Thursday, September 30, 2010

And then there was light. Well, almost.

I think I mentioned before that we live in the newest block of faculty housing at the university, so things are a little rough around the edges. For example, we didn't have a dining room table until last night, and even now it's still just a temporary dining room table until our real (better? I don't know) one gets here. I really don't mind waiting for new, free stuff to be delivered to me. I'm generous like that.

This afternoon, I looked out our upstairs window and saw this:


In case you can't tell, that's "the workers" (as the girls call them) putting in lampposts. Not the actual lamp part of the post, mind you, just the post itself. The lamp part is somebody else's job, as is, apparently, fixing the sidewalk bricks that were dislodged in the process. As well as cleaning up the plastic tarp coverings that were on the lamppost holes before the lampposts were there, and which are now blowing up and down our street.

But this is definitely progress. Now please let the next improvement be grass, even though my girls think they're in heaven with a backyard-sized sandbox:

Amen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On buying weird yogurt at the Ajman Carrefour

The grocery shopping learning curve here is pretty steep. Here's a sample of why it takes me seven times longer to get the food we need into the shopping cart (or "trolley," as they call it here, and the first twenty times one of the Carrefour employees asked me if I wanted a trolley I didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. Come ON, Bridget).

We went to Carrefour today and it took me twenty minutes to get down just the yogurt aisle. In Syria, I swear to you there was no yogurt aisle. There was a yogurt corner of a neglected, under-chilled dairy case. And in that corner were a few bottles of Syrian Aryan plain yogurt drinks and, IF YOU WERE LUCKY, two or three cast-off European yogurts in weird flavors like apple currant or mulberry custard.

Anyway, today, here in the UAE, I came home with this assortment of chilled, creamy goods:

Clockwise from the red stuff on the upper right, you've got Danone kids' yogurt drinks, Actimel mixed fruit yogurt drinks (for Jeremy and me), green Creme Dessert stuff in what I believe is pistachio flavor, Danette (pudding? custard?) in "brownie" flavor, Carrefour brand similar stuff in caramel flavor, and the coup de grâce, the mystery item of the day, Fermented Milk au Bifidus, Citron Flavor (translation mine).
When I saw it, I couldn't NOT buy it. I am dying to find out what it is, what it tastes like, why its name sounds like a disease, etc.

So you see how grocery shopping takes seven times as long. Now - in addition to (as I've said before) keeping one fourth of my brain focused on preventing Magdalena from falling out of the shopping cart, one fourth making sure Miriam doesn't wander away, one fourth answering Miriam's incessant "why?" questions, and oh yeah, one fourth comparing prices and products and sizes and colors and tallying it all with the shopping list and/or coupons. All while keeping the pace snappy so no one gets hungry, sleepy, or has to go to the bathroom during the shopping trip - I have to read labels with a magnifying glass to make sure it's what I'm looking for.

But it is nice to throw caution to the wind and gamble on fermented citron bifida milk every once in a while, too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Around Dubai

I guess being locked in our bathroom for 45 minutes wasn't a deal-breaker for our friendship, because the day after that, Robert and Ingrid took us out on the town. We got some errands done (bikes for the girls, power transformer for the piano) and enjoyed having someone in the know take us around. Here are some pictures of our day that would be totally mundane if they weren't, you know, IN DUBAI.

(OK, maybe they're still mundane. Some of them.)

 IKEA Dubai, a cool 20-minute drive from our house. Be still my heart.

Sharjah is a dry emirate, meaning no alcohol allowed. But if you want to buy alcohol in Dubai, you can, provided you acquire a license to do so. This is a liquor store in the parking garage (!) of the Festival City mall. Very nondescript. Interesting.

Monday, September 27, 2010

True UAE hospitality

Nothing says hospitality in the UAE like locking your guest in your bathroom. Apparently.

It turns out we have some friends in Dubai, in the form of a fellow University of Arizona PhD student from way back when. We invited Robert and his lovely wife Ingrid over for dinner on Friday night. It was our home's inaugural social event.

Just as the food was ready, Robert went to use the bathroom. I was in the kitchen, about to turn off the stove and get everything plated when I heard a small commotion coming from the hall.

Through the bathroom door, in a very muffled voice, Robert was trying to convey to Jeremy and Ingrid some very important information, namely, that he was unable to get out of the bathroom.. He was turning the handle on his side of the door, from inside the bathroom, but it was not engaging with the latch. Instead, it was turning freely without sliding that little metal piece away from the slot in the door frame.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flashback Friday: The Sandman Motel

I think there is a special kind of horror you can experience only upon having to sleep in a substandard hotel. It is one thing to ride on a smelly bus or use a gross bathroom. It is quite another to walk into a room, be disgusted by it, and then have to embrace it as your place of repose for the night.

I've stayed in a lot of crappy motels in my life - mostly in the Middle East - but I have to say that the one legendary, ultimate bad motel was in Montana, somewhere. I've forgotten exactly where. I've also forgotten where, in my memory of it, reality ends and childhood exaggeration begins.

I do know for sure that we were in Montana because my dad was participating in a long-distance bike ride of some kind and my family went along for fun. We got to one little town in the middle of nowhere (which is saying a lot for Montana) and there were two hotels there. One (I still remember this) was romantically called The Nez Perce Inn. That's probably all you need to know about how classy that hotel was. Its parking lot was filled with Subaru Outback-type cars and trim, newish sedans. That hotel was full.

So our family went to the other hotel in town. It was called The Sandman. And that's probably all you need to know about how classy THAT hotel was. Here's what I remember about it. Keep in mind that I was a young child at the time so some of these may be unintentional exaggerations. MAY be. Anyway:

- Some of the rooms' windows were cracked and had holes or chunks of missing glass in them.

- The decor colors were lime green and yellowish brownish orange.

- There were ladybugs ALL OVER THE ROOM.

- One of the doors had a gunshot hole in it. I swear this is true.

- Let's just say there weren't any trim, newish sedans in the parking lot. Let's also just mention that our family's huge, white trash, red striped shoebox-on-wheels van fit riiiiiight in.

- My parents would usually have let a couple of us kids sleep on the floor to save space but in this hotel it was not deemed sanitary enough.

- I was genuinely distressed to stay in that hotel. No matter how many times my parents laughed and said it was an adventure, I didn't believe them because I was too busy being afraid. I think it had something to do with a misplaced childhood perception that the Sandman himself would come to the hotel and wreak some kind of sand-based havoc on all the guests.

We survived our stay there, but the legend of The Sandman's horrors has only grown over the years.

I meant to talk about some of the other bad places I've stayed but I think I'll save them for another time. Here's a teaser: have you ever stayed in a hotel so bad that the only sign indicating it is there is that its name is spray-painted on the alley wall? I have.
I'll leave you with that, until next time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jumping through hoops

Today was official Run Around And Get Stuff Done day for all the new faculty at the university. All morning long we went from office to office to take care of paperwork and fees and photocopies. We ran into the same people - fellow new faculty members - over and over again as we all rode the same merry-go-round of bureaucracy.

Mercifully, most of the offices we needed to visit were located in the same building, albeit on different floors, serviced by what is quite possibly the least efficient elevator ever. We happily made our way from PR to HR to PR (again) to Traffic to the bank, back up to PR (again), back to the bank, to Traffic (again), to PR (AGAIN), and then Magdalena had a meltdown and it was all I could do to put her in the stroller and wheel her screaming all the way home. I really enjoyed the part where we had to pass through the grand, domed area of the main building on campus with its extraordinarily high ceilings and marbled floor. Magdalena's cries echoed there quite impressively. I bet all the new students standing there participating in orientation thought so, too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book review catch-up

Jeremy reminded me last night that I haven't written any book reviews in a while. I won't write a review of everything I've read recently, but here are a few in the interest of playing catch-up.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I had heard such varied opinions of this book I wasn't sure what I would make of it. Then I started reading it and I could hardly put it down. I loved it. Sure, Margaret is a little too languid at times, and I learned more than I wanted to about 19th-century trade union practices, but on the whole, amazing. I liked it much better than Wives and Daughters (and I liked that one quite a bit).

I think having seen the BBC miniseries of N&S so many times helped because I had a very strong visualization of all the characters - and they are spot-on loyal to the book.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The shopping/cooking game

I pulled off a major shopping coup yesterday: I tracked down, located, and secured a slow cooker for purchase. I can't believe I found one. I walked down the appliance aisle of the store and it went something like "rice cooker rice cooker rice cooker deep fryer deep fryer deep fryer blender toaster steamer SLOW COOKER." Jackpot. Hopefully this will revolutionize my food preparation in the Middle East, which has never been stellar. In part because I've never had a crock pot over here, so.

I don't know what it is that makes it so difficult for me to put dinner on the table when we're living in a foreign country. Oh wait, yes I do: grocery stores (if they exist) are unfamiliar, products I'm used to aren't available, prices are in foreign currency so it takes longer to figure out if something is too expensive or not, no car to transport groceries home easily, and multiple trips to different markets are often required. Over time, some of these issues are resolved - I get used to the currency soon enough, and learn what ingredients need substitution. Still, there's hardly anything more frustrating than a recipe that calls for something as simple as celery or cheddar cheese when THERE IS NO SUCH THING HERE.

At least that was the case in Syria and, to a lesser extent, Russia. But in Jordan and Egypt, as well as here in the UAE, the hypermarket is king.

What is a hypermarket, you ask? Well, it's kind of like Fred Meyer, the dollar store, and Target all rolled into one. Think a few aisles of beauty care and toiletries + a huge bin of discounted house slippers + books/magazines/random pieces of furniture, all for sale in one store. Until we came here I only ever knew about Carrefour, the French giant hypermarket chain. But yesterday, we shopped somewhere called Hyper Panda.

The store name still makes me giggle, at least when I remember to call it Hyper Panda. Most of the time it comes out as Happy Panda because where I grew up there is a Chinese restaurant called that. I think the name makes me subconsciously shop faster, just because of the "hyper" part. Anyway, it was at Hyper Panda that I found the elusive slow cooker.

And now begins the food ingredient substitution experiments. Coming soon: using Knorr's French Onion Soup powder in place of Lipton Onion Soup mix. And powdered vanilla flavoring instead of liquid vanilla flavoring. And chunky granuled white sugar instead of that nice fine stuff you can get in the States. And whatever it is that I will figure out to use in place of powdered sugar. Like I said, coming soon.

PS - speaking of shopping difficulties, the other day we accidentally bought UHT milk made from milk powder. It tasted like rotten chalk, it was so disguting. Regular UHT milk tasted glorious by comparison.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On being made classy with no effort on my part

I mentioned before that our house here is fully furnished by the university. Our living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen came fully stocked with all the linens, appliances, and furniture we need. And everything is brand spanking new, which means we've been opening a ton of boxes lately. It's like we just got married and are opening all our gifts. That's the only other time in my life a whole bunch of people have given us a whole bunch of stuff to enjoy.

And there is so much of it that I keep finding things in new places, tucked inside cupboards I hadn't noticed were there or concealed underneath other new, packaged items.

I'll open a cabinet and find this:

or this:

or pull out a drawer and find this:

The girls were with me when I opened the drawer above and they immediately asked me what each utensil was for. And you know what? I wasn't sure exactly what a lot of them were for. So picked I them up one by one and read the label on the packaging to find out. I am now the proud owner of a palette knife, a rice paddle, and a round slotted turner, as well as a regular slotted turner, just to name a few.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

UAE thoughts

So far the UAE is a pretty smooth place, at least compared to the other Arab countries we've lived in. It's like you could almost believe you were in Europe or the US and then you come across a sign like this - check out their courtesy policy:

In other news, we are spending most of our time unpacking and settling in. I'll tell you what, it took me until today to get over a strange aversion to emptying our suitcases. I kept thinking thoughts like, "why should I bother? We'll just be leaving soon again anyway. I don't want to take anything out of the suitcase just to have to put it back in again." Of course this doesn't make sense now that we are at our final destination for the foreseeable future. But it's no surprise I feel that way since we've been on the go for the last four months. I tallied it up and since May 14 when we left Ithaca for Egypt, we've spent the night in no less than 19 different places (if you count that night in the Newark Airport, and I do). It feels good to finally hang something up on a hanger for once.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: The world is not enough

Refried Flashback Friday: The world is not enough, originally published October 25, 2008.

Those of you who are tired of stories from Russia will be glad to hear that I think this is the last Russian Flashback Friday for a while. Those of you who want more flashbacks from Russia will probably be glad to hear that I'll come back to this topic sometime in the future. There's just so much to tell.

I've titled this post "The world is not enough," because if there's one thing I learned in Russia, it's that there is never enough. Enough of what, exactly? You choose, and you'd be right. Unless you chose surly female employees, because there are actually plenty of those in Russia.

But seats on the bus? Certain kinds of food in the grocery stores? Daylight hours in winter? Time to leisurely exit the metro car before the doors SLAM shut? Nope, not enough.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Welcome to the UAE

Let's just dive right in.

We made it to the UAE in one piece with all our bags and carry-ons and children and selves. Fifteen and a half straight hours on a plane wasn't nearly as bad as you'd think, at least not when you fly Emirates. In some ways (actually in many ways, as you'll see later) I feel like I'm living out a dream that I never knew I had. When we lived in Syria and Jordan I always felt a little sigh of envy at those Emirates Air commercials that showed the swanky flight attendants in their mysterious veiled hats. Seeing them in reality was poignant.

Inside the Dubai airport was like walking into the future. Outside the Dubai airport was like walking into a sauna. Oh, the HUMIDITY. Jeremy's glasses literally fogged up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I don't even know what to title this post.

Possibilities:

We Are Leaving Today For Dubai.

PDX - SFO - DXB = 17.5 Hours Of Flying.

I've Been Waiting So Long For This Day And Yet I Can't Believe It's Finally Here.

OH MY GOSH I Am So Tired Of Living Out Of A Suitcase (It's Been Exactly Four Months Now).

Perhaps The Less I Think About It The Less Nervous I'll Be.

Goodbye, Dear Sweet America; or, How I Almost Bought A Costco-sized Box Of York Peppermint Patties Just At The Thought Of Not Seeing Them Again For A Looooong Time.

As you can see, I have a few options.

Speaking of titles, My Adventures in Arabia is winning on the poll so far. It was my own personal frontrunner as well so there's a good chance that's what it will end up being. We'll see.

To tide you over until I emerge on the other side of the Atlantic, please enjoy these pictures my good friend Mikael took of our family. I love having outrageously talented friends.

Monday, September 13, 2010

WARRIOR DASH!!!!!!!

Jeremy and my brother Blair and I ran the Warrior Dash on Saturday. Instead of spending a lot of time explaining what the Warrior Dash is, I will direct you to their website. Ignore the impression you get that this event is a beer-soaked party. When we were there, in the early heats, it was a fairly wholesome, buoyant, race-centered atmosphere (with the occasional dude in gold spandex, as shown below).

What I will spend time explaining is how I was throwing up for the entire day before the race. Jeremy got the stomach flu on Wednesday night and was throwing up into Thursday. He felt well enough to go camping later that day, so we headed to the beach. That night, I had to bolt from the tent to get to the campground bathroom in time to start my own bout of throwing up. I spent the night on a bench in one of the shower stalls in the bathroom. Good times. When I got back to the tent on Friday morning, still very ill, I found out that Miriam had puked all night, too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flashback Friday: Three chance encounters

What are your most random chance encounters? What's the farthest away, or weirdest place, or strangest time you've ever run into someone you know? Here are three chance meetings that come to mind.

3. Remember last week when I discovered that stack of undelivered wedding thank you notes? Well, one of the people on that list was the cross country coach my freshman year of high school. I hadn't seen him for years and years and when I saw the thank you note addressed to him, I started remembering some fun times we all had with the team. One of those fun times was climbing Mt. St. Helens, which (you may recall) I achieved again just a few days ago.

So when I saw my coach at Fred Meyer on Tuesday, he was so fresh in my memory that it was as if I had seen him recently instead of 10 years ago. It was just weird to run into him by chance so soon after having him brought to mind by other events.

2. Early last month we were at a regional church activity at Watkins Glen State Park. I was just returning to my table after getting food when I spotted an old friend I grew up with back in Portland. I had had a vague idea of him living in the area (in a small town about 45 minutes away from Ithaca, as it turned out) but it was still quite a shock to see him in rural upstate New York, across the country from where we grew up.

1. My best and favorite chance encounter took place in Novosibirsk, Russia, aka SIBERIA. An on-again, off-again worst enemy/tolerated friend/amicable acquaintance from my childhood (true story: he once beat me up at church) was serving a two-year Mormon mission in that area, which I knew. But I don't think that makes it any less completely, crazy random that Jeremy and I met him by chance on the streets of Novosibirsk while we were out sight-seeing. Seriously, what are the odds?

And what are your best chance encounters?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Vote on the new name for this blog!

I've given up on changing the URL of my blog every time we move. I'm lazy like that. But I will be changing the title of My Adventures in Ithaca once we arrive in the UAE next Wednesday. The question is, what should I call it? Here's a crash course on the possibilities. Read my thoughts and then vote (you can choose up to two titles), or vote and then read my thoughts. Whatever. But vote! I can't guarantee that I'll choose the most popular title as my final decision, but I need to get a feel for what makes the most sense to my readers. Please note that there is a spot in the poll for you to suggest your own idea.

My Adventures in Sharjah. The obvious choice. But I think Sharjah is too obscure to use right in the blog title. Which brings me to...

My Adventures in Dubai. But I can't help but feel that this choice is slightly disingenuous. We're the next emirate-city over from Dubai (in Sharjah), so it's not as correct as it could be. The name recognition factor is nice, though.

My Adventures in the Emirates. This solves the Dubai vs. Sharjah problem and I think "the Emirates" is not too obscure or off-putting.

My Adventures in the UAE. Is "UAE" better than "Emirates"? That's what could set these two choices apart.

My Adventures in Arabia. This choice is definitely a front-runner for me but I'm not completely sold on it yet.

My Adventures in Arabia Deserta. Jeremy's idea. It certainly is evocative but maybe it's also a little too weird?

Bridget of Arabia. This would mix it up a bit but that might not be a bad thing.






Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Home

It's such a strange feeling to be home. Home? I don't even know what to call this place - this place where I grew up, but haven't lived permanently for about 11 years. Sometimes I call it "the place I grew up." Sometimes I call it "my parents' house." Neither of those really conveys what this place is to me.

I still consider Portland to be where I'm from, though, again, I haven't lived here for 11 years. I feel like saying I'm "from" Portland just gets more and more disingenuous as time goes by.

And let me explain that strange feeling. I grew up here, but I still have to re-orient myself every time we come visit (about once a year, sometimes not even that often). Sometimes I have to use Nigel the GPS to get around just because there has been so much growth here. Sometimes someone tells me where something is using another landmark as a reference and I know I know where that is...and yet. I can't quite call it up in my mind. That makes me sad.

It makes me sad when things are different than I remember them, too. I remember when roads that are now major thoroughfares were one-lane country highways for miles and miles. I remember when the speed limit on West Union was 45 and when the limit on Bronson was 50 AND there was no stop sign at the bottom of the hill. I remember when I could turn left out of my own neighborhood without waiting too long. Now I have to drive around to the other neighborhood exit just to catch a lull in traffic.

Things are different inside my house, too. Can I really call this place "home" when I don't even know where the oven mitts are kept anymore? I find myself opening cabinets where things used to be and then staring stupidly when they're not there.

I had to really concentrate before I remembered the garage code and even then it was more of a lucky guess.

I actually had to flip through all the channels before I realized that OPB is still channel 10.

The first time I had to fill up the car with gas while we were here, I actually started to get out of the car to do it myself. Then when the attendant showed up to remind me that I couldn't pump my own gas, I was all awkwardness trying to figure out how it all worked. Do I give him my card? Do I roll down the window or open the door or what?

Heck, I even found myself surprised at no sales tax, even though for years and years after leaving here I couldn't get used to other states' sales tax.

It seems I am losing my Oregonian touch.

I guess Portland is only home to me in that my children's grandparents (and my two brothers) live here. Miriam and Magdalena can call this place "Grandma & Grandpa's house." I think I'll go on calling it "the place I grew up."

Which raises the question of where, then, am I from?

But that's a different blog post.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Climbing Mt. St. Helens

We climbed Mt. St. Helens last Thursday. It's something we've been wanting to do for a few years now but it seemed like we were never in Oregon during climbing season, at least not when I was also un-pregnant. So we seized this opportunity to climb Mt. St. Helens together with a few members of my family.

The first time I attempted to climb Mt. St. Helens, it was with my high school cross country team and I was 13 years old. About 2/3 of the way up, we had to turn back because of the snow and wind. It was early August.

The next time (possibly two times over the next few years; I can't quite remember), I summited with no problem. I even remember it being hot and sunny at the top. You never can guess exactly what conditions the mountain will throw at you, I suppose.

I was a little apprehensive about this climb, in part because it had been at least 11 years since I'd last done it. I didn't exactly go running every day while we were in Egypt, so I'm not in the best shape of my life. But guess what? The climb was AWESOME.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Flashback Friday: Escape from a Russian Hospital

Sorry, kids - Refried Flashback Friday again this week. Fortunately, it's a good one: Escape from a Russian Hospital, originally published October 17, 2008.

This Friday's flashback is actually a guest post from my brother-in-law. Last week we had a story from Jeremy on his mission; this week we have one of his brother, Scott, also on his mission, also in Russia. It's one of my all-time favorite mission stories, so I'm happy to have it featured here today. Here is his flashback in his own words, marking the first time the word "crap" has appeared as a verb on My Adventures in Tucson, at least to my knowledge.

"Below is the story of how I contracted food poisoning in Russia, visited a Russian hospital, and ultimately escaped from that hospital. This story is not for the faint of heart: graphic portrayals of the body attempting to cleanse itself of that which never should be eaten follow. Consider yourself warned.

"One November afternoon at an open-air Russian market in the city of Orenburg, my friend and I were buying groceries. Before heading home, we decided to get a bite to eat. I was craving shish kebabs. After much searching in the cold November air, we came across a vendor with a few shish kebabs remaining. The only problem was that they looked old. And there were flies. I didn’t care then. I was ready to eat. So I did.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Idaho to Oregon

The drive from Idaho Falls to Portland yesterday went well. We woke up at 4am and were on the road by 4.20. We left so early so we could sock away a good heap of driving while the girls slept in the car. It worked really well. Magdalena didn't get seriously antsy until about noon, and of course her breakdown started in one of those areas where blue signs proclaim "No services for next 520 miles."

Well, not really 520 miles, but something like 30 anyway. We ended up pulling off at the Arlington, Oregon exit, in the Columbia Gorge. I never would have stopped there of my own accord but our fussing 2-year-old forced our hand. But guess what? The Arlington exit is like I-84's best kept secret! There was a gas station located right across the street from a small park with a nice play structure, which in turn was located right on the banks of the Columbia River. There were bathrooms and wide expanses of grass and a place to get snacks and everything. It was everything you could ask for in a road trip rest stop.

Of course, such an enticing park did set back our ETA about 45 minutes, but when you're traveling with kids, sometimes you have to make concessions. (Another concession was letting Miriam play on the playground in her pajamas.) (And barefoot.)

What we forgot to do at the magical rest stop of dreams was refill our water bottles. Thus it was that 10 minutes down the road, both girls got thirsty and the only thing we had to offer them were sips of a single can of Pepsi Throwback. The last 110 minutes of the drive were really...intense.

Now we're getting settled in Portland, just in time to head out and climb Mt. St. Helens tomorrow. Bring it on.

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