Saturday, October 31, 2009

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night...

Before we get into today, let me say how thrilled I am to get such great response to my call for questions about life in Dubai...thank you all so much! I'm inspired and will have a post for each of you. And no, there is no "cut-off date" for my invitation. If you're hesitating to leave a comment, go for it! I really want to know what you're interested in. Hey, it'll keep me from blogging about running for a while...probably, anyway....

Here's to y'all.

Now, Halloween. It was SO lovely for Bethy to get to wear her costume to school, where they had a party and a parade with all the darling kids in their costumes. The American schools celebrate American holidays. I love this! Halloween this year was also far better supported by the stores, which was great. They had lots more pumpkins, at about half the price of last year, and decorative gourds and mini pumpkins...yeah! A small bag of candy miniatures still ran about $10, and even at that price I bought far too much, no surprise.

Death to pumpkin

We managed to find Bethy a costume she liked, deep breath of relief. She had wanted to be Jessie, the cowgirl from Toy Story 2. This is not a common costume. Even the big stores had essentially two offers for girls: witch or princess, (life is like that for us girls, isn't it?!) and I was having a particularly hard time trying to find cow-patterned chaps and a red cowgirl hat. Though it would have been an adventure, I was also reticent to try and have a local tailor make one for her. Language barriers could have ended up really tricky there.

I talked to some other parents about this and most of them had brought the costumes from their home countries or bought them online and paid the hideous shipping fees. I UPS-ed two pieces of paper to the USA to have one of our rental house's utilities put under our property manager's name and that ran me $60. Yes, USD. Yes, we begged the PUD to let us email or fax, no go. They wanted an original signature. Anyway, I digress...

Bethy was being an awfully good sport and was also willing to be a black cat, so we went to Carrefour, the largest hypermarket in Dubai. At the store there were no cat costumes, though I was all ready to make her ears out of pipe cleaners and a tail out of a feather boa. Craft stuff is harder to find here too (Oh, how I miss Michaels and JoAnn Etc) but those bits I could have hunted down in a pinch.

A nice stroke of good luck: Bethy found a pink-and-green Tinkerbell costume in the 0-3 year old section of the store. She crammed herself determinedly into the thing, and it worked! We already have plenty of faerie wings, found sequined green shoes (these things you can find, go figure!) and we were good to go.

Here she is (her teachers are Dr Seuss' Thing One and Thing Two, in case you're wondering), during the school Halloween Parade:

Yes, her costume fit like a swimsuit, and Mike and I both hesitated briefly about that, then decided it was no more revealing than a ballerina costume and went for it anyway. It's still pretty warm here, so as it was she was more comfortable than her brother in his costume.

Now, Thomas: He asked for a "T" Jack-O-Lantern:

Why, yes that IS a watermelon growing there in the flowerbed. We are ridiculously proud of our found produce (I knew it was a good idea to let the kids eat watermelon and spit the seeds outside) and Eba the Turtle hasn't tried to eat it yet. All of the sudden we had this huge yellow flowering vine taking over a portion of our garden, the gardener apparently approved, as it did not disappear, so I left it in there to see what it was. We were guessing cucumber or (eek) zucchini, but this was really a delightful surprise.

Looking it the "T" perhaps you are tempted to say I took the easy road on carving his pumpkin, silly you. When did I ever not put effort into whimsy? I also had him make the face he wanted for the front of the pumpkin:

There, a real pumpkin. And his costume...drum roll please...

Buzz Lightyear! Totally a hit with the neighborhood. Not only did it have wings and the swim cap was the perfect touch, (bald guys expecially loved that) but the thing also lights up and plays Tim Allen phrases from the movie. How awesome is that? It was from Disneyland Paris, according to the tag. Can I just gloat one more time that it cost an unnegotiated 10 dirhams ($2.72) at the Dubai Flea Market?

Here he is pushing the button to make it work.

Halloween seems to be mostly an American holiday. Well, duh, it's all about dressing up and gluttony. We're all over that! Did you see my beer?

OK, I fib, it was Mike's beer and we both worked at drinking the thing.

Only perhaps one out of every 25 villas in our neighborhood had a decoration or pumpkin indicating they were into the spirit and giving candy to the kids, so our family walked a lot. Out of the houses we visited, (and Thomas got 2 pounds of candy in about 90 minutes, most of that walking rather than treating) only one was American, so we felt pretty good about the other neighbors from all over the world adopting our ways for the kids.

We did have a BMW drive by, blaring scary Halloween sounds from the stereo and handing out candies, which was a new one for me, and very Dubai. At another the glamorous inhabitants were lounging on their front patio beneath a palm tree, smoking shisha while they were handing out candy and watching the little kids troop by.

We know there is one neighborhood that goes all out with decoration one-upping one another, but for us this year it was plenty to walk beneath the moon in the velvety warm night and spot the rare house giving treats.

Bethy's Pumpkin

At the end of the night Thomas' curls were soaked with sweat beneath his cap and he took it very happily off. Both Jack-O-Lanterns survived the night, and we are gleefully planting and roasting their seeds.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You got the best of my love...

The Natalie is back to bloggin' love. It was nice to be gone, and now it's nice to be back. This little computer diet I put myself on for a week, strictly limited to 10 minutes a day for emails only, and then, out of necessity, additional time for research about our upcoming trip to SE Asia, showed me a few things:

First, I can be a somewhat compulsive about the computer. Bet I'm not the only one out there like that! It was good for me to not be checking the inbox all the time. More time to take nice, deep breaths.

Second, I live for comments on the blog. They flat-out make me happy. OK, so I knew that before, but what I didn't know was this: if you don't want comments on your blog, follow my lead: write again for the bazillionth time about running and then announce you won't be online for a week. I can hear the wind whistling through the emptiness of my comment box. So sad.

Third, while I may have only spent 10 minutes a day answering emails and none at all reading blogs or on Facebook (the grand time-sucker of them all), I still spent plenty of time researching our upcoming trip (an activity I deemed "okay"), and didn't get the laundry put away, or all my household "spring cleaning" projects completed. But I thought about them a lot. Does that count?

Lastly, taking a little break really was refreshing and got the creative juices flowing. I recommend it! Suddenly I have ideas percolating for all sorts of blog post topics for you.

Now a question for you: is there anything in particular you'd like to ask, or hear about life in Dubai and the Middle East? I want to have scheduled posts pre-written and ready to go for while we're gone on vacation, so here's your chance, open questions about whatever you'd like to know and, as long as the coffee holds out and I can write about it without looking like a total moron, (I go for "partial moron", "sufficiently talented idiot", that sort of thing) I am on it for you.

Sharing the love.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

There she goes, there she goes again...

You didn't think it would be that long between posts about running, did you? Well, I took, in total, a month off from running, and the last week of that I did nothing in a last-ditch to try and rest the evil knee. Back to running, and now it seems like the only time the knees don't hurt is...when I am running.

Go figure.

After this enforced rest which was more painful, in my opinion, than the actual problem, now I no longer have the scary pain, just "watch it" pain. I'm dealing and am very happy to get back into it.

I haven't tried to run anything over 5K yet: I will. My old nemesis, the ABRaS 10K on the Arabian Gulf, is next Friday. I am woefully underprepared but am more than ready to get back into training for it. Of course I will let you know how it goes. Whether you want to know or not, actually.

In the meantime, I did cheat a little and ran a couple of relatively slow laps with a fellow runner named Mike Fooy. I had to: I was so inspired by what he was doing, you see. Mike Fooy is, even as we speak, trekking up in the Annapurnas, and he took with him money he raised to build a Nepalese orphanage.

He came to me a few weeks before this. To my shock he seemed to think that I had good ideas about fundraising. Ideas I have, about pretty much anything once you get me talking, but I am not an expert on anything. Apparently he was told that not only did I do the organising for the DRR Social (mostly true) but that I was in sales back in the States, (hardly), and that I am the go-to girl for such things. Er...

However, who couldn't get excited about raising funds for orphans in Nepal? More, who couldn't get excited about how he was going to do it: he decided to undertake a HUGE athletic endevour of 200 kms total of running, cycling, and kayaking, his three passions. He asked folks to pledge dirhams or fils per kilometer. (there are 100 fils to a dirham, so a fil is worth a little less than a third of a penny) Then he went out and did us proud.

He cycled 135 km, then ran 32 km (a marathon is 42, to give you perspective), and I came out to Safa Park to run alongside in support for 6.8 of those. For the crowning touch he kayaked around the World Islands (in the process of being created off the coast here) for the the last 33 km of his quest.

Running with him was fun, spiritually uplifting, and the knee not too bad until the last part of the second lap. It was unbelievably humid. Mike (Fooy) took off his shirt and wrung out what must have been at least a pound of water, (no, really!) ker-splat, onto the ground. I should have had my camera out. "It's so light now!" he exclaimed, putting it back on.

Mike Fooy, Graham, and Natalie

He gave us a good laugh by threatening to wring out his shorts too.

As you can see, he was absolutely alight, "glowing like a pregnant woman" as I told him, with the excitement and high of what he was doing. He raised, I believe, a good 10,000 dirhams. (appx $2,772 USD) which is pretty darned great!

Last I heard he was enjoying Kathmandu, and has already turned over the "cosh" to the orphans. How neat is that?

Switching back from Nepal to Dubai: also in Safa Park news, I should keep you updated on Bethy. She ran 3 Predictors, and had really lost interest about the time she attempted the third one. She dawdle walked most of it, which was total torture for me. So I told her, gently but firmly, that for Mommy's sanity, that when she wanted to race we would come back, and that that was OK.

The next weekend she'd sent me out the door to the Predictor with a "yeah, bye Mom" and obviously no regrets about not coming with me. I got a PB that day, which was no fun. It was the first time I ran one lap instead of two, still being careful of the knee, so of course I got a "best time". Last Saturday she perked up---"Mom! It's Saturday! Can I do the Predictor?"

Well, yeah!

So not only did she run nearly the whole time, she took a good 5 minutes off her best time. This was totally awesome possum, and we went to McDonalds to celebrate. She even got a hot fudge sundae. Pretty sweet. I was sooooo proud of her. Apparently the trick will be to not take her along every week...which is fine with me. Fun runs for the two of us some Saturdays, real runs for me the others.

That makes me happy!

It's been a good few weeks for my other friends in running too. The Dubai Road Runners Predictor Relay (say that fast while trying to get a sponsor for it...that's what I did for a couple of weeks!) was run a few days ago, and Graham, in gentlemanly fashion, invited me onto his team. Again, I was the representative American, the others being UK and S African.

The Relay consists or a team of 1-5 people, running 5 legs of 2.5 km. The fastest don't's those who get closest to their predicted time who walk away with the prize. No, no watches. Each runner says how fast they think they'll run it and the sum total is how the team is judged.

This makes it great for slow runners, for families, and it's a rollicking good time for all. The slowest predicted teams start out first, then are staggered, so that if everyone runs to prediction, the teams would all come in at the same time at the end. With some 40 teams it was a good thing that not everyone was that accurate!

Victorious Team H, #32

I was extremely pleased when our team came in fifth, less than a minute off our predicted time. However, my good buddy Nigel of the Headband and his team #32 took first prize again...for the third year in a row. He was tickled with his so-called hat trick, and was promptly and humorously examined for electronic timing devices. Not a chance: he sprinted in a great display of athleticism through the finish chute exactly, to the second, on time.

The cool dude shades, coordinating yellow headband and laces are great. The tongue sticking out is an especially nice touch.

See the guy in front of him? His team, #12, missed their prediction by one second. One second! Amazing!

Graham, Helen (ran 4th for us), Sharon (ran 2nd, in Graham's place, and unfortunately sprained her ankle), and Katrina, without whom none of this could happen.

Andrew taking off in position #1 for our team

Richard coming in at the triumphant end.

I ran in the comfortable 3rd position. No pressure. Enough time to get riled up before it was my turn, but not too riled. It was hot running in the sun, but a beautiful course around Creek Park and along (well, of course) Dubai Creek. And at 2.5 km, it seemed like my portion was over before it even started.

On our team, the most any of us were off was by a measly 38 seconds ahead if personal prediction. Too bad for that member of our team; he "has" to buy the rest of us a round of drinks next Friday. That's what you get for running too fast in this event.

I was definitely surprised, and the teeniest bit smug, to learn that I came in just 5 seconds faster than my predicted time. Perfect. How on earth that happened is yet another one of those little mysteries of life. Happiness galore...I did good for my team.

And I don't have to buy the drinks. Oh, luxuriating in the glory of it all...

{Just to let you all know, I am taking a week off from the's time for a little Dubai "Spring cleaning" in my house, and for that I need to back slowly away from the little box called a laptop that so sneakily sucks up all my time. See you next Friday when posting will be back with vim and vigor. Happy trails to you!}

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You got fins to the left, fins to the right ...

This one's for Ty and Alex. Thanks for giving us your tickets, guys. We didn't actually get to use them before they expired, but it's the thought that counts!

The H1N1 Swine Flu Virus being what it is, the new health policy at Bethy's school states that if you have any of its symptoms you must stay home until you have had 24 symptom-free hours. Bethy and Thomas and Mike all have colds, which translates to coughing and three missed days of school this week. Today, day three, I had to get out of the house. Fumbling for any sort of legitimate errand or outing, I remembered a long-ago promised field trip I'd failed to keep.

So it was off to the Dubai Dolphinarium!

We managed to make it there and back without crashing the car or missing a turn or getting lost or anything. Can you believe it? Woot!

Yeah, yeah, it only took 4 tries and 5 months. Sad, I know.

The kids loved the show of dolphins and seals. Standard stuff that I would have loved as a kid but now feel vaguely guilty about...darn those PETA people anyway. These animals were, to my untrained eye, at least, well treated and I told myself that 45 minutes of tricks for fish twice a day is far less humiliating than life in a cubicle.

Thomas was having a good time until the dolphins demonstrated their "singing". For whatever reason the bobbing heads with their mouths opening and closing and the dolphin noise cackling and chirping away struck him as very, very frightening. His eyes got all big and he hurled himself out of his seat, over the armrest, and onto my lap, (oof from me as all the air in my lungs was forcibly expelled) burying his head and refusing to look.

Who knew?

It took a while and a good amount of mommy cajoling to get him relaxed enough to watch the spectacle. Finally he did, in spurts, with intervals of face burying, then finally got into it enough to clap his hands with the music and go OOOH! with everyone else at regular intervals and enjoy himself.

I was most interested in watching the signals of the trainers, and what they could get their animals to do. The seals were amazingly trainable and definitely cute.

At one point a lucky little girl from Germany was selected to ride in a boat pulled by a dolphin. It was her birthday, and her proud papa had already won the painting one of the dolphins had created right in front of the audience (OOH! ). I was most impressed the dolphin could hold the paintbrushes, to be honest.

It was a nice painting. The Dolphinarium staff tried to start a bidding war for it, but...well, yeah. We'd already paid 200 AED to get in, and then I was planning on spending more after the show, so...

Anyway, after watching the girl ride around the tank, pulled by the dolphin, Bethy decided she wanted a dolphin and Thomas averred he wanted to kiss a dolphin.

I decided not to give up hope on getting the kids to pose with the dolphins for a photograph. And here it is!

Bethy thought the dolphin felt rubbery, and yes, it was, but not unpleasant. We all agreed it felt nice to touch the dolphin and that it made sense for a sea creature to be made like that.

Bonus for you that you get to see the new hair. After all my trust in my stylist she whacked it. Major poof-a-rama. What can you do?

On the other hand, it looks exactly the same when I get up in the morning as when I go to bed at night. I guess that's a bonus, though Mike and I have gotten some awfully good laughs out of the amusing and sometimes frightening shapes the topiary of hair used to assume after a night of slumber...

Good times.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whoomp! There it is!

{Tabletop that I covet from Lucky's. The center is a grouping of beautiful old wood blocks carved to stamp intricate batik patterns on fabric.}

Lucky's in the emirate of Sharjah is a place I have been meaning to write about since the first time we went. We had heard it was the place to go to get beautiful, eccentric, exotic, non-IKEA-esque furniture. Could not be more true, though you have to get to Lucky's...well have to be lucky to find it in the first place!

We don't go to Sharjah that often, though it's right next to Dubai, less than a hour of driving from our home. We have been to the Sharjah Aquarium, which the kids and I love, several times. Also have on our lengthy "must-do while we're here" list is the famous Sharjah Blue Souk. Other than that, the city is a bit of a mystery to us.

Sharjah is the most conservative of all the emirates, and I even donned a scarf over my hair the first few times we visited. I gave up on trying to keep a scarf on (it slips off and though I don't tie it in a Muslim fashion, it could cause confusion, so I decided to forget it) though I still wear the long sleeves. Seems like sweating a little more profusely is a small price to pay for trying to fit in a little.

In Sharjah, all the things you can "get away with" in Dubai, well, you can't. Getting in trouble in Sharjah would not be a good thing, and we watch our step just a little bit more, and get the tiniest taste of what living in a stricter Islam country might be like. If we were in Saudi, as a woman I couldn't drive and would pretty much have to wear an abaya. Can't complain.

The first time we tried to go to Lucky's we drove...and drove...and drove...all over the dang place. We had maps, we had what seemed like good directions, but you know, life is funny sometimes. We never did find it that trip.

That was a long day.

Second trip we did find Lucky's...down a road, roundabout, through warehouses and scruffy sorts of areas, lots of sand, U-turn, and then onto the correct road. And even then we weren't sure. Could this be the place everybody was saying "You have to go there, you must!" about?

A dusty old warehouse across the street from what looked like some sort of industrial dump? Lucky Nov. Gifts? Nothing that says, oh, I dunno, "Furniture" in the name? Was this some sort of elaborate hazing prank for newcomers and out-of-towners?

As it turned out, nothing of the sort. All wood furniture. These folks have never even heard of particle board. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. Hand carved. The stuff that you imagine in your house when you're dreaming of living in an exotic locale. Three extensive warehouses full. The smells of wood and varnish, and incense suspended with the dust motes in the sluggishly moving, very warm atmosphere that sends sweat running down your back. The sort of place you poke around in for hours or flee within moments, depending on your personality.

We were enchanted and couldn't wait to furnish our home. We didn't buy too much that first trip, just our bed (which we love!) and some tables they handcrafted for us. We chose the tops; in our case we found these with a horse on this one and a camel on the other, out of brass. This part was made in India, and then the workshop attaches the legs and carefully frame the top beneath glass.

The furniture runs the gamut from simple and plain to incredibly ornate and showy. The quality and honest workmanship is what we love, tending to go for simpler but still exotic pieces, bypassing the heavily decorated or painted things for those that resonate with us. The wealth of antique timber from across the Indian subcontinent is a feast for the eyes and senses.

Now, a year later, the weather is just about cool enough to go back to Luckys, (we've been saying forever we have to go back) and go back we did go this weekend. Now, you really aren't supposed to take photographs in there...but I am becoming a little bolder, and whenever I see that sign in a place that makes absolutely no sense, that is purely ridiculous, well, you get photos for the blog. I confess. I am a rebel. What can I say?

My first, admittedly whimsical impression of Lucky's was that it reminded me, strongly, of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark...when the Ark was put into a box and rolled away into an endless warehouse full of who knows what mysteries.

We still love the endless rows of furniture, the hunt, the excitement of finding real solid pieces to anchor our home in a town that, while I love it, sometimes feels a little plastic.

This trip we followed some friends there. Ironically we got lost in Dubai but once we got to Sharjah we drove straight to the store. Pseudo-lost on the way back out. Go figure. Mike told me, and I certainly did not argue, that we should buy things not just for here but also with an eye to taking back home. There is no way we could find this sort of thing anywhere else, and certainly not at the prices. I would guess we spent a third to a tenth of what we would spend elsewhere.

This time I held myself to just a large and relatively plain bookcase, (with camel cut-outs in the sides) a cabinet for our entryway (carved with birds), and also a wood honest-to-goodness camel saddle (how cool is that?!) and camel bells (more whimsy). All in all, it cost very little. They will re-stain and treat the furniture pieces to our specifications (dark and glossy) and deliver as well, all included.

Everything is done by hand, including the lifting and moving, and how they do it without a forklift, well, that's manpower for you. The workshop is in the fourth warehouse and Thomas and I watched a man crouching on the floor, patiently sanding pieces of wood with a small electric sander. No gloves, no safety goggles, checking the smoothness with his hands. Pots of stain nearby. He smiled briefly at us, but paid attention to his work. Unusual; most workers stop what they are doing to play with Thomas, even if only for a little while.

I imagined him crouched on that hard floor, working carefully and devotedly on our new purchases, and felt grateful.

Of course, we found more things we want to time. Oh, and there will be a next time, oh yes.

Bethy, taking notes and making sketches on her clipboard. Not a bad idea, actually. It was sometimes difficult to remember where we had seen a piece, the place being so extensive.

Lucky's leaves you hot and dusty and feeling like you've put in a good long day of honest work at the ranch...and need a shower! I can't wait for our pieces to arrive. Now, how to keep Thomas from climbing on the new cabinet...?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where fashion sits...

Uniforms are nice in that your child wears one for PE days and another for regular days at school. This is easy. No fighting about what to wear to school; the decisions have been made. The self-expression choice amongst wardrobe are saved for the weekends, and then she can wear anything she likes. Faerie wings? Sure! Dresses and funky outdoorsy sandals? Youbetcha!

However, on school days, it also means you need to remember to have at least one ready to be worn by morning every darned day.

I remembered to wash the PE uniform...but not to hang it out in time.

I take solace in the fantasy that I'm not the only mother out there who frantically ironed and then, having had her kid put it on, hairdryered, with one in each hand, the still moderately damp polo shirt before sending her child to school.

Bethy thought it was hilarious.

I thought longingly of the dryers of my USA life, days gone by...of warm dry clothing, socks sticking to staticky blankets, the fibers all sticking up and crackling, cleaning the lint drawer...yes, it's a sad state of affairs when you pine for a dryer.

The sun is doing an admirable job of drying the clothes, really, so perhaps it's longing for autumn that's doing this to me. I have been haunting the grocery store, hoping to secure an orange pumpkin (not one of the dapply green-yellow things that smell like pumpkin, and probably taste like pumpkin, but don't look like pumpkin!) before it's too late. I have not seen one yet, but I am sure we'll secure one for Halloween, Inshallah. (I still can't work that phrase into my everyday speech except jokingly...I am beyond redemption, I suppose.)

Traditionally garbed Arabs at the Dubai Flea Market

Thomas has his costume, and I am on the prowl for one for Bethy. She has, unfortunately, been very specific about who she wants to be this year, and though I could have it in a week from ebay, easy peasy lemon squeezy, as those British kids say, I am afraid I may have to take a photo out to tailors here and have it custom made. Probably will cost us less than the junky costumes I've seen so far for sale in the store. Thomas' outfit was procured at the Dubai Flea Market for all of 10 dirhams (and a lot of sweating in the heat). THIS was a seriously lucky find.

Wait 'til you see it, and no, I'm not telling.

Bethy and I braved the temperatures to go to the first outdoor Dubai Flea Market of the season. We felt dreadfully sorry for the folks who were trying to sell their wares, garage sale style, beneath the palms. Oh, but for a breeze! Of course, it made haggling really easy...everyone was drowning in their own persperation and most people, sellers and buyers alike, wanted to dump the stuff and go home to the air conditioning. And this was before 9:30 am, which is when we fled the scene. Amazingly, it was packed even with the heat! Even in the great outdoors we were surging over one another in search of bargains like restless cattle in a packed compound.The Dubai Flea Market ostensibly goes until 1. Doubt it did that day.

Bethy and I had tried to go to the indoor version during early summer and it was such a mosh pit we couldn't wait to get the h-e-double-toothpick OUT. At one point a woman actually snatched a toy out of Bethy's hand during that indoor one, which startled her so badly she began to cry. At first I thought is was a crazed bargain hunter but it turned out to be an overzealous maid protecting the seller, her mistress', property. The mistress was properly apologetic and sold the toy to Bethy for a dirham. Even waiting in the crunch to get in we were honestly worried about getting crushed. Utterly ridiculous. Never again.

At this version of the Market Bethy was in shopping heaven. She is learning to be good with her money, and had taken Mike's advice to save her allowance from the day before rather then spend it on a bunch of candy. As almost everything is expensive in Dubai, this is a fun exception, and her money goes waaaaaay further at the Market. She bought all sorts of fun girly things for her 17 dirhams, and was given other things outright. I cleaned up on books about Thailand, especially, a new fabulous hat for the races, and some other fun things besides Thomas' costume.

No, I still won't tell you what it is!

Really, you can buy anything at the Market. For instance:

No dryers. Or fans, for that matter. But everything else, pretty much.

Bethy said, after the buying frenzy that netted her outfits for dolls, a toy pet carrier, Barbies, (which she may have but must buy with her own money), sparkly pom-poms, faerie wings, books, art supplies, and stuffed animals:

"This is the best day of my life!"

Well, we sure got our money's worth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Twistin' by the pool...

It's taken us more than a year to finally take the kids and ourselves to one of the UAEs waterparks. There are many, notably Dreamland (next to our tax-free no permit needed not-for-kids liquid grocery store...therefore the waterpark has many tasty beverages available for the happy grown-ups) and Wild Wadi, which is here in Dubai next to the Burj Al Arab. Mike has already been to both of those on business trips. Therefore, as a family we went to the newest water park, the Atlantis Aquaventure.

Atlantis is the giant coral pink hotel out on the famous manmade Jumeirah Palms Islands, (, unmistakable from miles away with its huge arch.

Couldn't back up far enough to get a photo of the whole thing. Not even close.

200 dirhams apiece for the adults and 160 apiece for the kids (about $200 -hooray for the 2 for 1 coupons in the Entertainer book---yep, they have those here too!) earned us blue electronic entry wristbands. We'd gotten there just after it opened at 10 am under a hot September sky. The grounds are lush with tropical flowers and cleverly planned water rides flowing along sea-themed architecture. Lifeguards everywhere. Mostly Filipino and Kenyan, kind faces watching out for us at every turn.

Bethy and Mike hopped onto one figure-eight double innertube and Thomas and I grabbed another and we all set off down the Rapids ride.

There weren't too many other people in the water, through there was an excess of unmanned innertubes, unwieldy things which the staff were pulling out of the waters in a concentrated effort.

It was a blast. Thomas was impressively brave. The water was cool and pleasant, and the seemingly endless ride was just the right level of splash and speed, wave swells and waterfalls, interspersed with lazy river sections where we'd drift.

At the beginning of one of the fast sections there was a woman who'd apparently fallen off of her innertube. She was...rather large. Not huge, but definitely big. And completely hysterical. Two tall slender Kenyan lifeguards, their arms and legs like skinny sicks next to her heft, had gotten into the water and were trying to help her. She probably could have turned around and walked out if she'd tried in the least but was too busy screaming to calm down.

As it was the water was pushing her downstream into the fast-moving, steeper area, so the lifeguards walked her slowly down, holding her up by the arms and being extraordinarily patient.

The rest of us had gotten off our innertubes and waited in the pool-like calm area before the rapids. The drama escalated when a large man plowed through the water, wild-eyed, screaming what I can only assume was the woman's name. This was getting a bit Bollywood. He went down the rapids as well, without an innertube, arms waving and flab flapping.

We waited a bit longer and then a lifeguard waved us back on and downstream. I was a bit worried we'd come upon one of the non-riders and knock them down, but they were to the side beyond the fast bit. The man was screaming with new vigor, in the faces of the lifeguards and being heavily abusive and she added her wails to his. At first I thought he and his woman were Arabs, but upon further reflection I'm pretty sure they were from India or thereabouts. For one thing, she was wearing a regular swimsuit instead of a Burqini. Why yes, there is such a thing. It is "modest" swimwear which covers head, arms to wrists, and legs to the ankles. Here's a link:

Back to the story. The man yelled "She is pregnant!" and the she jumped in on this with all her might and added her even higher-pitched scream to his "I am pregnant! I am pregnant! I did not want to go!" Spittle was flying, whites of eyes showing, it was grotesque.

As Thomas and I floated past this total train wreck, I heard one of the Kenyans say politely and with firm dignity: "This is called the Rapids Ride, sir. "

Aw man. Give that guy an Oscar for a great line under pressure.

I could see reinforcements arriving. Good. We sailed on. A bit later we unexpectedly flipped over ourselves. Within seconds there was a guard in the water with us. I'd already gotten Thomas out from underneath the innertube, he sputtering and clingy. My sunglasses, my favorites that I've had for 10 years, and for which I should get idiot points for wearing to a waterpark, had flown off. The lifeguard snagged both our innertube and also caught my sunglasses underwater with his toes. I was both grateful and very impressed.

Taking a break for Thomas' sake, we ate overpriced food (the water was 10x the cost in stores, for instance) and Thomas indulged in his absolute favorite food: Belgian Waffles. In this case with bananas and whipped cream and Hershey's syrup. Why not?

Then the kids went nuts in the kids' area where deluges of water would cascade over everything ker-whumph at regular intervals, there were slides and climbing nets and lifeguards every 5 feet throughout the structure. There was no point for parents to even try to follow their kids, so we let them at it.


Mike went to try some of the big boy rides, lots and lots of fast moving action, but he didn't try out the ride of rides, the Leap of Faith. The Leap of Faith is a near-vertical drop of 27.5 meter drop...into a shark pool. Well, actually there is a clear tube at the bottom that you shoot through with the sharks all around. The sharks would not do well with being landed upon, so this works out well for both organisms. Outside of the tube in a giant tank, along with stingrays and multitudes of fish. It looked absolutely terrifying. The tube, not so much the sharks. They were cool.

Thomas and I watched as the truly brave (or perhaps truly foolish) plunged down and through that tube. By this time the sun was beating down and the stones under out feet had gone from toasty to HOT. We all burned the soles of our feet to some extent. I don't mean that our feet were uncomfortable. I mean burned. One of Mike's co-workers had blisters. Our kids didn't do too badly since they got carried as often as possible, but there wasn't enough shaded walkway to spare our tootsies.

The best ride was one that Thomas couldn't go on, but Bethy and Mike did. The same shark pool that the Leap of Faith zooms through also has this:

A dark winding ride that opens up to the turquoise light and a slow, undulating wave that floats riders through an underwater tube through the aquarium. Sharks and stingrays all around. Thomas would have been jealous but he was trying to stay awake. We were too tired to go explore the hotel, much as we would have liked to. Nicely, this week Bethy was invited to a birthday party in the Kids Club portion of the Atlantis Hotel. Sweet!

The Atlantis Hotel is stunningly opulant, sea theme is rampant throughout, and I loved it. From huge metal seahorses adorning the main doors to the enormous glass sculpture in one of the lobbies by---of course---Dale Chihuly, beneath a glittering golden dome, surrounded by giant murals depicting various myths of the sea. There are architectural tributes to the ocean and its creatures flourishing everywhere, to great effect. This place makes sure you know you are in the lap of luxury whether you want to be or not.

We liked it.

And the Kid's Club wasn't half bad either. Fabulous chocolate mousse birthday cake. Mmmmm...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Heat of the moment...

So, everybody wants to know where we're going for our next vacation.

Any guesses?

I can tell you these curly blond blue-eyed little dudes are going to get a lot of attention there.

Late November and early December we are indeed going to (drum roll please) SE Asia. We worked it all out with some great help from well-travelled friends here and comments on the blog. Here, without further ado, is our itinerary:

Thailand: Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi (River Kwai), and Bangkok (10 days)

and after that we board a flight to Singapore (3 days) where we'll spend Thanksgiving.

To round it out, a cruise (1week) that will take us up and down the coast in the Straits of Malacca and Andaman Sea on the Malaysia and Thailand side (Indonesia being on the other). Ports will include Kuala Lampur and Phuket Island. We will in all likelihood be the only Americans onboard.

Once again we braved setting it up ourselves from a starting point of, well, close enough to total ignorance. Good luck getting your travel agent in Kuwait to call you back during Ramadan or Eid.

Now we are starting to prep ourselves on a whole new set of manners (never touch someone's head, for instance, or raise your voice?! Are we going to have issues on that second one or what?) train schedules (the Orient Express doen't run that time of year, much to our disappointment) and start learning a little about the language, history, animals, dangers, money, sights and religions and...well, yeah.

Yes, the heat and sand may have driven us a little over the edge lately, but how excited are we to go on this trip, I ask you?

And now that you know where we're going, the big picture, anyone want to fill me in on details or great ideas as to what to do (or NOT do!) once we're there?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In your eyes...

Thomas, being three, has a perspective on Dubai that is the most fun to hunker down and share. Like all parents with verbose little ones, Mike and I are constantly grinning at each other over the top of his head at the latest pronouncement.

A lot of Thomas' time is spent in the carseat, and thank goodness he's a good little passenger, driving in Dubai being what it is. There are few direct ways to anywhere, and even with a year under our belts to learn the routes and lighter traffic, (thanks to the economy and folks going back home), it can still take forever to go do ostensibly simple errands. As Dubai is the only home he really remembers, he's used to it.

So he sits in the back on the lookout for his favorite things and the landmarks of his three-year-old existence. First and foremost is this:

The "BIG TREE!" Why yes, it is a cellular tower in the shape of a palm. At least two if not three times the height of the real palms along the road. How great is that? There are variations on this theme around town; there's one with coconuts, and another one with a pineapple on the top instead of palm leaves. This one by our house is a date palm and Thomas adores it.

Then the singing starts "Tree, tree, Thomas tree, Thomas Thomas has a tree..."

On the flip side, he also loves the little potted trees by our library. "Baby tree...awwwww!" he coos in the same voice he uses for cute babies:

Yes, he was being a total goofball for the camera here. No surprise. He's three. And he's good at it.

Lately he scans the skies not only for the moon (always a crowd pleaser) but also for clouds. Hooray for cooling temperatures! We get below 100 now and then as the season progresses.

There are few dogs in Dubai, so spotting one being walked is a victory as well. Generally a detailed report of size, color, how fast it is going and how much it's tongue is sticking out. Usually with a demonstration of that last bit. Happiness factor 9.5 and counting.

There are armored transport trucks with a relatively large red letter "T" emblazoned on the side, so "T Truck! T Truck!" rings out when one of those is spotted. Of course it is his favorite letter.

(Yes, he went absolutely spare at sight of the Tully's T off I-5 in Seattle when we were home. We even have a song about it. To the same tune as the Big Tree song, of course.)

Then, about a month ago, he started recognising the distinctive shape of that Dubai icon, the Burj al Arab. As it is very tall, it can be spotted from all over the city, especially if you're three and have sharp little eyes.

OK, so another poor quality unedited video from me. I figure you're used to it by now. I can't help but share how he says "Burj al Arab!" I think it's sooooo cute. Yes, that is a bruise smack dab in the middle of his forehead, and no, I have no idea as to where he picked that one up. It was too many bruises ago for me to recollect the exact circumstances.

After a long hot day of spotting, our little man is one tired bundle.

Sweet sleep well earned.