Wednesday 31 October 2012

Halloween and my half-assed approach

The girls were super excited this morning. Halloween! Which meant dress-up day at school, they could come as their favourite book character, but nothing too scary. The girls put away their vampire and zombie princess costumes in favour of Sleeping Beauty and Angelina Ballerina (thanks to the inspiration on Twitter).

School here is obviously a lot different to home. They start at a different age, the teachers and students are from all around the world, there are different languages and religions. Academically I think it's a lot tougher than school at home too, Lil-lil is certainly being pushed a lot more. In some ways it's good, in others not so good, for the moment she's coping with it so I'm OK.

The one thing I really like about the school is that while there is a strong academic focus, they do like to have fun, like the dress up day. The lessons will go on as normal but they'll be Spidermen and policemen and princesses. They do things like this quite a lot and it makes the kids eager to get school.

To help celebrate Halloween, the parents committee decided to put on a bake sale. The note that came home said they wanted spooky treats that were home-made, purchased items would probably 'end up with the appreciative cleaning staff'. I have to say this really got my goat. Sure as parents we would love to spend time in the kitchen baking treats for the bake sale, but let's face it some of us don't have time, some of us just aren't that good at it.

Yesterday, I was stuffed after being up quite a few times in the night, after school was swimming lessons, Skip came home from work early to spend time with us. I could have spent time in the kitchen for the bake sale, but I decided there were more important things, so I cheated. I bought a packet of biscuits and some icing and went to work. As I watched telly and made my spooky treats I giggled and thought to myself: "These for sure aren't going on the blog! What a mess." And then I decided that they should go on the blog.

Life isn't perfect. I'm not a bad mother because I haven't home-baked. I'm not a bad mother because my contribution to the bake sale isn't going to end up on Pinterest any time soon. I'm just a mum who decided to spend an extra half-hour at the playground watching my baby eat sand rather than in the kitchen baking.

I remember my mum hating cake sale time, the pressure of it. She hates cooking and anything related. I remember her buying some biscuits from an old lady charity stall, so two charities won and she didn't have to bake.

So here's my half-assed Halloween bake sale effort for all the world to see. Lil-lil told me she was so excited about them she was going to buy them all, bless her.

I wonder how many were snapped up at the cake stall?

Note half-assed cardboard crown and mouse ears. I think they still look cute.

I would love to know what you do that is half-assed and not destined for Pinterest, Facebook or even your blog. Come on, share with me! 

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Only in Dubai - part 3

We've been here almost three months now and it feels like forever and no time at all.

Things that seemed foreign and strange at first feel normal now – crazy driving, having someone fill my car with petrol, no BYO restaurants, being called 'madam', the wasteful Dubai attitude. There are times when I actually feel like I could still be in Australia, that it's not all that different after all. Then something happens and I'm reminded of where I am.

* The sand. The constant sand I sweep off the floor and off the tables and every surface in the house. Yesterday, just after we'd gotten home from school, the sky turned black and the houses that I normally see in the the distance had vanished. Sandstorm! The wind blew and the sky was eerie. Then as fast as it had begun, the sky cleared and the houses reappeared.

* Deliveries. You can get almost anything delivered here as I've mentioned before. The one thing that gets me is the relaxed attitude. I ordered some water to be delivered, they turned up on the wrong day at the wrong time. Then another time I didn't have any cash. Then another time I forgot and went out. It never bothered the delivery person. It's an attitude of 'Oh well, that happens'. Our fridge was delivered three times, once I wasn't at home, the next time I didn't have the right piece of paper and then finally they left it. I just can't imagine a delivery person in Australia bringing a fridge to the front door of an apartment on the 8th floor three days in a row without going mad.

* "What's your good name?" I get asked this a lot, I'm not sure if they want my first or last name or if it's just a term of endearment. Anyone know?

* Bottles that don't pour properly. Whether it's milk or juice, it always seems to end up on the floor, kitchen bench or table. Why, oh why, can't they make a bottle that pours without spilling?

* People just pulling out in front of me while I drive. Constantly! Nuff said.

* The weather. It's glorious at the moment, absolutely glorious. Warm and dry and not a cloud in the sky. It will be like that tomorrow and the day after and the day after and the day after..... (besides the brief sandstorm, which felt like a dream).

* The call to prayer. I absolutely love hearing it when I'm out and about, it's hauntingly beautiful and definitely reminds me of where I'm living.

* I saw this sign in a toilet at a supermarket. I can honestly say I've never seen one like it before! It's a urine colour chart, so you can do a quick check and see how hydrated you are.... hmmm.

Monday 29 October 2012

Happy Halloween

Last night, we were lucky enough to be invited to a Halloween party. The girls got their ghoul on - Goose chose to be a vampire and Lil a zombie princess.

Our friends went all out and there were spooky games, bobbing for donuts, creepy looking food and plenty of sweets. It was fantastic!

At the end of the night, with their face paint a little worse for wear, we went home loaded up with goody bags.

I'm starting to like this Halloween business!

Sunday 28 October 2012

A walk in the park

Late yesterday afternoon, it was warm and lovely. The intense heat has melted away leaving the most perfect weather you can imagine - sunny and warm.

It's time to get out of the air conditioned cells we've been in, so we decided to pack a picnic dinner and head to the park.

Along with half of Dubai, we spent the holiday Saturday at Safa Park. It's the first time we've been here and it's an oasis of lovely in a city that is, well, less than attractive. Passing through the gates, you leave the dusty noisy city to find lush green grass, lakes and playgrounds.

The place was filled with families and groups of friends eating, playing cricket and soccer. Small BBQs meant there were intoxicating wafts of grilled meats, garlic and tomatoes. It made the salmon and dill quiche I was proud of when I left home seem a little boring.

Darbs felt the soft grass, the girls ran and squealed their way through the hedge maze. Skip and I sat back and soaked in the fresh air and warm breeze. Around us Pakinstani men in their traditional garb played cricket, a group of African men played and fought over a soccer ball. Emiratis sat in large groups chatting and eating. Indian kids chased each other across the grass. A Filipino family attempted to fly a kite.

There was a happy, festive feeling in the air. Like being next to Sydney harbour on a January evening.

As the sun began to set we packed up and headed home. People still streaming through the park gates. The trip home was quiet, the car filled with with that feeling of contented exhaustion.

Saturday 27 October 2012


"Mum and Dad, when are we going home?" Goose asked, yet again.

"Bub, we are home. This is where we live now," Skip told her, yet again.

I must admit, sometimes it feels like we have been on an extended holiday. Goose must think that one day we'll pack up, get up early and go back to our life in the little house in Sydney. Back to preschool. Back to the park. Back to Grandma. Back to her friends.

This time though, I think she realised that this is now home. I think it may
have sunk in that we're staying in this "hotel" for "ever and ever". That she's now a "big school" girl. That this place with the big cars and sand and the tall buildings is home.

We have an extra long weekend here, to celebrate Eid al Adha. The girls came excitedly home from school with cards saying Happy Eid and Eid Mubarak. "What are we doing to celebrate Eid, mummy?" Lil asked. "What do people do to celebrate Eid?"
I'm not too sure, so we're learning together.

Last night, we had some new friends come over for a BBQ. We swam, ate prawns off the barbie, drank and laughed. "See, it's just like home. A BBQ and drinks in the cooler," said our new Canadian friend. "You mean 'esky'," replied Skip.

It's strange place to be, a lot of the people we've met have arrived at the same time. So we're all learning at the same time, a bunch of people from all over the world making a little corner of the Middle East our home.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

After dark

Last night, I frocked up, put on my face and got a cab to a local bar. On a school night. I know! I didn't recognise myself either.

It felt weird to be out after dark with no small people. Chatting, relaxing – it was fabulous and certainly needed. Being in Dubai without support has meant virtually no time away from the kids.

Another mum from school came with me and we talked and laughed and talked some more. Sitting outside in the balmy Dubai evening, I could have been back in Sydney on a summer's evening. The only difference was the sweet fragrant smoke of the many shishas.

Eventually I slipped into bed just after midnight. Today I paid the price for sneaking out on a school night but it was worth it.

Monday 22 October 2012

Six, the sweetest thing

Today my little Lil turns six.

It's been a big year for my pretty princess. She's started school not once, but twice and done so well with the massive amount of change. Starting school, settling in and making herself a part of her Sydney school made me so proud. She breezed through it. Starting again on the other side of the globe has been a little trickier, but she's made me so proud again as she tries, she picks herself up and puts on a smile and then tries again each day.

She's so grown up and insightful and thoughtful. She's funny. She's kind. More than anything when I think of Lil, I think 'sweet'. She's just about the sweetest thing I know.

At six, she loves drawing, writing and painting. She loves to sing and to dance. She also loves to swim. She's a caring sister to Goosey and Darbs. She can eat bowls and bowls of spaghetti bolognese.

I don't think I've ever been prouder of my girl than I am right now.

Happy birthday, Lil. You bring us all such incredible joy.

Friday 19 October 2012

Day in, day out

A couple of people from home have emailed me, asking what I'm up to. Really, it's just the same as Sydney – wake up, get breakfast, make lunches, do the school run, feed the baby, tidy the house, pick up the kids, play at the playground, dinner, bath and bed. Of course, it's all being done in a different location, but the fundamentals are the same. Life goes on, wherever you are.

The difference is in filling the gaps. People who you chat to, places where you shop, how you spend your spare time. The lack of familiarity, but also becoming familiar with other people quickly. Doing things you wouldn't ordinarily do, such as spending an evening with people you don't know, inviting a stranger over for morning tea, asking a mum from school (who I've only just met) out for dinner and drinks.

Tomorrow, Lil-lil's having her birthday party and instead of family and old friends we'll be spending it with a motley crew of people we've befriended it the couple of months we've been here. Which is fine and will be fun.

I suddenly noticed this week, that I don't really notice the Arabic signs anymore or when I hear the call to prayer. All the things that made this place feel foreign and different are starting to feel normal and everyday. The wide-eyeness is starting to fade.

Many times this week I sat down to blog, I'd write a few sentences and then delete it. Nothing feeling right. I'm not quite sure why. I think I've misplaced my 'voice', over-thinking what to write and who I'm writing for, which is silly when I just should write, like I've always done.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

And so it begins...

I remember many, many years ago, when I was Lil's age discovering pop music for the first time. I'd spent the first part of my life listening to my dad's music (jazz and calypso and a strong memory of Tie A Yellow Ribbon on a 8-track) and, of course, nursery rhymes.

Then one day I saw a film clip and that was it. It was Kim Wilde's Kids in America. I loved that song so, so much. She was so cool. I've had a thing for striped tops and messy blonde dos ever since. Then I was introduce to Solid Gold by my brothers. I so wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer. I loved songs like Whip it (Devo), Wired for Sound (Cliff Richard), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Our House (Madness).

In Australia, I listened to ABC local radio or a handful of CDs we had in the car. Since we've been in Dubai we've been listening to the radio which is pretty standard craptastic top 40 stuff, albeit six months out of date. The kids have suddenly fallen in love with it.

All of a sudden Katy Perry is it! And they love Florence + the Machine. They sing along with Pink and Maroon 5. I was forced to hear about how cool Gangham Style was this afternoon.

On the school run John Farnham's Your the Voice came on. Feeling a little patriotic I turned it up and belted it out with Farnsy. The look of disgust that came from the back. I tried to explain that once upon a time I had saved my money to buy that cassette and then they asked: "What's a cassette?" so I gave up.

I guess I can feel a little pleased that it's not Justin Bieber and One Direction... yet.

Tell me, what was your introduction to pop music?

Sunday 14 October 2012

My six-year-old star

My little Lil is quietly brave. Moving to the other side of the world hasn't been easy for her, but most of the time she just gets in and does what she has to do, even when she'd rather stay on the couch and watch Scooby-Doo. She misses her friends, her school and her family. She spent the first six weeks here asking me: "Is it past my bedtime in Australia?" This was her little bit of joy - being up past her mates in Australia.

Most of the time, she happily goes along with whatever is happening. Tackles each challenge without a word of a whine. I'm grateful for that. Occasionally there is a bump in the road and she asks "Why did we have to come here? Why can't we just go home? Can we go home when I'm 8 or 9 or 10?"

This morning when I dropped her at school she hugged me extra hard, not really wanting to start another week without her bestie who she misses, another week of school that she says is: "all work, work, work, no playtime like in Australia".

Tomorrow she's getting the Star of the Week award, her teacher told me she really deserves it and Lil will be over the moon. I hope this boosts her a little.

It's also her birthday this week. I can not believe she'll be six. She's having a party with her classmates and I'm also hoping this will help her make the tight group of friends she so desperately wants.

I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, her reply: "A cleaning set, so I can help you clean the house."

She asks for so little, she never really asks for much at all. We want to get her a present that will blow her mind. For once, I'm completely stumped.

What do you think a six-year-old girl would absolutely adore? Anyone?

Saturday 13 October 2012

Shack chic

Every celebrity chef who's anyone has an eatery in Dubai - Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes, Giorgio Locatelli, Antonio Carluccio, Marco Pierre White...
There are top nosheries galore. High-end dining is everywhere in Dubai.

American franchises are also very popular. Shake Shack, Fat Burger, Fuddruckers, Red Lobster, The Cheesecake Factory, TGIFs, etc, etc.

Then there are the small places that cook up authentic Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Lebanese dishes for just a few dirhams.

Under the billowing sail of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's iconic seven-star hotel, is Bu Qtair. A shack where the catch of the day is cooked up in fragrant Indian spices. A sandy, shabby shack in one of Dubai's most salubrious suburbs.

Each night, people from all walks of Dubai queue up in the sand for a taste of uniquely spicy seafood. Last night, Skip braved the queues and the long wait and brought home a feast.

With the kids in bed, we gorged on big prawns cooked in Indian spices. A whole fish, caught that morning, which had been marinated and deep fried. All served with a spicy coconut gravy, which I could have drunk straight, and Indian bread. Simple, delicious. It cost about the same as a Dominos delivery in Australia.

This is what I'm loving about Dubai so far. Not the valet parking. Not the well known name. Not the glitz nor glamour. But that side of Dubai that's not polished, that thrives in the shadows of hotels and beach clubs.

If you're a fan of Tony Bourdain's No Reservations you would have seen Bu Qtair in his Dubai episode.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Where are you from?

One of the biggest changes I've seen in the girls since they've been here is a growing sense of identity based on where they're from. Going to school with kids from a huge mix of nationalities and cultures has definitely made them question who others and themselves are.

Before we came here, they knew they lived in Sydney, Australia, but they didn't really have any idea what that meant. Now, I hear them in the playground, at the pool or where ever, asking people "Where are you from?"

As the vast majority of people who live in Dubai are from somewhere else, it's not an unusual question and they're getting a lot of different answers.

"You're from Ireland? We've got friends from Ireland. I'd like to go to Ireland one day. My friend drew me a map so I could get there."

They're learning that words they say and things that are common to them are unusual to other people.

"Mum did you know that some people call afternoon tea a snack. Remember that when people come to play," Lil told me the other day.

Coming into contact with all these new cultures has Lil wanting to travel. "Mum, I'm really into going to other countries at the moment," the little traveller, who's only been to two countries, told me.

They're also demanding that I sing Waltzing Matilda for them every night and they ask: "What's a jumbuck?" "What's a billabong?" "Why only in Australia do they call it a tucker bag?" They like telling people they're Australian. They're discovering that it's a special part of who they are.

I love seeing them soak all this up like the little sponges they are. I love that they have friends from around the globe, who eat different things for lunch and speak different languages. That being different isn't a bad thing, it's just different.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this all shapes them.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Melting summer sun

Everyone kept telling me "just wait for October, the weather is incredible".
The first Friday in October arrived and it didn't disappoint. Hot and sunny, but not too hot or sunny. Yesterday, we even sat outside to eat in the middle of the day, unthinkable just a week ago.

In the late afternoon, we joined the rest of Dubai at the beach. The kids made sandcastles and dugs holes. They splashed in the tepid sea. They scuttled along the shore.

Skip and I watched the sun set. The sunsets here are incredible. We watched as the sun, a burning globe, dropped in the sky in a matter of minutes before oozing into the horizon.

Friday 5 October 2012

Cool change

As I stepped outside this morning a cool breeze brushed again my skin. I hadn't felt that in a long time.

The temperature here is blessedly dropping and this week it's noticeably cooler. The searing temperatures have sizzled out.

Admittedly it was 31 at 8am when I felt that cool breeze and it will be about 38 today. At least it's not in the 40s which it has been for so long.

A day or so ago I even had a moment where I thought "it's too cool for a swim". I've obviously acclimatised!

This morning, the two younger kids and I made the most of the pleasant weather and explored our new home. Running up new paths and finding new playgrounds and fountains. When we got home our faces weren't bright red and our hair wasn't wet with swear.

I like this Dubai.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Only in Dubai – part 2

After my last post of things I've noticed that happen regularly in Dubai and not in Sydney, I found some more things. So here goes...

* Receipts. They love receipts. For everything. A takeaway cup of coffee? A receipt. A chocolate bar? A receipt. By the end of the day my purse is filled with annoying bits of paper. If you try to refuse they look at you like you're mad, of course you have to take the receipt!

* No addresses. There are essentially no addresses in Dubai. Roads change regularly, there is no postal system to talk of, so more often than not, you're directed to a place by landmarks. Even on a business website it will say something like "Near Safa Park, behind the Emirates Bank"
When we bought furniture the delivery docket had a place to draw a map, rather than write an address.

* Leaving your car running. It's really common to see cars left in car parks with their engines running. Why? To keep them cool on the driver's return. It's obvious in Dubai no-one has a concern about the environment, the cost of petrol or their luxury car being stolen. I've seen cars worth more than houses in supermarket car parks with keys in the ignition, motor running.

* A helping hand. I've quickly got used to the fact that wherever I go, there will be someone ready to jump in and give me a hand. Got some large packages to carry to the car? Some man will ask: "Can I help you, madam?" At the doctor's with a whingy baby, a lady will offer to watch baby while I'm being attended to. It has made life that bit easier.

* Hazard lights. They LOVE hazard lights here. It completely freaks me out. You'll be driving down Sheik Zayed Rd and the traffic will slow slightly and they'll put on their hazard lights. Why? I have no idea, to warn that they're slowing perhaps. Isn't that what brake lights are for? Anyhoo, hazard lights get a good work out in Dubai.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Finding our groove

Day by day our routines become a little more entrenched, this place becomes a little more familiar. The odd and the perculiar are becoming the norm. Slowly it's becoming home. Which is exactly what we wanted.

Lil performed at assembly this morning and on the weekend we bumped into people we know at the mall. Sure signs to me that we're not visitors but residents.

I'm really excited about this place being home for a little while. It's a different life, but a fun one. One we couldn't have in Australia, do we're making sure we enjoy it.

I've noticed how much the girls have grown already. Their identities are stronger. As a family I think we're stronger.

I've even noticed that my own perceptions and notions of the world are changing. Which is brilliant.

At the moment I'm living my dream.

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