Art, Food/Drink, Jordan, Knowledge Management, Travel

Three Months!

I have now been a resident of Jordan for three months, time has gone by so quickly and I realized that it has been one month since my last blog post! I have been keeping busy and taking pictures so that I can share with you! Updates on my outstanding items: my house isn’t rented yet but with the coming of spring I anticipate that will resolve soon! My big shipment of our household effects are in the country and awaiting customs sign off so that they can be delivered to me and my job is still pending my clearance which is in the works. So with that admin business out of the way, lets get to the fun stuff…

What I’ve been doing: still exploring and LEARNING! One of the nice things about being at a big embassy like the one here in Amman is all of the people you meet. I have become involved in a few “groups”; vegetarian/vegan diet people, dog/animal lovers, yoga people, moms, work people, volunteers and with each group comes different outings and invitations. We did our first brunch with the work crew at the W hotel. Mike and I had gone there for my birthday and going back with the big group was fun! I snapped a gorgeous shot of the dessert table before it was eaten! This is a great brunch, the food is amazing and the drinks are bottomless!

The W Hotel, Amman.
The desserts were works of art!

We went to visit Carakale Brewery again with a big group of Mike’s work friends to celebrate a birthday and had a great time!

As I mentioned in my last blog, the girls and I had tickets to meet each other in Londontown and I caught this scene as I was packing… Finn started to get a little bit of suitcase anxiety after Mike started traveling a few years ago. His body language says it all… sorry bud – mom needed to visit her human children!

Making it difficult to pack my clothes for London!
Gorgeous view of London from the last row of the plane!

I was so excited to see the girls in London, it had been since January 10th that we’d last seen each other and we were more than ready! I arrived on Tuesday night and booked a hotel close to the airport so that I could go meet them there in the morning. I set my alarm early, checked their flight and found out it had been delayed for three hours out of Dulles which meant more sleep for me but a long day/night for them! Seeing them come through the international arrivals gate at Heathrow was such a great moment, my good traveling girls. They rested a little at the airport before hitting the Underground (where more resting occurred) to Kilburn where our AirBnB was in Northwest London (for more rest!). I was properly rested so I ventured out and took a look around.

The view from our window.
Our home neighborhood for a few days.

Since we had 2 full days to explore we decided to go full on tourist and bought tickets for the Big Bus. We took the local bus from right outside our flat to the city center where we took the Red Line tour (Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, London Bridge, etc…) atop the classic double decker. It was a great experience and we learned a lot from the tour guide. Once back in our neighborhood we walked to the pub – North London Tavern – which had great local Camden Brewery beer on tap AND an awesome vegan selection, which Amelia appreciated! Day two we got a lovely breakfast in the ‘hood and bussed back down into the city where we ventured into Kensington to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. From the bus I saw this art installation, was intrigued by the concept of “even nothing changes”, took a picture and researched.

The ‘retrospective’ exhibition of the Mexican artist Stefan Brüggemann
entitled Text Pieces (1997 — 2014), consists of twenty-six works in total, drawn
from the extensive corpus of the artist’s works with language from his early
career to the present.

At the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.

While in Kensington Gardens we came upon an area where parakeets were landing in people’s hands so they could have a bit of seed. So we joined the crowd and the girls had a great experience feeding the birds!

Enchanting!

Next up was to visit Brick Lane, a funky area of London that had tons of thrift shops and art – then back to the flat to watch kooky British TV shows and rest up. The following day was our flight out and we had one last place to visit before checking out of the AirBnB and catching the tube to the airport; Abbey Road Studios. I have been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember so it was very special for me!

We signed our names with Love, Love, Love…

We walked across that famous crosswalk, visited the gift shop and then off to the airport. The girls flew out of terminal 2 and I flew out of terminal 3 so we said our goodbyes in the train station and headed off to our respective departure zones.

Back to Amman and back to the grind of the retired life – learning Arabic, teaching English, exploring new neighborhoods, art galleries and restaurants as well as attending a fundraising event and going on my second Ecohike. The weather in Amman has been unseasonably cooler and rainier than past years, it sounds kind of like the weather in Virginia – gorgeous and sunny one day, rainy and cold another. Here is a map that I used in my English class when we talked about seasons, I put a black dot for where I am so that you can see the temperature here is comparable to southern Georgia/northern Florida in the US and since I’m in the northern hemisphere – it’s Spring in Jordan!

Our world!

During a recent excursion I found some great urban murals while I looked for the cafe where I was to pay for an upcoming Ecohike! I also found a great art gallery that I hope to visit more during my time in Amman.

My arabic isn’t that good yet but I imagine it says FIERCE underneath her! Artist: WizeOne
This one also stopped me in my tracks. Artist: Hamzah Al Salhi
Excerpt below from: Weaver News
The work below by Hamza Al Salhi appears to depict a traditional Bedouin man, a member of one of the local tribes of Jordan. His long braids and head covering reflect the traditions of the nomadic people but are not commonly seen in the urban streets of Amman. Due to the increase of strictly enforced international boundaries and the influx of technology, many Bedouins are without a way of making a traditional living. In the past, Bedouins had the freedom to move to different locations with the seasons in accordance to the needs of their flocks or farming needs.  However, in recent years many have moved to more urban places such as Amman to try to earn any kind of living.

This might be a good place for me to post a video of the “visitors” we had to the area behind our apartment recently. Throughout Jordan you see flocks of sheep and goats sometimes with a donkey and often with Canaan dogs and always with one or two shepherds. They come to the green areas (which are aplenty due to the extended rainy season!) so that the animals can eat and rest and then they walk through the streets.

Just some wild animals outside our bedroom window!

My favorite thing to do in Jordan so far has been to participate in the Ecohikes, if you really know me then you know why! Aside from taking care of our planet, I have gotten to meet so many cool people, clocked in some hiking miles, seen amazing views and beautiful landscapes. This past hike had a bonus of eating traditional food made by the women of the Bader area where we hiked west of Amman.

Love to see this as we hike and clean!
The rare Black Iris of Jordan!!
Frolicking in the wildflowers!
The soup was described as “Mansaf without the meat” so delicious!

English class at CRP is going very well – still maintaining 13-16 students in attendance and we have grown very fond of each person. I love this new installment on the stairs that lead to our classroom and enjoyed helping one of my students, a lady my age, read each step in english before class this week. After class my co-teacher and I poked our heads into the beauty school graduation party and found that two of our students (who weren’t in English class that day) were GRADUATES! I was so proud of them, strong and beautiful women.

Had a nice outing with some of the other English teacher volunteers at the world famous Hashem’s in downtown Amman this week.

Then off to the world famous Habibah Sweets for some kanafeh for dessert!

Speaking of sweet, one of the guards at the Embassy who knows I’m studying and tries to talk to me in arabic had this for me:

I better be ready to speak in a week!!

That was just the sweetest gesture, they all smile and light up when I try to engage with them in arabic but really – I am just now learning letters, vocabulary words and conjugation. (yuck) I need to learn how to say in arabic “it’s gonna be a while, people!” LOL.

Finally, I was able to put together a group doggie play date this weekend at a new place that has an indoor hall. It felt good to make some plans with new people and get to learn about them as the dogs played – and they played so well together. We have another date set up for next Friday so more pups can join in the fun. Finn REALLY needed to get out of the apartment and have a good tear.

What I’ve been watching: we watched (finished) The OA, The Umbrella Academy, After Life. Started the new seasons of our Bravo shows(shhh). On the plane to and from London I watched Bohemian Rhapsody (liked! it was soooo hard to not sing), Crazy Rich Asians (liked!), Table 19 (This wasn’t bad – I’d never heard of it and it served its purpose of passing the time!)
Next up for travel is a trip to Italy at the end of April – we will be going to Bologna and Rimini with a jaunt to the Republic of San Marino squeezed in there. In the meantime, I need to get back at my fitness, I had a good run going and then I got a bad sore throat for like two days and I was a baby about it and it knocked me off my game. I mean, I DID hike for 6 miles last weekend…
I hope everyone has a great week, thank you so much for reading! bye for now!

Art, Food/Drink, Jordan, Mindfulness

Out and about.

Yesterday, I realized that it was exactly a month ago that the girls went back to the US and today was my second hair appointment in Amman, it is good to have a point of reference so you can think back to how you felt during a moment in time and see how far you have come. I can remember pretending to be confident as I left the apartment by myself for my appointment that morning to catch an Uber alone for the first time, I’m pretty sure it was the first time I did that in any country! But, I was scared because I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t recognize the road names, the landmarks were completely unfamiliar to me and I couldn’t communicate with my driver. Once I arrived I did feel a little sense of accomplishment and by the time I left with my fresh cut and color I was feeling 100 times better. This is an example of mindfulness – if you are mentally present during the moments of your life as they are occurring then you can go back to them and acknowledge the feelings you were having and hopefully celebrate a bit of growth that you see in yourself. Today, I was cool and collected as I looked out the window recognizing so many landmarks! It’s easy for me to say because I’m experiencing so many new things but if you find yourself experiencing a negative emotion to something new like I did – let yourself really feel it in that moment because the next time you do it, you will be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come.

What I’ve been doing: so I had a birthday since my last post! Fifty-one woohoo! It was nice to be on the same continent with Mike for my birthday since we’ve been apart for the last 2. The following day I met Lareena for coffee before we went to teach class and she and our barista at Beard&Woman Coffee (LOL) sang Happy Birthday to me, it was so sweet!

Vanilla Almond Milk Latte, mmmmmm.

Class has been going great, we have had 16 students pretty steadily and they are reading, writing and speaking so well! To get a look at our classroom and read about the teaching/learning experience, this post can give you a feel of what we do. See my last post if you are interested in helping from afar, the more advanced English speakers are looking for native speakers to have conversations with over Skype. If you want to try it but are scared, my advice is to try it – you will only be adding value to the student and helping them to achieve their goals. I also mentioned in my last post about Hope Workshop, since then they’ve added some cute gnomes for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Check them out here and if you buy something you will be empowering refugee women and the families that they are supporting while living in Jordan. So, good feelings all around!

One of the troubles we ran into is that the classroom is small and (thankfully) we have a lot of students. We have a window on one side of the class (you can see it in the post above) and we use a whiteboard – the glare from the window onto the whiteboard makes it impossible for students sitting on one side of the room to see what we are writing. I stood with a scarf blocking the light one time which gave us the idea to buy some fabric to cover the window. After class one day Lareena asked if I wanted to get lunch at Hashems, a well known falafel place downtown and to see if we could find some fabric. She can speak Arabic pretty well but to ask “where can we buy some fabric to cover a window” was tricky, but she spoke it into Google translate and we were directed to the area of town that was basically – the garment district! On our way there we walked through where the spice shops, the golden jewelry sellers and sugar cane juice stands are! We stopped for a glass and it was different, not what I thought it would be – but it was good!!! A blue door caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture and I called to Lareena to see if she wanted to go inside since it said “open to visitors”.

The Duke’s Diwan: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-dukes-diwan-amman-jordan

We walked up the steep, well worn stone stairs to the residence; art and books were everywhere, jeweled colors, stained glass and billowy fabrics – we were so glad we checked it out.

Visually stimulating!
I’m already looking forward to going back.

We followed the directions to the fabric shops given to us from the man on the street and after a few stops in some vendor booths, we were able to find a nice fabric that fits perfectly over the window and our students can all see the white board!

I have been missing my houseplants, they are my leafy children and thanks to my friends back home in VA they are being cared for. There is a cactus and succulent shop in our neighborhood (Cacti) that we have passed by a few times…

…and I decided to go in and check it out this week and came away with a new crew of babies!

I’m planning to do some repotting when they get bigger.

Finally, today after my hair appointment in Weibdeh I walked to the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, which is two buildings separated by a lovely sculpture garden park.

Some sights along the way.

I went into the first building and once I reached the top floor I stopped for a vanilla soy latte and sat in the cafe – people watching and listening to music – “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd came on and I thought about my dad. As I was checking out the view of the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque an older women walked into the cafe and smiled at me so I said “you should see this nice view” and she looked in the direction I was pointing, looked back at me, smiled and returned to her crew.

I thought it was pretty cool.

After I finished my latte and bought a nice museum print to hang in the apartment, I walked out of the museum and down to the street. There, I saw a snazzy car picking up my new friend (LOL) and by the time I walked through the sculpture garden to the other building, her car was passing by being driven by a decked out military man. I thought “hmm guess she’s some kind of special” and headed in and checked out the gorgeous Mohanna Durra exhibit.

Now that I’m back home and writing (and researching) about my day, I checked out the FB page for the museum and while scrolling I recognized the women holding Queen Rania’s hand in this picture! She is a Jordanian Princess, artist and art historian – Wijdan Ali. So cool, my new friend is someone special and I’m guessing she has seen the mosque plenty of times but it was nice of her to humor me!!

Lots to look at in this one.
The museum.

What I’ve been reading: I finished “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover, very interesting and fast read! What I’ve been watching: RUSSIAN DOLL – Mike and I watched it in one sitting on Saturday – SOOO GOOD! We also finished Sex Education, which is just a great show! I’m still keeping up with Riverdale on the CW app! What I’ve been listening to: XMU – streaming it here in Jordan on my Sonos and staying current on the new indie stuff. What I’ve been doing to keep active: free yoga on Sunday at the Embassy and some upper body weights once a week (I know that is a lame schedule, I need to start going more often) and my walks with Finn. Hey, it’s more active than I was at home – I’m averaging about 5,000 steps a day (if I have my phone with me every time I walk) so that’s about 4,000 more than what I was averaging. Still lame. I haven’t gone to a painting class yet, but I did find one closer to me. Word on my air freight delivery is that it should be here the last week of Feb/first week of March. Hope it is the last week of Feb since the first week of March I have arranged to see my girls in London! It is Jillian’s Spring Break from VCU and I miss those faces more than I could ever have imagined and can’t wait to see them! I’m proud that we are all doing our thang, but looking forward to kicking around London with my travel buddies.
Thanks for reading, feel your feelings, and meet art princesses if you have the chance – it is exciting after the fact. Bye for now.


Art, Jordan, Travel

Settling in.

This last week has had a lot of ups and one down for me. It feels good to have some time in Amman under my belt, getting used to the different work week schedule (Sun-Thur), and settled into the timezone. In a couple of days is my three week anniversary here, crazy!

What I’ve been experiencing:

  • Sunday – First Uber trip without Mike – the girls and I met up with another pair of (awesome) sisters who were in Amman visiting their parents. We went to Rainbow Street which is a shopping area in the city with cobblestone streets! We went to Trinitae soap shop on the recommendation of a friend and absolutely fell in love. I needed to find a local source of handmade soaps which had to be approved by Amelia (she approved!). The shop is in an old home and is decorated with gorgeous artwork done by the grandmother of the family.
  • Next we went to Books@cafe as the result of some travel research that our new sisters did before coming to Jordan. We had a lovely lunch and did some much enjoyed book browsing.
  • Our final destination was Wild Jordan where we perused the Nature shop to check out the local artisan selections of crafts and picked up a couple of things. I hope they post some Adventures coming up, I’d love to be able to go on one of the eco-tour hikes.
Street cats outside Trinitae had the attention of my animal lovers.
One of many beautiful paintings, I can’t wait for my art supplies to arrive so I can paint!
Another scrumptious lunch in Amman. Mine is Feta ZA’ATAR; like a Lebanese calzone!
  • Monday – Second Uber trip, this time all by myself! You might recall from an earlier post that I lined up a stylist in Jordan so that I could get my hair done once I got here. Well, first solo Uber trip in another country was to see JeniD and I’m happy to report that I found her place and that my hair is just perfect! I texted Mike and the girls once I was done and since it was a little earlier than expected and they were still about a half hour away from meeting me I got out my phone and mapped myself a short walk to the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts and slipped into the smaller of the two buildings to view the work on the first floor before I got the message to catch an Uber to meet my family at the Citadel.
  • It was a sunny, clear day but cold and SUPER windy, it made for an exciting trip to the highest of the seven hills of Amman to the Citadel. The Jordan Archaeological Museum is also here, it is a smaller museum with artifacts arranged in chronological order.
Here we are with the Temple of Hercules behind us! Our Smith Selfie.
Hercules, Hercules!
Walking toward the Umayyad Palace and Mosque, and Byzantine Church.
  • Tuesday – I went on a job interview (I was offered the job!!) While I’m here in Jordan my plans are to volunteer at CRP, practice yoga so that I can undo 25 years of sitting at my desk at GEICO :), practice my painting and do some work.
  • After my interview, the girls and I ventured back out into the city and took an Uber to the Jordan Museum – this experience solidified for us just how friendly (to foreigners!) the Jordanians are. The Uber dropped us off and we finished up our coffee in the courtyard before going through security and then up to the ticket booth. I was excited to be able to use my Jordan Residency card that I’d gotten the day before which allowed me to get the locals only price. We successfully communicated that the girls were over 18 and when I started to hand my credit card I could tell by the look on his face that it was cash only and sadly, I had none! There was a bank with an ATM somewhere outside of the museum and I turned to the girls to say “lets go see if we can find this bank” and when I turned back the ticket man was on the phone and gave me the universal gesture for ‘wait one minute’. He spoke for a few minutes, hung up and started typing on his computer and handed us our tickets for 0.00JD. We all smiled and thanked in English and Arabic (“shukran”) and enjoyed the beautiful and interactive Jordan Museum. I can’t wait to go back. One of the common characteristics of the Jordanians I’ve met is how welcoming and proud they are. Each person has made some sort of recommendation; about a local artist I should research, about a food I should try, an Arabic phrase I could use (to ask “how are you?” it is “kayf halakum”) – it really is a pleasantly surprising human experience.
We had fun hanging out with Al-Jahiz in the animal room!
Gorgeous!
‘Ain Ghazal Statues – nearly 10,000 years old, they are the world’s oldest full figure human statues!
  • Wednesday – Finally, the one thing about this entire move that made my heart sink every time I thought about it – getting Finn (aka Baby Face Finster) my Boston Terrier, to Amman from Virginia. He is a pretty resilient little guy but he hasn’t travelled much except for some car trips to Duck, NC. I researched, asked questions, made a decision and put my faith in Capital Pet Movers to make it happen. Which they did. Amazingly so.
  • He arrived at our apartment after Judith of Welcome Home Kennels in Amman handled all of the receiving tasks for bringing an animal into Jordan.
Everyone got to spend one whole day together, my heart was so happy!

Thursday – No bullet point needed for this one, the one down – sending the girls back to the US, it was my second most dreaded thought of this move because they’ve never flown on their own (or been this far away from me!). Of course they handled it like professionals, especially when they missed their connecting flight from JFK to National. True to their characters, Amelia was frustrated at the idiocy of the reason they missed their flight and Jillian was annoyed but motivated to make sure they got on the next flight to DC. I did have an Up moment they day they left – my air freight was delivered so I have some books, pillows, blankets, my clothes, and a few small rugs just enough to make the apartment a little more like our home. The timing was just right to distract me.
Back to the girls, I’m happy to report that they are in their apartments ready to start work and school and Finn is sitting next to me on the couch.
Exercise wise – We have been on a couple of almost a mile walks with Finn around our neighborhood, worked out at the Embassy gym and last night I attended my first of many Sunday evening Vinyasa Yoga classes at the Embassy.

What I’m watching: Mike has already watched but with the next season coming up he is watching again and I’m joining in – Peaky Blinders – already started season two! It’s pretty great.

I hope everyone has a nice week, thank you for reading! bye for now!

Art, Jordan, Minimalism

What is next? Stay on track.

Next stop on my journey to Jordan was to move inside and upstairs and get my daughter’s rooms homogenized for rental photographs. Yesterday the pre-move surveyor arrived at 8am so we could go through all of my belongings and make determinations; what is going over by air, what is going by sea and what will remain in the US in storage. Thankfully, I started practicing minimalism two years ago and have already donated or disbursed of the things that no longer hold value to me or bring me joy. I cannot say the same thing for my older daughter – she loves the thought of my brand of minimalism but she is a collector like her dad – so she will have some belongings to contend with. But, minimalism doesn’t mean you get rid of everything or that you live with so little that you are depriving yourself, it is unique to each person’s practice.

What I’m doing: I feel good about what I accomplished yesterday, met with the moving rep, cleaned up my daughter’s rooms, mailed some records from my husband’s collection, bought pet food, wrote up a lil bio for the 25 year service award ceremony, met my older daughter for dinner and went to my final painting class at LibertyTown. This blog post is dedicated to oil painting and my final piece completed there as a student. I started taking classes in February 2017 after not having painted ever in my life. I feel that my first year of minimalism in 2016 (I watched The Minimalists documentary on New Years Eve 2015) allowed me to free my mind of mental clutter and my home of physical clutter which empowered me to pursue creativity; both personally and professionally.

Finn in Foyer.
Finn in Foyer.

Not only did I learn to paint from my teacher, I learned that having a process to follow is a great contributor to success and I have so enjoyed learning this process. We project a photograph to a canvas, sketch it in, apply a base and then start underpainting to block in the right values. From there you add your layers, colors and values of mixed oil paint until it looks like the image above – you sign in, varnish it and Voila it’s done!

Red!
Red!

I intend to continue painting while I am in Amman, I have an easel (It is a Bob Ross one!!) and some of my own oil paints, brushes and palette – I have the process down but will start flying on my own without my safety net of my teacher and fellow students. I’m looking forward to new subjects, new students and teachers and expanding my creativity so I can feel like a success when I finish another painting. 

What I’m listening to: Radiohead Hail to the Thief which turned 15 this year. Radiohead are in my top 5 favorite bands and the song Where I End and You Begin is up in my top songs of all time, I don’t know if it was written as a love song but it invokes that feeling in me. 
Now its time for me to do my homework so I’ll be prepared to meet with my finances guy later and then with my friends for a happy hour. I will celebrate my painting being finished, that I’m moving along in my process to join my husband in Jordan, and that I will get to see my daughters, my sisters, my nieces and nephews tomorrow morning as they wake up in my disheveled house. bye for now.