Sunday, March 29, 2009
Yes, his chin is losing the battle with gravity there. Design flaw. It's chocolate, so we know just how to fix it.
Big hits of the night for Thomas, present-wise, were cars, Pixar's Cars clothing, a Maisy DVD, and the Thomas the Tank Engine bubble blower. He also took two little metal Pixar Wall-E and M-O figures to bed with him. Toy makers take note: if it's from Pixar and has wheels, you've got a winner. At least with our little guy.
He sang "Happy Birfday" over and over again and was SO excited to blow out his candle. Bethy almost let him unwrap all his presents himself.
Thank you to everyone for his birthday wishes that came in by phone, Skype, and computer. Isn't technology wonderful?
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Both our cars are dead. Snorkel Car died on the way to Mike's work, out in the desert, and now needs the transmission replaced. This is going to be a seriously pricy maneuver. Would you believe that it will be less expensive to have a rebuilt one shipped to us from the UK than to buy one here? So that's what we're doing. Craziness.
Bird Car, on the other hand, died on the way home from Mike's work, also in the desert. His co-workers were just driving by in the other direction to make a police report on the hail damage to their Jeep from one of the storms ripping though the UAE lately.
They immediately turned over the keys to him so he could come home to us, securing a ride for themselves back to work with a security man they'd called.
They later got another ride with another co-worker out to our house to pick it up, at which point I'd begged a ride from Cathy who then loaned their car to us for a day. This is the way of things among the expats. Unquestioning generosity.
It was imperative that Mike get home that day because our entire family had an appointment that day to turn in paperwork and get fingerprinted and photographed for our UAE identity cards, an appointment that was made 3 months ago.
We HAD to be there on time or be seriously out of luck. A co-worker had a 9 AM appointment that very morning, showed up only 13 minutes before his scheduled time, and was still waiting when we got there 7 1/2 hours later. We were almost surprised to see him. Almost.
There was a ladies waiting area, and another one for gentlemen. I waited on the men's side, though I did not sit down. This garnered me a few looks, but not the reception Mike would have gotten had he tried to wait on the female side.
We were separated into group by gender again when it was time for the fingerprinting (which was the most thorough and technologically impressive one I think one can experience. I think they can make a 3-D model of my hand now), as the technicians would be actually touching us. Mike and Thomas went to the male technician, Bethy and I were escorted to the female one.
The rental car we ended up getting was a total fiasco of paperwork and miscommunication, of course. Such is the way of things. The delivery guys were particularly irritable with us as it was prayer time, and on a Friday, too. We're such heathens. But we got the car, which was all we cared about. Bird car is still out in the desert, of course, but hopefully we'll get those wheels back on the road sooner rather than later...
Today is Thomas' birthday and I need to get going on making him a cake. He wants a pink cake with a particular caterpillar on it. The caterpillar is a yellow one that graces his favorite Pampers. He giggles like mad when he gets to wear one...I consider this request an exciting design challenge.
Bethy, however, is throwing a fit, claiming that as Thomas is a boy he should NOT have a pink cake. I figure, the kid likes trains and cars and climbing and throwing things, he can like pink as much as he wants.
Bethy had Strep throat, which in itself isn't that interesting, but isn't it interesting that here I simply walk into the nearest pharmacy, say " I have a 6-year-old with Strep" and the pharmacy techs obligingly hand over the antibiotics without a prescription?
The antibiotics may or may not have caused Bethy's rash that looked enough like chicken pox (but wasn't) for the school to send her home...
Rani babysat Thomas while I took Bethy to the doctor for her rash. When we got back home Thomas stank and had terrible diaper rash. I didn't say anything. Rani vehemantly protested her innocence, "Madam, I was not near him, he was playing madam he did not tell me, madam."
At this point Thomas tearfully asked for "happy baby" which is what he calls diaper rash lotion. There's a cute picture of a smiling infant on the container, you see. Rani said "He only said this, Madam." She thought he was saying habibi, which is Arabic for "sweetheart", and is an endearment I use around the house.
The birthday boy in his birthday suit
I couldn't have expected Rani to know "happy baby," wasn't perturbed about it, but it was a shock to find out upon further, gentle questioning, she also doesn't know the words potty and diaper. Diapers are of course "nappies" here, and potty she thought was the Tamil word poddi, or something like that, which means small. Why she would think Thomas was speaking Tamil, well, who knows?
With any luck it won't matter as she'll be more on top of checking his diapers. She babysits only once a week as it is, so his little bottom is probably in good shape.
Here's to Thomas and his little bottom turning three today: Hip hip hooray!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
After my moaning about the rains being over, Dubai thrilled us with an abrupt change in weather. From sandstorms, wind blowing the sand across the roads, and heavy, thick air in the morning suddenly we went to spectacular thunder and lightning as Cathy and I ran in Safa Park, (and thank you to the Parks Department for providing the thoughtful rubber running surface.) Then...RAIN.
We'd just finished one good hard lap and decided to not press our luck, perfect timing. Not that we didn't get back out to stand in the pelting downpour for a moment. Other runners went by, one Indian man giggling madly. It is possible there were a few "whoo-HOO!" whoops from our general direction.
Liquid bliss. Cathy and I drove out to the beach to watch the lightning cracking across the sky. The streets flooded, recklessly driven cars slid and crashed, trees toppled. Fantastic!
This morning was more of the same, raining and crashing, delightful. My Scottish neighbor and I gleefully delighted in the "just like home!" aspect, then ducked our heads and went back inside.
Doesn't get better than this.
Thinking of the book: All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, well, Bethy is going to kindergarten with children named Dhruv and Jae Hyun, Aryzhan and Mohammed, Diego, Tia and Fatima. Of course with the British population there is also a Max, a Lewis, an Alex, and another little Beth, also from the UK, who is her best friend. Two other little girls are from the US as well, 3 out of 20 children in all.
Mrs Potts, Beth and Bethy on Sports Day
Her teacher, Mrs Potts, is British woman who spent many of her young years as an expat kid in the Phillipines. We knew we had a winner when Mrs Potts told the story of going to school in the Philippines and being told that she was spelling words like color (colour) and favorite (favourite) and center (centre) and so forth the wrong way, an upsetting experience for a child. Now she teaches her students that some special words are spelled two ways, and that both are correct.
That's a lesson that can go far in a lot of ways.
Walking into the kindergarten corridor the colorful walls strongly communicate that everyone comes from somewhere, and that each child loves their country and their heritage.
There are posters in pen and crayon that say things like: "I love Iran" and, more formally, "I honor my country and my heritage by preserving traditions"
A recent unit for Bethy's class was all about the beach: types of shells, environmentalism, learning about tides, and a field trip. Each child was supposed to draw a picture of their "Perfect Beach". Here is Bethy's:
My Beach By Bethy
I am going to the water and it just rained. The sun was shining and now it stopped raining and there is a rainbow. The beach is in Seattle city. My Mom and Dad and brother are on the beach with me.
Someone is also staying true to her roots.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
We were pleased this morning by a sprinking of rain. The kids and I dashed out to savor the last bit of precipitation; soon enough those clouds and blue skies will become a distant memory and the skies over the shimmering sands will stretch away white and empty. We hear on the radio that there may be more showers over the next 24 hours, though they accompany sand storms with high winds.
For us this translates to commutes being more dangerous, and our cars will be completely filthy. We are lucky to live in the Springs: it is green and well protected from a lot of the winds and flying sands. For the workers out in the desert, however, our concerns would seem petty, to say the least. They will wrap their colorful, ever-present scarves around their faces beneath their hard hats, bend into the wind and trust that if conditions get too bad they'll be brought in out of the storm. I know Mike's jobsite doesn't try to do any work with the 100+ cranes onsite when the winds and sand start whipping up and will shut everything down for safety reasons, if needed.
With all this, it hardly seems I can justify complaining that I miss spring flowers, especially with the festive bourgainvilla blooming it's heart out in the garden. (There are no yards, they are called gardens, regardless of landscaping or not. Ah, those Brits...) But I do. I miss the crocus, the daffodils, the tulips, the cherry trees showering their white petals over the lawns.
So it was with a joyful heart that I purchased these today:
They could have charged me pretty much anything for this pot of happiness.
Truly, I know we are lucky to be here in this beautiful place, together with our new friends and with the support of home. It's probably the slipping away of Dubai's incredible winter weather that's making me ache for the mountains and rains of Seattle.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The way he says "Eeeeee-ba" is incredibly cute, in what I think is a conscious imitation of Pixar's Wall-E saying "Eve-ah". (If you haven't seen this film, you really, really should. It's wonderful and thought-provoking and you can watch it with kids!)
Thomas was doing his turtle walk long ago, (one of my favorite games...I can keep up with him when he's a turtle!) but now he has a real turtle to do it with. What could be better?
Captions for that last one, anybody?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Our new Scottish neighbor noted that Thomas and I were both wearing green, and when I said it was for St Patrick's Day he said "Well, I'll have to go dig me up a Guinness, then."
Monday, March 16, 2009
Having kids, I constantly miss the moment, the look, but I keep trying. Some things, however, are probably not going to have a second chance.
Like the time at night when we were driving along with friends and saw three men trying to push a tanker truck. No really, they were giving it all they had.
We laughed so hard it's amazing we didn't bust something.
Or the time Mike said "I saw a picture for you: workers sleeping during the heat of midday in the shadow of a stream roller's roller."
Then there are the women running on the track at Safa Park in their abayas with only their eyes and white Nikes showing. (I'll never get a photo of this unless I get really sneaky.)
Along those same lines, though far more sinister, or is that humorous, was last week during the Predictor. We charged around the corner and Darth Vader was running in Safa, apparently later chasing an unfortunate fellow Dubai Road Runner, selected at random, with his lightsaber. Fortunately that particular action was for the camera, albeit not mine, and YouTube benefited at a later date.
Of course, the guys holding a very long aluminum ladder along the side of their car by lacing it through their arms was memorable. It stuck out quite a bit, front and back as they drove down the freeway.
I did get a photo of the guy unicycling on Umm Seqeim Beach:
And then there was IKEA, trying to sell sand to the Arabs:
(I mean, come ON! I don't care how clever your marketing is, this will not work.)
Then, in our own house, there was Thomas and his Burqua-bedecked train, thanks to the locally crafted wooden nesting dolls we acquired:
Got a shot of that.
Friday, March 13, 2009
"Yup," I said, completely and utterly undeterred. I was bringing home an espresso machine and a turtle. I figure balance is important.
She's surprisingly fast and noisy, rustling around in the grasses and leaves. Her shell is about the size of my hand. So far she eats lettuce and cherry tomatoes and grapes.
Mike says it's on my head when the kids kill her.Sometimes he is awfully cynical.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I run with (OK, behind, until he's long gone) a super nice guy named Adrian Hayes during the Predictor. It was one day last fall that the announcement was made at the run, much to our delight, that he'd been inducted into the Guiness Book of World Records for the "fastest 3 poles": the North Pole, the South Pole, and Mt. Everest. Adrian had already garnered my admiration by training by pulling a large tire tied around his waist, as he runs thorough the sand. Small children often pile onto the tire for a ride.
Next, in January was the Dubai Marathon. I'd made peace with being injured and not ready to do the full meal deal there of 26.2 miles (42.2 kms) and ran the 10K with Cathy instead. Had I run the marathon I would have not only missed out on her company and meeing the guy wearing a marathon-issued sweat headband and "riding" a camel costume:
but also I would have missed this:
Haile Gebrselassie, the marathon world record holder, one of the greatest distance runners in history, crossing the finish line in the pouring rain and whipping wind in the 8th fastest time ever, as the Ethiopean posse (pah-sAY, say it with me now) crammed in the stands and who'd been working themselves up into a frenzy for quite awhile, went completely crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs, waving the green, yellow and red of their flag and Haile banners. (Like we weren't going beserk too. We got to be right there to see it.)
He is, by the way, a little guy. I don't know how he does it. He missed beating his own record, for which he would have been given an additional million dollars, and you could have forgiven him for being slightly miffed about that, but no, he has the biggest, best smile, which we got to see a lot of. You couldn't help but love this guy, because you could see he loves to run.
The jubilation over the marathon lasted days; Graham got a PB (personal best time) and was over the moon, Cathy and I immediately began planning for our next races, happiness abounded.
The next brush with greatness was very quietly carried out; few people even heard about it, which is indicative, I think, of the man who did it. Richard Donovan, the 42 year old Irish ultramarathoner, who was first to run a marathon distance at the North Pole, won the inaugural South Pole marathon, won the the Inca Trail Marathon, the Everest Challenge Marathon, the Antarctic 100 km and the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race...OK, you get the idea. The guy is amazing.
Apparently deciding that he needed another challenge, Richard set out for yet another world record by running 7 marathons, on 7 continents, in 6 days. Me, I would consider it insane to try flying the 26,719 air miles that he endured, let alone run marathons at each stop, including Antarctica. More power to him.
Runner's World sponsored, and the runs were to be for GOAL, a humanitarian organisation that does good work, particularly in Darfur. Richard didn't want a media circus, however, and the running community was quietly asked if there were any runners in Dubai who'd like to join him around Safa Park for his third of the 7 marathons. Would we? Holy cow!
So, it was on a bright sunny morning that Thomas in his stroller and I ran, in a very small group, a few of the 42.2 kms with this legend. And Thomas climbed on and off of his what must have been very tired thighs, several times.
Richard was sleep-deprived and looking weary at this stage, having already completed marathons in Antarctica and Cape Town but he kept at it. There were just a few of us there, no press or hoopla, just a guy doing what he does well. Thomas got to hold the finish tape for him to run thorough on his final lap in Dubai, he thanked us, then headed for the hotel for 2 hours of sleep before boarding the next plane to go run in a blizzard in the middle of the night in London.
I was tickled to find photos of Thomas and I on the 7 continents website, http://www.worldmarathonchallenge.com/live/6.html. (SO worth a click. Thanks to them for the stroller photo above.)
Richard even wrote me an email later, thanking us for the support. He did indeed complete his world record 7 marathons, in Sydney Australia, in 5 days, 10 hours, and 8 minutes. Like I said, amazing. I'd like to put a plug in here for GOAL...you can read more by clicking the "Charity" tab on the above website.
With all this greatness swirling around me, and then the Wadi Bih Race, (which Adrian's team won, by the way!) I began to feel, perhaps, just a little bit mediocre. I mean, yes, I run, I have a fun time and am grateful, but is there something more...?
I know that even if I threw myself whole hog into running it will be a fluke if I ever win something. I'll never be the fastest or the best, and I don't mind being ordinary, prefer it, in fact, but what would it be like, how would it feel, to do something great? Sure, I'm happy enough, but what would it be like...?
The week after Wadi Bih was the RAK Half Marathon. RAK stands for Ras Al-Khaima. Honestly, with Wadi Bih using all my mental and physical energy, I'd barely even given the RAK a thought beyond paying the entry fee and booking a hotel room for our family.
The RAK is the world's richest half marathon (yes, yes, we get it I can hear you saying) and world records were expected to be broken again that day.
The day of the race I met up with a good group from Mike's work who's decided to run the half as well. Mike said that it was all my fault, that most of them were recreational joggers for whom this was tantamount to a suicide mission, and look what I'd started. I was a little bit dumbfounded by this. Er, they were inspired to run by me? Nah, couldn't be.
Arab bagpipers played, to our delight, and the race began in the early morning. I ran completely alone in the crowd, and was only a few kilometers into the thing when I realised I was having a ball. I was greeting and thanking each race volunteer as we passed, grinning at nothing in particular like an idiot, the legs were smooth, arms moving in perfect rhythm, la vie en rose.
The kilometers fell away, I chatted briefly with a few other runners, then put on my snazzy little Christmas gift from Mike, the teeny tiny Walkman with my favorite running mix, and enjoyed the tunes as I waved and called out to the spectators along the route.
I yelled out to the elite runners as they flew past during the out-and-back portion of the course, then to my running friends as they came along, having a great time. My pace was dead-on consistant, legs were good, this was great.
As we came to the final part of the race, first I saw Graham a ways out from the congregation of spectators at the finish line "Well done Natalie! Very good time, keep going!"
Then as we got closer another friend "Go Natalie!! Go Natalie!!" then another friend, and another, a chorus of "Natalie! Natalie! NATALIE!!!!" coming from both sides.
The tall runner in a reddish-orangy shirt next to me, both of us now in a dead sprint laughed out loud and gasped "Natalie! You're a celebrity! A superstar!"
I laughed too. "I guess I am!"
We pushed even harder, racing each other until the finish banner flashed overhead and the timing chips on our shoes caused the requisite beeps from the mat as we flew over, marking our times.
We shook each other's hands, still laughing. "I'm Natalie!" I said to my fellow runner, "What's your name?"
"Mike." he grinned, British accent (Mikes are good guys.) "Well run. I've never run with a celebrity before."
A crowd of friends cheering my name at the end of a good solid 13.1 miles, more to finish behind me, a PB at 1:54:46, within the top 100 women runners. What could be better than that?
Maybe that's what it feels like...
(Special thanks to the wonderful race photographers at RAK for the photos)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Here are some photos from yesterday afternoon on the Umm Suqeim ("OOhm Suh-keem") beach. On this day we met Cathy and her kids and played hooky from all responsibility. Good Dubai-esque sort of thing to do.
At the very worst today you'll have to go dang, lookit them out on the beach in wintertime...
Saturday, March 7, 2009
There was a knock at our door the other day. Outside were two little girls in their school uniforms. "We're collecting money and toys for the children in Gaza," they chorused in unison. I threw some bills in their jar and the little girls said thank you and went on to the next villa.
"What's Gaza?" asked Bethy.
Sigh. "Gaza is where there's a war, sweetheart."
"What's a war?"
OK, here we go. "A war is when adults are killing each other, a lot. Bad things happen. Sometimes kids get trapped in a war and they get killed by mistake too."
Bethy was quiet for a moment. Then she said, "Mommy, I have lots of toys. We can give some to the kids. I didn't know or I would have run upstairs and gotten them and given them to the girls to give to those kids trapped in the war."
I told her that we could go put some of her toys in the donation box at the grocery store any time she felt like it.
Then Bethy gave me a big hug and I gave her one back.
A little boy of three sittin' on the floor
Looks up and says, "Daddy, what is war?"
"Son, that's when people fight and die."
The little boy of three says "Daddy, why?"
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Somebody had a birthday last month and I would be lax if I didn't post a little something about it. After all, she's a pretty wonderful and important person:
Bethy turned 6, and being 6 year old girl is a lot of work. For one thing, purple, pink, or rainbow? Unicorns or puppies? Which stories and song at bedtime? Sleeping Beauty or The Little Mermaid? Grown-up silverware or colorful IKEA forks and spoons?
She also has kindergarten homework after long days at school (leaves the house at 7:15, back home around 4:30) and continues to miss the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday I asked her "If you could get on a plane to anywhere, where would you go?"
"Seattle!" she replied emphatically. "Dubai is TOO HOT."
Oh dear. However, she's made nice friends and has settled into the life of a expat quite well. Her birthday party was at a lovely place along Beach Road. (on the signs it says Jumeirah Road...no one else calls it that but the maps persist, confusing tourists and newbees alike). The store, Bead Palace, is owned by a Canadian from BC (immediately I latched onto her familiar accent with total joy) and Bethy got all the balloons and bracelet and necklace and bookmark making and shirt painting and eating of unhealthful foods that she and the other kids could stand.
In addition to the cookies and popcorn and juices, colorful cupcakes were made for Bethy as a present from our friend Dalia (tasty) and the pièce de resistance was a chocolate fountain (evil, but it was Hersheys, and even the grown-ups got a piece of that action.)
She was SO excited that Thomas had to stay home. Guess being a big sister is a lot of work too.
Some things about kids' parties are quite different in Dubai. For one thing, the presents are most assuredly NOT opened at the party. Surprisingly, Bethy was OK with that. For another, generally speaking, the parents dump their kids and flee the scene, returning at the appointed time. However, we had a good and caring group and even a couple of Dads were there to help their daughters with the crafts. The parents who fled made sure their kids were OK with it first, and also made sure I had mobile numbers to call in case of need. The store owner commented with approval that it was the most parents she had ever had stay. I was very pleased, especially since I had made it clear that they could stay or go as they pleased.
Bethy came out of her party feeling very, very special. Even though we didn't have the limo come to pick her and her guests and take them out on a yacht with a clown, no less (an option that showed up on our doorstep in a brochure and left us speechless with horror), she was tickled, well, pink.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Captured this reflection at Souk Madinat after several tries.
This woman is wearing the leather burqua mask I've mentioned in the past, but rarely am I in a good position to take a discrete photograph. Lots of zoom for this one, and I'm skulking behind a pillar in the Gold Souk.