Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Well, folks...we're back!

For a while there, we were beginning to be ominously reminiscent of X-Pat Files: Adventures in Nigeria (friends who blogged a few times in July and then mysteriously disappeared...). Our lives have taken on such a pace of late that Markus and I have been doing our best to keep our heads above water...and seem to accomplish little else. Amazingly enough, all that hard work seems to be paying off. For the first time in months, we are starting to wind down a bit and catch our breath. There seems to be so much to catch you up on, so I'll just pick someplace to start and go from there.

Our move to The Hague proved its worth right away, as we were able to celebrate Christmas with both sides of the family for the first time ever in our own home! My mom (Stephanie) arrived the day after we unpacked the last box (whew!), and Markus's mom (Rita) and sister (Ulla) arrived the day after my mom and I returned from Mother-Daughter Party Time in London (three days, two nights of whirlwind FUN!). The idea of having everyone here so soon after the move was a bit stressful, but the reality was quite lovely. On Christmas Eve, we enjoyed a beautiful, delicious, and surprisingly relaxing dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, peas (Ellie's favorite!), and biscuits--all homemade from scratch by a proud (and somewhat overwrought) Jennifer. That night, we kept up both sides of the family tradition. Rita and Ulla opened all their presents, as is the custom in Germany, and Stephanie joined in. Markus, Jennifer, and Ellie opened one present each, saving the rest for Christmas morning, as is the custom from Jennifer's childhood. Christmas Day found almost everyone still sleeping off the turkey from the day before. We didn't open presents until after 11:30.

After a leisurely lunch, most of us went to Amsterdam to wander the streets and enjoy different sights. On Boxing Day, Stephanie and Ulla departed for home. Rita is still here visiting. We are so happy this move made all of these things possible!

The weather has been persistently grey and cold, but thankfully, it hasn't rained. We've been able to get outside and walk every day, and the fresh air is always welcome. The Dutch are a hardy breed, let me tell you. Yesterday, we went to the beach for a stroll. The traffic was HIDEOUS and the beach lots were completely full. I understand that it was a holiday and everyone wanted to get out of the house, but keep in mind that the weather was thickly foggy, just a few degrees above freezing, and (let's face it) rather unpleasant. You would have thought the sun was shining bright and the air was warm and welcoming. Everyone and their dogs were out! Hardy breed.
We witnessed the same at Madurodam a few days before. Madurodam is a model town with representations of all major features in Holland. The scale and detail is astonishing. Really worth a visit! Just not on the day we went. We picked the coldest day yet. Ooooo....too cold to be outside standing still while admiring models. We didn't last long, which was a shame. Madurodam is rather impressive. I'm sure we'll be back. But again, it was pretty busy. Lots of Dutch people without hats or gloves or scarves. Hardy breed.

My mom and I had an amazing time in London! I have wanted to take her there for years, and we finally got her to make the plan this year! For me, it was special for two big reasons: 1) it was the first time I've had alone to enjoy with my mom in longer than I can remember, and 2) it was my first time away from Ellie overnight. We stayed for three days, two nights, which was perfect. Our days were full of city touring on foot (a great way to see London). We saw (in no particular order) Tower Bridge (my favorite), the Tower of London, Buckingham, St. James' Park, Trafalgar Square, Halls of Parliament, Big Ben, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, Tate Modern, the Millennium footbridge, Harrod's, and on and on. We took a "flight" on the London Eye, a first for both of us and a truly incredible experience.

I took lots of pictures in my fascination, though I did have to sit and read a book as we neared the top (it's 135m high). Those of us who aren't thrilled with great heights should exercise restraint, you know.

The most indulgent part of the trip was catching two plays in two nights. The first night was The Lion King (Mom’s Christmas present from us); the second night was Evita. Both are must-sees!

From the volume of screeching from downstairs, it seems my time has expired on the baby meter, which is just as well. This posting is quite long enough! Comments, please!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Well,'s been a wild two weeks, but the boxes are gone and the house is unpacked! Disarray is still the order of the day, but it's mostly small stuff at this point. Markus and Jennifer burned the midnight oil a few nights in a row to get there, but hooray for being that much closer to home!
Today, Mimi arrived for her Christmas visit! Yippee! We are soooooo excited and happy to see her! We can hardly wait to start showing her all around. Having visitors gives us an EXCELLENT excuse to do all of our favorite things in the area, and it's always fun to introduce newcomers to museums, sights, shops, restaurants, etc. for the first time. We are soooo happy Mimi is here for a visit! And not a day too early...even as it was, we had to uncover sheets for her bed after her arrival (oops).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Whew! Four days into the moving in adventure, and the house is an explosion of consumer debris. Americans and people who have lived in America for extended periods really shouldn't move. Except to discover the truly excessive amounts of STUFF one has come to own. It's quite impressive, really. Not necessarily a good thing, but impressive just the same.
I have (ridiculously) high hopes to get it under control by the end of this weekend (hey, I mastered the kitchen already!), at which point I want to get going on Christmas cards and decorations. Would you believe this will be the first year we will celebrate Christmas in our home? With family coming to us too! Hooray! All thanks to the Ellie Bear. We are really looking forward to it!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Before leaving this post, I have to share our latest Fun-with-Dutch-Bureaucracy story.
Markus went to change his driver's license from Germany to Holland this week. He had been told it would cost 20 Euro, and that he had to appear in person. No big deal. Cash in hand, he made his way to the appropriate office. There, his 20 Euro allowed him to acquire not a driver's license, but a FORM to begin application for a driver's license. Completion of this form plus supplemental paperwork will allow him to apply for a license change. When accepted, he will give up his license for up to 3 weeks during processing.
Good thing we don't actually NEED a car most days.
Markus found this experience most ridiculous and mildly exasperating.
Jennifer, on the other hand, began to laugh hysterically.
I must be having an allergic reaction to all the red tape around here.
Hallo from The Netherlands!
We arrived safe and sound back in Holland about a week ago, and we are oh-so-close to moving into our new home (and oh-so-happy about it!)! The keys were placed in our eager hands yesterday, and the movers are coming on Monday. You read that correctly! Although we had been warned that customs would hold up our items for 4-6 weeks from paperwork completion in mid-November, we have had the most pleasant surprise of a speedy process! With both families wishing to be present at Christmas, we were a bit afraid we'd have nowhere for anyone to sleep with possibly no furniture until January...but fear not! We hope to be fully moved in by the end of next week! Such excitement cannot possibly be communicated in this blog, but we are sooooooo very ready to settle down and STAY in a place for a while! Yippee!
Of course, everything is a process in Holland. We currently lack private internet access (I'm updating from a cafe), but we hope to be online soon. Meanwhile, please keep checking in and letting us know how you are doing. We had over 100 emails built-up from this past email-less week, and it was WONDERFUL to read up on our friends lives. Starting over in a new place can be hard, so keep those messages coming! We'll respond and update when we can, and we hope to get private access again soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A dear friend of ours has been suffering from severe vertigo issues for a few weeks now. She finally went to see a doctor about it today and learned some amazing things. Apparently, we have calcium crystals in our inner ears. When they become loose and move about, a sensation of vertigo results. This condition is easy to treat, and now she feels great! But to recap: today my friend learned that her marbles were loose. I could have told her that!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Greetings from Virginia! Ellie and I flew up here this morning from New Orleans. Luckily, the weather that just left the Gulf Coast didn't catch us. It was raining here, but nothing more serious than that. We used the grey day as an excellent napping opportunity! Now we're here with the Mimi and are set for some big fun! Only two more days before Markus joins us! Hooray!
We're so happy that our good friend Mary is doing so well. We're sure her healing will progress even more smoothly now that temptation has left the building. She wasn't supposed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for 6 weeks. Ellie weighs 21 pounds. What do you suspect Mary was doing when Jennifer wasn't looking?
As life would have it, we have another dear friend scheduled to undergo surgery tomorrow. He seems well taken care of though, so we will keep him in our thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Good thing we didn't get too uppity about our tide-turning festivities.
The contractor didn't work today. We were supposed to meet today, but that didn't happen either. He is sick and had a doctor's appointment. But we're handling it. We're cool.

We're keeping our fingers crossed anyway. The contractor doesn't realize that tomorrow is my last full day in town, so let's hope he manages to keep our meeting then!

As an aside, today was another GORGEOUS Southern fall day here in Ocean Springs. Temperature around 70 and sunny, clear blue skies. We took a drive along the beach and stopped at the harbor to visit some friends.

And last but not least, we drove past a Katrina demolished beach house that sported a spray-painted warning: NO TRESS PASSING
Does this mean wig swapping is out?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Could we be witnessing the turn of the tide?

Item #1:
The contractor is at work on the house in Ocean Springs! He has been working every day for nearly two weeks since I called and made it clear in my best junior-high-school-teacher, not-taking-any-more-crap voice that he best get busy. The foundation should be completely repaired before I leave on Wednesday if all goes well. Of course, he doesn't know I'm leaving Wednesday. It helps keep him busy if he thinks I could pop in at any moment. Let's be hopeful that phase 2 (porch and roof) will actually progress after I'm gone. He claims that the foundation was the only part beyond his control, since his crew can do everything but that (thus he had to contract that out and therein lay the problem). I won't hold my breath that the rest will progress smoothly, but I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Yesterday, I priced new kitchens. Dad's appliances all need replacing and the cabinets sustained water during Katrina...besides, it hasn't been updated since it was built. Time to redo! Now, I had heard through the home repair grapevine that the kitchen is the most expensive room in the house to redo, but I had NO IDEA what that meant until I sat down with a kitchen guy yesterday and worked up a quote. Keep in mind that I selected fairly mid-range items from cabinets to appliances. The ballpark was between $15- and $25 THOUSAND DOLLARS! YOW! No wonder Dad never updated it. Holy moly.
The foundation doesn't cost that much.

Item #2:
We got the house we wanted in The Hague! I have been so excited about this that people assume we must be buying. NOT SO! It's a rental, folks! But here's the thing... Since August 27, 2005, we have not lived in a place we actively chose to live. Katrina sent us to Houston for a few months, where we had a very temporary-feeling apartment furnished primarily by our generous friends' furniture. We moved to Qatar, where after spending almost two months in a hotel (longer for Markus), we were forced into a company house we didn't want...and even that was temporary because the company told us we would move to a different compound in a year if we had stayed. Then we move to The Hague, look for homes, find one that really suits us...and are denied it by HR. Well, denial can return to being a river in Egypt, happy campers! HR caved (why, we may never know) and gave us permission to (shocker!) choose our own residence! We already had a stellar estate agent on our side, and she secured the house for us right away! As soon as I get back, I will post pictures for you to see. FABULOUS location...and TWO guest rooms, so bring it on, people! We want to see you!

Just so we don't get too carried away with our tide-turning festivities, our air freight still has not arrived from Qatar. Air freight items are those items you want right away but cannot carry on the plane. It takes typically 2-3 days for shipment and then maybe a few more for customs on the other end. Our air freight was packed on October 2. It is now November 11th, and we still don't have it. It contains cold weather gear and all documents for my father's estate. LESSON LEARNED. Irreplaceable items MUST be hand-carried in the future, regardless. Meanwhile, Markus is freezing his stubborn heinie off in the cold, waiting for the air freight to deliver his coats, sweaters, and long underwear. I am less affected by this. It's November in Mississippi and we have the A/C on.

Ellie continues to walk like no tomorrow. Yesterday, she took to running away from me at top speed in stores. When I followed asking where she thought she was going, she shrieked with maniacal laughter and gained speed. At least I know we will be getting plenty of exercise from here on out.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Last night, Jennifer and Ellie trekked over to New Orleans to attend the first meet-and-greet with her fellow Muses. For those of you who've missed this important detail, JENNIFER IS RIDING IN MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS THIS YEAR! Woo-hoo! Mardi Gras parades are done by krewes (clubs for Mardi Gras). My favorite parade for years has been Muses, the only all-women (and diverse!) krewe! Muses puts on an AWESOME parade. While they roll a few days before Mardi Gras, they really mark the start of the better, more elaborate and fun parades. A couple of years ago, Markus and I agreed that the best way to show my enthusiasm would be to join and toss my hat into the ring for upcoming riders. This year, it's my turn! Muses is set to roll on Valentine's Day (possibly up for a date change...keep checking back), and I'd love to see as many friends and family members out there as possible!
Last night was the first opportunity I've had to meet the other ladies on my float. Just about anyone can tell you that getting a bunch of women together with food and wine can make for a crazy affair. I am happy to report that the Muses I met must all be completely looks to be an amazing year! I can hardly wait to get rolling!
A very on-top-of-it girlfriend has just pointed out that we have reached the one year anniversary for this blog. Blitzpampers has been on the web and sharing our stories for a full year now! We'd like to thank all of our dedicated readers as well as our occasional blog-checkers. Your comments and feedback make it all worthwhile...which brings up a good point. Where are all the comments and feedback? We know you are reading this, people! We'd like to hear from you!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

This is one little kitten I'm sure Markus will allow me to keep. Isn't she beautiful? Hope you all had a happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2006

As of the last posting, Jennifer was busy looking online and on foot for houses in The Hague. Then, several days lapsed with no updates, during which time we secretly found a house and worked with the real estate agent to get some minor repairs/detailing worked out with the landlord. The house wasn't perfect, but it couldn't have had a more perfect location. In the city center, but not on a busy street (actually, on a beautiful canal street). Walking distance to EVERYTHING. After Houston and Doha, walking distance to everything seems heavenly. But I didn't post that news. Given what we'd heard about HR, I was afraid releasing that information would be enough for them to send the Bureaucracy SS after me. I kept my mouth (and fingers) quiet, and Markus played their game.
They won anyway.
They have officially denied our request to go on the open market. As in Doha, they want to force us into a company house that numerous other families have already rejected. What bites is not living in company accomodation; it's this uneven application of policy that could mean any arbitary decision from whomever you come up against on whatever day that results in us being told where we can live our private lives. Not fun. But also, apparently, not open for debate. Sigh.
So...Markus is now looking at company houses without us. Why, you ask?
Once again, Jennifer and Ellie are stateside. Sunday morning, we had an email from our dear family friend, telling us she would be having an emergency surgery on Monday. It wasn't life threatening, but the recovery would be challenging for a person on her own so Markus and I agreed Ellie and I should be here. Although we are ahead of schedule, we were planning to come for a few weeks around Thanksgiving time anyway. My dad's house is still untouched by the $%&$^%# contractor (two months after the finish date he quoted me when we signed). I need to be here to either light a fire under his behind or get our contract annulled so I can find someone else (though who that will be, I have NO idea because good contractors on the Gulf Coast are booked out til the end of time, apparently). When I called Steve (the AWOL contractor) and told him I was here, the "oh $%^&!" in his voice was pretty clear. He said his flooring guy ran off with a few thousand dollars and he's been trying to track him down, but don't worry...he's got a new guy who will be there at the beginning of next week. Monday, I ask? Well...apparently the new guy considers Halloween a holiday so he won't be in until after the holiday. Wednesday, I ask? Yeah, Wednesday.
How much money do you want to bet that there will be NO ONE there on Wednesday?
Or Thursday for that matter?
What a debacle.
On the upside, Markus managed to get leave approved for Thanksgiving, when he will join us up at my mom's. Thanksgiving is on her birthday this year, so we're really happy to be able to celebrate with her! Since our things won't clear the massive red tape that completely engulfs The Netherlands until at least December, there's no reason to stick around waiting (no pun intended).

Finally, I am happy to report that little Miss Ellie is officially a walker! I set her down in a shop in New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon, and she just toddled off to get a toy across the store. There's no stopping her now!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The settling in process begins!
Yesterday, we looked at a (first of many) house in the Archipel area. It was a large house, excellent location...but the low price of rent tipped us off that there was a hidden catch. Once we entered the house, the catch was revealed in great clarity. The place is in DESPERATE need of renovation. It would be an excellent opportunity if it were for sale, but as a rental, NO WAY JOSE! The walls were awful, greying-white, painted rough concrete. The kitchen hardly warranted the name. The only bathroom with a tub was in the attic. Yes, folks...up four flights to give the baby a bath. No thank you. So the search continues. Last night's internet searching led me to fall in love with a house listed for sale online. It's entirely impractical for our needs (quite old so very inconvenient layout, a bit small, unlikely that any of our American-size furniture will even fit in the door...), but I love it anyway. It's located on (what I've decided from strolling) the prettiest street in The Hague. Hopefully, I can get an appointment to see it today or tomorrow. Reality may affect my swooning. I also found a different one that has good potential as a rental, but it's partly furnished with antiques. Unless we can get it unfurnished, that's out. The last thing I need is to be responsible for our landlord's antique furniture with a baby in the house. Heck, even with just me in the house. Unfurnished is the way we play.
Rumor has it that the company will assign us a real estate agent or at least point us toward one. Stories conflict as to how that actually works. One person said we have to call and find our own agent, but gave us a personal recommendation. Another person said the company maintains relationships with three agents, and we have to choose among them; open market searches are forbidden. Yet another said we will have one assigned to us and that person will contact us him/herself. Hmph. This is why Jennifer is searching online and on foot. I am not waiting for the almight bureaucracy to suss this out. This is company headquarters! We are not the first family to have come through here, yet no one seems to have a solid story. Welcome to HR, right?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back to reality?
Since we arrived in The Netherlands last Thursday morning, we have felt more like we are on holiday than a move. In addition to city touring on foot, we've been blessed with visits from dear friends every day! The combination of having new places to see and explore and old friends to chat with has been so wonderful that we feel we must be on vacation again! Today, reality may start to settle in (which is still okay). Markus has to report to human resources. He even has to wear a suit and tie, clothing that hasn't seen much attention in the past five years in the casual environs of Dohot and New Orleans. Jennifer has been keeping an eagle eye on housing during city strolls, and today she'll start making calls. Yes, it seems we actually are going to stay here. Amazing!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Today we spent the day in Delft, a first visit for Ellie and Jennifer. LOVED IT! Of course, it helped that we had picture perfect fall weather. The sun was shining but the air was cool. So wonderful! We even found a cafe in the afternoon that was child-friendly (you can't imagine how surprising it is to find a nice place that has friendly staff, toys, and a changing table in the bathroom)! After today's excursion, Delft is definitely in the running for a potential place to live. It's only 5-10 minutes by train from Markus's office--a better commute than central living in The Hague would be.
Hi everyone! Greetings from Den Haag! We made it and how wonderful to be able to go for long walks OUTSIDE (someone turned the outside temperature down from 37 to! We're in the transitional process and connectivity isn't consistent, so blog updates and emails will be back up and running before too long. Meanwhile, wish us luck settling in as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Greetings one and all! We are back in Qatar for two days after our uber-fabulous trip to the Seychelles! For "non-beach people" (Ellie may well be an exception to this!), we managed to have a wonderful holiday on a true island paradise! So much fun in the sun! Here's a pictorial taste of our vacation (more to come!)...

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Whew! What a day!
We woke up at 8 (hooray!) and went downstairs for breakfast. Markus’s phone rang as we went into the kitchen for the cereal. It was the movers, on their way to the house. Fifteen minutes later, they were in the door, bringing in boxes and packing tape and paper and bubble wrap… Ten minutes after that, they were spread throughout the house, packing almost every room simultaneously. For those of you who know how Jennifer feels about moving day, you can guess how thrilled I was about this process; however, I have to give it to them for their professionalism and efficiency. With all the to-ing and fro-ing and on-again-off-again planning surrounding this move, the actual moving day snuck up on us. We weren’t quite ready for the packers, but they came and it all worked out fine. They will be back to finish tomorrow, so we’ll check into the hotel tomorrow afternoon. In a couple more days, we’ll be off on vacation! Yippee!

Last night, we went out to dinner at a pizza place we like in a nearby mall. After dinner, Ellie, as usual, wanted to go for a stroll. This usually involves a hunched-over Markus supporting her with both hands as she makes her little steps anywhere she finds interesting. Last night, however, they came back to the table with Markus holding Ellie by one hand only! She was soooooo proud of herself! She went walking all over the mall holding just one hand (actually, her hand was holding one of our fingers…so sweet!), taking such confident steps. The look on her face was priceless. She kept stopping to grin at everyone who passed and give them a little wave with her free hand.

Today, she was eager to practice this newfound skill. She walked and walked and walked around the club and again at home after dinner. Just before bed, Markus had her by the hand while she was walking around our room, but she let go to pick something up. She didn’t seem to notice that she didn’t have his hand when she started walking again—this time all by herself! Markus had her by the back of her onesie, and she tottered around for a few minutes all on her own! Our baby girl is starting to walk!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Today is Jennifer's 30th birthday! Yippee!

In honor of my birthday, Ellie decided she needed to keep me occupied every single second doing EXACTLY whatever she had in mind at that second. I think she must have been concerned that I would get distressed about the 30 thing, so she left me no time to contemplate the birthday at all. She is one busy baby, and she has some big opinions to share! Blessedly, Markus came home from work and took her to the pool for a little while. I tell ya, in terms of birthday gifts, sitting in peace for twenty minutes is right up there with jewelry! Not that I'm complaining! Our girl is a doll and you can see from the photo taken this past Saturday that we have lots of good times together! She's growing and learning and refining every day, and it's truly a miracle to witness. Still, I did force a hole into her demanding schedule to bake myself a decadent chocolate cake. It is, after all, my birthday.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Yesterday morning, a good friend sent us an email giving us serious flack for not updating the blogspot...and rightfully so! We have been very very busy of late, but the thing is, they haven't really been very blog-worthy doings. Our routine is pretty fixed, as I've said in the past, and we've been keeping busy going through those motions. Ellie is always making us smile with new (and not-so-new) and wonderful things she's doing, but not everyone wants to check in on the baby all the time. So we've been remiss in the blogging arena lately. We apologize to our regulars!

We do, however, have news!
The dates are set. The bureaucracy is in full swing. Our move is afoot!
As it stands now, the movers are coming to pack the house on September 30 and October 1. They will load the truck on October 2. We will spend those nights in the Ritz again (woo-hoo!). On the 3rd, we will fly from Doha to the Seychelles for a family vacation between postings. Yippee!!! We will spend three nights on La Digue and three nights on Mahe before flying back to Doha on October 9. Then, it's back to the Ritz for two nights before we fly to Amsterdam on October 11th. The Hague, here we come!

For those of you who don't know the Seychelles, it's an island paradise made up of over 100 small islands off the eastern coast of Africa (above Madagascar). It is supposedly one of the world's most beautiful diving spots. Though diving is pretty much out with Ellie in tow, we're looking forward to some good snorkeling! La Digue is still home to indigenous giant tortoises, which we expect Miss Ellie will love! The beaches are paradise from what we hear! But, you think to yourself, you guys aren't really beach holiday people, so why are you going? Well, consider the location. This is probably the closest we will ever be to the Seychelles, and it's an excellent opportunity to see paradise for a few days! Can't possibly complain about that, although to escape our desert life we're more up for a trip to the cool mountains someplace than a tropical beach. We know it will be gorgeous, so we're excited!

In the meantime, we're trying to wrap things up here, which is no easy matter. We thought things were inefficient in New Orleans. HA! Everything takes three times as long as you expect it to here, and that's based on expectations that it will take three times longer than it should. One interesting factor is that while they are incredibly inefficient in almost every respect, they have somehow centralized all computing to the degree that you will not be cleared for departure at the airport unless all of your accounts are closed and finalized. Any open or unpaid utilities, traffic violations, what-have-you will show up on the screen when they swipe our passports, and if anything comes up, we are not free to go. Amazing. They don't make it easy to close things out, either. Markus inquired with our bank this week about closing the account (we can't even have an open bank account here when we go). We have a credit card attached to the account, though we don't use it. The bank informed Markus that we have to give 45 days notice before the account will be closed and finalized. During those 45 days, our account balance will be frozen to 170% of the credit limit of our card. The only way around that massive mess is to find someone remaining here in Qatar to go in person to the bank and sign forms to be responsible for any charges that might arise (even though the card is frozen and unavailable for use). We definitely went with Option B on this, because 1) we don't have 45 days to be money-free and 2) we are 95% certain some issue would arise on their end that would entangle our money even longer or make it impossible to retrieve once we attempt to depart. This place is crazy.

Qatari national flag hanging in City Center

It has had its upsides, though. We have made some wonderful friends here, and we will be very sad to say goodbye so soon. We will also miss the club at the Four Seasons. We've spent many a happy afternoon splashing about in the pools and frolicking in the spa there. Just today, Jennifer went for an early birthday girls' brunch at the Four Seasons...incredible array, folks! Just the dessert buffet had its own room! Only serious foodies need apply!

Finally, we have really appreciated the eye-opening cultural experience. This is our first time living in a Muslim country, albeit a fairly Westernized one. Ramadan starts in a few days (though we'll happily escape most of's too hot to think about not even being able to drink water in public or in our cars). It's amazing how the differences that were once so obvious (men wearing all white, women wearing all black, the HUGE sunglasses, everyone and their brother driving Land Cruisers...and more serious things like the regular calls to prayer broadcast all over the city, in the malls, on the radio...) have faded into normalcy over the months. It would be nice if Ellie were old enough to remember any of this, but we're ready to make some new memories in Holland!
Soon, we will start the settling in process all over again, but don't worry...we're definitely planning to look for a home with plenty of guest room and we expect visitors!

crosswalk sign

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Now that we've got the blog working again, it's time for the scoop on Dubai!
It was sooooo wonderful to get out of Dohot for a few days, even though it was just as hot in Dubai. At least there were new things to see, new places to go...
Dubai is a shopping mecca, and malls abound. The malls have different personalities too. Ibn Battuta has five "neighborhoods", each with a different country in mind. There's a Chinese section, Indian, Egyptian...

The Souq Medinat Jumeira has more crafts and imports, furniture and clothing from throughout the region. It is brand new, but designed to look like the old souqs. It's also located next to Dubai's most famous landmark, the Burj Al Arab.

Burj Al Arab, the world's only seven star hotel
Dubai, UAE

Finally, there's the Mall of the Emirates, most known for its indoor ski arena, Ski Dubai. I had most been looking forward to taking Ellie to play in the snow in the desert, but unfortunately, they had a strict no-under-3s policy. We got to look through the window, but that was about it. Ironically, when we stepped out of the elevator at the Mall of the Emirates, they were blasting the theme to Mission Impossible.

outside Ski Dubai (the top of the slope)

Finally, a word on our hotel. No, we didn't stay in the Burj Al Arab. I think you need to be a millionaire to stay there comfortably. Rumors have it that the nightly rate can be in the thousands. No, we're not quite there yet. Instead, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt in town, which was a mere five stars (the compromises one has to make!). It was a gorgeous hotel. The interior had a huge garden area with a running brook stocked with fish... Outside, there were three beautiful pools: a massive one for adults, a smaller one for children that had waterslides and fountains in a climbing fort, and a little one for babies. There were huge grounds with lots of grassy playspace and an outdoor jogging trail. The breakfast spread was the best we've ever seen in a hotel, and it was included with the room. We can most definitely recommend staying there!

Of course, we begin to wonder how we will ever keep Ellie in the style to which she's become accustomed. At five months, she lived in the Ritz Carlton for six weeks. She plays in the pool at the Four Seasons. And when we holiday, she stays at five star hotels. I think we're in trouble.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Our baby is growing up! Ellie celebrated her first birthday yesterday, and what a fun day she had! In the morning, we celebrated with her friends at our standing Thursday morning Dairy Queen play group. Pancakes, cupcakes in ice cream cones...yummy! Then, we met Papa for lunch at City Center, and he bought her a Minnie Mouse balloon (balloons are her favorite!). After her nap, we had a special playdate with her new friend Cy and met his pet camels (though we don't have pictures of her with them...they made her a bit nervous)!
We can hardly believe her first year has gone by. She is growing and changing so much every day. What a miracle and a treasure that we are blessed to witness daily. Happy Birthday, Ellie! We love you so much!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Although she's been walking with help for about five months, Ellie has seemed to lack the confidence to have a go on her own...until recently. For the past week or two, she has been standing free and doesn't seem so nervous about sitting back down again. She's been quite a cruiser around furniture too. But the other day, we had another big first...Ellie strolled the entire length of the mall while holding onto her stroller. She was soooo proud to do it all on her own!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

To kick off our new year, we are going to Dubai this weekend...our first vacation in ages! Off we go to the land of opulence and riches, the land of shopping shopping and more shopping! Of course, we're just going for the sights and the chance to escape Dohot for a few days. Trading heat and humidity for heat and more humidity, but at least there will be new things to see and different places to go. I'm looking forward to seeing Burj Al Arab (the famous sail-shaped hotel), the massive gold souq, and of course, the indoor skiing arena. The fact that they have built an indoor skiing facility in the desert defies the imagination. Friends have told us that you can go in to a small area for 10 riyals just to play in the snow and throw snowballs. I wonder what Ellie will make of snow! Pictures and stories to follow!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29, 2005. One year ago today was Hurricane Katrina. One year ago, we were waiting it out in a hotel room in Houston, watching the news and feeling fairly certain that we’d be able to head home in the morning. The storm came and went, and all seemed relatively well. But then the water began to creep through New Orleans. By the following morning, our worst nightmares had just begun. The horrific images on the news only told a small part of the story. The tremendous failures from the local, state and federal government left people dying in their homes and in the streets; those who survived were lacking in any food, water or medical care. Most of the city was submerged. Though we soon realized our part of town had escaped the flood, we were unable to return for six weeks, not even to check what and if we had anything left.

Meanwhile, over on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, things were far worse. The New Orleans flood and the city’s racial, socio-economic and political tensions made the news, but Katrina wrought some of the most unspeakable damage on the coast. Gorgeous historic homes all along the beach were wiped away in an instant. In Biloxi, the devastation went back at least five blocks back from the beach. Further west (closer to the eye of Katrina), the damage went back for miles. The town of Pass Christian was completely gone, not a single structure left standing. To the east in Ocean Springs, where my dad lived, the news trucks never came…but the storm certainly did.

One year later, she’s still there. Katrina is present every day on the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans and throughout South Louisiana. The people who survived her all have stories to tell. We are no different, but those who know us have heard it too many times and so have we.
It’s been quite a year, but this is our New Year’s Day. The world is made new again.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I just got Ellie to go back to sleep after she took a too-short nap on a very challenging day.
Baby: 10,756,934
Mama: 1

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

There hasn’t been much news on this end of late, and the blog and emails are getting weak. I apologize. For those of you who really want to know about our days, you are being seriously short-changed, and that’s not good. I’m going to try to make amends here.

Miss Ellie Bee keeps us happy and fulfilled. She is quite a busy girl and sooo happy! She’s such a joy! Whenever she’s with one of us and she catches sight of the other, she breaks out laughing and flapping her little arms…or if she’s trying to walk, she comes running! She still isn’t walking on her own, but she can and will pull up at every opportunity. She is also starting to “cruise.” Last night, we watched her delighted progress as she made her way down the length of the coffee table. Then, she got stuck at the end and didn’t know what to do…which led to great baby frustration. Oooo…she does NOT like being stuck. Being stuck also happens in her crib. Ellie has taken to sleeping on her belly. From this position, it’s easy to push up to sitting and then pull up to standing…at which point she gets stuck and becomes excessively indignant about the whole situation. Partly because of this, she is not yet sleeping through the night. Jennifer is still pulling all nighttime duty, largely because Ellie hasn’t weaned yet but also secretly because Ellie has her papa completely wrapped around her baby fingers. After only a few minutes of her crying, he can’t take it and he surrenders, usually bringing her to Mama or insisting Mama go in to her. Many men can’t take the crying because it makes them irritated or mad. Markus can’t take it because it breaks his heart. Oh yes, she has him whipped!

Our routine has become just that. During the week, Markus heads out by 5:30 or so, squeezing in a brief swim or some other exercise at the club before he heads to the mines. After having awoken three or four times during the night (only twice on good days!), Ellie wants to get up at around 6:30 or 7. A bleary-eyed Jennifer begs her to go back to sleep, which Ellie always finds very hilarious. By 9 o’clock, the two girls are out the door in search of adventure. Our favorite hang-out is the Landmark Mall, where there is a large, well-lit, relatively clean soft play area Ellie loves. Fortunately for us, she’s still so small that they don’t charge us admission yet (all kiddie play areas have fees), so we find ourselves there multiple times each week. Jennifer has taken to consuming more coffee than she has ever consumed in her entire life. This could have something to do with the fact that even in college, she usually got more than four consecutive hours of sleep at night.
We always try to be back home for naptime. Ellie’s favorite new game is testing how short an afternoon nap can possibly be. This is proving to be an exciting new challenge for her mama as well.
In the afternoons, we try to meet Markus at the club at least two or three times a week. Ellie really likes splashing about in the pool, especially when we’re all there as a family. She has quite a fan club at the Four Seasons. One pool attendant in particular—Jamal—has a big crush on her. He always comes running over when he sees her, and he plays with her as often as he can while we’re there.

Ellie’s fan club is both a blessing and a curse for her. People here are incredibly loving and friendly to babies, usually to the extent that they want to hold the baby, snuggle and play. Sometimes, they don’t take no for an answer, and therein lies the trouble. Ellie is often not a big fan of being snatched away by a (smiling and cooing) complete stranger. This is something her parents have no trouble understanding, but the complete strangers can’t seem to comprehend. We ran into this very problem today at City Center. A shop girl was very insistent about taking Ellie away to another part of the store, even though Ellie was very tired and became teary at her approach. She tried repeatedly to heft Ellie from Jennifer’s arms, although Jennifer tried to kindly rebuff her. She meant well, we have no doubt, but the opposite effect was achieved.
At times like those, we try to explain to Ellie that this is just what happens when one is truly irresistible. She then looks at us as if to say, “Why do you think I employ two full-time staff?”
Our life in Dohot proceeds under strict adherence to the law: Murphy's Law, that is.
Yesterday, the company had exterminators spray our house for bugs, although I hadn't seen any aside from a few small spiders and one (already dead) small cockroach.
Today, we have ants in the kitchen.
Yep, that's about right.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

As you have probably gathered, I am slightly obsessed with food. I spent most of my spare moments today cooking up a storm and then chowing it down with gusto. A little family tradition we have is dining out to kick off the weekend, so last Thursday night, we went in search of a good restaurant to try out. Being too early for most places, we ended up eating at a burger place. MISTAKE! Markus, poor man, got food poisoning and it has persisted for days. Today was the first day I've ever known him to stay home from work because of illness. He usually goes even if he's feverish and miserable, but today he stayed home. That's how sick this poor man is! Fortunately, we seem to have reached a turning point. He managed to eat the dinner I cooked tonight without any troubles, so tomorrow, it's back to the trenches.
Speaking of the trenches...
The almighty bureaucracy that is his employer has mucked with our schedule yet again. Although our leave date had already been set and confirmed by multiple managers and our arrival date agreed with The Hague, although we'd already called the movers and planned a vacation before moving to Holland, Markus's boss decided it would be fun to derail the whole train on a whim and now no date is certain. His boss wrote to The Hague on Thursday and changed the leave date to sometime in October, and so far, there's been no response from that end. Who knows what they will want to do about it. It was all set. Everyone seemed fine and dandy with the plan...too bad it was made when Markus's micro-managing, overly obsessive boss was out of town. Oy.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Today was Saturday, which meant we were out and about in search of new adventures. This morning, we discovered Bombay Silk, a fabric supply store that we'd heard a lot about since we've been here. They have beautiful fabrics, silks, satins, velvet...raw silk, embroidered silk... I purchased three different silks to have some pants copied by a tailor. Tailors are abundant here, and there are dozens in the vicinty of Bombay Silk. A friend had recommended I take my pants to her tailor, but the man working at Bombay Silk went to get a tailor for me to be sure I bought the correct amount of fabric. Later, he took us to that tailor's shop. It was down a corridor from the tailor my friend had recommended. It was a tiny room with two very old sewing machines and two older Indian gentlemen working. The tailor looked over the pair of pants I wanted copied, kept them and the fabric, and promised they would be ready in one week. Three pairs of pants. Amazing.
If they don't mind, I will post a picture of the place when I go back to pick them up.
Afterwards, we went to eat at an Indian, vegetarian restaurant. As with any ethnic cuisine, there's good Indian and there's bad Indian. Sometimes you get lucky and find somewhere authentic and delicious. When we went in and were shown to the family section, one glance quickly revealed that we were the only non-Indians there. And yes, the food was authentic and DELICIOUS! And cheap! 30 riyals total for both of us (that's about $7). I'll definitely be going back, and hopefully I'll get some pictures then too.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Another recipe to try out...
I've made this with hammour (the popular white fish here in Qatar) and salmon. Markus, who doesn't particularly care for salmon, RAVED about this one. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!

Fish with Tarragon Tomato Sauce
(from "The One-Armed Cook")
4 servings

1 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp dried chives
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb fresh fish fillets (such as cod, haddock or salmon)

In a large deep skillet with a cover, melt the butter or margarine over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the fish, stirring well to mix. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add fish fillets, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Snacktime for Ellie and Josh, and Josh wants more food. Ellie is happy to share hers...almost.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two dear friends celebrate birthdays today! Big hugs to you both!

Happy Birthday, Azure!

Happy Birthday, Gail!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tonight, we explored a very local furniture shop called Ghassan's. We were directed there after complimenting a friend's hand-painted dining room table. She said she picked it up there, that they had wonderful things and the prices were reasonable. Let me tell you, this place was HARD to find! It is not on any main road, it looks like a run-down villa with a dilapidated tent covering the courtyard, and there is no sign indicating in any fashion that it is a shop. It only has a small name plaque like all other houses on that street. But what a find! It was amazing! Definitely the most interesting shop I have seen since we've been here! They had the most amazing variety of furnishings and decorative pieces, mostly from India. All handmade and quite decent quality. Packed to the gills with STUFF, stacked to the ceiling in every room! You definitely have to be willing to invest some time in looking at everything, but it was a real feast for the eyes! So much to see! Lots of fun! As you can tell, I'm happy we went. I'll be going back!

In typical Jennifer fashion, I have meant to put this recipe up for ages now...but today is the day! Tah-dah! I promise it was worth the wait! This salad is AWESOME! We enjoy the flavor of the shrimp so much that I keep making them this way, but then just tossing them into tacos rather than proceed with this (very time-consuming but well worth it) salad. By the way, if you decide to make them into tacos (we just use the shrimp, tomatoes, homemade guacamole, black beans and cheese in flour tortillas), the combo is really fabulous with frozen limeade pie for dessert. You know I must have dessert! The recipe follows...

Summer garden salad with chili-garlic shrimp
(recipe from Bon Appetit August 2005)
6 main course servings

1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 lbs uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 ears of corn, husked
3 small tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/3 English hothouse cucumbers, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise

4 tsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 large avocado, halved, peeled, pitted, cut into thin slices
8 cups (loosely packed) mixed baby greens
2 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

Mix chili-garlic sauce, cumin, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat until hot. Add half of shrimp and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, transfer shrimp to plate. Add remaining shrimp and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and cool.

Cook corn in a pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut corn kernels off cobs. Mix corn, tomatoes, and cucumber into shrimp.

Whisk remaining 2 Tbsp oil, 1/8 tsp pepper, lime juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil in medium bowl.
(Shrimp mixture and dressing can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.)

Combine shrimp mixture with any accumulated juices, avocado, greens and mint in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat.

Frozen Limeade Pie

small can frozen limeade, defrosted (6oz?)
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz?)
graham cracker crust (store bought is fast, but homemade tastes better!)

Mix the first four ingredients (minus the cans, of course). Pour into graham cracker crust. Bake for 25 mintues at 350 degrees F. Cool on wire rack. Place in freezer for at least 3 hours. Cut into big ol' slices and enjoy!

I'm sure you can tell this is my own recipe. I modified it from a different pie, so the amounts aren't exact. I'm not sure of the ounce measurements on the cans since the cans here aren't labeled that way, but these are pretty standard cans. Just go with the standard size of the condensed milk and the little size of the frozen limeade and you'll be fine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Some of you have been asking about Ellie's boyfriends...
Aren't they handsome?!

Nicholas (age 2)

Joshua (age 1)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

This afternoon while Ellie and I were out, we met a woman working in a stationery shop. Ellie was smiling away, and the woman was playing with her. She told me that watching Ellie made her miss her own daughter. Her daughter is back in the Philippines. She's 18 months old. The woman told me she's been working here for the past 16 months.
We meet so many people from underdeveloped countries who have left their families to come work here. So many parents who have left their children behind so they can earn better and provide more for them, even though it means being apart.
We are truly blessed and lucky.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

For serious Ellie lovers only...
Today, Ellie decided she was going to feed herself. By the time she was finished, there was rice cereal all over her clothes, my clothes, her legs and arms, my legs and arms, the floor...but see how meticulously she managed the spoon! While working, she sang a little song--her "I'm doing it myself" song.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ellie is 11 months old today...just one month away from her first birthday! She's getting to be "SO BIG" (or "so gross!" as Markus says in German)...

Apologies for the lack of postings (and emails) from our end of late! Being back in Dohot has meant that there isn't a whole heckuva lot going on. We get up, Markus goes to work, Ellie and I have breakfast and play before heading out to anywhere (to preemptively avoid cabin fever). Most days, we meet up with other babies and mommies and have a play. Then, it's home again for nap time. Up again for a snack and a play before heading to the club and meeting up with Markus. Splashing about in the swimming pools, maybe meeting some new friends there. Then it's home again for dinner, bath and bedtime for Ellie. Markus and I usually watch a DVD to round out the evening, because by then, we are both fried from our days and the utter lack of variety here. Somewhere in the middle, there's a lot of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and errand running.
Nothing particularly thrilling for the daily blog, thus the lack.

Another factor has been a growing source of frustration on Jennifer's part at being so far away from the States right now. Markus has generously offered to send us back there to sort more things out, but it would be at too great a cost to his time with Ellie (and me!) and also too unfair to Ellie, who has just settled into a routine here. We really are having great times together as a little family again! I will post more pictures soon!
For those of you who wonder and ask how things are going on the estate, read on. For those who would rather not know, skip on to the end. There's more news to come...

While it's WONDERFUL being together again, it's VERY frustrating knowing that remaining estate things are ticking along in a negative way back in the States. The estate sales guy didn't finish clearing things out until after I left (despite weeks of me trying to get him to come earlier), and apparently he left mountains of trash and filth in his wake (I understood he'd make the trash be gone as part of the job). He promised to completely empty the house, but apparently, he didn't do that either. So for well over a week, the yard was filled to capacity with CRAP so mountainous that random strangers felt safe leaving their crap their too. A toilet appeared in the front yard. Interesting. Finally, the city came to remove the mountain, but left small bits of trash, scrap metal and broken glass in the yard...which our wonderful family friend Mary has been dutifully removing bit by bit. The front yard is being mowed by a neighbor, but the side yard and back yard have gone completely wild and are now snake havens. And finally, to round out my gripe, the contractor who I finally got on board the last day I was there hasn't been able to get started because it has rained EVERY SINGLE DAY since his agreed start date. Gulf Coast summers always involve rain (usualy for an hour or so each afternoon), but the real joy here is that it actually wasn't raining much at all while I was there trying and trying and trying to get things moving. Now that they are fully set to move, it's pouring down rain and it's a no go. ARGH!
By deciding to keep my Dad's house and repair it, I was trying to reclaim a bit of something that was very important to him and preserve our good memories there. I felt the least I could do was fix his house. Even if we don't keep it in the long run, I couldn't stand the idea of it falling into ruin after he left us. And now IT HAS FALLEN INTO RUIN! It is clear to anyone with eyes that the house is abandoned (BAD NEWS) and insurance won't cover us for theft or vandalism if the house is vacated for more than 30 days (that's us!). If only the rain would let up so the contractor could get started... At least that's progress! Right now, all we have is hurt and worry. Oy.

In other news, it seems our Dohot days are numbered! The word has been passed down through the mighty bureaucracy that is Markus's employer that we are set to move to The Hague! They are expecting us there on the first of October! We are very very happy! When we first gave them the personal reasons for moving away from Doha, we felt those would be the best bet for helping us leave. Over time, however, those have really become THE reasons. Life in Doha, though remote and unvaried, is what you make of it. No, there's NOTHING to do, but people are generally very friendly and it's easy to find someone to chat with. Most other young moms stay at home with young kids, so it's easy for Ellie and Jennifer to find play partners. We could ride out the time here if we had to. But this year has been a doozy, to put it mildly. Starting with Katrina, it has been a year of strain and loss on so many levels, that it just seems wrong to be this far from our families right now. We're happy that the company is being understanding in that department and that they are moving us so soon. Once we get settled, we will be very happy to have visitors!

Recently, we were attempting to plan a weekend jaunt to Dubai. While reading the Lonely Planet guide, Jennifer came across this passage about the large business class in the population:
"Housewives left with little to do at home spend much of thier time with other women in similar circumstances. It's fair to say these women keep the cosmetics and spa industries alive and the coffee shops ticking over during the day."
My gut reaction is HOW SHALLOW AN EXISTENCE, but then I realized that I met with another mom at Starbucks that morning and that afternoon, we went to the Four Seasons spa (that's our club). Yes, we went there for the pool, but hit a bit too close to home! Time to run away!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Welcome back to Doha! Coming back here to a compound without facilities has meant returning to our club: The Four Seasons Doha. What an experience, walking into the club after three months and being greeted enthusiastically... "Welcome back, Mrs. Klingbeil!" I change my clothes and start using the elliptical machine in the gym, only to be approached moments later by an attendant..."Cold towel, Miss Jennifer?" (the cold towel is lemon scented, of course). The soap in the showers is L'Occitane's lemon verbena. And I won't even get started on the facilities. The multiple outdoor pools are COOLED as to be refreshing in the 100+ degree heat. Whoa.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

If at first you don't succeed, try try again...