Out with the old, in with the new

So, apparently while I’ve been whirling in a hideous vortex of transcontinental travel, heavy drinking,large quantities of single parenting, and actual work, it would appear that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year have occurred. And yet still I have failed to put fingers to keyboard and start typing. So here we are. Happy new year and all that. I have flu, which, although this is really not much to complain about, is making me feel gross and bad tempered. So while my big boy and the little one galavant around the garden, having not seen each other since Boxing day, I am roaming the house, sniffing and sighing like a crazy but slightly house proud animal, and indulging in the thankless pursuit of sorting, boxing, binning and fixing everything in sight.

Living in Dubai seems very attractive at this time of year. It’s good to be back, despite missing log fires, pub grub and knee high boots, and countless other things that make living in the UK in the middle of winter vaguely bearable. But when you’ve just returned from the dim wet murk of England, everything looks so wonderfully bright. The sunshine is just so good to come home to. Only one big problem: Sunshine doesn’t just light up the room, it magnifies it. And by default, therefore, it shows up all the flaws – in your face, your clothes, your floors and your furniture. Once you start looking closer than, say, a couple of metres or so, at any of the above, it’s fairly easy to see what you used to class as ‘reasonable wear and tear’ beginning to look a little less reasonable. Let’s avoid any discussions about my face and head straight to the heart of this particular discussion: furniture.

We were never meant to still be here. Our lack of investment in our home is starting to reflect this. Our sofas are so tired they fell asleep standing up. Our walls don’t just need a lick of paint, they need an enthusiastic dog slaver of the stuff. Various side tables are still adorned with toddler-safe corners that are welded on and would require a crowbar to remove. And far too many Billy bookshelves still lurk, sagging and groaning in their pre-adolescent state. There is nothing IKEA make that was supposed to last anywhere near this long, and I’m pretty sure there are several items in our house that are fully aware of this fact and plan to fall apart next time I look at them.

There are also the things you can’t see from a surface glance, or that have been long forgotten about, that are rearing their ugly heads once more. A favourite hobby of our cat has been, over the years, to burrow into the underside of our sofa suite and sit in a nest of stuffing. We have tried all sorts of things to stop this delightful practice, including stapling industrial strength canvas to them. No worries for our feral friend though. She just works on the staples until one finally comes loose and then hey presto! We start all over again. On arriving home this week I sat down and looked in horror at the sofas, which have once again been systematically broken into in our absence, the canvas lining loose and the stuffing leaking out from the bottom once more.  I glanced into the TV room and remembered that we had no rug, due to a series of red wine and cat pee incidents that nearly gave me a nervous breakdown last month. And I realised, I can put it off no longer. It’s time for (gasp) new furniture.

And so began the negotiations. It was unanimously agreed that we needed new sofas, and a rug. A budget was loosely discussed, in line with what we were willing to spend for what might be only a few years’ worth of use (well you never know, one day we might leave Dubai. Alternatively I’ll be the one sweeping up after the Exp0 2020 with another set of worn out furniture to get rid of). When it came to the shopping part, I realised very quickly my plans for Pottery barn or Crate and Barrel were the stuff dreams are made of, and instead turned to Dubizzle for inspiration. I held my breath as the search ran. Could I get my dream sofa within budget? Dubizzle is the ebay of Dubai, and you can get some very reasonable stuff on it if the wind is blowing in the right direction. And indeed, it was. I found a beautiful, pristine sofa and chair for nearly the right price, and called immediately to arrange a viewing. Eight hours later, I was kindly informed they had been purchased by a friend of the owner. My dreams blew up in smoke. I searched again, but nothing.

My heart sank as I realised what had to be done. I loaded the car with a tape measure, my son, and a face set with grim determination, and headed to IKEA.

IKEA Dubai

IKEA Dubai. Palace of dreams. (Photo credit: austinevan)

I swore I would never have another IKEA item in my house, but it’s like saying you’ll never shop in Debenhams again – you can’t help yourself. And blow me down if there wasn’t exactly the right sofa and footstool for the living room AND a little comfy number for the TV room in there, all brand new and delivered and assembled for free, for under my budget. And a rug. So I loaded up the trolley with eight packs of shoeboxes, some box files, and some lightbulbs and kitchenware, then remembered what I went in for and ordered the sofas.

So, it was done, and so it shall be, that on Sunday we once again have the blue and yellow truck outside our door. I am happy because I get new things. My husband is happy because it didn’t cost him a fortune. My son is happy because he got to help choose them. And best of all they all sit tight to the ground so my evil cat can’t get in. I’ve sold the other stuff, by the way, so with that and the money I’ve ‘saved’ from the budget, I’m off to Crate and Barrel for an armchair and some cushions. The key, I’m told, to having a house full of IKEA, is to accessorise expensively. I shall remember this tip next time the sunlight spills onto the mirror in my bedroom as I gaze in horror at my increasingly crinkled face, and see if they sell diamond earrings on Dubizzle.

 

 

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A word about home

As part of my studies this week I was asked to make a list of words that I associated with the word ‘Home’, to include personal, concrete examples that might include names, places, objects, feelings, sensory experiences, and so on. Here’s what I came up with in a five minute brainstorm:

family – Dubai – sun – city – heat – happy – sad – homesickness – London – childhood home – childhood friends – sadness – missing out – friends – irrelevant – unknown – secret – packing – saying goodbye – depressed – lonely – guilt – grandparents – parenthood – love – phones – skype – email – travel – holidays – visitors – achievement – intensity – strength – coping mechanisms – girlfriends – hobbies – time difference – sausages & mash – green – seasons – trees – walking – the pub – tube train smell – summer nights – cold – Friday club – music – independent shops – carpet beneath my feet – heating – fires – touch – hugs – absence – laughter – eccentricities – familiarity – forgiveness – joy – being together

It made me nostalgic and warm for the vague fuzzy definition of ‘home’ I keep tucked away most days.  I honestly haven’t given it much thought since we got back after the summer, but instead of sinking into a funk, I sat and mused about my friends, and wondered how they were all getting on, how their kids were doing in school, how their jobs were going, what they were doing for Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving, Christmas….I miss them in much more of an abstract way these days; the desperate homesickness I got used to over the years seems to be replaced lately by acceptance that time passes so quickly, it probably won’t be long in the grand scheme of things before I am back in the fold and living life alongside them. (Hey, what’s eight years or so between friends?) But still, it would be nice to feel counted a thousand miles away, to say I love you and hear it back – and to know what they’re up to this very minute. And that’s why this post is so short. Because I’m off to find out.

What’s on your list of ‘home’?

Here comes the rain again

The first rain of the year in Dubai, everyone gets incredibly excited. The second time, they all complain about it bitterly. This time the rain is accompanied by cold (by cold I mean below 20C/68F) and so the winter woolies have been broken out, along with umbrellas and raincoats.

Of course in our house the winter woolies are all stacked in a neat pile waiting to be put in suitcases. This is most likely going to be my last post this side of the big man coming, because in three days we fly to the UK and are staying in a field somewhere between the end of the world and the Dark Ages, with no internet or wireless to be found for a clear three miles in any direction. I’m not sure how we are going to cope with this as a family, what with my husband’s blackberry being nicknamed ‘the other wife’ for a few years now, my iphone permanently welded to my hand and my son assuming control of the ipad to the point he knows how to work it better than we do. However, I’m sure we will find a way to manage. Frequent visits to my mother’s house is probably the key.

Anyway, back to the winter woolies. It’s that time of year, when I open up the cold weather wardrobe and assess what is there and discover that I’m staring at decade-old clothing from top shop that I used to wear to the office, intermingled with a few dodgy 50% off jumpers I’ve purchased in the January sales in Dubai over the years. It makes for a sorry collection of clothing but up until now I have refused to spend the money on buying myself stuff for what amounts to two weeks of wear per twelve months of life. I spend a ridiculous amount of money as it is buying new for my son every year, with the intention of selling it off to recoup some of the costs when we return and finding that of course, this being Dubai, no-one wants second hand clothes unless they are free. So the thought of buying for myself has always seemed even more extravagant when I have been able to get away with what I have for so many years.

But this year, I gazed at the pitiful collection and decided I needed to add to it. Trouble is, I have lost my sense of winter style. I have no idea what’s in fashion, or more to the point what isn’t – because most of the year there is no reason to pay attention. It’s hard to shop wooly jumpers and long sleeved dresses when it’s 80 in the shade. It’s hard to imagine how you will be cold enough to require a coat, or even to try one on when you are sweating buckets. My ‘nod’ to winter is getting my nails painted in a berry colour instead of their usual coral or red. Taking off flip flops to try on a pair of fleecy lined boots for size it’s just very difficult to imagine I will ever have cold enough feet to worry about fitting thick socks in them as well.

wallpapers wallpaper christmas sweater sexy nina

This? (Photo credit: 黎湯姆)

I have forgotten how to be cold. I can’t remember how I should cope with party shoes and pantyhose: if I have open toed shoes should I go bare legged and risk pneumonia, or should I get a new pair of shoes that are closed in so I can cover up? (I got new shoes, obviously). Do I wear a coat in the car or take it off so I don’t boil when the heating kicks in? Do pub and restaurants provide extra pashminas for you to pop on if you get chilly? (I suspect this is a Dubai thing). Is it skinny, straight, boot cut or flare this year? Are there any such things as pyjamas that keep you warm and don’t make you look like your Gran? Why are all jumpers hand wash dry flat when you wear them during the worst time of year to get things dry? Is is acceptable to wear jumpers more than once on this basis, as long as they don’t smell of bacon? When do you wear welly boots? Is it every time there is rain or just when it floods? I’m sure I didn’t own wellies for about a decade until we went to Hong Kong to visit my sister, so therefore, Glastonbury excepted, are wellies a middle aged thing rather than a fashion thing in England, and should I not be wearing them at all? How do you wear gloves and not get your rings caught up in them?

Ugly Sweater 2010

Or this? (Photo credit: Sappymoosetree)

There are other, less fashion oriented questions I now ask myself before we leave. Exactly how much moisturiser do I need to wear in order to stop my face and body drying up like some ancient reptile from the cold/wind/central heating? How environmentally unfriendly is having a bath if you run the shower for half an hour anyway because you don’t want to get out? Why has no-one invented a car that de-ices itself? Why do all pubs with working fireplaces feel cold? Is there any way to get my feet thawed out, ever? Why am I in the cold instead of in the sunshine?

But today, we have rain. Dubai has provided me with a sort of purgatory, a place of transition to sit and get comfortable with the concept of dark days, bad traffic and a chill in the air before we travel to the real, slightly more hardcore version on Thursday. So as much as everyone else may be moaning, I am embracing it.

Should I not get chance to write again, I’d like to wish everyone reading safe travels if you are travelling, and a very merry Christmas. I’ve increased my readership by a fairly wild amount this year and for that I am very grateful and not a tiny bit flattered, that my ramblings are still providing entertainment (and maybe a bit of education?). I have certainly enjoyed sharing them with you. I hope that 2013 will find you happy to keep reading and wish you all the very best for the new year. Over and out.

Rubyslippers x

Advent-ures in Dubai

It would appear then, that Christmas is here. It arrived in our house on December 1st, without delay, at around 6am when my son jumped on us and inquired as to where his advent calendar was and when we were putting the tree up. And do you know what? I LOVE that it gets to be 25 days long! This is the first year my son has been old enough to really appreciate what it’s all about – well, not what it’s all about – we still have some work to do on the actual story of Christmas, I’m guessing like many expat parents living in a country that doesn’t officially celebrate this particular religious holiday, we have to work slightly harder at that bit…. However, it’s brought a completely different kind of Christmas our way to our rather more debauched pre-child years, or to the last three, which have been frankly exhausting. It’s made me think really hard about the whole thing, in order to find things to do to keep the excitement building and create traditions for us as a family that will go down the years. I admit, it can be pretty difficult to evoke the spirit of Christmas when it’s 70 degrees in the shade, but as long as we ignore the fact that our friends and relatives are wading through snow and hanging stockings up by actual working chimneys, then the illusion can be maintained until we get on a plane. And honestly, it’s kind of nice to go to a carol concert and only worry about getting mosquito bites rather than pneumonia. So, top ten things so far that have made Advent magical:

1. Singing ‘Away in a Manger’ to the boy at bedtime tonight and watching him listen, eyes wide, completely spellbound.

2. Putting the tree up and having actual help decorating it with a pre-schooler who can fetch the decorations for me to hang and shoo away the cats, rather than last year’s version – three feral animals (one toddler, two cats) trying their level best to destroy it all from three feet down.

3. Listening to my son rehearse ‘Frosty the Snowman’ for his school show. I should imagine when it comes to it he won’t make a peep but the other 47,000 times I have heard him sing it will make up for that.

4. Knowing my son is old enough to understand that ‘Father Christmas is watching’ and preparing to enjoy 24 days of making that count for something.

5. Watching my son’s anticipation and excitement build about a) seeing the Santa show on Saturday; b) going to Ski Dubai with his best friend to play in the snow c) seeing ALL his Nannas in a few weeks’ time.

6. Going completely over the top with Christmas shopping, in particular for the boy, whom I have unapologetically spoiled rotten. What the hell, there’s only one of him and he’s not going to be three at Christmas ever again. I want magic and I’m willing to let my husband pay for it.

7. The advent calendar I got from Amazon that has no chocolate in it. The doors may be welded shut in a sub-standard made in China kind of way but at least I don’t have to cope with the sugar rush from a Malteser every morning before school. Stroke of genius on my part if you ask me.

8. Getting all teary eyed at my favourite Christmas song ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ etc. Gets me every year and I love it that it does that. If you see a bleach blonde nutcase bawling her eyes out in Mall of the Emirates this week for no apparent reason – that’s me.

9. Skyping my mum in the UK today to see the snow – and my stepdad throwing snowballs at the window that looked to us like they were coming straight out of the screen. So exciting to my son, although I’m not sure he will ever forgive any of us if we don’t produce snow on Christmas day like they have in Charlie and Lola.

10. The fact that November was our busy month for going out, and December is more about family stuff, so I will be sober for most of it – meaning that hopefully by the time we arrive in the UK I will be ready for a several glasses of fizz and a party, rather than assuming my customary burnt-out knackered state, begging for sleep and nursing a whiff of sherry whilst rocking gently in the corner of the room.

And best of all – we still have another 20 days to go of making memories. This has always been my favourite time of year in Dubai because the weather is so fantastic and the city is just buzzing with things to do and see and enjoy – but experiencing Advent as a family in such a different environment brings it’s own pleasures too and so far I’m having so much fun I hardly want it to stop. But we are lucky enough to get the best of both worlds – because in fifteen days we get to fly home and do it all again. Awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving thanks

English: A can of pureed pumpkin made by One-Pie.

Try it. Trust me. It’s really nice!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I am mainly celebrating Thanksgiving. On Wednesday at my son’s school, on Thursday at our house, and on Saturday at someone else’s. Given I’m not even American I find this somewhat amusing and I’m a little terrified of what it will do to my waistline mere moments away from the Christmas season, but as it is my favourite time of the year, I am willing to suffer the once, twice, nay thrice agony of turkey dinners and pumpkin pies.

I LOVE Thanksgiving. It is totally the best holiday ever and I am so pleased I married an American so that I get to celebrate it. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with family and friends and breaking bread together. What could be more perfect than spending a day with your loved ones just eating and being together? “It’s just like Christmas!” I hear you cry – and it sort of is – but without any virgins or babies or donkeys or manic gift buying or endless George Michael/Paul McCartney/Aled Jones (delete as appropriate) pumping from every shop and restaurant, or thank you note writing or days and days of sitting about eating yet more crap during that dead bit between the 25th and 31st December that no-one talks about or the sheer pressure to perform that seems to leak into every corner of Christmas.

Thanksgiving…far more chilled. Turkey, trimmings, pie, wine. Of course to say it was a piece of cake would belittle my own preparations which so far have run to something close to a military operation and are about to turn red alert. It is hard work to pull off a three course dinner for ten and still have time to enjoy it, of course it is. But the whole premise of Thanksgiving – to just share a meal and be thankful for the company you share it with – well, there is just something magical about it I love.

Despite being several time zones and a half day’s flight away from the US, every year we celebrate Thanksgiving. We have had many people grace our table over the years – and sometimes it’s been just us and a chicken – but it’s something we make the effort to do even though our family is so distant. Especially because they are so distant. It is a way of reconnecting, of reminding us of home, of making traditions for our little family and sharing them with others. In fact I’m always surprised just how much people from other countries also love to celebrate Thanksgiving. I think it’s the feeling of inclusiveness and of togetherness that it instills, that makes it a pretty feel-good thing to do in the remote expatriate world that we live in. I look forward to one day sharing it again with our families, wrapped up warm and cozy by a fire, but in the meantime I can’t think of a better way to start the seasonal madness than tucking into turkey by torchlight in the back garden, surrounded by the friends new and old that we have made during our time here.

A friend of mine invited us to their Thanksgiving many years ago (before my husband and I owned a table I think). She introduced me to the most lovely tradition which I annually force my guests to participate in (the Brits in particular loathe it but it’s my table, my rules). After a toast from the host, we go around the table and all say something we are thankful for. Schmaltzy, much? Oh yeah. But it reminds us to be thankful, to consider that there is something in each of our lives that is worth stopping to think about and truly value in that moment.

What am I thankful for? Well, it’s hard to say. I don’t normally divulge, or even think about it until it’s my turn around the table. But I guess this year I am thankful for a whole lot. For being content. For finding my place in this world again. For my boys, the big and the little,whom I love so dearly and who give me so much joy. For not feeling lonely or homesick for the first time in a long time. For reigniting my passion for theatre and writing and finding time to do both. For looking forward to the future but not wishing away the here and now. For living what is really the most wonderful life I could ever have dreamed of. And finally, for the 8kg turkey I am attempting to shoehorn into the oven on Thursday.

Happy Turkey Day

x

Better late than never…a half year review

Well actually the year is nearly three quarters over but the end of the summer and the start of the school year seems like a good time to take stock and make sure there is still time to get the outstanding things done before the year end.

I am feeling pretty good about life actually. Almost to the point of smug,  but I’m not smug, I’m going to be 38 in a week for goodness sake and that is NOTHING to be smug about…no, really I’m just thankful that I worked it out finally this year, how to be an expat and a trailing spouse, and a mother, and not go crazy living in the sandpit.
The trick, I have discovered finally after a mere six years of trying, is to adhere to the Expat holy trinity :
1. Keep busy
2. Keep making new friends
3. Keep making the most of it
 
 
Keeping busy has always been the seemingly easy bit, but it would appear that historically I haven’t really been busy at all. I’ve been shopping, which is not the same thing. Now I am hurtling towards the start of a masters degree which will eat up most of my time whilst my son is at pre school, as well as spending my evenings in the pursuit of dramatic excellence. Inbetween times being the most excellent mother and wife of course. I am so fearful of this new version of busy I have (shock horror) started to think things like “when will I get my manicure done?” and secretly worrying I won’t have time for the gym and the occasional coffee in the sunshine, but my husband has reminded me that the hours will expand to fit it all in and I live in hope that he is right. I may have to compromise on Internet browsing and shopping trips but that is probably no bad thing. (god I sound like a spoilt brat).
As my son will be starting his new school in a few weeks I will no doubt be kept busy with this as well. And it will certainly be a time for making new friends. I will have to work hard to overcome my ‘do I really have to be endlessly nice to perfect strangers in the hope of finding one or two I actually like, AGAIN?’ issues, but I remain confident I can add a few new mummy pals to my depleted post summer collection in time for the cooler weather and a myriad of playdate opportunities.
Which leads, of course, to number three: keep making the most of it. We have a while left yet in the old girl that is Dubai before we pack up our kit bags, but it’s fair to say the majority of our years here are (hopefully) behind us and the majority of the hard work of baby/toddler parenting is also (hopefully) drawing to an end. So it’s time to get on with that bucket list.
Our son is three and the variety of things we can do with him grows week on week. Trips to the beach no longer require a flotilla of nappies, specially prepared lunches and endless toys. A bucket and spade, money for a hotdog and a towel are pretty much all that is required to spend several hours on the sand, which instantly makes the proposition a whole load more attractive. Going for brunch on the weekends has become a walk in the park since he stopped napping and figured out the iPad, and weekend evenings have become a far more relaxed affair since he proved able to stay awake without morphing into the devil child by 6pm. I am already dreaming of the moment some time in November when it will be cool enough to picnic at the polo or enjoy a pizza whilst watching the sun go down over the warm waters of the gulf – pleasures denied for the past few years but that I would dearly like to take advantage of before we leave this amazing life behind.
And the sand. The glorious sand. We have visited the desert a lot in a kind of sanitised 5 star hotel fashion, which i have little intention of giving up of course, but this Christmas time I hope we will be able to really make the most of living right next door to it and partake in some carolling, Dubai style, around a campfire amongst the dunes. In fact the build up to Christmas should be altogether alot more fun this year and I am looking forward to a much more relaxed time than the past few years when the business of having a small toddler has stopped us from taking part in many of the festivities.
There are so many things we simply haven’t done yet. There are waterparks to visit and zoo trips to be made and parks to be played in, amongst the beach/pool/desert activities that will fill our winter time and make us glad to be here instead of freezing in the dark damp of those dark satanic mills. We can go to watch the dolphins leap and see the king penguins waddle around the ski slope, and maybe even brave the Olympic ice rink to see if we have a future figure skater on our hands. And hopefully we will get some visitors this year to share all this with us, to make us make the most of it even when we are tired from all the keeping busy and making friends bit.
I guess it goes back to what I wrote at the start of the year. If we can just set aside the annoying bits about living here and be happy about it then it’s a good year done. So, September, and my return to Dubai, do your worst. I have my three laws of expatriate survival and my Q4 2012 Bucket list and I’m ready and waiting to come and get you.