Monday, November 29, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, for Pete's sake

It's a beautiful sunny day in Doha, with a temperature of 26 degrees Celsius.  I'm sitting outside in capris and sandals.  It is November 29.

Rumour has it that Christmas is approaching, but I have barely any reason to suspect it.  If it wasn't for the Seasonal section at Carrefour with its abundance of artificial Christmas trees and coloured balls, I'd swear that either someone with the store was a little too eager, or it was still August.

Forty-plus years on Canadian soil have conditioned me to have an almost Pavlovian response to the seasons and the weather associated with them.  Let's review:

Early Spring:  Snow begins to melt, and crocuses pop up.  This is my cue to register the kids for soccer, buy bedding plants, and dig out the flip-flops.  Those among us who are organized get their winter tires taken off.
Late Spring:  Snow from the second big spring snowstorm begins to melt.  This is my cue to plan make-up games for snowed-out soccer games, purchase more bedding plants to replace the dead ones, and throw the damn winter boots back in the closet for the third time.  Some of us will finally get our winter tires off, claiming foresight instead of procrastination.
Summer:  Sunny and warm most of the time, unless you've elected to stay in Calgary.  This is my cue to make travel plans, BBQ every day and have as many Starbucks Frappuccinos as I can shamelessly consume.  Late in the season, I'll get the kids to try on hockey equipment, and start purchasing school supplies.
Early Fall:  Sunny and warm ALL of the time, now that you've used up all your vacation days and the kids are back in school.  This is my cue to watch copious amounts of professional and minor hockey, buy some new sweaters, and turn on the furnace.
Late Fall:  Snowy and cold enough to freeze the bananas off a brass monkey (it's a family blog, folks).  This is my cue to make cards, bake 22 pounds of cookies for freezing, and start Christmas shopping.

According to the schedule, I should be knee-deep in fancy ribbon and coloured sugar right now.  I should also have purchased 90 per cent of the presents.  Instead, I'm a captive of my own inertia, following the steady sandal-wearing, Starbucks-drinking cues I've been following for years.  After four months of living here in current conditions, I need to ease up on the school-supply purchases.  Also, the kids are threatening to snap if I make them try on their shoulder pads one more time.

So, for those of you experiencing the familiarity of a true pre-Christmas clime, I say revel in it.  Enjoy the feeling of snow melting at the top of your socks inside your boots after shovelling for the third time on a given day.  Relax while you sit in your car for 15 minutes waiting for it to warm up before making your move into traffic.  And then, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, put on some Christmas music and take comfort in the fact that you have completed all of your holiday preparations.  As for me, I'd better get on it.  And I promise I will.  Right after I get back from lunch on the patio.

*Blogger's note:  As always, I welcome all comments, with the exception of those of an irate nature, particularly from frost-bitten Canadians.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Holiday in Oman

Day 1 - Gee, I Hope I Packed My Banquet Pants...
Breakfast of Champions for Ben:  pancakes with chocolate syrup followed by a chocolate milk chaser and a sugar donut for dessert.  Morning at the pool, including 20-minute trips down The Lazy River followed by more pool, beach and giant chess for the boys, while I went to the spaaahhhhh.  Or so I'm told.  I have the bill to prove it, but I believe I was unconscious for most of it.

Day 2  - Finding Nemo
Snorkelling trip this morning, which involved a speed boat trip to a secluded bay in the Gulf of Oman.  Saw some neat coral, sea anemone, stripey fish and leopard-spotted eels.  Kids did brilliantly, and a couple of them may have lasted even longer if the ocean wasn't made of (surprise!) salt water.  Sadly, alcohol will not be served at the hotel for the next 36 hours, in observance of the Muslim Eid Al Adha religious occasion, confirming that no matter how hard we try, we can't outrun the long arm of Islamic law.  Buffet will be the end of us all, prompting Dan to declare that desserts will now be limited to breakfast and dinners only.

Day 3 - Inshallah All the Way, Baby
Best. Day. Ever.  Hired a local Omani guide to drive us three hours to the desert.  Ali was a great guy with a big heart, four kids, and a complete disregard for the posted speed limit.  Partook in unscheduled/complimentary dune-bashing, then visited a Bedouin family in their home, where we were served dates and coffee.  Camel rides followed with their young sons guiding.  After, we stopped at a wadi (oasis) for lunch and a swim.  Convinced of our imminent death on the return trip in the backseat of Ali's Prado, we were  delighted to return to the hotel in one piece.  Room service and mini-bar upon our return helped to take the edge off.
Dune Bashing - video (These take a few minutes to buffer)
Camel Riding - video

Day 4 - Mom, Can I Keep Him?
Rough seas postponed our plans to waterski.  Kids spent the day in the pool, wave-jumping, giant chess, and making 76 trips down The Lazy River, newly renamed The Lemoing Competitive Swim and Extreme Tubing River.  Ben has developed a serious camel obsession, and visits/rides the camels-for-hire on the beach daily.  Potential crisis tonight at dinner when Nick had to wait two and a half minutes while NO ONE WAS MANNING THE COTTON CANDY MACHINE.  And they call themselves a five star hotel.
Camel Riding on the Beach - video

Days 5 and 6 - Up He Goes!
Nick and Jacob tried water-skiing for the first time, while Ben was only a fraction of an ounce short of the gumption required.  Nick went first and had success on his fourth try, making his parents very proud.  Unfortunately he swallowed half the ocean, leaving little for Jacob to float in when it came time for his attempts.  Parents and kids have ceased frequenting the same restaurants at dinner, sealing mine and Dan's expulsion from the cool crowd.
Nick Water-Skiing - video

Day 7 - So Long, Shangri'la
Hotel speed-boat driver now knows, without asking, our name and room number.  Our Banana-boat ride for five started out at Mom-speed but slowly accelerated until we landed in the drink.  Several times.  Which apparently is the point of it, as demonstrated by Jacob's increased enjoyment with each repeated dunking.  Family kayaking ensued until we ran out of rowing songs.  One last chess game, with Ben crushing Dan, and then off to our evening flight to Doha. Ah yes, a plane ride.  And me without my Ativan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Decorating for Dromedaries

Of the many experiences I expected to have while living in Qatar, a most unlikely one was made available to me last week that I had never previously considered.  Through the magic and generosity of the company social club, I was able to participate in a Camel Decorating Class.  Yes, you're reading that right.  Those of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I'm just not creative enough to make this stuff up.  Plus, I've got the photos to prove it.  Be forewarned that my self-appointed Editor-in-Residence questioned whether I had a enough material to write a whole blog on the subject.  But, since our marriage is mostly based on competition, rivalry, and a series of "I-told-you-so's", I'd be remiss if I didn't give it a try.  Just skip through all the gratuitous anecdotes that don't pertain to the subject.  Plus, I can stretch it out longer when I use words like 'gratuitous' and 'anecdote'.

How hard could it be? I thought.  A glue gun, some scissors and a naked camel as my canvas, and I expected to be done well within the four-hour time period allotted to us.  However, three and a half hours later, with fingers scarred from hot glue, sweat dripping from my brow, and my left eye twitching uncontrollably, I was finally able to declare my camel suitably outfitted for an Arabian night on the town, a casual lunch at the souqs, or a life-long existence on the corner table in my dining room.

Lucia, the Committee Chair of Camel Bling, spent a lot of time at the souqs finding just the right items to decorate our camels, and she did a great job.  Each of the 12 participants was given a bag filled with tiny wicker baskets, brass jewellery boxes, beads, coins, carpets and buttons.  There was also a table with items to share, such as nutmeg, ribbon, cinnamon sticks and frankincense (yes, real frankincense!).  It's unclear what my camel's religious persuasion was before the makeover, but he has apparently converted to Islam as he now sports a tiny gold-coloured Qur'an.

Not wanting our camels to be uncomfortable, we each put a small woven blanket over their backs, which would serve as a 'saddle', to which we glued all the other items.  But first, each tiny vessel (basket, vase, box) needed to be filled with even tinier things (pearls, coins, seeds), and each of those things had to be glued in place.  Now, in the event of a freak camel mishap, the goods are going to be secure.  Then, wielding our glue guns, we attached all the baskets, etc. to the blanket.  Now I think the only thing he needs to make him look like the genuine article is a set of false eyelashes.  Shopper's Drugmart Online, here I come!

The Camel Naming Contest is now open, and I welcome your suggestions.  The kids have already named him Iowa (don't ask, it just sounds cool when you say it the way they do).  Personally, I like the name that Dan and I came up with after a miscommunication between us, like a game of Telephone gone bad (or good, depending on your perspective):  Mike Hamel.  If this doesn't do it for you, try saying it three times fast.  Sort of looks like a Mike, don't you think?