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

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

31 May 2010

Celebrating Ethan

Hard to believe that nine years can pass so quickly. Nine years ago Dano graduated from BYU’s MBA program and we moved to Midland. But most importantly it was nine years ago that our baby girl turned out to be a baby boy and Ethan joined our family. What a terrific young man he is turning into. Here are some of the qualifying factors to support that statement:

Ethan is a hard worker. He jumps right into his studies and strives for excellence in all he does. According to his teacher, he moved in and quickly took over the “top dog” position in his class, encouraging others to work just as hard.

Ethan never gives up if he gets something wrong. I am always amazed at his lack of frustration when presented with a challenge. It’s hard to be a super baseball player and attempt to learn the sport of cricket, a very popular sport in KSA and Britain. But Ethan would not be deterred and joined an afternoon club teaching the game and has worked hard to learn the game and plays well.

Ethan is creative. We have loved reading his works of art for several years now. The stories and ‘books’ he concocts are incredible which reflect his avid reading.

Ethan is enthusiastic. I think everyone who knows Ethan will attest to this one. He is just one of those people who loves life and everything about it. Though there are sometimes he needs to be reminded to keep the enthusiasm in check, at the same time, it is quite contagious and reminds me at times to lighten up and enjoy the journey.

Ethan is a devoted friend. We’ve often said of Ethan that the only stranger to him is the person he hasn’t yet met. Once you meet Ethan he makes you feel like a friend. During a cricket match, I watched as Ethan encouraged one of his friends who wasn’t playing well to keep his eye on him and he’d give him the sign when to run and when to stay on base. It was heart-warming to witness this kind of encouragement from one young boy to another.

Ethan is endlessly forgiving. He is quick to forget wrong-doings. One of the ‘top dogs’ he removed was upset and threatened by Ethan (according to Ethan’s teacher) and seemed to make it his goal in life to make Ethan miserable. Though Ethan would come home discouraged, not knowing why this kid would be badgering him, he kept trying to come up with responsive solutions. Eventually this boy realized Ethan was not going to retaliate and after weeks of needling he asked Ethan if they could just put it all behind them and be friends.

Ethan is a terrific athlete with a competitive spirit. This has been tricky for me…to try to control the competiveness without squelching it. I once looked up the word “competitive” and found an entry that read “having a strong desire to succeed.” After watching Ethan for years, we’ve decided that Ethan’s biggest competitor is himself. He finds it hard to settle for second best. Therein lies the fine line. If he can keep pushing himself for success, he’ll be able to accomplish anything. His sporting abilities are endless and diverse. He would have a difficult time narrowing down which sport is his favorite. He is adept at football, basketball, baseball, swimming, running, and soccer. It’s always an enjoyable experience to watch him and play with him.

Ethan is a great brother. Whether it’s staying up nights talking and giggling with Erin, daily taking Abby to the park (heat rarely bothers these two), or discussing books with Kennedy, Ethan is a very thoughtful brother who is quick to do a kind deed to surprise a sister.

Ethan is growing strong in the gospel. From the boy who a couple of years ago kindly and coolly stood up to friends defending the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to the boy who, while waiting for Dad in a meeting, wrote a missionary lesson/testimony on the wipeboard at church, Ethan continues to build and strengthen his love of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

To celebrate his birthday we decided not to have a traditional Saudi birthday party; that the funds would be put to better use such as a college education. He had a few friends over to swim and bbq the day before. Ethan was very excited that a birthday absolves you from wearing your uniform to school. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at On the Border where we are treated like celebrities. We concluded his big day with cake and presents, of course. For those of you who may not know, Ethan has always been a devout Michigan fan which is not that easy when you live in Ohio. I was worried when he got on the bus as a little kindergartener on school game shirt day sporting his blue and yellow. But, as usual, he held his own and was not deterred by the teasings.

Unfortunately he informed me a few days before his birthday that he’d switched his dream of playing for the Wolverines to going to BYU or the Air Force Academy. Regardless, he completely loved his cake and a part of him will bleed blue and yellow for a long time to come.

28 May 2010

Fifteen and Counting…in Taif

It’s hard to believe fifteen years can pass so quickly, but when they’re spent with your best friend time can seem so fleeting. As my sister so wonderfully penned, “I can't believe you've been married for 15 years. 15 years--almost 5 kids, 5 states, 3 jobs, 3 degrees, 2 countries, 2 dogs, and 1 happy family.” We’ve had many wonderful memories-in meager times and in times of plenty. Our ultimate blessings number nearly five. We took these blessings and spent our anniversary in the city of Taif. It’s about two hours east and a bit south of Jeddah. It would have been a quicker drive, but non-Muslims have to skirt way around Makkah (Mecca).
We reached Taif in the early afternoon. Taif lies at the top of some fairly impressive mountains. As Dano guesstimated we drove switchbacks straight up the mountain between four and five thousand feet in a matter of less than ten miles. The temperature quickly dropped a dramatic twenty degrees to a nice, comfortable eighty degrees. We reached the hotel at the beginning of a fantastic electrical (thunderstorm). It was the first thunderstorm we’ve seen in Saudi, probably the first one Abby can recall as she sat dumbstruck and wide-eyed. There was even a downpour while we were checking in. Unfortunately by the time we left our room to head outside to play in the rain, it had passed. We drove to the nearby town of Al Hada and rode a cable car back down the mountains. The view was amazing and the ride peaceful.
We were a little curious to see which of our children would show the first signs of reluctance due to the great heights, but everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The twenty-minute cable car ride stopped at a swimming/fun park down below. The pools were segregated with the women’s being much smaller and uninhabited. There was one slide on the women’s side and about six slides and a wave pool on the men’s side. We wondered what attire the women would even swim in! There was also a toboggan ride similar to a summertime bobsled ride. This was great fun! (of which we would have taken pictures had photography not been prohibited) Kennedy and Ethan rode by themselves, I paired up with Erin and Dano paired up with Abby. The speed was controlled by two levers which also served as the brakes. It would have been even more fun if the two Arabic men and two Arabic women in front of us kept going the entire distance instead of stopping several times. I’m not sure if the speed was concerning to them or the sharp turns that rival many roller coaster rides. I did shout back to Dano that this is what happens when women aren’t allowed to drive!

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing baboons again. This time I was camera-ready.
There were more than we could count. This totally thrilled the children as well. The monkeys are obviously used to having people stop and stare as they are prepared to receive handouts. It was really precious to see the mommies carrying the babies. The males quite noticeably govern the pack. While we were trying to share bananas, one selfish male kept taking them. Clearly they were local monkeys as each male had many females and each female acquiesced to him. When I would pitch a female a banana she would not accept it if the male was anywhere near her. It was interesting to watch them shield their babies from the male. Another male-dominated society. It was truly a unique and memorable experience, part of which we have included here.

What you can't see in the video is his teeth! And what you may not be able to hear is Dano saying, "I'm glad your window was up." Boy, me too!

We have been so blessed over the past fifteen years and count each of your friendships part of those blessings. We look forward to the next fifteen years (and more) as we continue making
memories on Lister Lane.

23 May 2010

This Would Never Happen in Ohio

When we lived in Utah we often found ourselves saying, “Only in Utah.” Now that we’re here in Saudi I’m finding myself more frequently thinking, “This would never happen in Ohio.” A few situations to support my thought:

✳After working out and sweating profusely, you take a cold shower and only get warm water. To some who don’t like being cold, this is not a problem. But, for others raised in the Colorado Rockies, cold is often refreshing. However, it’s not pleasing to brush your teeth with warm water (ick) and when your two year old burns herself while helping you bake, it’s frustrating that there’s no cold water to run her hand under. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳When you go to the mall and realize you are outnumbered by men about 10:1. This would never happen in Ohio. (or in any normal mall anywhere!!!!)

✳The sewer truck comes twice a day for an hour each time to pump out…well, you know, and the hole is right outside your house. Ancient Roman civilizations you’ve traipsed through even had some sort of sewage system, but not the wealthy country of Saudi Arabia. You have a few dozen of your favorite scents of wonderful Bath and Body Works Wallflowers that you brought but can’t plug them in because they’re the wrong voltage. You know it’s bad when your two year old is frustratingly trying to plug her ears and nose at the same time (very difficult to do…I’d like to see how many of you are actually trying it at this moment) and repeatedly saying, “Go home, stinky truck. No come my house anymore!” This would never happen in Ohio.

✳When you go to the doctor and are asked how many abortions you’ve had -
“How many abortions have you had?”
“Uhh, really? Do you always ask that?”
“Is that common here?”
“What? How many pregnancies have ended in termination…miscarriage?”
“Oh.” This would never happen in Ohio

✳When going to put something in the trash, a little something catches your eye. You glance up to see a partial lizard carcass hanging out of your kitchen door, seemingly staring at you. Your husband finds it is wedged/smushed between the door and screen door and has to scrape it out. “How in the world did that get there?” Probably your daughter who suffers from scoliodentosaurophobia lured it and slammed the door on the poor thing. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You think you’re like most moms of two year olds who rarely go to the restroom alone. But yours joins you, in sheer mimicry, by sitting on the bedet beside the toilet, pretending to ‘go’ and is very pleased with her fabricated accomplishment. (At least she hasn’t figured out about the sprayer….yet!) This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You’re sitting at a red light waiting for the light to turn with the other three lanes of traffic. It finally turns. Horns start immediately blaring and the car in the far right lane has decided to turn left….that’s if he (I can get away with gender distnction here because women don’t drive) hasn’t already parked his car perpendicular in front of everyone else, waiting for the light to turn so he can hang a left. This gives a new perspective to looking both ways before proceeding. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳The mosquitoes here can be absolutely horrific. You’ve read that malaria can be a threat here. Naturally officials would be concerned about it so they do their part to kill the mosquitoes. Their solution is to smoke the neighborhoods with diesel fuel. Heaven forbid you’re out for a run when this happens. There is no escaping the terrible fumes that plume through the streets and driveways. It is hazardous to go outside for about twenty minutes for fear of inhalation. You wonder what’s worse: dying from malaria or diesel fume poisoning. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳At the request of a family member you decide to make a much-desired lasagna. You gather all the ingredients at the store only to realize you live in a country that doesn’t readily carry/make cottage cheese or ricotta cheese. (Not to mention this means no beloved cottage cheese pancakes, either.) You begin wondering what a goat cheese lasagna would taste like. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳As you’re driving 120 km/hr down the freeway some distance from town you see something making its way quickly across the freeway up ahead. Your husband denotes it is a pack of wild dogs. As you get closer, your entire car gapes at what it really is…a small group of baboons running across the road. Did anyone ever think monkeys live in Saudi Arabia? You’re kick yourself because you don’t get your camera out fast enough because you were too busy being stupefied. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You’re sitting in church enjoying the talk being given, but also trying hard to understand through a Filipino accent. Straining, you find it more and more difficult to understand (Sshhh, Mom is trying to listen!) only to realize somewhere midstream, the speaker switched to Tagalog. Whew! You were starting to wonder if your hearing was going or, worse…your mind! This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You watch as your children learn to be appreciative by witnessing such prolific, abject poverty every time you leave the compound. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You hope your children are learning to be hard workers as they are probably the only children in Jeddah who helped wash their own car today. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You gain a greater respect for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom in general as people are denied those rights in other countries. This would never happen in Ohio.

✳You hope your children develop a greater perspective living as minorities. This would never happen in Ohio.

07 May 2010

Halas? La'a

Another common Arabic word you’ll hear is ‘halas.’ It means finished, over, all done, or the end. It’s an easy word to say so you’ll often hear it in our home. Much to our surprise we learned in February that our family was muu halas – not finished. It took us completely by surprise as it had taken us two years to have Abby when we were planning for another child. It has been a very welcomed surprise. However, it was not a surprise to everyone. About two weeks before we found out, Dano and I were out running errands with Abby. As we were talking she blurted out from the back seat, “Bye, bye, baby. Baby go bye bye.” We didn’t think anything of it other than maybe she had seen a baby on the sidewalk or something. Then a couple of days later she prematurely woke up from her nap, very sad, which is completely abnormal for her. Kennedy tried to console her, but she just wanted to be rocked by mom. As she was floating between sleep and wakefulness, she began crying again and told me, “Baby bye, bye. Baby go bye, bye.” She whimpered back to sleep. A few weeks after we found out but had not let the kids in on it, Ethan, Erin and I were sitting on the couch reading and doing homework. Abby came running over, lifted up my shirt and asked “Baby in tummy now? Baby coming?” The kids all thought that was really funny and I just laughed it off. Things that make you go “Hmmmm…”

The health care here is good. It’s a little different from the States. Once we selected our hospital, there are only somewhat more than twenty here in Jeddah, we had to select a doctor. This was difficult to do because I don’t know anyone here from whom to get a good referral. It felt kind of like roulette, but we’re okay with our choice. Medical and dental offices have taken into account the frequent prayer times and the fact that women cannot drive themselves anywhere. Therefore, all offices take appointments until around 9:00 at night. Granted, they don’t start until around 10:00 in the morning. It’s also a very understood concept for men to leave work to take their wife to the doctor. Those two factors have been very helpful in my doctor’s visits, although Dano’s never been to so many doctor’s appointments. While at the appointments we are once again segregated. There is a women’s waiting area and a men’s waiting area. (We quickly found out that ‘Family Waiting Area’ does not really mean family. It’s just another name for “Women’s”.) Men and women must not sit together. Words can’t describe Dano’s thrill at my having five appointments this month alone!

The health care payment system is also a little different. You declare yourself as either a cash or insurance patient. The former seems to be strongly encouraged and cash patients seem to have their advantages. We live in a country where people don’t readily deal with insurance. Despite my occasional complaining about the insurance company, I’ve become even more grateful for our health care system in the United States, at least the one that existed when we left.

As this was not in the plans, I didn’t bring any maternity clothes with me. I haven’t seen one maternity store here. Besides, that would be a little awkward as all sales clerks here are males. (I guess I never have blogged about the shopping here.) I always chuckle when I walk by a lingerie store and wonder just how terribly uncomfortable the women must feel buying their “unmentionables” from a man. Then again, when your face is completely veiled and you are enshrouded from head to toe, no one can see you anyway so you’re basically phantom-shopping.

This will be a new adventure within our Saudi adventure. Our baby is due on Halloween, which can’t come too soon for four Lister kids. Abby goes around the house saying, “Baby coming to my house. Baby coming to my house.” Ethan is hoping, hoping for a brother (no surprise) and Kennedy and belly-rubbing Erin are just excited.

02 May 2010

A Trip to D.C./Dano’s Mistake

Last fall one of Kennedy’s teachers nominated her to attend the Junior National Youth Leadership Conference held in Washington, D.C. Considering this a very fortunate opportunity we decided we would do what we could to get her there. She and I left from Jordan to fly back to the U.S. It was the longest flight of my life. Our travel agent had missed on the arrangements and we ended up with a direct flight from Amman to Chicago. The nice part is ‘direct.’ The not-so-great part was that it was a thirteen hour flight. To begin our trip we were delayed in Amman for two hours while their systems were down. Then, because Kennedy and I look so threatening, we were selected to be completely inspected. This was after the security line where, in Arab countries (at least Saudi and Jordan), women go through a separate line into a booth-type room and are given a pat-down just one step up from what I imagine is given in a prison frisking! After that lovely experience we stood and watched as two security guards went through everything we had, speaking of course in Arabic so I had no idea what they were saying (probably wondering what deodorant is!) Kennedy and I had a really difficult time explaining what knitting needles were. I was beginning to think there was no way they were going to let them through. After showing them Kennedy’s handiwork-in-progress, they let us pass.

I was a little apprehensive when the young man sitting behind us asked the flight attendant when the cigarettes were coming around that he could purchase. I quickly began thinking to myself, “Surely, surely non-American airlines don’t allow smoking.” Nothing was going to make my flight worse than sitting in front of someone smoking. Well, one thing. I then couldn’t take my mind or eyes off a few small groups of Arab men huddling together speaking Arabic. I kept telling myself they most likely weren’t terrorists, but then the underwear bomber looked like a nice kid, too. My convincing notion came when the customs forms were passed out and I watched them fill them out. Of course, if they were going to bomb the plane they wouldn’t take time to fill out the customs forms. Phew! Oh, the things the over-active mind thinks of when squished on a large, seemingly endless flight. Talk about paranoid, erroneous racial profiling.

In spite of my inflight migraine it was a relatively quick flight. I have to say, I was very impressed with my navigation of O’Hare terminals, getting through customs, and rebooking our connecting flight we had missed because of our delay in Amman. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it was thrilling to know we were back on American ground and could actually understand the people everywhere! As it turns out some of the “potential terrorists” were on our flight to D.C. as well. I really wanted to say something in Arabic to them but wasn’t ever close enough.

We arrived in a chilly, rainy D.C. minus one piece of luggage, mine. I went to the lost luggage counter where two of the young Arab men were waiting. After they spoke to the not-so-helpful lady, I asked if their luggage had been lost, too. One replied that his had. I told them we had been on the same flights (Of course they knew this. We were sitting across the aisle from them and they probably saw me watching their every move. I think I may have a future in the TSA as an air marshal.) I then told him good luck. He wished me the same. Then I mustered my courage and told him, “Ma-salaama” which is quite typically said when parting and means “Go with safety.” He was noticeably pleasantly surprised and returned the wish. For a moment I forgot about my lost bag and was elated that I had actually conveyed something in Arabic, it had been understood, appreciated, and reciprocated.

About the best part of going to D.C. was being able to stay with my sister and her husband. They have a beautiful new home in Arlington, not too far from Kennedy’s conference site. My parents even came out to visit. It was so wonderful to spend time with them.
We arrived at my sister's home about 1:30 in the morning, chatted, and went to bed only to have my luggage arrive at 5:00…at least it arrived. We ran to Target later that morning to grab some final items for Kennedy. Ahhh, Target…need I say more. I was almost in a daze of wonder being back in one of “my” stores where items are found where they should be, prices are clearly marked, and there’s everything I need (except for khaki pants for one tweenie). My parents treated us to Mexican food at a really terrific restaurant a short walk from my sister’s house. I probably could have been satisfied just gorging myself on the chips and salsa. I think they knew Kennedy and I had been deprived of good chips because they put out a basket of chips for every two people. I think Kennedy and I polished off three baskets! Yum!

My aunt and cousin came over Saturday morning and joined us for brunch at another terrific restaurant with “life-altering” French toast. If any of you are ever in the Arlington area, I could highly recommend some really wonderful places to eat. We took Kennedy to the 4H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, MD, checked her in, and said goodbye. This was her longest time away from home. As we drove away, I decided that we’ll have a few years left in Ohio when we get back and then Dano will have to go job-hunting within a thirty mile radius of wherever Kennedy decides to attend college. I think a friend referred to this as a “smother mother.”

I had a very relaxing, great week with my mom and sister. We were able to go to the beautiful Washington, D.C. temple. I also had to take advantage of the spring blossoms. I could have stopped and smelled every blooming plant and flower. I did miss Dano and the little kids. It’s hard to be split like that. Thank goodness for Skype!
Kennedy spent the week learning good leadership roles. Each day they studied a different ‘voice’: voice of leadership, voice of freedom, voice of struggle, voice of courage, voice of change, and voice of the future. She met in focus groups to dissect and discuss the first amendment, visited some of the D.C. monuments, toured the Newseum, spent the night at Maryland’s Science Center, and spent a day at Harper’s Ferry discussing John Brown’s raid. There, they also participated in a reenactment of a Civil War Battle. Kennedy drew the role of nurse. She was pleased with her luck as she had chosen Clara Barton as her hero to report on at the conference. They were coached in what it took to be a nurse or doctor in the Civil War period. They were sent “soldiers” with all types of illnesses and wounds and treated them according to a list they were provided with along with medicinal treatments. As Kennedy was telling us some of their treatment options, she told us she most often bandaged their wounds and gave them opium. What a laugh! She told us it was the easiest medicine name to remember. Dano and I had to tease her a bit about this: Have dysentery? Here’s some opium. Got shot in the leg? Here’s some opium. Stabbed yourself in the eye? Here. Have some opium. Fortunately medicine has advanced and we don’t so readily rely on illegal drugs to feel better…well, most of us don’t.

It was a great week for both of us. However, Dano’s mistake was this: allowing me to come back to the States because now I remember just how much I enjoy life in the States, how comfortable I am there, and how I miss it and my family. However, our life right now is in Saudi and we’re enjoying it as well. Sometimes we need to miss out on things to realize how much we appreciate them. I hope my family is gaining a great respect for the people here, people different from themselves and situations different than what we’re used to and appreciating it. Conversely, I hope it makes us all value more what we have in the United States. It’s such a great country.