Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bucket List

For the past 9 months my kids have been constructing their Dubai Bucket List.  The obvious have included missions like "Ride a camel."  Just as they scratch off one item, they quickly add another in its place.  The camel list alone has evolved from... 

  • ride a camel (check)
  • taste camel milk (check) to....
  • visit camel farm 2 hours away to taste the fresh milk 
  • invite other daddies over for a "Daddy BBQ Camel Cook off" (after discovering camel meat for sale in the butchery)

However at the very tip top of the list, slotted at #1 has always been 
 "Going to the top of the 
Burj Khalifa."

(In case you haven't seen the latest Mission Impossible 4 movie, like myself, and have NO idea what i'm talking about click here to get a visual of the Khalifa.

While Riley researched Emirate clothing before our arrival, this guy read everything he could about the World's Tallest Building.  He is our resident expert.  (Scroll to the bottom to see his report.)  In January both kids were elated when their sleepy eyes spotted the landmark upon landing after 16 hours of travel. 

The Burj is visible from pretty much everywhere in Dubai so there is a constant beckoning to my Littles.   "Come to the top... Come to the top..." it seems to whisper.  Our plan was to take a trip up during Spring Break but we discovered one week advanced notice isn't early enough time to get tickets.  Tickets are constantly sold out and we refused to pay the four times pay hike to purchase last minute will call tickets.

Three weeks ago we reserved our time slot to the top and decided to make the night big and festive.

  We started with one of our favorite cuisines, Lebanese.  
(Not sure where the funny red coloring is coming from but i promise no one has been sunburned... yet.)

With outside seats and almost perfect views of the Burj Khalifa overlooking the Dubai fountains we had music and entertainment every 30 minutes.  (Think Bellagio fountains in Vegas only MUCH bigger!)  

This is only about a third of the fountain 

Our tickets were for 8:30PM so promptly at 8:15 we entered the World's Largest Mall in order to get in line for the World's Tallest Building.  You'd never know from the outside that they are connected but supposedly they are.  (i am guessing this is NOT the same entrance Tom Cruise used for his movie scene.)

After waiting in line,
Several photo ops

  and some shameless Lego advertising, we finally reached the elevator!

(Again, with the lighting!  Chris really hasn't turned that gray overnight.)  
This trip was all about the kids but i'll confess i really couldn't wait for the elevator ride.  It is supposedly the fastest ear popping elevator trek in the world and i couldn't wait to try it out.

Only problem it is SO fast and smooth by the time i was done snapping this picture and wondering when the lift was going to begin its haul up, i look and see we are already on the 72 floor!  No kidding!  i missed half of the ride up and didn't even know it!!  
(Chris theorizes it really is just a Truman Show conspiracy stunt.  One quick ride inside an elevator to a movie set where mirrors and video screens deceive you into believing you are 124 stories in the air.  Anything is possible in Dubai.) 

Less than a minute ride in a disco ball of an elevator we arrive!  Although there were no dare devil stunts or dramatic music it was still  

the moment he had been waiting for!
The view from the top really is amazing and Kyle had fun searching for familiar buildings from a different vantage point.  Instead of peering up at them, he was looking down.

Bird's eye view of the fountain show.  We realized how huge the water show was from up here.  Those 3 circles are only part of the show.

We took it all in, the city lights, the breeze and the slight sway of the building.   

Standing on the 124th floor and looking up at the remaining floors of the 160 story building you realize again how crazy big this thing is!

There are so many fascinating facts on the building go HERE to read more.  

And because Dubai just isn't Dubai without something quirky and unexpected, i thought i would show you this as i am pretty sure you won't find this fun fact on the above web site...

No, your eyes aren't deceive you that is in fact 

If little legs are skinny enough, which they just so happen to be around our house, you can slip them through a thin space in the Plexiglas and hang your feet over the side of the 124th story. 

Pretty bucket worthy if you ask me.

We couldn't resist finishing the evening with a classic cheesy tourist picture. 

End result two happy kids and one more box checked off the Bucket List.  

"I want to tell you about the world's tallest building called the Burj-Khalifa.  It is world famous.  The Burj Khalifa started growing on Jan 2004 and was completed on January 2010.  Two men died building the Burj-Khalifa.

The tower was built to sway gently in the wind 10.6 feet.  The biggest problem in building it was keeping the wet concrete from hardening because when the concrete was shot up to only 50ft it can harden almost right away since the temperature can reach 130 degrees in Dubai. 

There are 57 elevators that can go up and down 160 stories at 40 mph!  It's height is 829.84 meters, more than half a mile!  The concrete tower is coated in glass from top to bottom.

A man named Alan Robert tried to climb it.  It took him 6 whole hours to climb the tower!  The day after the grand opening lightning struck the top of the tower.  Fortunately nothing was broken.  Sometimes you cannot see the top of it because of the clouds.  When I go to Dubai I will send you some pictures of the inside."

                           Kyle Burnett
                                        December 2011

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Good Morning!

In the morning when you sleepily grab that first cup of coffee and absentmindedly stir in the cream and sugar...

Remember you have adventurous kids!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's Drier Than i Thought Around Here...

Before we packed our bags i did LOTS of research on Dubai to help prepare myself and my family for the adventure ahead.  i read about the quirks and limitations we would encounter once we took up residence.  i knew my possessions were "subject to inspection and confiscation" while in customs to insure i didn't try to sneak in any unwelcome contraband.  Most items on the banned list really were not a problem for us to go without.  Things like "erotic statues" and "fire arms" are not going to be missed around our house.  i also knew i wouldn't be able to just "pick up" a bottle of wine at my local store even if only to make our favorite spaghetti sauce.  Our customs paperwork clearly said, "No alcohol content of any kind are allowed in."  (Even now i am afraid my super cute kitchen chalkboard lined with wine corks from memorable dinners may have been "confiscated."  i am still holding out hope it ended up in the wrong box and is sitting in storage rather than rotting away in the local UAE dumpster.)

The thing is, you CAN buy alcohol around here under certain conditions.  All the local 5 star hotels will sell it within their restaurants (as long as the hours you order it do not fall within in a Muslim holy day.)  The other option is to apply for a liquor license once you receive your residency visa so that you can actually buy a bottle of wine to enjoy at home.  This license allows you to enter into one of the very few discreetly unmarked buildings and purchase various wines and liquors to take home.  No mention of alcohol is listed on the store front.  In fact for weeks i drove by a "liquor store" in Dubai assuming it was a little flower shop from all the pretty flowers affixed to the windows.  There is a hefty 30% tax and a limit on the amount you can purchase.  There is also an absolutely NO TOLERANCE law on drinking and driving.  One glass of wine will incapacitate you from driving over the next 12 hours.  The smell of alcohol on your breath while behind the wheel or a bottle of unopened wine in your trunk without a liquor license can land you straight in jail, without passing go. 

We knew these things so none of it was a surprise.  The surprise did occur when i started restocking my kitchen pantry with the basic staples.  Remember this post where i couldn't even make cookies taste decent?!  Well, part of that would be because vanilla extract has ALCOHOL IN IT which would therefore render me incapable of buying it!!  After looking in 8 different stores, i surrendered and bought this weird little tub of powdered vanilla thinking regular vanilla extract must just be something the UAE doesn't ship in.

i tell Chris about how i think it's odd i can't find real vanilla anywhere.  He says nonchalantly, "Well, probably because it has alcohol in it."  WHAT?!?  Seriously!!  How much of that stuff would you have to drink to feel the effects?  After asking a fellow local mamas, they confirm that is indeed the reason there is no vanilla extract to be found along with other items like red wine vinegar.  After attempting the powder in our first batch of cookies the entire family, including indiscriminate spoon licking children, decide NO vanilla is better than the chemical powdery stuff.  We will make due.  Really, it isn't causing us extreme distress but cookies, pancakes, banana bread, muffins just aren't the same without it.

Yesterday, my amazing fellow expat friend from Michigan brought me something...!

She had her sister-in-law from England sneak bring it in for me during their trip here.  i think she is fabulous for many reasons but her bootlegging skills are now my favorite.  Now when i open my cabinet i pretty much hear a chorus singing.  Even though i did nothing on my own, besides complain once to get it, it feels like some weird well earned badge of honor to have vanilla in my pantry.  For the first time ever i noticed the alcohol content on the label ~ 41%.  Who knew?

We just ate our first batch of PERFECT chocolate chip cookies!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Different Easter

This weekend has been by far the MOST unconventional, unusual and quirky Easter ever.  While there were many moments carrying overtones of the Easter holiday and the way it is commonly celebrated at home, in the end it was just plain different.  Life here is giving us lessons in the beauty of "Different."  

This new friend of ours,  Different,  is teaching us to peel away the stark contrasts we think we know and gaze at what is really true.  The truth this week is this;  You don't need fuzzy little chicks, beautiful bouquets of lilies, perfectly pink dyed eggs, new Easter clothes and a formal church service on Sunday to celebrate Easter.  Believe it or not the same God that is working in America and rose on the third day just so happens to be present in places as far off as Dubai.  

We went to church on Friday instead of Sunday (cuz that's what you do here...) and instead of taking pictures in new Easter clothes nestled among fragrant blooms like we have in the past,

we were content with our little patch of green.  (Only Ry scored a new dress which was completely by accident.)

Friday night our family made a bee line to the desert for an evening safari.

Typically during this time of year a light colored grass blankets my yard and trees sprinkled with blossoms announce Easter's arrival.  

But this year my kids were rolling and running down sandy hills in the biggest sandbox ever,

riding camels like they were going out of style

 and handling falcons like no body's business.

Instead of filling our home with family who know you and love you best

and little friends my kiddos have had since before they could talk, 

we had brunch in different places with new friends we have quickly come to love.

While two or three helpings of dessert are pretty fabulous at an Easter buffet,

eggs covered with real paint and then hid in the hot sun... not so much.

At home pink has always been her choice of color when it comes to dying eggs.  Imagine our excitement when we unexpectedly found an actual egg dying kit!

(Only to find 4 of the 6 colors actually working and one of them is black... weird.)

The egg hunt itself?!  Usually little bodies are dressed in their Sunday best darting in and out of flowering bushes filling their large wicker baskets with sweet treasures.  

Flowering bushes and Easter baskets are pretty much nonexistent around here.    

In addition to that, Mamas from all over the world inadvertently left all large wicker Easter baskets in storage back "at home" only to realize upon arriving in Dubai.  It's ok though, because if anyone knows how to rally it's Mommies who want to make memories for their Littles and Littles just itching for some candy.

All the differences of the weekend and some of my longing for the signs of spring fell away as we set our sights on Easter.

Early Sunday morning we sank our toes into the sand and shells, watched the sun rise above the Persian Gulf and worshiped with Christians from all over the world gathered on a public beach for an Easter sunrise service.  

Pretty amazing it was!  A beautiful reminder to us of God's love for the world, regardless of our differences.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Change of Scenery

11 days prior to the kid's Spring Break, i was a single mama.  Chris traveled to Hong Kong and Beijing during that time.  Oddly enough, it hit me half way into his trip that i was indeed in the Middle East in a country sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran ALL. BY. MYSELF.   It was more of a "Hmmm? Go figure," moment than anything.  i was ok with it.  i didn't freak out, feel nervous or even a tad bit scared.  The first thought running through my head was, "Am i really old enough to be doing this?!"  Apparently i am.  It was fabulous however, when my other half came home and we were a team again.  The cherry on top was that his homecoming started our vacation!  

While other friends from school were traveling to some exotic and now not so distant lands such as Egypt, Petra, and Thailand for the week, we decided to take what we thought would be a mini and manageable getaway for a few nights and enjoy a little change of scenery. (Is that even possible in the desert?)  We were excited to have Daddy back home and were looking forward to some R&R.  We purchased a resort weekend online believing it was an hour past the more conservative Emirate of Abu Dhabi which is known for some of its beautiful islands.

The kids had never been to Abu Dhabi before so there were a few buildings i was looking forward to showing them as we passed through on our way to Jebel Dhanna. 

Circle, Pancake, Frisbee Building?

Unfortunately we did more than just pass through.  The kids got to view some of the buildings from every angle, side and time of day as we spent a good hour lost off course.  There is simply no way to explain how or why roads are marked the way they are... oh wait, they aren't marked at all!  The direction for this resort was and i quote, "Turn on the exit right after the dome hospital."  WHAT?!  After an hour of being lost we discover we have another 3 hours to go, that is IF we can find the correct roads.  There's a little girl in tears in the backseat saying, "Mommy, I really don't want to waste my vacation driving around, I was looking forward to this!" and a daddy in the front about to burst a blood vessel.  i was seriously hoping this "mini & manageable trip" was going to be worth it.

25 rounds of 20 Questions, 1 short lived game of "Eye Spy" (pointless game while driving in the desert!) 2 roadside potty breaks in the sand, 4 calls to the resort, temperatures peaking at 108, 15 desperate wails by the driver and FIVE AND A HALF hours later... WE ARRIVE!  Our arrival was followed by a spontaneous celebratory dance on the balcony.

Thankfully the first things my kids spied from the balcony was monkey bars and a sand soccer field which seemed to compensate for the drive.  Whew!! 

Kyle vs. Waldo

Even having to cover eyes for a sudden burst of sand in the face can't ruin monkey bars. 

The beach was unlike any we have ever been too.  We could walk out forever to find all sorts of critters and crabs to tickle fingers and toes.

But the Golden Ticket was found here...

Throughout the day i would look around for one or both of my Littles only to find them tucked away in some hammock.

Where else can you find complete relaxation and heart racing thrills all in one place?

Look what happens when you make a quick dash to the pool for some more sunscreen, somebody swipes your spot.

Since we ventured quite a ways from Dubai we found ourselves in a bit more conservative area.  At one point i SO desperately wanted to take pictures of some women i spotted at the beach in their full abayas and niqab.  Although i have seen women numerous times at the beach in this attire, i was in the middle of pulling out my camera because these 3 women walking together draped in black were such a stark contrast against the turquoise water and white sand and the lighting was beautiful!  It had National Geographic written all over it!  But my conscience halted me and spoke to me about how they may feel intruded upon and how it wouldn't be very considerate of me to just start snapping their picture without their permission.  As i am stuffing my camera back into its case, i look up to catch one more glimpse of them.  i suddenly realize one of the ladies is holding up her Blackberry in front of her face for what seems to be an instantaneous photo shoot pointed right at me!!  (And trust me, this white girl isn't going to make it into National Geographic anytime soon.)

That evening at dinner when Riley had to use the toilet (it's what they call it here and i don't like it but if i call it anything else they hardly know what i am asking for) i took these pictures and didn't even care who saw me.



A noteworthy moment happened during our stay.  Upon checking in the receptionist asked where we were coming from and for the first time in 3 months we answered "Dubai" instead of California.  Even more significant was the fact that for the first time when the children referred to "going home" they also meant Dubai.

i am pleased to say we made it home in about 4 hours and although it wasn't super exotic and yet still very far away, much relaxation and fun was had by all.