Friday, January 31, 2014

Our apartment ~ with Ranya's touches

I have previously given a tour of the apartment where we live. All four of us are tucked away in a one-bedroom apartment with a three-quarter bath. For months we have been making the best of a rather small space that is only getting smaller as the kids are getting bigger, and in the past few weeks I have found myself challenged my managing the space.

We have added more toys acquired in Beirut for JR's birthday, a walker for Yousef now that he is mobile and a pack-and-play for Mama's peace of mind while she is cooking. The space saver high chair has found its place on a borrowed desk chair and the extra "dining" chair has since become a stool for JR to reach the bathroom sink. I consolidated the boxes we had shipped and brought us down to two boxes that are situated in our "living room." The suitcases have either been stuffed into a useless closet, under a humongous side table, or behind the bed. Our shoes have relocated to the outside of our apartment and are tucked away in a dresser and are sharing the hall space with the rest of our boxes containing donation items. I had spotted others making use of the common space to store household items beyond bikes and trikes and roller blades and thought to do the same. After all we only have so much room to move.

Jeff and I share the one closet that has shelves; he has one and a half shelf and I have one shelf. Yousef's car seat takes up the bottom part of the closet and our towels and sheets and stroller blankets take up the remaining half shelf. The other closet has a bar for hangers and it contains Jeff's work pants and shirts as well as JR's car seat. On its shelf sits the gym bag and yoga mat. Yousef and JR share the one dresser that we have, each taking up one and a half drawer. We have two other drawers dedicated to our hats, gloves and scarves as well as bibs, baby towels and other odds and ends. We finally got around to having enough hooks for our bath towels and PJs. We are still in search of a coat rack but I am comfortable tucking our big jackets unto the floor of the closet in an effort to keep clutter at a minimum. And we are yet to solve the problem of dirty laundry piling up behind the door. The radiators have been serving me well as drying racks for wet mittens, gloves, socks, and underwear.

The kitchen has also acquired a few extra utensils in the past few weeks but it has been easy to find storage for them; after all I only have a handful of pots and an equal number of plates and bowls and cups. We still do not own a cutlery organizer as none of the ones we have found fit in the narrow drawer that exists. So, our forks and knives and spoons take up the first shelf in the two kitchen cabinets that sit on top of the sink. My new rolling pin, the cake pan and the tea pot that we bought after returning from Lebanon have joined the rest of my appliances either underneath the sink or on top of the stove. The electric toaster oven that took months to arrive sits on top on a TV stand that has been converted to a fruit and vegetable caddy, and its top has become a place for the multitude of water bottles and cups that we use throughout the day. We also bought a fruit bowl for the table in an effort to make eating fruit more accessible.

The multitude of food items that I brought back from Lebanon with me stand as my pride and joy. The two kilos of Tahini, the Falafel mix, the Magi soup, the Instant noodles (yes, we eat processed foods and I am not about to defend my food choices), the pasta (yes, I brought pasta with me but that is another story for another time), the Pomegranate Molasses, the Rose Water, the Cafe Najjar, the Zaatar, the Nido, the spices and the sweets, the candy and the cookies, and others have been stored front and center in my pantry. I reach for them often and I am so glad I found a way to bring them along. I had to leave a bunch of clothes, a pair of shoes, and a couple of toys behind in Beirut to make room for the food but at the end of the day I am certain I made the right decision. These consumables and perishables are for the time being my most valued possessions.

I reorganized the one shelving unit that we own and created more space for odds and ends to be thrown in there. I moved the hazards away from Yousef's reach and created a shelf for JR's homeschooling material. The fireplace that is of little use to us with a toddler and a 4-year old has been transformed into a toy storage area and I used an extra sheet to cover up its guts. Our broom and dust pan stand in one corner by the fridge and our trash can has been moved to its top. Yes, I put the trash on top of the fridge to keep it away from the curious reach of Yousef. Of course I could have put it in the cabinet underneath the sink, which may seem the most logical place for it, but that space is taken up by our extra bottles of locally produced sparkling water and our UHT milk.

JR has assisted in "decorating" the place by placing stickers on the walls as she pleases. I gave her complete artistic freedom in choosing the stickers and their locations. I hung up my "phone book" alongside the intercom that does not work on top of the dresser that houses the kids' clothes and that takes up half the hallway. We bought a night-light in Beirut and super-glued it to the outlet by the bathroom door and outside the bedroom as it kept falling out. JR climbs on top of the drawers to reach it and turns it on at every nap and bed time. We also bought a few outlet covers from Beirut in an attempt to baby-proof the place and have used only a couple seeing how few outlets we actually do have. I took down the lamp shades to make the place brighter, much to Jeff's chagrin as he thinks exposed bulbs are dangerous.

The place is feeling a little more "together" than it was a few months back but it still feels like just a "place." It needs a lot of work to render it more comfortable and "decent." The broken couches still need to be replaced, the walls need a fresh coat of paint, the woodwork needs repair, the windows need weatherstripping, among other defects that need to be addressed. But for the time being we are making do. We are number 7 on the wait list for a 3 bedroom apartment and number 11 for a 2 bedroom. I see it as highly unlikely that we will be here in time to move to any of the other options, seeing how there is no formula to when or how the movement happens and how our moving to Ifrane was never a permanent move. So, until we are able to head back to America, I will continue doing the little things that make me want to hang out in this apartment and continue trying to make it feel warm and welcoming and "uncluttered."

Friday, January 24, 2014

The laundry

Today was not off to the best start. Yesterday was a rough one in which the kids and I spent all our time indoors, walking around our two rooms and the bathroom and trying to occupy ourselves with the toys that we had. We looked out the window a few times, hosted a friend for coffee and rearranged the toys more times than I care to remember. Yousef had fallen twice within the first two hours of the day and my energy was low and so I had little patience with myself and the kids. The weather being cloudy and snowing did not help anything either. So today I was recovering from having fallen asleep at 9:00 pm and woken up for the day by Yousef again before I was ready.

It was early, the sun was not up yet and I had not had my morning silence before the kids entered the picture. I was not off to my best behavior. Then I remembered what I had read: "what are you doing TODAY to make you feel they way you want to feel?" and it stopped me in my tracks. I was feeling jealous, I was feeling sad, I was plain down. But suddenly I remembered that is not what I want to be feeling. I remembered what I had written down in pencil on a piece of scrap paper and the fog lifted. I felt empowered. And so I did something to make me feel less imprisoned and more "liberated." I did something that made me feel "in control" and "light". I did the LAUNDRY!

Yes, I did two loads of laundry!

Now you might think what has got the laundry to do with anything. I will tell you....

I had been staring at the dirty laundry growing in the small bathroom for over a week. Every day Jeff and I decide to get it taken care of, and every day it does not happen. I move it from the bathroom to the living room in the morning and back to the bathroom in the evening in frustration. I empty it out of the kids' baby tub at bath time and reload it when they are done in frustration. I look at it and ponder how I am going to carry a tubful of dirty clothes down four flights of stairs, walk it down the street and around the bend, then carry it down more stairs to the laundry basement with a baby and a 4 year old. It chills me to think that with all my physical being I am incapable of doing my own laundry and am dependent on Jeff's help to have clean clothes. So today I decided I was going to make it work. It was my challenge for the day ~ sad to think that the simplest of tasks has turned into the biggest of challenges, but that is my new reality and I have no choice but to take it.

I took a deep breath in, put my coat over my short-sleeve shirt, bundled JR and Yousef up and headed out. Had I stopped to think about my plan longer I would have given up on it and so I moved on. I left JR and her brother at home to carry the tub down the stairs. I balanced it on the stroller, pushed the stroller out the first set of doors and then the next and parked it on the driveway. Then, I went back up for the kids, carried one down and held the other's hand. When finally outside, I balanced Yousef on my shoulder to push the stroller with my free hand all the while making sure JR kept up with me. It was cold and I wanted to hustle them out of the elements. We made it through second base, now to get everyone and everything down to the basement. Kids first, then the laundry. Phase one complete; the laundry is in the machines. Now for breakfast and to ponder phases two and three.

One hour later we were headed back out to check on the clothes. This time I was too lazy and did not bundle Yousef up. Instead I wore him in the carrier and wrapped him with a big coat. Luckily the sun was out and JR was excited to play outside. Of course we had forgotten her bucket and shovel and had to make one more trip up the stairs for those. But both her and I were thankful for the fresh air and the sunshine. The clothes were now ready to be transferred to the dryer. JR did not want to take part in this and instead opted to wait outside for me and "help" the handyman shovel the snow. Fortunately, we live in a safe community where I can leave my child unaccompanied for a brief amount of time with a complete stranger. She had a blast and I got the job done. Now that the wet clothes were getting dry I realized I had not thought through phase three; getting the clean clothes back up the stairs and into our apartment. It is one thing to chug dirty laundry, it is another to transport clean ones. I hit a wall. Then I got a gift! There was another person in the laundry room and she did not mind watching the kids. I had two free hands to carry my load to home base. I was thankful.

JR by now had had enough fresh air and was hungry and so we all headed back. The laundry had taken up close to three hours of our time. We were cold and tired and so we huddled underneath a warm clean sheet and rested. It felt good to be together. Yousef nursed, JR ate and I just sat there and looked at my achievement. I had done it; it will be another week before I, or Jeff, have to go through another cycle again. How did it make me feel? Satisfied. Accomplished. Empowered. It was a small thing, but many times it is the little things.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2013 ~ year in review

JR turned three.
I was still on bed rest.

I developed preeclampsia.
The last member of our family was born.
JR had her first overnight stay at Teta’s house.

JR received her own “baby born,” a $100 doll from FAO Schwartz. She named him Yousef pretend. 
Yousef met Grandma for the first time.


Jeff sat for his comprehensive exams.
The kids, my mom and I went for our Lebanese Mother’s Day photo shoot a month later.


Jeff turned 43.
We took our first family-of-four vacation and headed to Baltimore.
We sat for our first outdoor/family photo shoot.
Jeff passed his comprehensive exams.


We had a second outdoor/family photo shoot.
Yousef started potty training.
JR started swimming lessons.


We celebrated 9 years of marriage.
We hosted our first poolside cookout.
Our annual zoo membership expired.

Our second family-of-four-vacation: a three-day stay at a local resort.
Jeff left to teach at a university in Morocco.
The kids, my mom and I enjoyed another getaway at the same resort.

I celebrated my 36th birthday.
The kids and I left for Morocco

I became a volunteer.


JR started a part-time preschool in Ifrane.
Yousef got his first teeth.
We took a trip to Casablanca and went to the beach


JR and Yousef took their first train ride.
Yousef arrived in Lebanon for the first time and JR for the second.
The family separated for the longest time since it began. 

The kids and I walked our first 10k.

JR had her first “birthday at school” celebration.
The family reunited. 

Yousef started to walk.
Yousef witnessed his first new year’s eve.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Eleven years ago, while I was going about my daily work requirements I came across an ad in a local paper. An international organisation was hiring. I was looking. I made it a match. I rewrote my resume, refocused my areas of study and expertise and put  my name in the hat. I did not expect much, but I thought to try. 

A few days later, as I was driving back home from work my cell phone rang. I picked up, of course. It was an international call. I parked on the side of the road. I listened to the voice speaking from the distance. It was a voice my mind had heard before, someone I knew from long ago but never really met. I had been selected for an in-person interview in a few weeks. I started counting the days. I needed a face to that voice. 

The day of the interview came. I left work as usual, changed into formal wear and headed towards the address. I took the elevator, made the introduction and entered the cubicle. There I met him: the blue-est blue eyes, the shiniest of blond hair and the softest voice. I knew it then. My fate was sealed. 

We chatted, we parted. I did not get the job. I got an extended arm, instead. Tens of emails, phone calls, and MSN chats later I was on a plane with a one-way ticket. I never looked back. 

The story started eleven years ago to the day: in 2003 January 15th fell on a Wednesday, this year it fell on a Wednesday, too. Life comes to a complete circle, its all cyclical in the end. I made it a point when I was in Lebanon to find the document that had changed my life. This year I am looking at another document that I am hoping will also change my life. The road leading to 2003 was not easy, but the journey was worth it. The road from 2013 may also not be easy, but I am certain the journey will be worth it. There is only one way to find out! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A decade of Thanksgivings

I am sitting here watching my son sleep, thinking of my daughter away at preschool, missing my husband in Morocco. I never thought that one day I will be so separated from the people I love most. My parents, in-laws and most of my friends are in the US, my aunt is in London, and my uncle and his family are all away at work. Of all the days, today is the day I miss my “old” life most. In all the years I have been in the US, Jeff and I have almost always been together over Thanksgiving, whether we chose to celebrate it or not. This year, though, not only are we separated, we are also not celebrating.
In honor of all those November days that have passed since I got to know Thanksgiving, I collect and recollect how they have been spent. I share highlights from years past.

Thanksgiving 2003
My first Thanksgiving, my first train ride, my first trip to Seattle and the first time I meet Jeff’s parents. 2003 was a year of many firsts.  
Most memorable part: chopping onions, tomatoes, and parsley to make tabouleh for eight using a dull knife; my right arm hurt well into the following day. I discovered how sweet and savory mix in a meal and avoided cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving 2004
My first thanksgiving as a wife, and one more family gathering before we moved out of the Northwest.
Most memorable part: taking my first trip to Vancouver, BC and putting my green card to its first international use.

Thanksgiving 2005
The year of the smoked turkey, and the first year Jeff and I were apart for Thanksgiving: he was writing a paper and I was visiting a friend in Pittsburgh.
Most memorable part: giving up my seat on the plane for a free ticket. We also had our first yearly supply of smoked turkey broth in the freezer.

Thanksgiving 2006
We flew to Seattle for the holiday.
Most memorable part: this later proved to be the last Thanksgiving we have with the entire of Jeff’s immediate family.

Thanksgiving 2007
We hosted our very first Thanksgiving. It was held at our house in Portland. We had four guests, including one vegetarian.
Most memorable part: the barbequed turkey that Jeff grilled on the side patio despite the rain.

Thanksgiving 2008
The year with no turkey. Instead, and after leaving Portland for the second time, Jeff and I used up two free hotel nights and ventured to New York for the holiday.
Most memorable part: seeing the Macy’s Day parade balloons the day before the parade.

Thanksgiving 2009
With a baby in my belly and a due date in January 2010, I cooked for six in our DC apartment. The only item that was store bought, other than the bread, was the pumpkin pie.
Most memorable part: having Jeff’s and my parents gathered at our table for the first time.

Thanksgiving 2010
The year our family grew by one. Jannah-Rae was ten months old and able to share the feast. She had sweet potatoes and turkey.
Most memorable part: having a D&C shortly before the holiday yet celebrating anyway.

Thanksgiving 2011
We headed to MN to introduce JR to the rest of the family. This has been the biggest Thanksgiving I had been to so far. I had wanted to brave the crowds on Black Friday at the Mall of America but was convinced otherwise.
Most memorable part: needing the distraction from the second miscarriage and wanting to be surrounded by family. We bought JR a Mickey Mouse shirt that she is still wearing two years later.

Thanksgiving 2012
I was on bed rest, but Thanksgiving happened anyway. We invited a close friend over and dined with her and my parents.
Most memorable part: Jeff putting together a remarkable meal.

Thanksgiving 2013
Yousef’s first Thanksgiving and our first in a foreign country or rather make two foreign countries: the kids and I were in Lebanon while Jeff was alone in Morocco. The first Thanksgiving in a decade that passes without a celebration.
Most memorable part: not telling JR it was Thanksgiving to avoid making her sad.