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Tuesday, March 25, 2014


You know that feeling when you're pleasantly surprised by something you weren't expecting?

That's what happened to me last week when I started using the Knoala app.  I was so touched by the level of customer service they offer that I had to share.  I'm not being paid to write this post, I just wanted to showcase a burgeoning company that has good things going on.  And lets face it, with all the negative we see most days, a little good goes a long way.

So, first a little back story.  I found out about Knoala by a company called weeSpring. Wow, just look at all the good suggestions you're getting for new websites to ponder in your spare time.  ;)

Anyway, weeSpring lets parents rate baby stuff for other parents so you can get more info on all the crap you purchase for your precious little snowflake babies.  It's actually really cool, think Amazon reviews on steroids.  If you have very strong feelings for baby stuff you can post your own suggestions, like I did.  Or you can get advice on things you're browsing.  They also send you updates once in awhile on cool stuff they've found.  Enter Knoala.

The premise behind Knoala is to "Raise Happier Kids."  They provide activities specially geared for your child's age and even explain what types of skills (Artistic, Cognitive, Emotional, Motor, etc) your baby is working on while they do them.

If you're anything like me you've got lofty expectations for playtime with your child.  Visions of Montessori activities on every surface.  Every moment is packed with educational opportunity and your baby positively glows with happiness.  In reality, playtime with a baby is a lot of the same thing over and over again.  Assemble toys, soothe whimper, talk about what we see, wipe up drool, read a book, calm baby who smashed a toy into his own face, try some tummy time, Sing "The wheels on the bus" for the 70th time today because you can't remember any other songs at the moment.  When you're sitting on that play mat with your kid, all those good ideas zoom back to Pinterest and I'm often left just staring at my beautiful boy, trying to remember that I should be singing or talking to him.

I was really excited to try Knoala, because I like the idea of being given an idea that I can use with Q right now.  So I downloaded the free app, entered his age, looked through the first few activities that were offered.  Pretty simple stuff like, "Read a story", "Play Peekaboo", "Hold Baby's Hands and Walk Around".  I wasn't unimpressed, just figured huh, we're already doing all that, there really isn't all that much to be doing with a 9 month old.  Score, I don't suck at this parenting things as much as I was beginning to think!  Then it was time to go change a diaper, or wipe a snot bubble, so I closed the app and went about my business. I'll look into it more later, I thought.

A week went by, and like many things in life, I totally forgot about it.

That's when the unexpected, pleasantly surprising thing happened.  The owner of Knoala sent me an email.

And what I loved about that email was Cathy was checking to see what could be done to make my experience with her product better.  A product that I didn't even pay a penny to use.  It was personal, it was brief, and it made me go take a second look at the app and realize how much I had missed with my initial cursory glance.

There are a lot more activities available, we've started building towers and knocking them down, and I have a bunch of activities bookmarked to try when he is a little more mobile.  You can set goals for how many you'd like to be doing each week.  Then it even tallies which skills you've worked on and sends you a weekly summary.

It was a pretty profound experience for me to feel a personal connection with someone who runs a business.  I've been feeling a growing disconnect in terms of personal service lately, haven't you?  So that's why I wanted to share my experience with Knoala.  Really cool app, but more importantly, really cool people behind the scenes.  It makes this big bad world feel a little smaller when we can connect. 

I was even more impressed when I got the email yesterday saying she'd just had a new baby!  Kudos to any woman sending personal business emails with a newborn.    

Thanks Mama Cat, I really enjoyed our email conversation and hope this blog brings more people to your very useful service!  

Go check out Knoala, it's fab!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Goodbye Pyramids

The time for goodbyes has begun. It's a slow process, much like the last blob of honey slowly oozing its way to the lip of the jar. We won't do them all at once, that would be too sad.  But we started with a doozy.

Yesterday we visited the Pyramids of Giza for the last time.

It was really different from the other trips we've made.  In fact I still remember the first time, just a few days after we arrived in Cairo.  It was August 2010 and it was hot.  You could smell the sand and the heat.  And it was so exotic, especially since we had just moved to this foreign place!

We were full of excitement, so tense with the anticipation of seeing those Pyramids the first time.  I shouted "Look, a Pyramid" like a little girl when I first spotted them from the window.  It was our first big plunge into the exciting life we have working abroad.  We were mobbed by camel drivers and people selling cheap trinkets, our naive smiles lured them in like sugar water. We spoke no Arabic, got hot sand in our shoes, forgot to wear sunscreen and ended our trip at the Pizza Hut across the street, exhausted, thirsty, but proud of all that we'd seen. 

Those memories are really dear to me.  

So much has changed now. We're four years older, hopefully a bit wiser, unfortunately a bit more jaded, and our family is bigger than just the two of us.

This trip to the Pyramids was very different.  March weather was perfect, the air was crisp and just cool enough to cut the warmth of the sun.  I still shouted "Look the Pyramids" when I caught the first glance of them from the car.  Even though I wasn't as excited as the first time, they still grab your attention. We weren't there for sight seeing, but more of a specific mission to get family photos.  We waited till Q was big enough to sit up on his own so we could get that perfect photo opp of the cousins sitting on a blanket in front of the only remaining wonder of the world.

We were prepared for the onslaught of security checks, people trying to stop the car, guides chasing us down the street. Our white faces stirring the desperation of all these people who live or die by tourism. 

This time we knew the ropes and had the small bills in our pockets to tip guards. We knew enough Arabic to get the most obnoxious vendors to leave us alone. It was actually a lot more pleasant than I was expecting.  Ever since the revolutions and the downfall of the tourism industry, we'd been hearing horror stories about people being harassed in Giza.  I'm not sure if we knew enough to avoid the worst of it, or if it was just a good day, but it was a relief to be left pretty much alone.

The sun was warm, but not too warm.  The wind was strong, blowing my hair around me like a cyclone.  With a clear sky and well napped babies, we had a great time taking pictures.

The day still ended at Pizza Hut, though the new rooftop terrace opened up a pretty amazing view.

And Q decided pizza crusts are delicious!

Farewell Pyramids! Your beauty and grandeur will stay with us forever. Thanks for reminding us how amazing the imagination and hard work of mankind can be.  You are still one of the most magical parts of Egypt and we'll remember you wherever we go.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Name change

I need your help!  Yes you and you and you, and very specifically you right there.

As you can see at the top of the site, the name of this blog is A Cushman in Cairo.  Well in a few months these Cushmans won't be living in Cairo any longer.

We're going from this....

 To this...

So it's time for this blog to undergo a name change, and I'm looking for suggestions.

I can stick with the present theme and just change it to A Cushman in ..... (insert something here) Though I don't think there's really any good alliteration to work with in Moscow, which isn't a big deal, but another option to think about.

Or I could mix things up and change the name to something completely different.

I've been playing with these words so far, come up with some too and then hit me with your best shot!

- Living abroad
- Moscow
- Comrade
- Kremlin
- Russia

I'm hoping one of you creative geniuses can help me revamp this title!  I'll let you know about the change soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Homemade baby food

First of all, I'd like to point out something.  My blog has officially surpassed 10,000 views!

Ok, now at least half those are probably just me being all nerdy and rereading past posts... but that means other people are actually reading this too!  And that's pretty cool.  I hope you're enjoying it.

And on to today's post.  I've gotten several requests to share my strategy/system for creating baby food. Q does eat jarred baby food, but there's not much of a selection available here in Egypt, so I mainly stick with food I've made for him.  It does take a little bit of planning and prep, but I like the flexibility it gives me for introducing him to new foods and expanding his palate.

It's really a pretty simple process, buy produce, cut it up, cook it, smash it and then freeze in ice cube trays.

Right now there are about 6 large bags in my freezer filled with little colored cubes, like this.

In fact at the moment, my freezer contains, sweet potatoes, applesauce, green beans, peas, lentils, chicken, zucchini and broccoli.  

And last night I added carrots and white potatoes.  The carrots were a refill, because he loves them and I ran out.  The white potatoes are a new addition to our lineup.

The first thing I would suggest if you're planning on creating your own baby food is to start small. Mainly because if you're anything like me, you don't have all that many ice cube trays, or freezer space.  Nor do you really want to spend an entire day of your weekend making baby food.

So here are the steps with some more detail:

1.  Buy some fresh produce.  If you're just starting out with this process stick with something that's easy to prep, or that your baby loves.  Carrots are super easy, so is zucchini.  Your goal is to buy enough to fill the ice cube trays you have.  I have 5 trays, so yesterday when I made carrots and potatoes, I made about 10 carrots and 5 big potatoes.  

2.  Wash, peel and slice your produce.  My typical wash process starts by dumping all my produce together into a sink filled with water, and then I add about half a cup of white vinegar. A simple and easy disinfection that doesn't taint the taste of the food.  Don't worry about fancy cutting, or making things uniform.  You're just aiming to get things to a size that will fit easily in your pot and then your blender or food processor. (Side note here, if you don't already know which foods you should peel or not, look it up!)  Wholesome Baby Food has been my go to reference on this subject. Some foods have very tough exteriors that aren't right for a young baby's sensitive stomach, or the peels may not be clean enough for a baby to eat, like apples, and others will lose all their nutrients without the peel, like zucchini.

Here's a quick cheat sheet of the foods I use most often:


Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes (You can technically leave these on if you clean them super well)

Don't Peel

Green Beans (but do snap the ends off)

3.  Now it's time to cook the produce.  For tender vegetable, I usually use a steam tray in a pot with a little bit of water.  Think, broccoli, zucchini, green beans, peas, asparagus.  You want to steam them a bit more than you would for when you make them for yourself.  So they shouldn't be crisp anymore, you should be able to easily smoosh them with a fork.  If there's any water left in the bottom of the pot, save it!

For root or harder veggies, I usually boil in water.  Think potatoes, carrots, apples.  This is also my method for grains and meat. Again, you want them soft, but since they're floating in water you don't want to boil them too long or they start to disintegrate.  Save the water!

4.  Now it's time to mash everything up.  There's several ways of going about this, from a potato masher, a food processor, even some very fancy baby food making stations.  I just use my blender.  It's the easiest way I've found to get everything at a uniform texture.  As Q gets older and we want to start leaving things a bit lumpier, I'll probably switch to my food processor, and then just mash stuff with a fork.  This is where that saved water comes in handy.  It helps in 2 ways.  To make it easier to blend, and by adding some of the nutrients that might have been stripped in the cooking process back into your veggies.  If you're not sure how much you need, just add a little at a time till you find the right consistency.  Also as your baby gets older, this is the time to start adding spices to your food.  I've recently started adding thyme, oregano and onion powder to some of the veggies I make.  No need for salt or sugar ever!

5.  The last step is to scoop the veggies into your ice trays (make sure you clean them inside and on the bottom, since you'll probably be stacking)  and then pop them in the freezer.

They typically take a few hours to freeze, so if I'm really gung ho to make a lot of baby food in one day, I'll start in the morning, wait a few hours, and crack this batch into plastic bags, then start with my next batch.  If this is a long term solution you like, it is a good idea to label your bags and date them.  We've only got a few months left in Cairo, so I'm not worried about it.

And here's my favorite part of the whole system... When we get Q's diaper bag ready each day, this is where we put his lunch together.  He's 9 1/2 months old, so I usually send 3 cubes with him each day.  They can microwave them in the nursery for about a minute, mix and serve.  Today he has lentils, sweet potato and applesauce.

He loves applesauce and sweet potato, but isn't that into lentils or chicken.  If they're mixed with the stuff he does like, he'll eat them anyway.  It's super sneaky and a great way to make sure he's trying new things, and getting all the nutrients he needs.

So that's it, that's my homemade baby food system.  Right now I mainly focus on vegetables, since fruits are very seasonal in Egypt.  Most of the time I can't find the fruit I want.

But when it comes to fruit remember it just needs to be ripe, then you peel it, and mash it up.  The only fruit I cook is apples, to make applesauce.


Mangos (can't wait for these to come back into season so Q can try!)

Hope this was helpful for those wanting to give it a try!  It's a nice sense of pride when your baby is humming with happiness as they nosh on food you made for them.    

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What's a Crimea?

Russia invaded the Crimea, and of course the first thing everyone wanted to ask us was, "Are you guys still moving to Moscow next year?"  Shortly followed by, "It's so dangerous there!"

Actually, my first response when I heard about Russia and the Crimea was to turn to Ryan and ask, "What's a Crimea?"  Yeah, my geography skills are a little lacking, but luckily my super brain husband keeps all the knowledge I could ever want about history, politics and the organization of the globe in his head.  All I have to do is ask for the version I'd like.  (I usually ask for the dumbed down, 2 minute version)

Through WikiRyan, I learned that the Crimea is a small peninsula sticking into the black sea (yes I had to look on a map to remember where the black sea is).  It was part of Russia until they gave it to the Ukraine.  When the Soviet Union fell apart, it became a permanent part of the Ukraine, but there's always been issues over the area.  Partly because the population is mostly Russian, and partly because big powerful leader types are always calling backsies and wanting to keep land that they've given away. (I may have come up with that last part, as Ryan's explanation was much more complicated).

Long story short...

Yes, we are still moving to Moscow.  No, we are not afraid.  In fact after living in Egypt with multiple revolutions, power and supply shortages, curfews, military coups, road blockades, closing of the U.S. Embassy and our evacuation from the city.... ehhhh, we're not really that worried about something that's happening a thousand miles away from where we'll be living next year.

Part of it is being a bit more seasoned.  Reading more sources for our news, and knowing that there's nowhere on this planet that's 100% safe.  We can't live our lives being afraid of what might happen to us if we move somewhere that is going through unrest.  Because we'd have to dig a hole and live underground.  Until the mole people got angry at us invading their territory and start a revolt. So really nowhere is safe.  But we've still got lives to live right?  So we make the best out of where we're headed and hope things don't get too crazy.

By the way did you know if you do a Google image search for Crimea the first thing that pops up is a woman's naked ass?  That along with a bunch of pictures of maps.... Strange but true.  Enjoy, you know you're going to go look now.  ;)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


My brain hasn't been the same since I had a baby.

The best way I can think to describe it is a computer analogy.  It's like I went from using a MacBook Pro with a pretty decent processor and memory card, to a Dell with a second hand hard drive.

I'm still smart (most of the time), and I've still got it together (most of the time).  But I'm definitely not as focused, sharp or quick as I used to be.  I'm really hoping this downgrade of brainpower doesn't happen more with each kid you have or I might end up with a brain like a netbook from walmart.

So the other day we're heading out to school, which is kind of like that scene from Dances with Wolves, where the indians are moving.  They pack up their teepees, all the women and men have bags and baskets and babies strapped to their bodies.  The horses are dragging travoises laden down with all their belongings.  I'm only partially kidding, that's what it feels like each day when we head out to school.  We each have our bag, then there's the baby's diaper bag, and a lunch bag each, a smoothie cup, sometimes an extra bag of diapers or formula for the nursery, then oh yeah, the baby himself, who's a whopping 18 pound ham hock.

It's a delicate balance of straps and weight distribution, and you get the doors unlocked, I'll carry the baby, you put that bag in the trunk, while this one has to go on the back seat because there's no more room..... pant, pant, pant.  

And I guess the combination of nomad lifestyle with fewer brain cells resulted in Ryan and I getting in our seats, putting on seat belts and then he turned to me and asked for the keys.

Oh crap!  

I was so organized and already clipped the car key onto my other keys since I would be taking the car tonight.  Unfortunately I clipped them to my backpack, which was in the trunk of the car, which was now shut.

Did I mention we don't have a spare key? (insert story about how it's impossible to get a spare where we live)  Did I mention the back seat doesn't have access to the trunk?  Did I mention it was 10 minutes till we needed to be at school?  Did I mention that all of the baby's stuff and my stuff were safely ensconced in that trunk, including my computer and phone?

Luckily Ryan's stuff was all on the backseat, so he got a ride to school, and I stayed home with the baby to wait for the owner of our car to come to Rehab and unlock it for us.  

"I'll come as soon as I can," he said. 

I kept on my work clothes in hopes that he'd be here soon, and I could head into work a little late.  

Feed baby, play, read a story, change a diaper, put Quincy down for a nap.

Reached for my phone.... Oh crap that's right, it's locked in the trunk.  Reached for my computer..... oh crap, it's locked in the trunk.  Reached for Ryan's computer..... oh crap he thinks he's a spy and all his passwords are ridiculous to remember (and I have no way to call him and ask what it is).  Hmmmmmm, what to do now?

Do some dishes, do some laundry, track down the book I started reading 9 months ago, get settled in a comfy chair to read.... baby starts crying.

Change diaper, feed baby, play, read a story, tickle fat rolls, discuss the importance of not pulling mommy's hair..... rinse, repeat.

I gave up around noon and changed into my sweat pants.  And around 1:30 I stopped reaching for my phone. 

For the first time in a long time I had an entire day where I was completely unplugged.  No phone, no computer, no internet, no T.V.  and it was really weird at first, but then I kinda sunk into it and it actually felt really good.

Q and I spent about 20 minutes in the afternoon just sitting in a chair, him sprawled on my lap, looking out the window at the trees dancing in the wind.  I was rubbing his belly and he was holding onto my finger.  It was very peaceful, very present.

I enjoyed it.  Made me think I need to unplug a bit more often.

The car guy showed up at 3:30, unlocked the trunk and I had all my beautiful devices back again!  So we went inside and played with Q's toys on the floor.  I'd been waiting all day to get connected again, but once the possibility was there I didn't need it anymore.  I had a nice day with my son.

I'm not going Amish style and ditching all my tech gear, it's got a lot of purpose and helps my life every day.  But it was nice to take a moment and remember a simpler life.  To remember that we don't need all this stuff to get by, to be happy.

Though I will definitely keep better track of the car key from now on.