Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Snow

I have heard so many conflicting stories about Brussels winter weather.  Those who do not live here are convinced it rains all the time and the winters are brutal.  Those who do live here are split between horribly cold winter and not so bad...we shall see.

There were snow flurries on Thanksgiving day, but it was sunny and mild over the weekend.  The last few days it has gotten noticibly colder and this morning I awoke to what would be a major snowfall for Tennessee.  The ground is covered, but green grass is still visible.  The sky is just grey, but I think that is the norm. 

I hear there are predictions for a "dump" tonight.  I have no idea just how much snow that could really mean, but it is rather pretty.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Warm Towels

I adore the radiator style heat in my home.  They keep the house very comfortable.  The ceramic floor in the bathroom is warm because warm water runs beneath it and the radiators on the wall gives out so much warmth.  The very best thing about it that I can take my big fat fluffy robe and put it on the radiator which makes getting out of the shower like jumping into towels fresh from the dryer!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Learning French

I've been taking French classes since shortly after my arrival.  I am surprised at just how quickly I have picked it up, but I'm certainly not a speaker of the language yet.  I can put together a few sentences and read more of the signs around town.  Now I just need to find a friend who is a native French speaker!

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Not New Car

I had to buy a car.  Found that I just don't function very well without wheels of my own.  Yes, Brussels has lots of public transportation options, but they are not the quickest way to get around; and you can spend a LOT of time when you get lost.

I bought an early '90s BMW.  It's a straight shift with roll down windows, the radio doesn't work, the air conditioning doesn't work and it has 190,000 km.  But the tires are good and it runs smooth. 

It is, however, terribly expensive to put gas in anything here.  My first tank of gas cost 130 dollars!!  So maybe I won't be driving it a lot, but at least I can go anywhere I want to, if I want to go bad enough.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wrong Side of the Road

Well, I had my first ever experience of driving a right-hand drive car on the left-hand side of the road.  Yes, it was a strange feeling, but I was amazed at how quickly I adapted.  For the most part I had no difficulties, except for that split second when I would see a car coming and think, "he's in my lane...oh, no, we are okay."

I also used my new GPS in a totally strange place and could not believe that it actually worked, though it took me down some very "iffy" roads, LOL.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A More Comfortable Home

Well, my own things were delivered today, and unpacked.  Five hours for four guys, a truck and a fancy lift machine to complete the job.

Elevators are quite small here so instead of carrying all the items up the elevator, they simply hooked a lift machine up to the 6th floor balcony and sent it up.  The movers themselves only had to move boxes a few feet, sometimes unpacking them right on the balcony and sending the large boxes back down.

It is amazing how having the rest of your clothes, photographs and linens can make you feel so much more at home.  Have to say the little concrete statue of a schnauzer is absolutely one of my favorite pieces.  He's my buddy, my guard dog.

The house is a total mess, but the echos are gone and it is like Christmas digging through the piles finding familiar things.  Once I get it all put away and organized I will be most happy to host my friends in my (hopefully) warm and welcoming home.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Friends in Belgium

I think I have found a group of people to share some great times with here in Belgium. This is an international city with lots of people, government entities and military. With Germany and NATO being here, there are lots of military and ex-military people everywhere.  I was looking to meet others to ride my motorcycle with and literally stumbled upon a Harley Davidson club of mostly American military service members.

My bike has not yet arrived, probably won't until late December, so I have nothing to ride.  I was surprised to be asked to ride with someone else.  I thought about it for a while and decided to go for it.  While it became a bit physically uncomfortable by the end of a long day, the ride was excellent as was the camaraderie. 

I have since spent a bit more time with these people and find that I always have a great time with them.  As a group they are active in community events and put lots of miles under them, while emphasizing safety and mentorship of new riders.

While I'm familiar with people who ride together for safety and fun, I'm new to the idea of a official structured club, but I'm warming to the idea.  Good friends make ALL the difference in how enjoyable life becomes.

While I truly miss my "old" friends (by the simple virtue of being physically separated), I will treasure new ones.

Friday, October 8, 2010

King of Spain

Exploring Brussels is an experience.  I've been to a few places of note in the city.  One of the nicest was the La'Roy (short hand for the La Royale d Espagne' - means the King of Spain).  It is a famous Tavern in Grand Place (Grote Market) built in 1697.  It served as the Bakers' guild building and was named for, of course the King of Spain, Charles II who was ruler of the southern Netherlands, which included Belgium at the time.  All the buildings around the Grand Place are gorgeous, this one is full of beautiful wood and a central fireplace.

Note to the older generation of those who love me: Unfortunately, virtually every place of interest in Belgium is connected to drinking in some way.  Pubs are greater in number here than Walgreen's back home.  Please know that I take my health seriously and will always moderate.

I went out with a local last week who explained to me that there used to be many, many little theatres in Brussels that used marionettes to entertain and inform the locals.  Only a couple remain, and of course, they are pubs.  He said that the content of the shows was the news of the day and usually presented in the form of comedy with characters poking fun of the politics--Boy, could we use more of that!!  The marionettes can be found decorating many places around town, including the La'Roy.  They are about 24 inches high and very ornately made. 

Part of the character of this city is that they are a bit irreverent of what is happening outside of their daily lives.  I am coming to appreciate their point of view.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Six Months

The first 6 months are always the hardest.  I remember this from my last (first) post. 

The tour is 2 years.  You spend the first 6 months getting settled and the last 6 months preparing to leave.  I've been here about 6 weeks and it is still a struggle.  In my last job I knew what I was doing and how to get things done.  In this job, I don't.  Everything takes longer and more energy than it seems like it should.  Being alone is new for me and it takes time to meet good friends.  I also have never lived without a car. 

As I said I'm only 6 weeks in.  So I will have a bit more patience with myself and give it time.  I'm sure it will all come together.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Car Free Sunday

Today is the annual Car Free Sunday in greater brussels. Every road within the Ring (about the size of 440 in Nashville) is off limits to cars. It is however open to busses, taxis and a few categories of special groups of car tags. It is very quiet on my street today!!

They drive absolutely everything here from tiny little scooters that don't require a license (sound like a weedeater); to a BMW scooter (pass thru for the legs, no straddling) with a full roof, front windshield and back window; to motorbike's with a V8 engine and a grill that looks like the back of a refrigerator (Boss Hoss).

Then there are Smart cars (can't believe just how tiny they are until you see them in relation to other vehicles); trikes of every kind, motorized and not; and elderly people EVEN drive the hoover-round type wheelchairs ON the roadways....

...Did I mention that drinking beer here is like drinking tea back home?  What a trip!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Full Cupboards

You just never know where blessings will come from next. A couple of weeks ago I met a nice couple who've been here for about several months. They were kind enough to call and ask me to dinner, as well as offered to take me to a local American military commissary. MAN! What a difference in how I feel being here!!

It was my first opportunity to get outside the city for the first time, and I finally have food in the house. I even have soft white Wonder bread!! I got transformers so my own electrical things will now work. I got a bicycle tire pump and some tools to put my bicycle back together. How wonderful!!!

Makes me feel almost human again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rowdy Americans

I got just exactly what I needed last night - a bunch of rowdy Americans!!!

I really needed a fix of American style bravado, slap on the back, good to see you kind of atmosphere. During an orientation to this post I met other Americans outside my co-workers who also work in Brussels. Me being my normal talk-to-everybody self wrangled an invitation to join some others for a Friday evening out. We met other Americans and some locals (and not so locals) who also know how to be rowdy.

It was so very enjoyable and has gone a long way toward making adjustment to this post easier.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Permanent Home

I was moved into my "permanent" home today. Funny how that word has such a different meaning for those who move every couple of years.

All kinds of chaos ensued with trying to coordinate two sets of movers - one moving me and all the things I've collected, and another delivering my first small shipment from Abu Dhabi.

I have to say I absolutely love my apartment. It is smaller than my home in Abu Dhabi but not tiny by any stretch of the imagination. Much more in keeping with a modest home in the States. The kitchen is small, but looks to be efficient. I've got 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a very nice living/dining area with a great balcony. I found that I have a storage "cave" in the basement/parking garage that is about 12x12, so I even have room for Christmas things.

Apparently home burglary is a big thing here, so there are all kinds of security.

Best of all I am very close to public transport and the trip to work is easy and not too long.

Monday, August 23, 2010

American Political Scene Aug 2010

I admit to being busy with my own life, but I have been paying attention to what is happening to my fellow citizens at home. Some of my dearest friends and family are dealing with serious consequences as a result of a government that no longer abides by the restrictions placed upon it by the Constitution.

I cannot write enough to express my disgust with the current state of affairs, but I did find a couple of articles written by others.

Click the links below:
LA Times
UK Telegraph

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Arrived in Brussels

I have finally arrived in Brussels, even had a few days in the office.

Unfortunately, I'm having a much harder time adjusting to the time change than I did in Abu Dhabi. I'm not sure why, but I do know I am simply exhausted, so I've been sleeping quite a lot.

I do feel as though I have stepped into a storybook with all architecture of the mostly short buildings (8 stories or less) , narrow streets and of course, most people are speaking French-therefore, I'm a little disconnected from it all.

I miss Finn Sisu all the time, but his absence is particularly acute now. I know he would have absolutely loved this place, this experience. I miss my partner~in~crime who could always make me laugh and shared my twisted sense of humor. He would be be laughing about the fact that the only English we can find on TV is infomercials selling ABtronix, portable paint sprayers, etc...and we'd be watching it!!

I suppose it will take a while to get used to this little city that has been described by my colleagues as a little wacky, but then it's just another adventure.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Landed

I landed this morning in Brussels. Arrived around 8:30 in the morning. Picked up by one of my coworkers and taken to a furnished apartment in the city.

There is no phone in the apartment. There's no food in the apartment. Everything on TV is in French. I have no euro. Don't know where an ATM is located. Don't know how to navigate the city and, of course, I don't know French.

There is a bed and since I pretty much have nothing else to do...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Road Trip

I just spent the most fabulous four days motorcycle riding in North Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains with 4 awesome ladies!!!

I am inspired, refreshed and wholly invigorated.

The women I rode with were very supportive and encouraging for this new rider. Riding in a group provided more protection and helped me to relax. Their counsel was patient and their instruction valuable.

We hit Chattanooga where we were hosted by wonderful friends and ate like kings, then rode to Gatlinburg (getting soaked on the way) where we stayed in an old style motel (and ate like kings).

It has been 10 years or more since I was in the Smokies and I must say I feel like I visited heaven, it was almost a religious experience. I LOVE the area and think that if I had to pick one place to stay for the rest of my life this would be it.

Leaving Gatlinburg we headed into the iconic Gateway to the Smokies. I've been on this road many times as a child and as an adult. As a child I never understood why we would drive fast on the interstate for hours to get to this place and then spend days driving slowly around. As an adult I appreciated the serenity more, but on a bike...oh, my - what an experience, what a view.

We hit Clingman's Dome early in the morning. It is August but none of us took off our jackets.

As usual the mountain was full of the famed "smoke" that gave the range its name. I pity the uninformed tourists who brave the 1/2 mile walk, every step up a mountainside, only to get to the top, walk up the ramp to the 2 story tall observation tower to see...FOG. LOL. I've done it and won't be doing it again. Don't be fooled by national park pamphlets talking about being able to see for a 100 miles. I've NEVER seen it and I've been there in Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. I have been there when you could not even see the ground below the observation tower.

Oh, and that fog is NOT pollution. That famous mist on the mountain is a result of the rapid cooling of warm moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. As it rises up to the top of the mountains the moisture condenses and lingers over the peaks.

Next we descended the other side of the mountain into Cherokee, North Carolina and headed for the Cherahola Skyway, another fabulous drive through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. We stayed in Murphy, NC, where we did not eat like kings.

Our last day found us making our way down to Dahlonega, Georgia via Blairsville. In Blairsville we stopped at a little country store with the OLD gas pumps (you know the kind where the numbers roll up). We met locals who had their dogs with them and found all kinds of treasures. I bought red pepper jelly and another called Smokey Mountain Traffic Jam (combination of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries). The name is tongue-in-cheek because there are lots of traffic jams, after all the speed limits are 30-40 mph.

In Dahlonega we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a local cafe and perused the shops on the square before making our final way back to Atlanta. I learned that the actual journey is so much more fun when you are not in a hurry and can enjoy whatever you encounter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

250 Miles


You should be used to me doing unexpected things by now...I have bought and am now riding a new Harley Davidson motorcycle. I ordered a Softail Deluxe several months ago and finally got it, after taking a motorcycle safety/riding course.

No, I had never actually ridden a motorcycle (other than being a passenger) before now, but I've been on bicycles, ATVs and pretty much anything else that goes. I love speed and I love power (always have) much as I do though, I respect the danger the bike represents and I will treat it accordingly.

I've been riding for a week and finally got 250 miles on the bike. I am so looking forward to cruising the Smokies on my bike with friends before heading off to Brussels in late August. I doubt I will tackle anything like the Dragon's Tail, but the mountains of my home have much to offer with respect to pristine beauty, calming serenity and exhilarating vistas.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blessings

I have found myself talking to God a lot for the last few days and I seem to be saying the same thing over and over - Thank You, Lord, for all the wonderful blessings You have given me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Time for Family

My brother and his family have come to DC while I'm here this week and I've really enjoyed their company. It has been wonderful coming home at the end of the day and having someone ecstatic that I have arrived.

We have spent time swimming, walking, shopping and sightseeing. One of the most memorable activities we did was the moonlight monument tour. The city is beautiful at night.

I love my family and have been so happy to have this time with them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Training at FSI

It is a normal part of life in the Foreign Service that you must return to the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, known to us as FSI (Foreign Service Institute) for training at periodic intervals of your career. For me this time it was only a week of leadership training but for some it can be many long months of language training or tradecraft of their specialty. The odd thing about being back at FSI is that all the people you knew are gone, replaced by brand new foreign service officers, mid-level people transferring to a new post and senior staff preparing for the next phase of their careers.

Most everyone is unfamiliar, but the facility and its operation is so familiar...it is just an odd, weird sensation.

One of the things our trainers said to us (tongue in cheek, of course) during our initial training was "okay, we all know you are ALL water walkers..." Meaning that just to get this far you are "special," cream of the crop, high calibre people...but it is not that you have "arrived" and can now sit on your laurels, you must now work to set yourself apart, compete for promotions and prove yourself even further.

What I realized being back at FSI was that the air of "we are special, we are 'water walkers'" was palpable. It was a reminder that humility is always a good thing. Also after being overseas, working in what is a pretty small community where you support and know each other, you see the huge contrast when you are thrown into a very large group of colleagues that you do not know well.

I was blessed to have a couple of very dear friends in DC at the same time and getting to see them was wonderful. One has already departed for her onward post in Kabul and others are preparing to go to similar places. Much as I enjoy being home, I do look forward to going out again. I don't know if non-FS people can understand the draw of the opportunity to challenge yourself, but it calls loudly to me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Returning from Abu Dhabi

I have finally arrived in the States. What a trip!
It is a 23 hour trip, with a few stops and layovers along the way. It began with me forgetting my phone (with contact data on it) on my desk at work, then the driver not showing up to take me to the airport. He argued with me that I was departing on the 8th, but could not grasp that my flight was at 25 minutes past midnight and that I needed to be at the airport 2 hours before - on the 7th!!! He kept telling me he would come get me tomorrow night, lol.
I have been home several times during this tour in the Middle East, but this time was different. This time I'm supposed to be going back to "normal" but you begin to realize just how much your idea of normal has changed. I did experience a bit of culture shock, in that everyone judges you to be just like them in familiar surroundings, but I feel so foreign and they don't even know it, so if you respond in an odd way they have no understanding.
Got to my lodging and found that I did not have a cell phone (as I had meticulously planned) and that my internet did not work. I was a little bit like a deer in the headlights, unable to think clearly. It is amazing what a bit of food, conversation with friends and a bottle of wine can do to make you feel normal again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Uncouth

Okay, I really do try to be positive in all my postings but I’ve got something under my skin. Growing up in rural TN and living most of my adult life in the area, I am unfamiliar with mannerisms and traditions of foreign cultures including Asian, Arabic or even European.

Nowhere am I more aware of the differences than when sitting down to have a meal.
I am clumsy with chopsticks and have no clue how they survive without knives or spoons, especially when the food is so good I just want to scoop the tiny pieces. I know very little of Prosecco, Sake or Champagne and their serving methods. I don’t know if it is proper form to use my fingers when eating Arabic food…In all these instances I use my own judgment, watch others and try not to offend my fellow diners.

As a Southerner I’m sensitive to the clich├ęd attributes of being ignorant and uncouth. To my way of thinking having “manners” is not so much about knowing the exact protocol as it is to show respect for others and to make them feel comfortable. This is what famous Southern hospitality is all about - making others feel welcomed, appreciated and respected. There are some who think the “form” their manners take is more important than how it affects those around them. They boast that their manners set them apart and displays to others their superior sophistication.

I had the unpleasant occasion to dine with such a couple recently who made a big deal out of perceived faux pas committed by the rest of us, taking time to completely enlighten us on their advanced experience. I wonder if these people realize just how alienating it is to the others around them; how much their behavior shows their total lack of manners.

The traits of ignorance and uncouth are certainly not unique to American Southerners.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Diving Musandam, Northern Oman


The house is all packed up, everything is gone, except the furniture (doesn't belong to me) and my suitcases. It is July 4th weekend and I have no computer, no TV and not a lot left to do here in Abu Dhabi-so I decided to go diving.

Musandam in Northern Oman has beautiful fjords, some of the most rugged mountains plunging into the sea. It is a harsh landscape with large areas not accessible by road, only by water. I boarded a dhow in the port at Dibba with a few other divers. We proceeded to the most nothern tip, about a 6 hours cruise, watching the sun go down and the stars come alive. I went to my cabin a little after 11 p.m. and we still had not dropped anchor. The next morning I awoke to find us safely tucked away in a cove.

As one of the others said-diving, eating, sleeping. That is what we all did for the next few days. Early morning dives, followed by breakfast, a rest and more of the same. We saw Lion Fish, stingrays, clown fish, eels, turtles and so much more. I must learn more about the animals and fauna before I can tell you. But the colors are so very vibrant, life is so abundant and there was so much to see and enjoy.

Even as I write this I still feel as though I'm rolling on the waves, but I'm on dry ground. Guess it will take a bit for my body to readjust to being on dry land.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Land Rover Discovery

It has come to an end - I have sold my Land Rover Discovery.

It was a dream of mine to have one at some point in my life. I have loved it. It runs and runs, though it is 10 years old and the climate is so hard on autos here. I am now driving a 2009 Peugeot 206 hatchback-not nearly as exciting, but it has wheels and I can go anytime I want to.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Abu Dhabi Carpet Market

I have not been an avid carpet shopper, as some others have. But now that I know my floors in Brussels will be bare hardwood, they have a much greater appeal.

So I and a friend headed off to the Carpet Market at the port to see if we could find some deals. He was looking for handmade wool and I was looking for inexpensive, silk (machine made is okay with me). We did not find very much of the handmade kind, they are very expensive. We did find quite a selection of the less expensive rugs.
In the picture above the ones on the left are wool and the ones on the right are silk...can you see the difference in the shine? I bought several of the silks in gorgeous sage greens with peach/mauve, burgundy and gold.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Afghanistan Music Video

Okay, this post has only entertainment value. You've heard of Lady Gaga even if you don't like her music, but this is absolutely my favorite version of her song "Telephone."

This was made by some guys in Afghanistan having a little fun. Their video went "viral" about a month ago and at first they were afraid of repercussions from their highers, but they did nothing to be ashamed of-it is just fun.

Hope you enjoy! Click here: Telephone - Remake

Ladies Party

One of my best friends here in Abu Dhabi and I held a party over the weekend for all the wonderful women we have met here. We invited both locals and American ladies, each of whom have added considerable joy to our lives during our tour(s), which are quickly coming to an end.

We had a great turnout and and excellent conversation, big hugs and lots of laughs. I will miss them all very much, but then hopefully I will meet more of the same calibre at my next post.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cyclone Phet

Apparently, neighboring Oman has been hit by Cyclone Phet (similar to a hurricane). The cyclone, which hit the capital city of Muscat had sustained average winds of 120 mph and dumped quite a bit of rain. Approximately a dozen people have died due to flooding.

In a place where people see so little rain, they are unprepared for, and do not understand the danger of, rushing waters; taking chances they should never take. Also, because this area sees so little rain, the city's "drainage system" is virtually non-existent.

I did not even know this happening (we don't have the weather channel or even local TV news) until someone told me that people in Al Ain were warned of a storm surge. The person who told us this was given a lot of humorous grief because Al Ain is a land locked city 1,300 meters above sea level...she is still learning her local geography.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

There are nuggets of wisdom that we learn as we live. Finn Sisu had several that were oft repeated. One that is steady on my mind at this time is just how important it is to cherish today. Living in the past, thinking of what was and no longer is steals our ability to appreciate the blessings we currently enjoy. And always looking for the achievements, goals of the future can rob us of the same.
We cannot mourn yesterday or yearn for tomorrow without taking time out from today.
My dad hugged me at one of the lowest points of my life and said, "No matter what it is, it will change." The wisdom of that statement is that if it is bad, it has to get better because nothing stays the same. The flip side is that if it is good, it will probably get worse.
I suppose our job as humans is to sing when we are on the mountain tops, wail when in the valleys, and remember both when we are on the road of ambivalence.

Monday, May 31, 2010

No Focus

I'm counting down the days to my departure and having a really tough time concentrating on anything for very long. Not much holds my interest for very long and I'm easily distracted. I am trying to prepare myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the upcoming roller-coaster-ride. I don't see how it could be anything less than. I will do what I can to minimize the change, but moving jobs, moving home, living out of suitcase for a month, leaving behind what has become familiar and moving to the unfamiliar is stressful-even if it is something you signed up for.
The best I can do is to keep a check on myself and try to manage how I respond to the inevitable unpredictable. Remember the saying "...even the best laid plans."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ATM Dispenses Gold


.
Only in Abu Dhabi would there be a vending machine that dispenses pieces of Gold-and there is.

Installed just this month in the Grand Lobby of the Emirates Palace Hotel (self-proclaimed 7 Star) is a machine that will give you small pieces of gold pressed into coins and tiny "gold bars" of approximately 0.05 grams. Pretty small, but still expensive. The price you pay per ounce is slighter higher than the gold rate of the day, but it comes in a beautiful gift box.
.



The machine was cleaned out in only a few short hours the first day it was opened.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fabric Adoption Party

I have discovered that people who travel a lot, move a lot can become a bit eccentric about strange things that they simply must have, in spades. One of my friends here is very serious about clothing and shoes. She has turned one entire bedroom into a closet/dressing room; a small office serves as her shoe room. She spent a lot of time in Asia where having items custom made for you is very inexpensive plus she sews clothes for herself, too. As a result she purchases a lot of fabric, much of it still on the bolts. It lines the walls of her sewing room, dining room and half her hallway-floor to ceiling.
We all regularly razz her about it, because she will tell us about this new fabric she bought. So she decided to have a fabric adoption party where she would allow her friends to come select anything they wanted as long as they promised to actually have clothing made of it.
What an absolute sight we were-15 women eating brunch and pawing through all her fabrics. One lady cut fabric solidly for about 3 1/2 hours.
I came away with two armful loads of some of the neatest fabrics. I got pink/cream hounds tooth tweed (skirt suit), black sequined (cocktail dress), Chinese silk brocades (fitted dress), the perfect red twill (sheath dress), dark blue/white dot rayon (full skirted summer dress) and so much more...there's linens, silks, shantung, chiffon, cottons, formal fabrics, casual, fabrics for skirts, jackets, pants, even proper broadcloth to have a perfect white shirt made. I have to admit she’s rubbing off on me. I have had several items made for me because it is just so cheap here, plus shopping is pretty poor.
EVERYONE left with loads of stuff and she was left disappointed that we didn't even get into several (like 20) full chest sized bins.
We had so much fun! I simply cannot believe how much and the quality of what I have been given for free. We are planning to put money into a pot to pay for her to have a spa weekend retreat-what a wonderful gift to us.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not Much Going On

You haven't heard from me because there simply is not much to say. 
The weather is now 100 degrees, wind blows and the sky is dusty most all the time.
Just like everyone else, I had to get my taxes done, still have clothes to wash, dishes to clean, shopping and cooking to do.  Pretty mundane ordinary things.
I'm going through all my things and paperwork, beginning to prepare for a move.  'Vid would laugh because I still clean like I used to and now I don't have my own dumpster...plus I give a lot of things away when I clean like this and there's no Goodwill close by. 
I have lost some weight and have clothing too big, books that have been read and CDs that I have transferred to Ipod-but, of course, I have bought a singing bowl, a Yemeni hat, many scarves and some nice pieces of jewelry during my stay.
If you are interested in having exquisitely crafted silk, cashmere or pashmina scarves-now is the time to speak.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Speeding Tickets

The friends who know me well are NOT going to believe this!!!  I just checked my ticket status-I have NONE!!!  No speeding tickets for me!  I've been tooling around town for a year and half and have not gotten one ticket - it is actually quite shocking to me.

We shall see if it holds true, or if the "system" just hasn't posted them yet.  When I check out of the country I will have to pay all fines or bills.  If there are any they will be produced at that time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just finished a trip to the Middle East where he visited Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see the Secretary speak to a group of military members.  I enjoyed it immensely and absolutely love the comraderie the military have within their ranks, along with their competitive nature.  It always makes for a good time!


UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates & U.S. Ambassador Olson

In case I haven't said it much, the UAE is very certainly a good friend to the U.S.  Of the Gulf countries it is probably the most tolerant of non-Muslims and other cultures.  There is cooperation on many fronts, as long as our interests are the same.  This place, this area of the world has grown on me and I think I may very well return for a future tour.  Time will tell.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Future Posting

It is late evening on a Saturday (much like Sunday evening back home because tomorrow is work) and I'm hanging outside on the covered balcony.  It is a unique sight in the desert-it's thunder-n-lightening with a bit of rain.  I've got Dire Straits and the Trio on and my laptop out.  Peaceful is all I can say.  

No one's life is idylic, certainly not all the time, but this is a moment of pleasure and contentment.  I now know where I will be heading off to next-Brussels, Belgium.  I know it will be a nice posting and I'm sure I will have visitors which makes me happy (knowing I won't be lonesome because many will want to visit) and knowing it is less than a full day of travel to get home.  At the same time, as I look to the future, all the constants that I cling to in my daily life will be changing regardless if I want them to or not.  Other dear friends are departing post just like I am, some heading for adventures I wish I could share.

I have been moved within the Embassy to another position.  If you don't already know Embassies are generally understaffed, some more than others. This one is certainly in need of a little "depth of bench."  So the position I currently hold is up for immediate filling, but I'm not scheduled to leave before Sept.  My new post wants me by August and there is supposed to be time in between for training and home leave in the US.  I don't know when, what will happen. 

Uncertainty is a constant for all of life I suppose. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hatta Pools

One of my goals is to experience wherever I am, you know, be where you are.  I'm lucky enough to have friends who enjoy offroading and exploring, which is good because we regularly get lost together, LOL.

Got a call in the morning asking if I wanted to go to Hatta Pools, leaving in 15 minutes.  First I said no, then changed my mind and off we go!!  The town of Hatta is in the Hajjar Mountains, just over the border from UAE into Oman.  It's one of the highest elevations on the Arabian Pennisula and has water year round.  We drove for a few hours seeing new, but similar countryside which I still enjoy.  We laughed as we played our ipods on speakers that it was funny to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd as our background music, when the landscape does not match!

We passed thru an area that seemed like a tourist area filled with campers and all terrain vehicles playing wildly in the dunes-we must return for fun there!  After finding the tiny town of Hatta, winding thru unmarked streets and following the strangest of directions we finally found "where the pavement ends."  There we turned onto a well worn dirt road and slowly made our way to the next land mark.  With each turn the road got more rugged.  Topping a hill we broke out into the most beautiful golden orange vista of rugged mountains ringing a deep valley.  After stopping to take video we proceeded to the bottom of the valley and hiked the rest of the way down to the Hatta Pools.


The water has carved out rock (that looks like concrete) and created a miniature grand canyon. 


There were quite a few other people there, including some young Arab men in their dishdashes and their many four-wheel drive vehicles.  They were having a great time trying to get up and over the rugged terrain, yelling encouragement and challenges to each other (even in a foreign language you still understand).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dive Two

I finished my last two open water dives this last weekend, completed all the exercises and passed my final exam - I am now a certified diver!!!  I'm positively beaming because I was so frightened, but I did it.

The last two dives were done on the East coast of UAE in Khorfakkan.  We dove to 18 meters/59 feet.  The water was much warmer and I saw and touched soft pink coral at Martini Rock.  On our second dive at Shark Island I saw my first ever real live seahorse and discovered feather starfish, which when resting looks like a beautiful pile of bird feathers.

I'm feeling much more comfortable underwater, comfortable enough that I actually got separated from my party down deep, but there was no panic and we were soon reunited.  I loved it and will definitely do it again, but I will wait until the water is a bit warmer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dive One

I have started something I've wanted to do my entire life.  I started SCUBA diving lessons!!!  I had a couple nights of classroom and in the pool training, then we went out in the open gulf this weekend to do our first two required open water dives.  I can only say that I was very scared, but I DID IT!!

I dove into 10 meters/33 feet of water (could not see the bottom from the surface).  Going down, down, down was very scary and we did it very slowly.  A fellow student also doing her first dive was my partner, along with the instructor.  We literally held hands while we swam under for about 35 minutes each dive.  The water was cold (21 degrees Celcius) and I got a little sunburn on my face sitting on the boat in between dives, but I am so proud of myself!

Underwater I saw black sea urchins, large hammour (local white fish), a sting ray and tiger fish.  From the boat we saw dolphins.

Friday, January 15, 2010

If it’s too loud, you’re too old

In my quest to experience different things I have been introduced to a different genre of music than I had previously heard. It’s Irish Punk (I think) and the band I’ve heard is the Dropkick Murphys (from Boston). It’s really fast paced, pounding music with instruments normally used in traditional Irish music.  Punk music is not something I have ever listened to but I discovered that the roots of the genre come from artists who have turned away from the hedonistic excesses of traditional rockers.  The music is hard edged, typically short songs with stripped down (simple) instrumentation.  I am particularly impressed by the "do it yourself" ethic that most groups employ with many self-producing their recordings and distributing them through informal channels.  Anyone who embraces freedom, self reliance and making their own way-I respect.

Considering my own heritage, I am quite happy to have been introduced to it and encourage you to give it a listen.  Just click the title (link) of this post.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another’s Loss

Each day holds its own events. Early this week, I was stopped by a colleague in the parking lot on the way into work. Seems she was worried about me and wanted to be the one to tell me that her husband passed away the day before. Needless to say an emotional moment ensued, but she needn’t worried about me-she is the one who has suffered this loss. I have made myself available to assist her in any way possible and shared her grief to the extent that anyone can feel another’s pain.

Lots of people have expressed to me their feelings of inadequacy with regard to her loss. I’ve had to reassure them the best you can do is to let her BE whatever she needs to be, and simply express your concern for her.  She dealt with her loss much differently than I did.  She was at work every day until they were ready to fly home.  I admire her steadiness, but I also know the pain is still there, regardless of how she copes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year-2010

It is a new year and time for those New Year’s resolutions, which I generally eschew because they inevitably become empty promises to ourselves. But this year is different. As always I welcome a new start, a fresh start, but this year I am relieved to have the opportunity to cast off lingering anguish and sorrow to embrace a future with the potential for joy and laughter.

I have the foundations of an excellent life-genuine friends, loving family, good health and a steady job. And I have always accepted as truth that our own lives are what we make of them. So with that in hand, my New Year’s Resolution is to live life with less fear, more aggressively, more actively. It is too short and too precious to waste one moment. As one friend said “…til the wheels come off.”