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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Istanbul, Day One

Brandon and I are sitting in our hotel room, resting our weary feet after a long day of touring.  We almost didn't make it.

Tuesday night protesters decided to gather in Tahrir Square, and the police/military didn't like it.  Wednesday morning Tahrir was closed, and the TV was showing scenes from the previous night's protest.  We talked about leaving or staying, and decided to go ahead on our trip.  So far, nothing has happened, but we've only been here a day.

The flight out was uneventful, although an hour and a half (for a two-hour flight) late.  But, I didn't expect anything different from flying Turkish Airlines.  This time, thankfully, we didn't have any connections.  We checked into our hotel to find that the water was out because of an explosion in the neighborhood.  I just laughed when the kind hotelier apologized, and told him that at home our phone and internet had been out since Tuesday night.  Sometime it's a toss-up between the two.

So this morning, after sleeping in past eight, we stepped to the hotel next door to take a shower (their cistern had been filled that day) before enjoying a personally prepared breakfast with a stunning view of the Blue Mosque.

After breakfast, we saw the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, the Islamic arts museum, and Brandon bought me chalcedony earrings for a late anniversary present.  We're now taking a rest before heading out to dinner.

The weather has been lovely, the people oh-so-much less pushy than Cairenes, and strolling around, hand in hand, has been a pleasure.  We called the girls a while ago, and Kathleen reported that they had eaten Scooby-Doo fruit snacks and were watching a movie so she had to go.  So everyone is enjoying themselves very much.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Istanbul was Constantinople

By the time you read this, Brandon and I won't be on an airplane (if you read it early).  But we will be today, and it will be without any children (except for one in utero).  I haven't flown without children since December 2005, and I'm looking forward to eating my own meal, talking with Brandon and even perhaps taking a nap.

About eighteen months ago when our bank account was unexpectedly enhanced by Edwin's medevac, Brandon and I talked about what to do with the extra money.  We could save it or we could spend it.  I voted to spend it, and surprisingly Brandon agreed.  We decided to take a trip at the end of our tour, and Istanbul seemed like as good a choice as any, based on airfare prices.  Who knew that flying out of Cairo would be so expensive?

We decided to go for our sixth anniversary, and to leave the children in Cairo with Rere.  I know the limitations of my children, and I knew that a vacation with children is no vacation at all.  When Kathleen asked what was in Istanbul and found out that it was just a lot of old buildings and no pool at the hotel, she immediately declared 'boring!'

Brandon was able to get the time off, and I bought plane tickets.  On January 26th.  On the 31st we evacuated.  I wasn't worried about our trip, however, because we would definitely be back by the end of April.  That was a long way away, right?

By mid-April it was clear that I wasn't going to be back in time.  Brandon could have taken the trip, but he said it wouldn't be much fun without me.  We had purchased trip insurance, but when I called about making a claim, I was flatly told by several people that as evacuations were not specifically listed in the documentation, I had paid them fifty dollars to yell at them in frustration.

So with only a few days left before our plane tickets were to be used, Brandon talked to his supervisor, who let him have this coming weekend off.  I rescheduled the plane tickets, rescheduled the hotel reservations, and was relieved to see that Istanbul is much cooler than Cairo at the end of June.

And so we're off today, looking forward to the first vacation of more than 24 hours since before Sophia was born.  I'm not sure if I'm more looking forward to the sights (which I saw in 2002), not cooking dinner for five days, or sleeping in and staying up as much as I want.  The girls are looking forward to lots and lots of movies with Rere and all the Egyptian food they can take.  Hooray for vacations!

Monday, June 27, 2011

On why it is sometimes better to not own your couches

One common, endless complaint of every State employee at some point in their career is the furniture.  The furniture is very traditional, ours being Drexel-Heritage cherry throughout the house.  The furniture is very much the same; I've seen my dining room set in Brussels, Amman, and India.  And the couches are... well... I assume they are someone's style, but I haven't found anyone who will admit that red-and-gold brocade is their first choice for living room decor.

Nevertheless, the couches are State's couches, not mine, and there are certain advantages.  In our current apartment we have two couches, three love seats, and four upholstered chairs.  Before we joined State, Brandon and I 'owned' one couch, given to us by my aunt and uncle, and taken back when we left Utah.  So I've never bought a couch in my life, and I'm happy not to buy two couches, three love seats, and four upholstered chairs.

Within a week of moving here, Sophia had attacked one couch with a black dry erase marker.  Had it been my couch, she could possibly still be in her room.  As it's not mine, I flipped the cushion over and hoped that our couches are up for re-upholstery after we leave.

And recently, the children have discovered a new game.  It's been hot here so we stay inside a lot, and we have no yard so the girls often get creative (that's what I call it - Brandon calls it 'looks like a hurricane came through here').  The other day I walked into my front room to find all two couches, two love seats (the one in the study was spared), and four upholstered chairs stripped of their cushions.  As all have loose-backed cushions, it was a lot of cushions.

When I looked to see where the cushions had gone, I discovered an enormous pile of red-and-gold and tan-and-gold brocade.  Climbing over the pile, under the pile, and through the pile were Kathleen, Sophia and Edwin.

If my couch cushions had been trampled, squashed, and jumped on, I think I might have demanded the children put them back right now.  But, as they're not my couch cushions, I laughed and asked them if they were having a good time.  They replied that this was the best thing they'd done all week.  And everyone was happy.  Except maybe the property management people in about five weeks.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Pyramids (Finally)

The other day, the subject of Disneyland came up.  When Kathleen asked why we were never going to take her to Disneyland, I explained that Disneyland wasn't much more than somewhere that had a lot of pretend places from around the world.  And why would we want to see the pretend pyramids, when we've seen the real ones?

"But I haven't!!" she protested, "why haven't you taken me to see the real pyramids?"  I blame Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile for her knowing what the pyramids actually are.

So, this past Saturday, we bowed to popular dissent and finally took our children to see the pyramids.  We still have the use of our friends' car, and so I navigated through Cairo traffic with nary a mishap (and that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

We arrived early on purpose to avoid the crowds, which worked somewhat nicely.  Not one person asked to take our children's pictures, but we were followed by every carriage, camel, and horse-man that saw us from a half-mile off. 

After seeing the Great Pyramid and the other one, we made it up to the Menakaufre pyramid, where we had tickets to go inside.  They wouldn't let us take the backpack with our camera inside, and I wasn't about to leave the backpack with them, so I took Sophia and Brandon took Kathleen.

Sophia, although a little nervous with the steep descent, decided that the inside of a pyramid was pretty interesting and not a bit scary.  Kathleen took her turn with Brandon, determined to be just like Jack and Annie and see the inside.  She saw about three feet inside before breaking down into screaming fits and Brandon saw the inside all by himself.  Edwin will have to wait until he can come back on his own dime to see the inside of any pyramid.

By this point, we had walked quite a bit over sand and stone, and I didn't have much faith in the ability of Kathleen and Sophia to stick it out all of the way back down to the Sphinx, and was eyeing the camels waiting outside the pyramid.  Brandon flatly refused, not wanting to give in to the man, but after promising him that I would take all responsibility and do all of the bargaining, he consented.

The children all loved being so high above everyone, and Brandon declared at the end that it was a good idea.  I'm sure they'll remember the ride most of all. 

We finished with a very quick visit to the Sphinx and made our way back to the car, relieved to have finally done our duty by our children.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Death of a Potato Masher

Edwin has a strange fascination with my kitchen equipment.  Every time I'm cooking dinner and several other times throughout the day, he heads for the drawers where my measuring cups, spatulas, pastry brushes, egg slicer, candy thermometer, and other various and sundry items reside.

I let him, as I let his sisters before him, because it keeps his mind on something other than screaming and wanting to be picked up.  The downside of this arrangement, however, is when things get carried off.  I still haven't found one pastry brush after months of looking, and the other is usually in the bathtub more than in the drawer.  Currently my small sieve is missing, and so I had to use cheesecloth to strain my lemon juice while I was making jam on Monday.  When we lived in a two-bedroom duplex in Springville, Kathleen absconded with my rolling pin, and I had to use a leg from our utility shelves filled with beans as a substitute.  I assumed we would find it when we packed out, but it never did turn up.

Another favorite of Edwin's is the potato masher.  Why?  Nobody's quite sure, but it likes to make peregrinations throughout the house, where I found it last week in the toy room.  It had gotten a little bent, but the cheap metal was quickly bent back before the potato masher returned to its residence in the kitchen.

On Sunday, I started making apricot jam.  Jam requires mashing, so I fetched the potato masher for mashing.  Near the end of the mashing, the unthinkable happened: it broke.  I don't remember exactly where I had picked it up, but I think it may have been when I first went to college.  It had survived through countless moves, quite a few roommates, and a lot use to expire in a pot of apricot jam.

Which now leaves me with a problem - no potato masher.  Usually I fix such problems with a visit to my local online retailer, but I've run into another problem - three and a half weeks before the movers come.  And so, I'm just stuck without a potato masher until I'm back in the US to buy one.  I wonder what will break next.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Six Weeks

Or rather, five-half-weeks if you like to be specific.  In six weeks all of our worldly goods will have been packed up in boxes, bins, moving containers, and suitcases and sent or carried off to various places.  We will have completed the eighth trans-atlantic journey in the last two years, and be at the beach.  Five weeks into the future will be a completely different story.

A few days ago, when a friend asked if we had everything ready for packout (supposedly in a month), Brandon laughed and said that if it were up to him we'd have our suitcases packed, but since his wife was in charge of those things, not a thing had been done yet.

Here is a list of things we've done to get ready to leave:
  1.  buy a rug
Here is a list of things we haven't done:
  1.  purchase (or even schedule) plane tickets
  2.  schedule our packout
  3.  find somewhere to live
  4.  sort through our belongings
  5.  organize everything for those three separate destinations
  6.  decide how to get from North Carolina to Missouri
  7.  finally take the children to the Pyramids

However, in preparation for our departure, Rere is bringing ten kilos of delicious fresh apricots on Sunday so I can take apricot jam to Baku with us.  And in two weeks Brandon and I are going to Turkey for five days.

Genetically, I am a planner.  My mother was a planner, my grandmother was a planner, my sisters are planners.  There is a deeply-rooted desire to take the world and organize it according to the way it should be.  After moving several (to be honest not that many yet) times, I've realized that, if taken to its fullest extent, planning too much too early will end up hamstringing my efforts.

So this time, I'm trying something different: cram the pain into a small space.  After we come back from Istanbul, I will organize, sort, shuttle, pack, and throw away as much a I can in two weeks.  Then the movers will come and pack up whatever is left.  Then I will go on vacation for six weeks.

After all, everything will get moved, regardless of how organized it is when it's thrown into boxes.  Right?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dinner Conversations

Kathleen asked Brandon to sing the "Trogdor" song.  After he sang it for her, she declared that she was going to pretend that her food was the peasants in their thatch-roofed cottages, and destroy them.

When Brandon was telling the story of Alexander the Great, he mentioned Athens.  Sophia, when she heard Athens, exclaimed excitedly, "We visited Athens!  It has a Sofitel!"

Kathleen, after exhausting Brandon's childhood stories, asked for other stories.  So Brandon told her the story of Vlad the Impaler.

I cook the food, but I take no personal responsibility for the conversation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wadi Digla

Some friends of ours recently left town for a month and (not having heard of my high school driving record) left us the keys of their car.  Unfortunately, since the evacuation, nobody is allowed to drive without another adult, and so we've only just used it for the first time this past Saturday. 

So, for our inaugural outing in Egyptian traffic, we went to Wadi Digla, a local 'nature' preserve.  After driving for awhile though the canyon, we parked the car, and Sophia and Kathleen immediately headed to the nearest rock pile and started climbing.

Sophia enjoyed climbing, but Kathleen decided that climbing, rocks, and skinned knees weren't her favorite and had to be coaxed down by Brandon after getting to the top.

Edwin and I stayed on the valley floor where he found trash to dig in the dirt with. 

We ended our trip into nature (we had to explain to the girls what 'nature' means) with a walk down the dry creek bed, and stopped by the commissary on the way home for Fudgsicles.

Friday, June 10, 2011

All Dressed Up and (Finally) Something to Buy

Yesterday I planned a series of surprises for Brandon's birthday.  The surprises culminated in me showing up at his office just as he was leaving for a long, very hot ride on the metro with all of his required 'buddies' from work.  Brandon was at first confused, and then happy to see me, and even happier to take an air-conditioned taxi down to Maadi with me, his preferred buddy.

I had left the children with Rere, so we had the rest of the evening to ourselves.  I knew that dinner would only take so long, so I suggested visiting the rug shop that was never open when we went out for my birthday in January.  It was open this time, and a hand-made silk rug caught our eye as we walked in the door.  We looked at quite a few other rugs, but the first was our favorite.  When it came time to ask the price, it was no surprise that our favorite was also the most expensive.

Neither of us have any reasonable experience bargaining, never having haggled for anything worth over eighty dollars, and this rug was a great deal more than eighty dollars.  We looked at each other, realized that we were in over our heads and thanked the kind man and went to dinner.

Over coconut juice, spring rolls, and pad thai, we discussed our options.  I was surprised to find out that Brandon, as his attachment to material goods is almost nonexistent, quite seriously wanted that rug, and only that rug, regardless of the cost.  So we discussed prices, the theory of bargaining, and our bargaining strategy, eventually deciding on a price that we could live with but wouldn't go above.

When we walked back into the shop, the owner pulled out the rugs we had previously narrowed down our choices to.  I became insistent that I wanted the rug, and Brandon stubbornly refused, reminding me repeatedly that it was much more than we could afford to spend.  He asked to see other, less expensive rugs, and I pointed out that my rug was obviously the most beautiful of all of them while Brandon claimed that they were all rugs to him.  By this time, the men had gathered around, and were telling Brandon that he had better listen to his wife because she knew what she was talking about and she was the one who would have it in her house.  The ante only went up when Brandon slipped that it was my birthday.

After enough acting, the shopkeeper agreed to lower the price, and left us to argue about getting another, cheaper rug while I insisted that I only wanted that rug.  When we stood up to leave, the man was back again, asking us why we were leaving.  When Brandon told him that we just didn't have the budget, he asked what our budget was and came down again.  After some more pleading, we counter-offered, and then he counter-offered the price Brandon and I had agreed on over dinner.  Not one to give up a game so easily, Brandon grumbled for another five minutes before finally giving in for 'my birthday.'

The owner happily wrapped up our rug, pleased to have sold the rug for such a good price, and I happily handed over the credit card, pleased to have gotten it for such a good price.  Brandon and I both left happily, pleased to have worked out our play-acting exactly how we had planned, the warm glow of our first successful bargain in our hearts.

When the girls saw it this morning, they oohed and ahhed over how beautiful it was, and Sophia announced that it was just like a magic carpet.  And we all got on and went for a ride.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

After making four dozen sugar cookies (with frosting), three dozen chocolate chocolate chip cookies, lemon poppy seed muffins, scrambled eggs with bacon, and a four-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting in the last 36 hours, I think I've found the sixth language of love.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Out out, darn spot!

A few days ago, Kathleen dropped a basket on her toe and scraped some skin off.  The wound wasn't deep and so I gave her a kiss and saved the Band-Aids for a bloodier occasion.

Last night while I was cleaning the kitchen, I heard a wail from Kathleen.  She came limping down the hall to show me her bloody toe.  The girls had been spinning in our room (Sophia was the princess and Kathleen the prince), and the scab from a few days ago had popped open and was bleeding.  This time a kiss wasn't going to stop the blood, so I cleaned her toe while she wailed in pain and anxiety and fixed a Band-Aid on the bleeding wound.

Right after cleaning her up, Brandon came in from an errand, and we went back to our room to read scriptures and pray.  When I knelt down to pray, I noticed a spot of blood on the carpet.  And six inches away, another spot.  A foot away from the second was a third.  When I looked around, I discovered that we were surrounded by little red bloody spots all over our State-issued carpet.

As Brandon looked around to see what I had pointed out to him, I could see dollar signs flashing in his widening eyes while he tried to keep from shouting at Kathleen.

Only after I googled "get blood out of carpet" did I realize how suspect it looked, but luckily the blood came off easily enough with cold water, and the girls were happy to help wipe up the blood trail down our hall.  As I cleaned I was amazed at the places Kathleen had trod with her bleeding foot - my favorite was a spot almost behind the curtain.  Was she spinning for some time before the noticed the blood?  Or did she dance around our entire carpet in distress?

But, everything came out, at least until SPM comes around with the luminol.  And while cleaning, Brandon taught the girls a new phrase to use while cleaning up spots.  "Out out, darn spot!"

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beginning of a New Era

This evening after dinner, a seminal event occurred: after finishing their dinner, the girls ran off to play.  Edwin, hearing their merriment, indicated he'd like to get down too, and then ran off after his sisters.  Brandon and I stayed in the kitchen and washed the dishes in peace.

Every dinner we've had previously has ended with somebody being forced to finish, the others hanging around the kitchen while playing, fighting, asking endless questions, making endless requests, and getting under the feet of anyone trying to do anything useful.

But we've reached a new stage in parenting, the new stage where our children enjoy playing by themselves.  Kathleen and Sophia have become, on occasion, more interesting to each other than their parents are.

It's strange, to reach the end of constant leech stage and move on to something different, and even more strange to realize that that stage will never come again.  I will have individual children who will find me so irresistible they can't leave me, but never again will all of them swirl around me constantly, satellites to my planet.  I won't be surrounded by a constant of little voices, moving wherever I move, and providing constant company.

And I'm thrilled.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Roller Coasters for Her

This past weekend, we celebrated Memorial Day.  Because the workweek here is Sunday through Thursday, we didn't have Monday off, we had Sunday off.  However, because our guests were from Wales, England, France, and Canada, none of them had Sunday off.  So instead we celebrated on Saturday.  Got that?

When I was a child, we always spent Memorial Day at the pool.  Our pool opened on Memorial Day and closed on Labor Day, and both days were celebrated with a pot luck pig pickin'.  So I always associate Memorial Day with barbecue, fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, and my personal favorite, hushpuppies.

We couldn't find anyone to sell us a whole pig, and don't have anywhere to set up an oil-drum pig smoker, so we only had fried chicken for protein.  But of course we had the cole slaw, potato salad, hushpuppies, and for dessert, peach ice cream.

Our Saturday morning was spent in various food preparations, and the girls started the morning in our company.  They peacefully painted in watercolors (practicing the color-mixing principles they had learned at a friend's house that week) while Edwin wandered around the house, Roomba-fashion, picking up whatever was in his path.  After awhile, the girls got bored, so Brandon turned on an Abba CD for them in the study.

Our study had two spinning office chairs, and there are two girls, so two girls heartily amused themselves while spinning to the solid-gold seventies Abba tunes.  Who doesn't like Dancing Queen?  They were happy, and we were left in peace, and our work progressed well as Brandon chopped potatoes and I peeled and mashed peaches.

After twenty or thirty minutes of peace, Sophia started coughing.  I wasn't worried (I never am until the bones snap and the screaming starts in earnest), but Brandon was and went to check.  "I keep coughing things up," she told him, so he brought her into the kitchen.  And then the burps came, and we looked at each other and rushed her to the trash can just in time for breakfast to come around again, several times.

After she was calmed down and cleaned up, we catalogued all of the food she had eaten for the last twenty-four hours.  Nothing seemed suspicious, and nobody else was sick.  We felt her forehead, and it was normal.  She didn't complain of a headache or feeling badly.

And then I remembered: the spinning.  So now we know who in the family gets motion sickness.