Wednesday, July 14, 2010

P's birthday

Last year, P announced that she wanted a house cake for her 6th birthday. As time went by, the request morphed into "Winnie-the-Pooh in a house," and finally, "Winnie-the-Pooh's house." I spent the past week or so mulling over how I could possibly make Winnie-the-Pooh's house out of flour, sugar, eggs, etc. I studied the illustration in the first chapter of the original Winnie-the-Pooh, which we recently finished reading, and then made my attempt.

I was fairly pleased with the result, which was achieved by delving into fondant-making. Fondant is a fascinating substance formed by heating a sugar syrup to 240 degrees F, spreading it out on a marble slab, and moving it around until it suddenly turns from clear and smooth to white and grainy. After kneading this, you have a glossy paste-like substance which can be coloured and turned into Winnie-the-Pooh and other accessories. Although it is made of pure sugar, it isn't as tasty as I would have guessed. I think next time, I'll use marzipan, which I know and trust more.

In any case, the birthday girl was perfectly happy.

We spent the day in College Station with Ari's grandparents, who have a swimming pool. In the morning, P worked hard at it and learned how to swim. She hasn't worked out how to breathe at the same time, which limits her range. Describing her accomplishment, she announced, "Now I have super powers."

As the next picture shows, we have a girly girl - she was thrilled to receive a dress, bead necklaces, clip-on earrings, and flowery flip-flops. After the presents were unwrapped, she enjoyed playing with her foam dollhouse and dolls and her Rush Hour logic puzzle, and looking at the poster of a "princess castle" we got her.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Through the Veil

When I clicked on a link my former pastor from Jordan posted on Facebook to an article his wife had written, I had no idea what a powerful writer she was. But I spent the next several days thinking about that article. When Lisa's book was available for pre-order, I knew I had to have it. It arrived 2 days ago, and I finished reading it this morning.

Through the Veil is a collection of essays, mainly about women Lisa met in Syria and Jordan. I love how she weaves the thread of their stories around her own childhood memories and experiences, drawing both into a unified whole. Many of the cultural features I encountered during my time in Jordan are addressed in these essays: the evil eye, modesty and propriety, hospitality, honour. But Lisa, who was then the age I am now, saw them differently from how I did, and integrates them into her understanding in a more complete, rational, adult way than I was able to as a teenager. I appreciate the depth and compassion of the stories she tells, looking honestly at herself as well as the friends and neighbours she writes about. Many people I've met in the West have flimsy cardboard ideas of what life in the Middle East is like - Lisa gives a well-rounded, fleshed out view. There aren't pat answers or stereotypes; instead she succeeds in fulfilling the promise of her first chapter:

"I write the Damascus I love, but sometimes her face blurs and I can’t make out details: both dreams and memories are tangled things. They twist themselves around smells and feelings and other memories of times and people far removed. They tumble to the page like a child at play, breathing hard. I calm and comb them, working out the catches and finding the story enmeshed in strands of memory. I write and rewrite, but some memories remain confused and tangled. I work the others, braiding them and tying the ends with reflection and sometimes also tying them with regret."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Here are a pile of pictures from a couple days before my brother Paul came to visit, until halfway through his visit. We haven't transferred the second half of the pictures from the camera to the computer yet.

Look who lost a tooth! We took bets on when it would come out. I lost badly - I said it would hang in there until after Paul left. Ari came closest - he guessed it would be on the way to pick Paul up from the airport, whereas it actually happened the night before he arrived.

We went to the zoo, and E enjoyed the Komodo dragon. We reconnected with one of my oldest friends, whose family always invited us over for Thanksgiving when we lived in Dallas. We had so much fun with Joy, we completely forgot to photograph her!

We headed to Galveston on the Sunday afternoon after Paul arrived, and had great fun splashing in the surf along with Ari's brother Dar and his little boy (Michelle was busy that afternoon).

When wading, what do you do if you see this?

The stingray came close to me (I jumped, it fluttered away), closer to Paul, and actually swam right over Dar's foot (Dar had the sense to hold completely still as the tail brushed by his ankle).

E had a blast in the waves.

B, on the other hand, thought it was much too big and splashy of a bathtub for his taste (though the temperature was about the same), and whimpered for almost an hour, continuously. Fortunately, this tired him out.

The next day, all of us (except Dar, who had to work) went to the aquarium at Moody Gardens. Paul enjoyed some quality time with his youngest nephew,

and P and E had a blast running from their uncle in front of a tankful of sharks.

That evening, Dar and Michelle opened their beehive for us. They wore their full bee suits, and Ari put on a spare hat of theirs and a sweatshirt and took pictures.

Everyone wearing bee protection got to see a bee in the process of being born (you can see her in the middle of this picture).

Michelle came over and showed the rest of us, who were protected by the screen porch, what they were doing.

If I were keeping track of educational experiences over the summer, this would certainly count - but of course, kids don't just learn during formal school time.