Friday, February 27, 2009

Please DON'T Supersize Me...

You know, I was pretty encouraged a month or so ago when we took JuniorBean to his first birthday party. Not because we were going to the party. I was jazzed because it was JuniorBean's first ever visit to McDonald's. There are many days when I can't count on one hand the number of bad mommy moments I've had. Then an experience like this comes along...

My nearly 5 year old had never actually eaten a meal at McDonald's. How awesome is that! By his age, I really feel sure I had already begun my Happy Meal toy collection. (It was really extremely sizable by the time I went to college. It stretched around my room on every inch around the walls.) I certainly knew the words and tune to the Big Mac song (c'mon you remember it...

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun - BIG MAC! What you don't remember it? You weren't able to name all of the characters by the age of 6? Really? For sure?)

You see, I rest my case. It was such a part of Americana. Everyone knew the Hamburgler (stole hamburgers from the others), Grimace (the purple guy who had indulged in far too many hamburgers), etc. McDonald's was the American treat for harried parents and their happy kids (Happy Meal, the name says it all).

And so, it was with some astonishment that I realized the Beans haven't actually eaten there. While we have Hardee's occasionally, we aren't big fast food eaters. Who knew? Somehow my kids are being raised outside of all that. And, while I certainly don't fault anyone who does frequent McDonald's, I do feel better than my kids learn who Ronald McDonald is from commercials, not the restaurant. And, I do feel better that their dining choices don't regularly include french fries and deep fried chicken nuggets.

This is especially true after Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me. If you haven't seen it, you should. It is frightening in an eye-opening, must-watch sort of way...

Happy Minisizing!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Those Surreal Snapshots of Daily Life

Okay, so I didn't finish this one before dashing off to Dubai for two days (and NO, I wasn't shopping, ya rayt...). But, here it is. The things that are made for movie moments of my life in Jordan.

So, my pal NasEr tagged me with a very interesting post. It's one of those things that should bear a good bit of thought. But, if I take the time for thought, it'll probably never get done. So, I'm diving right in here. NasEr calls these his movie moments. You know when you're doing something that you never would have expected and do a double-take to make sure they're real. Sort of "pinch me" moments... So, let's see what I can come up with:


Okay, somehow several of my surreal moments have to do with livestock.

The first one is the day that I failed to be even mildly surprised to see an entire herd of sheep blocking the road outside my house. Yep, that's right. 50 head of sheep wandering trough blocking traffic barely warranted a "Look Beans, there are sheep outside."

Second would have to be the day that I saw sheep crossing airport highway on the elevated crossing bridge while their shepherds risked life and limb dashing across the road itself (leaps of high barriers taken in stride).

Americans Are Taking Over

Finding a group of gals from Alabama in Amman is certainly surreal. Finding that they are pretty much all veiled Muslims an equal surprise. However, the truly surreal thing is that whenever I get together with them, I feel like they're just like me. Normal (well, okay THEY'RE normal, me not so much), fine, Americans - in Amman. Who'da thought it?

When we first got here, I found myself noticing the blonds in the crowd more than anyone else. Little did I expect that a mere few years into our experience, I'd stop calling them out in my mind and start looking, instead, for faces I know.

Amman, the Small Town

Amman is a city of 4 million. I never expected to think of it as a small town. But the first time I went to a professional association only to find someone I not only know, but who is related to El 3atal's family, well I knew it then.

Petra is 3 hours away from Amman and we go maybe 1-2 times a year. And, yet, one of those times, I bumped into a friend of a friend who I've met once. How surreal is it to be at a huge tourist destination and bump into someone from little old Amman?


Because no conversation about Jordan may be had without talking about traffic...

My biggest pinch me moment so far has been when I look up and realize I can predict which way the crazy lane meanderer is going to go. Something in the tilt of the head and the part of the hair and I just KNOW where they're going. It must be some sort of universal truth I've managed to tap into...


Thinking rice and bread in the same meal isn't a starch overload (or at least not a comment-worthy one).

Okay, that's enough for now... If I don't post it this moment, I probably never will!

Happy movie moments!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A New Place For Kids To Learn

So, the TwinBeans had a birthday a week or so ago and we decided that this would be our year for big parties. As a result, when we were stopping by a pharmacy, we decided to check out the new place that had opened across the street. Ignoring the name (I'm not really a fan of this trend) we stopped into Funtastic a new home of "Edutainment" in Amman. I set aside my feelings on the name to see the place. It is awesome. Unlike the typical slide and ball pit or dress up room and faux grocery store, this place is really focused on fun learning. Here's the way it stacks up.

Exploring the Senses
In the initial area, they have a learning center that is awesome for ages 2-10. It has computer games with several levels to push learning and interaction. It has activities to explore texture, smell, sight, and sound (using musical instruments). All of the activities are fun, but teach valuable lessons.

Fine Motor Skills
The next room is a world of awesome Lego sets. They have tables and stations on the wall with Lego sets that can be built according to pattern or free form. And they have the patterns if that's what you want. I love this room as they also have 2 sets of most options. So, if your kids (like mine) want to do the same one, they can. They have an attendant in this room who helps the kids find pieces, assemble, etc.

Gross Motor Skills
For building those big muscles, these ladies have come up with a rather clever idea. They have turned one room into a Play-Doh (okay more fine motor work)/chalk-board/wall painting room. Yes, they have an entire wall that your child can paint on. Instead of having them try and draw and paint at home, take them somewhere else and let them pant on someone else's walls. At night they slap a coat of white of the previous day's art work and viola! Clean walls ready for fun and creativity. They also have good smocks to keep the kids paint-free, which is nice.

The art project room is one of my favorites. In this room, they have two types of things. First they have some neat little pins and color boards that your kids can use to form all sorts of objects from the shapes. In addition, they do a variety of different types of art projects with the kids. Mine made fridge magnets one day. After they dried, the kids got to paint them. They've also done magic wands and cars. Awesome opportunities to do a project and have someone else worry about the mess. Who can beat that?

I hear that they are waiting on dress-up clothes to arrive. However, even without this room is fun! They have set up a camera and tv to display what you will look like with a small stage. As a result, the kids have a great time just dancing and watching themselves and their friends twirl, jump, etc. Forget the clothes, I can see the Beans doing plays to see what they look like.

Given that they opened recently, the outdoors areas, though nicely groomed, don't have specific purposes yet. And, maybe they won't. Even as just a small haven of grass to twirl and fall in, I'm a fan. It's be fun to see what they do in this space.

We invited all of the kids in both classes to the party, along with friends with kids. In all, we had some 60 kids in attendance. The ladies at Funtastic far exceeded my expectations. They handled everything and helped the party run very smoothly. As a result, of their organization and skill, I was relaxed and able to visit with guests and make sure everything went smoothly.

At 5JDs per child, this place is an oasis of calm, entertaining, education in a sea of screaming madhouses ;). Oh, and a side benefit of having such a neat party, I'm a popular Mom. can you imagine? I seem to have gone from the odd-man out American mom to the cool Mom who invited kids to a neat new place. Since the party, other moms stop their cars in the street to say Hi. It's really nice. Had I know this benefit, I might have done it sooner ;). Not that the moms haven't always been nice, but I have always been the ajnabiyyeh. Maybe now I've grown into something more... we can only hope, teehee.

All in all, Funtastic is a blessing tucked into the quiet street of Umm Utheinah behind the Crowne Plaza. It's easy to get to, Mom and kid friendly, open 6 days a week, and even has a cafe for parents with free wireless internet (and a wee peek into each of the rooms via a CCTV system to set the mind at ease). How can you beat that? Oh, and their English is very good so no need to feel intimidated... Trust me, you won't be sorry if you check it out.

Happy Funtastic Times!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Regaining Childhood

You know, being a mom is just such a surprise... For those of you who've never known me prior to my being MommaBean, it may be a bit surprising to know that most of my friends, colleagues, and family were truly befuddled that I love being a mom. Honest confessions now, I have NO mom skills. I mean it. I'm not exaggerating here. I can't cook (okay I can cook but refuse to cook anything that takes longer than 15 minutes prep time), hate to clean, can't sew... Are you beginning to get the picture here? I was just never the "mothering" type.

Now, don't for a single instant think I'm down on myself. I'm perfectly content with who I am as a Mom. It's just that mental picture of a mom most of us carry (you know the Norman Rockwell mom with perfectly coiffed hair, heels, and a pot roast) is just so far from me. MemeBean paid me a great compliment (she's so much a Rockwell mom that she majored in home ec in college!) when she said to me "I never knew you could be a great mom and not do any mom things!" So, I'm happy with who I am as a mom, which would be one reason I recommend the book I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids. It's all about coming to terms with what type of mom we are.

However, as much as I love being a Mom, I am still surprised at the simple joys life holds. It's a revelation. Do you know what my favorite past time is these days? Playing Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders in the UK, thought why ANYONE would want to slide down snakes instead of slides I've got no clue). Through the games of my childhood, I'm finding ways to connect differently with each of the Beans. It helps me teach valuable lessons like playing well rather than focusing on winning. For us, we had a game-intensive Christmas. And, Chutes and Ladders has been so much fun. The first time we played, the Beans got bored and gave up quickly because they hit several chutes. The second time, I helped refocus them on how much fun each of those slides would be if we could experience them here in Jordan. Now, we are all excited to see if we can hit the longest slide that takes you from the top to the bottom of the board. What a difference perspective makes.

So, today is the TwinBeans' birthday. And, for their birthday they got two of my old favorites. Candyland and Perfection. I can't wait to break out Candy Land tomorrow. When El 3atal and I were debating the possible gifts, I pointed out Perfection because I thought JuniorBean would particularly enjoy how the Board pops up and destroys everything you've been working on if you aren't fast enough. El 3atal said, "It looks so easy, I can't imagine it being a challenge to a kid over 3." Obviously, he's never played it. Here's a picture for those who either don't remember it or don't know it.

It's deceptively simple. The Board has like 20 shapes from mundane (square) to cute (asterisk) to decidedly odd (rainbow anyone?). You mix the shapes up off the board, press it down and set the timer for 60 seconds. You must put all of the shapes in before the timer finishes and the board pops up. Otherwise, it will pop up and toss all of the shapes out of their homes. I told El 3atal I remember loving the game and I'm positive I was a good bit older than the kids now (like 8 or 9). While we aren't playing by the rules yet, it has been really fun. We played two games tonight and I'm sure more are on tap for tomorrow.
I'm thinking that Milton Bradley is onto something here with their new campaign to reinstitute family game night (or game afternoon for most of us with little kids). As for me, I'm enjoying the chance to climb ladders and slide down chutes again. And, I'm thinking that regaining childhood can help us all remember qualities we had then that we would like to reclaim now...
Happy Gaming!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

So, I'm Not The Only One Praying For Rain...

Finally, they're talking about it! It seems like anyone with half the sense of a grasshopper has realized that we have had a pitifully tiny amount of rain this year. Today, the Jordan Times posted an article on our dry situation. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation has avoided calling it a drought. Which gets me thinking...

You know, in 2007 and 2008 Alabama had persistent drought conditions. In 2007, they had "near record rainfall deficits." You may be wondering, so what does that mean, how much rain did they get? Well, they ONLY got 20-40 inches. Alabama typically gets as much annual rainfall as Seattle (it's just sunny and pretty while it rains instead of gloomy and grey).

2007 and 2008 saw such actions as:
  • A lawsuit over Georgia's use of water in a lake negatively impacting rivers in Alabama and Florida (Georgia didn't win this one)
  • Restrictions on citizens as don't water the lawn during the day
  • Bans on people filling swimming pools

So, they are in drought conditions with only 40 inches of rain! From what I can see, Jordan typically gets between 20 and 30 inches of rain per year. Can you imagine that Jordan's average rainfall is a drought in Alabama...

In an average year, Alabama gets closer to 60 inches of rain a year. Oh, and it's spread across the seasons. Every season has rain. The cold blustery ran of the winter season, the life-giving, flower-growing rain of the Spring, the gentle warm rain of the summer and the chilly fall rains. yep, every season's rain has it's own characteristic.

This year in Jordan has rather made me long for rain (only the warm summer rains, though). I'm also thinking of ways to make better use of the water we consume. I'm got a big water bottle (you know the sort from the water coolers) that I'm planning to press into service as a reservoir. That way I can save the Bean's bath water (and my shower water) for watering plants and washing cars. After all, if we aren't going to conserve, who is? I hope that you'll think of ways to better use our limited natural resources. And, please share your best ideas so that we can all benefit from them!

Happy non-drought!

Who Knew I Could Channel Blondie... Unexpected Most Popular Gift for Christmas at the Beans'

So, for Christmas this year, El 3atal got me a gift that I was fairly sure was purchased because he wanted it. Or maybe because it was on sale. Or maybe both. (Side note, for those who wonder, yes I know it was on clearance because it was given to ME to wrap with price tag still on it... haram ya El 3atal.)

Seriously, though, he got me a PS3 game. Yep. Me, who pays the PS3 only when forced. And, he got me American Idol. For those who aren't familiar (is there ANYONE that isn't familiar?!), this is a show where people from all across America compete to win a record deal and some other stuff (I don't watch, so I don't really know what they win)...

I've always thought the show had a desperate Star Search feel myself. I've never been a fan. Okay, one notable exception would be the tryout of William Hung. For those who didn't see it, I'm dropping it in. It's definitely worth a watch.

William is a gawky, geeky, Asian fellow who needs serious orthodontic work (can we say braces anyone?). But, he has the BEST attitude. Coming off the popularity of this clip and the enjoyment fans got out of him, he actually made 3 albums in 2004 and 2005 including the amusingly titled Hung for the holidays.

So, I'm not so much a fan and you can see why I thought El 3atal was buying the game for himself. It's a karaoke game (I've never actually DONE karaoke FYI). But, I opened it on Christmas and expressed the expected appreciation of the gift that I had wrapped... Teehee. And then we played it . . . And the unexpected happened. I LOVE IT! Okay, the Beans love it too. The girl beans are huge fans of singing the theme song for Titanic. ButterBean blows all of us away scoring a perfect score every single time. JuniorBean loves Baby Don't Hurt Me (of Night at the Roxbury fame). And they would play every day if we let them... JujuBean actually does all of the showmanship movements (but pays less attention to the words and tune forgetting to sing as she throws her hands about). And, El 3atal, well he's almost as good as I am.

I'm the best at the game, but to be honest it's because the songs are songs I love from my era. Or at least 1/2 of them are. I found an unknown talent for singing Heart of Glass (who knew I could channel Blondie?). But my favorites are the ones I grew up on. You know, like Tainted Love, You Can't Hurry Love, I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight, Sweet Dreams... you get the picture. It's the 80s come to life in my sitting room. And it was THE big hit of this Christmas season. Who knew?

So, maybe we should schedule a bloggers competition. And, it leaves me wondering why the local version of this show (can't remember it's name) hasn't done something similar. Because few youth of Jordan today will have my intimate knowledge of 80s songs... And, if you don't know the song it's not nearly as fun... At any rate, anyone who wants to sing is welcome to challenge me to an American Idol contest (Yes it's complete with the three judges giving you feedback on your performance. And yes Simon can be just as brutal.)

Happy Idol!