Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years Eve in Atlanta, GA

Maine lobster from You DeKalb Farmer's Market

Fireworks from Target

Sunday, December 15, 2013

3 Advent - We got a tree!

Three candles - Christmas is almost here!

My boys got me a Christmas flower!

Our great Fraser fir!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The baby is developing in accordence with God's plan

Hey, what happened? Where did you go?! (This is the voice of you, dear reader.)

Max – our baby – went from being perfectly happy in my, or other family member’s, arms, just kind of tagging along, to wanting to grab everything we grab (typing with him became impossible), then quickly developed a desire to reach further, and move around by ways of commando crawl, exploring everything in his way. Very soon after that, within a couple of weeks, he moved on to a standard baby crawl (so much more effective!), which required the family to deep clean the house (he has a particular taste for eating lint) and baby proof every corner of every room (his first real crawl ever consisted of a very straight and determined trip to an electrical outlet, fingers ready). That took us a few days, at least, and involved, among other measures, a trip to IKEA.

Here we are, and I am trying to adjust to life with a crawling baby – for the fourth time. You’d think I’d have it down by now, wouldn’t you? However, this is our first house in the US, and every baby is slightly different. Max is a happier baby in general than most babies I’ve ever met, but he is definitely also just a normal baby at this stage: as they start being able to move around – remove themselves physically from the mother - at the same time they become more needy, physically displaying separation anxiety.

This is the stage when everything you ever needed to do or wanted to do on any given day have to be done during nap time. I call it the “Do-it-all-at-nap-time” stage. Of course it’s impossible. So some things are left neglected, for a while. I’ve learned that I have time for one – 1 – personal, not necessarily vital to my physical survival, activity, and I have chosen exercise over blogging. Sorry, folks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to write, or that I won’t. Just that I will exercise first and then blog. And whaddayaknow? Today I managed both.

*Disclaimer: At least one child, possibly a baby, and probably many household items were harmed during the recording of these accounts.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Visiting Helen, GA and hiking to Raven Cliff Falls

After our very yummy Thanksgiving dinner we drove up to Helen for a couple of days to visit this very peculiar town and go hiking.

On our way we passed the highway exit to the Mall of Georgia - oh the traffic! The exit was completely blocked and cars were lined up for miles. I can't even imagine what it was like inside the mall! Black Friday certainly earned its name there.

We had a cold but absolutely perfect weekend! Helen, which was changed to look like an Alpine village sometime in the 60's to boost tourism (it worked too - apparently around 1.2 million tourists visit each year), was hosting a Christmas market, and the boys got to wave to Santa Claus who paraded the street. We had a great German meal at the Bodensee restaurant, and then spent the night at Super 8 (I know, fancy us!).

The next day we drove up to the Raven Cliff Falls trail head and spent the day hiking one of the most beautiful hikes we have experienced here in Georgia - five miles of waterfalls, wood and nature's beauty all around.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving dinner pictures

I watched a video somewhere, somehow, and got set on making these sweet potatoes for our dinner, and they came out great! So yummy!

Our Whole Foods turkey with bacon, pecan and dried blueberries stuffing. Yum!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

This is our first Thanksgiving Day celebrating as a family in the US ever. Goodbye "Having to roast pumpkin from SCRATCH to make a pumpkin pie," (you can't get canned pumpkin in Europe OR the Middle East) goodbye "Chicken as a stand in turkey," (in Lebanon, you may find a frozen butterball, but other than that... nada, nowhere) goodbye "Making your own cranberry sauce from scratch," (Swedish lingon may SEEM the same, but it really is not) goodbye "No bacon in the stuffing," (I don't have to explain!) and goodbye "The entire dinner is kind of like a hotch-potch of different cultures and religions because that's as good as we could do." No, this is the real deal, and we are so excited! But wait. We kind of miss the expat holiday version too. Reading friend's updates of not being able to find this or that to make this holiday perfect makes me... nostalgic.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Wherever you may be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's fall in Georgia

Since Abe, our four year old, has a cold, we didn't go on a long hike this weekend, but drove up to Morgan Falls Park, which we had heard was nice. It was packed - a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon - but there was still space enough for us to enjoy a quiet fall walk (the trail is about a mile long) and some wonderful colors.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Water beads

What if you moved to an empty house in a new town with four active boys, but you couldn’t buy a bunch of big/expensive toys because you are moving again soon, you can’t take anything with you, and you are on a tight budget? How would you keep them occupied? (Apart from the obvious, of course, like music, art, sticks in the backyard, balls,
etc.) I’ve been doing some research, and last week I finally found something online that I thought would be a good match: water beads.

We ordered a pack for around $8, and today they arrived. The outcome? Endless hours of play in all shapes and forms. Priceless! (Add a $1 can of shaving cream, and the fun never ends.) As an added bonus, we probably can take them with us when we leave, because you can dehydrate them again, they only weigh about 1 Lbs. and take up no space at all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jellyfish at the Georgia Aquarium

Because I managed to successfully upload a video, here it is. These are Pacific Sea Nettles, and were very beautiful and enjoyable to look at.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

American healthcare, encounter 1 in detail

I have been meaning to take Max for a checkup/shots since our insurance paperwork was handed in sometime in September, however I’ve been putting it off. Why? Because the entire process, the system here in the US has seemed so complicated to me, and even just starting to make sense of it has been too daunting. It’s not just that the insurance works so differently from anywhere else, but finding a good doctor when there’s no centralized system or database, and you don’t know anyone else with your insurance or who is part of your network, is difficult.

Yesterday when we woke up though, I had no choice. Max’ hangnail from the other day had got infected, and with our recent struggle with staph infections fresh in mind, I didn’t want to take any chances. His fingertip wasn’t just a little red around his nail, but there was a large pus sack surrounding the entire cuticle. His finger was red, sore and swollen.

I found a list on the Emory website of affiliated providers, and started calling around. It turns out the list was outdated, and/or most doctors on there wouldn’t take in any new patients at the moment, and especially not on the same day. Eventually I found one, 22 miles from our house, however, apart from the distance, it turned out this was quite lucky: not only was this doctor’s credentials quite impressive, but she was also from the Middle East originally and spoke Arabic. Not that I would need or even like to speak Arabic to her, but because most of Max’ medical papers are in Arabic, which has turned out to be quite a turn off for people here in the US who have had to deal with it, and now I wouldn’t have to translate or explain anything.

Four filled out forms later, a lot of waiting (while we were waiting, Max was sucking on his fingers, and managed to break the pus sack open with his new sharp teeth, resulting in a very disgusting moment, let me tell you: pus all around and in his mouth – eww!), and a successful examination (the doctor prescribed antibiotics against the staph infection) I finally arrived at the check-out desk, which is what I had been fearing the most: I had no idea what it was going to cost. It could be $20, or it could be $300. Our insurance only starts paying for part of our costs after we’ve reached our deductible, which is $2,700, so I knew that whatever the amount, I would have to pay for it in full. It turns out the price was somewhere in between what I had expected: $90 for the actual doctor’s visit, plus a $35 one time paperwork fee. It didn’t ruin us financially, but it was just enough to hurt. Good news is that the antibiotics was free at Publix (grocery store) – how is THAT possible?

I have lived in several countries. In Belgium we paid about $100/year for insurance, and everything was paid for – there was no deductible, no reimbursement amount. We could go to any doctor we wanted, and she was available to us 24/7 – or someone from her office. (No, our taxes were not a lot higher than our US taxes.) In Lebanon our insurance is quite expensive (but yes, our taxes are not as high): we pay around $300/month which is only 50% and our employer pays the rest, but there too, everything is covered and there is no deductible. The cost of the insurance is not proportionate to any normal health care related costs since it’s relatively cheap there (an ultrasound costs about $80), but if something really does happen to you and you need surgery, for example, you get your money’s worth.

I mean, what kind of idea is that – a deductible - anyways? “You will pay us thousands of dollars every year, but only if absolute disaster strikes and your healthcare costs - which are totally inflated, by the way – exceed a ridiculously high amount of money, which will already lead you to financial ruin, only then will we pay PART of your costs.” That really shouldn’t be called ‘healthcare,’ but ‘disaster aid’ or something like that.

Anyways. I’m hoping we can all stay healthy for the rest of our time here in the US. That way - if we only have to pay for the insurance and not ALSO for our health care - we'll only feel halfway ripped off. Or not, I guess. Sigh.

And next time we come here, I will make sure to bring more prescription drugs, so that we don’t have to go to a doctor when we know what treatment is needed anyways.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

American healthcare, encounter 1

We had our first encounter with the American health care system today. We are all OK - physically - thank you very much, but wow. After some sleep and a little someone's antibiotics kick in, I will elaborate.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Last week we visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden together with other homeschooling families from our coop. I imagine the garden is quite a bit more beautiful in the spring or summer when everything is in bloom and green, lush, but it was a lovely, sunny day, and we had a good time looking at the scarecrow exhibit and the plant art around the garden. The indoor section was lovely too, of course, with the orchid exhibit and lots of other exotic plants.

The Children's garden had a slide and some fun areas for Abraham to explore, and the boys had a good time walking into this giant ogre head.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cold spell in Atlanta

Since we got to Atlanta, the weather has gone from "pretty hot" to "warm like a Swedish summer day," but last week finally, we got to experience some of the famous wet cold that everyone is talking about. I woke up one morning, very cold, and made my way over to our thermostat: it was 56 degrees in the house. That's only 13 degrees Celsius! Cold. The boys were a mess. William woke up and wouldn't get out of bed, "Ah, I'm COLD! WHERE IS THE HEATER?!" When I suggested he put on a sweater (because apart from the cold, we had also heard everyone talking about the famous heating bills), he exclaimed, "Now I have to WEAR A SWEATER?! In my OWN house, INSIDE?!"

A friend, who also grew up in Africa, understood their reaction, "Poor boys. It is a rude awakening. I remember looking at the snow and wondering what ever possessed any human being to consider that life might be possible in any of these so-called "temperate zones" at all."

Later that day I took the boys out to buy some clothes. Since we've been living in the warm Middle East for the past six years, the boys arrived in Atlanta without a single pair of long sleeved pants, and only one light sports sweater each. We went to Old Navy and got most of what we needed for my 4-year old and 10-year old - some sweats, jeans, sweaters - but I had to take my oldest son, who is 12, to Kohl's, because at Old Navy, all of the size 12 clothes were too small, and the size 14 (which is the next size up) too big. At Kohl's they also had really nice baby clothes for Max at great prices. I even bought a pair of long pants for myself, and some stockings.

We got to wear our new warm clothes for exactly three days, and then it got warm again, back into a comfortable 70's (around 20+ degrees Celsius). To be continued.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Georgia aquarium on Halloween

On Halloween day, the Georgia Aquarium had a special deal/Halloween event: kids in costume enter free. Of course we couldn't pass this up. We've been meaning to visit the aquarium anyways. We had a good time: the aquarium just by itself is well worth a visit - the huge fish tank with, among others, the whale shark is just amazing, and the jelly fish is really cool too - and the even was nicely organized with trick or treating stations around the exhibition. The boys had fun!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween 2013 - unforgettable!

This was our first Halloween as a family in the US, and our boys’ first Halloween in the US ever, and boy, did they make up for it! Faster and more furious trick or treaters have never been seen; run up to the door, “TRICK OR TREAT!” and then “THANK YOU,
Happy Halloween, mam/sir!” next house and repeat. All with a giant happy smile on their faces. “We are having such a GREAT time, mom!” I followed them in the car and drove them parts of the way here and there, through our neighborhood. We went at it for a couple of hours, until their giant bags were so full of candy they were too heavy to carry around.

What a fun night.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chinatown mall and Halloween drive-by

After work and school today we went to Chinatown Mall for an authentic Szechuan dinner. I had read about a restaurant there online - on Yelp, I think - and we have been meaning to go for a while. It seems it's out in an almost industrial area, and for a while when we were driving there I was starting to doubt Siri really knew the way, but suddenly, there it was. Some Chinese shops, import/export firms, and a food court, full of people and really great looking food. We ate at Chong Qing Hot Pot and the food was absolutely amazing! Even the sweet and sour chicken that the boys ordered was better than anywhere I've ever had it. My husband and I had fish stew, a hot pot and some Kun Pao chicken, all very spicy and oh so tasty. Yum!

After dinner we drove through a *very* Halloween decorated neighborhood (there is a video of this here from 2010), boys shrieking from joy at all the spooky displays. The full experience, for sure.

When we got home, we got to watch the Red Sox win the world series. A good day!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our first Davidson-Arabia Nature Reserve hike

Because of a currently heavier work load (it’s that time of the year) we have reduced the amount of time we spend hiking every week – taking an entire day each weekend on top of an hour or two a couple of times during the week is just not possible at the moment, due to manuscript- and other

deadlines, activities and field trips, etc. We have not ceased entirely though; on Sunday we drove down to the Davidson-Arabia Nature Reserve, where we hiked around for a couple of hours.

The weather was perfect! Clear blue sky, a couple of beautiful white clouds, a big sun, around 71 or so degrees (between 20-22 Celsius) and a fresh crisp air. Because the map was a little off, we ended up hiking on a bike path for a while, which wasn’t exactly the nature experience we had had in mind, but once we hit the forest and the open rock area, we had a good time. We only really explored a fragment of the area, which means we will go back again soon – not only was it a fun hike, but it’s less than 30 min. drive from our house and not difficult to find.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Visiting the World of Coca Cola and Legoland Discovery Center in Atlanta

We usually throw big birthday parties for our boys, but since we barely know anyone here in Atlanta, we offered our oldest son some sightseeing choices for his 12th birthday instead: he chose the World of Coca Cola and Legoland Discovery Center. Imagine that.

The World of Coca Cola is in downtown Atlanta, about 20 min. from our house, and although there’s always traffic, we’ve never really had any problems driving there. Saturday however was really busy. We learned later that it was probably because of the Gay Pride festival, although when we arrived at the World of Coca Cola, which is right next to the Aquarium, it seemed like this was the destination for most people. It was packed!

I visited Atlanta as a student in 1995 and it seems like the World of Coca Cola hasn’t changed much since then. It wouldn’t be so bad if the entrance fee wasn’t lower, but as it is now, this experience is just overpriced. My husband kept saying he felt like he was participating in a giant commercial/advertising campaign. The 4D cinema is OK and the boys really enjoyed the soda fountains of course, where you can taste over 60 kinds of Coca Cola products as much as you want. We all left feeling a little ill.

We bought our tickets to Legoland Discovery Center online, where you get a much better deal than if you buy your tickets on site ($11 vs. $19 for an adult). The Center, which is in Buckhead, also about 20 min. from our house, was nicer than I had expected, with two rides, a 4D cinema, and plenty of LEGO building centers, as well as a jungle jim. Abraham enjoyed the Duplo building station, which had plates where you could simulate an earthquake, rattling down the huge LEGO building you had just constructed. It was a little more crowded than we had expected (we didn’t know that some of the schools were on break this week). It wasn’t too bad though. Although we will not go back again, I don’t feel like it was a waste of our money. Like my husband put it on our way home, “I’m glad we went and that the boys had fun, and I’m glad that’s over!”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Settled in to our boring, exciting new life

A bit over a month into our life here in Georgia, and we’ve figured out quite a few things. You might take these every day phenomena for granted, but figuring out where to get things, setting up a bank account, getting insurance and paying bills can seem quite daunting if you’re not sure how it works. We’ve mastered all these things before, of course - just not here. Now we are all set, though – I think. We have paid a round of electricity, gas, internet bills and rent. We’ve even managed to become members of Atlanta Zoo and Costco (although we have only managed to visit the zoo, so far), AND we’ve opened a Netflix account. We’ve made a friend of two (although it’s very hard here – more on that later), and the boys are making friends in the homeschooling coop that we joined. I no longer have to use my GPS to get to the grocery store or to pick up my husband (although we still use it extensively as a backup and for adventures), and we’re happily exploring our neighborhood in the early evenings during bike rides or jogging rounds.

“How boring,” you think, but this is all (or at least mostly) new to us, and still quite exciting. We still feel like strangers, and the whole situation – the fact that we are now living in the US (even though it’s only temporarily) – still seems almost too good to be true; like a dream or a mistake that is about to be discovered (the fact that I have to renew my US visitor VISA soon, doesn’t help either). I still have to get my GA driver’s license and our GA license plate, but this will have to wait until the government shutdown is over (a bizarre issue in itself).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stone Mountain

It's a strange place, Stone Mountain, exactly like it sounds: a stone, as large as a mountain, just sitting there, in the middle of an otherwise pretty flat landscape. We went there to hike up to the top - it's about a mile - but the whole place has kind of been turned into a theme park, with a cable car, a picture carved into the mountain, a large playground, etc.

It was packed - a beautiful Sunday - but it's a big mountain and we didn't have any trouble finding private spots for photos. Here you see Abe with a view of downtown Atlanta in the horizon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Past illnesses (insha Allah)

Our rigorous lice treatment paid off; we have not seen a single louse or nit since my last update. The staph infections all cleared up too, sans doctor visits. We thought that was it - as far as illness goes - for a while. Usually we are all healthy, however it seems that when there's one thing, there's always another. Last week the entire family got some kind of stomach bug. Not too violent, but just enough to throw us off a bit, and then during our hike last weekend, I got stung by a bee, which caused an allergic reaction for which I took Benadryl, which knocked me out for an entire day. 

I hope this is it now, because I'm anxious to continue our exploration of this exciting part of the world. It's raining today, so we will not go on a hike, but we need some groceries, and the boys and my husband have some kind of science project in mind, which warrants a trip to Radio Shack and possibly Target for supplies, as far as I understand.

Hiking and exploring Northern Georgia

One thing that we have been looking forward to experiencing in the US, is the freedom a car carries: to be able to go on day trips, visits, hiking or just to a special park somewhere. Combined with the large number of parks in and surrounding Atlanta, we are very excited to have begun our exploring in this department. So far, impeded by illness at the beginning of our life here in Georgia, we’ve only managed to go on a couple of hikes, but we look forward to many miles more. I borrowed a couple of books from the library on hiking in Georgia, and the internet, of course, has an abundance of information and pictures on interesting hikes.

Last weekend we hiked six miles in Sweetwater Creek State Park on Saturday, and went to the zoo on Sunday. The hike was exhausting, but oh, so enjoyable. The boys complained a bit during the last two miles, mainly because we ran out of water, but I had a really good time. It was sunny in the low 80's with a nice cool breeze, and the woods were green, the creek vivid, rushing past next to us throughout most of the hike. There's something about being out in nature like that, that makes you feel great, don't you think?

The zoo was busy, not as large as we had thought, but nice. The animals seem well cared for (last time we went to a zoo was in Cairo, Egypt, and let's just say that we are all still scarred from that experience), and the park was fun to walk through. We got a yearly family pass - it was the same price for our family as entrance for one day - so we can come back as much as we want, whenever we want.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The food! Oh, the food!

We are a family of food snobs; my intention here is not to give you the impression of arrogance, but rather illustrate our genuine interest in food. We love exploring new foods, cooking with strange ingredients, from scratch, and I mean really scratch, as in make your own curry powder by use of a spice grinder scratch. I have talked about this a little before. By living in other countries and through our travels, we have tried, explored and learned to cook some great dishes from every corner of the world. Recently, as you might figure, we’ve been eating and cooking quite a bit of Lebanese and Mediterranean food. The ingredients for this kind of food are cheaper than other ingredients in Lebanon. It’s often easy and quite tasty, and so, I enjoy Mediterranean food. Restaurants and grocery stores in Beirut are certainly a step up from Cairo, however you can’t usually decide on making something and then go out and buy the ingredients – there’s always going to be something missing or that is imported and way too expensive. Coming to the US is always fun too, and we eat things in Indiana while visiting family there, that we can’t enjoy in the Middle East, but we don’t make very complicated food since it’s not our kitchen.

Atlanta, we have discovered however, is playing in a whole different league entirely. Oh my, oh boy! The farmers markets that we have explored so far, carry ingredients for most dishes that we could ever come up with. There’s everything from Swedish pickled herring and Italian specialty cheeses, to any spice imaginable and kimchi by the bucket. The first time we entered the De Kalb International Farmers Market we walked through the doors and just gasped. After a few minutes of running around like a kid on Christmas morning, exclaiming, “Look at THIS!” and “Oh, honey, check this out!” Courtney said, “I think I’m going to have to go sit in the car for a while and calm down. It’s too much.”

Culinarily speaking, this is going to be a great year.

Evil, lying GEICO

As soon as I got the keys to my van, I called GEICO and got a car insurance. Although I thought perhaps the fact that I don’t have a US driver’s license would be an issue, it was quick and easy; “That’s no problem at all,” the lady told me. 

A few weeks later I got a note from GEICO asking me to send them my US driver’s license number. I sent a note back explaining that I don’t have one and will not have one for a while, since I was moving from IN to GA anyways, and well, these things take time. 

I got a note back saying this was OK. 

Then, a few days later, I got another note from GEICO telling me they were about to cancel my insurance because I had not provided a US driver’s license number. I called them, and the man I spoke to told me I had to give him a US license number or he couldn’t help me. I called again, and was told the same thing by a lady. 

I might have raised my voice a bit, telling them that they should have told me this when I signed up. Of course, none of this is the fault of the representative that I was talking to, so I also wrote an angry letter to GEICO, explaining what I thought of their service, requesting my money back. 

Then I shopped around for insurance, and got Progressive instead. They are much more tolerant towards foreigners, although I have to pay a little extra for it. But at least they didn’t lie about it. 

Today I saw a commercial for GEICO on television starring a pig as a driver. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but to me, it’s just insulting, as if they’re saying, “Look! We’ll insure pigs before we insure you!” 

Effing discriminators!

Fighting a staph infection

Just when we got to Atlanta, one of Abraham’s itched mosquito bites got infected. Or – we thought – maybe it was a spider bite. It got so infected and pus filled, in fact, that I decided it would be best if I picked the scab off and drained it. As soon as I did, along with applying Neosporin 24/7, it started healing. Still, it was fairly large, swollen and red for several days. 

Then, August got one too, or actually, two of them, much bigger, about ½ inch in diameter, yellow large abscesses, that even after we drained them and treated them like we had treated Abraham’s, didn’t get any better. When August started developing a fever, we gave him antibiotics, and he soon got better. 

In the meantime, William also got one, and this is when we started thinking that perhaps it wasn’t a spider biting them (we cleaned their rooms every night before bed and had them sleep in the middle of the room) because really – what were the odds that they - all three - got bites around their knees (where they all had scabs that they kept picking) and that they all got infected in the exact same way? A little research brought to our attention the fact that perhaps it was an infection being passed around, and more precisely, a staph infection. William’s case was more serious than the other two boys’, with more difficulty to drain, higher fever and actual flu like symptoms, so we gave him antibiotics as well, and it started clearing up. 

Then I got it, and I got it worse than anyone, on the back of my thigh. With only less than half a dose of antibiotics left and a really nasty looking abscess, I would have gone to the doctor in a heartbeat if we had still been in Lebanon. Here I am however, in a place where I don’t know any doctors, but more importantly with an insurance that carries a $2,700 deductible, and without any money at all. And it’s not like we have some money left but don’t want to spend it on a doctor’s visit: we are completely broke (for a couple of weeks). So I limp around, drain the pus when I can (it’s not easy and very, very painful) from the quarter sized crater that looks worse than most things I’ve seen. I took the rest of the antibiotics, which cleared up the fever, chills and flu like symptoms, however now I have to rely on ibuprofen to get through the day, and hope the infection doesn’t get worse again – or spread (let’s just say we’re using A LOT of alcohol based hand sanitizer). The red area covers the entire back of my thigh. When our money comes in I will go to the doctor, I tell my husband, unless I die first, of course. Ha ha.

The lice story

So; our van was all packed up and we were ready to leave on our big trip early in the morning. We wanted to be in Oxford, OH around lunch time. 

As the boys were going to sleep and Courtney and I were packing up the last, I noticed that they were itching their heads in their sleep – a lot. I realized later that I had noticed them itching before, but with all the mosquitoes, I figured they had been bit. 

On a hunch, I walked over to the bed and checked August’s hair. Oh. My. God. He had lice! We were about to leave in the morning to drive for 4 days, stay with friends (the first night) and our children had lice! 

Courtney ran over to the drugstore and bought all the strongest products he could find, and I – I woke up the boys and started combing. It was 4 am on the night before our big road trip, and we were awake, treating our boys for lice. I treated myself as well, just to be safe. Abraham practically slept through the whole thing, and the boys got through it because they knew they could sleep in the car the next day. Courtney and I got through it because we can’t stand lice. When we were finished, there were no live lice left, although probably a few nits. We warned our friends who made sure to wash all our bedding well after we left. 

When we got to Atlanta we combed through everyone’s heads and found some nits and a couple of more lice – tiny and newly hatched - and went through a second treatment. 

A week and a half later, Courtney went through his hair and found a whole bunch, so we treated everyone again. 

Every treatment involved me washing all our sheets, bedding, and spraying anything that didn’t fit in the washer with anti-lice spray, and combing – lots and lots of combing. 

Then yesterday we went through everyone’s hair again, and guess what? There were a couple of newly hatched lice in everyone’s hair, including my own! Aaahh!! We’ve probably spent well over $300 on lice treatment products and followed the instructions to the point, but still there are lice?! I’m starting to think that the lice shampoo and the crème treatment are just very expensive bad hair products! So this time, we did it the old fashioned way – the way we got rid of lice the one time we had it before, in Cairo, where we didn’t have access to fancy lice treatments: the helmet. You cover your entire hair in conditioner, like a helmet, and leave it on for 3-4 hours, preferably until it almost dries, and then you comb it out. The lice and nits are stuck in the conditioner. 

This really should be it. If we go through everyone’s hair in a couple of days and still find lice, I’m buying a hair straightener to use on everyone. Surely the lice will not be able to withstand such heat?

Can you believe this?! What’s your secret recipe? Brush cuts are not an option.

Starting to settle in

Apart from picking through used furniture here and there, we also found lots of amazing groceries at the farmers markets around town (more on this in a separate post). We met our landlord, ran into problems with our Geico insurance (turns out, they don’t like foreigners – more on this later), hit the bottom of our wallets, got bit by mosquitoes A LOT, treated staph infections that the boys somehow got in bites on their legs, and went through a lot of head lice treatments (more on this later too). That first entire week and a half is a bit of a blur in fact, kind of like that first week or two weeks after you’ve given birth to a baby. You’re really just doing one thing – in our case, settling in – but it takes up all your energy, thought process and time.

Furnishing a house from scratch

It may seem silly to you, but figuring out what you need for a complete bed in the US is not as obvious as it seems. In Europe, you buy a bedframe and a mattress, whichever quality you can afford, and that’s it. Here, it took us a while to understand the concept of a “box spring” and to find a combination of all the parts that we needed to make a complete bed. The boys’ beds were easier, as they could be purchased just like that: frames, slacks and a mattress. We also got a few cheap chairs, a desk, a lot of kitchen ware, and in the As-Is corner we found a perfect couch and a rug for a bargain.

We were done just as IKEA was closing, and had thus missed our chance of a same-day home delivery. In fact, we could not get anything delivered until the beginning of the next week. So we stuffed what we could and things we absolutely could not live without (mattresses, for example) into our van, and went home. Since our king size mattress did not fit in the van, I spent the next four nights sleeping on a pile of soft materials, such as our rug, an extra blanket, a mattress cover, etc. which was fine, but when our furniture finally arrived, and it turned out the delivery company had forgotten one thing – our king size mattress – and said they would bring it the next day, I was not fine. I made many phone calls that day, some in a little more agitated state, and had almost given up when at around 9 pm that night, a truck pulled up outside our home and delivered the lost mattress.

Over those first few days, we also managed to find a table and chairs at a consignment shop, which we fixed up with sandpaper, stain and new upholstery for the chairs, another arm chair, an ottoman on craigslist, some shelves and a few other small things at a yard sale. 

There are still some things missing but nothing that can't wait until we run into it at a good price.

Road trip, day 4: from Bryson City, NC to Atlanta, GA - arrival

This day was our last drive (170 miles), and we were eager to get to our new house, so we started early, however the drive was slow, as Max had had his fill of sitting in a car seat and uncomfortable, insufficient nursing breaks. He cried, and I stopped to hold and nurse him, but it barely helped, as he would start crying again as soon as he was back in his seat. Not even Bob Dylan’s Jokerman, which had helped soothe him to sleep throughout most of the trip, worked. It was a beautiful but stressful drive. Thankfully, our GPS found its signal again, and guided us straight to our house, which we had rented online. What a feeling, coming up on our address and hearing, “Your destination is on your right. You have arrived.”

Renting a house online is probably not a good idea, but what choice did we have? We were a bit nervous about the whole thing (worst case scenario: we had been completely ripped off), but when we arrived, the house and everything was there, exactly as in the pictures, keys on the kitchen counter. The only thing pictures or Google had not prepared us for was how hilly it was. Our house is on a big slope. Perhaps the name of the area: “Druid HILLS” should have turned on a light in our little heads – in any case, we were quite relieved, happy and excited to finally be here. We had a house! Yay. But no furniture. So after we had managed to bring all our stuff into the house, we set the GPS to IKEA and spent the next 6 hours trying to figure out the best way to get what we needed without going completely broke.

Road trip, day 3: from Hazard, KY to Bryson City, NC

We spent the night in Kentucky in a hotel. The next morning we went to visit Courtney's aunt in Viper, who fixed us a fabulous Kentucky breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, fried bologna and gravy, and then we went to the family cemetery where Courtney’s grandma and grandpa are buried, among other family members. 

It’s a peculiar experience, to drive through such small communities. At one point we got really lost and stopped to knock on someone’s door, to ask if they knew the exact location of the cemetery: a random house, but sure enough, not only could they happily direct us, but they also remembered Courtney’s uncles and grandparents. The man at the door, yelling back into the house where his old grandpa and wife were sitting, “Yo'all remember them Fugate boys that lived up the creek?” As we drove off, following directions like, “take a right at the end of the corn field,” we imagined they were still exchanging stories about our family, stories that we would have loved to hear.

Our drive that day went through four states (260 miles). Courtney was determined to photograph all the signs, welcoming us into each state, but guess what? It’s really hard to take pictures of road signs that you pass on a highway!

We arrived quite late at our motel in Bryson City - tired, exhausted  - and crashed right away. 

Road trip, day 2: from Oxford, OH to Hazard, KY

On our second day we drove to Hazard, KY (240 miles) where Courtney has an aunt and a couple of cousins. Somewhere between Anywhere and Nowhere, our GPS signal disappeared and we got lost a few times, but finally found our way. Kentucky really is beautiful as well: so green! The people are very friendly, and oh – the accent! I love it! We ate dinner at a Ponderosa and our waiter could have been a movie star in one of those quirky movies, like Elizabethtown: [looking at Max] “Weeell, ain’t them the purdiest little eyes the Lord has ever seeean? You sure have a purdy baby theire, mam!” Actually, you know what? I can’t transcribe it – it’s too unique and when I try to write it out, the beauty is lost. You are just going to have to go have dinner yourself, somewhere in the middle of the Kentucky mountains.

Road trip, day 1: from northern Indiana to Oxford, OH

We packed up the van the night before. Not only did we have the five suitcases of clothes and things we had brought from Beirut, but since we had already spent well over a month in the US, we had accumulated quite a bit of additional stuff. We stuck it anywhere we could. When we pulled out of the drive way on a bright Sunday morning, waving good bye to grandma and grandpa, the bottom of the van hit the curb. As we kept driving a bit, the van got higher, and we decided a full tank was probably out of the question for the remainder of our drive.

We drove about 165 miles that first day, to Oxford, OH, where good friends from our Cairo days live.

We stopped several times on the way, mainly to nurse. We had brought sandwiches and drinks that we ate in Berne, a very cute little town, apparently quite proud of their Swiss heritage. There were a lot of Amish settlements along the way as well and several times, we ended up behind a buggy. We had not seen our friends for a couple of years, and the reunion, although brief, was happy: good dinner, lots of catching up, kids play, a good sleep and a shower, and we were on our way again, the next day, quickly leaving Ohio behind.

From Indiana to Georgia: getting ready to move

I love Indiana. Of all the states I have visited and lived in, it’s my absolute favorite. OK, every time I’ve been there, I’ve been on holiday, and our family is there, which makes it a wonderful place, but even disregarding this, northern Indiana is pretty great:
  • There are lakes everywhere, with nice little beaches and docks, and swimming is free!
  • Things are - in general - a little cheaper, people are more down to earth and relaxed, very friendly, less pretentious, and care more about comfort than appearance.
  • Although it’s pretty flat, it’s quite beautiful with fields and little forests. One night we were on our way back from South Bend and the sky was clear. We pulled into a country road in the middle of nowhere, drove through a huge corn field and parked the car. Oh, the silence! Or rather, the sound of nature at night. It was so still and crisp, and absolutely pitch dark. Looking up, we could see the Milky Way more clearly than I have ever seen it, and the sky was absolutely beautiful, completely surrounding us. We saw several shooting stars, and stood just still and quite, admiring the sky, until our necks hurt and the mosquitoes had eaten our legs.

As much as we love Indiana though, and as much as we love spending time with family, we were quite excited to start our drive from northern Indiana to Atlanta: the trip itself, although tiring, was going to be exciting, and we couldn’t wait to move into our own space and stop living out of suitcases for a while. Also, we were very curious at the prospect of discovering a new place, new work, new food and meet new people.

Because we have a nursing five month old, and I, the nursing mother, is the only one who can drive, we decided that four hours a day was all that we would be able to handle. We also decided that we didn’t mind driving a few extra miles if it entailed something fun or special, like a site or a visit, and that our trip would take four days.

The things that can happen in a month

Yes, it has been a month since my last entry! When you hear all about what we’ve been through, you will understand why, so keep reading: road trips, Smoky mountains, head lice, car insurance trouble, staph infections, IKEA purchases, Emory… There’s a little something for everyone here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cooking meals from scratch

My husband and I like food, and we enjoy cooking and baking very much. We explore grocery stores anywhere we go. Last summer we spent quite some time in Italy, and had a lot of fun cooking meals in the evenings with ingredients we had picked up in the local grocery store. 11 years in Belgium and six years in the Middle East, plus a lot of meals with friends from all over the world have made us develop our knowledge and expand our cooking; we make an awesome chicken Thai soup, amazing homemade ravioli, fabulous mole poblano, very tasty hummus and perfect Swedish gravlax.

Although my husband grew up here, and although we’ve spent quite some time visiting the US over the past 20 years, we both feel like complete strangers in the grocery stores here in the US. Exploring food here is as exciting as anywhere, and we are very much looking forward to a year filled with fun cooking. As far as we can tell, Americans eat and cook quite differently from people in Europe or the Middle East. There seems to be a lot more snack food available, baked goods, and a larger variety of soda and breakfast cereal. In general, I find that there is much more readymade food in the grocery store than anywhere else, and/or prepackaged meals and snacks. Instead of making pasta sauce from scratch, people seem to buy readymade pasta sauce in a jar, for example, or instead of buying lunchmeat and crackers and serving this to a child, parents buy something called Lunchables.

The other day my husband wanted to make home made pizza, but we couldn’t find the special pizza flour we buy in Lebanon. Looking around, we noticed though that you could buy fresh pizza dough in the deli section, frozen pizza crust in the frozen section, and cans with pizza dough (made by Pillsbury, I think) – the kind that pops open when you peel off the label and push down in the middle. How convenient. Not only would this save time and dishes, but the readymade pizza crusts where quite cheap too.

"Embrace the culture, honey!” I said encouraging, “If you want to survive here, you have to adapt. Blend in and do what the natives do." I picked up a can.

Husband: "I will NOT buy pizza dough in a can. You hear me? Never! If I so have to buy extra gluten to *make* the perfect pizza flour, I will." He put the can back.

We bought bread flour and gluten to make the special pizza flour, yeast and olive oil. Perhaps it was a bit more work to make the crust ourselves but oh – the pizza was very tasty!

Getting a license plate for my car

There is a license plate for my car on its way in the mail! Insha Allah. It took quite some effort, I’m telling you.

To transfer a car title and to license a vehicle in Indiana, you need to prove your residency or provide an Indiana state driver’s license. You also need a valid ID, proof of insurance, and – obviously – proof of ownership of the vehicle. The day I purchased my car I got an insurance through Geico, however the residency proof was a little trickier, because only certain documents are acceptable if you don’t have an IN driver’s license; you need two pieces of official mail that was sent to you – mail by certain standards, such as utility bills or bank statements. Since we’ve specifically asked our bank not to send paper mail – since we are usually abroad – we had to change our paper-less preference and then wait for a bank statement. It came in the mail the same day the dealer had the title ready for me, so I went to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with my documents.

The first time I went, I wasn’t able to get the paperwork done, because my address was not printed on my car insurance card. I went back home, printed out my insurance policy with my address on it, and went back.

The second time I went, I wasn’t able to get the paperwork done, because of the “valid ID” part. I had no idea, but as it turns out, if you are in the US on a non-immigrant VISA, you need to provide your I-94 VISA number, and it’s not printed in the passport with the US VISA, but is on a document that can be found online. So again, I had to go back home to print this out.

The third time I went to the BMV – the next day – I didn’t have to take a number and wait, because the manager and one of the clerks felt sorry for me, having had to send me away twice already. They were all so nice. My paperwork was all finished within ten minutes.

Yay, me!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Credit in America

Since neither one of us has lived in the US for the past 16 years, we don’t have anything on our credit report, which means, as you will know if you are familiar with the American credit system, that our credit score is bad. It doesn’t matter that we have cash savings or that we have paid bills, rents and held credit cards in our names in four different countries without ever owing anyone anything at the end of the month (because we’ve always paid everything on time and never spent money we didn’t have); in the eye of an American business, we are not financially trustworthy.

Since we might want to one day live in the US permanently, we are looking at this year as an opportunity to fix this and to build up our credit (so that one day we can purchase a house, for example, or do something else you need good credit for). And since we had to buy a car first thing when we got here, and we know this is something people might get a loan to do, we thought it would be a good start for us to take out a loan to buy our car, and then pay it off. This would look good on our credit report, right? Well, guess what? The car salesman said he couldn’t help us if we didn’t have a credit score, and our bank turned us down when we applied.

We had to pay for our car in cash.

This is going to be more difficult than we imagined.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I’m a stranger here myself: at Steak ‘n Shake

We drove out past 30 initially to have dinner at the Chinese buffet, but since it was late in the evening, we decided when we got there that the food on the buffet wouldn’t be fresh. 

As we turned around, we noticed Steak‘n Shake. “A steak and a shake – sounds good, right?” we said, and happily discovered that they stay open 24 hours, which is perfect for a jet lagged family.

We sat down and studied the menu. After a couple of minutes, Courtney and I exchanged puzzled looks and leaned in on each other, whispering “I don’t see any steaks on this menu. This is so strange. Where’s the ‘steak’ in Steak ‘n Shake?” We looked around: nobody was having a steak. Was it possible that they didn’t serve steaks here?

We decided to blend in with the natives, and ordered burgers and shakes. It was all good.

When we came home, we asked Courtney’s mom about the steaks. She gave us a look like the look you would give a small child who is asking questions about something everybody knows, "Do girls have penises too?" and answered as a matter of factly, “No, they don’t have steaks. They serve burgers.” Duh.

Of course. 

We’re the silly foreigners who thought we could order steaks at Steak ‘n Shake.

Not just visitors

Three weeks ago, we packed all our personal belongings into a storage closet in our apartment in Beirut, Lebanon, said good bye to friends, took a taxi to the airport, and traveled via Rome to Boston with five suitcases, four kids and a lot of expectations.

We spent 10 days in Massachusetts with friends; chatting, playing, eating, enjoying, going to church, the farm, catching up. It had been four years since we last visited, and during this time, between the two families, we had increased in size by three babies. Our visit there was intense, busy, awesome, and over too soon.

Then we flew our five suitcases and our four children, plus a car seat we picked up in Boston, via Detroit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where mom & dad picked us up at the airport.

We spent the first week buying a car, insurance and catching up with administrative business.

We spent the second week in a kind of jet lagged state (it finally hit us, I think), unable to establish good sleeping or eating habits, going swimming, buying way too much stuff, and hanging out.

Now, here we are, halfway through our visit with family, but not halfway through our stay, because this time – for the first time since the beginning of this family – we are not just visiting: we are here in the US to live for a whole year; to walk the streets like normal Americans, do American things and buy American stuff.

Are you ready to hear about our adventures?

Three weeks in

Whoa, what just happened?! Three weeks in the US already, and not a written word. Nothing?

For a while there, time disappeared; between my fingers the days slipped, passed, and instead of writing about our adventures, I spent the evenings holding a baby and chatting with my old friend, or family.

Now things are slowing down a bit. Temporarily. And the baby is napping. So let’s catch up, shall we?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Oh, I'm on my way, I know I am

Today we are leaving Beirut, Lebanon for a year, to go live in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. Are you ready to travel with us?