Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

13 December 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope this finds you all happy and well and that you have already decorated your Christmas tree. Living in a country where Christmas is not celebrated, we were warned against bringing our tree with us or any Christmas decorations as they could be confiscated at customs. Aside from our stockings, we decided not to risk it. But, we really wanted a Christmas tree. So we took my mom’s creative idea, found some wood, cut it and painted it. Our good friend Scott sent us some garland and twinkle lights and we made this simple "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree and decorated it with homemade ornaments. We love it! Even though it’s sunny and in the nineties outside, it feels a little like Christmas inside.

We rang in the new year over the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Jeddah on January 1st. Dano has
been working here since April 2009. We were happy to finally join him. He is still blessed to work for Greif who formed a joint venture with a Saudi company. Dano is heading up Greif’s end of that joint venture here. It’s a new challenge from which he’s learning. He was a little sad to not participate in any triathlons this year. He was, however, able to ride with several of his friends in Pelatonia, a bike ride in Ohio which raises money for cancer research. He completed the 100-mile leg of the bike ride. He’s already gearing up for his next tri in March.

I have enjoyed this new adventure. It has definitely been an adjustment. Women can’t drive here and must cover whenever they go out. I don’t have to wear an abbaya on the compound nor do I have to cover my head here in Jeddah. To go anywhere I need a driver. Dano has never done so much grocery shopping in his life! He is so good about it, as it has to be late at night and we have enjoyed that extra time together. It still takes time to get used to shopping around the prayer schedule which changes with the sun. I love watching the kids grow and learn. I love hearing them learn Arabic. I appreciate sharing pieces of history with them as we visit wonderful places. I love making cookies each Wednesday (our week is from Saturday to Wednesday) for the kids and their friends. I have loved seeing the sights of Jeddah and the places we have visited.
Kennedy turned twelve this year and is blossoming beautifully. She stands at a graceful 5’5” and is not showing signs of slowing down. She loves to sing in the school choir and has recently given basketball, volleyball, and netball a try. She plays the piano frequently for Friday meetings and played the songs for a children’s program in November and did a super job. She continues to excel in school and has adjusted to the British curriculum well. She has eleven classes including two foreign languages. I don’t know any child who is as self-driven to learn as she is. It’s inspiring and makes her a terrific conversationalist. She relished the opportunity to attend a national youth leadership conference in DC in April. She is a terrific helper at home and can always be counted on to babysit. In her spare time she can still be found reading or knitting.
Ethan is nine and energetic as ever. He is enjoying his fourth grade year. He is excited to be representing his house in the school’s quiz bowl. One student is selected from each year. He especially is enjoying his Dad helping out with after-school basketball and is looking forward to baseball starting in January. He was selected to participate in the British Schools of the Middle East Games which will be held in Cairo in March. He still loves to play the piano especially ones that vary in tempo and volume…the faster and louder the better! I am truly amazed at how fast his fingers really can move! He, Kennedy, and Erin have performed well at school assemblies. Ethan is working on his Bear in Cub Scouts. There are no other cub scouts in Jeddah that we can find so he and I work on it together. When he’s not reading, he still loves to build and create with Legos and has this year found a new fascination with elementary electronic circuitry. Erin is now seven and counting down until she will be baptized. She has had a great start to second grade and has become a super speller and is mastering her multiplication tables and is part way through division. She loves to hold her baby sister and is a great middle child. She, like Kennedy, is missing dance classes but still twirls around the house any time music is playing. When music is not on, she can often be found playing on the piano. She has progressed well and is pleased to be able to play some simplified songs while we sing along. She is a kind and loyal friend. Her teacher informed us she’s always the one who’s helping others with work or understanding problems often before he can; that if they had a head girl in her year, he would select Erin. Erin finds it funny that her friends love her “golden hair,” and, once again donated that golden hair to Locks of Love. She loves to sing and recently finished perfectly knitting a washcloth for Emily. Abigail is nearly three and is still my faithful sidekick. I can’t make cookies, cakes, rolls, or quiche without her. She is the best egg-cracker and beater-licker I know. She is a great block home-builder and can make anyone better with her always-ready doctor’s kit. She loves to read books, especially Clifford and Curious George. She is our funny-bunny and keeps us laughing with her many funny faces and “Abbyisms.” She loves, LOVES her brother and sisters and tries to be like them. Each one of them is becoming quite adept at accompanying our family on the piano. One morning when it was Abby’s turn to pick the song, she got out her xylophone and accompanied the family on her xylophone. It was very sweet and sincere…anything to be one of the big kids. She loves to sit by her baby sister in the car and likes to roll down her window so she can wave to all the guards at the security gates on our compound.
Emily is a typically sweet Lister baby. She is a peaceful baby and is very patient with our chaos. She truly is girl-like already who loves to take baths and get dressed up. Our family loves to watch her smile and listen to her communicate through her grunts and coos. She gets loads of hugs and kisses. She's often called "little Charmin" because she gets squeezed so much. Having a child abroad has been an interesting experience. We've managed to get her Saudi birth certificate and US passport which is saying a lot when you are working with Saudi time frames.

We have enjoyed the travelling opportunities
of living in this area. We have been fortunate to visit parts of Saudi Arabia believed to be where the beginning of our Book of Mormon took place. We have appreciated touring around Jordan and Turkey and look forward to spending the latter part of our Christmas break in Oman. We have been blessed by our association with the Muslims and learning about their Islamic culture. We’re grateful that our family has this unique opportunity. All of our travels and adventures have been recorded in our blog if you’re interested in reading about them.

Though we have no snow, no extended family, no nativities, no Christmas concerts or community events, we have the spirit of Christmas in our home and in our hearts as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We’re especially grateful for our family and friends and wish you all a happy and white Christmas.

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

11 December 2010

A Blessed Day

Yesterday we blessed Emily. For me and Dano it was a bittersweet day as it is the first time we have blessed a baby without any family present, not even any close friends. But, Emily looked so sweet. She wore the same blessing gown that all three of her sisters wore; the same one that my sister and I wore. It’s a June Melissa Daniels Hansen original.My grandmother made it from the remainder of the material from my mother’s wedding dress. It obviously is very special and I’m so happy to have been able to have so many daughters wear it. My grandmother also knit the yellow blanket Emily is laying on and her father made the tiny turquoise bracelet that we’ve all also worn.I’m sure my grandmother is happy to see her beautiful dress continue to be worn and I’m so grateful to have these precious heirlooms and look forward to my daughters using them for their daughters.

10 December 2010

A Visit to Fake Santa

Our compound was kind enough to throw a big holiday party. They do this for every occasion they can. Saudis like to party and when they party, they party big. Parties are usually all day or all night. This holiday party would, of course, include a visit from Santa. Dano spent the week out of town in Turkey. For some reason I thought if he wasn’t going to be here we should all forgo the visit to Santa. It wasn’t until Wednesday that it occurred to me that Dano does really want us to go to events even when he’s not here.

Abby was excited to see Santa and was practicing her “Ho! Ho! Ho!” I’m not sure if Ethan is just at the age of questioning the magic and realism is setting in or if he still believes and is trying to figure out how Santa is able to make it all work. Ethan had been a little skeptical as to how the Basateen compound could get Santa to come to see just us. Kennedy told him he’s just magical.

“Santa lives forever.” Kennedy told Ethan and Erin.
“No, he’s just like Papa’s age.” replied Erin.
“No. He’s more like a hundred, “ informed Ethan.

Ethan kept insisting Santa wasn’t coming; it was just going to be one of Santa’s helpers. Regardless, we put Emily in the stroller and went over to the pool/commons area. Abby kept calling to the sky, “Santaaa. Saaaaaantaaaaa.”

With the live band and all the people it was quite loud. It bothered Abby a little bit. She held Erin’s hand and the two of them stood in line with Ethan. Kennedy went up to ensure we were on the list to go in to see Santa. It was soon after that I noticed Erin’s two free hands – in other words – no Abigail. I looked around me, the stroller, and each child. No Abby. In all my years as a mother I cannot recall losing a child. I guess it was bound to happen at some point. I tried not to panic as the thought of the man in front of us with the gun in his back pocket, the kids zooming around on fast bikes, the swimming pools, and parking lots filled with visitors flashed through my mind. We rallied and I split the kids up. Ethan and Erin took the courtyard toward the playground. Kennedy went the opposite direction. Eventually they each came back with no success. I sent them off again. After six or seven minutes (which seems like forever when you don’t know where your child is), Erin came around the corner of the building with Abby and a banana. She’d gone home. She had a sudden hankering for a banana and had just left to go home to get one! At the moment, we’d been gone all of five minutes and she needed a banana? It’s not like she had one and put it down while she put on her shoes or had forgotten it on the table. No, she just wanted a banana. We had a little chat about bananas and scared mommies and wandering off and then got back in line to see Santa.

When it was our turn we entered the tent and sure enough, it was most definitely one of Santa’s helpers – a Filipino helper! (with black Converse hi-tops and a square pillow tummy.) Ethan and Erin were very kind and didn’t say anything while they had their picture taken. Perhaps they didn’t know what to say. They did get out a thank you and Merry Christmas. Abby lost her “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and stuck to me like a sticky candy cane (hence her absence in the picture).

When we got back home Erin told Ethan he was right about it being one of Santa’s helpers because it was a fake Santa. I’m glad my kids could talk through this one together and come up with their own explanation because I did not want to be left trying to explain how Santa can change ethnicities.

06 December 2010

Parent/Teacher Bodyguards

We concluded our fall parent/teacher conferences last week with Kennedy’s meetings. We enjoyed visiting with Ethan and Erin’s teachers but find it difficult in the British system to fully understand where our children are in terms of progress. We’re so accustomed to placements and levels. If I understand correctly, the only report card either of them receives will be at the end of the year. They have standardized testing that is administered at the end of the school year but the results seemed to be somewhat vague to me. Perhaps it is because I’m not yet familiar with their levels of achievement. We were told in the beginning that in the British system, Preparatory and Grammar schools were for the top five percent of students. That has sufficed for me and I know they are receiving a great education though somewhat different from what we are accustomed.

For Kennedy, we attend all her parent teacher conferences in one evening. That is saying something since she has eleven classes. They have a very organized and effective way of conducting these conferences that I think most schools could benefit from. The kids have a form and they sign up their parents for five minute intervals with each teacher (or with which ever teacher the parents want to visit). Kennedy did this over two or three days’ time and gave us the form on parent/teacher conference day. We go to the school gymnasium where all of the teachers are set up around the gym, each at a little table. They sit on one side of the table and on the other side are eight chairs, two set up at the table for talking with the teacher and six for waiting. You merely rotate amongst the teachers according to the schedule your child and teacher have arranged. It has been so wonderful to have the conferences set up in this manner and not have to run all around a middle school from one classroom to another, waiting outside, missing a conference because another one ran over….if your schedule is off you are free to catch another teacher on your list and come back to that teacher. It’s just a great set up. Perhaps next time I’ll take my camera and get a picture. Surprisingly it’s not noisy and quite organized and everyone is respectful regarding time.

Now, when we showed up we were running nearly late (surprise, surprise). I did note, as we walked in to the courtyard, that there were two cars, fancy Mercedes no less, parked there. I noticed because there are never cars parked in the courtyard. I didn’t think much of it, though. We were running a tad behind. I was focused. I also noted about eight men in thobes loitering in the courtyard area. Again, just noted, briefly thought their wives were having the conferences, but gave no second thought. As soon as we cleared the courtyard Dano asked if I saw the man by the Mercedes. I kind of shrugged, thinking, “And?”
“And did you see what he had on?”
“A thobe?”
“He had a gun under his arm.”
“You didn’t see his double holster?”
“No. I saw the Mercedes.”
Laughingly, “Seriously, Melissa. You need to be aware of your surroundings.”
“I saw the Mercedes.”

After Erin’s conference I insisted we cut back around to the entrance of the courtyard instead of through so I could catch a glimpse of his pistols. Sure enough, there they were, prominently displayed and looking quite ominous. He was definitely not just a driver. We quickly came to the conclusion that a member of the royal family must be there. We knew that there are some royals who go to the kids’ school, most likely grandchildren or great-grandchildren, we’ve just not ever seen them at anything before. Again, I was a little upset that I didn’t have my camera. Dano ardently assured me they would not have allowed me to take a picture or been pleased had they caught me taking one.

We saw the members of the royal family at the parent teacher conference. They were dressed much like everyone else and seem to be normal people. It did make me think about when the Obamas go to parent teacher conferences. I’m sure the secret service agents have guns but do they display them so obviously? Then again, guns would be more readily accessible from inside a suit than inside a thobe.

Interesting final note, as we were leaving, they were still there. We were the only ones walking out. I noticed (I was paying keen attention now!) that they were no longer just standing around. As we got closer one of the only two men standing by the cars said something. Then all of the men emerged from the cars. They just stood there as we walked by. I turned around to see if the royal family was behind us, but nope, nobody. Dano and I could not figure out why they had to get out of the car when we came by. I don’t think it was because we looked threatening. I don’t know if it was out of respect or mere protocol. Again, another experience that would never happen in Ohio.

23 November 2010

A Dubai Holiday

With the Haj and the Eid, the kids had a little over a week off school. It happened to fall the same weekend our church was holding their semi-annual meetings. They hold these meetings in Dubai where there is more religious tolerance. We thought it would be a great opportunity for Dano and the older kids to go. Since Emily was just over two weeks old we did not yet have a passport for her…or an iqama or an exit visa, nothing that would allow us to take her out of the country. So Dano and the kids flew to Dubai on Wednesday afternoon. Upon arrival, they drove around downtown Dubai. The kids were surprised to find that their taxi driver was a woman. The rest of the trip they rode Dubai's wonderful, clean metro system.

Of course they had to see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. As reported to me, they loved the lights. The building had strobes of lights that flashed in different sequences.They also visited the souqs. Their favorite one (surprise, surprise) was this fabulous candy souq. Apparently this picture does not capture even half of the candy bins. I don’t know if this would be a dentist’s worst nightmare or dream come true by way of job security (cha-ching!). Dano was certain that everyone who visited this souq had washed their hands before touching the open bins of unwrapped candy; at least he kept telling himself this.
The kids were beat tired and slept quite soundly. So soundly, in fact, that Erin didn't even realize her photo was being taken. They received these hilarious eye masks on the airplane. Believe it or not, two weeks later, they're still sleeping with them on.
On Thursday they did something we’d hoped they’d be able to do since we found out we were moving to Arabia…went skiing! One of the malls in Dubai has an indoor ski resort.It’s not the Rocky Mountains, but they all had a great time. For a reasonable admission, the resort rents ski clothes, skis, and provides a lift ticket.

Erin received the ‘most improved skier’ award. It was cold enough that they all thought they needed hot chocolate. Dano thought they all needed shirts that said “I froze in the desert.”

From there (much to Ethan’s delight!) they did a little shopping in the mall and then caught a movie. They were really excited about seeing a movie. The Lister family does not go to the movies very often, actually, hardly ever. In Saudi Arabia, though, there are no movie theaters at all. This is strictly so they can control what media is available within the kingdom. It’s one thing to choose not to go to the movies. It’s another thing to not even have the option. So, when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped on it. They saw Megamind which also happened to be in 3D movie…bonus!

Friday morning they attended their meeting which was conveniently at the Marriott hotel where they were staying…actually we planned it that way. They got ready and just hustled downstairs. There were about four hundred and fifty people at the meeting which surprised me. I think they really enjoyed meeting and gathering with others from our faith.

Saturday morning they got up early to meet a guide to take them on a desert safari. They rode out into the desert to the top of a sand dune, and let the air out of the tires of their Land Cruiser. Dano had to explain this one to me. Less air in the tires makes it easier to drive on the sand.
At the top of the dunes, the guide strapped a snow board on the kids and let each of them have a couple of turns sandboarding down the dunes. They found this to be terrific fun! Dano was even able to get in on the action. Hiking back up the dune for round two was the most difficult part. I think this was quite a workout for each of them, but the ride down was worth it.

They visited the Al Fahaidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai built to protect the area from sea invaders. It also served as the office and residence of the ruler at the time.

There is a wonderful aquarium in Dubai. Kennedy loved the penguins, Erin loved the manta rays and Ethan loved the sharks, of course. But of all the pictures, I loved this tank created to be a reproduction of the Finding Nemo movie.
One of the highlights was the anticipation of coming home. Usually that’s not the case when you go on a trip…unless you’re Ethan Lister and you’ve been informed that your ride home will be on the Airbus A-380, the world’s largest airplane, the one you search the horizon for whenever you are out in the evening around 6:00. It’s the first two-story airplane the kids have flown on. Ethan’s comments, “It’s ginormous! It had stairs leading up to the lavatory. Every seat on the airplane had its own touch-screen television with lots of video games. It was so cool!”
Abigail, Emily, and I survived alone and had a quiet five days at home. These are two very sweet little girls. I enjoyed spending time with them, but we missed the rest of our family, especially Abby. She really missed those kids. We think Dubai looks and sounds like great fun and hope we will be able to visit it again with everyone.

03 November 2010

She’s Here!

Nearly sixteen years after being told we may not have children of our own, it is with joy that we were blessed with our fifth child, Emily Clare Lister, on Saturday, October 23rd, 2010 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She weighed in at 3.72 kg and stretched out to 52 cm. Yeah, that meant nothing to me, either. I just smiled at the nurse and looked at Dano waiting for a translation. It recalculates to 8 lbs 2 oz and 20.5 inches. She’s an average-size Lister baby. Ethan actually won our weight prediction poll to the ounce.

We had been back and forth on her name. When Abigail was born, Erin and I both liked the name Emily but were out-voted; I guess it just wasn’t her time. Clare is after my dad, Clarence who is a junior named after his father who was (I can only assume) named after his mother, Clara. After months of not being settled with a name, my dad sent us some names he had come across while working on some genealogy. They were grandmothers’ names nine generations back, but it made me start thinking and researching through both Dano’s genealogy and mine. Somehow, thankfully, I came across a couple of Emilys and, of course, Clara, and it all came together and I love it!

Emily was born at the International Medical Center, which is a partner with the Cleveland Clinic. It is, we think, the fanciest hospital any of our children have been born in.In June I switched hospitals and doctors after not being very pleased with the doctor I had. He would probably have been fine. I just felt like at every visit he had had three too many espressos and couldn’t focus or remember exactly what we had discussed the previous time. When we met with the new doctor he asked if we had switched because the hospital I had been going to was no longer seeing foreigners…they were becoming a strictly Saudi patient facility. Uh, no. No one had ever told us that. How could a hospital just drop their patients without informing them? Fortunately for us we had planned on leaving. Also fortunately for us we really liked this doctor. He is Saudi born and raised. He came to Canada and the U.S. for his education and training.

There were some different things about care in Saudi than in the States. Here doctors seem to make little or no physical contact with the patients if they don’t have to. Everything is left to technology, meaning you receive an ultrasound every visit. This is how they measure everything from growth to heartbeat. It was different at first, but who’s going to complain about getting to see their baby every visit? The nurses and ultrasound technicians are almost all Filipinos whose stories are nearly all the same: they’ve left their families (in many cases this includes their young children) back in the Philippines to work in KSA where they live on hospital/nurses’ compounds with strict curfews and rules and are bussed to and from work. Not surprisingly, many want to come work in the U.S., but after talking with one technician, the U.S. requires additional training and testing and it is harder to find a job there. Another difference is the doctors are not set up as groups/practices. There are consultants and specialists. The former are the more certified/educated. That’s what my doctor is. When you go into labor it is most likely that a specialist will deliver you. However, for a fee (paid at around the thirty-fifth week) you can ensure your doctor will deliver you. We found that kind of amusing…but paid it anyway! The doctors in the States could make a bundle on the side if they started doing this!

For the fifth time I tested positive for the group B strep virus so we knew I needed to have antibiotics. That coupled with the facts that I tend to have rather short labors and that my doctor teaches in Mecca a few times a week, we decided to schedule her delivery. In Jeddah when you are in labor you have to enter through the emergency room. There is a separate entrance for labor and delivery. Also, as part of their inefficiency, you cannot preregister. I had always done this weeks in advance in the States, as is recommended. Thank goodness we were going about things at a leisurely pace because Dano had to leave me upstairs and go back down and register me.

It was different having nurses I couldn’t communicate with well, i.e.…they could speak English alright but not well enough to have a sense of humor. I was the only person in the labor and delivery unit that day so Dano was permitted to walk the halls with me. If there had been other women there, Dano would have been required to stay in the room.

Throughout the day I had doctors and nurses from the Philippines, Egypt, Saudi, Sudan, Jordan, and Palestine, and those are only the ones we asked.

A couple of things I do remember from that day…the less-than-cheery anesthesiologist (aptly dubbed “Dr. Friendly”) somehow missed and only my left side was numbed. The second one who came in to try to remedy his colleague’s mishap was so empathetic he insisted on ripping off the body tape covering my back during the height of a contraction. Let me just say, I told Dano a man would not have survived that kind of back-waxing. Then as he attempted to adjust the needle during yet another contraction and saw I was in quite a bit of pain (ya think?) they tried to put a mask on my face, which I assumed would be oxygen. Dano was smart enough to ask. They responded that it was nitrous oxide…that’s right…laughing gas. It still makes me laugh to think that’s what they give women in labor to ease their pain…laughing gas!
(By the way, Dano graciously and emphatically declined on my behalf.)

As with many things in Saudi, celebrations are done on a grandiose scale (remember the birthday party back in February?). Births are no exceptions. Room decorations are a service provided by flower shops. The kids got a real kick out of our room. There were some quite extravagant decorations.
On Sunday morning Dr. Edris came around and told me I could go home that afternoon if I wanted to. Unfortunately I got a migraine shortly after he left so that kind of postponed my leaving. I thought that I’d make sure and initiate it that evening so I’d be set to leave first thing Monday morning. I let the evening nurse know I’d be checking out the next morning (makes it sound like a hotel, doesn’t it?). She just looked at me kindly, nodded and said, “En Shallah” which, if you recall from a previous post means “God willing.” When the cafeteria lady came in and asked me for my breakfast and lunch orders, I told her the same thing – that I would be going home in the morning. She smiled and said, “En Shallah. What would you like for breakfast?” I looked at her a little puzzled and told her I’d be eating at home. When the cleaning ladies came in early the next morning and asked if they could clean my room (they cleaned the room about four times a day!) I thanked them and told them I was checking out and they could just wait and clean it after I left. They too just smiled at me and said, “En Shallah.” At this point I wanted to say, “No really! I’m going home!”

It took forever for us to get out, four hours to be precise. Again, they have such great technology, such a beautiful facility, just no real capability in running it efficiently. If you have someone’s insurance information on file in the computer, why do they need to have every single transaction or test individually and manually entered and approved? Dano was required to make one more stop at the insurance desk to check us out and pay for anything the insurance didn’t cover. Then, just when we thought we were through, they decided at the last minute that Emily looked jaundiced and needed to run a test. We would need to wait.

While we waited the nurse made sure to collect all the hospital’s things and change Emily out of the hospital’s clothing. She gently dressed her in the going-home outfit we had brought. She asked about a blanket. We told her we had not brought one. I honestly had assumed that she’d be fine in the layered outfit considering it was 112 degrees outside. This was quite unsatisfactory with the nurse. She made a big deal about our not having a blanket to cover her up with. She finally gave a little humph and told us she’d allow us to take one of the hospital’s lesser baby blankets home with us because we didn’t have one. I was appreciative. Who doesn’t like a little blanket? However, we did chuckle at the fact that we were never queried regarding what carseat we’d be taking her home in. They’re more concerned about a blanket than a carseat! To us that was amusing…just different than what we’re used to.

After waiting an hour we asked about the progress of the test. They told us they were not going to send hers down for screening until they had gathered every baby’s test. It would probably only be an hour. Two hours later as we were asking for the results and were told it would probably only be another hour, we finally told them we were just going to leave (could we really do that?). They had our numbers; they could just call us with the results. As we were leaving, one of the nurses came in and told us the machine that processed the test was down and would not be able to run the test right now. Why not tell us two hours ago?! Anyhow, in the mean time she had arranged for a “trolley” to help carry down our door decorations, bags, and beautiful flower arrangements. It came accompanied by what looked like a hotel bellhop who was insistent on loading it all. Were we leaving the hospital or the Marriott? Oddly from there we just walked out…no nurses, no wheelchair…just took the baby and walked out. Very different.

As Abby and I stood in the grand lobby with our “bellhop” waiting for Dano to bring the car, we received many looks from passersby. Most just greeted us with warm smiles. Two women, however, stopped to offer their mashalas. As they looked at Emily it seemed they wanted to say something. I saw them staring at the carseat and thought they were probably wondering what it was. Finally, they could contain themselves no longer and told me in their best English how bad it was for my baby to be in a carseat. Shocked, I looked at them and said, “What?” They told me how it is so bad for her back. I asked them what they put their babies in. One of the women described something like a handbag, as she motioned to her purse. I asked if they buckled it into the car. “Yes. Put in the car.” They gave me a final warning of how damaging it will be for my baby’s back and that she knows, she has three children. I gave them a kind smile while thinking, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I think I’ll take my chances with the carseat.”

Sadly, the migraines have returned with a vengeance. In just over a week I’ve had four. After much thought and consideration I’ve resumed my medication. It was a very sad day but is probably for the overall well-being of everyone. Other than that, it’s been a great week and a half. Emily is such a wonderfully sweet baby and does just what babies do. She is alert and attentive when she is awake and loves to focus on faces. I know babies don’t smile at this age, but she most definitely does, just little smiles…and they aren’t just gas. We love having this new little one in our home and look forward to watching her grow, which is already happening too quickly.
In the words of Abby, “Her sooo cute!”

20 October 2010

Turkey – Istanbul: Day 1

We left our hotel and were driven the long two hours back to the Kayseri airport from which we flew back to Istanbul. Istanbul is huge! It is one of the top five largest cities in the world. It is home to nearly thirteen million people. The traffic is ridiculous! The drivers are only slightly better than the drivers in Jeddah. It is unique in that it is the only city to span two continents, Europe and Asia. The great Bosphorus marks the division between the two. The Bosphorus is a strait which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea which then connects to the Mediterranean Sea. It is Turkey’s largest port.

One of the employees of the newly acquired company in Turkey was kind enough to tour us around Istanbul for two days while Dano attended meetings. I could not have done it without her. The language barrier would definitely have been a hinderance to our getting around.
It was a little overwhelming to think about all of the historically significant events that have taken place in this part of the world. We were so fortunate to be able to visit just a few of the structures and sites that make up this history.

The few sites we visited were on the other side of the Bosphorus. We had to ride a ferry across the strait, much to the children’s delight. They enjoyed throwing crackers up in the air off the side of the ferry and watching the seagulls dive to catch them.Upon reaching the other side we rode the tram a short distance and then walked and walked and walked some more.
The first site we stopped at was Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain. It is a beautiful gazebo-style fountain constructed in Germany in 1898 and then presented to the sultan by the Germans in 1900.
There are women there selling plates of seed to feed to the many pigeons. Berra, our guide, treated the children to a couple of plates so they could feed the pigeons. As I took pictures, I couldn’t get the “Feed the Birds” song from Mary Poppins out of my head. Now, as you look at our pictures, maybe that song will be stuck in your head, too!As I was attempting to get a picture of the beautiful fountain, a pigeon passing by happened to poop on my shoulder. Gross, I know. Berra told us it’s actually considered good luck to have a bird make its mark on you. Personally, I think that’s just some senseless rationalization made up by someone who wanted to seem cool after he'd just been bombed on his head!

From there we headed just a short walk up to the Obelisk of Theodosius. It reminded us of the Washington Monument.
This is the oldest monument in Istanbul and was carved in Egypt in the BC 1500s for Pharoah Thutmose III. The Emperor Theodosius had it brought from Egypt to (then) Constantinople in AD 390. It is constructed of red granite.
The base was constructed by Theodosius with incredible carvings of him, his wife, sons and state officials observing chariot races, a popular pastime. This entire area we were walking through was once the Hippodrome.

These two sites were situated on our walk to the famous Blue Mosque.The mosque was constructed in the early 1600s and has six minarets compared to the normal one or two. It also has a large courtyard with carvings and beautiful detailed painting.
We entered the mosque on the south side as only worshippers are permitted through the main entrance. We got in just before they closed the doors for prayer. As it is a holy spot and Muslims remove their shoes before prayer, we were also asked to remove our shoes and were provided bags in which to carry them around.The interior was impressive with its tens of thousands of blue tiles (hence the unofficial name) and its nearly three hundred stained glass windows. Hopefully the brilliance is conveyed in these pictures (even though the photographer had not been briefed in how to take indoor pictures with the new camera!).

The Hagia Sofia is just across from the Blue Mosque. It was completed in 567 AD by the Emperor Justinian (who wanted a greater temple than Solomon’s) and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly one thousand years. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered and the cathedral was converted into a mosque. Under direction of the conquering sultan, many Christian emblems and artifacts were removed. One of the changes made was the plastering over of many of the faces of the mosaics. Part of the Muslim belief is to not replicate faces. It remained a mosque until 1935 when it was turned into a museum. It is a UNESCO site and, as we were told, seems to be under constant renovation (note the scaffolding in some of the pictures).

One of the changes they’re making is removing the plastering from the angels’ faces that float in the dome of the museum. You can see one angel's face in this picture and the other is still covered.Again, the detailing is magnificent and the mosaics impressive.

This final photo is of the Haydarpasa Train station which we could see from the ferry. I just thought it was a striking train station. The sky really was this beautiful. It’s the last time we’ll see blue skies for quite a while.
When we arrived back at the hotel, it was fun to see several of Dano’s friends from Greif, as their meetings were there in the hotel. They were meeting for dinner so the kids and I ordered a pizza and watched a movie on our bed. It was very easy to crash. We were all so tired and would be repeating our walking tour the next day.