Thursday, August 21, 2014

Butterfly Birthday

For her birthday party this year, Talia chose a butterfly theme. She looked through my recipe book and chose a yellow cake recipe and a chocolate whipped cream recipe for the frosting. She also chose a pineapple jam filling. We looked up how to make circle cakes cut and turned into a butterfly shape and she helped decorate it with fruit.

We used this cake recipe:

And something like this frosting recipe:

It was a lot of fun to make and then to share. The flavors combined nicely!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya)

When a Filipina friend gifted me with a green papaya I had never used one before. She mentioned using it to either make atchara (pickle) or it could also be used as a vegetable in chicken soup. As I had no idea what I was doing, I looked up lots of online versions of atchara and finally decided on this one.

The first step, is to peel of the outside.

Then scrape out the seeds...
While green papaya seems to usually be julienned in this manner, I couldn't seem to do it well and just ended up putting it in the blender... so maybe the texture wasn't as nice as an authentic version.

After dehydrating with salt overnight, it is very important to rinse it well and squeeze it to get all of the bitterness out. I did the rinsing/squeezing part twice to make sure.
Then mixed in all of the spices, (alas, no fresh ginger, so powdered, and I didn't have red bell pepper so I omitted it.) Then add the brine and let pickle in the fridge in a sealed container for at least 5 days... and then:

This version turned out nicely. It's a tangy sweet and sour pickle used with fried or foods that need more flavor in the Philippines. I liked how it turned out. Ben works with several Filipinos and I gave him a jar to take to them to be taste testers. One said, (since every region in the Philippines has their own version of atchara,) it was not bad, but where he was from used less vinegar. The other one said it was great and just like his mother made it and he couldn't stop eating it.

Cooking a food outside of its culture, especially when you haven't gotten much experience with that culture, is challenging and interesting at the same time. This was a fun project!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lays Flavors in Abu Dhabi

Flavors I've never seen before: Spanish Black Olives, South African Cheese and Mexican Chili Con Carne.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kid's Unscripted: Chapter 27

Elias: "Dancing shoes!" (pointing at some camo-colored Croc-like shoes.)"Belly button dancing! Chin dancing! Head dancing!"
Me: "Do they just make everything dance?"
Elias: (Nodding head vigorously) "Yes!"
Elias: "Elias need it!"
Talia: (big sigh) "I need to teach you how to use pronouns!"
Me: "Talia, do you like the name Calliope?"
Talia: "It's not my favorite..."
Me: "Do you like the name Penelope?"
Talia: "Those names sound like geography names!"
Talia: (about soup she didn't care for) "I'm too full to eat anymore..."
Me: "So you don't want fruit with yogurt?"
Talia: "I meant... I'm too full to eat anything after dessert!"
Elias: (looking a wind blowing the grass) "Grass waving at Elias!"
Talia: (reading to Elias) "Do you want to laugh at that?"
Elias: (fit of fake laughter...)
Talia: "Elias, you're a monkey!"
Elias: "Elias a big boy!"
Me: "Can the big boy put this in the trash, then?"
Elias: "Oh, Elias monkey..."
Elias: "Ezra woked up! Opened pretty brown eyes!"
Talia: "Look! I found a cricket... Oops. His abdomen fell off..."
Talia: "I like spicy things... except for spicy things that aren't cheese."
Elias: "Elias not peach, Elias gray."
Elias: "Elias want a purple banana!"
Ben: "Talia, can you see that book Ok? Do your eyes ever get blurry?"
Talia: "Only if I've been looking at it too long and need to stretch my eyes out."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramadan, Date Harvest and Date Cake

It's Ramadan and summer at the same time. What that means in the produce section of stores is that you will see large crates of dates for sale everywhere.

During Ramadan, able-bodied Muslims fast throughout the day and break their fast at night with a few dates, typically. In addition to this, it's harvest time for dates all over the country. Date palms line the miles of road between Ruwais and Abu Dhabi, are planted throughout the city, in every park and green space. Typically the dates have a mesh bag around them to catch the dates and protect them from birds or other things.
Dates are really filling, have a lot of nutritional benefits, are supposed to help a woman have shorter labor, aid digestive issues and, depending on who you ask, are given as a remedy for just about everything here.

When Ben brought home 2 huge boxes of them I began looking for a way to use them beyond eating fresh since we have so many. This recipe for date cake was one Ben and a teacher he works with liked with had good things to say about. The kids loved it, too. Dates have a caramel-like flavor when ripe that comes through in this cake without the odd resemblance of, well, whatever you think an actual date looks like...

Most of the boxes of dates are fresh, still yellow and smooth, but quickly turn brown after a day or two, but not the brown, dried version you're probably most familiar with. If not used soon, within a week the dates start oozing and have interesting reactions with baking soda.
(Can this fall under home school experiment?)

Date Cake

  • 3cups/500 g dates pitted
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2cup / 100g brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/10 stick - 125 g Butter
  • 1 1/2 Cups Self raising flour
  • 2 tsp Vanila
  • 1 tsp Bicarb.
  • Preheat the oven 180 or 160 fan forced.
  • Add the dates, Butter, sugar & water.
  • Cook it till it boils
  • Add bicarb and leave it to cool down.
  • Whisk the eggs.
  • Add eggs, self raising flour,vanila and mix well.
  • Add the mixture in to a baking tray and bake 40 min.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Our Neighbors Have a Mango Tree

Sometimes it's surprising how something so insignificant as our neighbors having a mango tree has several small impacts on our own lives. It's not something I would have even though to consider when moving to this house.

The back yards of the villas here are separated by walls about 7 feet tall. The walls have a gap on each end about 4 inches wide, so it isn't exactly private. Some people have opted to fill the gaps with boards, bricks or climbing vines. I wonder if this were for the convenience of the cats to wander through each yard, though they seem to have no trouble scaling the sealed ones.

The neighbors on both sides of our back yard patio have mango trees. One of them hangs over our clothes line. In the spring, all of the pollen falls on our drying clothes. In the summer green mangoes plop around and as the season progresses, ripe ones ferment on the ground over the fence filling the air with a sweet, sticky, fruit smell. The ants make trails from their homes to the mangoes and march back and forth until it is gone.

Talia and Elias collect the fallen, brown mango leaves and pretend they are gardeners. Talia crunches the leaves in her hands and Elias follows her directions to "fertilize" different areas of the garden with them. His bare little baby-looking feet slap, slap on the bricks as he runs from the terraced part of the patio to the grassy part looking for a bare spot to distribute the "fertilizer."
Looking up into the mango tree.

School children play behind the back wall yard of our villa and the ones we are sandwiched between. They throw stones at the mangos and use tubing from the watering system for the school yard to reach up and try to knock down the mangos. Once, when I was out hanging clothes on the line, several of the boys from the school had managed to grab a branch and get up into the tree. I said "get down" and they did. The school ground caretakers are more smooth about it, they get a long branch and tie a small stick to the end so that they can snag the branch right above the mango and jerk it down. When that isn't available, they are strong and flexible: They run at the wall and grab the top and with a few kicks and grunts are up the side and onto the roof of the terrace, up the tree and tossing the mangos down for the others to catch. The school grounds caretakers are always careful to put the mess made from the mango leaves right back into they yard that hosts the tree. Occasionally a hand shoves some over our section of the wall on accident.

One weekend our engineer-neighbors, who share the house provided by their company with the mango tree in the back, climbed up in the tree and harvested the majority of the mangos. I noticed because I was upstairs and was startled to see that there was a man even with our upstairs window in our bedroom.

Three mangos happened to land on our brick patio, kamikaze style. The impact busted the end that made contact. I let it ripen, but only half was ripening. Talia and I tried it, the ripe end was sweet and the green end tart like a sour candy. They were both delicious. The flavor wasn't enough to drive us to scale the neighbor's fence, but we did understand why so many green mangos were being sold in the markets!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 26

Elias: (holding Ezra:) "baby have one, two ears!"
Elias: (helping mix banana bread with a spoon, scooping egg in mixture and dropping it back in) "Egg says 'bloooop!'"
Talia: "There's a new boy in my class."
Me: "What's his name?"
Talia: "It starts with a 'p' but it isn't 'Psalms' or 'P.J.'..."
Elias: "'C' says 'kuh.' Apple says 'mmmmmm!"
Elias: "...eighteen, nineteen, ten-teen..."
Talia: "When I met Ezra at the hospital when he was first born, I fell in love with him because I just love tiny, cute babies!"
Talia: "Every time I take a drink, I feel super-hero fresh! Like an apple!"
Talia: "Washing dishes is fixing history."
Talia: "Sometimes a little bit plus a little bit makes a lot."
Elias: [about Ezra stretching] "Baby made a 'Y!'"
Talia: "I know that makes sense because it was said by an adult..... But I don't know what it means!"
Talia: "I think cheetahs are cute but I don't like them because they're meat-eaters. I wish they were broccoli-eaters because I don't like broccoli very much."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ezra: 2 Months

These first two months with Ezra have been good ones. I've seen a side of the older two children that I would have not been privileged to see so up close and personal otherwise. They are consistently gentle with the baby (even when they're frustrated with each other) and so excited when he "interacts" with them by smiling or sticking his tongue out, or even burping. Their reasoning for why he does any of those things is hilarious, but endearing.
Ezra has grown from this skinny little guy of 7 pounds 12 ounces at one week:
To a little bit bigger and more alert at two weeks.
 And chubbier now and getting some loving from Elias, who really likes to hold him. (But when Ezra starts protesting because he doesn't like laying on his back, Elias' turn is over.)
I'm thankful that he is gaining weight and sleeping well. He is generally happy unless he has a legitimate problem like hunger or pain and he's observant of what's going on around him, which is usually quite a bit with Talia and Elias "teaching him how to dance" or something equally amusing.
(Apparently, the camera doesn't look so amusing, however. We look forward to more smiles and laughs from him, too, in the coming months.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pet Moths

Talia keeps wishing for a pet, especially a horse, but since that's not possible right now, she's been befriending every moth that she sees in the house. 
One day, she had one sitting on her hand and she was talking about how beautiful it was... and then it flew into the bug zapper (because there are so many mosquitoes lately) and she cried: "I loved it and it had died like Uncle L!" I'm not sure how much of that was drama and how much of it was real. Ben tried to be sympathetic, but he couldn't help laughing at the same time just because of the sheer amount of drama in her voice.

For now, we just share our friend's pets. Cats are super abundant and wild here, there is always 4 or 5 sitting outside around our garden, on the walls, in the trash cans or around the gates. They're constantly caterwauling at night making all sorts of interesting music. They're also always reproducing, so the most popular pet seems to be the kittens. (That might be because the dogs are likely to get eaten. Seriously.)

Some people have fish, the fashionable Emirati's have things like lions, tigers and cheetahs, and there are things like foxes at the animal markets (a place many people find cruel and are trying to change.) 

A pet that surprised me were the parrots caught wild here who were eating the sunflower seeds from a friend's sunflowers. Her husband is a capable trapper and was able to catch them. I've never seen wild parrots here, (though I thought there was one in the neighbor's mango tree.) The kids were excited to see the birds here, but I'm not so sure the birds were excited to see them.

I'm not sure that we'll ever get a pet here, since we don't have long term plans to stay and it doesn't make sense if we are just going to leave. It's also difficult to know what to do with one if we have to go to the city or travel home on vacation... but one day, maybe, we will settle in a place where a pet can thrive and who knows? Maybe Talia will get a horse some day.

Then again, we did wake up to this in our garden yesterday morning... maybe we can just have wild, outside pets for now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Third Culture Kids: Learning Hindi and Arabic

Where we live now, we have the unique opportunity for Talia to attend a school right behind our house where she can learn Hindi and Arabic in addition to normal subjects. With language-lover parents and an interest in learning languages herself, combined with the closeness and super reasonable fees, it was a great opportunity. Hindi and Arabic both use a different alphabet than English, and that is where they are starting.
Talia's first Hindi alphabet lesson
 Many times what can be gained by living in another culture is found within the context of community, a context that can be avoided to a large degree in a land full of many expats. Some tend to stick to communities of people just like themselves and re-create the country they left behind to the best of their abilities. And, of course, time spent with familiar people and languages is definitely refreshing in a sea of unfamiliar languages and customs. However, the unique thing about Abu Dhabi is the immense variety of different cultures that are co-existing with the indigenous one. Most of the time harmoniously.

 Something we have to balance with third-culture kids (children raised outside of their parent's culture where they  have neither the culture of their parents, nor the culture of the land they live in, but rather a combination of both) is providing them with a stable home base and familiarity with the culture from their home country, but also finding ways for them to experience the culture they are living in as well. What's the point of living abroad if you're only going to insulate yourself and re-create something that will never live up to the original in your mind?

It can be challenging, but many times it's mind-stretching, interesting and fun!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kids Unscripted: Chapter 25

Talia: "I'm putting lotion on your freckles because I don't want them to go away because I think they're beautiful."
Talia: "That was just my unrhymable rhyme..."
Elias: "wear pip-pops!" (Flip flops)
Talia: "A chin is just a big point growing down your head..."
Talia: "I'm a factory lady..."
Me: "What kind of factory?"
Talia: "It's the kind that goes to all of the barber shops and sweeps out all of the hair and turns it into soap! It's really hard and you have to go to school to learn how to do it."
Talia: "This is a nice king. He doesn't just sit around and tell people what to do, he actually helps them!"
Talia: (to Elias) "I knooooow... if you know it, I know it. In fact, you probably learned it from me to begin with..."
Talia: "It's just like normal... except it's different."
Elias: "Lid, stucken!" [The lid is stuck.]
Talia: "If you want to see if someone is breathing, you could put a harmonica to their mouth. If it doesn't make any sound, they might need to go to the funeral home..."
[She later reassessed this theory since she noticed she had to be breathing fairly strongly to produce sound.]
Talia: "Do you have to water your hair if you want it to grow?"
Talia: "Do moths say anything or are they shy?"
Talia: "Babies are weird: they poop and eat in their sleep and they don't know any words... But they're baby people! I like baby people!" 
Elias: "Baby, peepee, diaper. Need prize!" [He was trying to share some of his potty training prize with baby Ezra.]
Talia: "Boy babies are cutest kinds of boys."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seen in Abu Dhabi 25

A camel traffic jam on the way from Ben's work. The handlers finally got them off of the road by luring them with a piece of bread.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Chocolate Muffins

We used this recipe but left out the chocolate chips, which seem difficult for me to find sometimes since I mostly have access to the local market and not the mall very often.

·         2 cups flour
·         1 cup sugar
·         3/4 cup chocolate chips
·         1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
·         1 teaspoon baking soda  
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
·         1 cup plain yogurt
·         1/2 cup milk
·         1/2 cup oil 
·         1/4 cup chocolate chips
·         1 2-year-old
·         1 6-year-old


 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Get the 2 year old to grease the muffin cups with the oil and a brush... or line with paper muffin liners.
2. Get the 6-year-old to help the 2-year-old dump flour, sugar, 3/4 cup chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
3. Help them whisk egg, yogurt, milk, and vegetable oil in another bowl until smooth; pour into chocolate mixture and stir until batter is just blended.
4. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
5. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes or until the 2 year old anxiously waiting by the timer calls "Mama! Cupcake, DING!"
6. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Kids Unscripted: Chapter 24

Me: "Talia, can you use 'last but not least' in a sentence?"
Talia: "Putting icing on a cupcake is the last but not least step!"
Ben: "what did you do with your beard? Wash it off in the bathtub?"
Elias: (nodding) "yeah!"
Elias: (crying and pointing to his top lip) "Elias hurt, mustache!"
Elias: (pointing at the window) "Mommy, wet stuff!"
Me: "That's called rain."
Elias: "Rain, like!"
Talia: (upset) "My ice wont stay on the bottom of the cup!"
Me: "There's our next science lesson..." (Can you tell we don't have ice often?)
Talia: "The dwarves smashed my finger!"
Me: "Dwarves?!"
Talia: "I mean, 'drawers.'"
Talia: "Mama, you smell like Temaw..."
Me: "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
Talia: "A good thing."
Me: "What does that smell like?"
Talia: "Lotion!"
Talia: "When my heart gets full of love, it spills over to my mouth and makes me smile!"
Elias: "Mommy: woman. Papi: man. Talia: girl. Elias: GUY!"
Talia: (to me) "I'm teaching Elias new sentences, see watch: 'Doughnuts are delicious!'"
Elias: "Doughnuts are li-dicious!"
Talia: "Good boy! I think I'm a good teacher!"
Talia: "Mommy, can you check and see if I have any goosebumps?"
Me: "I don't see any..."
Talia: "Maybe it's because I haven't grown up and gotten married yet..."
Me: "Why does getting married give you goosebumps?"
Talia: "Because you fall in love!"
Me: "And falling in love gives you goosebumps?"
Talia: "Yes! Falling in love is where your love cup spills over and you love even more and it gives you goosebumps."
Talia: "Papi, you only have two gray hairs in your beard! That means you probably won't die before I'm an adult!"

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ezra's Birth Story

April 23, 2014

I woke up to my water breaking around 4:30 a.m. and as soon as I was sure... which only took about a minute, (there was a LOT,) I woke up Ben, who excitedly got up and took a shower. I wasn't having many contractions yet, and was surprised to have things happen in this order. With Elias, I went into labor and my water didn't break until just a little while before the pushing stage. Because of that, we had decided before to go to the hospital when my water broke, but, now I wasn't so sure. I got dressed while Ben was getting ready and called our friend to let her know (thank God for friends you can trust with your kids when you go into labor.) We decided to go ahead and take the kids and then go to the hospital and get through all of the paperwork.

The timing was perfect, Ben's alarm was set to get up and go to work just a few minutes after my water broke, if it had broken any later, he'd have probably been gone and had to drive back. It was a good day for him to be off, and happened where he was able to be with me three days and get the weekend in the middle of that as well. It was good timing for the kids to go to someone's house at the beginning of the day where they could go back to bed and everyone start on a sort of normal schedule. Our friend's car was in the shop at this time also, so not being in an emergency to get the kids there before going to the hospital was a blessing.

At the hospital there were so many ways I could see answered prayers. There were a million little ways every decision could have gone a completely different way and I could have been forced into something like induction, Cesarian, shots or other medications, and it didn't happen. I was able to refuse everything and sign waivers, not really what you want to deal with in labor, but much better than having no choice. The more nervous midwife who was having trouble letting me walk around and labor in peace went off shift and was replaced with a much more relaxed one. The doctors left me alone to labor for the most part except for a few instances and I was able to do it within the hospital's 6-12 hour policy for after water breaks. (Elias' labor was much longer than 6 hours, Ezra's was almost 6 exactly.)

Ezra was born at 10:45 a.m. and was 7 lbs, 12 oz and 19 inches long.

We practiced nursing all evening and he did really well… and apparently had at least 3 diaper’s full of green goo to show for it. I didn’t have the intense shaking like after Elias, just a little bit. The next day the pediatrician said Ezra was OK to go. The doctor released me as well, so 24 hours after delivering him, we were leaving. (The nurses acted surprised by that, but I’m not sure why.) I just know I felt like I was escaping jail as I left and the relief of not having anything else to refuse was intense. Recovery has been much easier than with either of my other births, and I'm so thankful for that.

So, now I have had a medicated, vaginal hospital birth with Talia, a natural homebirth with Elias and an unmedicated, vaginal hospital birth with Ezra. If given the choice, I would choose a homebirth again without hesitation. I’m thankful that this one went as well as it did and I'm so thankful for many answered prayers.   

Ezra is healthily beautiful and tiny (after being with Elias) and full of grins and cute noises.We're so happy to welcome him to our family!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pregnancy and the Mirage of Control

There are several ways this third pregnancy has been different from my first two. The biggest difference has been the constant contractions from early on, that have gradually intensified the further along I've gotten. Many of the other differences are mental things compounded by our location.

The hardest part of this pregnancy,  in addition to being away from friends and family and especially my midwife, is how the nature of pregnancy has so much of it out of my control: I can’t be sure I will go into labor when Ben is home, I can’t be sure that I can give birth without complications, my preferred method of birth (out of a hospital) is illegal here... Nothing that I feel responsible for is really within my control- which are reasons that were true with the first two, but being surrounded by a network of people I trusted made that easier. This time I can’t even take care of my own kids well when I go into labor, and this was the part that made me feel the most desperate.  I’m thankful that God has provided someone I feel I can trust  with my kids (which, trust is also hard to do) long enough to have this new one. With that major concern out of the way, there are only a dozen others to constantly give back to the one with ultimate control. I’m having to learn a lot about letting go and realizing that my "control" is really a mirage to begin with and that God really does order our steps if we let Him, even when everything feels so wrong and I would do it all a completely different way if I possibly could. I can’t have this baby at home, though (unless he just comes really fast, but still going for a completely natural birth, supposedly made easier in the British model approach to maternity care in this hospital...) I can’t change my location and I’m not in charge of the timing of the birth of this baby ultimately.

I've been pregnant the whole time we've been in Ruwais, since we first moved in here in October, so after the major hot months coming up (right after the baby is due,) I'm looking forward to getting back into running and other physical things. As with Elias, I haven't even reached my pre-pregnancy weight that I had with Talia though I'm in my 39th week now, and that's something that reminds me that though there may be many things I can't control, the things that I can, do make a difference.