Thursday, December 30, 2010
But I never anticipated what it would be like to go snorkeling for the first time. I have to say that it was one of the most wonderful days of my life, and definitely a spiritual experience.
We live in Jordan, so traveling to Aqaba was an easy thing to do. With my in-laws visiting, we'd decided to spend 3 nights in a hotel just outside of Aqaba, only a couple kilometers from the Saudi border. I'd heard that the coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba were beautiful and I couldn't wait to try snorkeling.
Even though it was mid-December, the water was very comfortable and I was grateful to not need a wet-suit. All I rented was a mask, snorkel and a pair of water-shoes. The reef was only meters from the shore, and for much of the time, in shallow water. The coral themselves were not colorful, but the fish and other creatures were amazing. I would see a few kinds of beautiful fish, thinking I'd seen what the reef had, and then I'd discover many more, in completely different colors and designs. Even after snorkeling for a couple hours, and not going more than 200 meters along the length of the shore, I still encountered new fish right up to the minutes before I got out. Highlights were the blue sailfin tang, cornetfish, lionfish, bannerfish and butterfly fish. And being in the midst of a school of fish, even so near the sea's surface, was just an amazing feeling.
Not only were the fish more varied and intricately colored and patterned than I'd expected, the moment of putting my head underwater also brought more peace and quiet than I'd thought possible. Above the surface were wind, waves, noise, and other people. Below, I felt alone and tranquil, as in a perfect sanctuary. As a quiet observer, I received just a small glimpse of God's abundant and passionate creativity. I could not help but worship.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Plastic bags are used aplenty, with no "green" thoughts at all.
Powdered drink mixes come in flavors like mango, orange and peach, instead of grape and cherry. Same with juices, for that matter!
Prices are listed with thousandths instead of hundredths (i.e. 1.200 JD)
Men never wear shorts -- it's considered to be like wearing one's underwear in public.
Taxis are the norm instead of buses, and bikes are non-existent.
Tea is usually served with mint (and hot, no milk).
Pita is cheap to buy fresh from the bakery -- YUM!!
No floor is carpeted, though area rugs will be used in the winter.
Fruit and veg need to be sterilized.
Children are seen as a blessing, and are treated as such, even by strangers.
Rubbish is collected everyday. We put our bags out on the sidewalk, where a donkey & boy/man come get it within a day.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
2) Our living/dining room looking from the sunroom
3) Our sunroom
4) Naomi's room, which is next to the sunroom at the front of the house
5) Master bedroom, with a shower bathroom in the far corner
6) Naomi inside our building, by our inner door. We're on the ground floor, which is actually a few steps up from the outside ground.
7) Our building from down the street. Notice the trees in the middle of the pavement!
8) The kids by our sunroom gate.
9) Ethan by our main front gate
10) Our street sign
Thursday, October 14, 2010
If I had to sum up our first month in a few words it would be...
Naomi and Josiah are finally reading novels. The pick of choice is Enid Blyton's Famous Five mysteries, though Little House on the Prairie comes a close second for Naomi.
Ethan is talking up a storm!! It's hard to believe that two months ago, he was still just barely putting two words together. Now he puts sentences together and asks in-depth questions. Still incomprehensible to most folks, but precious communication for us!
Steve is busy and happy learning Arabic. He feels adequately challenged by the material, and enjoys getting to know a few fellow classmates especially over study and lunch breaks.
I spend more time than ever schooling the kids, but I love this year's curriculum focus of world geography. I'm learning right along with Naomi and Josiah, re-memorizing geography that I first learned 20 years ago. We're just finishing up North America, and will do the Middle East next.
We're still uncertain how long we'll be living here.
We love getting to know our neighbors, both Jordanian and American. The 3 kids who live above us (also from Virginia!) are such good friends to our kids, and we truly treasure their friendship.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Toilet paper does not go in the toilet – it goes in the bin (trash can).
Almost every bathroom (even public ones) has either a bidet or a spray nozzle.
Water shouldn’t be drunk from the tap.
A fig tree grows in my neighbour’s garden and hangs over into mine.
Every floor has a drain in it because floors are “mopped” by pouring water directly on the tiles and using a squeegee to push it along.
Our water is heated with diesel fuel so two rooms of my house have a constant diesel smell. Yuck!
Many mosquitoes, but at least our windows have screens!
Pita bread is typical.
Yogurt comes in big containers – great for all the smoothies we make!
Cars don’t have functioning seatbelts in the backseat.
Horns are used rather than turn signals.
Bathtubs are short.
Outside of Amman, a woman without her head covered is a very unusual sight.
The “sidewalks” seem more decorative than anything: they often have big plants or trees growing right in the middle of them.
Said sidewalks also don’t come to a ramp at the corner, and on a hill, this means that they end in about a 2-ft drop!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
My kitchen is large, with an American-sized frig/freezer (again, hardly any food in it!!), a 5-burner stove and large oven, state-of-the-art washing machine, and nice amenities like microwave, blender and electric kettle. It also has plenty of cupboard space, including a floor-to-ceiling pantry.
The entire house is tiled, which again feels nice now, but will be cold come winter. Our neighbours upstairs (from Virginia) said that it feels especially cold in the winter because of the lack of insulation and the steep prices of heat (diesel or electric). They pretty much only heated one of their rooms and kept the door shut. I don’t know what we’ll do, but I’m trying not to worry about it quite yet!
Our building is sandwiched right in-between a very busy big street and a smaller one. Steve’s and my bedroom has windows on the busy street, we hear lots of traffic all night. During Ramadan, we’d also hear a drummer going up and down the street before dawn, waking people up to eat their breakfast. After the first few nights, I began sleeping through the 4:30 call to prayer, but last night it woke me up again.
We have two bathrooms (well, one only has a shower) and they both have a bidet in addition to a toilet! So far all of us have gotten used to the bidet except for Naomi. It’s very nice to have two toilets for our desperate times!
So far my most difficult adjustment has been shopping and cooking here. We have a little shop just next door to our house (and it’s open til 2 AM everyday!!), which has been great, but most things aren’t labelled with prices, so it makes it hard to make the most cost-effective purchases. At least Steve has taught me my Arabic numbers so that if there is a price tag, I can read it!
There are some foods I was really used to using, both in the States and England, like tinned tomatoes and oats, which are expensive here. Breakfasts are baffling me, as cereal and oats are both expensive, and the local shop doesn’t sell bread! I’m sure I’ll get the hang of everything eventually. I’m glad that I’ve been able to buy most of my basic spices, herbs and staples, and that my kitchen came with a few pots, pans, and dishes.
The kids are adjusting pretty well to not having a large garden. We do have some shared outdoor space, but it’s all tiled. My creative Naomi and Josiah have decided to use the porch swing as a jungle gym. They can climb on to it by opening our sun-room windows and getting out that way. It’s strange, though, to not have bikes anymore.
We finally met our upstairs neighbours a few days ago, and had dinner with them on Sunday. Their names are M and A and they have three kids: H (12), E (10), and N (8). They’re in their first of two years of Arabic language school, preparing for long-term work here in Jordan or elsewhere in the Arab world. The kids are going to a Jordanian school, though in an English-language track. I felt a bit sad and lonely at first because it took a few days to actually meet this family. But now that we’ve met up once and broken the ice, I think we’ll enjoy getting to know them better. The kids get along great. On Monday, their 3 came down to play with my 3, and it worked really nicely. I like having an older girl around for Naomi to spend time with, and it’s sweet that their E is happy to play with Josiah, too.
We went to Amman International Church on Saturday night (their normal service time) and it was nice to meet other westerners (strange though that most of them, including the pastor, were American!!) I met one homeschooling mom who’s already invited us over for dinner this Thursday. She’s got 5 kids and one on the way!! The church is a bit far from us, though, and not terribly easy for taxi drivers to find. So I’m not sure how many extra activities we’ll be doing with them. We missed the preaching that we’re used to at Magdalen Road, but on the whole, the service was good.
I’m feeling a bit “out-of-it” since I don’t fit into any of the normal boxes – I’m not here as a missionary or a military wife, and I’m not actively learning Arabic, as it seems many wives have or currently are. I know it doesn’t really matter, but I get a little tired of explaining our situation to new people, and being asked the same questions.
Ethan is feeling the lack of toys and books. I’m kicking myself now that I brought so many of Naomi’s and Josiah’s toys, and fewer of Ethan’s. He’s the one who needs to be occupied while I teach the older two. We’re also all missing the library. I only brought 5 picture books, and Steve and I are both tired of reading them to Ethan every night! I’ve been told that there’s a Christian library attached to JETS (Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary), and I’m hoping to check it out on Saturday when we’re already there for something else. The older two are occupied with some novels I brought to read aloud with them, as well as some Usborne young readers I brought for them.
We’ve done about 2 days of school so far, though our first day was spread out over two. Josiah is annoyed with the switch to less play time. But the curriculum is fun and interesting. I’ve just got to figure out balance with Ethan and housework, as always. Some things are the same, no matter what country I'm living in!
Monday, September 13, 2010
Our day of travel on September 7 began at 7:45 AM with two friends taking us and our luggage in two cars to St. Clement’s, where we said our goodbyes and caught the coach straight to Gatwick. Everything went smoothly at the airport and our boxes and suitcases were all exactly at the weight limit or up to two kilos shy. We’d forgotten that we had to pay per piece, even though they were in our basic allowance. We were glad that friends had given us £100 because that just covered the additional costs! Thank you, Lord! There were no seats in the area before security check so we sat right on the floor to eat our lunch.
The flight to Latvia was without incident. Ethan slept the whole way. The rest of us liked looking out the windows and seeing the coasts and countrysides of Denmark, Sweden, and finally Latvia. Riga seemed like such an interesting city – it was heartbreaking to not have enough time to leave the airport and see a true glimpse of Latvian life. But we did go through passport control, to get “Riga” stamped in our passports and to sit outside eating a picnic supper. I think the mosquitoes ate as much as we did!
We’d read that Latvia does not use the Euro, but then discovered that Euros can be used in the airport. We had some left over from our trip to Spain and used them getting a few ice-creams for everyone. I tried to buy a bottle of water for the flight, but by mistake bought carbonated water. None of the kids liked it much!
The second half of our journey was much longer. Not only was the flight an hour longer, but we sat in the airplane for an hour before ever taking off, waiting for a few late passengers. Hardly surprisingly, our kids did not fall asleep. They played on the plane’s floor, playing “spies,” and even used a plane blanket to make a little “tent.”
We finally arrived at the Queen Rania airport at 1:30 AM. The kids and I waited for Steve to get money out of an ATM to pay for our visas, which cost 10 JD (Jordanian Dinars) each. The whole process was painless and quick, and we were so happy to see a man holding a sign that said “Steve Gertz” as we exited the passport control area. Steve’s Arabic school, Qasid Institute, provides airport transportation for all their students. Steve went in one car with Josiah, while I travelled in another with Naomi and Ethan.
I’d forgotten that many countries, including Jordan, tend to not have working seatbelts in the backseat. I found myself praying fervently as we raced down the highway at 70 mph, in “interesting” Jordanian fashion. Qasid Institute also provided a free phone call "home" so I got to talk to Steve's mom and let her know we'd arrived safely.
We arrived at our new house at 2:30 AM and our sweet landlords were still up, cheerfully welcoming us and ready to show us around. Josiah had fallen asleep on the ride home, and wouldn’t stir even to eat a sandwich. The other kids were starving so we all ate something before heading to bed. 20 hours after it had begun, our day of travel was finally over. That is, until we were awakened an hour later by drumming and the call to prayer!!
Sunday, September 5, 2010
We're only allowed a total of 140 kilos for our family of five, and that's including the carry-ons. It's been tricky to make decisions about what's most important to us as individuals and as a group. It's made harder by not knowing exactly what will be available (and for what price) when we get there.
We had a lovely Sunday today. Our pastor prayed for us in church, and afterwards we got to chat with lots of friends over tea and biscuits. At lunchtime we picnicked in the neighboring park with our home-group, and eventually visited with lots of other church friends who came along to say goodbye. It was really ideal -- the kids were busy playing, and we could leisurely chat with those we'll miss the most!
Naomi and I also then went to visit our previous neighbors, a Christian Malaysian family who have a daughter Naomi's age. Again, she had a good play while I had a lovely visit and prayer time. And finally we had a yummy dinner cooked by our friend who is currently hosting us, followed by her taking care of our kids' bedtime routine. What a delightful break for me!!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The days are ticking by, leaving just slightly over 2 weeks until we move out of this house, which has been our home for the past 10 months. Not long, you say? Well, believe it or not, it's long enough for it to feel like home. Long enough for us to love the grounds, have good friends, and love the neighborhood. So it will be sad to leave.
But the hardest part this time is that we don't know where we're moving to. So we're not quite sure how to pack ... do we pack to store stuff here in Oxford, in the event we come back in a year? Do we pack as though we're not returning, but are going to the U.S.? Do we pack like we're moving to Jordan? Sigh.
So for now, I'm advertising lots of things, hoping to pare down our possessions considerably. I'm packing some "essentials" into boxes for Oxford storage, in case we do come back. And I'm trying to prioritize everything else. The kids don't like getting rid of anything, so I try to hide the "give-away" box as much as possible. Hopefully this will be teaching them a lifelong value of not holding tightly to material possessions. Hopefully they'll benefit from these moves and separations, and not be too scarred.
Oh, it's a knock at the door. Here's the lady who's buying our TV cabinet. Got to go!
(Pics are of our neighborhood -- middle one is our own house)
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Ethan is steadily growing in his speech and language. It’s slow progress, but very encouraging. I’ve made it my top priority to do daily therapy with him, which I call “Talk Time” and he calls “Ba /D/” (after the first 2 consonant sounds we worked on together). And he continues to meet weekly with a professional therapist.
He enjoys the therapy, even though it is work for him. What we all take for granted as easy sounds, copied by babies even under a year old, are work for Ethan. I can see his concentration as he watches my mouth closely to copy what I’m doing, or tries his hardest to remember what I showed him last time.
We began by taking consonant sounds he could already say, and having him go back and forth between them to practice agility. So his first exercise sounded like /b/-/d/-/b/-/d/ and /t/-/p/-/t/-/p/. Then he practiced vowel sounds. Next we put together his easy consonants with a vowel, so they’d sound like “doo, dee, dah.” At the same time we also began introducing actual words, with their own pictures, that followed the pattern (for example “me” and “bee”) and encouraging him to use those words in daily life.
Because /t/ and /p/ are not voiced sounds, Ethan finds it easiest to combine them with a vowel if he whispers the whole thing. If he doesn’t whisper, his /t/ can come out sounding like /d/ and /p/ becomes /b/. He’ll get it eventually. He gets better at it every time.
We’re now also including combinations where there is a vowel followed by a consonant ending. And I’m stopping Ethan as much as seems reasonable, during his daily communication, to encourage him to try using actual words, now that he has the building blocks to do it.
I’ve been encouraged by his ability to say words when prompted, like “bunny,” “frog,” and “banana.” But the most encouraging thing lately has been his own attempts without outside help.
The other day, he wanted a cup of tea. For the past few months, his word for tea has been “bee,” but “bee” has also been used for any word with an ee sound in it (please, bee, cheese, etc.). So I generally have to clarify with him what he means. This time, he saw a brief glimpse of confusion on my face and before I even asked him what he meant by “bee” he said /t/ and I knew what he wanted.
And yesterday, he was hungry in the afternoon and showed me a piece of pretend bread. I said, “Oh, you want bread?” He said, “No, toe.” I couldn’t believe it. He wanted “toast” and without having ever practiced that word or even talked about it, he was able to say the first two sounds. I happily gave him some toast, even though we were about to sit down to dinner, because I was so pleased that he’d said “toast”!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
She is a wonderful person much of the time, in many ways. She has talents in various areas and and is a faithful friend. She can be sweet and kind to her brothers and other smaller children. She can be very helpful around the house. I especially admire the way she sings whenever she has a job to do -- she can be very cheerful!
But there are some characteristics of hers that I really struggle with. I know that sometimes I should simply lower my expectations and remember that she's only 7. Other times, I should be more pro-active and look for ways to truly address her problems instead of waiting 'til I'm reacting like a volcano. And all the time, I should be praying for her, something I've sadly neglected.
I bought a book a few years ago called "Just Mom and Me Having Tea" that has Bible studies, activities and question/answer ideas for moms to do with their daughters. I'd like to set aside time to spend with Naomi regularly to go through this book and hopefully build up a better relationship. Maybe doing that first will give me a more positive outlook, in preparation for the more difficult issues.
I pray that God will help me be a better mom. I can not do this job well on my own.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The past few months have held a number of milestones for our family. The first was Steve and I celebrating our ten year anniversary in early January. Just saying that makes me feel old! I'm grateful to God for the gift of a husband who loves me patiently and faithfully, persevering through all the ups and downs that ten years brings. Steve is the biggest blessing in my life.
Then in February, I made a concerted effort to get my kids to the pool and help them conquer their water fears. At first, Ethan would sit timidly on the steps, content to play with his toys, but crying if I carried him further into the water. Naomi and Josiah were scared to even put their faces briefly in the water. By the end of that month, Naomi was able to swim, both she and Josiah were happy to be underwater as much as above water, and Ethan was also confident in his floaty-ring anywhere in the pool.
Finally, in the past two weeks we've had two more momentous changes. Naomi has taught herself to ride a bike and Ethan is out of diapers! Naomi had some help from me a year ago, just on a couple occasions, but I was never good about following up. She's taught herself out of desperation, and even cycled the 20 minutes to church on Sunday!
Ethan also pretty much trained himself. I used candy rewards for the first two days but after that he was doing so well, I dropped the rewards. He's already using the big toilet, mostly dry at night, and has only had a handful of accidents in the past three weeks.
Even though much of our life is uncertain right now, and Steve especially is under huge stress, it's helpful to celebrate the milestones, and to remember that God is working no matter what!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The kids and I have been memorizing poetry together this school year. Our repertoire so far has been “The Caterpillar” by Christina Rosetti, “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, “Ducks’ Ditty” by Kenneth Grahame, “Silverly” by Dennis Lee, and a few short ones by authors unknown. My language arts book includes poetry memorization, but after using a few of the selected ones in the curriculum, I decided I’d rather choose our own poems.
We were just ready to begin a new poem when Spring came in all its glory. I was inspired and chose “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth for our next poem. I had memorized it as a fifth grader and still had snatches of it in my heart. It seemed fitting to learn it as
Now a few weeks later, we have learned the last line. It has been hard work, but also such a joy to say these beautiful verses together. It was a delight to hear Josiah say, “The last line is my favorite.” Yes, he actually gets excited about poetry!
“And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils!”
Monday, February 22, 2010
can do, but feels bad that he can't swim. His sister kindly helps him by encouraging him to take small steps forward -- first hopping in water, then floating, and eventually swimming. It's a nice way for kids to see that growth comes little by little. It also has lovely illustrations!