Food/Drink, General, Jordan, Travel

Living in Jordan…the final chapter!

I started this blog three years ago to document a time in my life that I wanted to share with my family and friends as I embarked on an adventure. I wasn’t as disciplined as I thought I might be but that’s okay, when it comes to hobbies I don’t really have discipline I guess, I’m more loosy goosy – I write when I feel like it just like I paint when I feel like it.

Anyhoo… enough about my shortcomings of not keeping up with my blog as often as I’d set out to and get this final chapter written about my beautiful life in Jordan.

March 2021: Picking up chronologically from my last post where Will visited us and I mentioned that I was hospitalized. I have a condition called diverticulosis, I know this because I’d had a diverticulitis attack about 8 years ago and found out that it isn’t a condition that goes away, you just do your best to keep inflammation at bay so it doesn’t happen again. Fast forward to March 2021 in Jordan and it happened again and it was bad. In retrospect, I know what I was and wasn’t doing, specifically not listening to my body at all, which isn’t like me. My left side had been aching and burning for a few weeks at that point but on this particular Saturday, while in the first few raw days of grieving Finn, I just wanted to get out of the apartment for our ‘one day a week of freedom’. Our plans were to show Will the splendor of Wadi Rum – one of our favorite places in the world. Not feeling well in the general sense when I woke up, I took my temperature and told Mike that I was running a low grade fever and was going to walk two blocks to the pharmacy to get Tylenol. While I was walking, I could feel with each step of my left foot that there was a sensation on my side that I’d never felt before, I was also feeling dizzy as I walked back to the apartment but for some dumb reason kept telling myself that I was okay – until I made it up our one flight of stairs with no energy and realized I had to come clean and tell Mike exactly how I was feeling, there was no way I could walk for miles in literally the middle of nowhere. He had me call the Embassy doctor right away who sent us straight to the emergency room. At this point, we’d had our first COVID vaccine shot and were on schedule to get our eagerly awaited second one the following week. At the hospital we were whisked to the CT scan and back to the waiting room where shortly thereafter we were told that I was going to be admitted due to Complicated Diverticulitis with perforations, which is the even more serious form of diverticulosis. I burst into tears and told the doctor “but I’m supposed to get my second vaccine dose on Monday” and he said “I’m sorry but you’ll most likely be here on Monday, longer if you need surgery”. I’m so thankful Mike was there and reassured me that he would find out if the Embassy could save my vaccine for me (spoiler, they did have some extra and I was able to get my second dose once I was discharged) and we quietly reeled at the mention of surgery (spoiler, I didn’t need it). My stress level only went up, admitted to the hospital in a foreign country with a severe infection, during a surge in COVID in Jordan, with a guest visiting and just 5 days after Finn passed away. After a rocky start due to language issues, a little panic attack that felt good to get out, and lots of quiet time, I was the best patient who followed all doctors orders, looked out the window at the busy street below, listened to songs that Jillian would send to me and colored. I left Abdali Hospital after 4 days with a bouquet of gorgeous flowers from my work team and strict diet to follow with the support of my doctor and his intern who was studying to be a nutritionist and excited that I was her first patient.

After six weeks of a low fiber/low residue diet – which was very hard for me – I saw my doc, had my follow up “test”, given the ALL CLEAR and moved on to a high fiber diet and back in business. I will never ignore what my body is telling me again! I’m listening ol girl, I got you!

April 2021: What does a fully vaccinated couple living in one of the strictest COVID lockdowns, post hospital stay, who haven’t seen their daughters in a year and four months, and with a guest visiting from the US, decide to do this month? If you guessed “travel to the Maldives!” you’d be right! Taking advantage of the fact that Will was working during the day and could house and cat sit for us, Mike booked us an amazing stay at the Hard Rock Resort. Wearing our summer wardrobe and most importantly, NO MASKS, we enjoyed a part of the world I’d only dreamed I’d ever get to visit. Lots of sea life, snorkeling, kayaking, walking, listening to the live band and chatting with the amazing resort staff made the trip so memorable for me. Having to watch my diet was a bit of a bummer but I was able to eat all the delicious low fiber foods and drink bubbly to my hearts delight.

After a flight from Amman – Dubai – Male and then a 30 minute boat trip to our island plus a golf cart ride to our resort, we got our first view of the cottages!

I was really impressed by how ecologically friendly the resort was, it has to be self sustainable because as we learned, the archipelago’s waste practice is to burn trash so of the occupied islands – they burn what they don’t reuse. On the boat ride over I noticed an island with smoke coming off of it and thought maybe it was a smoldering volcano or something, but a day later from our resort I realized I could still see the smoke and looked up what it was. Turns out, it is an island called Thilafushi entirely devoted to the main island/capital city Male’s trash! And by trash I mean everything, plastic, appliances, discarded food. I was pretty shocked to learn that it has been burning NON STOP for like 30 years! That toxic smoke going up into the atmosphere! Blowing back to the city from whence it came! UUUGGGHHHH!

25 minute documentary if you are curious…

May 2021: Back to Jordan, back to work for my final month! With the evening and Friday lockdowns eased we were able to get out and do a little more. For Mike and I that meant more time at the pool, walking and going to our favorite restaurants. Two of my walking ladies and I spent a long weekend at the Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa, a place that had been on my list to see in Jordan! It wasn’t crowded or super-ready for visitors but we just enjoyed being together as everyone’s time in Jordan was soon coming to an end.

June 2021: After almost two years (shy by one month) my last day at USAID Jordan on the Education and Youth Team came to pass. It is so strange to think that I only worked physically in the Embassy with my team from late July 2019 – early March 2020 and from then on, it was all remote work. But despite that, we remained a super tight-knit group who worked and played well together.

With the girls and JB (Jillie’s boyfriend) all booked for their visit, I had a week between my last day of work and their arrival. My ever adventurous friend Margaret, who is now living in Zimbabwe, had her summer vacation planned and wanted to know if Mikela and I could meet her somewhere out in the world. At that point COVID numbers were stable in some places and travel between countries was opening up. Turkey was one of the locations that would take us all in and turns out, one of Mikela’s good friends was also going to be traveling there so we booked Istanbul! What an absolutely fabulous trip this turned out to be…

Hagia Sophia – Wikipedia › wiki › Hagia_Sophia

Atop Galata Tower with my gals!

A year late and with an additional traveller, Dianne and Mike finally get to see their daughters Amelia and Jillian! HURRAY! In a time when many families around the world were kept apart, we felt super thankful to be able to get the girls over so that we could take them on a literal whirlwind tour of everything they hadn’t had a chance to see yet. Getting them up and out into the sun is the best thing for jet lag so we started close and visited the Citadel and Roman Theater in Amman and then stopped off at the Dagger Man where Zayid taught Amelia how to engrave a blade!

Exploring the Citadel

Finally, the trip that the girls had been waiting for – to Petra!

Sisters at the Treasury!
JB and Jillian at the Great Temple
The structure at the top of this photo – the Great Temple – is where I took the picture of Jillie and JB from above. Mike, Jillie and JB are sitting at the lower right of this photo. The Petra site is big!
The tombs.
Me taking a break in the shade at the tombs.

From Petra we spent the night at the Red Sea, even though they were tired and not feeling 100% Amelia, Jillian and JB enjoyed every moment of the private pool that we somehow had the good fortune of being taken to. Mike and I asked someone where we could get some towels and next thing we knew we were at our own pool! Love that Jordanian hospitality!

Next stop, the creme de la creme – Wadi Rum!

Stayed in the Martian Bubble Tents
I am zoomed in like 1000x so sorry for the low quality, but while we were waiting for dinner we watched as the man in the photo tried to (and obviously did) catch this baby wolf! One of the other guests explained to us that the mother wolf died and the bedouins wanted to keep the pups safe until they were old enough to fend for themselves.

Took some chill days in Amman, spent time at the pool, the Royal Automobile Museum and a puppy puddle at Carakale Brewery.

Next stops – the city founded by Alexander the Great, Jerash and then since we’re up there, a side jaunt to Ajloun Castle!

Ajloun Castle lookout!

Next day next stop…Dead Sea for the day! I didn’t track how far we’d walked over the last week but spending a day at the Dead Sea at the Marriott Resort was just what we needed. We spent our time hanging out at the pool, having lunch, floating in the sea and Jillian and JB went to the spa.

They float!
Happy hour on our roof!
The best sunsets up here.

We kept at it, for their final day in Jordan we had breakfast with my friend Luma and then off to Madaba to see the great mosaics! These three were the best travelers, so appreciative and fun to be with. LOVE THEM!

Part of the famous Madaba Map.

July 2021: my days are running short, the kids are back in the US, my ticket is purchased and our pack out is scheduled!

Besties trip to Aqaba to eat breakfast lunch and dinner at the same restaurant LOL – JK we didn’t eat breakfast there. Had a blast saying goodbye to the Red Sea with Jen and Candi.
A lunch for a king and the royal court, prepared by our friend Mustafa’s family for our family – except the kids weren’t here anymore! A misunderstanding that resulted in lots of leftovers to get us through the final days of my stay. The dish in the middle is Mansaf and is a traditional Jordanian dish.
The last day to myself – I went to Rainbow Street, got an Al Quds sandwich and visited the Soap Shop and Essa Farrah rug shop.

After the movers left, I visited the Embassy one last time to say goodbye to my team and to Luma. I never thought that I was going to make a best friend in Jordan, I imagined that I’d meet great people and that we’d keep in touch when we went our separate ways, but I really fell in love with my friend. We laugh at my first impression – I was nervous around her because she seemed so serious and no nonsense, and she thought I was an “I’m too busy” type because she had emailed me asking if I would be her language partner and I didn’t respond for weeks. Turns out, she was acting so serious because she had just joined the team and wanted to make a good impression and I wasn’t too busy for anyone – I’d gone on a three week vacation right after I’d joined USAID and had a bunch of email waiting for me when I returned. First impressions aren’t always right and certainly not in our case.

My going away gift from my habibti my Luma – a traditional Jordanian garment.
I need to be packed up early – my flight was leaving the next day at 11. I sure was going to miss my little Jordanian souvenir, Iris and she was going to miss me, too.

That night we had a farewell at Biera, another one of our favorite places in Jordan with good food, delicious beer, amazing friends aaaaaaand a cake!

Saying goodbye to each other at Queen Alia Airport.

Mike – thank you for asking me if I wanted to pick up my life and move to Jordan, I am so glad I said yes.
Leaving a piece of my heart behind, ma salama, beautiful Jordan.
General, Jordan, Travel

Springtime of 2021 in Jordan, lockdown Fridays and nighttime curfews.

Yes, this post is not current but it remains topical to me for a couple of reasons; 1. now there’s a third wave of COVID-19 restrictions happening around the world and 2. I am back in Jordan for a week after being gone for 5 months! Reviewing this July 2021 draft blog post from a hotel in Amman in December 2021 (3 years after I started my blog) solidifies for me that doing DiForYou was one of my proud accomplishments during a huge time of personal and professional growth in my life. Now onto some of the best and worst of Spring 2021 in Jordan. Some parts of the following post will be difficult for some readers as I talk about the loss of a beloved doggie. Some readers with diverticulitis might get sympathy pains, too. LOL. And away we go back in the time machine..

We began our final springtime in Jordan with a second wave of strict COVID-19 restrictions, our vaccinations, and our first visitor, Will. We had to be creative in our sightseeing because Friday lockdowns meant that we were not allowed out of our apartment from Thursdays at 7pm until Saturdays at 6am. It normally isn’t such a bad thing but when you want to share with someone a country as diverse and interesting as Jordan, it definitely hindered our ability to show off as much as we’d have liked to. Add to that the nightly curfew that began at 7pm, dining out for delicious Arabic cuisine was also impacted.

February 27,2021 ~ After COVID tests and quarantine were over, we took Will to the Amman Citadel and Roman Theater for his first outing. I love this photo he took of me and Mike under the gorgeous blue sky of Amman with the flag of Jordan flying over the Archeological Museum.

Look up!
Will in action. Please check out his film scans of his shots of Jordan Will’s FLICKR

Then to our very favorite place for a late breakfast/early lunch, Khashouka. I’ve linked to the trip advisor page, if you come to Amman you need to have breakfast here!

So yummy.

March 6, 2021 ~ Another Saturday another outing, this time to the north to Karak Castle, the visibility was amazing and we could see the snow capped mountain in Syria. From Wikipedia – Kerak Castle is a large Crusader castle located in al-Karak, Jordan. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the Levant. Construction of the castle began in the 1140s, under Pagan and Fulk, King of Jerusalem.

Keeping watch
Major zoom-in.

March 12, 2021 ~ trip to the Dead Sea. After a rainy night we got to see the sea muddied from the wadis up high that emptied in. It made the water discolored and choppy and not safe for floating but interesting, nonetheless.

Not a float, but still got to go in the Dead Sea. Mountains in Israel in the distance.
Will lives in NYC, he was a long way from home but fit as if he’d been in Jordan with us the whole time. ❤️
The sunsets here never fail.

March 13, 2021 ~ woke up to a beautiful day and a lovely drive over the mountains to get to Petra.

Beautiful salt flats along the Dead Sea highway en route to Petra.
😂 my discovery.
Will at The Treasury,
Repping my Alma Mater. (Longwood College in my day)
Catching a show at the theater.
I really love the tombs.
Up the TOMB(stones) for the Deceased fans 🤘🏻
Last look at the Treasury in the shade.


March 15, 2021 ~ I made a reference in an earlier post that our Boston Terrier, Finn had gotten sick. He was really sick off and on from late November until around mid January and then we were on pins and needles with him. To make a long story short (I’m going to do a full post about it because I want to help other pet parents by sharing my experience) He had pancreatitis, kidney disease and high blood pressure. Once he was out of the hospital we managed his conditions at home, our vet was amazed at our dedication. We were able to enjoy more time with the boy we love and he got to enjoy his amazing life until his last moments in the early hours of March 15th.

So much ❤️ in one photo. (April 2019) Finn and Big Gene with their friends in Jordan.

March 20-24, 2021 ~ As we were getting ready for another Saturday trip I told Mike I didn’t feel right. I took my temperature and had a low grade fever. Yeah, I’d been having an ache in my left side for a while at that point but with all going on with Finn I wasn’t taking the best care of myself it seems. I do have diverticulosis and now they were angry and turned into diverticulitis- which is painful and sometimes dangerous if infected. It was a good thing the embassy dr told me to go to the ER as I had a bad infection and had to be admitted to the hospital. So thankful for Mike, Will, the drs and nurses. I had a bit of a recovery to go through after that but I’m happy to say, I’m taking good care of myself and feeling great. But quite an experience to be hospitalized overseas.

March 27, 2021 ~ Another Saturday another amazing Jordanian site to show Will, this time it’s Jerash.

Will atop the theater stadium.

We did normal stuff during his visit, like work a lot – Will was an intern on a USAID school construction project while he was here, order take out, watch reality TV shows, make drinks and popcorn. Mike and I used the opportunity to have Will house/cat sit and we went to the Maldives. I’ll write another post about that trip later. ☺️

Will the intern!
Will the popcorn maker!

April 17, 2021 ~ I’m telling you, Wadi Rum is the reason to visit Jordan. It’s simply epic and different every time I’ve gone. This time was hazy and even more otherworldly, I’m so glad Will got to experience it! We drove down and back in a day, with our friend Jen along for the trip! Again, check out Will’s photos here sooo good. And yes, you did recognize Wadi Rum in the movie Dune! 😍

Mike and Jen having our Wadi lunch.
Our perfect host ❤️

April 21, 2021 ~ visit to the Embassy to round out Will’s trip and he left on the 22nd to return to the US and start the job hunt (he was successful, of course!) I know he loved Jordan as much as we did and is planning to come back (just as I did, I’m just grinning looking at Amman out my hotel window as I write)

A Smith tradition (when one of us remembers 😂) to get a Queen Alia airport goodbye shot.

Time to turn off Sirius XM Indie 1.0, mask up and head out into the gorgeous Amman day to see old friends. Thank you for sticking around during my writing hiatus. I have a lot to write about and will continue to do so… next on my list: the Maldives, Istanbul, Smith girls visit Jordan, leaving Jordan/returning to US, sister visits, DC with Michele, Rushmore Farm NY, and more. Bye for now.

Art, Food/Drink, General, Travel

Flashback – Bangkok, Thailand 2020

Where were we in February 2020 just before the world closed down? We landed in Bangkok, taxi’d to our hotel and went right outside to the pool! Below is a quick photo blog of our trip! Thankful that my training for work ended up allowing me an opportunity to explore a little bit of Thailand.

The view behind our pool!
Tuk Tuk from our taxi. On the way to see the Temples!
The Emerald Buddha way back in the temple.
Reclining Buddha.
Reclining Buddha’s tootsies.
Having dinner and walking around at Asiatique.
At Asiatique.
Mike’s lunch at Chatuchak Market.
My mango and rice treat at Chatuchak Market.
We dined out a lot after I finished training for the day…I tried lots of beers!
The view of our hotel and the pool from my training room in the high rise next door!
Lots of motorbikes in Bangkok. Every night after my class ended we hit the streets.
From the backseat of our tuk-tuk coming home from dinner.
Moon rise.
Wearing my Dragonfly Yoga shirt so…
We loved going to Lumphini Park and walking around when we could.
Our view from our last meal in Bangkok.
That last bit of a beautiful Bangkok sunset from the back of our taxi.

I’m going to be leaving Jordan soon (at the end of this week!) so I’ll be putting together a few more blog posts to wrap up my adventure, that’s how I realized I had this one from Bangkok pending! 🙂 Thanks for reading, by for now.

Art, Food/Drink, General, Travel

#fbf (Flashback February): Akka/Akko/Acre and Haifa

Well what do you know? For our last winter in Jordan, which is typically cold and rainy in Amman, we were treated to a legit snowstorm! With the Embassy closed I decided to do a Flashback February post. I didn’t share these travel photos from February 15-16 of last year because once I got back from this trip I turned around a week later and went to Thailand – the world started to shut down shortly thereafter due to COVID-19.

February 2021: view from the kitchen sink last night as the snow started to fall!

So, how is it that I went to the seaside town of Akka? My friend Margaret wanted to visit the street that her husband’s family lived on in Haifa years ago and asked if anyone wanted to come along? Since I love a road trip, I said yes! Hope you enjoy the photos!

Driving through northern Jordan with a dog running along side the car.
Finally across the border.
Keeping my forever friend warm.
Church of St. John the Baptist
Standing on the walled city looking out over the Levantine Sea of the Mediterranean.
The little alley to our Airbnb.
Morning fisherman.
Strolling inside the walled city. There are tunnels beneath that I chose not to explore but Margaret, her daughter and her daughter’s friend did and said it was very cool!
The beautiful Mediterranean.

After exploring we hopped in the car and drove down the coast to Haifa. With an old address, we searched through neighborhoods for the house that Baba Johnny’s family lived in. We don’t know that we found the house, but we took a photo of Margaret and her daughter in front of it and we did for sure find their old school. All in all it was fun just driving around, talking and checking the area out.

View of Haifa, Haifa Bay and in the distance, Akka from Baha’i Gardens built on the side of Mount Carmel.
The Bahá’í Gardens were built for the shrines of the founders of the Bahá’í religion.
The shrine of the Bab.
Back from Haifa…Dinner time!
Beautiful Palestinian dresses.
Next morning, Margaret and I walked through a new little area of the walled city to get breakfast. So many beautiful little hidden sights.
We ate our breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee on the roof of our Airbnb.
Beautiful shades of blue.
I loved seeing the girls running in the surf, made me miss miss miss my daughters.

Back to reality, I know many of my readers are in a snowstorm right now all around the world. I hope the photos warmed you up a little, that you are staying healthy, getting vaccinated and that we are all traveling again soon.

Bye for now!
General, Jordan, Travel

Two years in Jordan with six months to go!

I didn’t want to look back on 2020, I was already feeling blue because my goodest boy – Baby Face “Finn” Finster – had been in the veterinary clinic for two weeks recovering from an acute attack of pancreatitis. We didn’t get to go home to the US to spend time with our daughters after being apart for a year. So, I really wasn’t in the mood to write a blog post of what’s been going on in my life, thinking “nothing great has happened to write about” but, as has become my practice before I start a blog post, I looked through the photos on my phone and realized the second half of 2020 is worth a look back and a report on, I knew that future me would appreciate it and maybe my grandma would, too. I’ve always had a camera, at least since I got my photography badge in Girl Scouts in 5th grade, and have been documenting life around me for long time. While going through my photos for my final blog post of 2020 I found plenty of precious moments that would have otherwise have been lost. Blame brain fog from being in this weird reality of 2020 or maybe it is the way my brain works – I don’t tend to remember details of moments without a trigger like music or a photo. 2 years ago in December 2018 as I prepared to leave the States for Jordan wasn’t much different than December 2020 – this time I was stressed because Finn was so sick at the vet for most of the month which meant I wasn’t going to be with Amelia and Jillian for Christmas. Just when you think being overseas during the COVID pandemic is going to keep you from your children…

COVID-19 update: Jordan did eventually open the airport, restaurants, grocery stores and for a long time local transmission of cases was low and we were kinda living our life. In September cases began to spike, continued to rise, and eventually there were cases in the Embassy community. Lockdowns on Fridays started up again, in late October Mike and I got caught in a two week quarantine after being exposed to a positive case at what became known to a few of us in attendance – the Margarita Monday Massacre – though I don’t think any new cases came out of that event. After a day of freedom the Jordan parliamentary elections locked down the country for 4 more days. Next, the Embassy instituted a 21 day self lockdown; no going out to stores or restaurants and no seeing anyone outside of your family! We could get grocery delivery, go on walks, things like that. Mike went to work, but I worked from home as I have been since the start. The measures put into place did help the transmission at the Embassy and Jordan is seeing a slight slow down. I’m just waiting on the vaccine, when it is my turn to get it you better believe I’ll be EARLY with my sleeve rolled up!

What we’ve been up to: you mean besides sitting in our apartment?
July: Our little group of friends from Mike’s office started their trips home, ending their time with us in Jordan. I drowned my sorrows by going on an EcoHike to Umm Qais on Jillian’s birthday, we cleaned up, hiked the countryside and toured the archaeological site, Gadara. From Wikipedia: Gadara was a centre of Greek culture in the region during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.[2] The name Gadara may have meant “fortifications” or “the fortified city”.[3] The site overlooks the Sea of Galilee  (Sea of Tiberias,) the Golan Heights, and the Yarmouk River gorge. It was REALLY hot, but it was REALLY worth the trip. Solo outings are something I enjoy – if that’s something you think you’d be comfortable with I say give it a go – sign up for sightseeing, go to a museum, take a class; I know I enjoy being on my own time. I met some nice people, ate some great food, got a lot of exercise and learned about Umm Qais, on a crystal clear day you can see Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The sunset for the drive home was perfect.

Then on Amelia’s birthday a couple of weeks later Mike and I went to Petra! I learned about Petra in Dr. Jordan’s Anthropology class at Longwood (College) University with my best friend, Michele – who was my first confirmed visitor to Jordan and subsequently my first heartbreak cancellation due to COVID-19 (holding out hope we can still visit Wadi Musa together, Shale). We loved Dr. Jordan’s pronunciation of Peh-trough as he showed us photos and told us stories of visiting. It looked familiar – well yeah, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!

It is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and for us – due to Covid-19, completely empty. We wanted to wait to see it with Amelia and Jillian but knew we had to jump on this once in a lifetime chance to have the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan to ourselves.

I had moments of “gosh I really hope there isn’t an earthquake right now” as we walked through the Siq leading to the open area where we were treated to The Treasury. It really is a breathtaking moment when you see the sun shining on this monument.

We walked from the green dot to the red dot and back. Next trip will be all the way to the Monastery!

Since it was starting to get really hot, we turned around at Qasr al Bint and headed back. We could really see the facades of the Royal Tombs, next time I’d like to go up that path and explore the area a little more.

The Urn Tomb (The Court)
This derived its name from the jar that crowns the pediment. It was probably constructed around 70 AD. It is preceded by a deep courtyard with colonnades on two sides. High up in the facade there are 3 niches which give on to small burial chambers, but which was adapted in 446 AD to serve as a Byzantine church. (from Visit Petra)

We had lunch in town and I had the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had at Beit Al-Barakah Restaurant and then we headed to the Petra Marriott where we ran into friends of ours, sat by the pool, had dinner and then took in this lovely view before turning in.

Til we meet again, Petra..

August: Getting our walks in early, having breakfast at our favorite places and then finding socially distanced things to do became our weekend schedule. To switch it up we walked at King Hussein Park, got bagels and coffee at Bagel Os, and visited Fuhais to put in an order for a custom made chest made from salvaged Syrian cabinet doors and benches from Mosaic shop. One of our favorite things from August was our visit to the Royal Automobile Museum, which is on the grounds of King Hussein Park. From Lonely Planet: You really don’t have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy this museum, which displays more than 70 classic cars and motorbikes from the personal collection of King Hussein. It’s something of a gem, and a great way to recount the story of modern Jordan. Vehicles range from pre-1950s glories to modern sports cars, taking in chrome-clad American cruisers to regal Rolls-Royces along the way, with accounts of presidential visits, Hollywood stars and defunct Middle Eastern monarchies enlivening the narrative.

Driving the cute photo-op cutout car!
Gorgeous view from the rooftop of Cantaloupe Gastro Pub on Rainbow Street – celebrating a friend’s return to Jordan and freedom from quarantine!

After trying out a few test routes in July, I mapped a nice 3 mile hilly walk near our place and joined by my ‘walking ladies’ we’ve been hitting the hills almost everyday after work. We walk, we talk and because there are 4 of us we always have someone to work out with. Now that it is dark out after work we wear reflective moon-sashes and bring flashlights with us, nothing has stopped us yet, well except quarantine!

September: was really busy with work things – I was part of putting together the first Arabic language Embassy podcast which was very cool, one of my colleagues interviewed two youth who’d rehabilitated a community library. I also joined on some construction site visits and took photos of new and expanded schools for USAID Jordan’s social media. Finn celebrated his 8th birthday and he and Iris continued their blissful cohabitation! The furniture we had made was delivered and I got a rug for the kitchen from Essa Farrah.

Happy 8th birthday handsome dude! I love how Iris always wraps her tail around him like a hug.

October: The walking ladies took the show on the road, venturing out into the country to hike (down 1 ‘lady’ due to a broken toe). One of the coolest things I’ve ever done is the Wadi Mujib hike and we had the wadi to ourselves. I didn’t bring my phone in with me because – if you watch the 1 minute video you’ll see – the hike is all in the water, climbing up and sliding down (I didn’t slide down!) rocks, using ropes and swimming.

At 410 meters below sea level, the Mujib Biosphere Reserve is the lowest nature reserve on Earth. Its rugged and spectacular mountains border the Dead Sea coast and are dissected by several river-filled canyons that offer the best river and adventure hikes in Jordan. The breathtaking scenery and the challenge of negotiating Mujib’s fast-flowing rivers make the Reserve one of Jordan’s most popular natural attractions. From Wild Jordan

The beginning of the Siq trail – we’re all done! We were the only ones in there besides our “life guard” who went the whole way with us.
October also brought me back to the brewery to try Carakale’s Saison – very delish!

November: I got out when I could, had lots of plans cancel and was thankful for my family and friends. Hiking ladies went on a early morning hike on the day after a couple of us got out of the Margarita Monday quarantine and before the post election day lockdowns. The hike starts at the Dead Sea highway across from the hotels and we just followed the water up, up, up.

Little crabby under the waterfall!
This hike involved a lot of rock climbing, along the way were lots of little falls and pools.

Most of November was spent in the apartment due to quarantine, the post elections lockdown and then Embassy lockdown I mentioned above in the COVID-19 update. I painted, watched shows, listened to music, worked out. At this point Finn wasn’t acting right and I was spending a lot of time worrying about him. Mike and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, and later in the month we contributed mashed potatoes to a modified Friendsgiving where each household made a dish (or dishes in some cases LOL), delivered to one friends house and she made ‘plates’ delivered back to everyone. It was really fun and a delicious meal.

December: started out terribly and ended on a high note. Finn was clearly not well, with a loss of appetite and some vomiting and diarrhea off and on since August. After running some bloodwork that showed elevated levels suggesting pancreatitis, the vet kept him for two nights. He came home happy but started to go downhill the next day on Friday lockdown so we couldn’t go anywhere. On Saturday morning we brought him back and that is where he stayed for 15 days! At the start of his stay, Mike and I went on a walk to Amman National Park and talked about how we wanted to come back with Finn so he could be in the grass and shade.

Instead, for the next two weeks we would go to the vet clinic everyday and learn more and more about what was going on. We found out he had high blood pressure (and suffered a small stroke), a heart murmur, bleeding ulcers, crystals and bilirubin in his urine (we noticed this on the day he was home with us, thinking it was blood), and small stones and sludge in his gallbladder, which can cause pancreatitis. Due to losing blood from the ulcers he needed a transfusion and the vet’s Rottweiler donated. Dogs do have blood types, and the first transfusion can be from any donor but any subsequent ones needed to be a match. Jordan doesn’t have a canine blood bank so we would have been in a bind if he’d needed a second one!

Each night the vet would bundle Finn up in his blankets and take him, his oxygen tank and IVs home. Once he was no longer in critical condition, he’d get brought out to the waiting room and put into my lap so Mike and I could sit with him for an hour. The best day was when he walked out on his own, and with each passing day he got stronger eventually coming home where we are continuing his round the clock care and getting his weight back up. Once he is stronger we will address his gallbladder issues, keep him on a low fat diet and love him like crazy. Dr. Jaber at Pet Charm Veterinary Clinic gets a million stars from us; his assistant, family and his pets too.

Soaking in the sun at home on Christmas Day, 2020 in a vintage Old Navy tee.
Since we were so good all year, Santa brought us a runner from Iraq. (Essa Farrah Carpets)

Next up: guess I will start planning for my life back in the States, I need to get my checklist started. I have some goals at work that I’d like to accomplish and most importantly I have friends here in Jordan that I need to spend time with. I’ve been lucky to work at home throughout the pandemic but it has cut into my coworker time, and I’ve really missed the friendships I was in the middle of building when we were all sent home. I’m glad that we had opportunities to get together before the first, real wave of the virus hit Jordan, we shared knowledge, said goodbye to team members and celebrated each other.

I wish I had something inspirational to say, like the rest of you I’m getting through this time with some days being better than others. I am so glad that Mike and I and our friends and family are generally healthy and happy. I am looking forward to 2021 because it means I will be back in our home, with my Mike, Amelia and Jillian. Happy new year, everyone.

bye for now.

Art, Food/Drink, General, Jordan, Travel

Back to Jordan: A year and a half under my belt and my countdown to home begins.

The situation that the entire world is in has certainly made my experience living overseas for the first time, quite different than what I’d envisioned. Being a plane ride away from my daughters is no longer true because the airport in Jordan has been closed since March. Being able to explore this country was no longer a reality, at least for 3 months, because inter-governorate travel was stopped. But what I didn’t expect from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock down that Jordan instituted so swiftly, is that I would get to see and contribute first hand to how USAID keeps working (AMAZING) and how a government can be agile in the face of the unknown. I was keenly interested in how it uses data, paired scientists and politicians to make and communicate decisions and did it’s best to try to protect the people living here. If you are interested to learn more about Jordan’s response, I’ve included some links to news stories from March and April.

At the start of May, we could go to the supermarkets within walking distance of our house, wearing masks and with limited numbers allowed in at once. Eventually that gave way to driving on odd/even license plate days within our ‘states’ between 8am – 6pm, gradually businesses started to slowly open back up, restaurants were delivery only for a bit and could then add outdoor dining after being inspected by the health department, curfew hours were changed to 6am – 12 midnight, schools and universities are still closed.

As of July 4, 2020 – there is still no commercial travel in and out of the country as the airport is still not open. The local transmission of the virus is low, daily numbers hover between 0-5 and the cases are typically traced back to a known infected person. In Jordan, a country the size of the US state of Indiana with the population of the state of Michigan (coronavirus cases 71,678 and deaths 6,212) the count of cases since the onset of the pandemic is 1, 147 with 10 deaths. This Washington Post podcast laid it out well, as host Linah Mohammad – who has family and friends in Jordan – said “you’re pitting individual liberty against public health. When you’re pitting individual good versus communal good. In a country like Jordan, it appears to be that the communal good was winning out.” We followed the rules; we wore our masks, washed our hands and stayed home. Please, wherever you are – do the same, I want my daughters to be healthy and able to visit.

What we’ve been up to; in January back in Jordan at our favorite breakfast restaurant we were surprised that the staff noticed our absence! Welcomed back with smiles and questions about our trip, we were treated to a special manakeesh and tea before our breakfast came out.

Chinese New Year, the year of the Rat, was celebrated at my coworker Mia’s house. I had so much fun at my first ‘outside of work’ event with my team. Mia prepared an amazing spread, including vegetarian dumplings just for me, I feel so lucky to be a part of the Education and Youth office!

The same night as my birthday this year, the Black History Committee at the Embassy hosted a Lip Sync Battle event; dinner, drinks, friends, music, lip synching and then karaoke. We went with just about every friend we have and had an absolute blast. The icing on the cake for me, was a stage full of friends singing “Happy Birthday”, so lucky to have met such an amazing group of smart, dedicated and FUN people!

February was busy, I took a trip mid month with my friend Margaret to visit Haifa and Akka/Acre and I had work trip to Bangkok at the end of the month. I will do separate posts about those trips. One of my work events was a Youth Roundtable that involved a walk down Rainbow Street, it was a gorgeous day. We started at this building…

Cool building on Rainbow Street across the street from the famous Al Quds Falafel Sandwich shop.

…and ended at the building below where we held the discussion. I also found a painting by a Jordanian artist here that I liked and since I got a cash award at work, I bought it a few months later!

Beautiful old Amman home that is now the Nofa Creative Space.

March. Everyday, my Luma and I meet for our Language Exchange – one day we practice Arabic and one day we practice English, we almost always sit outside during our 30 minute chats so we can get some sunshine. On this day, March 12th, a coworker snapped a photo of us – I like to say we are solving all of the worlds problems, or doing our best to.

I miss solving the worlds problems in person, but we still meet virtually!
Once we were on lockdown, only allowed in our own building – I’d go up to the roof to get some ‘nature’.
Flip side, beautiful view from our roof.

My April and May were spent inside my apartment, learning how to cook new dishes, working from home, watching new shows and movies with Mike, listening to music, reading, painting and going for walks when we weren’t under curfew. Below are some photos from my Curfew Cars collection LOL.

One of my Instagram followers comments on my Mercedes posts with the year, this one is 1967.
This old gal was spotted one evening when we were out (with permission) after curfew. (1961)
This old Cadillac limo is really cool inside, too!
The Beetle! The sign in the window (for sale!) says 1973. It looks like my old dark blue Superbeetle!

June – We celebrated Iris’ one year birthday/anniversary with us. You can read her origin story here, I call her “Finn’s kitten” because he just loves to play with her, and she loves to pounce on him. I’m so thankful for those two, my ‘coworkers’ during work from home who are fun to watch. Once we were allowed to travel outside of Amman we took the Dead Sea Highway (the times before we took the Desert Highway) south to Aqaba for a change of scenery. Since I’ve posted about Aqaba with a photo of the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea before in my Welcome to Jordan post I thought I’d show you the other view!

Mike takes in the view from the front of our hotel.
We walked a little farther into town and got to see the beautiful white Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba.

Finally, a new place in Jordan to share with you all! We visited Madaba, a little south of Amman early one Friday morning. It’s been on my list of places to see because it is known for amazing mosaic art and ancient artifacts.

“The Church of the Map” Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George.
I was in awe looking at all of the mosaics inside.
“The Madaba Mosaic Map is a map of the region dating from the 6th century and preserved in the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George, sometimes called the “Church of the Map”. With two million pieces of colored stone, the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta. The mosaic contains the earliest extant representation of Byzantine Jerusalem, labeled the “Holy City.” The map provides important details about its 6th-century landmarks, with the cardo, or central colonnaded street, and the church of the Holy Sepulchre clearly visible. This map is one key in developing scholarly knowledge about the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in 70 AD.” From Wikipedia
Inside the small church.

We had the town to ourselves, shop owners were opening up as we walked from the Map Church up to the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist which is underground in the Acropolis Museum of the Catholic Church.

The shrine. 🤭
The museum also had lovely mosaics!
After going under the church, we climbed up the steep stairs to the belfry up top – between rings – we only had 15 minutes!

On our way back to the car we stopped at the final place on my list, Madaba Archaeological Park.

“Madaba Archaeological Park draws visitors to its exquisite Byzantine mosaics. Since excavations started in the 1990s, many mosaics from the walls and floors of historic ruins were found, some dating back to the 1st century AD. Admire the different art styles and themes depicted on the mosaics, and see the remains of a sixth-century church, discovered in 1887.” read more here
“The Church of the Virgin Mary is also included in the site; built in the 6th century and unearthed beneath the floor of a private house in 1887, the church boasts a central mosaic, thought to date from 767, that is a masterpiece of geometric design.” read more here
“…contains some of the most impressive mosaics on the site, including those of Hippolytus Hall, an early-6th-century Byzantine villa. Spot the four seasons in each corner and notice the beautiful depictions of flowers and birds. The middle section shows figures from the classic Greek tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus. The upper image shows Adonis and a topless Aphrodite spanking naughty, winged Eros, while the Three Graces (daughters of Zeus representing joy, charm and beauty) float nearby.” From the Lonely Planet link above.

That wraps up my first year and a half in Jordan, the time is going by so fast and now I am officially in my countdown to move back to Virginia in July 2021. I’ve mentioned my minimalism in previous posts and one of the promises I made to myself was to only buy clothing that I needed, to do my best to ensure it was made humanely and if I needed a new t-shirt, that it shared a message that I cared about. A friend at work designed this t-shirt, made by a local company and shared it with our Embassy community. Thank you for reading, bye for now.

Art, Food/Drink, General, Travel

My first R and R: Leg two Virginia and Delaware!

Our Christmas Day flight from Germany to DC was smooth sailing, we quickly got our luggage and made it through customs and caught a cab to my mother-in-law’s house where both girls had parked their cars before leaving. I drove Jillian’s car and Mike drove Amelia’s car back to Fredericksburg where Mike and I were staying, at our friend’s AirBnB. Jillian helped us unload our luggage and then she was back on the road to her place in Richmond, but not before opening her gift that was under the tree that my friend and hostess with the absolute mostest, Bobbi put up for us.

Waiting for us at the top of the stairs of the Best AirBnB in Fredericksburg! Our home for the next 11 days!
I loved waking up everyday to this sunlight/shadow on the wall.

It didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of things. We walked the Rappahannock River Heritage Trail/Canal Path in the mornings, went to breakfast at our favorite places, drove by our house, got some shopping done for things that we needed to bring back to Amman, chilled out and relaxed a little because we had a few low key visits planned. First was a lovely get-together at our friend Caroline‘s house, lots of fun, yummy food and drinks; I couldn’t wait for the blue bowl to be filled with bread before I got this picture of her festive and beautiful blue dining room.

Such a lovely night!

One of the most important trips was back to our neighborhood so we could look at our house again LOL and visit with our neighbors and hope that we’d get to see our darling kitty, Gracie. You might remember her from previous blog posts where I bought a litter box in anticipation of her coming with us, (she didn’t (second picture)) and another (she’s way down at the end) where I mention that my next door neighbors were caring for her. Her backstory: she moved to our neighborhood in 2011 and I discovered this as I was outside doing yard work and taking pictures of these cool mushrooms that were growing around an old stump.

As you can tell from the vantage point of the photo, I had to crouch down to get a good shot and this little gray kitty came out of nowhere and ran right up to me.

Enter: little gray cat.

I hadn’t seen her before and she was the friendliest outdoor cat I’d ever encountered. Every time I knelt down, she would rub up against me, practically knocking me down. I kept waiting for one of the girls to come out so they could see her before she ran away. When no one came out, I just kept trying to take as many pictures of her that I could – which was difficult because as you can see from the pictures below, she kept rubbing against me!

So this day – June 18, 2011 is the first day that we met our next door neighbor’s ‘shop cat’ Gracie! He brought him with her to their new house where she lived outside and visited our house often – eventually she started having occasional sleepovers! We got Finn in December of 2012 and though Gracie wasn’t crazy about him, she tolerated him because she loved visiting with us. We made sure to have a bag of cat food around in case she visited for a while, but otherwise – her care was the responsibility of our neighbor. That is until 2013 when he moved and she became ours, I took her to the vet and made it official! She remained the most affectionate cat, she would play with Finn sometimes, she was my buddy when Amelia went off to college, when Mike worked overseas and when Jillian went to college. She liked to have coffee with me on the front porch while I watered the plants, have a beer on the back deck while I read a book, she’d roam the neighborhood then sleep for hours in one of her many spots inside the house so when it turned out that I was going to move overseas, too, I just assumed she was going with me.

She loves snuggling with humans, dogs – not so much. Other cats? Not at all!

Turns out that my cat people friends didn’t assume she was going with me and when I started to worry that maybe I was making the wrong decision, my friend Judy told me that they wanted to keep her so she wouldn’t have to experience such a stark environment change. Good thing I have those smart cat people in my life because it would have been a disaster for her here, it broke my heart because I was going to miss her but we decided to leave her with Judy who is our left side next door neighbor. So now Gracie has gone from one house, to mine, now to Judy’s.

Except there’s one more chapter to the story, while Judy was on vacation she asked one of our other animal loving neighbors to feed the cats (she has a cat, too), enter George – the grandpa of our cul-de-sac, who (before his dog passed away last year) could be seen taking one to two LONG walks everyday with his senior Golden Retriever. Well, much like how she adopted me and my family – she decided that she was going to move in with George, another person who had never had a cat and now those two are in love. George and Gracie, isn’t that great? I happen to be best neighbor buddies with George’s daughter who ALSO lives on the court, so when we visited with her on New Years Eve – we went over to Gracie’s and it took her a minute to realize what was going on but once she knew it was me and Mike, she purred and let us love on her. I know she is bringing George such joy, he belongs to her now, she goes where she is needed and with George she will stay. ❤️

Loviest girl!
Gracie, queen of the court and we are all her subjects!

I needed a beer after all of that and headed to Red Dragon and met up with friends, then I took my beer buzz to Dragonfly Yoga for an amazing evening Restorative Yoga class. A quiet New Years Eve was just what we needed as the next few days were going to be delightfully busy!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! We had 5 full days left to visit before we were scheduled to fly back to Amman. I am not one to shy away from driving all over so we hopped into Amelia’s little Nissan and got on with it!
January 1 2020 – Mike, Amelia and I drove down to Richmond to visit with Jillian and meet her boyfriend and enjoy some delicious pizza at Pupatella . We got to see some of our Richmond family as well. No better way to start the new year than with my three.

We went to Carytown so I could get a few things from Ashby the resale clothing store where Jillian works. Since I started practicing minimalism in 2016 I have purchased very few newly created items of clothing and since moving to Amman in 2018, just about everything has been recycled. For this trip I had a list and some photo ideas of what I was looking for and told my personal shopper, Jillian what I needed. She searched and brought pieces to me to try while Mike and Amelia sat in the lounge on a comfy couch and people watched. If you go to Richmond you really have to visit Ashby and Clementine (more upscale consignment (sister) shop) you can get up to date items to freshen up your existing wardrobe!

January 2 2020 – I woke up extra early so I could carpool to DC with two of the best KM/Intranet systems analysts ever, where we joined the other best analyst ever, so we could all be together with the best engineers as a whole team for just one day! Being back at the GEICO HQ felt like no time had passed, seeing familiar faces, chatting with old colleagues and of course lunch at Clyde’s, we had so much fun!

My people, I’m still so impressed by how much value this small team brings to GEICO! (I’m wearing my recycled Madewell outfit from Ashby!)

Just like a year prior for my going away/retirement party, Estee came down from Buffalo for the day and since her flight wasn’t scheduled til later in the evening we went to Lia’s for dinner and more laughing before we headed off to National Airport to drop her off for the flight back.

Cruising down GW parkway.

January 3 2020 – let’s go somewhere! My classic mom tribe (plus the classic dads) took a scenic drive out west to Sperryville, Virginia to have some pizza and beer at Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen and browse the artwork at Haley Fine Art, a gallery that I found a few weeks before moving to Jordan when the girls and I took a Sunday drive. There’s also a brewery in Sperryville Hopkins Ordinary Bed Breakfast Aleworks, but they were closed so we went to Copper Fox Distillery and had some whiskey hot toddies before heading back to the ‘Burg.

Bobbi likes the big pitcher of Hefeweizen!
Yum – pizza is my favorite!
Interesting little piece, the car spoke to me!
Big beautiful whale sculpture by Woody Blackwell. Behind him on top of the cabinet is my purchase from Tom Mullany an artist I admired since seeing his work last year and subsequently followed on Instagram. While we were there, he happened to stop in and joined us for a glass of wine and a chat about art!
Mike enjoying a break next to the stunning glass of wine by BongKyun Noh and the realistic tootsie roll by Michael Fitts.
Warmed up inside the Copper Fox Distillery!

January 4 2020 – let’s go see my sisters! The girls and I drove north to New Castle, Delaware for a meet up. My two sisters and I have been doing these road trips for the last few years as a way to make time for us to see each other for a day to talk, laugh and to check a place out. We strive to find a good halfway point between Fredericksburg and mid Long Island, scope out a place to eat ahead of time so we know where to meet and then we free from the rest of the day in the hopes we find cool places and meet nice people. We thought we would meet and have lunch at Wheely’s… well that didn’t happen! The only sign on the side of this big red building was:

No one was even there to sell us some CBD oil! Curse you Yelp! We had a great laugh and found a place in the Historic part of town. (sorry for the lo res iPhone video screen shot)

After our brunch we headed towards the river which had so much fog that we could not see across, but we could hear boats passing and then experienced the wake hitting the shore moments later, it was a pretty cool sensory experience.

We met this nice man down at the Delaware River and he explained to us that we were looking at what remained of the old dock that had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
Interesting little row houses with lots of great moss and things like this.
The new dock leading out to a completely foggy river.
Walking around, talking and trying not to sprain our ankles on the cobblestone streets.
Penn’s place.
Debra is a librarian! The Old Library Museum is in an octagonal, Victorian building built in 1892.

We checked out some of the shops on the way back to our cars, gave big hugs and away we went with another roadtrip under our belts.

Our last full day in the States was spent kicking around our town, meeting my dad and Shirley for brunch, picking up any last minute items we wanted to bring back to Amman with us, cleaning up the apartment and doing laundry. We had a nice dinner out, got a good night’s sleep and the next morning we packed and Amelia drove us to the airport. I feel like I took full advantage of the rest and relaxation of both legs of our trip, (my mother will appreciate this) but I can’t help but hear Elmer Fudd say “west and wewaxation at wast” from Wabbit Twouble whenever someone says R&R.

Thank you for reading, bye for now! xxoo.

General, Travel

My very first R-and-R! Leg one – Germany and Austria

I am using my time under the strictest curfew in the world – here in Jordan – by working on paintings, finding recipes for Mike to cook for me, listening to music, watching shows and catching up on my blog posts, starting with our first R&R to Munich! Last December I was selling, donating, fixing up, arranging and packing out our house and by the time Christmas Eve arrived I pretty much had only a coffee maker and my couch left (Thanks to my neighbor who donated it for me the following day)! The girls wanted to spend Christmas at our house since it would be the last one for a few years so after we returned from dinner at my father’s, moved the couch into the empty dining room so we could be ‘cozy’ and not interrupt Santa who would be arriving soon to fill the stockings that were hanging from our fireplace. As we three sat on the one couch together I told them “This isn’t so bad, right? But just think, this time next year we could be somewhere like Germany celebrating Christmas at the Christmas Markets!” A year later, we did!

Where we decided to go: Munich! I’m going to get into the details a bit of how we travelled with the intent of providing a roadmap for anyone who wants to do this for 2020 and beyond!

Mike, our younger daughter Jillian and I took the RyanAir flight from Amman to Memmingen, Germany – a small, efficient airport – then we caught the Airport Express bus to Munich City Center at the bus-stop immediately to the right when you come out of the airport – we bought tickets on the bus (for the three of us I think it was 60 euro) but it is a little cheaper if you buy them online before. It was a non-stop super comfortable ride, lasting about an hour and a half, dropping us off at the Munich Central Station. We walked through the station which had bakery stands, coffee shops and a large food hall with all kinds of different dining options then exited on the other side where it was one more block to our hotel – Courtyard Marriott Munich City Center. I chose this hotel because we intended to walk and use pubic transportation to get around during our 7 day stay and we’ve always had a great experience staying at Marriott, we like consistency! We arrived a little later than originally planned because our flight was delayed leaving Amman – so we dropped off our bags in our room and turned right around to get some dinner and beer. Just outside of the Hauptbahnhof was a great looking place so we went back and they happened to have a spot for three!

Munchner Stubn Inn where we had our first and last meals in Munich! THE BEST food, service and atmosphere! This is who welcomed us to Munich!
Morning view from our hotel room, you can see the Alps in the distance.

The next morning, we got up early so that we could meet our older daughter Amelia and Mike’s mom, they flew United from Dulles to Munich and (finally, after having trouble finding the bus stop at Munich Airport, go outside the arrivals hall and look for the yellow Lufthansa signs) caught the Lufthansa shuttle from the Airport to the Munich Central Station, I did buy their tickets online (10 euro per person). The shuttle made a few stops, I think the ride was about 45 minutes and we were so happy when they arrived so that our Christmas in Bavaria could begin!

There are so many Christmas Markets in Munich and a lot of them branch off from the main one at Marienplatz. For first timers, this was just the most absolutely perfect place to ‘market and was a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel.

Smith’s walking the city streets!
St. Michael Kirche,_Munich
Neues Rathaus – New Town Hall, everyday at at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. (except from November through February no 5pm show) the Glockenspiel chimes and then the characters in the tower are activated.
For the meat eaters, this is where you can get some brats. For the vegetarians and vegans – there were *some* options like pretzels, apfelstrudel and at one stall, a delicious ratatouille on a baked potato!
For the wine drinkers of course, the Gluhwein, you can get red or white! We don’t recommend you have a cup of Gluhwein after flying in from Dulles and not having eaten a lot of food! 😉

After getting the lay of the land at Marienplatz we went back to the hotel to rest for a little bit before we checked it all out again… at niiiiiight! This seemed to be our schedule for the week besides our two, daylong train trips we took.

The kind of sights you have to look forward to!

The next morning we walked back to Marienplatz to check out the markets that were off the main plaza and we found this tower that we could walk up… so we did! Turns out it is St. Peter’s Church and one of the many attractions to see (not that we knew that beforehand!) when you visit Munich. I do like our style of sightseeing because we don’t feel like we are checking things off of a list which makes for a very relaxing vacation. The four of us walked up the 299 steps to the top, checked out the views and then walked back down! Good thing Jillian had her student ID, adults 2EURO students 1EURO LOL!

What we did have a list of were the different Markets around town, since not all of them were in the Marienplatz. One was in the middle of the woods in a well known park in the city called The English Garden. We took a cab to get there and our driver talked a little about the sights as we passed by, when we arrived to The Christmas Market at the Chinese Tower we found a lively little beer garden and unique stalls with handmade crafts.

The lady running this stand is a puppeteer and had fairies, gnomes and all sorts of fantastical creatures.

I recognized some people from our hotel and asked them how they got here and they said a tram dropped off right nearby, so we walked through some of the lovely gardens to the tram stop, couldn’t figure out how to buy tickets and boarded with everyone else! Dropped us off right near the train station and some of us went back to the hotel and some off us went out for some more Munchen/Bavarian beer!

Amelia and I enjoying some Munich beer back at Munchner Stubn!
Next up some Ayinger at a place near the train station!
Then some Augustiner back at the hotel. Alles gut!

Another day another walk to a Christmas Market, this time we went to the Christmas Village at the Munich Residenz. This one is perfect if you have little kids (or big ones, as mine loved the storybook themed stalls) on the walk there we saw a statue with Michael Jackson memorabilia and turns out that this is set up across from the hotel where he used to stay in Munich. Was an odd sight.

We walked through a mall and saw these wings, my lil angel LOL.
This market is in a courtyard within the Residenz which is the former palace of the monarchs of Bavaria.
Telling Santa what trips she wants to take next year!
Inside the Residenz.
The Antiquarium.
This church is attached to the Residenz and was bombed in 1944 and remained a ruin until 1986. Now it is used as a concert hall.
We are proud to be different.

Munich is nicely situated so that we could take two day trips by train to see some more of Bavaria. It was very easy and inexpensive to buy train tickets using Trainline and having the tickets emailed to me to show to the ticket taker. For our first day trip we travelled west two hours to Fussen so that we could get a look at Neuschwanstein Castle. Once you get off the train there are busses to catch (you can buy tickets on the bus) that take you 30 minutes to the bottom of the castle. We walked up the steep road, saw a little Alpine waterfall, saw the castle and then turned around and headed back. While we were sitting on the bus that takes us back to the train station I realized that I only had one glove, looked out the window and spotted it and ran off the bus to go get it and made it back in time – cannot have cold hands in Germany in December!

It was a drizzly day but it was so cool and gothic, we didn’t mind!
Hohenschwangau, the childhood residence of King Ludwig II is across the street from Neuschwanstein.
After the day of castles Amelia and I decided to walk to Hofbrau Haus – which is a little farther beyond the Marienplatz! Quite the experience and a lot of fun!
We walked around and around looking for a spot at a table and joined this couple to eat and drink beerhall style! Prost!

Once our friends were done with their meal, Amelia and I scooted down towards the windows so we could have some more strangers sit with us. Along came a family of 5 and as the table was being cleared we made small talk. Hello’s and where are you from’s and what have you been doing’s, and all the while something about the lady seemed familiar to me – maybe she had one of those nice faces I kept thinking to myself, I even said “you look so familiar!”. They were from Australia and on a long holiday traveling around the region. We mentioned that we had gone on our first train trip to see the castles and they said “oh we’ve been there, too” and realized that we’d all been there that same day! As we continued to talk it started to dawn on me so I asked them if they were on the 2:00 bus back to the train station and the lady said “Yes………oh my gosh, you are the lady that left the bus to get her glove!!” She had been sitting directly across from me and once I got off the bus she told us she turned to her husband and said “I don’t think she’s gonna make it back in time” but when I got back she gave me a little smile and applause and I looked at her and said something like “whew, need my good gloves!” Quite an experience considering there were SOO many people visiting Munich, sooo many people in HofBrau Haus and the train and bus were both packed standing room only, with people that day. The world is small in some regards if you are living in the moment!

More glorious sites to see as we walked along.

The next day we walked in the opposite direction from the City Center as Amelia and I did the night before thinking we were going to have dinner at a vegan restaurant on the other side of town (needed reservations!) and we saw what looked like a big tented festival which turned out to be the Tollwood Winterfestival. Lots of art installations, more booths with food, drinks and things to buy, big halls of artworks, international food, theater shows and lots of people. By this point we were slowing down a bit so we walked around and then headed back to the hotel.

Another stop at HB so Mike could experience it and we met this guy!
…and had more Spaetzle for me and something meaty and sauerkrauty for Mike.

Then we went to the Medieval Christmas Market!

Amelia found some very hot dinner!

Next day trip was to Salzberg Austria because…why not! Again, inexpensive train travel, booked tickets online and we stayed so close to the train station that it was easy to get up early and get on a 9am! It was raining when we got there and it is a little bit of a walk from the train station to the old town so once we got there we went into The Christmas Museum to warm up (ticket prices on the site). History of Christmas from around the world, decorations and such, we weren’t allowed to take pictures but the site does a nice job of showing the museum off.

Across the street from the Christmas Museum is a town square with a statue of Mozart!

Salzberg also had a lovely Christmas Market that we were able to walk through between the drizzles, similar to the Munich markets but with slightly different wares and food. We also visited the Mozart Residence which is now a museum and dried out and warmed up again while we learned about the fam!

To cross the street to get to the old town we went under and found this great street art!
As we were getting ready to leave the clouds started to dissipate and we saw some Alps behind the city! Back onto the train to Munich!

The next day was Christmas Eve and our official last day in Munich. as we were all flying to Dulles on Christmas Day. We peeked into a couple of the cathedrals along the Marienplatz, picked up some christmas ornaments and did a little bit of shopping before it started to rain and we headed back to the hotel.

I think this was St. Michaels.

Finally, we took some pictures in front of the Rathaus Christmas Tree and walked back to Munchner Stubn for our Christmas Eve dinner – without reservations and it was packed. I think the universe was rewarding me for arranging a great holiday trip for my family.

We were all bundled up LOL. Big props to my mother-in-law, we kept telling her “when we go on vacation we walk A LOT” she walked, she bussed, she rode the train, the tram, a taxi…
My whole world!
YES I got this again!
Not sure what this is, but it is what Mike ordered.
Amelia’s stew.
… to all. And to all…a good night!

Next morning we were up and at ’em. Caught the Lufthansa Bus to Munich Airport and flew into Dulles Airport to start the second leg of our R&R. I will write a little about it in a new blog post – that I hope to finish this week so that I can get caught up. Not that there is anything that I can do in Jordan right now that I can share with you. Thank you for reading, my dear family and friends, bye for now.

Art, General, Jordan, Mindfulness, Travel

A year in the life…

So here we are, together again – you are there and I am here. It’s been a year since I’ve started this blog after leaving my career and KM team, leaving my friends and neighbors, leaving my house and Gracie cat, leaving my family and leaving my daughters! I never imagined that I could do this but here I am – doing it! Before I left the US one of my dear friends gave me a card that said “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and what this last year has taught me is that even though I love being in my comfort zone, I can also be happy outside of it – really happy, at that. Another dearie did a watercolor of a Joan Didion quote that I also keep in my eye line each day, “Remember what it is to be me, that is always the point” and I do my very best everyday to remember that. The “me” changes, especially when you are pushed a little beyond what you are comfortable with, but that is the point, be mindful. I’m ready for 2020; some more travel, learn everything that I can about youth programs while I’m with USAID, spend time with the people that I love, take photographs and create paintings, have some visitors to Jordan, see Petra, maybe even something really cool that I don’t even know about.

What I’ve been doing: the end of 2019 was very chill. Just hanging out with Mike and the pets, working, going out to dinner with friends. We started walking a 5K every weekend morning after one of our friends saw a Virtual 5K walk in a health magazine and asked a bunch of us if we wanted to do it, so we’ve kept that up. I got some acrylic paints and have been painting some smaller paintings while I get used to the difference between acrylics and oils. I like the way my first acrylic turned out…

Ol Mercedes.

Late October is Olive Picking season in Jordan and there isn’t a lot of time to get all of the olives off the branches. The community liaison office at the Embassy set up an olive picking trip to Ajloun which is in northern Jordan (and north of Amman), and since my friend Elly and I like to have a job to do – we went! It was cool to see Ajloun Castle as we drove into the town.

Ajloun Castle (Arabic: قلعة عجلون‎; transliterated: Qalʻat ‘Ajloun), is a 12th-century Muslim castle situated in northwestern Jordan. It is placed on a hilltop belonging to the Mount Ajloun district, also known as Jabal ‘Auf after a Bedouin tribe which had captured the area in the 12th century. From its high ground the castle was guarding three wadis which descend towards the Jordan Valley. It was built by the Ayyubids in the 12th century and enlarged by the Mamluks in the 13th. The name ‘Ajlun goes back to a Christian monk who lived on this mountain in the Byzantine period. The castle stands on the ruins of a monastery, traces of which were discovered during archaeological excavations.
We were treated to a delicious breakfast by the Women Farmers group.
To pick the olives we would get a branch and pull down then pop the olives off and they would collect on big sheets beneath the tree. Here is Elly doing a great job! ❤
Some olives still on the branch!
Taking a break and heating up some tea over an open fire while we wait for lunch.
We pickled some green olives and then we went to the refinery and got freshly pressed olive oil!

I’ve gotten to do some really interesting visits the last couple of months for my work at USAID. When one of my coworkers asked if I wanted to join to see a young artists’ work in a bookshop in Madaba, you know I said “OH YES”! Madaba is southwest of Amman and best known for it’s ancient mosaics, most notably, one of a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land. Mike and I haven’t toured Madaba yet, but it is on my to-do list so there will be a special edition post early in the new year.

Kawon bookstore, vegetarian/vegan food, cultural center, artist hub, organic garden, all around perfect place!
Cool way of displaying books that are already damaged/destroyed rather than throwing them away.
The youngest art lover at the event and my favorite little person of the day – the feeling was mutual from her end.
As I was leaving I saw this outside the bookstore, never thought I’d see another Metal Maniacs magazine – let alone, in a town in Jordan!

Next work visit was to a new school for Sign Language in Zarqa which is north east of Amman, I had been to the school once before to get some photos and video for social media and while we were there I was able to participate an in interview of one of the high school students – I’d ask a question in English, it would be translated into Arabic and then translated into Sign Language! He was adorable, his hobby outside of school is acting – so he was a natural in front of the camera. I was able to look at the arabic letter alphabet poster on the wall and spell my name for him in sign language.

Love these affirmations on the stairs.

Next trip was to Al-Jizeh which is in Amman but a very different world from the city that I live in. Lots of farms, small houses and tents – students drop out of school to help work for their families. This was the first event that I worked on from the start and I was really proud of my office and the work we do. We launched a Non-Formal Education center for girls and the event helped to raise awareness. We were in the newspaper, on TV and USAID’s social media, outreach accomplished!

I held some flowers and my coworker took a picture of me! 🙂

Mike and I had our 27th wedding anniversary in November and I worked with a local jeweler to create a band with our names written in Arabic and I absolutely love it. I’d originally intended for the ring to be a wedding band to go with my engagement ring but when I gave the wrong ring size and then it fit my pinky perfectly AND looked cool – I loved it even more. She is such a talented artist.

Pet time: Iris had her spay surgery (at home!) and she came through like a champ. I, on the other hand, barely did. Like most people, seeing an animal under anesthesia is quite unsettling. 😐

Day before, she is practicing for the operating room.
Day after, she wasn’t thrilled and Finn was constantly worrying about her.
She didn’t even mess with her stitches. No cone, nothing.
Being a caretaker is a tough job, sleepy boy on his blankie.
Feeling better a few days later, Iris with one of her toys – “Cork”
They like to have coffee in bed with me before work. They wrestle, Finn brings his green ball in, they chase each other, then they rest.

Back to Jordan; I had a great night out with a crew of international ladies to check out some carpets and antiques at Farrahs in Downtown Amman. There were lots of things there, but the carpets were the draw for me. I didn’t get anything but have some ideas of what style of rug I’d like to get eventually.

The pottery was gorgeous!
Lovely rugs.
An Iraqi wedding rug, they called this one the Angry Lady (or Angry wife, or Angry mother).

While we were waiting outside Farrah’s for our Ubers to arrive, this 73 VW came riding by. This one looked like my best friends’ father’s car so I snapped a quick pic – the driver rolled down his window and we had a chat and now I’m painting this scene, it is very downtown Amman – I just love it.

My friend Kim and I needed to get some gifts for various parties we were attending so we went to the Boulevard for the Christmas Market – we had a great dinner at Free the Fork and got some nice Jordanian crafts at the market. I went in July when Jillian was here and linked the places we visited. It was just so pretty, not much else to say about it – I wanted to share the photos! Christmas season in Jordan has been nice, trees and decorations are up all over, everyone loves seeing Santa(s), people at work are doing Secret Santa stuff (I’m not haha) and candy grams, it is just nice. My next blog post will be about the Christmas Markets we visited in Munich, Germany at the end of December and a little about my first R&R home in the US!

Strolling along the boulevard!

Interesting how things come full circle sometimes. Before I came to Jordan I knew that I wanted to volunteer at CRP (Collateral Repair Project) and help the beneficiaries of that community center either with language, computer skills, life skills, anything that I could do to contribute. As you know, I was able to teach english to a class for a semester and one of my students was Suleman. From the moment we met him, Lareena and I were hooked by his infectious smile, his desire to connect with us and talk, he wanted to be the first to answer questions or tell a story. He is in the same age group as our daughters, so we were motherly towards him. Well, Suleman and his family are part of the 3% of refugees that are resettled to another country and he is off living in Australia! We got together one last time to have breakfast the day before he left, with the beautiful backdrop of Amman behind us. I am so thankful to have had the chance to meet him and am looking forward to following his life through his social media.

What I’ve been watching/listening to: Absolutely loved Watchmen, I read the graphic novel years ago on Mike’s recommendation, saw the movie but this series is just… ugh I loved it. I’m still listening to the new Opeth, still in Swedish. I do love Angel Olsen, particularly the song All Mirrors and Grimes’ song, So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth.

Next up: we didn’t go to Egypt, just didn’t have time to squeeze it in but it is on the back burner. In the meantime, I am scheduled to take training in March – in Bangkok, Thailand. Mike is planning to join me so we can do some exploring, eating and drinking when I’m not learning. After that in April I will be visiting Nerja, Spain to stay at my friend Margaret’s apartment – let’s call it a ladies trip! Arabic class is going well and Luma and I are still practicing our language exchange with each other, I just love her and would learn any language if it meant I could spend time talking with her each week. Happy New Year and thank you for reading my blog in 2019, I will be sharing more about Jordan, travels, my pets and my painting in 2020…bye for now!

Everyone in the world looks up into the same sky each night.

Jordan, Travel

Special Edition: Wadi Rum

A couple of weekends ago, Mike and I travelled about three and a half hours south of Amman to Aqaba, Jordan’s port on the Red Sea. It was our second trip there, we’d taken the girls when I first arrived in Jordan. One of our friends was celebrating her birthday and we had a great opportunity to go back with her and her wife and two other friends to enjoy a weekend out of the city. After a fun night at the Kempinski Hotel we drove the next morning to the amazingly breathtaking desert of Wadi Rum. This special edition blog post is dedicated solely to that adventure.

Sunset over the Red Sea in Aqaba looking towards the bottom of Israel and Egypt.
Woke up early to head back north.
The Desert Highway has stunning landscapes.

Wadi Rum is a protected area of Jordan that is inhabited by tribes of Bedouins who are the nomadic desert people of this region of the world. We arrived early to the visitors center, checked out the map and decided what we wanted to see. An eight hour tour, to include a sunset, was what we chose and we were matched with a guide who settled us into the back of his Toyota and off into the desert we went!

Bedouin tents throughout the Wadi Rum protected area offered visitors a place to rest in the shade and have some tea.
One can travel by Toyota or camel. This photo was taken at the bottom of Lawrence Spring named for T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – who made the area his military base and home.
How gorgeous is this animal? I felt sorry that she was tethered here but sure she was out in the desert shortly after this photo was taken.

Our first big climb was up an enormous sand dune to reach the rocks that we climbed up to this view. At first I thought that it would be impossible to fill eight hours but, let me tell ya, it takes time to climb up rocks and once you are up there you just want to sit and rest for a bit before you turn around and figure out how to climb back down!

The first of many interesting rock bridges we saw.
At the entrance to Khazali Canyon. The rock formation above the tree looks like the crown and profile of a king.
The most gorgeous natural colors; red sand, pink and purple rocks.
Our guide standing in the canyon where you can see some of the Nabatean petroglyphs, which are found throughout Wadi Rum.
More petroglyphs.
So cool.

After three stops we drove to a shady spot to have lunch, well – our guide brought some lunch to share with us but we packed our own not knowing that we’d have lunch provided :)! Thankfully, there were a couple of people in our party that were happy to take him up on his offer. We sat for a bit, ate, talked and then got antsy and back into the Toyota we went!

Our lovely Bedouin guide.
Photo courtesy of Kelly (KH) of Elly (ES) looking at the Burdah Rock Bridge – just slightly left of center of this photo if you zoom in. To get to the bridge is a a legit rock climb that would have taken us half the day!
Photo of Mike and I, courtesy of KH!
Photo by KH of another view of the Barrah Canyon, our guide and his Toyota.

After our stop in the middle of the canyon our Toyota sped through the sand and came upon a herd of camel, thankfully our guide had some bread left from our lunch and offered a slice to this snacker who then checked us all out. Some of the animals that live in Wadi Rum are camels, foxes, snakes, hedgehogs, sand cats, wild dogs and ibex.

Our next stop was one of the big attractions, the Um Fruth Rock Bridge. Most of our party did not climb up; one of us went half way (not me) and another went all the way to the top (not me).

On our way in.
Beautiful view from the other side!
Resting in the tent with the bedouin and this little wild kitten.
Heading out I turned around and saw this great view of some adventurers!
All lined up and ready to race people around!

One of my favorite parts of the day was getting back into the truck, situating ourselves and just driving in the desert. It was a little like sitting in a speed boat that is racing through the water – fast, bumpy, windy and lots to look at.

A REAL quick video!

I particularly liked my view once Mike turned his hat around and I could see the logo to my best friends’ brewery in Fredericksburg; Red Dragon Brewery!

Photo courtesy of ES.

The last stop before our sunset climb was to a formation that reminded me of Skull Island from King Kong. What was the most interesting was all of the stacked rock ‘installations’ up on the flat surfaces and tucked in the nooks! We added a rock or two to the Jenga like ‘artworks’.

If you zoom in, you can see how many rock structures there are, they were everywhere!
Me taking a photo of the rocks and of Elly who was taking the next photo!
Photo courtesy of ES. You can see the many desert roads that the guides use.
The King Kong spot.

At this point we’d been riding around for about seven hours and needed to get to the location where we could sit and watch the sunset. The climb was an easy one and we got there early enough to claim a primo spot. We watched trucks driving back and forth leaving trails of dust in their wake, we saw caravans of visitors on sunset camel rides and we talked about our day.

A sunset I will never forget.
Time lapse of the sunset.
I loved seeing our guide sitting with his friends waiting for their workday to end.

So, what do you after an eight hour tour of Wadi Rum? Some people camp in the park, either on their own or with a camp company. We stayed at camp outside of the park called Sun City

The moon rise on the way to our camp.

We got to the camp just before it got dark, dropped our things in our tents and headed to the dinner – meat cooked in the ground which is pretty cool if you like that sort of thing. LOL thankfully there was plenty for this vegetarian to eat; eggplant, hummus, even pasta! After dinner Mike and I took bean bag chairs over to our friend’s deck of the Martian Bubble tents we were staying in and gazed up at the full moon, tracked where the planes we could see were flying to (there’s an app for that), figured out what stars and constellations were in the sky (there’s an app for that), listened to music and chit chatted.

I’d hoped to get photos of the stars and maybe the Milky Way but this gorgeous full moon made the sky too bright.
The view we woke up to as the sun rose in the east.
Fresh morning air with a peek of sunshine.

While I stayed in bed, our friends went on a sunrise camel ride to kick off Missy’s actual birth-day.

Photo courtesy of KH.
The Smiths are big fans of the movie ‘The Martian’ which was filmed in Wadi Rum. Lots of other movies were filmed here, too! This is what our Bubble “tents” looked like. They were just like hotel rooms!
Me and my guy – living this great adventure. Photo taken by Kelly.

Needless to say, we enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. After having breakfast at the camp we packed up and headed home to Amman where we picked up Finn from the petsitter and returned to our waiting kitty, Iris. It felt so good to have spent so much time outside, walking and climbing, getting dusty, knotty hair, breathing fresh air and being with great people. We should all make the time to do that. Thanks for reading, bye for now.