Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Promised Story for Friends... and an Invitation to Live Vicariously

Once upon a time, there was a MommaBean and her three small Beans. Now this MommaBean recalled summers of old. Back in a time when America was still innocent and the days were lazy and wet. She longed for such simple times for her Beans. So, she packed up (or actually packed nothing because she was buying everything) and spent a LONG day on the airplane. She and the Beans and HelperBean made their way through troubles and turmoil all the way to the hot, sticky, humid, lovely South.

Now, on the day in question, MommaBean had been busy enjoying the summer with her Beans. They had been to swim lessons where the Beans practiced their front and back "shark arms", blowing bubbles, bobbing, an other necessary techniques. MommaBean encouraged and sweltered in the summer sun watching the Beans practice and improve. Then, they returned to find that their previous days' efforts had not been in vain.

You see, the Beans spent the previous afternoon on 40 acres of blueberry patch. They picked large, juicy, sweet fresh blueberries (3.5 gallons for those who are curious). They were hot and sweaty, but those berries tasted so good and the picking was as much fun as the blue stained mouths. And the reward, a dip in the cold pool, was worth the wait as well.

Returning to the present, the Beans returned home to find that MimiBean and HelperBean had been busy little bees in their absence. On the table was a cornucopia of summer foods, the like of which are really only available in near-rural communities. They had fresh-picked lady peas (kind of kin to the black eyed pea, second cousins or something I hear), fresh corn, sliced tomatoes, new potatoes, cherries, blueberries (of course), orange and yellow bell peppers, tiny local plums, green and red grapes... well, you get the picture. It was a world of fresh fruits and veggies, with a side of Southern-fried chicken. MommaBean started with the chicken, but left it for another day as the rest of the foods were calling to her. After all, chicken is always available, such a treasure of fruits and veggies is not.

Now, after this feast was finished and everyone had stuffed themselves, MimiBean brought out the final surprise. She and HelperBean had decided to take some of those lovely blueberries and make a confection - nay a taste sensation - unrivaled in the Western World. She made a blueberry pie. She boldly served it ala mode and it was good. I mean REALLY good. Worth the pint of blueberries (retail price $9 in Jordan) that she used to make it. And, in true Southern fashion, everyone at the table found a tiny bit more space to pack that pie into... ;).

And after such wonderful bounty, no naps were taken. MommaBean was considering a nap when suddenly the pitter-patter of rain began. Then the rat-a-tat of a full fledged rain came. Finally, it turned into the flood and bang of a torrential downpour. And MommaBean did what all good Southerners do, she went onto the porch to commune with the beuaty that God had made. She sat and read a story about romance while listening to the beautiful sound of rain coming down and seeing the steam rush off the pavement as the cooling shower drew the heat off the hot road. And she listened very hard to hear the sighs of the plants soaking up the day's rain knowing that tomorrow there will be more and for today this is enough. And then, as suddenly as the peace of the day had begun, she heard tap-tap-tap on the window and left the place of peace and solitude to arbitrate a little Bean dispute. And, in similar fashion, as suddenly as it began, heaven turned off the faucet and the rain stopped. And the day went back on to being exactly what it was... a perfect simple, lovely summer day. A summer day in small-town America where you can walk to the community library, go to a farmer's market at City Hall, ride a pony, and be treated with open friendliness everywhere you go.

And, boys and girls, that ends today's story. We hope that you have enjoyed this commercial-free presentation of the Beans abroad. Join us next week when we'll talk about...

Happy Stories!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Does there come a time when parents have to actually, well, parent?

Okay, granted the US is an astonishingly litigious society. Lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat. But I read today here that a consumer protection group is planning to sue McDonald's. Being honest here, I can think of many reasons to sue McDonald's. But this rings a bit off to me. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is threatening to sue because McDonald's offers toys in their Happy Meals. Really? Toys? They claim that McDonald's makes "parents' jobs nearly impossible."

I have to say, if you are such a lightweight that you can't say no to McDonald's, maybe it's the parents who should be scrutinized. McDonald's is a fixture of American lives. It is the home of apple pie on the go and is, thus, as American as apple pie. I grew up on McDonald's. And yet, it isn't by accident that JuniorBean's first experience at McDonald's was a birthday party at age 5. ButterBean's first was a birthday party at age 6. As a sometime treat, I have no issue with McDonald's. But, I don't raise my kids on it. And that is my choice, as a parent.

However, to liken McDonald's to a pedophile because they include toys with a meal that is fundamentally unhealthy is WAY over the top. Ironically, they actually make it easier in the US since they offer juice and apples to be substituted for fries and a Coke. For me, Jordan is harder because I'm always struggling to find juice or even water rather than sugary colas.

What offends me here is the idea that your parenting choices should dictate what's available to my child. Teach your children your expectations, be firm, and then let go a little bit. Good gracious. I mean the parents who complain that the kindergarten serves cucumbers and watermelon are failing, in my mind. If you don't want your child to have cucumbers or watermelon, then teach them that. Set the expectation and be firm and consistent.

The Beans don't drink Coke. Period. At a birthday party where ALL of their friends were happily popping tops and drinking, both of the Twin Beans separately came to me and alerted me to the fact that the can of Coke was all that was available for them to drink. They each asked for water. We didn't make a huge deal about it. I didn't go and berate the hostess for serving sugary junk to my kids. I didn't even mention it, I simply got the kids some water and let them go on with their lives. In this instance, three or so other parents followed my lead. But really, we were all following my kids' lead. They came out of the party room to the parent's table to ask for water. So, does any parent really believe you can't teach them? Really? Well, then, perhaps it's not really that important to you...

Happy junk food!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Things You Don't EXPECT To Be Surprised By...

Being in the US is interesting. We've had a long hiatus between visits this time. It's been 3 years, which clearly was enough time for me to think of Jordan as normal. I have been intrigued by the things that have been surprising me...
  1. Toilets have ALOT of water in them... I'm a little concerned that they'll overflow before they finish flushing even though they are perfectly normal.
  2. People are SO friendly. I've been spending alot of time in Wal-Marts. Now, for those who aren't aware, Wal-Mart employees are not paid particularly well. These are working-class folks who have hard jobs with little reward. And, even so, out of 10 people I've come into contact with only 1 has been less than effusively nice. Interestingly, they bring out the nice in me. Don't get me wrong, in Jordan, I start of nice with a smile and all. But the reception is usually so dour that I give up quickly. Here a little smile and I'm bowled over with niceness and Have a Nice Days. I have to admit, I missed that.
  3. Pumping your own gas is a pain. I'd forgotten how much I hated it. On the upside, I don't have to worry about anyone trying to cheat me and the check-out girl at the gas station was extra-nice, but... it's still a pain for we spoiled full-service aficionados.
  4. With the exception of #3, everything is just SO much easier. Really, I know this, but I'm not sure I know this... know what I mean. I've gotten oodles of shopping done and haven't gone beyond Wal-Mart yet. Where else can you get affordable clothing (don't ask me about my $3 tops for the girlBeans), groceries, and home improvement supplies all in one place?I missed the Wal-Mart...!
  5. Vegetables are crazy expensive. You get so used to buying four pound of cucumbers for 1JD that it's hard to imagine that 1 JD will only buy a cucumber and a half... MemeBean has taken to buying all local vegetable stand produce, which is cheaper and tastier.
  6. Arby's Jamocha Shake is the BOMB! Literally, it is SO good... And the Beans have decide Arby's rocks too, so MommaBean is happy. Now we just have to find time to go again.

I'm forgetting something I had for this list, but I'll add it later when I remember. Anyone else want to play?

Happy Surprises!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Man Without a Country? Muslims Second-Class Citizens?

I was reading an article here that chronicles the situation currently faced by an American-born young man. Because he went to study in Yemen, he has gotten caught up on the US's no-fly list. While I'm sensitive to the US's need to protect its airspace, denying an American-born citizen with no other country and no other passport passage home is unconscionable.

The young man is stuck staying in a $16 a night hotel in Cairo. He is stuck eating American fast food chains for every meal. This beneficence is paid for courtesy of the US embassy, bu will have to be repaid. Apparently the embassy never bothered watching Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me. I wonder if this man will be able to claim compensation for the health damage all this fast food is doing to his system? But seriously, a $16 a night hotel? I can imagine exactly what this hotel must be like. And how frustrating this must be... Given the world's flying-focused nature, how is this fellow supposed to get home? I guess he might be able to fly to Canada and then drive across the border?

Now, frankly his mother was either naive or foolish when she sent her sons to study in Yemen, but simply being there doesn't mean this fellow is a terrorist. The US government should have an obligation to give this young man a hearing, present evidence which can be refuted, and then get him off the list. And, this should be at their expense, not his. The mere idea that he will have to pay back monies spent on essentially being held hostage in another country is beyond belief. Is his real crime that he is Muslim at a time when it is not politically correct to be one? Somehow the American government, which seems to believe that it is capable to determining who terrorists are, needs to figure out a way to not infringe on the rights of citizens (and non-citizens). Fighting a ghost is a battle that can never be won, somehow we need to either find the real enemy or accept that the real enemy is unlikely to be vanquished and we aren't willing to give up all of our rights and just to beat him... At least, that's my 2 cents.

Happy Hostages!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hot, Hazy Days... Community Pool... Typical American Summer Here We Come!

Okay, let's call this a happy travels post. Our bags are checked in at the 7th circle. Our carry-on are getting sorted out. In short, the bean family (minus El 3atal) is ready to go! MemeBean, here we come! 2.5 months in small-town America here we come! Here's the Bean family agenda for the summer in the US:
  1. Swim lessons at the community pool
  2. Music lessons
  3. Choir Camp
  4. Riding Lessons (if MommaBean can convince El 3atal)
  5. Arabic reading sessions
  6. Hide and Seek in the backyard
  7. Books from the library across the street
  8. Disney World
  9. Relaxation
  10. Rest

MommaBean wishes you a summer as lovely and low-key as ours is sure to be... I hope to be posting thoughts and experiences, but in case... have a great holiday.

Happy travels!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Little Closer Now - SLAP: On how to take care of yourself on the streets of Amman

So, I'm overdue on the post I promised on ideas and behaviors that Western women should leave in the west. Well, I got an excellent reminder today in form of a post by Shalabieh. This is a must read for all women in Jordan. Shalabieh is a local gal who has transformed herself from denial to empowerment in the face of harassment by men. And, it gives rise to the post I wanted to write about we Western women and our politeness...

We have a friend who comments on blogs who came for a visit to Jordan with her mom. Like me, she is blond and obviously American. They were on a visit downtown looking at the shops and such when a man touched her bottom. In her very American way she huffed at him in a very offended tone. Yes, that's right, she huffed at him. Well, he took her lack of response as an invitation and turned around to come back fro another swipe. The second time he pinched her.

Recently I posted about the experience that I had near Wild Jordan Cafe with El 3atal's cousin from Sweden. Some young government school hooligan in a pack of friends touched her hair. Now, for Westerners, it's a bit creepy, but not a big deal exactly. But here, I take it as a very big deal. I shouted like a London fish-wife at the fellow and his compatriots. And, then I gave a lecture to El 3atal's cousin. And, I'm going to give you the highlights of my advice.

When confronted with harassment, here's the MommaBean recommended approach. Shalabieh talks about the first step as well.
  1. Shame and embarrass the offender by shouting, loudly, about what he is doing. If you don't speak Arabic, shout in English. If you speak even broken Arabic, use it. And, have the word 3ayb be the first thing that comes to mind and lips. This is like haram but worse. You need to make it clear that you are angry and offended. Really. And do this when you are being stared at or if someone dares to touch you and then gets far enough that you can't whack them.
  2. If close enough and you are touched, whack them. Really, reach out and hit them. Slaps in every language mean the same thing. If they are uncouth enough to touch you, hit them.

This is my two step recommendation. Our Western sense that we shouldn't "make a scene" is dead wrong here. We need to make scenes. We need to make them ashamed of the behavior. Call them on it. As I had to with the shabab that were bothering us near Wild Jordan. I shouted at them and called them animals because they clearly weren't behaving like people. They took it as funny. But, it was that embarrassed kind of laughter. And, I suspect on day 2 when El 3atal yelled at a couple of them, they thought it was less funny. Given their scurrying dash away after being called to task for ogling, they weren't laughing at all.

You will find that there are two distinct groups here. Ones who will be offended by these stories and ones who will imply that it is somehow your fault. You know, by not covering your hair or by walking on the street without a man, or by some other means you brought this on yourself. As I mentioned in my post about SwedeBean, the same boys who bothered us went up four blocks and harassed a group of ladies in hijab and jilbab. When people who explain away the behavior as being somehow understandable because of the actions of they victim, they are saying the behavior is alright. This is what we have to fight against. This is what mothers must teach their sons AND daughters. It is NEVER okay. Never. Because, if it is okay for your son to harass a woman who is not veiled on the streets of Amman, then it is also okay for a young man to harass a covered Muslim on the streets of London. And, simply, it is NEVER okay... *~coming down off my high horse now. ~*

Oh, and before I go too far. While there are far too many men who display this behavior (I encounter one ogling or cat calling a day it seems), it is not all men. Many men are respectful and perfectly behaved. However, it is necessary to protect yourself, ensure that you use your voice, and know that others are also doing the same. As we all continue to make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable, the message will get through. I truly believe it. We've got a ways to go, but we're going...

Happy Western Sensibilities!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Yawn: Let's Put Jordan to Sleep!

Today I'm talking about one of those subjects no one talks about, or thinks about from what I can tell. Let's talk about sleep, hunh? And not just any sleep, children's sleep. It's a topic I take a lot of flak on, here in Jordan. Starting from the day we moved, I stood out like a sore thumb. Much to people's surprise and amazement, the Beans all sleep between 7 and 7:30. Every day. Yes, even on weekends, they're in bed by 7:30. Oh, and yes even in the summer they're in bed by 7:30. Mean MommaBean makes no exceptions.

During the first two years we lived here, I must have been told at least 20 times that I put my kids to bed "rather early". It was always said in this kind of awed and disbelieving voice. Like 7 pm bed times are so outside the norm that I'm almost an alien in my strangeness. And, I'm okay with that. After all, I have three well-rested, generally well-behaved kids. What do I have to complain about?

So, today I got a message from BabyCenter, an excellent resource for parents, both new and experienced. Today's information was on sleep. Although the Beans sleep very well, I read it for two reasons. First, I wanted to see where the Beans fall as far as amount of sleep needed at their new ages. Second, I wondered if they'd have any advice that might help JujuBean get to sleep quicker. Unfortunately she takes after me. The other Beans take after El 3atal. Their heads hit the pillow and they are asleep. JujuBean is like me. She generally takes about 25-30 minutes to fall asleep at night. I remember those days of agony. They lasted until I had kids. So, goal one was definitely satisfied. I'm dropping in BabyCenter's chart so that you other parents will know how much sleep your kids need. This is their information, not mine and I appreciate that they make it available.

Data from

Age Nighttime sleep Daytime sleep Average total sleep
2 years 10.5 to 12.5 hours 1 to 3 hours (1 nap) 11.5 to 15.5 hours
3 years 10.5 to 12.5 hours 1 to 3 hours (1 nap) 11 to 14 hours
4 years 10 to 12 hours 0 to 2.5 hours (1 or no nap) 10 to 13 hours
5 years 10 to 12 hours 0 to 2.5 hours (1 or no nap) 10 to 12.5 hours
6 years 10 to 11.5 hours none 10 to 11.5 hours
7 years 9.5 to 11.5 hours none 9.5 to 11.5 hours
8 years 9.5 to 11.5 hours none 9.5 to 11.5 hours

• Note: The two sets of numbers don't always add up because children who take longer naps tend to sleep fewer hours at night, and vice versa.

Imagine, 6 year olds need 10 to 11.5 hours of sleep a night. So, that means that the TwinBeans, who have to get up at 6:15 to eat breakfast before school, need to be in bed between 7 and 8. And even ButterBean needs to be in between between 7:30 and 8. So, our continued timing is good. Unfortunately, JujuBean needs more sleep. Since she has trouble falling asleep, she almost always had to be woken for school. ButterBean and JuniorBean are up and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. JujuBean drags and looks tired in the mornings. She makes it, but it's tough for her and she eats faster and sleeps a tad later than the others.

Tiredness like that is a symptom that the child isn't getting enough sleep. Other symptoms include behavioral problems... I've seen a few of those here. Okay, I've seen voluminous numbers of those in Jordan. Which comes as little surprise as I also routinely see kids out with mom and dad at 11:30pm.

There are actually a number of symptoms of sleep-deprivation in kids (which are different than in adults). They include:
  1. Frequent loss of temper
  2. Grumpy mornings
  3. Moodiness and irritability
  4. Overactivity and hyper-activity
  5. Frequent and short daytime naps.
But, why does it matter? Well, the impact of sleep deprivation is significant. Your body needs sleep in the same way it does food and water. Lack of sleep causes:
  • Short attention span
  • Poor memory skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor concentration
  • Growth issues (did you know that your kids grow at night?)

So, really do parents intend to do these things to their kids? I expect not. I think most have no idea of the impact of this sleep deprivation on their kids. Culturally, kids awake late at night is fine. So, many parents simply aren't aware of the damage they may be doing. They also are increasing their kids' likelihood of developing diabetes and heart disease.

BabyCenter also address some of those persistent myths that just won't go away (like the age-old tired, my baby won't sleep at night if he naps...). This is a must-read for everyone: 7 Sleep Myths .

So, I say, let's put Jordan to sleep. Night night Jordan...

Happy Dreams!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Promise of Summer and other things I love...

So, my dear friend almondjoycie tagged me. She did it very stealthily. Literally, it was like a whisper. You'll see that stealth tag when you read her poem. Me, I'm not a poet (not by any stretch of the imagination), so I'll stick to prose for my list, thank you very much. Basically, the tag is to list ten things you love.

I love the last day of school, the hints of sadness at not seeing loved ones for a long time, the sense of freedom of less structured and disciplined schedules, the unfettered joy of time off and time just being.

I love gentle breezy days after weeks of searing heat. They remind you to breathe, to take it in, to smell the flowers. They remind you to give thanks for the breeze and the sun and life.

I love the joy of a long hot bath, the kind where you sit until your fingers and toes are prunes and your face is flushed from the heat of the tub. The type where, if you weren't in a water-starved country you'd refill the water, add a bath bead or salts and soak for another hour - just because you can.

I love spending time with friends, new ones and old ones alike. I love learning about them, what makes them tick, what fun experiences have stuck with them most, who are they and where are they coming from.

I love lazy summer afternoons spent putting together puzzles and watching movies while munching popcorn.

I love the drama and tears that remind us to slow down, set aside place to be and people to see. Those tears that remind us that our little ones are the most important thing and, even if we don't make that barbecue we'll have fun and be happy.

I love curling up with a good book. Getting so involved in the story between the pages that nothing can tear you away. Staying awake until all hours and then having your eyes jump open early just so you can finish the story.

I love listening to the laughs and shouts of joy that punctuate the screeches and cries of little ones with too much time on their hands and too little direction.

I love the promise of the beginning of summer, that time before the boredom of sameness sets in when the whole world is open to you. You are still caught up in your imaginings of what you will do, lazy days by the pool, playing hide and seek in the yard, jumping in rain puddles, finding new adventures everyday. That moment of promise.

I love that life doesn't turn out like you expect or imagine. I love that everything that you've imagined ends up not being half as fascinating, as moving, as rewarding as what actually greets you. I love that God is not limited by MY imagination...

Happy love!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Watching the Death of Creativity... Sigh

The ways that Jordan's schooling kills creativity are insidious. Mind you, I have the Beans at a school that is miles ahead of most. ButterBean has learned to express herself through drama and art. She's created plays in the classroom to illustrate their science chapter on recycling. In short, they've found lots of ways to ensure creativity is in the classroom. And yet, in preparing for the exam session we've just finished (finally!), I saw the death of creativity, at least a small one, for her in the Arabic language. It honestly made me want to cry - for her and for Jordan...

In studying for her Arabic exam, one of last chapters had a story about "My trip to the Queen Alia International Airport." Mind you, they didn't actually TAKE them to the airport, they just read about it. But on the exam, they had to write a paragraph about it. ButterBean was in tears because she knew there was a right answer, but wasn't sure what it is. I tried to get her to make up a story using her imagination. She was adamant that it wouldn't do. She knows there's a right answer.

But, how could there be a right answer? Why should there be a right answer? If ever there was a place to ensure creativity is in the curriculum, isn't it when writing a story? Shouldn't the book be a guide, a jumping off point, a way to spur thought? Apparently not, and my heart cries for ButterBean's loss. And for our loss as a nation, where we believe that in the most creative of subjects there could ever be a "right" answer. In English, ButterBean still has unlimited creativity and unbridled story-telling skills. But, in Arabic... well, I expect she won't be another Najib Mahfouz or Khalil Gibran. I only hope that somewhere out there someone will.

Happy creativity!