger!

Clementine had a frown on her face when we finished. She was smitten and didn't want to be done. I think she will be back for sure. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dog Days of Summer, Part Three

Things are spiraling down the drain fast.

We have one week to go until we leave on our big trip back to the States, stopping in Paris first for three days. The kids have never been to Paris, and Elise and I haven't been back since our honeymoon 12 years ago. I initially wasn't planning to schedule a visit to the Louvre, but the kids said they wanted to go and are looking forward to it. In their minds, the entirety of the Louvre is contained in the glass pyramid entrance they see when they watch one of their favorite cartoons -- set in Paris -- Ladybug and Chat Noir.

But that is still one week away. For the time being, at least, still, always, we are in Jordan. The days are hot and long. No one wants to go to the pool anymore. Pete wants to play soccer, but Sam doesn't. Clem wants to play Pictionary, but Pete doesn't. Everyone is sick of each other, sick of the food in Jordan. No one wants to cook or eat anything. The kids have stopped eating breakfast, and I have stopped making breakfast. I have resorted to setting bowls out for them in the morning, a box of cereal. Sometimes, I get the milk out of the fridge for them. Most days, I don't bother. Then, I get in the shower and go to work.

Last night, uninspired to eat or make anything, we fed them Dairy Queen burgers and blizzards for dinner. It might sound quintessentially summer if it hadn't been the byproduct of so much exhaustion, futility, and frustration.

Nothing sounds fun anymore. We recently celebrated our one year anniversary of living in the Middle East. This is no way meant as a reflection on Jordan, but to say we are ready for a break is the understatement of the year.

Except for the fact that Peter has finally come around to eating falafel. We went to the Family Restaurant for lunch last weekend, the highlight of an otherwise long, miserable weekend of no one getting along and what seemed like hundred false starts in which no one could decide what they wanted to do, so we ended up doing nothing until Clementine and I finally decided to walk to the store and took a detour to see if there were any new puppies at the pet store. Thankfully, there were.

Peter ate no less than 10 falafel balls and still wanted more. But the meter on our table was running out (a metaphor; the place is busy).

At dinner the other night, Clementine said she couldn't wait to go to Target. I look at her skeptically and asked, "Who are you?"

I have never known Clementine to profess a love of shopping or an affinity for Target and am convinced she picked this up from her mother or overhead someone else say it as though it is the thing you are supposed to have missed most about the States....Target.

She said if she sees someone working at Target (presumably, anyone in a red vest) she thinks she might hug them.

Really? Target?

Elise admits to just wanting to have her Starbucks (evidently, it might be in a plastic sippy cup now without a straw) and just walk down the aisle arms outspread to demonstrate the breadth and girth of American shopping aisles.

I can think of nothing worse. I can't imagine taking a transatlantic flight and having Target be the prize at the end. Of course, it is not the only reason to come back to the States.

I am most looking forward to seeing green, to the earthy smell of fresh lawn clippings. I think Elise is looking forward to the rain. It's funny the things you miss when ensconced in a foreign land, when something as quotidian as rain is coveted because it is nonexistent here. I'm excited to hear the rumble of thunder and to see the giant bulbous clouds like the udder of a cow turned upside down ready to spray rain down. I think about going to Lake Coeur d'Alene and look forward to the metallic, alkaline sting of fresh lake water going up my nose. I'm excited to drink good, hoppy IPAs. I have a beer to brew, but reference the paragraphs above for a moment and you understand why I have absolutely no motivation to make it, knowing it won't be ready until we get back to Jordan.

At this point, it just makes more sense to wait a week. 

Dead Sea, Revisited

At the beginning of the summer, we had the opportunity to visit the Dead Sea again thanks to Elise's Aunt Denise and Uncle Larry who were passing through Jordan on the tail end of a whirlwind Middle Eastern adventure.

They were kind enough to put us up in the Movenpick for the night. Sadly, we were only able to repay them with a mediocre Italian dinner at the only restaurant open before 7:30 p.m. (thanks a lot, Ramadan).

No matter how much the kids get on each others' nerves when in the house, or no matter what toy they are fighting over or who hit who, when the kids get out of the house and set off somewhere, they invariably fit back together again as above. Most times neither Elise nor I have any idea what they are talking about. Sometimes, we do catch snippets of their conversations, but more often than not, they simply do not make sense. Someday they will undoubtedly talk about Constitutional law, quantum physics, or Antediluvian period literature. 

The Dead Sea tends to be very, very hot, so we delayed going down to the actual water until early the next morning. 

One can't come to the Dead Sea without slathering their bodies with the sacred muds found on the sea's banks. 

Everyone got into the mix!

Mud monster. 

Pete in his mid boots. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Beirut, Part Two

After lunch at Tawlet, we explored the neighborhood of Mar Mikhael. It was hot in Beirut that weekend, so by late afternoon, we were toast and retired to the relative coolness of our hotel room for a nap before happy hour cocktails at Dragonfly, then dinner at Liza. 

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast at our hotel, we wandered around the neighborhood on our way to the Sursock Museum. 

One of my favorite moments of the trip was our slow walk through a quiet neighborhood in Achrafieh. It was Friday and the streets were full of children on their way to or from school. In Jesuits Garden park, stray cats intertwined through the brush as elderly men and women did laps with their walkers. A jacaranda tree dropped violet petals on an antique Mercedes. It was a moment of being transported in the truest sense to another time and place as though inhabiting the body of another Hanna from decades before. 

The wealthy Beirut aristocrat Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock built the private villa that now houses the museum in 1912. When he died in 1952, he bequeathed the villa to the city of Beirut, and it is now home to a contemporary art museum.


After the museum, we grabbed a late lunch of falafel tacos at Taco de Madre on Pharoun Street where we also visited the very cute shop Pink Henna. 

We again retreated from the heat to our hotel room. Around dusk, we decided to take a cab to the other side of town to grab some coffee and take in the Raouche Rocks. 

Our only miss of the whole trip was dinner that night. I had previously had good luck with Tripadvisor recommendations, but this time the website let me down. After grabbing drinks at a bar in Mar Mikhael where we were surrounded by the occasionally disorienting melange of trilingual Beirutis. Many Lebanese are trilingial, speaking Arabic, French, and English with equal passion and fluent proficiency. Elise and I found ourselves mesmerized by the hybrid language created when the three were combined; just when you found yourself following the thread of someone speaking next to you, they would switch languages in mid-sentence and your metal train would go careening off the rails. 

Anyway, back to dinner. Knowing we were in the "Paris of the Middle East", I thought it only appropriate to take in some quality French fare, so I consulted Tripadvisor who suggested the Couqley French Bistro in Gemmayze. Fortunately, neither Elise and I were that hungry following our late lunch and decided to split a burger. Now, don't get me wrong it was a very, very good burger, but the ambiance left a little to be desired and kind of reminded me of the French version of a Howard Johnsons. 

Our time in Beirut was running short, and we were scheduled to head back to the kids on a 1:00 p.m. flight which meant we had to be at the airport by 11:00. We got an early start the next day, however, because we really wanted to take in the farmer's market downtown which I think took Elise's breath away based solely on the number of photographs she took there. 

The parting shot from a local jewelry store. 


At the beginning of May, Elise and I snuck away without the kids for the weekend for the first time since moving to Jordan.

We decided we wanted to take advantage of the calm while it lasted and check out Lebanon.

Both of my grandparents on my dad's side are Lebanese. My grandfather, Michael Hanna, or Jidu as he was known to me and my brothers and cousins (my dad is now Jidu to our kids, and I someday I may be a Jidu to Sam, Peter, and Clementine's kids. Inshallah) was born in Lebanon, in the mountain town of Douma, northeast of Beirut. My grandmother was born in the States, in Boston, to Lebanese parents who migrated to the U.S. Her mother, Najeeby Shalhoub was actually pregnant with my Sitii, Carmer Hanna, as she crossed the Atlantic.

I won't go as far as to say this was a "homecoming" of sorts. It wasn't anything close to that. But going to Lebanon was something I really wanted to do once we realized we were moving to the Middle East. I wasn't sure if I would even get the opportunity, but I'm really glad we made it happen.

Our nanny, Ana Lynn, is good, but she's no Rita, and while Elise and weren't leery of leaving her with the kids for two nights, this would be the first time she would stay overnight with them.

For that reason, we decided to leave Amman Thursday morning while the kids were still in school. We rolled the dice that one of them wouldn't get sick and require a mid-day pick-up, but, thankfully, that did not happen.

Though Beirut is only 135 miles from Amman as the crow flies, it might as well be on another planet. Getting there is difficult. There once was a time when we could have drove to Beirut, but I don't know when that might have been, because even before war broke out in Syria, I'm not exactly sure there wasn't a war raging in Lebanon. Such is the part of the world we live in.

As it stands now, there is no way to drive to Beirut. We can drive through Palestine and Israel, but the border between Israel and Lebanon is closed, so the only way to Beirut is by plane.

The flight seemed a lot longer than we thought it should be until we realized we were flying around Israel and over Syria. The line at immigration was long and slow moving, too, so we didn't leave the airport in Beirut for our hotel in Mar Mikhael on the eastern side of Beirut until mid-afternoon.

I think one of the things that made the trip so special was I had no idea what to expect of Beirut. I think when one travels to New York City, Paris, or maybe even India for the first time you have some idea of what to expect, even if those expectations are largely based on stereotypes or impressions from films or TV. I had no idea what Beirut would be like. What we discovered was fascinating.

In many ways, Beirut is the perfect city with the right balance between old and new, decay and glimmer, beauty and the beast. It is filled with quiet neighborhoods untouched by time and shiny new shops and hip bars with fancy fonts advertising specials on aperol spritzs. In our short time in Beirut, Elise and I only had the chance to scratch the surface of the fabled city, "The Paris of the Middle East". In this sense, it definitely did not disappoint.

We spent most of our time on the east -- or Christian -- side of town. Of no surprise to anyone except someone who is not steeped in Lebanese history like myself, the city is basically bifurcated between the Christian east and Muslim west, hence all the civil wars. We stayed at a small boutique hotel, Villa Clara.

As soon as we checked in, we dumped our stuff in the room and set out in search of lunch. On our "must-do" list was lunch at Tawlet, a true farm-to-table concept. 

Meals were served family style. The owners invited a different guest chef every day of the week from a local Lebanese village to come and prepare the day's meal. 

Our weekend get-away was off to a good start. Truth be told, I would have been content at that point to hop back on the plane and fly home, but more exploring awaited us. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dog Days of Summer, Part Two

We are currently in the heart of the long, hot summer. There were six weeks between our trip to Cyprus right when the kids got out of school and our trip to Paris and back to the States to see the grandparents right before school starts back up, and three of those weeks have past. Three more to go.

Summer camp options in Amman are few and far between. The ones that may sound appealing (i.e. a horseback riding camp) are prohibitively expensive. My office offers a summer camp, but it is run by teenagers who are just this side of being able to take care of themselves, and when they are not playing cards poolside while toddlers struggle to survive in the shallow end of the swimming pool unsupervised, chaos reigns. It is also ridiculously expensive and just short of glorified daycare. I don't know about you, but summer camp -- if you're going to subject your child to it -- should be an enriching experience. Not detention.

My mom, a single, working mother, sent us to summer camp, and most times it was glorified daycare and not an enriching experience. I don't have many fond memories of summer camp and I've told stories to the kids about some of my summer camp experiences in hopes they appreciate the herculean lengths Elise goes to to keep them entertained for six weeks. For example there was the milky yellow swimming pool at the YMCA on Burns Rd. Now, thankfully, filled in and most likely yet another gated housing community.

I like, in theory, the idea of them going to a sleep-away camp where they climb mountains, swim across icy-cold lakes, and learn to carve a working combustion engine out of the stump of a 100 year-old pine tree, but, alas, they are perhaps still too young to go to a sleep-away camp. Especially when going to the type of sleep-away camp I am envisioning would require a transatlantic flight to get to and taking out a personal loan.

For the time being, we'll stick with what works. And I am thankful for Elise that she does value wanting to give the kids a fun summer they will look back on fondly.

At the beginning of the summer, she sat them down, and the four of them drew up their summer "bucket list", all the things they wanted to do over the summer, i.e. go to the children's museum, have a water balloon fight, go to Magic Planet, and have breakfast for dinner. They've started crossing a few things of their list, but the truth is they are learning to do very little and be happy with it. Which I also think is an important life skill. It is not realistic for anyone to be expected to be entertained every waking moment of their lives, and despite Elise's efforts, she really isn't trying to run a cruise ship here.

This is the first summer both Elise and I have taken real efforts to combat the so-called "summer slide", the fabled loss of cognitive ability a child suffers while playing Pokemon, going swimming, building legos, and watching hour after hour of cartoons. We bought them each a work book corresponding to the grade they would be entering in the fall, and to our amazement, they actually sit down at the breakfast table and work in their books a couple of days a week. Clementine is the most diligent, but even Sam who was the most resistant initially is getting into the spirit.

Though the kids pretty much cartoons daily, that's what summer is about. They don't have iPads. Mostly because their dad is too cheap to by them for them. When they have moments of Einsteinian  inspiration away from an iPad screen, Elise and I ask ourselves sarcastically, "Why aren't they on their devices?" It's not easy. Moments of Einsteinan inspiration don't happen everyday, and the times their play devolves into WWF-style cage matches are more common than not.

A few days ago, Elise took them all to go jumping at a local trampoline gym called Gravity where there is a indoor ropes course.

Peter trapped in the ropes. 

Sam coming to his rescue. 

A throne of foam.

Foam blocks from sea to shining sea. 

The next week, we  went to Magic Planet, a ginormious Chuck E. Cheese -style arcade, only without the crappy, cardboard pizza (And with bumper cars!!). 

Finally, we checked out the Amman Farmer's Market. The pickings were pretty slim, but we did by a new jar of local honey. Unfortunately, of the 10 or so stalls that had been set up, only two were manned by actual farmers who were selling vegetables, the rest were occupied by craftspeople of varying degrees of skill. Two elderly Armenian women convinced us to try dried, preserved Armenian beef. It took Elise the better part of the afternoon to get the taste out of her mouth. I told her she was lucky she hadn't tried the grey one, literally it was the color of cement, and the flavor wasn't much better.