Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Break 2013: Distance Heightens Appreciation of Family

Ben's teaching position get's three breaks: summer, spring and winter. For the summer break, since we hadn't been in Abu Dhabi very long, we just took a short trip up to Spain and Portugal. We planned to spend winter in Abu Dhabi, enjoying the 70 degree temperatures and then visit the States in the summer.

If you know anything about plans, then you know that it is best to hold them loosely and be willing to adapt to new circumstances. A phone call from home about a serious family illness changed our plans and had us on a 29 hour traveling spree to the U.S. When it comes to priorities and plans, family is more important. It's nice to be able to make that decision at the last minute and manage to visit so far away. I recognize how much of a blessing that is this time- if it had happened at another time we might not have been able to come. Really, though the sickess is not the best reason to come, it provided an opportunity to show our family how much we love and value them. They are worth a trip home at the last minute if needed.

 While we are here we are soaking up the cold, rainy temperatures to bring back and remember in the desert. Otherwise annoying, drizzly drives are appreciated and filed away for searing, humid days and family is cherished. Homecooking and REAL hugs are savored. Would we appreciate family and drizzly days as much if we didn't live so far away? I wish I could say we would be as grateful, but it's invariable that human nature would have us taking things for granted in the way our tendency for survival drums down the high emotions with mundane normalcy... So perhaps living so far away is helping us to appreciate them more. Right now, we are thankful.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 11

Talia: (drawing) "I'm going to make more than one ant so that he doesn't get lonesome."
Talia: "Dates are like God's candy!"
Talia: (to Elias, who refuses ANYTHING that remotely resembles baby food) "Don't cry if you can't get it when you didn't want it!"
Talia: (looking at a rare Happy Meal of fries and chicken nuggets.) "Um, mommy, that's only junk food. Can I have a cucumber, please?"
Talia: "Can you tell me a story about a brown and white rabbit named 'potato?'"
Talia: "That's not bell pepper, it's the smiley faced kind."
Talia: (after seeing the silly string on the sidewalk from the 41st anniversary of the U.A.E.) "Thread you use to sew must be called serious string."
Talia: "Mommy, do they use a really big marker to make the stripes on the road?"
Talia: "Mommy, you're a really good potato head doctor!"
Me: (to Elias) "Here's some water."
Elias: (points from the water to his mouth.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Talia: "I was trying to read that book while I was sleeping, but it was hard 'cuz my eyes were closed." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Talia: "When I have just one ear plugged up, I feel like a boat that's going to tip over." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Talia: "Mommy, do you know what ribs are like? They are like a bowl that is cut in half and then turned around!" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Talia's art always makes me smile... Especially as it has been getting more detailed. Seeing the world from her perspective is always an adventure. Take this car, for example:
And these colorful bubbles with faces that we traced different round things from around the house and then filled in. Her faces made me laugh!
This picture is supposed to be a restaurant for people who have a tummy ache. The menu included oatmeal, fruit smoothies and mint tea.
We colored and cut out shapes and she turned them into this robot with a ball:
This picture is supposed to be a 3 seater bicycle with places for people to climb up. To me it resembles a disproportionate grocery cart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vanilla Yogurt Streusel Loaves- (Or, More Fall Baking)

Getting a cinnamon candle would probably save calories if my aim were only to make the house smell autumny. Except, couldn't that backfire? Then, I'd be smelling the cinnamon which would inspire desire for the baked goods, right?

1/4 cup of Oil
½ cup of rawSugar
1 cup of Yogurt
1 tsp of Vanilla
1 tsp of Baking Powder
½ tsp of Baking soda
¼ tsp of Salt
2 Eggs
2 cups of wheat Flour

For the Streusel Topping:

½ cup of Brown Sugar
¼ cup of Raw Sugar
1 1/12 Tbsp of Unsalted Butter, melted
½ tsp of Cinnamon
¼ tsp of Salt

I'll get back to you after I finish running...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seen in Abu Dhabi; 4

These ornate short dining tables were on display at one of the booths for the International Date Festival.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

International Date Festival

Once upon a time my grandmother handed me a large, dried, brown fruit. I was suspicious, but took it into the other room with my grandfather and put it in my mouth... and almost gagged. One of the only things I didn't like to eat growing up was raisins, and this tasted like a raisin, but with even stronger flavor. I could tell, without even chewing! So, like any 4 year old, I took it back out of my mouth. My grandfather then noticed that I hadn't eaten it (but not that I had tried) and asked if I were going to eat it, because if not he wanted it. What was I to do? I handed to him and let HIM eat the raisin-like thing.

 I later learned that this raisin-like thing was called a prune, and I actually like raisins AND prunes today... but that memory still leaves me wary of brown fruit that comes in the shape of a big water bug. So, even though dates are a very important part of the culture here, I could never work up the courage to try them, until our friends invited us to the International Date Festival held at the convention center here in Abu Dhabi.

 There were all sorts of nationalities and types of dates. One brochure claimed that there were over 300 different kinds, and many of these were available to taste. Some dates are a mushy paste inside, and I found that I did not prefer that kind. My favorite was from Saudi Arabia. It has a chewy texture and a nutty, almost caramel flavor. It's like eating candy, but better for you! Dates have a lot of fructose and about 20 calories each for the smaller ones and around 65 for some of the larger medjool dates. Though they have more calories than most fruits, they make a great substitute for processed sweets. They are also good sources of fiber, potassium and other important vitamins and minerals... so we picked up a pack of the kind I like.
Dates are made into many types of cookies, candies, and even date-flavored milk. We also got some "date honey," which is more like a syrup, to try.

At the convention, along with many types of dates to sample with coffee, there were also tiny date palm seedlings, a tower made out of dates, a date palm tree to climb- rock wall version, and other typical goods.

Dates are definitely more delicious than I thought!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Know You Have a Toddler When...

-There's a border of hand prints about two feet from the floor where he/she has walked around the walls.

-Picking up and putting him/her down all day is seriously toning your biceps.

-Every dining experience requires extensive floor cleanup afterwards. Unless you have a dog.

-Having time to yourself is a luxury, sleeping through the night is priceless and yet, time away from the munchkin still leaves you missing them not long after parting.

-On a normal day you can choose between having a clean kid or clean clothes, but not both and sometimes neither.

-You have learned how to interpret a variety of the toddler version of non-words.

-Playing chase is impossible because the child still wants to run TO you rather than away from you.

-Knowing your child feels loved and secure is a more satisfying feeling than any other experience you can imagine.

I am positive that this list is not exhaustive... and though true for my family, may not be for yours. What would be on your list?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kids Unscripted: Chapter 10

Talia (laying on my lap and Elias comes and pokes her tummy): "That tickles!"
Elias: "Tee-kow, tee-kow!"
Talia: "I am the 'Yes Ma'am,' Elias is the 'Yes Sir,' you are the 'No Ma'am' and Papi is the 'No Sir.'"
Me: "Would you like banana in your oatmeal?"
Talia: "Anything you would like to put in there, I would like!"
Me: "Muahahaha!"
Talia: "Mommy, I gave Elias some banana, but I licked the yogurt off first."
Me: "GROSS!"
Talia: "Mommy! Elias bit my toe!"
Talia: (singing a made up song) "Mama, Mama, Mamaaaaa, you're not perfect for my heart!"
Talia: "Vinegar, that's the name of a dog!"
Me: "Are you talking about Whitaker?"
Talia: "Yeah, Whitaker..."
Talia: (to me) "When you hug me it makes me feel special!"
Ben: (to Talia) "It's time to go upstairs and read a book."
Talia: "Yay! I was going to do that anyway so I'm glad that's what you told me to do!"
Me: "Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else get your way..."
Talia: "I put on my yellowest clothes."
Me: "Those are light green..."
Talia: "These were the closest to yellow!"
Talia: "What does my shirt she gave me say?"
Me: (spelling) "G, U, E, S, S- it says 'guess.'"
Talia: "But I can't guess if I already know!"
Talia: "What would happen if you put fish on the clothesline?"
Me: "Why would you put fish on the clothesline?"
Talia: "We would put them there to dry before we ate them!"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cinnamon-Apple-Stuffed Bread; (or the 'I Miss Fall' post)

My mom sent me a video of colored leaves falling, not leaves falling because they were so thirsty from the desert sun, but because it was fall!

 That made me start thinking about fall.

Abu Dhabi is particularly nice at this time. The 120 degree temperatures have dipped down into the 70's-at-night-90's-by-day' range and should stay there until April or May... it's gorgeous weather! It's just not fall. So, we compromised by filling the house with a different kind of fall: the smell of baked cinnamon and apples put inside of a braided bread.

This creation, inspired by, begins with three peeled and cored, and then sliced apples.
 Then, if you have a good helper like I do, get them to squeeze 2 teaspoons of lemon juice on top.
Then, they can add the 3 tablespoons of raw sugar, 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and mix it up.
While the apples are baking at 350* for 15 minutes, mix 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup of raw sugar, 1 tablespoon of instant yeast, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of warm water and 2 1/4 teaspoons oil.

On a greased surface, knead the dough and roll out into a 12x16 inch rectangle. Use a pizza cutter to make strips leaving 1/3 of the center solid. Fill the center with baked cinnamon apple mixture and then braid it up!
Bake at 350* for 25 minutes or until brown. Enjoy the fall smell while it's baking. 
For a simple glaze, I just melted a little butter and added raw sugar to brush on the top and finished by sprinkling with cinnamon... it was not super sweet this way, but still tasty. The original recipe has a glaze if you're interested.
And then take a bite!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Seen Around Abu Dhabi: 3

(Photo property of Roula Corm)
The most expensive cappuccino in the world: Cappuccino with real gold shavings from Emirate Palace.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Favorite Homemade Granola Bar Recipe

Ben gets hungry at work. Ravenous by the time he gets home, if he doesn't have protein... So I make him granola bars. (Annnnd, I might like them just a little bit, too...) "Roasteries," which were a new concept for me- places with barrels of dried fruits and nuts of all sorts, are very common here. It's easy to find and not super expensive to buy different kinds of nuts, which actually keep one full for longer than two minutes, since sometimes he doesn't have much of a break for lunch.
This is my favorite protein-packed granola recipe, though since the protein comes from nuts, it is also full of those natural fats found in nuts, so don't consider this necessarily a "healthy" recipe- but it is natural and uses real, whole foods. The cool thing about making granola is the fact that it is super easy to personalize- just switch out the things you don't like for things you do... but try to keep the ratio of dry to sticky ingredients the same overall so that it still forms a bar.

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup raw/brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)

Heat on stove until sugar dissolves and then remove from heat and add peanut butter, then add to dry ingredients:

2 c oats
1 c sliced almonds (raw)
1 c sliced cashews (raw)
1 c walnuts
1/4 c flax
1 c favorite like dried fruit or chocolate chips.

Line 9x13 with foil or wax paper and bake at 350 until brown to your liking. I usually bake around 20 minutes. I slice while warm and then let cool, and wrap individually to send in lunches.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seen in Abu Dhabi: 2

Did you know the locals here are called "Emirati"? The men wear all white usually (but sometimes wear other colors) and the women wear all black- because of this, some souvenir shops sell salt and pepper shakers in the form and dress color of Emiratis.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 9

Talia: "I'm going to give you a point every time you laugh or have fun!"
Talia: "I need more than one person to not be lonesome!"
Talia: "Babies are the cutest kind of people!"
Me: (to Elias) "Do you want a bite?" (putting it in his mouth.)
Elias: *Elias shakes his head 'no' and spits it out. Then, waves at it and says "bye bye" and promptly eats it.*
Talia: "Mommy, do butterflies take baths?"
Talia: "Does the wind have hands?"
Me: "Would you like a cup of milk?"
Talia: "Can I have a couple of milk?"
Talia: "I'm glad there are no lions in our house!"
Me: "Me too... Why did you say that?"
Talia: "Because they go 'RAWR' and they eat you up!"
Talia: "Mommy, God did a good job when he made you."
Me: *speechless*
Me: (singing a made-up lullaby) "Rockabye..."
Elias: *opens sleepy eyes, grins and waves 'bye.'*
Talia: "I'm going to draw a sea-squirrel instead of a seahorse."
Talia: (wrapped in a brown bath towel) "I look like chocolate ice cream!"
Talia: "If we see a bug, should we spray killer-izer on it?"
Talia: "Mommy, can bees get fat from honey?"
Me: "I think we know what to research in science next..."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seen in Abu Dhabi: 1

A sight probably not seen many places besides Abu Dhabi, does this chair make you think of Aladdin?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The DIfference Between Having 1 Child and 2: part 1

A question I often asked veteran mothers of multiples was: "how did your second child change your family?" Neither Ben nor I wanted an only child, and we would love to have more, but that doesn't change the fact that going from one child to two is makes some big changes. I'm not sure what all of them are yet, (that's why this is part 1) as Elias is just now walking and not quite talking, which will both introduce new things, but I have noticed these changes:

Talia is learning the valuable character-building lesson of putting the smaller, weaker person before one's self. She entertains Elias when he cries and I can't immediately drop everything I'm doing to get him, because she cares for him and feels the compassion so many adults have lost for each other. Talia teaches Elias just as much as the adults in his life. One of his first words in the mornings is "Ta!" for "Talia" because he wants to go see her. His smile when he finally does, lights up the whole room! Talia is constantly explaining to Elias how the world works and, either he will learn words faster but not say them as quickly because she doesn't give him a chance, or he will learn how to get his 2 cents in also!

By no means do we find every moment rosy, and I don't know how we would grow if it were. Sometimes having more than one child means that the crying is multiplied. That same empathy that makes children feel each others' pain, also means when one is unhappy, sometimes it makes the other one cry too. This is especially true when they are both tired... but to be fair I have to also mention that the laughs are multiplied as well. Talia and Elias can start giggling at each other and build and build until they can barely breathe because they're laughing so hard. Those moments more than make up for the crying moments.

We haven't really noticed a change in expense yet, since Elias is still barely interested in anything beyond breast milk, we use mostly cloth diapers, and he's still considered a lap child for plane fare... but I know that day is coming. ;)

How did a second (or third, etc.) child change your family dynamics?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homeschool Science: See-through Animals

This homeschooling science lesson started with a question at lunch: "Why can't I see my food go into my stomach?"

 We talked about skin and muscles and bones and looked at them in a pop-out book.

Then we watched see-through animals on YouTube, like this glass-winged butterfly.

This is Talia's diagram of a glass catfish drawn with window markers on a clear package from something.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sinking Sand or Heavy Building?

Some teachers who live in the Mussafah section of Abu Dhabi had their car garage collapse recently:

 The two reasons suggested by The National (U.A.E. newspaper) so far include: "Building in the UAE is often complicated due to the sandy soil, according to engineers" and "The weight of the garden is an equally important consideration. Mr Saadi stressed gardens 'must be included in the design stage' as soil was 'very heavy'."
Thankfully, we haven't heard of anyone being harmed, and insurance should cover the damaged cars.
Video footage: Here

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 8

Talia: (to me about Elias eating little pieces of banana) "He's like a whale eating up little people!"
Me: "Whaaat! That's morbid!"
Talia: "Why would it be bad if an elephant was in your room and it turned into a balloon?"
Talia: "Bottles, cups, bowls... I can drink out of almost any dish!"
Talia: "Those are silent words, aren't they?"
Me: "I guess if I'm just reading them in my head..."
Talia: "Tickles make me feel itchy!"
Talia: "What's that?" (pointing to a paisley shape) "It looks like mean eyes or a tear sideways."
Talia: "I think my nose is confected..."
Talia: "I love you more than a duckie loves water!"
Me: (to Talia) "You have something on your nose."
Talia: "It might be an eagle..."
Talia: (explaining a drawing of her version of the inside of a dinosaur) "and this is the dinosaur's ear muscles!"
Me: "Why does a dinosaur need ear muscles?"
Talia: "This is a special dinosaur that moves with its ears."
Talia: "Elias, you're not supposed to share boogers!"
Talia: "Mommy, I think this crayon is a violet red and this one is a violent red."
Talia: (eating tuna) "Is this what whales taste like?"

Talia: (eating soup) "It burns my throat but it doesn't catch it on fire."
Talia: "What happens if you sit on the moon?"
Me: "You wouldn't be able to breathe..."
Talia: "But not if you climbed down the tree beside it."
Me: "Wow, Talia, you read fast today!"
Talia: "It's 'cause I'm smart from eating tuna..."
Talia: (squirting lotion on her legs) "Ooooh, it looks like Arabic letters!"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Traveling with Children

I have heard many people talk about putting off traveling while their kids were small or while they had kids at all. Traveling with children IS challenging:
-You DO have to plan everything in advance if you want things to go smoothly,
-You DO have to be flexible to changing those plans,
-You DO have to go slower and break things down into more manageable chunks for little ones, and
-You do get glared at by other people when the kids get tired and cranky and cry... but it enriches life in so many other ways that we think it's worth all of this to travel with children. Along our journeys, we've come up with a few common sense tips that (sometimes) work for our family.

-Always pack snacks. We usually brought a bag of fruit and sandwich makings when we drove the morning in the car to get to our next destination. Since Talia both fills up and gets hungry very quickly, this worked well to keep from stopping and spending money every time she got hungry.

 -Travel during the baby's nap time whenever possible. Elias is still taking a morning nap, which worked great with our road trip across Spain and Portugal; we drove all morning and the car noises helped him stay asleep. Usually. Then there are the occasional times it was raining and we couldn't find our destination and he was screaming. We recommend packing earplugs and investing in a GPS...;) No, actually, you have to remember to be flexible and willing to go slower and take more breaks with little ones so that they can enjoy the trip too.

-Pack a variety of things to do. When the baby wakes up we tried to make sure he had something to play with. Talia has a backpack with magnet games, books, colors, and a fold up paper dollhouse. Occasionally she is allowed to use the Reading Rainbow application on the iPad. Elias likes listening to the stories read out loud too. Eventually, even if you dole out the entertainment sparingly, they'll still get bored and get to learn how to make life interesting. Talia usually does this by making a very creative mess. For example, during one experience where she discovered her own entertainment, I looked in the back seat and noticed she had ripped a napkin into a million pieces to create clothes for her fingers to make them into puppets. Her puppet show was pretty funny and it wasn't difficult to vacuum it all up and at the time it was better to focus on the creativity than the mess.

 -Burn energy whenever possible. When we did stop for gas, food or to walk around, we tried to pack as much activity into those times as possible. Elias is able to walk if I hold his hands and Talia likes to run around; sometimes we race. Stairs are great. We try to sit as little as possible when out of the car.

 -Plan the trip in manageable chunks. No matter how well-behaved your children are, they still have a hard time being calm for long periods of time. Elias still needs to nurse, Talia needs time to get energy out if she's going to sleep at night, so 4-5 hours is about as much as they can take in the car at a time. (Me too!) We tried to plan our trip where we could spread our traveling out over time instead of huge monster trips in the car that took whole next day to recover from.

-Maintain a sense of humor. Like most aspects of parenting, traveling with a good dose of humor smooths so many things. Ben and Talia are always making up funny songs or playing with words and comparisons. When the baby cries and Talia kicks the back of the seat for the 15th time, sometimes we just have to laugh and remember they will not be little forever. Well, we do our best...

Traveling brings to life so many sights, languages and cultures that kids read about. If reading opens their world to ideas, how much more potent are experiences that are set in all sorts of different contexts? Having the experience of traveling as a basis for learning widens their ability to understand what they read and hear about and reestablishes many things they've already learned. One of the most important lessons we see our kids learning along with us is how people, while different in many ways, share many things in common all over the world. The world is bigger than one city, one experience or one culture but yet smaller and more connected than many are ever able to realize. Traveling lets our kids see which things are cultural, and which things are moral in any context. Racism and stereotypes are not as easily held in the mind of a person who has traveled, especially a child, because they have seen first-hand how different cultures have done things just as well or better than others; they discover more than one way to do many things. I do believe in absolutes, and that a child is able to see them more clearly with a broader world view.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 7 (The Portugal Edition)

Talia: "My heart is still beeping!"
Ben: (to Talia) "Is the water cold?"
Talia: "It's so cold it's making my mouth shake sadly."
Ben: "That's called shivering."
Ben: *BAM* with the flyswatter. "FLY!"
Talia: "I can't!"
Ben: "LOL, I meant 'there was a fly!'"
Ben to Talia: "What do you think we should name a girl if you ever do get a little sister?"
Talia: "Little-girl-pie!"
Talia: (about a scratch on her leg) "It looks like a sad face."
Talia: "Old MacDonald had a farm ... and on his farm he ate popcorn, E-I-E-I-O, with a *crunch,* *crunch* here..."
Talia: (breaking up clods of dirt) "I'm thousandizing it to make it as small as salt."
Ben: "I think you mean 'pulverizing.'"
I walked into the dark room where I thought Talia had finally fallen asleep and this little voice exclaimed: "Shuhara!?"
('What is it?' in Arabic)
Portuguese neighbor to Talia: " Voce è bella!" (You are beautiful.)
Talia: "Inglès!" (English)
Neighbor: "Bella!"
Talia: "Inglès!"
Neighbor: "BELLA!"
Talia: "Mommy, I grew up a little bit more last night."
Talia: "I'm being really careful not to mix Spanish with my language, Thè."
Talia: "I'm making sign language in Thè"
Me: "That's a great thing to do on a road trip!"
Older Portuguese gentleman to Talia: "Boa tarde!" (Good evening!)
Talia: "Hola!" ('hi' in Spanish/Portuguese)
Talia: (to me after he walked away- thankfully) "He doesn't have too many teeth..."
Ben: (singing a silly road trip song about a grilled cheese sandwich)
Me: You could probably just have someone mail you bread and cheese and it would be grilled when it got through Abu Dhabi..."
Talia: "Then you could have a grilled cheese camel sandwich!"
Talia: (to Ben) "Mommy made you some tea.
Ben: "Do you think she loves me?"
Talia: "Yes!"
Ben: "It's good for wives to love their husbands and give them lots of kisses!"
Talia: (as only an innocent 4 year old can say) "Oooooh, that sounds exciting!!!"
Talia: "I'm playing passport so my animals can visit another country."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

International Public Transportation: Overcoming Fear

Growing up outside of city limits where the extent of public transportation was pretty much just the school bus option offered by the local public school, learning how to use public transportation has been exciting, intimidating and a bit frightening at times. Especially the taxis.

In Guatemala it wasn't safe for a non-Guatemalan looking woman to ride the way-over-capacity buses that were available. Especially alone. Buses were always getting shot up and their drivers killed or threatened for the bus fare. One Guatemalan friend said that when she had to take the bus she would sit as far from the driver as possible because of how likely it was for a bullet to travel in that direction. Needless to say, I wanted to keep coming home to my daughter and when Ben used the truck with a different schedule after school and I needed to find a safe way to exercise, I had to make a choice: learn to use a taxi or keep running laps around the enclosed garage like a gerbil in a cage. I learned how to use a taxi. Now, admittedly, I'm no poster child for courage, but this was a big step for me. Something Guatemalan taxis did was to always ask for a name and then try to link names and phone numbers and locations in their database. While I recognize that they were trying to streamline their process in order to offer better service, that didn't seem like a good idea to me. The last thing I wanted was someone hacking into the taxi data and knowing people's locations, names, phone numbers and approximate schedules. It just didn't seem smart to give all of that information in a country where kidnapping people who attended the school I taught at wasn't improbable. I used the school phone whenever possible and gave a different name than my own every time. There's a thin line between being smart with your information and being paranoid... and I'm not really sure where that line is. I realize that fear can keep us from really living, and we have to make smart choices and keep going realizing that many things are always going to be out of our control.

In Abu Dhabi, many situations are different. While I haven't figured out the bus system yet, they are not near as exciting as the chicken buses of Guatemala. There is even a separate place for women and children in the front, which I prefer. If anyone causes problems here they are deported, so I haven't heard of any shootings, kidnappings or robberies. I know this doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but it's much rarer. Stopping at red lights isn't as risky, since you don't have to worry as much about armed guys on motorcycles demanding money from your car window and then speeding off. You don't even have to give a name or really even call a taxi with a phone because there are taxi stands all over the place and rarely a long wait. Communicating in English with mainly Filipino, Pakistani and Indian drivers and learning my way around a new city are the most challenging things so far... But I still have difficulty getting over my initial fear of using the transportation and going places (and my natural tendency to just make homemaking my entire life and saving money.) However living an international experience means learning to do things that are uncomfortable sometimes because overcoming these things opens so many more opportunities to learn about the world around us and to create our form of community. I'm thankful for the friends I have made here who keep pushing me to learn new things and to expand my "safe" zone.

Have you ever dealt with fear of public transportation? How did you overcome it?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dubai Mall and the Dancing Fountain

I'm not very good at spending money and am not easily comfortable in big crowds, so I avoid malls whenever possible. Since malls here offer the largest air conditioned entertainment in the desert, that pretty much means I'm avoiding a good bit of where city life happens in Abu Dhabi. This does not bother me. However, when we were already in Dubai and with friends who knew their way around, it wasn't so intimidating. And a bit surprising...

While we were waiting to get in the restaurant I got to explore the first natural/organic food store that I've found here. I finally found good coconut oil. The coconut oil found in the markets is super processed and smells like lard... Coconut oil should smell like coconut!

We ate at the Texas Road House where, for the first time since moving here I heard the familiar sounds of harmonicas, fiddles and country twang coming over the speakers. Even if country music isn't your thing, if you are raised in the southern U.S. it reminds you of home. It was interesting to see the variety of nationalities enjoying food that was from my home country. The waiters were mostly Philippino, while the customers were mostly a mix of western expats, local Emirates and people from surrounding Arabic-speaking countries. It was amusing then, to see the people's reactions to the waiters and waitresses bursting into enthusiastic line dancing. I can't get the lady's expression who was across from our table out of my mind: it was a combination of shocked and amused and a little bit worried all at the same time!

We got to see the "dancing fountain," which was water synchronized with music and lights in a beautiful display that plays every 30 minutes and changes songs each time. Elias was trying to grab the phone part of the time, but here's a sample:

Talia liked looking at the fish as we were outside the huge in-mall aquarium. It supposedly has a tunnel that you can walk through, but we didn't have time this visit to do that. We did see a shark from the outside. The ceiling outside of the aquarium was twinkling with "stars."

She also really liked the butterfly ceiling decorations where what looked like a million shiny, white butterflies linked on strings were hung mobile style from a huge block of ceiling. Their wings fluttered with the wind, making it even more realistic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kids Unscripted; Chapter 6

Talia: "I am an astronaut who runs on top of the clouds!"
Elias: "Da-da!"
Me: (to Ben) "You are called 'Papi' so he's probably just making fun sounds..."
Ben: "That boy knows what he's saying!"
Me: "Talia, do not jump on the furniture."
Talia: "I guess I can't practice learning how to fly..."
Me: "Talia, what did you draw on the windows of the apartment in your picture?"
Talia: "Fuzzies!"
Me: "Why?"
Talia: "To make it pretty!"
Talia: (in the kid car on the front of the shopping cart) "Papi, am I doing a good job?"
Ben: "Yes!"
Talia: (Eye-level with the candy) "I see stuff you get when you're doing a good job!"
Ben: "Not every time..."
Talia: "Ok..."
Ben: "I can't smell the music!"
Talia: "You're not supposed to smell music!"
Talia: "How long are we going to live in Abu Dhabi?"
Ben: "How long would you like to live in Abu Dhabi?"
Talia: "As many days as I want to."
Talia: "It's the leaves of it..."
Ben: "That doesn't make sense..."
Talia: "But you heard it, didn't you?"
Talia: (to Ben with some dates stuffed with macadamia nuts) "Papi, what are those?"
Ben: "Here do you want to try one?"
Talia: "Chutternuts!"
Ben: "Whaaaa...?"
Talia: (to Ben) "I made this picture for you, but Elias ate some of it..."
Talia: "Was this fish caught in the water or did it grow on a tree?"
Talia: "My stomach is saying 'I'm tired!'"
Me: "Your stomach!?"
Talia: "Yes, because it sleeps when I sleep."
Talia: "I'm not laughing, it's just the kind of cry that sounds like I'm laughing."
Me: "What were Noah's sons named?"
Talia: "Jam, Ham, and Jatheth."
Talia: "When I was three you had to show me how to do the puzzle even though you didn't know how because I was too little to teach you."
Talia: (to me) "I just heard a 'flip' from your flip-flop!"
Talia: "That yawn was to tell you I'm not tired..."

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Meet one of our family's favorite treats: Bread with za'atar. I wasn't sure what all was in the mixture, so I looked it up (since I couldn't read the Arabic on the bag.) According to wikipedia, za'atar is: "a blend of herbs, (oregano, thyme and savory) sesame and salt." Bread with za'atar is usually a light, pizza shaped dough cooked with olive oil and topped with this combination. So simple, but delicious!
I was surprised to find za'atar available in tea as well.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Barcelona, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 14

Barcelona is the city of both our arrival and now departure, so in some ways it hasn't had a fair chance to be appreciated. We didn't stay long upon arriving, but went straight to Lleida. As a departure city we got to explore it a bit more, but were just tired of traveling by this part of the trip. However, we did see some cool things like:
Walking down a side street to a middle eastern food place (which had the best food I had the entire time I was in Spain, ironically) we passed all sorts of ordinary buildings and then *bam* there was a castle.

Ben checked out the American school  in Barcelona (for future reference of course.)

We went through the huge market on Las Ramblas, the most famous part of the city. Wow... introvert overload, but amazing amount of variety of just about anything!

One of the many fountains on Las Ramblas had a ton of pigeons. Talia seriously wanted to take one home, but I'm sure customs wouldn't have appreciated that.

In Barcelona the leaves were already changing colors and starting to fall. It made me wonder if the leaves were changing in Texas yet.

The plane rides back to Abu Dhabi went well and were, thankfully, boring and uneventful. Abu Dhabi is, seemingly, just as hot and muggy and full of wonderful people as we left it. We are glad to be back.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tassels in a Small World

While visiting the Homestead Heritage in Texas I met one of the girls who worked at the fiber crafts shop. When she found out we were moving to Abu Dhabi, she told me that a representative for an Emirate in Abu Dhabi had flown there specifically to order custom tassels for some sort of decoration. Now, every time I see a tassel, I wonder if it came from Texas.

Who would have thought?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Basque Country to Pamplona, Spain; Vacation 2012 part 13

Driving through Basque country was interesting, especially trying to read the signs written in the Basque language. Lots of k's, x's and z's seemed to be used. Benjamin admitted that next to Galicia, the Basque language and country would be his favorite in Spain. Maybe he just likes k's, x's and z's. According to some, Basque is the language from before the tower of Babel, "since only God could create such a perfect language." I bet you can figure out where that opinion originated. ;) However, it does have mysterious origins and a people who are proud of their language and culture.

Driving from the coast of Galicia, the landscape begins rocky and mountainous with amazing greenery and gradually becomes flatter and browner as we move east. The temperature also seems to go up, perhaps due to lower elevation. Our stopping point between Galicia and Barcelona was in Pamplona.

Pamplona is famous for its "running of the bulls," but we liked it more for the El Corte Inglès store that had super deals on kid's clothes, much cheaper than what I've seen in Abu Dhabi. We also saw some interesting architecture in Pamplona and on the road outside of it.

Next, Barcelona before we fly home!