Friday, December 30, 2011

Our One Year Anniversary

Yas Island, one of my favorite places in Abu Dhabi.
Well, it's hard to believe, but the 29th marked our one year anniversary here in Abu Dhabi.  This move has changed our lives in more ways than I could have ever imagined it would, and it continues to change life as we knew it in America.  I remember the first night here at our villa, my husband and I were up on our larger balcony looking out at the lights of the city off in the distance.  We were both having the same "wow, we really did this" moment, but even then I don't think we realized just how much moving halfway around the world would change our lives.

For me, the biggest and most obvious change is that I am now a stay at home mom.  I've always had some type of job since I was 16, so not having one has been a huge adjustment for me.  I know most stay at home moms will argue that being a stay at home mom is a full time job, and if you are a stay at home mom in America or any other country I agree that it can be.  I on the other hand live in the UAE, the land where almost everyone has a maid, a gardener, and a driver.  The only daily tasks I have are meeting my husband for lunch, grocery shopping, cooking, and picking my kids up from school, all of which I enjoy doing.....maybe not the grocery shopping part.  My daughter recently told me that all the years I worked she always dreamed that if I was a stay at home mom I would bake cookies and have them waiting for her when she got home from school.  Well, this month when I was doing my Christmas baking almost daily, I fulfilled my little girl's dream of cookies and other baked goodies waiting for her when she got home from school.  Her big smile was better than a paycheck.  I'm still adjusting to this new role, and it bugs me when people here ask me what my husband does for a living, not what do I do.  I usually give them the quick "he's an engineer" answer, and then tell them what I did in the states before moving here.  Not sure why I feel the need to do this, but I do.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way ready to go back to the 5 day a week working world.  I am learning to relax and enjoy life more here, and my stress level is almost non existent.  My kids are both teenagers, and I have worked their whole lives.  I want to enjoy the years I have left with them before they go off to college.  Abu Dhabi has given me the opportunity to do this, and I'm thankful.

I'm not the only one that has changed since moving here, my kids have changed and grown in ways I never would have dreamed.  When we made this move several people told me what a great experience we were giving our kids, and I saw that as the experience of another country, culture, and language.  What they actually have learned goes way beyond that.  The kids share a classroom with kids from all over the world, not just the UAE. This past year when their school had it's International Day festivities to celebrate the different countries represented at their school, there were over 60 different countries represented in the student body.  Just talking to their friends has opened up their eyes to current world events that most kids in America don't normally give much thought to.  Here it's different, because the events going on in Libya, North and South Korea, Egypt, Palestine, etc. actually affect the lives and families of their friends here, and they talk about these events with them.  I don't ever recall discussing the plight of the Palestinians with the kids prior to moving here, but here it's actually a subject that they've brought up for discussion.  They also talk about religion and tolerance in a way that most adults aren't even capable of doing.  I'm so proud of both of them, and I can see how this move is shaping the adults that they will become.

As a family, I think the biggest change has been the time that we spend together now.  To me, it alone has made this move to Abu Dhabi  more than worth it.  We now sit down to a home cooked family dinner almost every night together.  Even better than that, all 4 of us have lunch together on Tuesdays, because the kids get out of school early every Tuesday.  This is something that maybe happened once a year when we lived in the states.  We also do a lot more activities together on the weekends here than we did in the states.  There are so many things to do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and most weekends I feel like we are on a family vacation.  We also live a lot closer to Europe now, and we're able to take some really cool vacations like our recent trip to Germany and Austria for Christmas.  In addition to family outings, my husband and I also have a lot more time for just the two of us here.  We do have teenagers, so while they like hanging out with us, they don't like doing it 24-7.  It's nice to just be able to go sit and relax and have coffee in a cafe with my husband on a Saturday morning, or one of my favs are the times like we had tonight where we sit on a comfy couch by the water overlooking the city and enjoy a dinner of delicious Arabic food at one of my favorite spots, Le Boulanger.

I'll be honest when we took this big step and moved 7500 miles away from our friends and family it was a bit scary...exciting, but scary.  Today, looking back on the life changing year we've had, I'm so glad that we had the courage to take this step. I look forward to what adventures life in Abu Dhabi has to bring us in 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Glacier Snowboarding

Me on the Zugspitze

Today we set out to conquer the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, with our snowboards.  We have had blizzard like conditions for the past few days here, and we've opted to snowboard at the Garmisch Classic ski area the past few days instead of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak.   We were told that visibility can be bad on the Zugspitze in current conditions, but we are heading out for Austria tomorrow and we didn't want to leave Germany without hitting the Zugspitze.  The Zugspitze is Germany's only glacier and at it's highest point you are 2962 meters above sea level, so we were all excited about being able to say we had been snowboarding on a glacier.

Well, the first clue we were in trouble should have been when we pulled into the parking lot around noon, and there were hardly any cars at all there.  We gathered our gear and hopped on the aerial tramway for about a 10 minute ride up to the top of the Zugspitze.  As we started getting closer to the top, the howling wind and ice falling on the roof of the tram clued me in that we might be in for some less than perfect conditions.  Even better, when we got off the tram there were flashing yellow lights and a sign that said when the lights were flashing to be warned that there was a higher chance of an avalanche off piste.  Avalanche.....lovely.  I tried to shrug the flashing yellow lights off, and think to myself they're just being overly cautious.

When we got off the tramway we were quickly directed to another tram that went down to the glacier ski area, I honestly thought maybe just maybe it will be better when we get off the next tram.....WRONG!  When we stepped outside after taking the second tram the best way I can describe it is the North Pole.  Imagine blowing hard snow and not being able to see hardly anything.  You could barely tell where the sky ended and the ground began.  There were a few skiers that were coming in from the slopes, and I think my jaw about dropped when I saw one taking off a tracking device belt as part of  his gear.  My mind flashed back to the avalanche warning I had just seen.  I couldn't help, but think we had lost our minds.

Looking around, I knew there was no way I could physically snowboard or even ski in such insane conditions.  My husband, our family snowboarding expert, thought differently.....or maybe he just wanted to.  You see, the guy I married was a ski / snowboard instructor and snowboard racer in college.  After almost 17 years of marriage, he still hasn't grown up when it comes to boarding.  He's actually quite impressive on a snowboard, and I've watched him carve circles around kids half his age.  I'm not just giving him credit, because he's my husband either.  He's actually really a great snowboarder, and we have a running joke that he could have been a professional if I hadn't trashed his dreams by making him settle down and get married.

I saw that kid in the candy store look in his eyes up on the mountain, and how he was itching to strap on his board and I knew the man was going to try to board the "North Pole".  My teenage son was just as anxious to get a run in as well, and tried to make his way to a lift.  He only got a few feet on his board before he dropped chest deep into a drift,  and my husband had to go help pull him out.  I thought to myself "ok, now we can leave".  Nope, not my crazy family.  My husband still wanted to try to see if visibility would be better at a lower altitude, so he decided that he and my son would test it first to see if we could all four go down as a family.  I also have a 13 year old daughter that is a chip right off her father's block when it comes to snowboarding.  Still, in today's conditions we thought the best idea would be for the guys to test the slope first.  By the way, I say slope, but you couldn't tell where the "slope" really was other than a few marker posts in the snow.  I tried one last time to convince my husband to not take the risk, and call it a day before he and my son took off.

Minutes turned to an hour, as my daughter and I waited.  My daughter entertained herself by digging a huge hole in the snow and making a shelter using snow and her snowboard.  I on the other hand was worried to death the later it got.  I saw some skiers come up that had rescue shovels as part of their gear, and all I could think was that other than boards all my guys had was each other.  Despite the polar like conditions, I stayed outside looking into the sea of white for any glimpse of them, all the while praying that they would make it back safely.  I started to wonder at what point would I need to ask for help finding them.  I had seen a map of the run, and I knew in normal conditions it should only take a few minutes.  After well over an hour and neither of them in sight, I was afraid that one of them had been injured or worse that they had gone off piste accidentally in the blinding conditions. 

Finally, they appeared out of the cloud of white, and I felt a huge relief.  They came back both in one piece,  exhausted, but in one piece.  It seems they dropped into several drifts unexpectedly, and had to dig their way out each time.   They even had to unstrap and carry the boards at some points, because they could not tell where the sides of the slope were, and my husband was worried that they would find out the hard way by dropping several feet.  He would never admit it, but I'm pretty sure he wishes he had listened to me when I suggested we leave and not attempt what seemed like the impossible.  Then again, knowing him he's happy to have this new snowboarding accomplishment under his belt.  I on the other hand, am glad that I didn't try the impossible.  Search and Rescue would probably still be trying to dig me and my board out right now.

So, today's lesson is don't go snowboarding when the yellow avalanche lights are flashing, and if you do make sure you have a shovel and you're wearing a tracking device.

Our view when we got off the tram.

My husband and son before they started their journey.

My guys in a sea of white.

My daughter and her snow chair.

Chapel on the Zugspitze

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Exodus

Our view from our vacation apartment.

Guten Morgen from beautiful Garmisch, Germany!  Since Wednesday,  a mass exodus began in Abu Dhabi.  I'm calling it the Christmas Exodus, and we joined it yesterday.  You see most schools let out last Thursday for a 3 week Winter Break, and that means every expat that can has jetted out of town.  We are in Garmisch, Germany for the week, and we'll be heading to Salzburg, Austria next.

As we were preparing to leave Abu Dhabi, I realized what a wonderful support system we have developed over the past year.  If there's one thing we've got, it's "peeps", everything from chauffeurs to nannies for our pets.  Our great friends, L&P, arrived at our house early yesterday morning to take us to the airport and even serenaded us with Christmas music as they helped us carry our luggage into the airport.  Don't laugh, but they are also babysitting my husband's Ducati 1198s.  L&P  will also be checking in on our black labrador retriever, Shadow, while we're away.  Shadow and our cat, Angel, also have a nanny staying with them 24-7 during our Christmas holiday.  Our pet nanny actually loves Shadow so much she says he is like her son, so it's nice to not have to worry about the pets while were away.  Our landlord has his gardener tending to our yard and our newly planted mango and fruit trees, and I'm told he will be planting more trees for us while we are away.  He's also watching over our house and car along with our other friends.  I haven't a worry at all about anything back in Abu Dhabi, which makes vacation even more enjoyable.

Now, it's time to hit the slopes!

The Haus Windrose at the Rheinischer Hof

What a view!

Church of Saint Martin in Garmisch.

The streets of Garmisch seem like something out of a Christmas storybook.

More Garmisch

Lift going up to the Garmisch Classic Ski area.

View of Garmisch-Partenkirchen from the lift.

Restaurant Flosserstuben- Excellent German food.

Another view of the Church of Saint Martin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chivalry is Not Dead in Abu Dhabi

Those of you that know me, know that I am a sucker for a wounded or lost animal on the side of the road .....ESPECIALLY dogs.  It's a character trait I owe to my Grandma Eubanks and my Dad.  My heart will not let me just breeze past an animal that can possibly be saved.  So today in true Eubanks fashion, I flipped my car around and threw on the emergency flashers to go check on what I thought was a big white fluffy dog that was laying on the side of a six lane divided highway that runs through our neighborhood.  There aren't too many emergency pull off lanes here, so I had to pull over in a turn lane that was about a quarter of a mile from the animal.  People drive like nuts here, so I chose to walk in the median which is basically a big sand box with soft sand that you sink ankle deep into without shoes.  No problem, kicked off my wedge sandals and proceeded to walk somewhat awkwardly through the "sandpit".  It wasn't the easiest walk, but I was on a mission.  It's kind of like when you go to the beach and you are making that not so easy walk to your perfect "spot".

Now, for the funny part.  It took me forever to actually walk that quarter of a mile!  The road wasn't very busy, but I had very nice Arabic men stopping left and right.  Each of them asking if I was ok, and if they could help me.  All looking a little perplexed when I said I was checking on the animal, and even then still asking if they could offer assistance.  I assured everyone that stopped that I was ok, and thanked them for stopping.  Sadly, when I did make it to the "dog" there was no saving it.  I'm actually not sure what type of animal it was, because I have never seen anything like it.  One of the guys that stopped said "cat", and if that's the case it was in something that belonged in a zoo which is something I didn't think of when I pulled over.  You're not supposed to, but some people here have exotic animals including cheetahs, tigers, etc. here as pets.  There was a poor cheetah that was found wandering the busy city streets of Abu Dhabi earlier this year, because he got away from his owner's house.

Walking back to my car, this time using the sidewalk across the street since I was no longer on a mission, the cars continued to stop and I continued to try to explain I was ok.  Up ahead of me I could see there were 2 SUVs with young college aged Emiratis stopped at my car and out waiting to assist me.  Some had already started walking down the sidewalk to meet me.  The whole time I have this huge smile on my face, because I'm trying so hard not to just crack up laughing at the stupid scene I had caused doing something I did all the time back home in Virginia.

So, today I've learned I might want to give a little more thought to what I pull over for and how.  I've also learned that if I ever have any car trouble at all I will not need to call for assistance.  Chivalry is not dead in Abu Dhabi.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Nation Turns 40

Yesterday, marked the 40th birthday of the United Arab Emirates.  On December 2, 1971 six of the nine Trucial States along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf(aka Arabian Gulf) and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman formed the United Arab Emirates and became a new country.  The first six Emirates to join were Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujeirah, Ajman, and Umm al-Qaywayn.  In early 1972 the six were joined by Ras al-Kheimah to form the UAE that we live in today.  The emirate we live in, Abu Dhabi, is the largest emirate by land mass, and by far the richest sitting on the majority of the country's supply of oil.

Decorations for yesterday's festivities started showing up over a month ago with villas being draped in flags that cover most of the villa.  Villas here can be rather large, so these flags are unlike anything you have seen before.  On top of having huge flags adorning them, many of them are completely covered in vertical strings of lights reminiscent of Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation movie.  Just about every street has every light pole adorned with  UAE flags, and there are rows of flags made of lights and large lighted 40's down the main streets of the city.  The decorations aren't just covering the private villas here, just about every business here is decorated as well, including all the high rises downtown.

Perhaps the funniest, or shall I say oddest of the decorations are the decorations people put on their cars.  Talk about over the top!  I'm not talking people dressing up crappy cars either, I'm talking people adorning their high end luxury cars with graphics of the country's leaders and huge UAE flags.  I have seen some that keep it on their cars all year, but the majority have it during the months surrounding National Day.  I will include a taste of this craziness in pictures following this post.

Last night, our family decided to make the trek downtown to the Corniche (the beach boardwalk area downtown) to be a part of the celebrations.  The trip took us more than double the time that it normally does, but it was in no way boring at all.  We were surrounded by silly string, snow spray, and water gun warriors going down the main street into downtown.  There were kids hanging out of sunroofs and car doors spraying all the cars they passed as we were all barely moving as we edged our way downtown.  Teenagers were car surfing and hanging on to the sides of trucks with their kandoras blowing in the wind.  Some opted for wilder outfits with UAE colored cowboy hats and rhinestone face masks.  Cars were covered in the usual National Day graphics, but some had added balloons, flowers, furry boas, and teddy bears for the night's festivities.  Rolling down your window was done at your own risk, because the minute you did you fell pray to the little kids riding beside you ready to cover  you and the inside of your car in silly string or spray snow.  I think we even had one car that came up beside us spraying lemon Pledge...seriously!  Several kids and teenagers got out of their cars and went running down the street of barely moving traffic attacking cars and spraying their weapons into sunroofs or even opening unlocked car doors if your windows were up to blast you with silly string and spray snow.  Oh and the Arabic music was jamming from all the cars, including ours for a brief time thanks to my son who was loving the craziness. We opted for blasting "Enter Sandman" later in the night, and there were little Emirati kids bang their heads to the beat out the side of their car....PRICELESS!   Perhaps my favorite car was downtown, there was a little spider monkey in it wearing pajamas that seemed to be just as much a party animal as those that surrounded him.  He was bebopping on the side of a car decked out in UAE decorations.

You would have to be a real stick in the mud not to smile and enjoy the festivities that surrounded us last night.  My son is already making his plans for next year where he plans to arm himself with massive amounts of silly string and decorate our car....if his dad lets him.  I've often wondered in the past few weeks what America was like when it celebrated it's 40th birthday.  Minus kids riding unsafely hanging out of cars, I would love to see an Independence Day celebration in the US that compares to what I saw here last night.  We may be 235, but we should still be able to party like we are 40.