Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Home Improvements

Our lives have been busier--and dustier- the past few weeks due to a home repair project that turned out to be much more involved than we expected. We've known for awhile that we had some water damaged concrete in our kitchen ceiling. Some months ago, our upstairs neighbors had their bathroom pipes repaired and we gave it the summer months and then some to make sure the concrete had sufficiently dried before beginning our repair.

I neglected to take a complete "before" picture, but the only sign of trouble lurking underneath our ceiling paint was a foot long crack in the paint. We had a mason come to look at it and it seemed the fix would be fairly straightforward and easy: remove a think layer of the concrete behind the damaged paint, do a little masonry work, and then repaint.

Knowing the mess even simple construction can leave behind, Dear Husband thoughtfully purchased plastic sheets to cover the kitchen walls. I was in the other room when the mason began working, knocking off the damaged concrete. Lots of banging and exclamations from both him and Dear Husband about how the damage was so much worse than they had expected. Not very encouraging.

When the banging ceased, this is the hole, or should I say holes, which were left. 

My kitchen floor:

So, how to patch the hole? The mason said that there wasn't enough surface to hold all the new concrete and that this was the best he could do. As for the method of applying the wet concrete that he was able to: toss it up with his masonry tool, which has the unfortunate effect of splattering wet concrete on the walls, the floor, pretty much everything which wasn't covered. Thankfully it cleans off fairly easily. Still, how to cover the hole--which is now actually looking worse than before. The original fix called for some touch up paint after the mason left, but that would obviously not do the job now.

There appeared to be three options, as the ceiling was still structurally sound. We could properly repair the ceiling, which would involve tearing out the entire ceiling. This would also mean ripping out our kitchen cabinets and counters for the repair, along with evacuating our apartment for about a month. The next option would involve the mason coming everyday for about a month to throw more concrete on the ceiling, attempting to build up layers of concrete which would eventually fill the holes. Dear Husband could tell that that the mason didn't really want that job and it could get very costly, not to mention the mess and inconvenience. Our last options was to settle for a cosmetic fix. Dear Husband pondered this for a few days and creatively decided to try to create a wood facade. 

With no Home Depot, thinly planed wood, or wood working tools available, this was a challenge. Dear Husband found some knotty pine boards and had them planed to under half their thickness. The carpenter who planed them warned that they might split, but thankfully, they held up. Next, a carpenter who works on the hospital grounds where Dear Husband works, helped Dear Husband to further prepare and varnish the wood. He also found two boards of good wood which could be used as supports.

Securing the supports was the hard part, and included a trip to Amman for special hardware.

Once the beams were secure, Dear Husband could begin putting up the pine planks

Dear Husband, using his head to get the job done.

On Sunday after church, we went to a local light store to purchase a new light fixture. We considered this one VERY briefly...

...before deciding on this one.

The rest of the job was pretty straightforward. I helped hold the boards in place with a broomstick  handle held over my head (my small contribution to the project)  while Dear Husband screwed in the screws. Here he is putting in the last screw!

And here's our new, improved ceiling and light fixture. I think we must have the only wood  kitchen ceiling decor in Mafraq!

And here is my cleaned-up kitchen with its eclectic mixture of woods and colors. I love it! And I love the wonderfully creative fix that Dear Husband came up with and worked so hard to accomplish. Many thanks Dear Husband! I so appreciate all you do to make our home comfortable and lovely. Everything is back in order just in time for holiday cooking and baking, not to mention the adult children, who will begin arriving in just over two weeks...

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Pardon Me While I Find My Groove

After a spring and summer filled with family, special events, travel, and relationships, I returned to Jordan in the midst of transition, and not just the usual transition which takes place after being away from home for a couple of months. This was The Big One: Dear Husband and I returned to Jordan without children, without plans for another year of homeschooling.

The last two months months have been good but different. I expected different, but I just didn't know in what ways they would be different.

I expected to be sadder. I have been surprisingly (to me) un-sad. Though I miss Tayta's daily presence in our house, I have been blessed by her daily presence and joyful spirit via Skype, Facebook, and Instagram. (I refer to my first and new smartphone as my baby-monitor. I was kind of proud that I raised four children without the traditional kind, but now I am very dependent on and loving the smart-phone kind). And, Tayta is thriving in her college experience so far. I give thanks to God for her joyful transition to a new location, new relationships, new studies, new challenges, and new experiences.

I expected that Dear Husband and I would need to take some time to become re-oriented to our marriage relationship and to spending more time together, just the two of us, all.the.time. Happily, that took all of about one day. I was encouraged to find that we merged together as a just-the-two-of-us family quite easily and that we both enjoyed spending more time together with no awkward, who's-that-stranger moments. Our 30th Anniversary, celebrated in June, was the most meaningful one so far, and I'm still thinking about all the meaning in it. Better than a second honeymoon. God is good.

I expected to get caught up on a lot of creative projects that I've had on my mind, and some in progress, for years. I expected to read and write more. These things aren't really happening yet and I'm still trying to figure out why. A new friend recently shared about being transition and she mentioned that her her life rhythms have changed and that she is still getting used to that. Yes! That resonated with my. My rhythms have changed and are changing and I'm still in the process of finding my groove. I wonder if it will take a while.

What am I doing?? People ask me this question all the time now, and I pose this question to myself as well. Lots of different things, which I realize may make it more difficult to settle into new rhythms. The one regular endeavor that I've begun is Arabic study. This is is a very humbling undertaking at 50+ years of age, not to mention having lived in the Middle East for 27 years, but I am enjoying it. I'm enjoying more time for relationships outside the home, some with other women, and some with couples as I join with Dear Husband in spending time with others. And, I'm going to bed before midnight. That is a good thing.

And as for my blog: I plan to keep blogging, but perhaps I just need to adjust to my quotidian life a little more before I know how to do that. In the past years I have blogged a lot about my family and home life, and that is what has changed the most--at least as far as everyday life goes. I enjoy keeping in touch with friends and family through my blog, sharing recipes, pictures, etc. and just last week Dear Husband, as he scrolled through past posts, commented that he was really thankful that I had blogged over the years; a lot of memories, a lot to give thanks for.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Friday, October 02, 2015

Date Bars, Redux and Reworked

When we moved to the Middle East twenty-seven years ago, we discovered that dates were the thing. I'm not sure I'd eaten a date before moving to Jordan. Not only were dried dates plentiful and inexpensive, I could purchase a 2 lb block of date paste for a couple dollars. Looking for ways to capitalize on local products, I began making date bars. Below is the recipe given to me in 1988 by a fellow language student. As you can see, it has been well-used...and/or I'm a messy baker!

And now dates are the thing in the US as well, with many new recipes calling for dried dates to replace refined sugars as a sweetener. I hadn't made date bars for awhile, but an email from a friend prompted me to re-visit this recipe. And, she informed me that 5 lbs chunks of date paste can be purchased in the the US as well. 

Remembering how much I liked date bars prompted me to re-work this recipe, making it a no-sugar, no-wheat flour recipe. It wasn't hard to do and the results, delicious.

A Better Date Bar

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups almond flour or almond meal
1 cup unsweetened coconut
2 3/4 cup rolled oats (I use quick oats as that is what is available here--works fine)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 lb of seedless dates (you can use pitted dates, but if you can get ahold of some date paste, your work will be easier.)
1 cup water

Cream butter and honey. Mix in the almond flour/meal and then stir in the rest of the dried ingredients to make the crumb bottom and top.

Heat dates and water in a saucepan for a few minutes to make a spreadable paste.

Press half the crumb mixture in a baking pan. Spread the date paste on top, and then top with the remaining crumb mixture. Bake for 1/2 hour at 350 F/175 C. Let cool before cutting.

Notate Bene:

--Once cooled, I like to store these in the refrigerator. The dates firm up and they hold together very nicely.

--I will try substituting date syrup for honey next time I make these. I imagine you could try other sugar substitutes besides.

--I used a mid-sized baking dish, approximately 8"x 10", but you could use a slightly larger one as well as the bars turned out plenty thick.

These date bars are very rich and you should probably eat just one at a time (yes, mom), but one looked lonely on the plate, so I added another for the picture. I'm working to build up a repertoire of no-sugar, no-wheat flour (or, gluten free) recipes for healthier Christmas treats, and this one will be the first on the list. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tayta's College Quilt

My blog posts are all out of order now, but oh well. I was so happy to completely finish Tayta's happy quilt before traveling to the US last July. That is why it is my happy quilt. Tayta calls it her happy quilt because it makes her happy to look at it.

When we began considering patterns for her college quilt, I showed her this pattern in one of my quilting books: 

One of authors, Amanda Jean Nyberg, who blogs at Crazy Mom Quilts , is the quilter who first inspired me to pick up quilting again, by introducing me to the world of modern scrap quilting.

Tayta, with some imput from Artist Son and Me, chose the fabrics from my stash of scraps. Represented in the quilt are clothes from most family members: a shirt of Active Sons, dresses and tops from Oldest Daughter and Tayta, fabric from a dress I made for myself over 25 years ago, a shirt of Dear Husbands, and leftover scraps from Artist Son's college quilt. Tayta did a lot of the laying out of squares, with minimal help from me, and I did the sewing and construction--such a fun project to work on together!

For the back of Tayta's quilt, I used a vintage cotton duvet cover that I found in the used market. It didn't provide quite enough backing fabric, so I improvised by adding in scraps left over from the front. I first added the wide strip, thinking it would be enough, but it wasn't, so I added the cross strip as well. The binding was fashioned from, of course, more scraps. I machine quilted the quilt using a diagonal pattern and I used two-inch wide masking tape as a guide for the stitching lines.

Here is Tayta looking happy about her quilt in the olive grove near our home. Beautiful olive trees are one of the enduring favorite things of Tayta's childhood, so she thought the olive grove the perfect place for a quilt photo-shoot.

I am in awe of people who quilt as a business. I enjoyed making this quilt, but it took me a long time! If I had to put a price tag on it, either my hourly wage would be very, very low or the quilt would cost much more than I could actually sell it for! And that isn't even with considerations of it's imperfections (i.e. mistakes). 

Next quilt? I'm not sure. I need to find my inspiration. I think I'll work on some smaller projects first...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tayta Goes to College

Where to begin? I haven't blogged much of anything since April or May. Somehow, I managed to blog when I had four children at home, but now that I have (had) one? Maybe I'm just slowing down.

The spring and summer months were filled with graduating Tayta, celebrating 30 years of marriage, wonderful, wonderful times with family and friends in the the US, taking Tayta to college (or, university, as it is an significant distinction in Jordan, college generally denoting a two-year program), and returning to Jordan last week as empty-nesters--and an engagement since then! But I will begin here, with our trip to Houston, showing Tayta's new surroundings and her new life at Houston Baptist University.

Tayta is our first family member to make her home, even if temporarily, in Texas. I think she's going to like it there. The city of Houston isn't beautiful and the weather, not so great, unless you like hot and humid, but the people are wonderful--Texans are very kind people!-- the campus is lovely, and Houston is home to a lot of arts and culture, world-class medical centers, and people of many backrounds.

Tatya is  studying in the Nursing Honors program at HBU; she has been accepted into the nursing program and all her core classes will be fulfilled in Great Books reading/writing/discussion based courses.

                    More campus shots:

HBU's 2015 freshman class

Tayta is being initiated into the concept of school spirit. As a home-schooled student who was raised overseas, this is an unfamiliar and even odd experience for her, but she is trying. The freshman class was given school beanies at the "Beanie Ceremony", and they were supposed to wear their them throughout the first week of school. She kinda did that. We're giving the "Dawgs Up" sign--HBU's mascot is a Husky. I don't think Tayta has the Woof Woof call down yet. 

Dear Husband coaxed Tatya into attending some of HBU's football teams pre-game scrimmage so that he could explain American football and try to infuse a little more team spirit into her. I think she'll like the social aspect, anyway.

HBU has a a really cool Bible museum. Above is the first printed Greek New Testament~1516.

We were thrilled to discover that several illuminations and hand-calligraphied pages from the St. John's Bible were on on display, as just the week before we had watched a fascinating documentary featuring extensive interviews with the lead artist, Donald Jackson of Wales. What a treat to have the exquisite manuscripts right before us!

(notice Hagar's name, bottom center/right, is recorded first in Hebrew, and then in Arabic right below)

Selfie at the Persian restaurant near HBU. We ate there twice as it was a very authentic taste of home. 

Starbucks selfie--we had several strategy and planning meetings at a couple different Starbucks so as to discuss meal plans, class schedules, and what we still needed to buy at Target. Just one more trip...

I lost track of how many visits we made to Target. I do know I visited a total of three different Target stores. Dear Husband was a good sport as Tayta and I discussed (again) final needs and purchases.

Tayta set up and arranged her corner of the room just the way she had envisioned it for months, as she chose and collected just the right items and pictures for her dorm room. She's done a good job of making it her home away from home. I enjoyed taking a tour-of-rooms within her suite. All the young women did such a beautiful job of arranging and decorating their rooms. "Give Thanks"(banner over bed). Indeed!

Tayta sent me this picture after her first anatomy lab. Yes, it is a real head. I thanked her for not sending me a profile shot. She loves this stuff. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Flowering Jordan Calendar 2015~August

A little late but still wanted to share the beautiful Black Irises of Jordan, the national flower.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gone Quiltin'

I'm enjoying a flurry of creative projects this month, which have taken up hours of time. I'm not complaining as I find the that I am most energetic and hopeful when I am creating. I've finished 41 of the 48 squares needed for  Tayta's college quilt. I should be able to begin assembling them sometime later this week. Meanwhile, they are laid out on floor of a seldom-used-room of our house.

Besides the quilt, I have been processing my 2016 Wildflowers of Jordan calendar, which was printed last week, and I've been working on creating a line of cards which features images of flowers and other scenes around Jordan. Those will (hopefully) be in market by the end of May. Oh, yes, and Tatya and I are completing our last three weeks of high school education. It is a daily duty to stay focused on the goal!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poppy Birthday to Me

This weekend was my birthday weekend, so Dear Husband and Tayta asked me where I would like to go for a wildflower outing. We didn't have a lot of time and cold, rainy weather was predicted for the late afternoon, so we didn't go far or plan a sit-in-the-sun picnic. I had noticed that poppies were blooming around the kingdom so I suggested that we try to find the famed field of poppies in Anjara, a village close to Ajloun. We didn't find the field, but I wasn't disappointed as we saw many poppies along the Mafraq-Jerash road, and later as we meandered through the mountain villages near Ajloun.

Horned Poppy
Glaucium alleppicum

Also along the way, Dear Husband pulled over to look for black irises in a place we had once seen them. I hadn't remembered the spot, and besides, I opined, I think they must have all bloomed by now. All the others I'd recently seen were spent. The irises were there and they were at the peak of their bloom. I told Dear Husband that I considered them my birthday bouquet from him. Turns out that he had looked for a bouquet of cut flowers for me in Mafraq, but could find nothing suitable. The natural bouquet of black irises suited me very well!

Black Iris
Iris nigricans

Crazy flower lady with her birthday black irises

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Extreme Wildflower Spotting~Desert Tulips

Two of the biggest challenges to wildflower spotting are: 

1. Knowing exactly where to find a particular wildflower
2. Getting to its location during its brief blooming period

Because my spring days are punctuated by many events and obligations, I don't often consider taking a trip to another part of the country to search for a particular wildflower. However, reading the Orchid Thief last fall, gave me pause. My wildflower spotting "adventures" were nothing compared to the globe-trotting, life-risking endeavors that orchid aficionados undertook to see or possess a rare bloom. Maybe I needed to be a little more daring in my pursuit of some of Jordan's rarer wildflowers.

Friends who live in the south of Jordan told me about a small red tulip which blooms on one particular hillside near their home--if there is enough precipitation. Since we received rain and then snow this winter, I was hopeful that the red tulips would be blooming. I sent a message to my friend and asked her to let me know when and if she saw the wild tulips begin to bloom. I was not sure that I could get myself down to see them, but I figured that I could at least inquire.

I received a text from my friend on a Tuesday. The tulips were blooming, but I'd need to come soon if I wanted to see them. As it turned out, we were schedule to head south on Saturday for our annual camping trip to Wadi Dana. The tulips were another hour and a half south of that destination. I somewhat timidly asked Dear Husband what he thought of driving to see the tulips. It would mean an early departure from Mafraq and three extra hours of driving  on our first camping day. He agreed to do it, and Tayta bought into the adventure as well. I informed them that I would double-check the tulip status on Friday, to make sure it was worth the drive.

Results of Friday's tulip-tracking inquiry: my friend said that the sheep and goats, the bane of Jordan's wildflowers, had been through that week, but she thought there were still a few left. Another friend, who went south on Friday scouted the field for us and confirmed a few remaining tulips. Tayta and I worked steadily to get all of our camping gear together on Friday night. At the 11th hour, more adventurous wildflower-loving friends decided to join with us. To bed we went for a night of restless sleep--the kind you have when you know you have to get up for an early morning flight. We were up at 4:30 am and heading out of Mafraq at 6:15am, wide awake with anticipation even before coffee.

We arrived in Ras an-Naqab about 10:30am. This is not the terrain where you would expect to find spring tulips, but I've learned the look for the unexpected.

Coke marks the spot. Our scouting friend marked the point at which we should turn south into the field with an empty Coke bottle and a stick.  

We fanned out over the field of rocks and dirt to look for the low growing tulips. Dear Husband was an awesome scout--you can see him way out in the distance, the white speck on the edge of the bluff. A couple of us remarked that the experience of searching for tulips reminded us of childhood Easter egg hunts.


We were near a rural village and so pulled on our appropriate long skirts and donned our headscarves. The wind was wild so we were challenged to keep everything in place. 

Dear Husband for the assist in the photo shoot: blocking the wind and holding back the thorny brambles so that I can get a shot.

This picture shows well the challenging  habitat of the Naqab tulip, and helps one to better appreciate it's determined beauty.

Tulip stylosa

This tulip had its leaf chewed by goats or sheep, but the beautiful flower remained.

Black Garlic
Allium aschersonianum

We also spotted some black garlic, and Dear Husband, the superstar scout of the trip,  found one and one only specimen of the this previously-unspotted-by-me desert lily. It remains nameless as I haven't located it in my field guide. I'm pretty sure it is in the genus Ornithogalum, a type of Star of Bethlehem, but I'm not able to confirm that.

Photo credits for the people pictures go to my people-loving-always-up-for-an-adventure friend. Thank you! What a great support staff I had in the field that morning!