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.
Beautiful.

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 https://pupatellarva.com . 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.

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.
Heehee.
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.

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.