Sunday, January 31, 2010

National Museum

This weekend has been full of delightful experiences. I could really drag the content out for about a week. Maybe I will, come to think of it... Anyway, the first round of coolness came as a follow-on to last week's activity box on Athena. Since one of the things that appeals to me about Lebanon is the antiquities, it was off to the national museum for some edutainment.

Before we left, I decided to put together a scavenger hunt type sheet of pictures pulled from the museum's website. This turned out to be one of those 10-minute tasks that accidentally creates a great idea (if I do say so myself). I've tried keeping 4-6 year olds focused on archaeology before. It tended to last about 40 seconds per concept. In this case, we had a great time moving from one image to the next. Before we knew it, we had been through two hours of museum time. I'm definitely doing that again!

Because the Phoenicians came up with the alphabet, the museum has a some beautiful material on the transition from cuneiform, hieroglyphs, pseudo-hieroglyphs and eventually the alphabet. The side of this sarcophagus has an excellent representation of this.

I was very impressed that Star noticed the re-use and transition of symbols between these systems all on her own. In particular she noticed how the eye symbol evolved along in each writing system. there is an abundance of material in this area, but as there was no flash photography, getting pictures of items inside the cases was very difficult.

Eventually, we were able to find everything on our lists except for two pieces. Star decided to ask a guard to help us, and he did a wonderful job. He really went out of his way to help us locate our missing items. One thing that threw us off, was that one of the images on the museum website is actually upside down. The staff was able to find it for us though. Here is the offender:

With one last piece to go, we were resolved to give up with a miss. I tried to interest Star in one of the other excellent pieces, but failed to factor in the universal truth that boys are icky. In hindsight, I think both kids were getting a bit tired.

As we were leaving, the guard came back to us, and told us he had found our last piece! It is a lovely Venus statuette.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Random act of kindness

Today, someone was kind to me with no expectation of reward. At this time of year, the weather can be a bit unpredictable. Even though a scarf has been needed for the rest of this week, it was a bit warm today. I took it off and sort of threw it over my should and didn’t think much of it. As is my habit, I was listening to an interesting podcast on my walk to work, which had me a bit distracted. This is probably why I didn’t notice that as I rounded a corner, the wind blew the scarf of my shoulder and on to the ground.

A taxi driver stopped his car and yelled out to me. This is unusually for many reasons. They don’t usually stop, and I don’t usually listen to them. Taxi drivers are always making noise in these parts to try and get the attention of potential customers. The exact opposite of NY…. In any case, this guy stopped his taxi to get my attention about the wayward scarf. Once he had my attention, even before I started back, he smiled, waved and drove off. No expectation of me giving him any kind of reward or anything. He just did it to be nice.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Activity Box

About a year ago, I started putting together small activities that I could do with the kids (half hour-ish). I kept these packets in a plastic expanding file called the activity box. They have proven to be a big hit. I thought it might be interesting if I posted a recent one here. Sometimes the subjects are prompted by the kids asking specific questions. In this case, I wanted to continue our study of cultures, while discussing ennobling ideals.


What Athena represents:

Principle: Synthesis of reason and feeling, of wisdom, war, strategy, industry, justice and skill (contrast to Ares, Apollo, furies). Blending of male and female iconographies, accompanied by serpent (power) and owl (wisdom). Shown as a beautiful woman with armor and spear.

Artistic representations of Athena show us how people understood her:

Principle: Explain Greek use of pottery as art form. Ask kids to find Athena in the picture. What is she doing (battling Giants (possibly emphasize that they were thought to be wild, and obviously male)). Are Giants bigger than people? Do you think it would be scary to fight a Giant? Do you think Athena was afraid to fight the Giants? (This is to teach courage) The point here is to teach how to understand what the artist is trying to convey.

Optional use of Greek vase #2.

Cheat link for reference

Athena was so well-regarded by the people, they built temples for her. Show the front and back gilded Athena. Do you think it was expensive to cover the statue in Gold? Do you see the person in the temple? How big do you think the statue was? Note the scenes on her pedestal which tell stories of her experiences.

Principle: Though Athena was a goddess of war, she disliked fighting without a purpose and preferred using wisdom to settle predicaments. The goddess would only encourage fighting if it was for a reasonable cause or to solve conflict.

Skip ahead to Antonio Belluci Athena. What is the artist trying to tell us about her? Is she rich or poor? Is she a ruler (if they miss the point, play ‘where’s Waldo’ for the crown and scepter)? Note the background of the subdued giants.

Skip to simple artistic depiction. How do we know this is Athena? (This is iconography review. Spear, owl, armor, beauty are the hooks). What can we learn about Athena from this picture?

If you still have their attention, optional use of the Gustav Klimpt depiction of Athena. What do you see about the headdress? Note the triple crown. See the statuette in her hand. What do you think it stands for?

At this point, it is time to break from the lecture-type learning, and switch to something more of an activity. In this case -- coloring book pages:

Usually, after these kinds of activity box thingies, I try to work in reinforcement of the messages across the next few days. What would Athena do if she was afraid of the dark? How do you show courage? Pretend to be a monster and have the kids defeat you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My kids are awesome

That is all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

International Fraternity of Fatherhood

While I find many aspects of Arab masculinity mystifying, there are several elements I enjoy quite a bit. Today, I would like to highlight how the social order of parents is significantly different here than in the West. When parents with young children meet in this area, there is an immediate expectation of camaraderie by virtue of their roles as parents. It is almost expected that as soon as you encounter each other, there is an assumed default level of friendship because you are parents.

For example, families in a park will automatically interact with each other's children much more readily that in the West. This takes the form of sharing treats, joining in on group games, and easy conversation. By contrast, in the West, we often expect that there should be some kind of invisible barrier of privacy (even in public places). If a kid gets hurt or scared on a playground in Beirut, the nearest adult parent of any of the kids will step in to comfort or help.

On a family-level basis, this is already different enough, but it is even more divergent when these interactions occur between fathers. For example, between fathers, one might hold a door open for another, or yield a preferential place in a line, to help the other out. It appears to me that among men-who-have-kids, there is a commonality of social group that transforms you from the status of 'other' into a shared clan-like identity.

It's very handy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The water is getting a smidge cold

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Double-edged sign of growth

For those of you outside the Lebanese market, you might be interested to note that housing prices in Beirut have been increasing dramatically in the last two years. While official data is not at hand, there is anecdotal consensus that prices have increased by an average 50%, with outliers at 100%. This information could mean a lot of things, such as increased popularity of living in Beirut, displaced supply from 2006, market inflation by government-driven housing policies, and influx of foreign investment in the real estate sector. In any case, I am feel very grateful for my own reasonably priced apartment.

(Incidentally, this is yet another illustration that our perceived wealth and fortune come from comparison to our surroundings and not in absolute terms.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Life is good

Saturday, January 16, 2010

She changed her mind later

Dandellion is very fond of bungee cords. At this moment she is explaining to me why it is a very good idea for her to wear this as a belt while we went shopping. I explained that it was likely to be uncomfortable and she probably wouldn't like it. Of course, there were a variety of four year old reasons why a bungee cord belt was a fantastic idea. Eventually, I decided to let her give it a try. It lasted about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


We had previously been using the Mobi wireless internet product for our connectivity needs in Lebanon. While serviceable, the option we had involved several drawbacks, notable the limitation to one computer at a time. In addition, the signal strength was high variable throughout the house, and the adapter had to be attached directly to a specific machine.

Yesterday, we switched over to a competing product offering a better match for our needs. Now we have more reliable service available on all the machines in the house simultaneously, without having to worry about repositioning the transceiver. Much improved for all.