18 October 2010

There'll Be Days Like This

Mama said there'll be days like this,
There'll be days like this my Mama said. . .

Today, not unlike most days, I managed to:

• Sweep all the floors and mop them. (This helps to keep the ant invaders at bay; notice I said “helps” but does eliminate the little buggers all-together. Did you know that big black ants stink when you smoosh them? Must be a warning adaptation, except the rest are not heeding the warning!)

• Make a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner for my family—including the requisite fruit (easy) and vegetables (not so easy) for the day.

• Wash and hang to dry three loads of laundry.

• Iron, gasp, yes—IRON shirts and slacks for hubby’s work. Ack. There will be a day when the iron will be retired for all eternity, and I won’t miss it.

• Wash two loads of dishes, by hand. This is because maids in this country do not need dish washing machines (oh really?!) and so our villa was not equipped, nor does it have space for one—not that we could find one anyway.

• School-at-home my eldest son (not the same as home schooling as I am finding out—more on this later) while engaging in meaningful and educational activities with my youngest son. He is starting to read—blending sounds in three letter words. Atta boy!

• Fold and put clean laundry away.

• Bake two batches of bread.

• Cook a pot of home made creamy chicken wild rice soup—yum!

• Bake a batch of home made chocolate chip cookies (and freeze another batch for another day).

• Pick up enough toys to outfit a small island nation.

• Read a book . . . to the boys. My book-a-day turned book-a-week turned book-a-month-if-I’m-lucky reading habit has turned to more the seasonal variety of reading (and there are only two seasons over here!) But someday the boys will be old enough to read a whole book all by themselves and I will read again. Yes I will.

• Watch my children play at the park, my bum firmly planted on a bench as I was too exhausted to move, mostly. I did do two laps around the park, the boys on the plasma car while I loped along behind in my flip-flops.

• Get teeth brushed (the boys’ teeth, not mine. Yet.)

• Check email. Yikes.

• Take out the rubbish.

• Write this post. And judging from the long spaces in between posts I will say this is quite an accomplishment, yes it is.

What I managed not to do today:

• Get a much needed and even more deserved nap (it’s been over five years since I’ve had a decent sleep).

• Take a shower. Enough said.

• Take time for myself (except the fifteen minutes before hubby came home when I locked the children in the TV room and escaped to the bed to look at photos of the boys when they were smaller to remind myself how much I love them. . . because

• I did not give my sons away to a band of roving gypsies even though I would have been sorely tempted to do so. Today. Right now I’m really glad there were no gypsies to tempt me. I have wonderful boys and I think I’ll keep them, thank you very much.

• I did not bake the snickerdoodle cookies I’ve been craving. Although, perhaps if I had made and eaten the snickerdoodle cookies, the boys’ bickering would not have driven me to think of giving them away to gypsies. . . or was it the “I’m not going to love you anymore!” I got from the oldest, and the “I’m not going to clean up, I’m not!” from the youngest? Really, they are very sweet boys and quite well behaved and wonderful helpers, most of the time. Just not today.

Mama said, Hey! Don't you worry. . .

Maybe Mama knew what she was talking about. Some days I can’t see the forest for the trees. But most days I’m ever so grateful for this life I’m living.

And for the record, the big boy still loves me! and the little boy did pick up his toys. Hubby did the last load of dishes after supper and I did take a little time for myself, right now, to write this all down, while Daddy is reading stories to the little guys. Life is good.

10 October 2010

Coming Back

No, we're not on our way back "home." I'm just making an attempt to get back into blogging! It's been seven months now and I miss it. We've had our fair share of sickness and travel and changing schedules while I've been gone from blogging, so there is a lot to look back upon and draw inspiration from. The trick has always been to find the time to sit down and just do it. After all, this is for me. I guess it's too easy to let me-time take a back burner to everything else that needs to be done in a day.

And for those who are curious to know. . . we now have a little blue Jazz. I want to say robin's egg blue, but Smurf-mobile is what actually comes to mind. The car saga continues!

27 March 2010

Sick Leave

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the long absence, but I wanted to post a quick note to let you know that I have been on sick leave from blogging. I have managed nearly a whole year without so much as a little old cold or flu and now I am knocked on my backside by a whopper of a sinus infection! Not to mention that the boys are sick, sick, sick. Eric might even have the chicken pox.

So if I have to choose between writing and sleeping (because I do have to choose), then my choice is SLEEP!

I hope to be back in a week or two to share some thoughts about living in Dubai. Until then, I hope all are well and busy welcoming spring (it was 106F here today). Hah.

02 February 2010

Half Way There

Half way there, baby, half way there.

Today was our 500th day in the UAE. Only 500 days to go, give or take. I’m not much of a milestone person. No, really. I’m lucky if I can remember when my children were born; heck, I’m lucky if I can remember how old I am. I spent all of my 35th year thinking I was 36. Boy was I surprised at that birthday! Graduations came and went. Boy and I were married on the Summer Solstice. I thought this would help me remember the date; however, that year the solstice was on the 20th, not the 21st, so I still get mixed up.

But the other night I was sitting at the computer catching up with email and blog reading when a voice rang out in the night, “Five hundred days.”

“What was that, sweetie?”

“We’re half-way there.”

“Half-way where?” I ask.

“We’ve been in the UAE for 500 days, tomorrow. Only 514 to go,” says Boy.

Now, I’m not a mathematician (that’s my mom) or a physicist (that’s my dad) or even super duper smart (that’s my husband), but I do believe that 500+514 = 1014. Divide that by two and you get 507, which would make half-way there a week from now. But who am I to argue? It must be new math. Or maybe it’s old? Or maybe it’s just close enough for someone who likes to lie awake at night crunching numbers just for fun. I married my mother! What does that say about me?

Anyway, Boy loves to number crunch and mark milestones. We celebrate birthdays and half-birthdays. We even celebrated our billion-second birthdays, just because we could. He knows when our children were born. He knows their social security numbers. He knows when we were married. And he knows, roughly, when we will be leaving here.

So, back to half-way there. The thought of it leads me to think about our staying or going. It’s a question we get asked a lot, a question we ask each other. A lot. How long are we staying? The truth is, we don’t know. We are here on a three year contract; however, there is a chance we will be offered the opportunity to renew. At that point, we could stay another one to three years, with opportunities to renew every three years. Some people don’t even last for their first year here. Others have been around for twelve or twenty or more. Since we’ve made it to the half-way mark, we are likely to last our tour of duty. We are also working on our “exit strategy” which means we are unlikely to get “stuck” for additional years; we will only be staying with the college’s good graces and our own desire. Why stay? It’s the money, plain and simple. Where else and when else in our lives will we be able to save so much?! We can save as much in one year here as we were able to earn, after taxes, with both of us working back home on teachers’ salaries. There is also the glorious sun and the wonderful beaches full of seashells and soft sand with warm waters to swim in. Prime beach time is six months out of the year here, compared to one month a year back home. But there is a cost. And it’s huge—we have no family. Some people decide to make the friends they have here their surrogate families, and I can understand that. We’ve done that—birthdays and holidays are prime times to miss the ones we love back home and so we surround ourselves with our UAE friends. But always we know they are just temporary. No one knows when their time will be up in this place.

And so we talk a lot about staying and going. We love the sun and the beaches and the savings, but we miss the trees and the rain (and snow!) and visiting family. We enjoy our friends, the cultural diversity, our home and affordable health care, and not to forget—our job. Boy loves his job here. Don’t even get him started on Texas! But we long for a home in the country where we can see stars (Boy is an astronomy guy after all) and breathe clean air and garden! and keep a few chickens and maybe even bees. We have dreams. And those dreams do not look like camels wandering over sand dunes or spectacular sunsets. They aren’t dreams of crystal blue oceans or even white sand beaches. But right now, that is the dream we are living. And we are grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to live here and experience this part of the world and all the cultures that come together to make the UAE the amazing and exciting and sometimes completely exasperating place that it is. I never in a million years imagined myself living this life in this place, yet here I am. And it is good. But I can’t help but think about how good it will be to go home, wherever that home may be. But that is a thought for another day. . .

01 February 2010

January Pics

My apologies for such a quiet week. I am still trying to get into a groove. . . we also have been hit by the super-bug. Yup. Boo was sick. Again. This time, I hit him with antibiotics and he seems to be resting well tonight. More on medicine in Dubai another time. . .

Because. . . it is past midnight (oops, missed my January 31 deadline to post!) and I am off to bed. But first I would like to post a few pictures from January in Dubai. Enjoy!

Fossil hunting. . . future paleontologist?

Removable, re-stickable, really colorful. Best boy room ever.

Sunset in Mirdif.

A great big thank you! to AnnMarie in Alaska for helping me with positioning pictures in my post. Cut and paste. It doesn't get any easier than that :)

24 January 2010

Little Yellow Honda Jazz

Goodbye little yellow Jazz.

First, let me begin by saying that we have lived in the UAE for seventeen months now, and that includes the eight weeks we were in the United States and Canada last summer for our mandatory summer holiday. In those seventeen months, we have driven seven different cars. Eight if you count our car back home. Uffda.

Our first car in the UAE was a red Honda Jazz. The first time I saw it I was not impressed. How could we fit all our stuff? How could this compact car possibly be safe on the crazy streets around here? Since I was the one driving for the first few weeks (I was on a visitor visa and therefore allowed to drive with my US driver’s license; my husband had a work visa and therefore needed a UAE license to drive), I was pretty much hoping for a great big gas-guzzling SUV to keep my children safe. Since we were renting the vehicle, costs allowed us only the smallest class of vehicle. Besides, I’m a tree-hugger through and through and I’m sure I would have a crisis of conscience if I ever set foot in a full-sized SUV. Therefore, the Honda Jazz, aka: Honda Fit.

Anyway, little red Jazz turned out to be a great car. It was zippy and responsive and had a whole lot more trunk space than I ever thought possible. Oh, and we routinely got the equivalent of 37-39 mpg. Nice. But little red Jazz needed its yearly maintenance and so was exchanged for a wretched Toyota Yaris with absolutely no trunk space. Let it be said that I like Toyota; I just don’t like the no trunk space. We learned we would not be getting our red Jazz back since it was old enough to be sold out of their fleet of cars. We only had a few weeks left before our summer holiday, so we lumped the no trunk space and got on with it. Until, the manic driving over here got the best of me. With just two weeks to go and accident-free in the UAE, I was hit from behind while stopped at a red light. Luckily, the boys and I were fine; the car was not. So wretched white Yaris went bye-bye and we were given the only available car in our class-a black Honda Jazz. Ugh. We. Live. In. A. Hot. Desert. Black cars may be a status symbol here, but we are not status symbol kind of people! But again, we only had two weeks to go, so we took the car and went on our merry way, only to vow we would never drive a black car in the desert again.

One summer holiday later, we are at the Dubai airport in the 125F heat (mind you it’s 11:00p.m.) waiting for our rental car that we reserved before we left (with specific instructions for any color but black). Oops. No record of a reservation. In fact, no record of our previous ten month rental history with them. And unlike the US, the rental companies here don’t really care if you are a satisfied customer. We have been routinely up-graded in the US when rental companies do not have our requested vehicle available (and sometimes even when they do just to make us happy campers and hopefully repeat customers). Over an hour later, standing in the 125F parking lot with much too much luggage and two small boys who had been traveling for over twenty-four hours, the Hertz Rental Company decided they could bring in a Jazz from another site. It took them less than twenty minutes. It was black. I didn’t care. We drove it for over four months while we waited for a replacement. . . and then came the Oman trip. Hooray for an expired registration. We ended up with another black Jazz for the holiday, but immediately traded it in for a yellow Jazz. Yes, yellow. Love it. No way would anyone miss seeing us on the road. No way would I lose the car in the crowded parking lot. I was in love, with a car.

But some love stories have sad endings. Even though there was no possible way any living, breathing driver on the crazy UAE roads could ever miss seeing our car, a young girl just happened to prove that theory wrong. I would like to add that my husband and I were on our first date since moving to the UAE in September of 2008. We enjoyed a quiet dinner and a decent movie. We were on our way home when aforementioned young lady hit us from behind. Might I also add that we were stopped in a long queue of cars about 300m from the intersection when we were hit. Oh, and it might be worth mentioning that she hit us not once, but twice. Evidently she wasn’t quite finished with us the first time. So now I am left with a sore neck and back and more than a headache or two, and a silver Toyota Yaris. Ack! No trunk space. I think I might have to call Hertz every day until I get another little yellow Jazz. Or red. Or white. Anything but black.

20 January 2010

Dhows, Dolphins and Oman.

On Monday we took a vacation from our perpetual vacation, a dhow excursion to see fjords and dolphins in the Khor Sham (Arabian Gulf) in the country of Oman.

We had heard about the dhow excursions and dolphin sightings off the coast of Khasab, the capital of Musandam. After a bit of searching, we found the company that had been recommended to us, Khasab Travel and Tours, and booked the trip. We really wanted to see those dolphins, but knew it was only a possibility, not a guarantee (these are wild dolphins, after all).

Oman is a mere hour and a half from where we live in Dubai, and Khasab just an hour and half further. We packed up the boys and a picnic and headed for the border. It was one adventure after another! We have become accustomed to seeing wild camels in the dessert (someone somewhere owns them, and if you hit one you will pay, literally), but we were not prepared to see wild cows. Ok, maybe they weren’t really wild, but they were walking down the middle of the city streets of Ras al Khaimah and there were no shepherds to be seen. Then there were goats. Goats everywhere! I love this country.

Three hours, a very windy mountain road, a dozen wayward cows and quite possibly hundreds of goats later, we found ourselves at the departure spot. We almost drove right past—the travel “agency” was a trailer parked in a sand lot at the base of a mountain. In their defense, it was across the road from a small port and it did have a small sign. They greeted us by name and sent us down the road for a spell until the dhow was due to depart. What a treasure trove of seashells we discovered! I don’t think there is anything Boy and I like better than a day at the beach looking for seashells. Oman was our little piece of heaven on earth. Even the boys found lots of treasures. We might have missed our excursion, except we were the only party booked for the afternoon—a private tour!

Our guide, Mohammed, was quite a character. A native of Kumzar, Oman, he was fluent in forty-five dialects of his native language! I have no way to verify this, but I have no reason to doubt him either. He brought us to see the most amazing fjords/mountains. I couldn’t help but wish my college geology prof were there!

To make the day complete, we saw dolphins. Lots of dolphins. Unlike their captive counterparts, the wild dolphins do not like to swim with people or eat food out of their hands; they are afraid and will leave if you attempt either. But they love to race boats! We saw a particularly playful calf with its mother. What a treat to see such clever and graceful animals in the wild.

Before heading back to shore, we stopped at Telegraph Island. If I remember correctly, it is the location where the British first laid telegraph cable in this area in 1864. It was manned for only ten years, the gentleman deciding it was way too hot to stay longer! We were there in the hot January sun; I can’t imagine holding down the fort, so to speak, in July or August. Ugh. Boy and number one son swam from the dhow to the island to explore (what 5-year-old boy doesn’t love to explore an island?!). Before leaving, they left their mark in the form of an Inukshuk, not the first on the island, and I’m sure not the last.

In the end, a wonderful time was had by all. Oh man, we loved Oman. We will be back next year!

p.s. Does anyone know how to insert pictures in the body of the text? I could only figure out how to place them at the beginning of the post.

14 January 2010

Short Stories

Some days I would love to climb into a comfy cozy bed with fluffy pillows and plush comforters. . . with a mug of hot cocoa and a rich chocolate brownie. And of course, a good book. Today was one of those days. But with two young boys and a house to keep, the chances of spending any time cuddled in bed that is not between the hours of ten p.m. and six a.m. are slim to none. And forget reading. Unless it’s a book for ages three to five.

One of my most vivid memories of my mother is of her sitting on an old tree stump with her wide-brimmed hat, “watching” my brother and sister and I swim in the pond, while reading a book. For as long as I can remember, my mother has been a consummate reader. She read constantly (except when she was washing the clothes with a wringer washer and hanging them out on the line to dry, or milking the goats, or collecting the eggs, or weeding the gardens, or canning/freezing the produce, or baking fifteen loaves of bread at a time, or chasing after three children and goodness knows how many dogs, or preparing three home made from scratch meals a day, or any of the seemingly endless number of tasks she undertook day after day, week after week and year after year.) Yet, when she did have a free moment, she would read. I love her for that. I have such wonderful childhood associations with books—I loved books, I hoarded books, I read them constantly and kept them close by always. I still do (except for the reading them constantly part.) Now that I am a mother, I wonder how it is my mother managed to find the time to read. Heck. I wonder how she managed to keep her sanity!

So tonight I made my mother’s brownies. The boys are in bed, asleep. I think Boy has fallen asleep with them. So, perhaps while I have a few moments left before absolute bed time, I will steal away to my somewhat comfy cozy bed and sip some cocoa and eat that brownie while I read a short story from Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson.

Short stories are an exhausted mom’s best friend. They let me believe there is hope I will one day read in earnest as I did as a child. Some day all too soon.

10 January 2010

Cool Weather for Baking

I haven't managed to make much progress on the learning-to-blog front; however, it is nice and cool and I did manage to do a bit of baking!

Today I made some wonderful banana cake muffins, the same muffins I made for my son's 5th birthday not too long ago. Yum! A little history. . . I love bananas. I love cake and muffins. I've never in my life until now made banana cake muffins. Why?! It is a mystery. But I'm glad the waiting is over and I have seen the light. I'm not sure where I found the original recipe, perhaps cooks.com? No matter. I have a nasty, yet healthy habit of changing recipes fairly drastically to meet my own preferences of less sugar, less fat and more spice that I hope I can now call it my own. The muffins turned out beautifully-moist with a light and not-at-all-overpowering hint of banana that is not at all super-sweet and anything but bland (which sometimes happens when you omit ½ the sugar!). I think I will leave them un-iced, since neither of my boys like frosting. Although, I will give a few away to some friends who are working mothers that don’t have time to bake and will give them a topping of the best-ever cream cheese frosting from zoebakes.com. By the way, Zoe’s website is awe-inspiring. Her Devil’s Food Cupcake is my all-time favorite (along with a vegan version I modified) and her cream cheese icing with Lyle’s Golden Syrup is to die for! I would put a link here, but as I mentioned, I haven’t made much progress in learning about this blogger stuff and don’t know how to do it just yet. For now, you can go to zoebakes.com and search for devil’s food cupcakes (the frosting recipe follows the cupcake recipe), or you can try: http://zoebakes.com/?p=165 Perhaps I can link to it in this post at another time when I get that information sorted out.

Ok. Try clicking here.

Anyway, the Banana Cake recipe is as follows:

Cream together:
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbsp. vegetable shortening (I use Crisco; mostly because my other option here is Ghee which I am not at all familiar with!)
1 cup white sugar
½ cup (scant) brown sugar (do not pack!)

3 eggs (add one at a time)
2-3 tsp. vanilla extract

Sift together:
1 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat atta* (or white wheat flour)
½ cup wholemeal flour (in the US, traditional whole wheat flour)
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½-1 tsp. cinnamon (opt.)
Dash of: nutmeg, cardamom (opt.)

Add the flour mixture alternating with:
1 ½ cup Activia Laban** (or: milk, buttermilk or yoghurt mixed with milk)

Lastly, add:
3-4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tsp. lemon juice

Mix until moist. Pour into prepared muffin tins (I like to use papers so clean-up is easy!) but greased pans will do. Bake at 163C/325F for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For super-moist muffins, place pan in a freezer immediately to cool for 15 minutes before removing. Otherwise, cool on a wire rack (or bottoms-up if you don’t have a wire rack, like me). Enjoy!

*Atta: As far as I can tell, atta is Indian whole wheat flour. I buy Al Baker Chakki Fresh Atta which says on the ingredients list: Superior wholemeal wheat flour. Now, this stuff is light and wonderful, not coarse like some atta. I don’t recall ever seeing it in the US, but perhaps in a store that also carries a variety of Indian food? If not, I would think you could use the white whole wheat flour as a substitute. Of course, you could always just use all-purpose flour, but I like to make treats as nutritious as possible.

** Laban is a traditional drink here in the Middle East. It is a yoghurt drink made from unsweetened plain yoghurt. I like to use Activia brand as it has live bacterial cultures whereas the other brands sold in my area do not. You could make your own by mixing equal amounts of unsweetened plain yoghurt (preferably organic with live active cultures) and cold water—blend well in a blender. Otherwise, you could substitute with buttermilk (not at all the same! But a nice effect as well) or plain milk. Heck, you could do ½ cup unsweetened plain yoghurt and 1 cup milk! I love experimenting. . .

So there it is. I realize some of the ingredients I use will be unfamiliar. They were to me when I first moved here! But not being able to find ingredients I was accustomed to made me reach out and try new things. And some, like laban drink, are oh so good! So use what you have and don’t worry about it. It’s all good.

I also made my first-ever batch of home made cereal bars! But it is late and I must go to bed, so I will have to save that for another day. . .

p.s. If Boy (Marc, my husband) will teach me how to download pictures from my camera to the computer, I will post pictures of the muffins!

03 January 2010

New Skill #1

Today I learned how to place a picture on my blog. Sweet. As you can see folks, there is a huge learning curve here! My posts might be a bit limited for a while as I learn to use the blogging program/set up my blog. I know, I should have done this all in advance, but had I taken that approach it might be another year before I got started. At least this way I have a reason to push myself to do this. To git 'r done!

On another note, it is finally cooling down here in Dubai. I even wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt today. At some point I asked myself, since when is 75F cool? This on a day when it is -30F back home.

At some point, I will sit down and journal the events that led up to our moving to the United Arab Emirates. I would also like to include some of the highlights of our first year-and-a-half of living in Sharjah and Dubai. What an experience this has been.

p.s. The Header photo is the view of the Corniche in Sharjah from our 16th story flat when we lived there in 2008/2009. My profile picture is the sunset over the gulf. Both photos were taken by my husband, Marc. Thanks baby!

02 January 2010

Welcome to My Intrepid Experiment

This is it. For over a year I have wanted to start a blog. In September of 2008, my husband and I and our two young boys left family and friends to start a new job and a new life in the United Arab Emirates. I had hoped to start a blog to chronicle our everyday experiences and adventures, as well as to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Well, it never happened. It is now well over a year later and I am finally sitting down and biting the proverbial bullet while attempting to learn all about this blogging thing. It is my hope as I begin this adventure in blogging that I learn all I can-from the basics of 'how to' publish/upload photos/create links etc. to developing a style all my own.

I am not quite certain what I would like this blog to become. For now, I will use it as a way to share our experiences while living abroad, to force myself to sit down and think/research/write about topics and ideas that are meaningful to me, to share my love of baking and living a simple home-made life, and to learn a new-to-me skill. I am excited! And I welcome all to share in this intrepid experiment with me. I look forward to hearing feedback and gleaning advice from those who have stories and skills to share.

But it is late and I am tired. So I will leave it at that for now. Good night, and Happy New Year!