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

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?!

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.


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?


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.  

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!  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cooking adventures

Here's a look at my latest post on the cooking blog I share with some overseas friends.  It's been a while since any of us have posted, but I thought I'd start it back with sharing about my journey towards finding healthy and easy and do-able recipes for our overseas family.   You can click on "my recipes" in the top right on this blog or just go HERE.  Please let me know your ideas and any favorite recipes  and tips you have- especially for those of us trying to figure this all out overseas on a shoestring budget!

Here's my most recent post on the cooking blog:

Still here and still cooking- just never time to post about it!  We got back from several months of traveling this summer in severe need of de-tox from all the French bread and cheese and Belgian chocolate!

I'm in the middle of trying to revitalize the way our family eats as a whole.  In the past, I've been guilty of dieting myself but not really providing the healthiest of meals for my family in the process.  There are all sort of excuses to be offered not the least of which is the difficulty of getting certain "healthy" ingredients since we live overseas.  The bigger issue is not so much that exact ingredients aren't available but that foods that most diets suggest you avoid to lose weight- potatoes, pastas, white breads are the things that are available here in abundance at a reasonable price.  Meats overall are just so expensive that it's hard to build a diet around meats being a huge source of your protein.  On the plus side, produce here is typically less expensive and although not necessarily labeled as "organic", it's likely coming to you in it's truest form.  Meat, though expensive, is also quite fresh and doesn't have all the "junk" added to it that I'm reading about being added in American grocery stores.  (at least that's what I'm telling myself when meat that I bought 1.5 before and forgot to freeze or prep is already bad in the fridge...)

I am very thankful that no one in our family has any sort of allergies or food intolerances.  That allows me lots of freedom in the way I prepare our food.  On the flip side, it also makes me lazy on days when I'm just too tired or busy and the quick options aren't usually all the healthy.

I'm hoping that more planning on my part and a little more organization in the kitchen will help me not do the lazy, unhealthy thing quite so often.  Hopefully the result will be a healthier, happier family.  Again, we are so blessed to have no huge health issues that affect the way that we eat.  We do however have 2 family members over 40 (HOW?!) whose metabolisms seem to be on the decline, 2 teenagers who are learning to love cooking and have a desire to be healthy, and a school-ager and a toddler whom I want to lead in establishing healthy eating patterns and developing a love for all foods in their God created form.  I am not feeling led at this point to guide our family in completely giving up certain food groups or even types of food.  I'm still a bit old fashioned I guess in that I fully believe that moderation in all things food along with lots of water and plenty of exercise is key to good health.

My goal is to provide healthy meals for our family with food in it's truest form- I guess that's what many call "clean" eating or "real food"?  We're going to try and avoid processed food, stuff with mile long ingredient lists, cut back on sugar and ramp up on fresh veggies and fruit.  We're not going to be super strict with our rules because our lives at this point do not allow that.  Sure enough, as soon as I've gone 3-5 days with no sugar, we'll be invited to a neighbors and served chocolate cake and tea with enough sugar that's it's practically tea flavored syrup.  We're going to have a lot of grace with each other but the end overall goal is better health.  We may have seasons of no this or that just to see if it affects the way we feel overall.  Obviously my goals as a 40 year old needing to lose 5-10 pounds are different than the goals I would have for my teenage daughters who could give any teenage boy a run for their money as far as appetite size, and those goals are different yet again from my school-ager going through a pudgy stage but also hungry at every minute of the day, and with yet again different goals for my oh-so-finicky preschooler who most days doesn't seem to eat enough to keep a small bird alive.   I'm working on figuring out a way to help us all record our fruit/veggie intake, our water intake as well as keep a record of sweets and junk food with a goal of 1, maybe 2 treats a week, depending on the situation.

I decided that it might be fun (and helpful to me!) to record things that are successful, things that don't work so much and foods and recipes that I come across in the process.  There are SO MANY sources out there that it is beyond overwhelming to me, so maybe this might help some others who live overseas to narrow down the search and find things that are do-able for busy families.

Here are some cooking/shopping/prepping principles that I'm currently working with that I'm sure will change as I continue to figure things out.  These are things that are helping our budget as well as our bellies- at least that's the goal!

1.  Buying lots of fresh veggies and fruits means that I also have to allow prep time in the kitchen preferably on the day that I shop or at least the very next day.  I buy whatever fruits are in season (right now it's mangoes-yummy!) and chop them and freeze them in 1 cup portions for smoothies.  Also for smoothies, I've been buying tons of spinach and freezing it in 2 cup portions.  It takes a lot of elbow grease to get it clean sometimes but it's worth it!  I find that for us if I have carrots and cucumbers washed, peeled and sliced that it's instant healthy snack, and they are much less likely to sit in the fridge unused and get mushy and yucky in the veggie drawer.

2.  Meat also requires prep time.  If I do buy boneless-skinless chicken breasts (not regularly), I try and marinade it and freeze it the day that I buy it so it's ready for a quick fix.  I'll also try to season and brown ground beef to freeze and use for later or marinate red meat as well if I happen to find cuts that looks decent (doesn't happen often, unfortunately!).

3.  Stay on the lookout for local produce that is cheap and healthy that the family likes.  Cabbage in any form is cheap here and I've been surprised how much my girls love it.  Cauliflower in various forms is also a big hit.

4.  Take advantage of my girls love to cook and bake but channel it towards healthy things.  Maddie stocked us up last week on whole wheat pizza dough, and we have a favorite whole wheat dough recipe that is great for multiple things- Lebanese pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls etc.  I'm on the lookout for a few paleo bread recipes if I'm doing a no carb season and also whole wheat bread recipes for other times- things that I know don't have all the added junk of store brands.

(they are also great helpers when it comes to chopping/prepping)

5.  Dry beans cooked in bulk and frozen for use in soups etc is much cheaper than the canned version.     We do a lot of soups with red or white beans and hummus is a favorite around here as a dip for veggies or as a spread.

6.  Freezer to crock-pot meals are awesome and I'm always on the look-out for those.  Finding good ones has been a bit hit or miss but I'll share the ones that have been hits with our family.  I try to keep a stock of gallon sized freezer bags so I can get these prepped the day I get home from the store with all the veggies and meats.  I've found that the pre-frozen chicken thighs (much cheaper than breasts) are great in most of the recipes that I've found.

I'll add to this list along the way as we learn more and figure things out.  At this point everyone in our family is excited about healthier eating and I've been encouraged by my girls willingness to give new things a try.

Stay tuned for the recipes we tried over the past few weeks and the links to blogs and websites that have been helpful to me in planning.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dear Carrefour,

Dear Carrefour,
I have a few requests if you would indulge me.  They're quite simple, or at least they seem simple enough to this western mom.  I understand that absolutely none of these things will happen, but I guarantee that I will feel much better after this much needed rant.  So here are my requests in no particular order.  

1.  PLEASE stop stocking the aisles at the absolute busiest time of the shopping day!  Why oh why is this not logical?  And it's not just that you stock the aisles at this time.  It's the massive wooden loading carts positioned square in the middle of the aisles and the workers who would rather stare you down than move out of the way for you!!  And if it's not hard enough that the wooden pallets are in the way, then all the cardboard wrapping is thrown into the aisle (and often left there) once the items are on the shelf making it virtually impossible to pass.  I guarantee you that stocking at a different time of day would make for happier customers.  

2.  On a similar note, maybe you could post some sort of sign directing groups of people who seem to have not seen each other in ages to the food court of the mall where there is plenty of seating and standing room.  It would be much more convenient for those of us who are actually trying to reach the items on the shelves in front of which they are congregating and flat out refusing to move.  Maybe they aren't aware of the wide variety of other places available to them in the mall for visiting?

3.  Fix your carts.  I am thoroughly convinced that there is not one single cart in your entire fleet of shopping carts that pushes in a straight line.  And it's not just that they won't push in a straight line.  It's like they are somehow magically wired to do the exact opposite and somehow fight against EVER going in a straight line.   And (see picture below), when you replace your carts (which I'm certain you will do since I asked and I'm sure that customer service is one of your #1 priorities...), would you please get the kind that have a shelf under the actual cart part for items like bulk paper towels, toilet paper and large cases of milk?  That would be oh so nice so that said items don't cause my entire cart to overflow and virtually not be able to fit anything else.  And yes, I am fully aware that you have recently actually replaced your carts.  When I realized about a year ago that all the carts were new, I actually did a little happy dance when I was choosing one of the new shiny carts.  And then I pushed it.  And tried another one.  And pushed it.  Darn!  I must keep getting the old ones.  Nope.  None of the carts push straight.  None. Of. Them.  Please replace them again.  

(because when they are this loaded up, they are quite heavy, and I'm quite certain that they way my body has to contort in order to get them around the corners of the aisles make me look beyond ridiculous, and believe me when I tell you, I don't need much help in looking ridiculous...)

4.  Speaking of the items bought in bulk- if you are going to sell items in bulk, like cases of milk for example, would you please price them in such a way that does not require the cashier to rip open the cardboard casing and remove individual items in order to scan them.  This very much counteracts the convenience of buying in bulk when I can no longer get the item from my car to the sidewalk, from the sidewalk to the doorstep, then from my doorstep into my kitchen- BECAUSE YOU HAVE RIPPED OPEN THE PACKAGING!!!   Please stop it.

5.  This one may seem a little petty as it relates to one particular product on your shelves and it is not a problem that is unique to your store.  However, because I can, I am directing my rant about honey in your direction.  Why oh why is it so hard to sell honey in a squirt container and not in a glass jar with a screw on lid?  We like honey.  We use a lot of honey.  We also have a lot of kids who like to eat honey.  As the mom of 4 kids I would like them to be able to serve themselves honey on their toast, sandwiches, yogurt or in their smoothies.  However, honey and glass jars with screw on lids is an absolutely horrible combination, as I'm sure any mom of small people will tell you!  It gets on the side of the jar and on the side of the lid.  It drips on the counter and all over little fingers.  Please, for the sake of all the (western) moms out there who are less than coordinated (that would be me), please sell more squirt-able honey.

6.  Let's talk about organizing the lines at the deli, cheese, nut/spice/dried fruit and meat counters.   You know what, never mind.  I've lived in this part of the world long enough to know that there is no point in even going there!

Thank you for your attention to these matters, in what I'm sure will be a timely and appropriate response.

One culturally stressed out mom