We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pine Cones

This, boys and girls, is a genuine, pure-T, real-live, Florida Pine Cone. Imported directly from the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle for your educational benefit.

You see, this past October, Beth was reading a story to Sawyer from his pre-school material. The story was called The Magic Pine Cone. So she asked if either of them knew what a pine cone was. Nope. No idea. Beth then googled "pine cone" and found this picture for them to color while she read the story. Sawyer took some artistic liberties, or maybe he just thinks pine cones really come in all the colors of the rainbow.

Mimi heard about this incident and determined that her grandchildren should be deprived no longer. So, in her latest package, she sent us a real live pine cone. The box had a few other gifts in it, too, but they were quite excited about the pine cone!

I, (Jason) on the other hand, grew up knowing a lot more about pine cones than I knew about pyramids. Our yard in Crestview covered almost an acre. I bet there were 50 big tall pines in that space. Once, when I was just a little older than Lee Anna is now, Mama offered me 10 cents each for all the pine cones I could pick up. She was thinking I'd find 15 or 20 and make a buck or two. I was a rich 4th-grader after that bountiful harvest of over 200 pine cones! We never had to google anything (not that we could have!) to find out what a pine cone looked like, but I did want to send some to the kids in Africa after that experience.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh, the Knockoffs!

When one gets away from those pesky trademark® laws that stifle American creativity, one finds some awfully creative ways to market products. We've seen some that are really close and hard to tell from the real thing, while others don't really try that hard. I found some Crocs® sandals for sale in a nearby gas station that were about half the price of what we see in the legit Crocs® store in the mall. I thought they were the real thing, but a close inspection revealed a misspelling in the word Colorado. Made in Coloroad, USA? Really? The Nike® flip-flops being modeled below by Beth's brothers are actually Aloalloa® brand. Not really all that close, although they're only $4 per pair.

These candy-coated, peanut-filled chocolate candies bear a striking resemblance to something you might buy in the States. We really laughed out loud when we noticed the N in M&Ns.
The Pirates logo on this toy boat is an awful lot like one from the Pirates of the Caribbean® ride and movies. But I don't think Disney® would approve of a product that says on the packaging "Adorable Jocular fish Ocean Toys." It also says "Attach Peach to most flat surfaces." Do what?
And if you click to enlarge this last one, you'll find Panasonic® spelled correctly and incorrectly all in the same stack. Penoaconic is probably not close enough to get anyone in trouble, even if the Panasonic® people found it. And I love the "Natiolan" space heater right next to the "National"® one. I was shopping for a stereo once and found Panasonic spelled 6 different ways on one street. I really loved the Chinese stereo that had a real-live Sony® logo glued to it--only the logo was crooked and the glue was dripping a little.
Some of our favorites have been featured here before. Check them out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Near Tragedy

We have some wonderful friends who live in Amsterdam. They sometimes try to tell us it's not really cold here, but we don't believe them. Anyway, last month when my parents were coming to see us, they were supposed to have a long layover in Amsterdam, and they were going to get together with our friends. Unfortunately, that all fell through when they ended up flying to Brussels and Casablanca instead.

My friend in Amsterdam had bought some sweet gifts for us that she was going to send with my parents, so when she wasn't able to do that, she went ahead and mailed them to us in a package. The package came this week, and the kids were so excited. We opened it right away, and they each found their treasures.
Sarah Claire got an adorable bunny that is very famous in Holland, Lee Anna got a snow globe decorated with Dutch things, and Sawyer got the awesome shirt he's wearing in the picture (Jason is almost over the fact that it's orange and blue). They all loved their gifts. There was also a bunch of candy in there, and a package of something called stroopwafels, which are delicious.

So the day after we got the package, we were talking about all the sweet things they had sent us, and Jason asked me, "Where's the wooden nativity? I didn't see it."

Blank stare. "What nativity?"

"The note in the package said there was a wooden nativity. Didn't you see it?"

I hadn't seen that note, although I had read the notes about all the other gifts. It was, admittedly, a bit chaotic with three kids all trying to help me unpack the box of gifts. I quickly made my way to the kitchen and pulled the box out of the trash can (thank goodness it was still in our kitchen trash and not down at the bottom of the chute with all the other garbage from our building--yuck!).

I opened the box and lifted up the newspaper that I thought was just there for padding, and discovered underneath a beautiful (unsoiled) wooden star with a nativity scene carved in the middle. It is gorgeous, and I love it, and I am so glad that my friend wrote a note to tell us it was there and that my husband saw it and asked about it!

So, the tragedy was averted, but I cannot take any credit for it.
But I promise that if any of you ever send us a package, I will try my best not to throw any of it away!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, G.G.!!!

January is birthday season in my family. Since GG couldn't be here to celebrate with us, we thought we'd simulate some grandbaby visits through pictures on the blog. I think this is a little more than the 11th anniversary of her 29th birthday, but I'm not saying how much more. :)

Come see us, GG, and we'll get you some real-live lap time!
Happy Birthday!
We love you!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Evening Sailboat

Sailing at sunset... with people I love...
makes for a lovely...


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blast From the Past

In the process of uploading the video of Sarah Claire's secrets yesterday, I came across several old videos that we've posted in years past. If you've been with us from the beginning, these will look familiar, but I thought they were worth posting again. I could hardly believe I was looking at my children, they've changed so much since then. It's amazing the difference three years can make!

Hard to believe the sweet little 3-year-old princess in this first video is now devouring Boxcar children books and whizzing her way through first grade...

or that the little guy in this video (taken when he was the age Sarah Claire is now) has succeeded in learning the rest of the alphabet, is already reading simple books and will start kindergarten this fall!

(I should have called that one "Sawyer's EFGs.")

And this one made us laugh a lot. Looks like Sarah Claire is learning her moves from the wrong person! If any of you is interested in online dancing lessons, we'll be glad to offer tutoring sessions with Lee Anna...for the right price. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quite Possibly the Cutest Thing My Child Has Ever Done

We wanted you all to see what Sarah Claire has learned to do: tell secrets! I don't really know where she picked this up, probably from seeing her big sister whisper things to me that she doesn't want her brother to hear. For whatever reason, just a few weeks ago Sarah Claire started telling us secrets, and now she'll do it any time we ask her to. She also tells secrets to the rest of the family, and to anyone else who might be at our house. It never fails to bring a smile.

I think you'll see why.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Come on In!

For day 20 of our 31 Posts in 31 Days Extravaganza, we decided that since we won't ever have the privilege of welcoming most of you, our dear readers, into our home, you might enjoy a room-by-room tour of our humble abode. So we waited until our housekeeper had just walked out the door, and quickly snapped these pictures before things could get back to normal!

This first shot is the view when you first walk in the front door. Of course, you can't really walk in from any other door, since none of the other doors are connected to the ground. So every entrance starts here. In the lower right corner of the picture is the shoe cabinet. Just beyond that is a tall bookcase. The black chair you see in the center of the picture, farthest from the camera, is the chair that is currently supporting the present author. This second photo is taken from the same spot, just rotated to the left about 90 degrees. This is the table where we take our meals. When we're not eating out.
And this view is from the location of the aforementioned black chair. The little red table is for home schooling and other kid-related activities. The red recliner is definitely the most sought-after sitting spot, for both family members and regular visitors.
This is our spacious kitchen. This is our third flat to live in in this town, and the other two kitchens could together fit comfortably inside this one, with enough room left over for a small cat to sleep. But we really don't like cats sleeping in the kitchen.
This is the Master Bedroom area. Thank you to those of you who gave us the yellow bedding as wedding gifts 10 years ago! Each room has a balcony attached to it, which we use for drying some clothes and being outside.
This is the Master Bathroom. This is infamous room where I (Jason) sat with the plumbers while we waited for the pump to start working last week. Note also that this room is home to the clothes dryer, but not the washer. The washer is down the hall in another restroom. It's nice when they can be together, but not absolutely necessary. We do have a dryer, which makes us different than approximately 98% of the homes in this town.
Lee Anna and Sawyer's room is all decked out in blue. Aunt Claire helped paint the polka dots when she was here this summer. Lee Anna would like you to know that she painted some of them, too.
This is the other wall in the kids' room. The name carvings on the wall were done (at least partly) by Lee Anna at some of our trips to this fun place. I (Beth) painted them with leftover paint from the polka dots.
This little photo wall is right outside the kids' bathroom, between their two bedrooms. Sarah Claire loves to point out all the babies in these pictures, and she also likes to tell me about the ducks in the bottom right one and the hat Sawyer's wearing on the bottom left.
This room belongs to the youngest member of our household. It also doubles as a guitar storage center. How many guitar cases can you spot?
This area is to your right just as you walk in the door. Yes, I have the same little cube storage bin in both kids' rooms. We brought the white one with us from the states, and had a carpenter here build the brown one. Workmen here aren't always big on precision, and I was scared to death that the canvas bins wouldn't actually fit in the cubes he built, but he surprised me and did a super job! We've gone back to him a lot.
The last picture shows the view from Sarah Claire's balcony. It's pretty similar to the view from all the other balconies. We're lucky to live next door to a single-family dwelling (that's the roof you see below), which means that we get to look out and see trees and sky instead of just looking straight into someone else's apartment. I stood on our front balcony once and counted 40 different buildings that I can see from here.
And that, my friends, is our humble home. Now that you know your way around, feel free to come visit us anytime! Just don't expect it to always look like the housekeeper just left.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Swing Those Hips, Girl!

How do you like our little belly dancer-in-training? She found this outfit of her sister's in the dress-up box today and insisted that I put it on her. Then Daddy taught her some moves (because it's always good to learn belly-dancing moves from 40-year-old men!).

Who knew embracing the culture could be so cute?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cute Sawyer Story

One day several months ago, I was typing something up on my computer when I got pulled away for awhile. I don't remember who or what needed my attention, but I know that it was a good while before I finally made it back to the desk. When I did, I found that someone had taken it upon themselves to add to the text in my absence.

I wasn't sure at first which of my lovely children would have done such a thing, but as I looked a little closer at the text, the answer became quite obvious (click on the picture to enlarge it if you can't read it).

He may not cover his tracks very well, but he sure does make me laugh!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Look Ma, No Teeth!

We may have to put Lee Anna's Froot Loops in a blender in the morning since the traditional eating method requires teeth. She lost yet another one tonight, to her great excitement! Thankfully, one of the top ones has finally started coming in, so those holes should eventually fill in. But I'll probably be keeping corn on the cob off the menu for a while.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful

We are experiencing quite a bleak mid-winter this year. We've had several stormy, rainy days. The temperature has dipped as low as 10 degrees, and the high has seldom been out of the teens. Okay, those are Celcius temperatures, but it sounds cold, doesn't it? (10 C is about 50 F; and 20 is like 68F).

You can see in this picture how many layers of clothes I have to wear to stay warm. I'm wearing a t-shirt, dress shirt, sweater and a scarf with my jacket. I might have even put on socks that day. It was really cold out by the river drinking coffee.

On a rainy Friday, Beth was taking the two big kids to a birthday party. They were driving when is started raining, so Beth turned on her windshield wipers. Sawyer asked "Why are you doing that?" So she explained that they wipe the rain water off the windshield so you can see. "This is what we do when it's raining." Sawyer looked back and exclaimed, rather loudly, "Look Mama! The car behind us is doing it too!!"

We've had three rainy days this week, and we haven't totaled a quarter inch of rain if you collected it in a funnel. But it has been cloudy and chilly.
When Beth's brother was visiting here from his home in Ukraine I really had a hard time convincing him how cold it is. But it is cold here. I promise. This is winter.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Great Snowball Fight of 2010

As most of you know, we live in the desert. We hardly get any rain, much less snow. In fact, there's not even a word in the local language for snow. They just call it "ice." When they talk about it, which they don't often, because there isn't any to talk about.

So we certainly didn't expect to have a White Christmas. Fortunately, Jason and I both grew up in Florida, so no snow at Christmas is quite normal for us.

But this year we decided to have a little wintry fun and hold the Great Indoor Snowball Fight of 2010. We split into teams (boys vs. girls, of course) and each team had 5 minutes to create as many snowballs as they could. Then we let 'em fly, and, well, you can see below how much fun was had.

I love that the kids never stop laughing!

When we were finally finished, we went into the kitchen for some chocolate milk (our hot-weather substitute for hot chocolate), since the kids had worked up a sweat by that point.

We hosted Round 2 a few days later when Uncle Andy came to town, and he told us stories of fighting with real Ukrainian snow. It sounds like he has fun, but this Florida girl will take paper snowballs in her warm house any day over snow in her boots and frozen fingers and toes!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Two years ago today, Grandpa was here celebrating his birthday with us. Today, he's back on the other side of the ocean, but we did call and sing to him. Two years ago, he was celebrating his 66th Big Day, but I'm not gonna tell you how old he is now.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Blurry Day

This morning before breakfast, Sawyer looked out the window and told me it was "a blurry day." It gets kinda blurry around here in the winter time. We've heard that the farmers out in the country always burn off whatever is left in the fields this time of year, and the smoke blows into town and makes everything a little "blurrier" than usual. This first picture is of a clear day in October. The flying things are guys in motorized parachute gliders who were up over the city for a big holiday celebration. (As always, you can click on any picture for a closer look.)

The next photo shows what the grey winter does. Notice how the farthest building on the horizon seems to have disappeared.

And this orange-looking effect was not added by computers. That's what the sky does when we have a sandstorm.

I use the last building I can see as my smog-o-meter every morning. On especially clear days I can see the blue and white colors of some of the window frames. On moderately smoggy days, I can make out the silhouette of the building, but not see window colors. And on bad, "blurry" days, that building just isn't to be seen. Google Earth shows that building to be 3/4 mile away, or just over one kilometer.