Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cookies

 One of my favorite holiday traditions is making Christmas cookies. Last year, Belle and I did an abbreviated session because our kitchen was tiny (our refrigerator resided in our living room because there was no room for it), so this year it was nice to go all out. My friend, Kim, and I invited a bunch of little girls over and two nice big brothers and went to town. We made Christmas wreaths, gingerbread houses & cookies, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies with Rolos, and Russian tea cookies. So yummy!
Here are some pictures from our afternoon:

Friday, December 14, 2012

The festive season begins...

The nice thing about the "winter" season is that it becomes comfortable to spend time outside.  We enjoy being outdoors and the winter makes it comfortable to sit outside, visit the sand dunes, take walks, and play.  Our neighborhood becomes more alive as children run about playing tag or riding bikes and scooters. This season has been extra special because we've experienced several rainstorms - one lasting most of the day (and causing flooding in Dubai because the roads are not designed to handle precipitation).

One of my favorite things about National Day is how the streets are all decorated with the  UAE national colors (green, red, and white), which helps to fill the missing holiday lights we'd be enjoying at home.  The cars get decorated as well, even though this year there were strict regulations not to do this activity.  Our neighbor has very colorful vehicles and decorated all four of them in similar style. We haven't seen them since the holiday, so they are likely off being repainted and de-crystalized (yes - he added crystals!).  We went with friends and celebrated the holiday in the desert. Most of them camped overnight, but with the new baby, there was no way we were sleeping in a tent for the night. 

All the hotels in town offer special holiday events and tree lightings.  Last year, we attended the Danat's and Santa arrived via camel. This year, we decided to bring the girls to the Rugby Club's Christmas Party for the Santa visit. This year, he arrived in a 4x4...
The nice thing about the Rugby Club event was that there were lots of Belle's friends there, and they were able to decorate cupcakes, make reindeer food, ride horses, have dinner, and eat cotton candy while waiting for Santa to arrive. Belle was awesome and brought Zofia up when she visited with the jolly elf and posed for pictures prior to his arrival:
Now we are planning a cookie baking day to have some of her friends over to help make it a bit more festive. It makes me miss Belle's godmother and uncle because there won't be any collegiate colored cookies without them and Audrey is an awesome baking partner. Next year.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Our first blessing
I've been doing the "30 days of giving thanks" and some days I have to look a bit harder to figure out what I am thankful for, other days it is very easy. Every year, Belle makes a hand turkey and fills in the things she is thankful for: friends, family, shelter, food, the country we live in and the country we are from. She writes some big things on her small hand.

Our newest blessing with Mama C.
This year there are big things that I am very thankful for, but at the same time the holiday season is bittersweet. This is the second year in a row that we'll be celebrating the holidays far from our country, our family and friends, our church, and without snow.  We wanted to go home badly but by the time we could purchase tickets, the airfare had become so prohibitive that our choices were to extend our time here for another year (to pay off a small loan to go home) or forgo our visit so that we can move back at the end of the school year with enough money to allow us to resettle. When we looked at the options, it was a fairly simple family decision. So barring anyone visiting us, the first time anyone from home meets Zofia will be when she is nine months old...

Ashaunda, Zofia, & Rob
We have many blessings though, and we hold them close to our hearts. On Thursday night, we went to our dear friends', the Giles', to celebrate Thanksgiving. Ashaunda and her family have become our extended family here in the UAE and we are blessed to know that they will continue to be a part of our lives long after our adventure in the sand has ended.  Our friends, Michelle and Kelly, came with us to celebrate as well. One of the things we've learned in our expat life is that it is easy to celebrate events with people you've just met because we're all far from home and that connects you in a way that can't really be expressed.  This feeling carried into our Friday celebration at a neighbor's home. We were invited to two events on Friday, but because Zofia has been battling a cold, we elected to stay close to home.

I'm going to look back on this time and remember the blessings more than the trials, I think. We have met some incredible people, seen things we never imagined and have the best souvenir of our time abroad. So today, I'm giving thanks for my family's willingness to embark on this adventure and all the things we've learned.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The homeschooling debate

Last year, we sent Belle to private school. It was an easy decision for us because she does well in social learning situations, has always loved school, and that was our only option for schooling if we were not going to homeschool (Western expat children are not able to attend public schools in the UAE).  We spent the whole year questioning the decision as we watched the work she brought home, saw what she was studying, and dealt with the outcome of the classroom behavior of her peers.

This year, we decided that her only option if we wanted her to return to her previous level of academics and progress (as well as avoiding the horrific behavior she was subjected to), was to homeschool. I spent most of the summer researching different programs, determining what we felt was important, examining the work she would be doing in our home district and what curriculum would address her needs. We finally found one that we felt was challenging, appropriate, and fully addressed social studies, science, and language arts. We decided to work with the same math program as her home district. Her school year began a couple weeks before her local friends because we knew we'd lose a bit of time adjusting to the new baby when she arrived.  Her curriculum is everything we hoped it would be and I gladly pay the tuition, shipping costs for books and manipulatives, and the supplies that accompany her learning experiences. To build in more opportunities for socialization and social learning, she is a member of the overseas Girl Scouts and takes piano lessons.

Lately there has been a lot of debate in our expat community due to recent government committee discussions about mandatory schooling for all expat children, and where homeschooling falls in this context.  Some of the conversation is quite upsetting and disturbing as some members accuse homeschooling parents of doing it out of "cheapness" or "laziness"... This makes me think more about my own understanding of homeschooling prior to our overseas experience. I always wondered how children would be socialized and whether it was possible to provide an adequate education for a child without the support of a school system. I now am much more informed and recognize that there are benefits to homeschooling that I was quite blind to before... That does not mean that we'll be homeschooling the girls when we return to the states where the school programs are much stronger, but we now have an understanding of why some parents select this option.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is that a car seat?

Our nurse asked us this as we prepared to leave the hospital with our new daughter, yet another reminder that we just gave birth in the UAE, not the USA. Car seats and seat belt usage are not common over here and their use tends to announce your expat status. It is nothing to see small children sitting on the console, bouncing around in the car, or even hanging out the windows.

Medical care is different over here.  Even more than at home, you have to be a strong advocate for yourself and really truly know your medical history and medications. In the past month, we've had three friends either be given something they had identified as being an allergen or having pretty awful side effects that far exceeded the symptoms being addressed. When we went into my last prenatal appointment, the doctor told me that she was going to give me an exam, but did not mention that she would be doing an intervention to speed up when I would go into labor until the procedure had been completed.

As someone who developed pre-eclampsia with my first pregnancy and pregnancy induced hypertension with this pregnancy, I was considered "high risk." When my water broke at school, I was directed to immediately proceed to the Urgent Care department for admission, even though I had not developed any regular contractions. After being admitted, my husband ran home to get a few things that we had forgotten, and while he was gone, I went into labor. The nurses did not respond to the call button, so I called Rob to have him hurry back. An hour or so later, the nurses finally came to check on us, to find me in active labor. There was some confusion with the midwives and nurses because they thought this was our first child, after realizing that it was not, and that I truly was progressing faster than they thought they brought me upstairs to labor and delivery.

The doctor who administered the epidural did not shake my hand at the consultation appointment and was quite unhappy with me for not being still while he stuck a needle into my back and while I was having strong and regular contractions.  Then Rob had to immediately go downstairs to pay for the epidural....The relief from this pain medication though was quite welcome and the remainder of the delivery went much smoother.  We ended up staying for four days due to the timing of her delivery (just after midnight) and her development of jaundice.

Since we have been out of the hospital, we've been running about trying to get her paperwork in order. She has two birth certificates: Arabic and English, has had her passport photos done, and we've applied for her health insurance card. Tomorrow, we are off to the Embassy to register her birth, apply for her passport, and apply for her social security card. After that, we get a break until her passport is finished, and then will have to apply for her Emirates ID card, and residency visa. It is a lot of items to make her official. And Belle is loving being a big sister.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The tooth fairy travels...

The tooth fairy has been kept on her toes by Belle. Every tooth she has lost has been in a different place: New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, DC, Vermont, Virginia, Prince Edward Island (Canada), and Pennsylvania. Today, she broke the trend and lost two teeth in Al Ain (UAE). It is bittersweet, because now she is losing the last vestiges of her babyhood as her primaries make room for the secondaries she will have for the rest of her life. She was so excited to call me an announce that now the tooth fairy needed to come to Asia. I also think about how this is probably the last time the tooth fairy will visit for many years because she's growing out of the age of "magic."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blessings from near and far... (aka getting ready for baby)

It is hard going back to work when you are approaching your final month of pregnancy and even harder being across the world from the people you want to share the experience with.  My new school has been wonderful in trying to make sure I'll have a smooth transition from working for the first 6 or so weeks of the school year, and returning mid-year, and I'm sharing office space and planning with a lovely team.

My dear friend, Ashaunda, who I worked with all last year and kept me sane, threw me a lovely baby shower a couple weeks ago. It was an amazing testament to the power of social networking, as most of the people there were friends I first encountered on Facebook. They have all become a huge part of my life in the UAE, and it was so nice to be surrounded by their love and excitement for our soon to arrive little girl.  Many of these ladies also recognized the other guest of honor, who after 9 years of being an only child, is about to assume the new role of big sister and role model.

Then this week, we received a couple large boxes from our church at home. Rob and I joined our church before we were married, and our church family has helped us raise and celebrate in each of Belle's developments from her very beginning. Even from across the world, they managed to share the love and goodness that is so much a part of that community with the little being still inhabiting my belly. We are all looking forward to seeing everyone in December. It will have been a long year and a half being out of our country and away from our family & loved ones.

Homeschooling continues to progress. I've still got a few more weeks of work before the big day, and then we'll be running around completing all the official paperwork that comes from giving birth abroad, so we can fly home to visit. 

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School and Routines

Last week, we started Belle's homeschooling program so that we'd be able to take a few days off when the baby comes and also so she'd have some routine established when I returned to work this past Sunday. So far, homeschooling has been a challenge - as we try and navigate being the teacher and the parent. But we all believe this is the appropriate thing to do to keep Belle on track academically.  We also signed Belle up for Girl Scouts in Al Ain - and because of the way they do things here, she will be a brownie for one extra year.

On Sunday, I started school at my new school. The building itself opened in January and the staff and student body are made up of the merger of three schools, to make one very large Cycle 3 (grades 10-12) school. This week has been a staff only week, and filled with meetings and more meetings, as well as getting to know my new English Medium Teacher colleagues. It is quite different going from one C3 partner to working with 14 other EMTs.   We have grade level teams, which is quite lovely and I've been assigned 11th grade science girls for right now. Generally the science girls tend to be a little more academic-minded and also have a higher degree of English fluency. These are nice changes.  The best part of my school is that it is only 15 minutes from my home and about 15 minutes from the hospital (important as I've only got about a month left before our new family member arrives).  I've been pretty tired after work each day, and I'm a bit nervous how this bodes since next week, I begin actively teaching when the students arrive on Sunday.

The pool at my new school
Every time one of my new Arabic colleagues sees me, she asks me why I am not walking (if I am in a meeting) and if I am walking, tells me, good job and to keep walking. She is very concerned that I have a good labor. 

Rob has been very busy doing airport runs, and this weekend he is going to be doing border runs for a bunch of new teachers. Our calendar is quite colorful with all the appointments this month.

The best part of this month so far is catching up with all our friends who have returned from their summer holidays.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Birthdays Abroad...

Last year, I celebrated my birthday with new friends and no family, as Rob & Belle were still in the US. This year, the family went to Dubai for a night, and most of our friends are in the US or other destinations.

Rob and Belle hit the ski slopes of Ski Dubai, while I had an iced coffee at the Starbucks in Borders and looked at books, and did a little shopping for baby T.  Then we headed to the Dubai Mall so I could have Red Lobster for dinner, followed by a stop at Baskin Robbins for banana splits.... yeah, I'm an American girl. ;)  At Baskin Robbins, we ran into some friends from Al Ain who were staying in the same hotel.  I guess this means we've made the UAE our home when we run into people we know in other cities.

In the morning, Belle and I enjoyed the rooftop pool. She was excited to see the Burj Khalifa from the pool. I was happy that the pool took the edge off the humidity and heat.

Now, we're back in Al Ain, waiting for our friends to return from their summer holidays, preparing for the school year and watching in-coming EMTs prepare to make the transition from hotel to housing, as they begin their own adventures.

I plan on spending more time at the pool in the coming weeks, reading, and doing a couple crochet projects that my amazing friends from NH have been kind enough to ship to me. If you are in Littleton, NH and like to knit or crochet, you should absolutely visit their shop. Now, I'm off to make a pumpkin hat in my super clean house (thanks to the fabulous maid my husband hired!).

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Anniversary

A year ago, I boarded a plane in Boston, leaving my family, friends, and country behind. I have learned a lot in this past year, including how much my family, friends, and country mean to me.

In the last year, I have:
  • crossed the Atlantic Ocean
  • swam in the Arabian Gulf
  • held a falcon
  • ridden a camel
  • dune bashed
  • attended camel races
  • visited the Grand Mosque
  • attended the Volvo Ocean race events
  • swam in outdoor pools throughout the year (I'm from NH, this is huge!)
  • visited a waterpark in March
  • visited the tallest building in the world
  • paddleboarded in Abu Dhabi
  • visited more malls than I could ever imagine
  • learned some Arabic
  • went skiing at Ski Dubai
  • visited Atlantis at the Palm Jumeriah
  • traveled to Turkey
  • visited the remains of the city of Troy
  • lived in a five star hotel for a month
  • had henna
  • made friends that I will never forget
  • and so much more....

    This new year already holds some promising new things, where our family will expand by a new addition in a couple months, a new school, homeschooling, and a new family compound to live in. We are also beginning to prepare for our repatriation to the US next summer. It will be a good year. Maybe I'll finally cross the Mississippi River too. ;)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Switching housing

You aren't supposed to be able to switch your assigned housing until the end of your first year. This does not mean it doesn't happen. Some people were very lucky and were able to change into more preferable places during the school year, our family had to wait until summer.

Moving is a hassle no matter where you live, but it becomes even more heinous when your move needs to take place during the time allotted for you to return to your home country, during a major month long holiday involving fasting and shortened business hours, when it is 115+ degrees every day, you don't speak the national language, and there is a bunch of running around that needs to take place because like everything else - you need a stamp for it. And did I mention, it especially is miserable when you are seven months pregnant doing all this?

The first complication was the housing we were initially told would be ours became unavailable. This put us in a time crunch because we were going up against the lease expiration of our flat and we did NOT want to spend another year isolated from other families. After many visits to housing, many meetings and many lists of available family villas, we finally received our new keys. It has been two weeks of moving, cleaning, running around, putting things together, and inshallah, tomorrow, we will have our final clearances for our old flat.  I'm very happy with our new housing - the community is full of families and children and now we can finally prepare for Baby T's arrival.

After tomorrow, I am looking forward to relaxing for a little bit and enjoying the rest of my summer holiday.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Yas Revisited

Last August, I lived for a month in a five star hotel during Ramadan. Staying at the hotel for a month and while a daytime fast was occurring, it lost some of its charm.

This past weekend, Rob & I attended a good friend's birthday party there and stayed as regular guests. It was a lovely experience, perhaps even nicer because I got to share the experience with him. :) Some habits came back quickly, wearing the robes, ordering room service, and calling friends to meet for meals and pool time. 

This time around, we could eat and drink where we wanted. The lifeguards brought chilled glasses of water with lemon and frozen lollies (popsicles for fellow US people) while we sat at the pool. And I was able to use the tub for soaking me, and not doing laundry! 

We need to get away as a couple more often.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A year without rain...

Fourth of July is tomorrow and I am homesick. This is the first time in 17 years I will not be celebrating the parade in Woodsville and the first time in Belle's life she won't be chasing the thrown candy in front of the Railyard. There will be no fireworks or sparklers, and no BBQ with family and friends.  I had my salon do my nails in stars and stripes because I needed something patriotic (ignore the puffiness of my foot- it has been hot and stressful). It will do until we can get a US flag for our flat. I miss the USA.

In the last couple weeks, we've been staying busy. School is out for Belle and next week, the school year will end for me. We still have to pick up her report card, but I'm not terribly concerned about her grades.  Last week, all the Cycle 3 English teachers had to mark (grade) the English 12 exams for two consecutive nights. It was a lot of work because so many teachers didn't come, but thanks to some very hard working teachers, we were able to do it in two nights. It made for an exhausting week because I still had to report to school each day and of course, we had company. I think Rich ends up coming every time I have night marking.

We tried to do some touristy things while Rich was here. Rob and Belle took him to the quiz night at the Rugby Club and we all went out to dinner at Zest.  Then for our big trip, we went to the waterpark at Atlantis, Aquaventure. It was our first time out on "the Palm" and it had a Hollywood, unreal feel to it. The apartment complexes and hotels there were all over the top, and the signs to go out on the different fronds were a different experience (they are alphabetized in case you were wondering). 

Our first ride was the "Rapids" which was kind of like the Lazy River at Whale's Tale, except with some cool rushing water areas that propelled you forward and some flat escalators that moved you up over terrain changes. We all enjoyed the shark slide - where you go down a dark enclosed slide that pushes you inside a tunnel through a small aquarium filled with fish, sting rays, and sharks.  Next year, when I'm not incubating, I think I will try the big plunge slide on the front of the pyramid.

The most taxing thing lately is that we are still dealing with housing, as the housing person is now withholding the housing we were promised. We are making it a priority to get accommodations with other families and children around for next year. It has been a hard year for Belle without any other children living nearby and being unable to spend time outdoors outside our flat. Rob has reassured me that this move will be easier because I don't have to do it alone.  We did join the Rugby Club so that at least we have access to a pool and gym, and Belle has become quite the fish. We are so proud of our brave swimmer.

Rob has been busy getting bookings to bring people to the airport and even has pick ups booked for August, as many people will be leaving for the summer, or at least for Ramadan.  He's also been working with another spouse who is moving out of Al Ain to coordinate border runs. He's done two border runs for people already, and will be offering his services to in-coming EMT's and their families in the fall.

For now, we are doing our best to stay cool (it is very hot - and no, the heat is not always dry - also, although the published temperatures will not read above 120, it does get there frequently and above).  We are working hard to find new housing before our lease is up (in less than four weeks!). And trying to get ready for our family's new addition in a couple months.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Exams and quality time...

We are in the thick of final exams at school. Belle had her English exam today and will be finishing third grade on Thursday after completing the rest of her subject exams this week. This means half days for her and more quality time with her dad.  At my school, the Cycle 3 (grades 10-11) girls began their exams yesterday. Today they had their English exams, where they had a reading section and writing. I will be marking them tomorrow as we had our "end of the year" staff party this afternoon, a luncheon with gifts from our principal and a gift swap among the entire staff. Like many of the staff parties, there was a background of loud Arabic music and the entire production took place in Arabic as well.  Unfortunately, the gymnasium is not air conditioned so it made it uncomfortable on this 115 degree day.  I ended up coming home and needing lots of fluids and a nap, while Rob and Belle went to the pool to cool off.

Rob and I are planning our first overnight getaway in years (in many, many years), to the Yas Viceroy in July to help celebrate a friend's birthday.  It is a nice excuse for Rob to get the Yas experience I had last August and for us to spend some quality couple time.  I think this weekend we might head to Abu Dhabi to spend some time with our city dwelling friends before the summer exodus begins.

Friday, June 8, 2012

No pictures, Miss

I used to teach 12th grade. This meant that the weeks leading up to graduation were hectic, trying to finish up curriculum while working around a marching practice schedule, chase down the graduation week speakers for speeches and rehearsal, and make sure all my grades were entered to ensure that everyone participating was actually graduating.  I even chased down students and called parents to have a student come back to make up work or do something to earn the last few points that would make the difference between a diploma or another year in high school. 

Not here.
They actually graduate BEFORE their final exams, and so at graduation, there are no diplomas issued, but laminated certificates. This is so everyone can participate in the celebration, and some girls have participated in more than one celebration.  The girls wear mortarboards and a cape (sort of like the hood you'd receive for your Master's degree). Underneath their hood, they wear evening dresses (think US prom).  Their hair is uncovered and face, so pictures are absolutely forbidden.

Instead of "Pomp and Circumstance" and the marching that I am familiar with, our girls walked out slowly to an Arabic song and then preceded to line up in a big circle, striking model poses in their evening gowns. It was like a scene from the Miss America pageant.

Then they proceeded to sit in their reserved chairs and the ceremony began. There were a lot of speeches in Arabic, gifts for their mothers and gifts from their mothers, sisters, and aunts. Food was served to all the teachers and female family members in attendance as younger schoolmates walked through our rows serving food and water.  There were slideshows of the girls as infants and in their more modest adult clothing, some dancing, and confetti cannons.  Grade 12 teachers were given a single rose, a small gift and a laminated certificate in Arabic.  And then, the teachers went to the social worker's office, shared a lunch and the day was done.
After graduation, I was invited back to a local family's home. The daughter was one of the highest achieving graduates (in the US she would have been valedictorian), but there was no party and indeed, outside of coming in briefly to greet her mother and welcome us to her home, she was absent from most of the visit. My coworker and I were served Arabic coffee and tea, and then were fed a meal in stages, starting with the chicken and rice with salad, then sweets, then fresh dates, followed by sliced watermelon and finished with cut fruit.  I had thought we were staying for just an hour, but the visit lasted for over five.  Her hospitality was incredible and upon departing, we were encouraged to visit her again, the next time bringing our whole family.

On Tuesday, our KG2 will graduate. I wonder if that will be different.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hello, June...

June is typically the end of the school year - in the US anyhow... Belle's school will be finishing up around the 21st of this month, but my school year will end on July 12th.  The heat is beginning to make the end of the day classes difficult and I never complain when our social worker rearranges the schedule so 8 and 9 can be cancelled. Teaching when it is 115 or higher is a challenge - just as learning is, I'm sure. Graduations at our school start this week, with Grade 12 on Thursday and KG2 on the following Sunday.

Cycle 3 (grades 10-12) recently took a field trip - the first one I've been asked to attend - to Bawadi Mall. The last field trips I've chaperoned were to theater productions, so this was quite a change. Most of the girls spent a couple hours at Fun City (an indoor grown up version of Chuck-E-Cheese, I guess, with rides more typical of fairs or amusement parks) and a few went to see a movie. Then they shopped a bit, had lunch at Pizza Hut, and boarded the bus back home.  The field trip ran smoothly, but then, why wouldn't it?

Now, we are trying to figure out where we're moving to this summer, as our housing department has notified us that the building we are living in will not have its lease renewed. This did not make us sad because although the flat is nice, our location is not ideal and it has been a lonely year for Belle - no other kids around, and no safe place to play outside. We're hoping for more kids at our next location and some outdoor space - ideally with a pool.  Oddly enough, we'll be thinking about housing again next summer as we prepare to return stateside.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Holidays are different...

Today is Mother's Day in the US, but it did not feel like Mother's Day.  In truth, none of our traditional holidays feel quite the same over here. I was at work today, as well as on Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, and although we were on break for Christmas and New Year's -they still did not feel the same. Being at work on these traditional days is one part of the difference, but also absent is the commercial build up for each of these holidays. There are no television reminders that these dates are approaching or the planning of how to fit in all the family visits or festivities that usually accompany our holidays. But in some ways I think time feels different here for our family as well. We are used to seasonal changes to show the progression of the year, and although there are two seasons in the UAE (oh my goodness it is HOT, and this is nice), they are not quite the same as the seasons in NH (winter, spring - with a touch of winter, mud, blackfly, sweet summertime, foliage, and winter).

Happy Mother's Day...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Traveling to Turkey

I'm a bit of a history geek. I love learning about the past, and it was a close call whether I would go to school to teach English or history - English won out, but mostly because I could still use history.  That being said, I don't incorporate a lot of history into my teaching at this time - mostly because I am not as familiar with the UAE history as I am with other regions of the world.  So when it came time for vacation, my family and I decided to visit some of the rich history of Turkey.

Our first stop was Ephesus and the Celsus Library. We learned about the powerful Greek and Roman influences in Anatolia, as we explored sites dedicated and celebrating gods I'd studied in school, or taught about while exploring older literature.  During long bus rides, we entertained Belle with the stories we recalled, so that she would understand the relevance of Dionysus and why everywhere we went had beautiful theaters still standing in his honor.

We also were able to visit some historic sites that are important to our Christian faith, the Basilica of St. John, with his tomb, and the Home of the Virgin Mary, where she is said to have resided after being placed in John's care. Within Virgin Mary's home, there were gifts from the last three Popes.  Everywhere we went it was amazing to think about the people who had come before us.

 Our last two major stops before returning to our home overseas were the City of Troy's ruins - the site of the Trojan war, and the Gallipoli memorials from more recent history.  Belle climbed to the top of the Trojan horse replica after we toured the remains of the many incarnations of Troy - it was continually rebuilt and enlarged. 

The Gallipoli memorials were the first time that I had learned about these battles, and ANZAC day (April 25). Our Turkish guide was full of pride in speaking of the role that both Turkey and Australia have played in remembering and honoring a generation of soldiers that never returned home, falling on foreign soil.  As my former students can attest, I have a special place in my heart for war memorials, because how we remember those who have fought for us, I believe, speaks loudly about who a nation is.  The memorials on the Gallipoli peninsula spoke poignantly of the place these soldiers continue to hold on both their foreign resting places, and their far away home. 

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well." Ataturk, 1934

It made me cry.

We finished our trip by spending our final night in Istanbul, staying near the Hague Sofia, and enjoyed dinner on one of the cobblestone streets. 

It was a good holiday.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vacation at last...

I haven't always been a teacher or a student, but in recent years, the end of February means vacation. This was the first year in recent memory that there was no break.  Yesterday was the first day of my spring break...

Since November, we've been trying to use our Cobone to get to Ras al Khaimah and Iceland Waterpark. Every time we tried to book a date, it was booked for that entire month. I had despaired of ever using it, when the travel agency called with a one day availability. This meant leaving after work, which mind you is an hour's drive away from my home in the midst of the desert, and traveling over three hours more to Ras al Khaimah on typical UAE directions (which means confusing as heck).  After many wrong turns, and roads, we arrived in time to eat dinner and get to bed. Rob and Belle had a bit more energy and ordered room service for dessert.

Then after a leisurely breakfast and walkabout at the hotel, we headed back into the car with more UAE directions and eventually found Iceland Waterpark. After much coaxing, Belle finally tried some of the big slides and we had a wonderful day. We're looking forward to going back to Iceland again. Now, it's on to prepare for our trip to Turkey.

Vacation is off to a wonderful start.