Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Three years in the sand...

I used to try and blog at least once a month. It was easier to find the time when Belle was an only child, and Zofia hadn't gotten mobile. Plus, my work commitments were comfortable.  The last six months have been a bit overwhelming in trying to balance the social lives of a toddler and preteen, my own needs, and my job. Something had to give, and sadly, it was the blog. Facebook friends have managed to stay up to date through occasional photo postings,  but the blog was neglected. I'm hoping to rectify this now that my schedule has been changed for the 9th time this year.

Three years ago, I was told I would need to be flexible and the last two terms attempted to see how much I could stretch. In my contract, I am allowed a maximum of thirty hours for responsibilities during the school week, and since September, that was what I was assigned. It was exhausting and I was always on the go. For the first term, I had a colleague keeping me company at the maximum hours, but the second term, I was the only teacher in my school with that load. What kept me going was the support of two of my coworkers who made sure I always had the copies I needed, helped me develop resources, supplied me with resources and tools, and made sure I kept my sense of humor. With their help, I still managed to have a reserve of energy to keep up with my two busy girls. For this final term, I am back down to a more manageable timetable.

Winter in Al Ain (end of November to the beginning of March) is the absolute best time to be here. The weather is like a New Hampshire summer with warm days and mild nights. We spent a lot of time outdoors, taking walks, visiting the zoo, climbing sand dunes, going to parks, grilling, and enjoying the temperatures.

Belle has been enjoying school this year and made some really good friends. She was named Star of the Week for two weeks in February, and is adjusting well to the Cambridge Curriculum (British) and spellings. In the last few weeks, she has been learning how to play rounders (British version of baseball) and has even scored a run. Next term, she is joining the school choir and she has auditioned to be in a school play after spending a term doing drama as an extracurricular. 

Rob's schedule doesn't leave him with much time at home, which has been hard for the girls. During the week, I have the help of Zofia's fabulous nanny, which makes the "single" parenting a little easier. But he is enjoying being part of the working force again after his stint as a stay at home parent.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The rain in the homeland

I haven't posted for a bit and find I've got a few posts to catch up on. Here goes...

The month of July was so green and lush. While most of our friends complained about the rain, we luxuriated in it. Buying umbrellas and needing to pay attention to a weather report were things we had missed about NH... What we did not miss and indeed had forgotten were the bugs (which were greatly increased in response to the damp). Belle elected to stand outside in a downpour while I completed a visit at the Social Security office to the confusion of onlookers.

While the rain was indeed lovely, it was even better that we were able to spend time with friends and family we had only seen online for two years. We are truly blessed with incredible people in our lives and it was a joy to see each and every person. 

The flight home was a bit of a nightmare, due to flight delays and lost luggage, but our time in the US was a pleasant break from our desert lives. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

School's out for summer!

\Yesterday was the last day of school for the 2012-2013 school year.  The week was filled with professional development activities for our School Improvement Plan and preparation work for our Irtiqa'a review next year (sort of like the NEASC accreditation process but compressed into one year). We also had time to clean out our files, organize our office, and celebrate the school year. Our school had three EMT's complete their contracts and decide to repatriate to their home countries. We also had a teacher retire. Local female teachers can retire after 15 years if they have children. At the end of the year luncheon, one of the local teachers sat with a group of EMTs, and we complimented her on English. She told us how she had studied for three years to become a doctor, but a family member decided that it was not a good thing, so she became a teacher. She's been a teacher for a number of years now and would like to get a master's in curriculum and policy. She applied and was accepted to attend a university in the US. Her husband does not want her to leave for the two years, but said she could only he would not give her permission to take her children with her.  It was hard for me to see how accepting she was of these challenges to her professional goals, attributing it to Allah's plan and will, and yet, I had to remind myself of some of my friends who were unable to come abroad with their spouses and stepchildren, or their own children because of similar circumstances. It is a different culture and people are protective of their children and their exposure to different cultures.

On a lighter note, we were able to celebrate the 4th of July with friends from different parts of the world (including some Brits). We had a lovely indoor barbeque because it was too uncomfortable to be outside. We even did an impromptu baby music class.  Rob had a celebration at work, so he didn't completely miss out on the holiday. 

In three days, the girls and I board a plane for the US, a day before the expected start to Ramadan.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Homeschooling ends...

Last year, we decided that we were going to homeschool Belle. This decision was based on a multitude of factors, including the quality of education she had been receiving. The biggest issue was the bullying she had experienced throughout the year, and the lack of response from her inexperienced (it was her first year) classroom teacher and the school administration.

I spent weeks researching curriculum and programs before selecting Moving Beyond the Page (an integrated language arts, science, and social studies curriculum) with Everyday Mathematics. Moving Beyond the Page was a really solid program and literature rich. Belle moved away from textbooks to novels and activities. 

The hard part was motivating a 9 year old who was distracted by her baby sister and a dad that was accustomed to sleeping in (replaced by naps with the baby). This led to a progression of later and later start times, and sometimes a lack of any work being completed. The positive side is Belle and Zofia truly adore one another. The negative was that I spent my time at home fighting with Belle to do schoolwork and neither one of us was getting a break as make up work consumed our weekends. 

We decided this spring that Belle needed to go back to a brick and mortar school. We started casually asking friends about their schools and reading websites. We did drive-bys to establish locations, and researched the difference between British (many schools offer this) and American (limited offerings) curriculum. Based on our findings and what we knew about various schools, we arranged school visits. 
On Monday, Belle took a placement test and on Tuesday, she was accepted into Year 6 at Al Ain International School. I just paid her registration deposit and by the time I arrived back to my school had received the first term invoice. So starting September 8th, this will be her new school:

Monday, June 24, 2013


Yesterday was graduation, and this year I embraced the spirit & dressed for the occasion. 
This is a picture of my gown, minus my wrap. It gives you a small idea of the gowns that our graduates wore and unlike those young ladies, I wore my hair up... They wear their hair up most days, so for special occasions they wear it down, curled, jeweled, and then have the make up to match. Sometimes it was hard to recognize my students that I've spent the last six months with because they were so transformed. Our graduation was also attended by the daughter of the current leader of the UAE, Sheikha Salama bint Khalifa!

On the home front, the girls and I are looking forward to flying home in two weeks! Rob is still waiting to start his job. We've been told inshallah this week... Fingers are crossed, as it is has been a long wait and he's missing out on the US visit because of it. 
Zofia has learned how to crawl, so we have been madly baby proofing our house. Belle is now 10 (seriously, where has the time gone!). We have been saying goodbye to many of our 2011 companions, the people we started this journey with, and some from earlier years as they return to the US or go on to other countries. We are also excited to attend a 4th of July party next week with American & British friends. It should be quite an experience celebrating Independence Day with them! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making a list and checking it twice

Truth be told, I haven't bought our plane tickets yet. I'm waiting on flight money to be deposited on the 25th. That does not mean I haven't been busy making lists: a list of things I need to bring, things I have to bring back, things we will need in the states, etc.

There are many things available in the UAE, after all it is a worldwide shopping destination, but there are also things you can only get at home. On that list, prescription strength antiperspirant (why isn't that available in a country that regularly sees 110+ degree weather?); saline solution for contact lenses (and for some reason my contact solution brand isn't sold here either), and Benadryl. That is just the pharmacy aisle. Then there are the snacks from home you didn't realize you'd miss: Triscuits, Cheez-its, Pirate Booty White Cheddar. Can you see a visit to Wal-mart in my future? Yes, you end up missing those big box stores and the convenience of one stop shopping...

While clothing is available here, sometimes the quality is not as good, and there are never the types of sales you'd find at home. We'll be stocking up on some of those items as well. Luckily it really is mostly one season (unlike my beautiful home state), so summer clothing with a couple cardigans & one or two pairs of pants is more than adequate. 

Then there are the experiences I've been missing: the beach at Echo Lake, BBQs at our friends, church on Sunday mornings, the views of the White Mountains, and all the friends & family we haven't seen in two years. 

So, after flights are finalized, I'll start finishing up the details of all we'll need on our visit: rental car, car seat, stroller, crib - oh my....it never ends - guess we'll visit some yard sales too! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The two Jumeriahs

Last year Rob & I decided to take Belle to the beach in Dubai. We ended up at the free beach and although the water was nice, the beach was not. People were swimming in their underwear, the beach was covered in litter, it was gross. We decided no more Dubai beaches, yet many friends came back reporting what lovely times they had and how nice the beach was...
Jumeriah Free Beach
(surrounded by underwear swimmers)

Yesterday, I decided to try again, this time armed with the coordinates. The beach was clean. The water was clear and warm. Although there were swimmers in speedos (why?!), no one swam in their underwear.

Jumeriah Beach