He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New international travel memories and first days of US (in other words- all the unhealthy food we can manage to stuff in our faces....).

After living 12 years overseas as a family, we're pretty good at the international travel thing.  As for most of the hiccups that can be involved in traveling internationally- we can pretty much say, "been there, done that".  
Vomiting toddler on an airplane?  check  

Disappearing luggage?  check
  
Frantically running through airport to avoid missing flight? check

Actually missing a flight? check

Seat assignment next to THE person on the plane who is completely intolerant of your somewhat active toddler and has the nerve to put her hands over her hairs and start rocking back and forth like Rainman when your toddler fusses during landing?  CHECK

Walking up and down the aisles of the flight for hours with your 12 month old who just wants to walk and smile and wave ("do adin"  "do a din")?  check

All that to say, we have a fairly decent arsenal of contingency plans for airline travel.  I wrote THIS post last year about international travel with a 2 year old after our Christmas trip to the states.  

Come December 14, we were ready for whatever our flight itinerary might throw our way.  We were just super excited to be heading to the US of A  for about 7 months and just in time for Christmas.  Things started out as normally as they could  considering we had to leave our house around 10 PM for our 1 AM flight.  Getting all 6 of us and our 12 bags checked in and through security is always somewhat of an ordeal and we usually breathe a pretty big sigh of relief once we get through all the checkpoints and have some time to relax a bit.  

We had a very hyper 8 year old, a completely exhausted 3 year old, and 2 very neutral teens who would just assume not be photographed, thank you very much...


First leg of travel all went as well as could be expected for a 1 AM-5AM flight.  Arriving in Paris we walked around and waited for cafes to open and even found a little princess playground.

About 45 minutes after boarding the flight from Paris to Chicago, we realized we might be in trouble as fog had descended over the city leaving us stuck at the gate on the plane for almost 3 hours.  Knowing that in Chicago we would have to clear customs which would include collecting all 12 of our bags and putting them on a different baggage belt marked for domestic travel, we were fairly certain we would miss our flight to Memphis even with having over 4 hours in Chicago.  Sure enough, this proved to be the case.  By the time we arrived and cleared customs our flight to Memphis was taking off.  It was so frustrating to be so close but not be able to do anything about it!  Particularly when we realized that no longer having a flight to Memphis meant we would have to take all 12 of our bags, all of our carry ons and AB's carseat that we checked as an extra item with us across the airport to a different terminal and hope that they'd be able to find another outgoing flight from Chicago to Memphis...

Long story short, they got us a flight after about 2 hours of getting our luggage across the airport, standing in various lines, haggling with various airline employees and finally getting the whole thing worked out.  By this point we had been traveling well over 24 hours and to say we were exhausted would be quite an understatement.  But hey, we were on US soil.  We had confirmed seats on a later flight to Memphis and would soon be on our way.

We made it through security (for the 849th time) and looked for a place to grab a bite to eat.   This is where things started to get a bit interesting and we actually had a few "firsts" as far as travel stories.  Unfortunately, we were traveling on Sunday so Chick Fil-A was out of the question.  We were too tired to even really know if we were hungry so we settled for the only thing that was right by our gate, which ironically is a restaurant that is all over the Middle East- Chili's.  We were too tried to really care at that point.

Speaking of tired, Naomi was beyond herself.  She had already run the gamut of emotions from completely hysterically sad that we are going to be 4 hours later to Memphis to barely able to stand up through security line exhausted.  She put her head down on the table while we waited for our food.

Ya'll.  This sweet girl was CO-MA-TOSE!  I could not wake her up for anything.  We ate our meal, sat around for a little while and decide to go sit at the gate and not take up a table anymore.  Still she sat.  And snored.  Man, this girl can snore!  Could NOT wake her up for anything!  Anabelle was even pulling at her eyelids and holding them open.  We were all somewhat delirious at this point, and I'm sure quite the spectacle for other travelers.  We were in the domestic terminal and it was around 7 PM in the evening so I'm sure it didn't make much sense to the casual observer as to why an 8 year old child would be this utterly exhausted.  Anyway, like I said really couldn't wake her up and was trying to avoid yelling or raising my voice too much and causing more of a scene than we already were.  Finally I got her awake enough that I could try and get her to walk out of the restaurant area with me.  Jason and the other girls were ahead of us.  I was pulling a roller board and trying to guide sweet Naomi out of the maze of chairs and travelers and luggage in the crowded seating area.  She was essentially sleep walking.  She kept banging into tables, tried to sit down with 2 separate groups of other travelers.  I was laughing hysterically mainly because I was exhausted.  At one point she almost fell over and took me down with her.  OH MY WORD.  Finally got her out of the restaurant area and to the gate where she promptly fell asleep again.  She remembers none of this.  

But the sleep walking entertainment was not done.   We were sitting at the gate- mostly sprawled about on the floor as it was pretty crowded.  I left to go walk around and get a drink.  I was gone maybe 10 minutes.  When I got back, Jason tells me that Maddie had fallen asleep leaning against the wall.  She woke up (he thought) but then started talking to him in complete gibberish.  She then got up and started wandering around the gate area and apparently tried to sit in the lap of some random man!  I am sure people thought we were completely and totally crazy!  Or on drugs.  Yet again, could not get Maddie to wake up for anything!  Finally at least got her to stay seated and not wander around!  Oh my word, I think we were redefining exhaustion.  

Finally, we made it to Memphis and of course once we made it to our temporary home by about 2 AM, everyone was wide awake and not the least bit interested in sleep!  But hey, at least we now have some new international travel experiences to add to the list!  

This may be a little off topic but since I'm trying to catch up from not posting in over 3 months, I'm including it.   Here's a picture summary of many of our first meals in the US.  Most good family traditions revolve around food and these have become some of our favorite places to get good food on the road.  Of course, there was also plenty of good home cooked meals but here are some of our favorite places to eat out.  Since we're here for longer than just a few week visit, we definitely have to pace ourselves, but we at least tried to get a good sampling during our first week...

Plenty of Chick Fil A which I didn't get a picture of somehow...

Huey's is a Memphis burger joint that has become a favorite over the years.  We even pack their seasoning with us to take back overseas.  The girls favorite pastime there is using straws to blow toothpicks into the ceiling of the restaurant...

Gibson's donuts is hands down THE best donuts on the planet (no need to argue about this point- you won't win with any of my family members), and is a long time Memphis landmark.  It's become a road trip tradition for our drives from Memphis to Georgia.

Another road trip tradition, Cracker Barrel!  Anabelle loved getting to play checkers and look around the country store.  

 And, OH. MY. WORD.  portion sizes!  I always forget when we've been gone for a while!!
All 3 older girls literally had 2 plates of food all to themselves.  WHAT?!

Now three months later, we've kicked jet lag and are trying to balance out our pork consumption.  Loving our time in the US with friends and family.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A day in the life 2014

I really can't believe that the first time I wrote a "day in the life" post was over 3 years ago.  (Here is that link- the girls were12,10, 5 and 5 months!).  It was fun to re-read and think about how much things have changed in 3 years which is why I originally intended to do one of these posts every 6 months or so!  Oh well!  

I decided in advance which day to post about in hopes that it would be a fairly normal day- it was.  I'd forgotten that the last time I did this, Jason was also traveling.  That's not intentional.  Maybe I just have more blogging time when he's gone?  Anyway, maybe next one, he'll actually be in town.  Or maybe not.  Actually, this trip Abbey also traveled with them.  We hope that all the girls will be able to take turns traveling with him on various trips in years to come.  

Anyway, back to my day.  Thankfully, unlike the last post, I have nothing to write about from midnight until I woke up since I was quite asleep- that's a pretty big praise since I don't typically sleep that well when Jason travels and the girls have been taking turns getting sick.  

So here it is, Monday November 3, 2014. 

5:45 AM:  My alarm goes off and somehow I manage to get up the first time.  Throw on work-out clothes, put daily load of wash in machine.  Grab handful of almonds while I finish fixing Naomi and Anabelle's school lunches.  Wake Maddie up and tell her I'm leaving for the gym and make sure her alarm is set to go off for 6:30.  Assure her that I will call to make sure they are awake and to talk to Naomi.  

(I joined Crossfit in June and am still trying to figure out which class works best for our schedule- especially when Jason's gone.  I like 6:30 AM because I get it done and it's only a 10 minute drive.  If I go to one of the afternoon classes, the same commute has taken as long as 50 minutes!  The downside of the morning class when Jason is gone is that Maddie has to get herself and Naomi up and get Naomi on the bus if I have a longer workout and don't make it home in time)

Head to the gym around 6:15.  Call Maddie at 6:30 right before workout starts to make sure she's awake.  She is.  Remind her to get Naomi up at 7 and assure her I'll call back. (I can't even begin to remember what our workout was that day!)  Call them again during a 2-3 minute break in the workout to make sure Naomi is up.  Talk with Naomi and and tell her I'd try and get home before the bus gets her (shouldn't have done that- this 6:30 workout is not looking so ideal today!)  Leave gym at 7:20 realizing there's no way I'll get back home before Naomi leaves.  Try anyway and call Naomi at 7:30 to tell her to have a good day when I realize for sure it's not happening...  She's grumpy but Maddie says she's been fine.  

Arrive home at 7:35 barely missing Naomi's bus.  Anabelle about knocks me over at the door- I love the way she always greets me like she hasn't seen me in a year!  Plus, this means she woke up on the right side of the bed this morning- you never know these days!  It's a good thing too, because this is her first day of school.  How is it possible that the baby that was 5 months old last and riding around taxi's in a mobi baby wrap the last time I did one of these posts is now starting school?!   We're leaving in 6 weeks for a 6 month period in the states and I am going to take Arabic classes (again!) for the last 6 weeks we're here so Anabelle is going to a little preschool around the corner from my school.  We have a few other friends there, and she is SO excited.   She's packed her back pack with a gazillion different things and is absolutely horrified when she finds the change of clothes I snuck into her bag at the teacher's request.  "MOM, you don't take panties to school!!"  Indeed.  Allow her to unpack the bag and then sneak them back in.  Not gonna fight that battle.  

Look over the schedule Maddie has planned for herself for the day.  (she and Abbey started Northstar online this year)  Give her my approval and head out the door with AB.  (I can't believe these pictures were less than a week ago and I was happily wearing shorts sleeves- it's COLD now!!).  


Maddie took a first day of school picture for us.  Anabelle is still super excited about school.  (fingers crossed!).  She has, after all, been talking about going to school ever since Naomi started back in September.  

Realize on the way that I forgot to send her a water bottle.  Stop at a small grocery on the way.  Arrive at Bumblebee preschool and deliver Miss Anabelle.  She marches in like she owns the place and doesn't look back.  Head back to the van.  Deep breathe in, deep breathe out.  My baby just started school.  Okay preschool.  For 6 weeks.  But still.  No tears this time- I'm either good at this by now or too tired to be emotional- pretty sure it's the latter...

Arrive back home at 8:30 and check on Maddie who is making good progress and working away.  Make sautéed veggies and scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Take chicken out of freezer for dinner and soak cabbage.  Make coconut/sunflower oil/ lavender mask for hair.  I found this DIY mask on pinterest and I love the way it makes my hair feel and smell.  I try and do it at least 2-3 times a week but usually not that much because I forget.  The water here is awful on my hair plus I've been anemic- anyway, doing what I can!  By 9:00 sit down with breakfast and hot tea and work on the bible study I just started- Beth Moore's Children of the Day study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  I'm only 2.5 weeks in but so far I love it!  

Head back to the kitchen around 9:45 to put the chicken in the crock pot for dinner and finish washing veggies.  Clean kitchen pausing every so often to think about how amazingly quiet the house is.  Weird.  But nice.  

Dig Arabic books out of bedroom closet and figure out what to start reviewing before I go back to class tomorrow.  The school I'll be going to has a different kind of curriculum but it's been so long since i've done class (2 years I think?) that any little review will help.  Begin rearranging stuff on Jason's desk in the bedroom to make room for a study spot and remember that there are flowers in the living room left over from a ladies event that a hosted over the weekend.  

Decide that will be a much better study spot...

Around 10:30 settle in with another cup of hot tea and my pile of Arabic notes from 10 years of on and off Arabic study.   The Starbucks Memphis mug is my morning tea mug.  That's my mug every morning.  Afternoon tea can be in a different mug, but morning tea goes in my Memphis mug.  Just because... 


Realize around 11:30 that I've left coconut oil mask on too long already and head to shower.    

Study for another 30 minutes before heading back to get Anabelle at 12:30.  Most days she won't get out until 1, but I need to go early to pay and make sure we didn't forget anything major.   Marvel again at how very quiet the house has been all morning- Anabelle must be loud!  Besides the occasional check in with Maddie (who is still hard at work), it's been a very quiet, peaceful morning and one that I very much needed.  

Finish paying at preschool and head home around 1:00.  Anabelle talked non-stop the whole way home.  Presumably she loved every minute of her day.  It went something like this, "My teacher just readed me a story, and I played with all the friends and their names were Lilly and Maya, not the big Maya, but the little Maya, and I played on the slide, and I ate my lunch and it rained at my school, and I sang a song.  And I speaked in Arabic and in Ainglish and in bonjour (french)  (REALLY?) at my school."  And on and on it went until we got home at which time she repeated the whole thing for Maddie not leaving out a detail and not missing a beat. 

 (Just to clarify:  I said she presumably had a good day because if you've ever put a kid in school for the first time, you know that day 2 and day 3 are the more telling days.  Well.  Let's just say day 2 did not go so well.  She pitched a full out screaming crying fit for pretty much the whole hour before we left the house on day 2.  At one point she was standing in front of my full length mirror watching herself cry.  Every so often she would stop and glance towards me and whimper, "are you still going to take me?"  I'd say yes and the crying would start again.  Before we left for the morning, she actually built a barricade of chairs by the kitchen table in an effort to prevent me from taking her.  I was strong and didn't give in.  Before you feel too sorry for her, she stopped crying the second I put her in her car seat and informed me that lovey should stay in her backpack and would I please inform her teacher that she didn't have to eat..  Well, if that's all it takes!  When I picked her up on day 2, she was again quite happy and talkative about her day.  AND, her teacher pulled me aside and said she had indeed been working with her in French because she seemed so interested in it!  So I guess she was write when she said she's spoken in "bonjour"! )  Oh, and below is her unsuccessful barricade:
Anyway- back to our day.  We got home from school around 1:15.  Maddie was already having her lunch- BLT.  I'm in the middle of a 40 day Paleo challenge at the gym which is unfortunately quite challenging when you haven't gone to the grocery in quite some time.  I had picked up a few veggies the day before so I sautéed some cabbage and green beans and mushrooms with a little bacon.  Sounds weird I guess but it was pretty good!  Add an apple with almond butter and there's lunch.  AB ate at school so she went to play in her room and was soon requesting that we have a tea party.  Which we did, complete with British accents of course.  

Naomi arrived home around 2:00.  Mondays are their shorter day- she usually gets home more like 1:15 or 1:30 but it was raining which throws traffic into a complete uproar here.  Yes, I said rain, not snow.  Not even storm.  Just rain.  Naomi joined in playing with Anabelle so I was able to grab a few more hours of studying for Arabic.  

Around 4, I headed back into the kitchen to finish getting dinner prepped.  Naomi has tutoring on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-6 which makes for a pretty crazy evening and usually requires some sort of crock pot meal or leftovers or something that the girls can cook.  Dinner plans included the chicken from this recipe which we had last week and loved (but I was out of cauliflower, tomatoes and cucumber so that wouldn't' work) with the cabbage and avocado layers from this recipe.  The second recipe called for beef cooked with green chiles.  Beef here is not great and I haven't seen green chiles in ages which is why we went with the chicken from the first.  It was a really yummy combo that I would highly recommend.  So before we left for tutoring, I got the cabbage ready and shredded the chicken in the crackpot and turned it off.  

At 4:30, Naomi and I headed out to tutoring leaving Maddie behind with Anabelle.  Our tutor during a non-traffic time, would probably only be about 10-15 minutes away, but at this time of day, we always have to allow about 30 minutes to get there.  I brought my computer along with my Arabic to study and planned to just wait for her in the car.  Sometimes I make a quick grocery trip while she's with her tutor but I needed so much that I just decided to wait.  Plus, I didn't feel like messing with unloading groceries when we got home at 6:30 right at dinner time.  Anyway, off we go.  We got on the main street closet to our house and I noticed that traffic was ALOT worse than usual- and let me tell you, that's saying something!  I realized we may be in trouble when a good 25 minutes later we were still just minutes away from our house.   I texted Naomi's tutor that we would be late (don't worry we're in standstill traffic).  Naomi and I had all sorts of deep conversation time which seemed to mainly center on food and why I am no longer buying chips, snack cakes etc etc.  Seems that EVERYBODY else brings those to school and NOBODY else worries about eating healthy.  I may or may not have gotten on a wee bit of a soap box with that one.  But all in all, we did have some good mommy/daughter conversation time.  We are now about 15 minutes late to tutoring, have been in the car almost 45 minutes and have still not gotten more than a mile from the house.  Remember how I said rain makes drivers crazy here?  That's all I could figure!!  The traffic was completely and totally out of control.  I called Naomi's tutor back and told her I didn't think we'd make it to her house- she then told me that she still wasn't even home from school and had left to go home at 3:30- this was almost 2 hours later.  SOOOO, we talked about what Arabic Naomi needed to study at home, agreed that I'd send her Arabic teacher an email explaining that she hadn't made it to tutoring and we turned around and headed home.  At 5:30, an hour after we left, we got back home and really hadn't gotten more than a mile from the house.  I would say, "what a waste!" but I really think Naomi needed the quality time so it was worth it.  

Even though we got home at 5:30 instead of the expected 6:30 after tutoring, I still managed to not get dinner on the table until around 7.  While I finished in the kitchen, Maddie and Naomi played with Anabelle and did a quick straighten of the house.  At the moment, it escapes me why exactly it was a crazy dinner hour, but all dinner hours around here are somewhat hectic and wild and I'm quite certain this was no exception.   Especially since we had dinner around 7 and didn't get to our evening Bible reading time until about 8:15- chalk it up to dinner time craziness!  

At 8:15 we sat down to have our evening Bible reading.  Lately, AB loves to sit in my lap and turn the pages of my Bible and pretend to tell a story herself.  It usually involves something about God and a captain and a princess- at least she's getting one of the characters right! 


I've been having us read Colossians 3 over and over.  The big girls are working on memorizing it, and the little girls key parts.  

After bible reading, Anabelle led us in some songs.  (she somehow has the idea that she is in charge around here...).  We started out on the right track with "My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there's nothing my God cannot do, for YOU!"

...and somehow quickly digressed to a Frozen sing-a-long.  (not before we got our prayer time in, though).  It's a houseful of girls, what can I say?!

video

Unfortunately, the video of the singing is not wanting to upload- oh well!   I eventually put an end to the singing (and dancing) and finally got the little people to bed.  Maddie and I piled on my bed along with multiple loads of clean but unfolded clothes and folded clothes while watching the latest episode of Once Upon a Time. 

Sometime not very long after that, I sent her to bed and crashed amidst the piles of folded clothes- you can do that when your husband's traveling and you have a king sized bed!  It's amazing what can be stored on his side!  

So that turned out to be a pretty typical day in the life.  Hopefully I won't wait another 3 years before doing this again.  I can't even think about the fact that in that amount of time, my baby baby will be in first grade and my big baby will be in college, and the ones in between will also be far older than they are supposed to be!  Anybody have any tips for stopping time?  It seems to just keep marching on!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

New wall art- pictures that tell a story

I will be the first to tell you that I am NOT a crafty person.  I do love to create things if someone else will come up with the plan of exactly how to do it and give me step my step instructions- like counted cross stitch for example.  On the flip side, I can come up with ideas of what I would love to see happen, but have absolutely no idea how to carry it out myself.

I love decorating with things that are meaningful and tell the story of who we are for the season that we are living in.  I'm sure when my kids are out of the house, i won't have their framed pictures above our kitchen table (or maybe I will...) or pictures stuck by little hands in random places all over the fridge, or (for this particular season), pumpkins and construction paper leaves stuck all over the walls as "fall decoration".  But that's who we are right now and I love it.

We've had several home decor projects going over the last several months.  Here are some of the end results and the stories behind the crafting madness.

We moved into our current apartment almost 2 years ago, and for that time, I have had a very big, very blank living room wall.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do there and since holes in walls over here is a lot more complicated than just hammering in a nail, I wanted to make good and sure it was something that I wanted to stay for a while.  One of my favorite verses for our family is Proverbs 14:26  "He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge."  I started thinking about how to make that into some sort of art piece.  I even put a plea out to the FB world to see if anyone knew of artists who might could create something out of a favorite scripture verse.  I quickly realize that anything that would be big enough to go on my big blank wall would be next to impossible to bring back from the US (where all my FB suggestions were coming from).  Then my awesomely amazing friend KJ, reminded me that she would be staying in our house a few weeks this summer, and she would be happy to create some wall art for me- I just needed to let her know what I had in mind.  SCORE!   See, KJ is all things that I am not when it comes to crafting.  My sweet Maddie used to go spend time at her home when we lived in the same city just for the purpose of crafting.  We still have a paper mache snowman that she and Maddie created out of a water bottle.

Anyway, I told her that I was envisioning 3 long panels with the verse somehow on them.  I also wanted to somehow incorporate family pictures from over the years at various places we'd visited- specifically castles or fortresses.  That's pretty much all I told her- I sent her tons of old pictures including pictures of past homes, told her where my old magazines and scrapbook paper were as we'd talked about it being some sort of decoupage thing, and told her to have at it.

Y'all.  I am beyond thrilled with the end result.  She totally knocked it out of the park and created something that I never would have even begin to come up with.  


 Didn't she do good!  She used wall paint that we had leftover, magazine pictures, scrapbook paper and best of all our old family photos.   

Here's the whole look:


Here are some close-ups:

This one has a wedding picture, pictures of the castle ruins at Byblos (one of our favorite places in Lebanon), walking along the corniche (walking by the Med) in Lebanon, a shot of Jason and I with Abbey and Maddie at the Eiffel Tower in 2003 just to name a few.

Included here is our first "fortress" in Lebanon (where we actually did huddle down in the hallway one night when H'zbollah militants took over our neighborhood), Jason and I at Petra in Jordan and a family picture in Greece last summer.

This one has our first home in Clinton, MS, my parents home in Memphis and a few other family shots.

There are many other fun memories including visits to the Cedars in Lebanon, Jason and I at a castle we visited with his parents before we were married, several of our other homes over the years and numerous family pics.  Guess you'll have to come visit if you want to see the rest!  Thank you KJ!  I am beyond thrilled- such a treasure!

Naomi and Anabelle were in need of a mirror to go above their dresser.  We recycled the bathroom mirror from our old apartment and used purple and red buttons and ribbon and turned it in to something fun to match their room.



Things like buttons and ribbons can be a wee bit challenging to find here- or at least there is not a huge selection.  I think it turned out pretty good all things considered, and Naomi was thrilled so that was what mattered!

We've also had a big blank wall above the bed in the master bedroom that I've been wanting to do something with, but not spend an arm and a leg.  Our bedroom always seems to be the last place to get decorated as it also is home to Jason's workspace and is usually my laundry center as well.  Anyway, I enlisted the help of our in-home artist (that would be Maddie).  

I bought 3 canvases with the idea of painting flowers on each to match the flowers in our bedspread.  First we drew the flowers on the canvases with pencil to make sure we got them right...  
(I say "we" because poor Maddie had me breathing over her shoulder the whole time demanding that it look a certain way...)

(she didn't seem to mind...)

(AB had to have her own paints too so she at least thought she was in on the action...)

After penciling the flowers, we outlined them in sharpie so that the lines would show through the background colors and we could trace the flowers once the background was painted.  

I tackled the job of mixing the paints to come up with the right colors.  We had some wall paint that worked for the lightish beige, but it took several false starts to get the darker mocha color and the burgundy just right.  I was super thankful that Maddie always saves glass jars- much easier to work with.  We finally got the paint colors right, and Maddie set out to paint the canvases.  I think I did the background (as part of figuring out if the colors were right) but I left the detail work to Maddie.  The sharpie outlines worked pretty well but she did have to do some freehand work.   She's looking at the bed pillow to try and match the flowers

Didn't she do a great job?  I love the end result!



Finally, these last pics aren't exactly craft projects but they are very special and tell the story of our girls.  When Abbey was a year old, we had her first year picture taken by the same photographer in Vicksburg, MS who took Jason and his siblings one year photographs.  I had it matted and framed with the verse we had chosen for her as a baby.  The timing worked out to where we were able to take both Maddie and Naomi to the same photographer.  By the time Anabelle came along, Vicksburg was not really on our radar and I'm pretty sure the guy closed up shop soon after Naomi was born- his more traditional photography business had kind of come to an end in the digital day and age.  With our 3 older girls, I had to actually wait for the proofs to be mailed to me before I could get an idea of how the pictures turned out!  

Anyway, we had a family friend take Anabelle's picture.  I showed him what the other 3 looked like and he was able to do a similar shot.  I love all of them.  Amazingly, I was able to match the matte of the four pictures despite using different shops over the years.  The frames are slightly different and the writing for the verses differs a bit but I love the end result so much.  

The verses for each girl correspond so perfectly to that season of our lives as parents and as a family.  I love to see them all together as they tell the amazing story of God's faithfulness to our family in the precious girls He has blessed us with.  Because of the size of the plaque on each frame, I just included a portion for some of them.  I highlighted what is on the frame if not the whole verse...

Abigail: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."  James 1:17 

Madelyn: "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:15

Naomi:  "I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted (my request) me what I asked of him."  1 Samuel 1:27

Anabelle:  "Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands."  Psalm 119:73



Naomi and Anabelle:

 Maddie and Abbey:

Next on our crafting "to-do" list is the little toddler table that is AB's favorite place for tea parties.  We'll see if we ever get to that!

Friday, October 31, 2014

5 Middle Eastern Driving Tips

We have lived in the Middle East for over 10 years now (so hard to believe!) so there are several things related to culture and life here that I can talk somewhat knowledgeably about.  I have a basic understanding of how things work, or don't work and can kind of anticipate things that are going to take 100x longer than expected or things that are going to smoothly.   I think it's safe to say that I have a basic, working knowledge of the culture.  However.

HOWEVER.

Driving in this country is something that I don't know if I will ever understand or even be able to cope with on a healthy level.  For that reason, I feel the need to vent, and this is my venue for that.  I'm going to vent in the form of tips that might help prepare newcomers or visitors for the realities that are the Jordanian roadways.  Because I have driven around plenty of American visitors or new-comers to see their white gripped knuckles on the door of the vehicle and know that they might have needed a bit of preparation...

Maybe you noticed that I switched from Middle Eastern roadways, more specifically to Jordanian roadways.  That's because I have lived in other places- Beirut, and I've heard the urban legends about the horrors of driving in places like, say, Cairo.  Beirut, was a completely different monster than Amman as far as driving and one that I much prefer actually.   At least in Beirut, what gives the appearance of mass total chaos, at least has an undercurrent of order to it.  There is an understanding of the systems.  I can't explain it besides to say that once you've driven there for a season, you kind of get the hang of it, and honestly, it just works.  That is not the case in Amman.  

Did you hear me?

THAT IS NOT THE CASE IN AMMAN!  

What appears like an orderly system of roadways is mass chaos and you never get used to the craziness of it.  (or at least it takes longer than the 3 years we've lived here to figure it out...)  

So here are my tips in no particular order:

  1. Do not be deceived by the lanes!  (or the lights, or the signs or anything else that might lead you to believe that there is some kind of order).  Back to the lanes though... I'm honestly not sure why they painted them on the roads.  Maybe to trick Westerners?  I envision a back room in a government building where they watch our growing frustration on hidden cameras with much delight.  Yeah, really don't know why the lanes are there.  They certainly don't drive in them.  They straddle them, they cross them, they swerve around them, but move orderly from lane to lane?  Certainly not.  Maybe they like the pretty contrast of the bright yellow paint with the dark color of the cement?  
  2. Redefine what you consider rude.  Honking, for instance, is not rude.  It's basic road communication.  Usually it means, "hey, i'm behind or beside you" (or will be in .5 seconds because i'm coming over whether you want me to or not).  It can also mean, "THE LIGHT IS GREEN!"  I yelled that at you because when you are stopped at a red light and it turns green, all the cars around you will immediately yell at you with their horns.  Especially if you are coming from America, the land of no honking, this can be a bit unsettling.  
  3. Re-learn the art of the merge and the purpose of the shoulder.  Actually, "re-learn" may not be the best term because it implies that there is actually something TO learn related to merging.  Everything you learned in drivers ed about effective merging onto the roadway, just disregard it.  There is no gradually speeding up as you seek to blend into oncoming traffic.  There is simply cutting your car out into the center of traffic and closing your eyes and praying you don't get hit.  You can try sitting there on the side with your blinker on, waiting for someone to let you into traffic but it won't happen.  On the flip side if it's not you merging but someone else, you pretty much have to have eyes in the back of your head.  They are going to "merge" on to the road whether there is a spot for them or not.  And believe me when i tell you that it will do absolutely no good whatsoever to have a little fit and yell things like "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!"  Because, yes, yes they can.  And as my 8 year old is so faithful to point out, "you know they can't hear you, Mom."  And also, they have absolutely no framework for understanding how frustrating it is that they just totally cut you off.  It is simply the way the roads work here, so if they happen to catch a glimpse of the crazy American waving her arms around and yelling they will probably wonder what in the world her kids are doing in the back of the car but have no concept that they are the ones creating the frustration.  They CAN do that and they WILL do that.  Get used to it, and re-direct your yelling.  And then there's the shoulder.  Or maybe lack of shoulder.  Any space on the side of the road (paved or not) can and will be used by motorists to by-pass those waiting in traffic and get to their intended destination quicker.  This actually becomes more of an issue for Westerners when we return to our home countries.  One morning on the way to school in the states during our short time there we were stuck in standstill interstate traffic.  Abbey innocently asked, "Mom, why don't you just go around all these cars?" and points to the open shoulder.  Why indeed?
  4. Learn the little hand wave thingy...  No idea what to call this, but everyone does it so you might at least try and learn what it means.  Basically, if they are about to pull out in traffic in front of you and completely cut you off, they will stick their hand out the window and kind of wave backwards- kind of like a motion you would do for your child to stay behind you, but they are sticking their hand out the window to do it.  There are other times they do it as well, but the general sense is, if I stick my hand out the window to shoo you back, it means I'm coming and doing whatever I want in this vehicle whether you like it or not.  Understanding this hand wave thingy may or may not save you some moments of frustration if only in the sense that at least you know you are about to be cut off...
  5. There are actually laws.  I know, shocking right?!  There are some laws in the midst of all the madness, and if you break them you just might got a ticket  (ahhh-hem, not that I would know or anything). Even though it may seem completely non-sensical that passengers can hang out the sunroof, infants can sit in parents laps behind the wheel, and 8 kids can pile in the back of a hatch-back, you WILL get a ticket if you are talking on your phone even stopped at a red light. Also, the cops will also wave you down at random times on the side of the road.  Sometimes there is a purpose that is obvious, most of the time not.   Like speeding traps- that's a purpose for you (again, not that I would know).  When you're not sure of the purpose, it's best to play the "I don't speak Arabic I'm just a clueless foreigner" card even if you do speak Arabic quite well.  They will usually just wave you on and you may never know the purpose.  (likely there's not one).  
So there you have it, my Middle Eastern tips for driving.  There are no rules, but there are clearly laws.  There is no system, but there is a little hand wave thingy.  There are pretty yellow lines on the road with no purpose and honking equals hello.   What else is there?  Without a doubt, there is no end to your personal frustration if you don't quickly learn that yes, yes they can do whatever "that" may be that you're yelling about and you might as well get over it and not get mad at someone who has no clue that they are the source of your anger.  Because as Naomi says, "they can't hear you" anyway!



Cooking Adventures Part 2: What's working for us...

Well, I should have known better than to say "stay tuned" for anything when it comes to blogging.  I'm pretty sure I meant to do the next post about recipes/meals that are working for us the next day, and that was, well, almost 2 months ago....

Things are going really well!  I feel like, as a family, we are making a lot healthier eating choices and even the girls are seeing the benefits of how much better your body feels without (too much) extra junk!  We are however a family who loves to eat, and bake, so we will never be a household where those things completely disappear- that would be way too sad!

It helps that I am in the midst of a 40 Day Paleo Challenge at my Crossfit box (is that the right terminology? still learning all this...).  Wow, it's challenging but I feel good!  I don't think Paleo eating will be a long term thing for our family- just not very maintainable over here, but it is definitely causing me to rethink some choices and learn other ways of preparing food.  Mainly we're focusing on foods in their most natural forms- heavy on fruits and veggies and protein, light on sweets.

I'm working on a healthy eating chart for the fridge for my little girls but I'm kind of having to come up with one myself, because everything I find online says something like "this is my reward..." at the end of the week and that's not what I'm looking for.

As promised, here are some meals that I've found that really work well for us. A lot of these will be links to other blogs that I've found and really enjoyed, some will be good old fashioned recipes from my handwritten recipe box.  I have a long list of others that I'm wanting to try and just haven't yet so, (dare I say it?), stay tuned....

Moroccan mango fish  Leave off the couscous and serve with just lettuce or other veggies and it's paleo.  We also do a similar fish for fish tacos that can be paleo too if in lettuce wraps.  Super yummy also with avocado.  (this is a great website- she has some great ideas especially for kids lunches)

Thai chicken:  I got this recipe from this blog.  She has some great ideas for freezer to crockpot meals.  I bought her e-cookbook, and do recommend it although I've changed several of the recipes to better suite our tastes.  The idea of freezer to crockpot meals has been great for us.   Here's our version of thai chicken:

I kilo bone-in chicken thighs (in Jordan I buy the frozen packages of Sabra thighs)
26 ounces coconut milk
2 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 medium onions
4-6 garlic cloves
2 red bell peppers chopped
2 green bell peppers chopped
2-4 carrots chopped
2 TBSP curry
2 tsp giner
Combine all ingredients in 2 gallon sized freezer bags.  On day of cooking, put in crockpot on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours until chicken thoroughly cooked.  Remove chicken and shred with fork and stir back in to the liquid.  Garnish with scallions and chopped cilantro.  

(since you really can't go wrong with thai chicken anything, this is another coconut curry chicken recipe that we liked)

Since we're talking about freezer to crockpot meals, I liked this website also.  Especially the spicy vegetable beef soup.  It's easy and calls for stuff that I usually have on hand.  

 Marinated chicken or beef  I use this recipe tons and love it!  I usually slice my chicken or beef in strips, put it in the marinade and freeze it.  After thawing, I sauté it in the marinade and it's ready to go.  We use the chicken for "make your own salads"- a new family fave.  We make a big salad bar with chopped veggies, olives, avocados, hard boiled eggs, cheese etc.    Sometimes I'll just sauté the chicken along with some veggies and call it a meal.  Same with the beef.  The beef is also good for a black and blue salad with blue cheese, slivered almonds and either pears or apples.  

Speaking of salads, this is my current favorite salad dressing.  My girls also love it for dipping their zataar mannaeeshe in (I'm getting to what that is....).  

Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 TBSP honey (sometime I do less)
3 TBSP dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves 
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil

Combine all but olive oil and mix well.  Slowly whisk in oil until combined.

This lemony spinach recipe was a surprising hit with all of my family.  So much so that I have yet to be able to make enough of it...  This blog was also an instant hit with me considering the author is part Lebanese and you absolutely CANNOT go wrong with Lebanese food.  

This quinoa fried rice is also a new family favorite.  The quinoa means it's not paleo, but it is "clean" (WHO came up with all these terms anyway) and either way it's super good...  I changed it a bit and sautéed some chicken first that I stirred in at the end.  Also, we are not fans of green peas in our house so instead of green peas, I stirred in red cabbage- gave it more color anyway!

I really love using my crock pot.  Here are a some of our favorite crock pot recipes that taste yummy and make your house smell amazing all day.  

Crock pot greek chicken  (don't be intimidated by the cauliflower rice- another thing that my whole family has surprisingly enjoyed!)

Beef and broccoli  (not paleo but super yummy)

Thai beef stew  (also had this with cauliflower rice)

Thai chicken stuffed sweet potatoes  (yet another yummy surprise- sweet potatoes whether baked or oven fried have become a staple around here)

Moroccan chicken stew- this is Jason's moms recipe so I don't have a link, but it's too good not to share.  Can be made paleo by using almond flour or coconut flour and served over cauliflower rice or just by itself as a stew:

4 carrots, peeled & sliced
2 large onions, halved & thinly sliced
3 lb. meaty chicken pieces
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 14-oz can chicken broth
¼ cup tomato paste
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
   Hot cooked couscous
   Pine nuts or slivered almonds, toasted
   Fresh cilantro (optional)

In a 5-6 quart slow cooker place carrots and onions.  Sprinkle chicken with ½ tsp. salt.  Add to cooker; top chicken with raisins and apricots.  In bowl whisk broth, tomato paste, flour, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, ginger, cinnamon and ¾ tsp. ground black pepper.  Add to cooker.  Cover.  Cook on low-heat setting for 6½ to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 3½ to 4 hours.  Serve in bowls with couscous.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Garnish with cilantro.

So, I'm not doing wheat of any kind on paleo, but my family is, and this is a great all-purpose recipe.   I use it for dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, and our fave- Lebanese manaeeshe..

Hot Roll Mix- No Rise
1 TBSP yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 cups sour milk, yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 tsp soda
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5 cups (or more) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (or less) sugar- I usually don't put sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 TBSP sugar.  Add remaining ingredients.  Mix and knead well.  Place in greased container.  Refrigerate.  The dough will keep a couple of weeks.  When needed, remove desired amount of dough.  NO NEED TO RISE!  Bake at 425.  

Manaeeshe
zataar (mix of thyme and other seasonings depending on the country)
salt (a little)
lemon juice (some)
olive oil (some)
Mozzarella or other local white cheeses
pizza dough rolled into mini pizzas (great for lunches!) or regular sized


Make dough.  Combine zataar and other seasonings to make a thick greenish paste.  Spread on dough and sprinkle with cheese if desired.  Bake 350 for 10-12 minutes until cheese is golden.  

If you know me, you know what a sweet tooth I have.  As I said before, we love baking!  Here are some recipes I've found to satisfy that while doing paleo:


paleo "brownies" with dates  (am NOT a fan of dates at all, but these were yummy!)

Cake in a cup (like she says, if you're trying to lose weight, this might not should be a frequent flyer on your menu JUST because it's paleo- but it's good!)

pumpkin smoothie (so yummy!  I lessen the ginger a bit...)

Here's a list of some other things I'm trying to keep on hand for snacks and quick side dishes/meals:

sweet potatoes ("bake" very quickly in microwave for an easy meal)
cucumbers and carrots watched, sliced and ready for snacking
blanched green beans (surprisingly another yummy snack!)
roasted almonds (also use to make almond butter)
apples with almond butter
hardboiled eggs

I'm sure there are others but I'm tired of talking about food and I have a 3 year old who's ready to make play dough.  Let me know favorite recipes or sites that you've found to make healthy eating easier for your family!