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Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas pictures

What is there to say about Christmas?  Everyone enjoyed the presents, some enjoyed the dinner, and nobody wanted to see it end.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day, or what your American Embassy does for you

When Brandon and I lived in Cairo last, we were newly married and had no children.  After staying cooped up in our apartment all week, Saturday would come and I would suggest an adventure.  There are plenty of things to see in Cairo; people fly from all over the world to see them.

Brandon would grumble and reluctantly acquiesce, and I would expertly plan an outing to somewhere interesting.  Without fail, twenty minutes into our adventure, we would look at each other and exclaim, "Why did we think this would be a good idea?!?"  Brandon would then remind me that he didn't think it would be, and I would apologize.  And then the next week we'd do it again.

When we came back, we had two children, and now we have three.  Going out in public with three children under the age of five is difficult in the states.  Someone usually has to go to the bathroom, Edwin can't walk, Sophia doesn't want to, children want to wander off, and everyone gets bored.

Living in Egypt makes everything at least five times more difficult, and going out is no exception.  And so we just haven't bothered.

Yesterday was Christmas, and so today is a holiday.  Holidays are sacrosanct, and to be used for doing things that we don't normally do.  I've always enjoyed all of the movie-watching around Christmas, and decided we should have an outing to the movies.

The last time we took our children to a movie was in 2008, to Indiana Jones, at the dollar theater in Provo.  Brandon spent a quarter of the movie outside with screaming baby Sophia, and we haven't been back yet.  Now that both girls can talk and Edwin is capable of staying up past his bedtime, I figured that we'd be okay.

We decided to see Tangled, and found that the closest movie theatre it was playing in was City Stars, an enormous mall about 45 minutes away in Heliopolis.  I had been there five years ago, but we hadn't gone because of the trouble and expense.  Being the merry-maker I would like to be, however, I thought we could make an afternoon of it and eat dinner at the food court, stroll around, and pretend we were in the US.

I called Ayman, he met us promptly at 2, and we headed off on our big adventure.  We have had various holidays but this was by far the most adventurous.  The girls were excited, Edwin was mesmerized by the weaving traffic, and I was looking forward to spending some time amusing ourselves.

By the end of our 45-mintue ride, the girls were antsy and ready to be out and doing.  As we pulled up to the mall, Brandon's phone rang.  The sound of his phone ringing, especially on a holiday, is unusual.  Nobody call us much, and most holidays it's Samir, Brandon's Egyptian boyfriend.  Thankfully Brandon is not on duty this week, and so it wouldn't be anybody calling about their 'phony' drug charges.

Brandon talked as we got out and wrestled the children to the sidewalk.  He mentioned that it was a friend from the branch, and so I thought perhaps it was a situation with a branch member.  I felt sorry for the friend, because he was going to have to deal with the situation alone.  We were in Heliopolis, we were having a family holiday together, and we were going to see a first-run movie in a big, nice, new movie theatre.  And we were going to get popcorn.

As he put his phone away, Brandon looked at me, unhappy.  "There's a situation at the Embassy.  I've got to go to work."

And so the girls are playing out front, I'm writing this blog post, and Brandon's at work.  Happy Boxing Day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I have come to realize that I can't do it all.  I have three children, I have a husband, I have a large apartment, and I also have some things that I like to do.  Occasionally these interests conflict with each other and something has to give.

Interest #1: My children.  I like to dress my children attractively.  Whenever my mother would fly with five children, she dressed us as nicely as possible so as to give the appearance of responsibility.  I attempt to follow the same principle.  Even if I have three young children, at least they appear to be well cared-for.

Interest #2: Food.  Although this interest is often for the benefit of the previous one, #1 often gets in the way of #2.

Yesterday I started my holiday baking so that #1 would be able to enjoy Christmas better than Thanksgiving.  As with any cooking that involves baked goods, the children wanted to be involved.  Kathleen stayed around for some chocolate but then wandered off after awhile.  Sophia, however stayed until the bitter end and became thoroughly coated in my efforts.

We try and keep up appearances, but sometimes, that doesn't work out as well as I would like.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marble Jar Report

For Kathleen's birthday this year, she received the wonderful gift of chores.  As with any new program that involves coercing children to do anything other than what they want to do, I was anxious to see if it would stick.

For those of you (all one of you) who were wondering how it's worked out, I would like to report that it has been a total and complete success.

While I running one morning, Kathleen came into my room to tell me that she had cleaned up the toy room and could she please have a marble?  She skipped happily out of the room and I was happy to have a mess in the house picked up without any help or coercion on my part.

It has proved so popular that Sophia also has a marble jar and she helps Kathleen pick up her room, unload the dishwasher, put away her clean clothes, and clean up the toy room.  Kathleen also folds and puts away the kitchen towels and washcloths, helps to set the table, and picks up everyone's clothes after bath.

The best part about all of these completed tasks is that they're accomplished with no yelling, no nagging, and children that are happy to get a marble at the end.

And so I would like to tell everyone today that with the help of a little bribery and a little threatening that you too can start your child young in a life of labor.  Maybe by the time she's ten I can have her trained to cook three-course meals....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Living in Cairo: Saturdays

When Brandon was a child, he always looked forward to Saturdays.  Until Saturday came, and then he would wonder amid the (reported) endless hours of labor in the hot sun without even a five-minute break why he was so excited.  My Saturdays weren't quite so bad, but I do remember a lot of cleaning house and parents involved with yard work and home improvement.

While Brandon worked at Stouffer's, he had a rotating four-day workweek, so we never had dedicated Saturdays, but the days he had off always involved me running errands with our one car while he watched the children at home.

In Arlington, we rented a house with a lovely yard that required a lot of upkeep so Saturdays were always busy.

In Cairo we have no yard, maintenance is done by the embassy, I have a housekeeper, and so Saturdays are chore-free.  Kathleen is too young to be in any organized activities, and I run errands during the week, and so Saturdays are endlessly empty, with nary a commitment in sight.

During the summer, Saturdays always without fail every single Saturday involved going to the pool.  We always swam in the morning, came home for a long, late nap, ate an early dinner and watched a movie together.  Everyone was happy, everyone had something to do, and crankiness was kept to a reasonable level.

It's (Cairo) winter now, and although the pool is heated, swimming in low seventies weather doesn't sound like much fun to me.  Maadi house has a playground, but somehow the pool provides so many more hours of a amusement.  We don't have a car, and so going anywhere is an immense amount of trouble.  We have three small children, and so going anywhere is an immense amount of trouble.  We have no yard to play in, and an apartment, no matter how big, still is an apartment with a limited amount of space to play in.

We don't even have the luxury of a TV to sit them down in front of.

I never thought I would find myself complaining about a lack of household responsibilities, but I wouldn't mind at least a garden to weed and let Edwin eat the bugs from.  Maybe I'll start making up chores for the girls to do, just to keep them from fighting.

So tell me, what do you do on a Saturday?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Edwin's first birthday

Last week, Edwin turned one year old.  Unlike the progression in most families, the first celebrations for our children have gotten increasingly elaborate.  Kathleen's first was celebrated with cupcakes baked by my mother and a one present, also from my parents.  We were at the beach, and so a song was sung while everyone packed up to go home.

She was so disturbed by the candle, she refused to eat her cake.

Sophia's birthday was celebrated as an add-on to Memorial Day at my relatives' house.  I actually made her cake this time, and she got a present from both her parents and grandparents.

She didn't get cake either because she was bundled off to bed before it was served.

Edwin's birthday didn't start out very exciting for him - the girls and I went to play group and made fun Christmas crafts while Edwin was left home with Rere.

After his nap, however, the day got better.  The girls were in timeout for hitting a friend at play group, so Edwin and I spent the afternoon together.  He discovered the joy of climbing into cupboards.

And then the pleasure of licking beaters.

After the miscreants were released, we had Chinese food for dinner.

We sung to him (albeit without a real candle),

he opened his present,

and he even ate his cake.  Which is a first for birthdays around here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

And this is why I taught her to read

Late Thursday night I remembered that Kathleen was assigned a talk on Friday.

Our primary is small and run somewhat casually because nobody's quite sure what the situation will be until primary starts.  Someone is always gone, and sometimes it's the students, sometimes it's the teachers, and sometimes it's the leaders.  A few weeks ago the secretary/pianist and I (the chorister) were running the show.  Thankfully all three of the substitutes showed up to teach their classes, but for singing and sharing time it was us and one other teacher.

So despite primary being run in a low-stress atmosphere, I knew I couldn't simply have Kathleen get up and start giving everyone a stream-of-consciousness interpretation of the gospel.  It rarely works in sacrament meeting, and who knows what a four year-old will think up under pressure.

So Friday morning, Brandon graciously took charge of crafting a talk with Kathleen in the five minutes between preparing agendas for his meetings and going to his meetings.  He's been a missionary, so he knows how to get things done.

When it was time for her talk, Kathleen stood up with her paper and read

Many prophets testified that Jesus would come to save His people.

Moses said that Jesus would come to earth.

When the Israelites were bitten by snakes, Moses held up the Brazen Serpent.

This was a symbol of Jesus. Everyone who looked at the Brazen Serpent
got better and was healed.

Everyone who did not died.

This symbol reminds us of Jesus. Those who look to Jesus for salvation
will be saved through His Atonement. Those who do not will die

Moses was a type or symbol of Jesus. His life was an example of the Savior.

I am thankful for prophets who teach us about Jesus Christ.
Then she sat down.  And I got to sit and watch.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living in Cairo: Plumbing

Cairo is in a third-world country.  There are some aspects that might fool the casual observer - the Ritz Carlton is coming to downtown.  The airport is new.  Western-style malls have started to appear.  Apartments have electricity, air conditioning, and running water.  But the facade starts to break down when the details are examined, and it is those details that bely the underlying systems and attitudes that make Egypt a third-world country.

Plumbing, I am coming to believe, is a litmus test for any country's overall attitude and ability to keep things together over any length of time.

Our apartment is a 'wealthy' apartment.  It is paved entirely in stone, has four and a half bathrooms, central air conditioning, an enormous kitchen, and an old servant-bell pull system that no longer works.  However, I dream of the days when I can live in some tidy, snug little house that never has leaks.

There are five toilets in our house.  It is a physical law that at least one of the toilets must be running at all times.  It is also a law that when facilities comes to fix that leaking toilet, it has stopped leaking, and I can't find the new guilty party until after they leave.

Our air conditioning unit in the dining room leaked water into the floor, and bloomed out the wall beside it.  When facilities came to fix the wall, they asked if we had the matching paint.  Of course nobody had thought to give us the extra paint after they were done, and so I suppose the wall will be fixed for the next tenant.

There is an outlet in my hall that I never use because the wall is bulged and flaking around  it from another leaking air conditioning pipe.  And I noticed a suspicious bulge in another wall in the dining room just the other day.

So it was no surprise to me the other day when I noticed the girls' bathroom had a rather large, light brown pool of water that kept reappearing after it was mopped up.  It seemed to be coming from the bathtub pipes, and so I had Brandon put in a work order.

My friendly facilities workers came for their weekly visit, and started nosing around to uncover the problem.  I had visions of breaking up tiles to put in new pipes.  Either that or more layers of silicone.

And so I was surprised when they came in to the kitchen to talk to me.  It turns out that they leak isn't from our pipes, it's from our upstairs neighbor's pipes.  They were going to tell their boss who would tell our landlord who would tell the upstairs neighbors to tell their landlord that the leak needs fixed, insha'allah.

Thankfully we have another bathroom (four, remember?) that the children will be using until everybody plays telephone and everything gets fixed - for about a week.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Until next year

In our refrigerator sits a rubbermaid container of cranberry sauce, half full.  A week after Thanksgiving, that lonely cranberry sauce is all we have left of our 13-pound turkey, 9x13 pan of stuffing, 8x8 pan of sweet potatoes, 1 1/2 dozen rolls, quart of gravy, four pounds of mashed potatoes, and a pumpkin pie.

Tonight the last of the turkey and gravy was served up as a delicious pot pie, and we have turkey noodle soup leftovers waiting in the refrigerator for my lunch.  We ate Thanksgiving for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday dinners, much to Kathleen's despair.  The only food that went bad was the pie, left out of the refrigerator too long.  I'm amazed by how fertile pumpkin pie is for fuzzy mold.

Growing up, I never got very excited about Thanksgiving dinner, as my mother can (and probably will in the comments) attest.  Turkey was about as appetizing as sawdust, and even cranberry sauce was too wild for my tastes.  Many a dish of plain Jello was brought so that I had something to accompany my roll and mashed potatoes.

This year, however, as I was eating leftover turkey for lunch, I realized why Thanksgiving is so anticipated - the food is good.  I considered getting a few turkeys from the commissary and stashing them for later.  Perhaps it can become a semi-annual event in our house.  After all, who says you have to be thankful only once a year?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It's beginning to look a lot like... the rest of the year.

Last night we watched White Christmas with the girls.  When we got to the end and everyone was singing about how much they wanted their Christmas to be white while the snow was falling the background, Kathleen kept interrupting.

"Why is it snowing?!  Please explain to me."
"Why are they singing about their Christmases being white?"
"What does that mean?!  Please explain!"

This year is the first Christmas I have spent outside the US.  When we were here previously, we spent Thanksgiving in Cairo, but were able to return for most of the holiday season and enjoy all of the warm fuzziness of Christmastime.

Here, however, we live in a Muslim country and Christmas isn't celebrated much anyway.  We hardly ever get out, and haven't set foot in a mall the whole time we've been here and so wouldn't see even if there were a few stray Christmas decorations, somewhere.

But I think the biggest damper on the holiday mood is sunshine, 70+ degree days, and green trees.  Cairo has a wonderful climate in the winter time, never even approaching freezing with trees blooming all winter long.  In fact some tree or another is blooming all year long.  Along with the bougainvillea, and lantana, and jasmine.

A few days ago, I glanced out the window to see a scattering of yellow beneath a tree.  My unconscious mind saw yellow leaves for fall, until the yellow registered as golden blossoms, fallen from the tree above.

The problem with perpetual summer is... perpetual summer.  Nothing changes much except which trees are flowering; it's the only way I can remember what time of the year it is.

Maybe tomorrow I'll start playing Christmas songs and see if we can borrow a tree to decorate.  And then we can crank down the air conditioning, put on some sweaters, and drink hot chocolate.