Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Eiffel Tower (and the Awful Tower)

The Symbol of France

Possibly the most recognizable building in France, and maybe even the world, the Eiffel Tower has been gracing the skyline of Paris since 1889.  It was engineered by Gustave Eiffel as an impressive entrance to the 1889 World's Fair and since then has had over 250 million visitors.  That makes it is the most visited paid monument in the world.  It is also the tallest structure in France (and at one point the world), standing at 1050 ft. tall it is the equivalent of an 81 story building.  The tower has 3 platforms, the first and second are accessible by elevator (my choice) or a 300 step staircase for each level.  The third platform at the top is reached by elevator only- but really, climbing 900 steps is just showing off!!  Construction of the tower was begun in 1887 and was completed by 300 workers by the opening of the fair in 1889. 
 Pretty impressive considering the San Francisco Bay Bridge has been being rebuilt for at least 5 years with a much bigger crew and it's still not done!
The tower only had a permit for 20 years and was supposed to be dismantled in 1909, but because it was so useful as a communications tower (especially during the World Wars) it was allowed to stay.         Good decision Paris!!  

Our project today was to recreate the Eiffel Tower using stir sticks and marshmallows and tape.  I thought it would be easy. I was wrong.

The "Awful" Tower

For the project you will need-

  • stir sticks, tooth picks, straws, popsicle sticks, etc.
  • marshmallows - fun idea but sticky!
  • tape- lots of tape.  Duct tape was our friend.
  • Patience and 14 hands.
1.  Look at pictures of the Eiffel Tower and try to make a plan about how to go about making that.
2. Forget that plan- it's not going to work :)

3. Eat some marshmallows and get the duct tape.  Bend four of the sticks and tape them to the table as the 4 legs.

4. Brace the legs with some cross beams.  They were originally going to be joined with marshmallows but we found tape worked better.  My skewed tower shows some marshmallows being used.
5. Keep on keeping on and do the best you can. 

It should be fun but it was WAY harder than I thought it was going to be, so we brought in outside help from my brother Ryan, who works for United and used to build space satellites. 

 If he can build a satellite he should be able to make a tower out of straws, right?


That's French for "thank God it's finished"!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tour de France

On your mark, get set......

GO!!!!  That's probably not how they really start the Tour de France- but let's pretend.  We decided to get out and play today, so we are reinacting the Tour de France, that famous bike race held in France every year for the past 100 years.  It was first organized in 1903 as a promotion for a magazine and started with just 65 or so entrants hoping to win the 12,000 franc first prize.  The modern race has almost 200 riders all hoping to get to wear the yellow jersey (signifies fastest overall time) and collect the 450,000 euros! 

 The race is usually held in July, and although the course changes yearly, each race includes some treacherous rides through the French Alps and the Pyrenees and finishes near the famous Champs- Elysees.  The 23 days of the race includes 21 day-long segments that cover about 2000 miles when it's all said and done - UGH!!! 

Our version, we'll call it the Tour de Millbrae, was pretty flat, had 3 racers (sharing 2 bikes with training wheels) and was about a 100 yards long.  The winners all received a trophy but, sadly, no monetary prize.  Our prize was being lucky to live in an area where we can ride bikes in short sleeves in February. 

 I feel so bad for the Midwest and East Coast who are battling the horrible winter storms.  I hope you can get out in the warm sunshine soon, but until then, here are some pictures of beautiful France and the amazing athletes who race through it!

Riding past the Eiffel Tower
and through beautiful fields of sunflowers!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Week 32: France

Viva la France!!!

I'm off to a late start this week!  I think most world travellers have unexpected travel delays, right?  Well, we're here and ready to live it up in "gay Paree"!!

We've got some fun plans for the week, I just hope we get to them all.  I thought we'd have our very own Tour de France at the local park, we're definitely making an Eiffel Tower, and, hopefully, make it to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford to see the exhibit on Rodin, the famous French sculptor. 

Oh, and the food - you can't think of France and not think of food!! 
I'm thinking a souffle (never made one before), chocolate mousse, and maybe a Saturday morning breakfast of croissants and fruit with a cafe au lait for dear Mere and Pere (Mom and Dad). We went to the library yesterday and found a few great books about France and, coincidentally, my daughter's class did an art project today that was supposed to emulate a woven French tapestry.  All this and more as we learn about France!!!! 

But first some interesting facts.....
  • France is the largest nation in Western Europe.  It was also once the 2nd largest colonial empire in the world.  At one time France ruled portions of North America, India, Africa, Madagascar, Asia, and many Caribbean and Pacific Islands.
  • France is the most visited country in the world.  It averages close to 80 million visitors a year!
  • France is famous for it's many castles and chateaus- there are over 40,000 castles.
  • France is also famous for it's cheese- there over 400 different types of cheese produced!
  • The capital, Paris, is known as the "City of Lights" but that was originally referring to the large number of "intellectuals" that live in Paris- not actual lights.
  • The Eiffel tower is the most well-known symbol of France. The tower will have it's own post this week- stay tuned :)
That's all the facts you folks are getting tonite- I have "jet lag" and the kids are clamoring for their dinner!  "French" fries and "haute" dogs- just kidding :)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Arabic 101

As salaam a lai kum!

For those of you who aren't fluent in Arabic (like me), that means "May peace be upon you" and is a formal greeting used in Saudi Arabia and other Arabic speaking countries.  Let's learn some other Arabic words and phrases- they are written in English because the Arabic alphabet is a bit hard for the novice (like me) to learn but it is beautiful to look at.

Hi- Salaam or Marhaba    Goodbye- ma'a salama  
Thank you- shukram     Yes - na'am    No - la'a
Beautiful- jameel     Sorry- aasif      I Love You- ana behibak(male)
                                                                            ana behibek(female)

1- wahed     2- ethnan    3- thalathah   4- arba'eh    5- khamsah
6- setah      7- sab'ah    8- thamaneyah  9- tes'ah    10- 'asharah

black- aswad   white- abyad     blue- azraq    green- akhdar
red- ahmar     yellow- asfar

I hope you learned a little about Saudi Arabia!  I had planned a post about the Holy sites of Mecca and Medina but to be honest with you, I'm afraid of offending anyone accidentally!!  It's an interesting country with a culture that I didn't know much about, I would love to learn more but I will probably not do it on the internet. 

Ma'a Salama from Saudi Arabia

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My 3 Wishes...

Rub Here.

Did your genie come out?  Nope, ours didn't either.  Bummer.  Anyway, since we had all planned out what we were going to wish for, I turned that into our art project.  Granted it wasn't the most artistic art project but we did it together as a family and talked a lot about what we really wanted versus what we needed to be happy.  The inspiration for the project came when we watched Aladdin.  I'd forgotten what fun that movie was!  Robin Williams is so great as the Genie.  So while we were watching we got to thinking about what we would wish for.....

 My daughter wished for a pink slide that goes into her new swimming pool, a puppy (!), and lots of money.  Her dollar signs are a little hard to see.  I hope her Pink Princess Genie comes through!!

My son obviously didn't want to color in his picture but his wishes were for a big house with a swimming pool, his own toy store and a long and happy life.  I gave him that last idea because he just wasn't in the mood.

My wishes were for a house on a lake with a dock and a boat.  Doesn't that sound relaxing? A happy and healthy family and enough money so that we never have to worry about money again.  I already have the second wish but understand how easily it could change!

My husband used his 3 wishes to have a happy and healthy family, a house for all our days, and happiness for all around us.  Whatta nice guy!  He should have been more specific about the house though - it needs 4 bedrooms and a pool or lake!!!

So those were our wishes and I hope one day they can come true, but until then, we have a wonderful family and a great house and all the friends we need.  Money? Well, we could always use more money but it's not as important as love and family.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Menu: Saudi Arabian Food

A Taste of the Exotic.

My kitchen smells so good :)  I'm not sure exactly which spice I like the smell of the most- the allspice, the cardamom, the cloves or the cinnamon- they all smell so good!  They tasted pretty good too.The people of Saudi Arabia are descended from tribes of nomadic sheep and goat herders and many of their traditional foods still reflect this- flat breads (fatir) and dates are some of the easily transportable foods that are still common today. These days most Saudis live in cities but they still enjoy the traditional foods.  The staples of their diet have stayed pretty constant over the years- fava beans, wheat, rice, yogurt, dates, chicken and spices.  The spices of Saudi Arabian food are abundant.  It's a little intimidating at first but the combination of all the exotic spices is what make the flavor of the food so interesting and, well, Middle Eastern. 

When eating food in Saudi Arabia, there are a few things you will NEVER see on the menu - pork and alcohol.  No ribs and beer, no bloody mary with your bacon for breakfast, both these items are against the laws of Islam and therefore forbidden.  Bummer for them but I imagine they have their own good reasons.  So we will follow the rules and make a traditional dish- Al Kabsa.  A combination of rice, raisins, spices, nuts and meat, which is the most common dish you will see in Saudi Arabia.  Everybody has their own recipe and combination of spices that go into it.  We found a few different ones at and kinda mushed them all together to make our own version.  I hope you like it.

Al Kabsa (a la Jenny)
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken pieces or breasts
  • 1/2 onion - chopped finely
  • 4 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 carrots - finely chopped or grated
  • chicken bouillon cube or packet
  • 1 heaping cup basmati rice
  • handful of raisins
  • slivered almonds
  • 1 whole clove
  •  pinch of nutmeg
  •  pinch of ground cumin
  •  pinch of ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp of saffron
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of ground allspice
  • salt and pepper
1. In large heavy pan, melt butter and add chicken, onion and garlic.  Let the onions become tender and then add tomato paste and let that all cook for a minute or two.
2.  Add tomatoes (undrained), carrots. clove and all the spices.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the spices become fragrant and then add 2 1/2 cups of hot water and the bouillon.
3.  Bring this all to a boil and cover and reduce the heat.  If you are using bone in pieces of chicken let it simmer over low heat for 30 mins.  I used cut up chicken breast and so I only cooked it 15 minutes.
4. After the chicken has simmered for desired time, you can remove it from pan and finish it in the oven, or keep it in the pan, add the rice and cook, covered, for another 35-40 minutes until the rice is tender. Add more water or chicken broth if needed.  Add raisins the last 10 minutes.
5.  Heap your delicious tender rice and chicken on a serving platter and sprinkle with the slivered almonds.

I really thought this smelled and tasted wonderful. The chicken wasn't as flavorful as I'd have liked.  I was a little skimpy with the spices but I added a little more to the recipe above so it will be even better. 
I know there are A LOT of spices but use what you have and ask your friends for a pinch of some you might be missing.  A great place to look for inexpensive spices is the International section at the store, or better yet, International markets if you have some around.  Cumin will be about $4 in the regular spice aisle but the little cellophane baggies of "cumino" in the Hispanic food aisle might be 99 cents.  The cardamom at Lucky's was $13 (!) but I checked at the Middle Eastern market and found it for $2.50!!  Plus the lady behind the counter told me all kinds of other uses for it!  I haven't tried it yet ,but she said it's good mixed with coffee- you just add some to your grounds and brew as normal. 

There are so many new tastes that we are experiencing all because of this adventure, so many new things we are learning and places we are discovering. I hope you are trying some of them along with us!  I'd love to hear about your adventures too!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Week 31: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia- Land of Sand and Oil

Woo hoo!  It's week 31 and we are off to the desert.  We picked Saudi Arabia because my daughter wanted to "learn about the country where Princess Jasmine was from".  Princess Jasmine, for those of you who don't watch many kid movies, is from the Disney movie Aladdin.  So here we are, on the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab country in the Middle East.  We will, of course, watch the movie and maybe ride a flying carpet or two.  We are going to make their most common dish- Al Kabsa and maybe something with dates, since there are over
18 million date palms in Saudi Arabia, producing over 600 million pounds of the sweet fruit per year!  We will learn a few words in Arabic and talk a little bit about the main attractions in Saudi Arabia - Mecca and Medina, both of which are very important holy places in the Islamic religion.  I try not to bring much religion into the blog so that it stays neutral, but most of Saudi Arabia is defined by it's ties to Islam. 
The way people dress, the women are almost completely covered when they leave the house, and the way they eat, pork and alcohol are not permitted, is defined by their religion and the absolute monarchy of the King Abdullah.  Rules are strict and are strictly enforced and there is no tolerance for jokes or impudence regarding the religion - so I'm going to step lightly. 

The capital, and also the largest city, is Riyadh, on the Eastern side of the country.  It's coordinates are 24.65°N/ 46.71°E.  It is a city with luxurious homes, pricey cars and high-end shopping!  Saudi Arabia is the leading petroleum exporter in the world and those exporters are very wealthy men.  Like solid gold toilet rich.  Life has changed in a country that was traditionally populated with tribes of nomadic sheep and goat herders or traders taking caravans of camels across the desert. 

 Many of the traditions are still there but the trapping of success and the comfort that comes with money makes living in one of the driest countries of the world a little more comfortable. 

I can't wait to see what we discover - maybe we'll even find a magic lamp! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Field Trip!!

Just another day at the zoo...

Only this time with 40,000 of our closest friends who also wanted to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year at the SF Zoo!  We went with some friends to spend a beautiful Spring day at the zoo, not realizing that EVERYONE else had the same great idea!!  So I was able to get some pictures of the dancers and the lion dance but they all have the back of somebody's head in them :)  Since it was the Year of the Snake they had a live feeding of the Green Anaconda (not native to China)- wow, that's a BIG snake!  There were different little learning centers scattered throughout the zoo talking about different animals of the Chinese Zodiac but we kinda skipped those.  We did have some delicious Orange Chicken from the cafe- the SF Zoo has pretty good food!  I'm trying to think what animals we saw that can be found in China and I'm coming up kind of blank- there was a Rhino but I'm not sure if it was Asian or African.  I'm sorry, there were just too many people there and we had 5 kids we were trying to keep track of !  So I will just leave you with a few pictures I took and wish you all a Happy and Joyful New Year!!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chinese Animal Symbols (and art project)

Snakes in the bed.

In China, that would be good luck but don't kill it or your luck will turn bad.  OMG, I'm sorry I'd have to go with the bad luck!! That's just one of the myths and omens about animals in China.  There are many animals that are symbolic in China and countless legends and myths that explain the reason why.  I'm just going to scratch the surface with a few of the most iconic symbols in China.

The Panda-  These gorgeous animals were kept by early Chinese Emperors to ward of evil spirits and natural disasters.  They were also considered symbols of might and bravery.

The Carp- These large fish are the symbols of strength and perseverance.  Their scales and whiskers make them look like a dragon, which is the most powerful animal in Chinese mythology.  The word for "fish" and the word for "abundance" are both "yu".

The Crane- Seen in many Chinese paintings, the crane, the symbol for long life, is the 2nd most important bird symbol in China.  The phoenix is the most important.  It symbolizes the feminine power of the Empress.

The Snake- This year is named for the snake, a symbol of both the bravery of men and the beauty of women.  People born in the Year of the Snake are said to be wise but enigmatic.  They are either philosopher or politician.  In China, it is considered good luck to have a snake in your house and if you kill it you will get bad luck!  They believe that many of the deities present themselves to humans as snakes. 
 So in honor of the 2013- the Year of the Snake we present our art project.................

Slithery Snakes
For the project you will need:
  • cardboard tubes (ours are white because they were leftover from the Greek Parthenon)
  • brass fasteners (office supply store) or pipe cleaners
  • stapler
  • scissors
  • markers or paint
  • hole punch- optional but highly recommended
1.  Get 3 tubes per snake and cut the corners off each end so that they come to a "v".
2.  Staple one end of 1 tube to make the tail.  Make a small tongue out of a scrap of red paper and staple to one end of another tube to make head.

3. Punch holes on top and bottom of both ends of the last tube and in the unused end of the head and tail.
4.  Use brass fasteners or small pieces of pipe cleaner to attach tubes.

5.  Decorate and name your new friend.

Happy Year of the Snake!!  Now that you have a snake in the house you should be much luckier :)