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!