Monthly Archives: December 2013

Ready for ya, 2014!

Hello again! The Blanton trip of Christmas 2013 was a success! Barr’s parents, brother and our sister-in-law arrived about 12 hours later than originally expected, sans luggage, but all’s well that ended well! (More on their trip later this week…)

Blantons do Dubai

Blantons do Dubai

I just wanted to wish all friends and readers a very happy new year! Barr and I miss so many of our family and friends around the world, and hope and pray that 2014 is a blessed year for everyone. 🙂

As for us? We’re ringing in the new year watching the world’s largest firework display  (thanks for the link, Sas!) and then off to Fujairah on Thursday for a day and night.

Road trip! (Oh yes – we got a car; more on that this week!)

And as for new year’s resolutions? Like so many others I have a laundry list of items that I vow to be cognizant of throughout the year; i.e.; eat healthier, lose a bit of weight, practice better spending (ahem, saving) habits, and give back to the community. The biggie for me this year, however, will be to think before I speak – I’m a talker and a perpetual interrupter (just ask my husband). So I hope yall hold me accountable! 😉

I’m ready for ya, 2014! I think about where I was at this time last year, and SO much has changed (new city, new job, new dog, new friends, etc etc), and I truly can’t wait to see what this year holds for me (and you!) Along those same lines, THANK YOU for reading! I have loved writing this blog (51 posts strong), and each view, comment, like or kind word has meant the world to me.

I’ll end this post by urging folks to stay safe this evening, and make sure to eat your collared greens/cabbage and black eyed peas tomorrow!! Until 2014….

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Visitor(s) #2!

And just like that, our second set of visitors are en route…kind of. Barr’s parents, brother and our sister-in-law are coming to Dubai from the states, but have been a tad delayed in good old Atlanta. 😦 Think happy thoughts for them as they wake up today and make their way (via a new route) to DXB! Here we Blantons are last Thanksgiving (pooches included!)

familyChristmas in the desert will be an adventure for everyone, and we couldnt be more excited to have them all here in just a few(ish) hours – stay tuned for updated on their visit, and I hope everyone has Merry Christmases wherever you may be in the world. Until next time (think those good thoughts and prayers for the stateside Blantons!)….

 

Digital Photography: Level 1

Before we moved to Dubai, my camera-loving and generous father passed along one of his DSLR camera and several lenses. Small problem being that I knew nada  about my new big girl camera – it was left in automatic mode all the time with a few tweaks made on my computer after the fact. (Barr is actually the one with natural artistic eye). Me on the other hand? I needed help…a lot of help.

What a lovely image! (Not by me – via weheartit.com)

After our trip to Cape Town, I decided enough was enough: I needed (and wanted) to learn how to use the technical elements of my camera, glean the basics of intentional composition, and of course, take captivating images to enjoy and cherish through the years. As such, I enrolled in Digital Photography Level I Workshop at Gulf Photo Plus here in Dubai. The course was broken out into four  sessions over a two-week period, and was taught by the talented and kind Imraan Dudhia (definitely check out his work!)

The workshop was small and extremely well orchestrated – my five classmates and I learned about aperture (I can make the background of a picture blurry while keeping the subject clear!), white balance (cooler vs. warmer coloring), ISO (helps with indoor and night shots), metering (backlit stuff, silhouettes), shutter speed (action shots – freezing someone playing a sport or creating those really neat streaky car lights), when to use fill flash, and of course, some important composition tips.

A lesson in aperture and composition

A lesson in aperture and composition

I enjoy the aperture mode - shot taken of our "neighborhood"

I enjoy the aperture mode – shot taken of our “neighborhood”

A lesson in shutter speed

A lesson in shutter speed

Another quick shutter speed shot of Barr the Model

Another quick shutter speed shot of Barr the Model as he multi-tasks to some jams whilst working on something consultant-y

I just liked these colors :)

I just liked these colors 🙂

A lesson in metering

A lesson in metering

Same shot as the previous photo, but the metering is different, resulting in a silhouette effect

Same shot as the previous photo, but the metering is different, resulting in a silhouette effect

A lesson in composition - rule of thirds

A lesson in composition – rule of thirds

While these photos aren’t ideal or professional by any stretch, I’m just pleased to take my camera off of the AUTO mode and experiment a bit – and of course, just to be intentional in my “photography”. To that end, we concluded our last class of the workshop today with the slide and quote below 😉 Until next time…

The first 10,000 photos are the worst? God bless you readers...

The first 10,000 photos are the worst? God bless you readers…

Happiest 5K on the Planet!

And it really was! See??

Two happy Blantons

Two happy Blantons

Sure, sure – there was a 5k, but it was agreed that the running portion was forgettable after being doused in colored powder (corn starch) at each kilometer (and actually, quite a few folks would cut corners around the track just to get to the colored portions faster – I dont blame them!) In fact, the run is called a run not a race for a reason: no one is timed and there is about an hour window you have to show up to run, walk, skip, push your children in the stroller…through the route. Easy and such a great way to spend a morning!

Obviously the pink chute was my fave

Obviously the pink chute was my fave

Over 8,500 folks participated in this international phenomenon (there are Color Runs held in 130 countries!) here in Dubai – the first Color Run in the UAE! It’s a huge event in the states (where it started) as well; I wanted to run the Charlotte race last spring, but it sold out too quickly! So I was super happy that our friend Virginia gave us a head’s up on Dubai’s Color Run back in September.

Not sure what's going on here, but I like it

Not sure what’s going on here, but I like it

At the end of the run, there is a finish festival where they hand out packets of the colored powder, and with music blaring in the background, you and 8,000 of your new friends dance around and throw the powder around. It was so…happy! One of the best parts was when we got home, eliciting giggles and questioning looks from our elevator companions (that, or when, later that day, Barr went to get a haircut and had some leftover red dye in the back of his hair) 😀 I absolutely recommend it when it comes to a city near you! Until next time… (have a happy day!)

photo 3

Respecting Culture

There has been some internet buzz regarding the American citizen (and his buddies) who made a satirical video, posted it on YouTube, and have been subsequently held in custody in Abu Dhabi. Some of the gentlemen being held are even UAE nationals. The exact portion of the video deemed offensive hasn’t been released, but I have some ideas. Upon first glance, the detention of this group could be deemed as scary or something you’d never hear of happening in the states (umm hello NSA), but after having lived here for a spell (short as it may be), it doesnt perplex me as much as you may initially think.

Before we moved here, I (and my family and friends in the states) were curious/nervous  as to how things would be from a cultural perspective – I think we have one idea as to how the Middle East is based on the bombardment of media attention we get in the states – between 24 hour news networks and the internet, information overload is inevitable. Further, the Middle East continues to be a volatile region of the world, and in a post 9/11 world, it makes sense that there is a lot of attention turned to countries over here. Given the influx of information about specific (and radical) groups of people, it is only human nature to apply one standard to all – I get it. You hear about radical Muslims abusing women (or even trying to kill those who try to pursue an education, like Mahlala), you see the veils and hear about the bombings in residential areas. Let me let you in on a little secret: it’s not like that here. Even in Lebanon where there were recently explosions, many people tell us how beautiful and amazing Beirut is (and we can’t wait to visit!) Granted, I have not been to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi, Iraq or Afghanistan, but I think that at the end of the day, it’s all about respecting culture or being culturally aware; if you can respect culture, you are (hopefully) well educated about the country/city you are visiting and can dress, act, and treat others accordingly. Yes, religion plays a huge part in culture in the Middle East, and residents and tourists alike must respect and be aware that.

I knew that things were a bit more laid back here in Dubai: alcohol is permitted (in hotels, sold in duty free and special permitted stores), the abaya isn’t a legally required piece of clothing for women…you get the gist. I remember the first time I went to Mall of Emirates here and saw this sign:

awareness

I immediately pulled out a cardigan I had in my purse to put over my thin strapped dress (bear in mind it was 110 degrees out); however, as I walked through the mall, I saw lots of variance in dress code – the cardigan wasnt really as necessary as I thought. (Sidenote: I’ve even seen a woman in a bikini and a gauzy dress coverup at the Burj Khalifa, so go figure – not that I recommend this type of get up here or anywhere, actually…)

What’s my point, you ask? It’s all about knowing, understanding and respecting the culture of the UAE: when you need to really cover up those shoulders, don’t stare at the burqa (which I admit, I sometimes do – not because I dont understand or respect it – because I do! – but more because I want to learn more – I wish I could be a fly on the wall of a real local meal here to take it all in!), don’t flaunt food/even eat in public during Ramadan, etc.

I am not the law maker here (in my own house, sure 😉 – around Dubai, not so much) – I must respect those laws set forth by the country in which I reside, and just as importantly, understand and respect the underlying cultural norms here. Did these gentlemen intentionally mean to offend residents of the UAE? I do not think so at all; I think they meant to be funny and timely, but it came off that way to the people with the power. There is no official word on what will result in the the detention of these individuals, but I think it’s a testament to truly respecting culture – here in Dubai, yes, but anywhere.

Sorry to get heavy on yall – and on a Sunday no less! I just really feel passionately about being a “citizen of the world”, and respecting different nationalities, religions, views in a calm/rational manner. We werent all made the same for a reason – how boring would that be? 🙂 Okay, back to lighter stuff tomorrow. Until next time…

Festive (British) Cooking Class

I love to cook. I am not particularly good at it, nor would I call my husband and I “foodies” – we just like to eat. #sorryimnotsorry…So when I discovered that a friend with whom I volunteer here in Dubai was a fabulous chef/caterer and held small cooking classes in her home from time to time, I was on board. I rang her to check availability for a girlfriend and myself for her holiday cooking class, and we were set! Here was the menu for the evening:

imageMy friend, Viriginia, a fellow American and I were unaccustomed to puddings and parsnip purees (can I get an Amen for pecan pie and mashed potatoes?!), but we were game to try something new! The other ladies in the class were from the UK and Australia, so we figured we were in good company 🙂

Virginia's finished plating

Virginia’s finished plating

Prepping the stuffed turkey breast

Prepping the stuffed turkey breast

Virginia dusting the steamed pudding (same as "figgy pudding"??) with icing sugar

Virginia dusting the steamed pudding (same as “figgy pudding”??) with icing sugar

Plating the salmon appetizer

Plating the salmon appetizer

The lovely date and citrus pudding - how British!

The lovely date and citrus pudding – how British!

The class was great! Rebecca breezed through the recipes and really gave some great cooking hints along the way – I am still blown away by her huge kitchen and amazing repertoire of cooking gadgets – my own kitchen here is a tad small and leaves much to be desired. That being said, I did manage to prepare the stuffed turkey breast this evening (with some jasmine rice – no parsnips this evening for the Blantons), and I’ve got to toot my own horn: it was great! Virginia’s family is also coming into town for the Christmas holidays, and we vowed to try to replicate the Christmas pie….stay tuned on that one! Have great weekends, and until next time…

Side note: if you’re local to Dubai and interested either in Rebecca’s cooking classes and/or volunteering with All 4 Down Syndrome Dubai, leave a note in the comments, and I’ll get in touch with you with the contact information!

Think we can manage to recreate such a delicious treat for our families??

Think we can manage to recreate such a delicious treat for our families??

 

Foods that Remind Us of Home

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogger from Dubai, Noemi of Pinay Flying High, reached out to several bloggers around town to do a quick write up of a restaurant here in Dubai that reminds them of home. Given that Dubai is a melting pot of primarily expats, there is no shortage of international spots to grab a bite, so it’s a really great subject!

Gotta get me some gluten free Chex goodness!

Gotta get me some gluten free Chex goodness!

Being a food lover (I wish I could honestly call myself a “foodie”, but I don’t think I’m classy enough – Barr and I had some McDonald’s this weekend, so you do the math), I was only too happy to oblige Noemi’s request! 🙂 That being said, it got me thinking: what is American food? At first I was like okay, pizza, but I mean pizza is Italian. And despite our little calorie splurge this weekend, I tend to shun most fast food stops, so that was out too. That brings me to my selection: SafestWay! Yup, you heard that right: not Safeway…Safestway! Obviously safer than our US version of the grocery store. And yes – it’s not a restaurant – it’s a grocery store here in Dubai that I can only assume caters primarily to homesick (home hungry?) American expats. I heard about it through the US expat grapevine, and man alive am I glad I did. Grocery items and brands from the states aside, Safestway has Swiffers!! I was SOOO pumped to find Swiffers here – it’s the little things, yall!

safestway1

You can find the full post from myself and several blogging buddies here – I urge folks to read these great blogs as well for more and different views of living in Dubai (plus some fun pictures and recipes in there as well!)- they’re all EXCELLENT! Until next time…

Pinay Flying High

Liloneoftheashes

Mrs Ann

Foodiva

MitzieMee

Longhorns and Camels

#cake

ExPIAtriate wife

What I Just Love

Mrs Jack of All Trades

Kenneth Surat

My Custard Pie

Off to Abu Dhabi

 

Even after being in Dubai for three months, I had never been to the capital of the UAE: Abu Dhabi – the last full day of Anna’s visit offered the perfect opportunity for a drive to another emirate!

The Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque

The vibe there is a bit more low key than here in Dubai, but frankly, it was a nice escape for the day. We left the hustle and bustle of Dubai quickly behind and were in Abu Dhabi within an hour and a half – an easy drive. Our first stop was the  Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and is the key place of worship for the country. Taking more than ten years (1996-2007) to construct, the mosque was commissioned by Baba Zayed himself. The Grand Mosque is the eighth largest in the world and is the length of five football fields! The architecture is unlike nothing I have ever seen before, and the building itself is so white it hurts to look at – make sure you don your sunglasses!

The Grand Mosque's design and construction "unites the world", using artists, architects, and materials from many countries including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and the UAE

The Grand Mosque’s design and construction “unites the world”, using artists, architects, and materials from many countries including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and the UAE

We had incredible weather that day!

We had incredible weather that day!

The mosque can hold up to 41,000 worshippers

The mosque can hold up to 41,000 worshippers

Just like when you visit St Paul’s Cathedral in Rome, one must dress respectfully when visiting this place of worship; Anna and I had to wear abayas to ensure our legs and arms, and finally, our hair was covered before entering the mosque.

Anna & I at the mosque

Anna & I at the mosque

The mosque rules

The mosque manners

The interior of the mosque was just as incredible as the exterior, if that’s possible. The Iranian carpet in the main hall is considered to be the largest in the world and took almost two years to complete. I loved the shade of green!

The Iranian carpet

The Iranian carpet

The chandeliers, while a bit over the top for my taste, were also a sight to behold: all were imported from Germany and contain millions of Swarovski crystals.

The dramatic vaulted arches, framing one of the massive chandeliers

The dramatic vaulted arches, framing one of the massive chandeliers

Back outside, there were some more opportunities to take in the architecture and tranquility of the mosque.

IMG_4422 photo 2 photo 1

The Emirates Palace Hotel was our next stop – this hotel was where the SATC ladies went in the second movie (don’t act like you haven’t seen it!) 😉 Again, another over the top building here in the UAE (the list is ever growing), but lovely all the same.

Not quite the apparel I would rock in the desert, but whatever

The only disappointment of the day was that I hadn’t been sooner! The Grand Mosque was one of unique and picturesque buildings I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and the slower atmosphere of the city (vs. Dubai) was so refreshing. Can’t wait to go back! Until next time…

IMG_4415

Dune Bashin’ & Camel Ridin’

Last Wednesday (AKA Hump Day), Anna and I were off to the desert for some dune bashing and camel riding (forgive my lame pun)! We took a drive out into the desert with our sweet driver guide on a lovely day, and arrived at the conservation at around 10AM.

IMG_4284

 

 

IMG_4283We hopped out to take some initial pictures while the drive deflated the tires in preparation for the dune bashing, and then we were off! I won’t lie: we were a teensy bit hungover from the night before, making the bashing even more…shall we say, exciting? But the views were incredible, and some of the drops we took were crazy!

View from our dune dashing experience

View from our dune dashing experience

We popped out of the car once again where our drive took some A+ shots of us – something tells me he’d done this a time or two before…

A Simpson girl montage

A Simpson girl montage

From there, we rode off into the afternoon on some camels – stinky, but fun!

Anna, the camel whisperer

Anna, the camel whisperer

Camel time

Camel time

The Bedouin camel man

The Bedouin camel man

Happy Hump Day!

Happy Hump Day!

It was another great day with my sister and playing tourist in my new city. A little touristy? Sure. But 100% worth it! Until next time…

 

 

 

Al Bastakiya & an Emirati Breakfast

Suffice it to say that each time we have visitors moving forward, we will be visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding and enjoying some Emirati cuisine! For Anna’s first day in Dubai, we headed down to the historic district of Dubai (a tough feat here in the land of a million skyscrapers) for an Emirati breakfast as well as Q&A with an Emirati citizen at the center. Verdict? Delish, informative and fun!

The spread

The spread

The Majlis or "place for sitting" at the center

The Majlis or “place for sitting” at the center

We arrived a bit early and had the opportunity to explore the center, which is divided into different rooms, including the majilis, a room with typical, local dress, a prayer room, and a roof top deck overlooking the creek area.

Anna in the local dress room

Anna in the local dress room

Breakfast started with some Arabic coffee; coffee is a drink of hospitality in the UAE and is a light blend of beans, cardamon and saffron – served very HOT. The cups are very small in order to keep the blend at just the right temperature, and is constantly refreshed as needed.  Dates were also passed around ahead of the main meal.

The dalla coffee pot and the small coffee cups

The dalla coffee pot and the small coffee cups

The breakfast meal consisted of nikhee (boiled chickpeas with chili flakes), balaleet (sweetened noodles mixed with eggs and spices), chabab (an Emirati pankcake – blended with a bit of saffron, giving it a lovely yellow color and served with date sauce/syrup), khamir (similar to a pita, but sprinkled with sesame seeds and usually served with a cream cheese spread), and finally liagmat (an Emirati donut hole)! Now I wish that I could say that I sampled each of these items and they were all amazing; I can’t due to the heavy use of wheat in all but the chickpeas. That being said, Anna did as did our seat mates, and there were lots of “mmmmm’s” and folks going back for seconds and thirds. I had thirds of the chickpeas and coffee – I was full and hopped up on caffeine by the time breakfast was over 🙂

Emirati breakfast time!

Emirati breakfast time!

The meal portion of the presentation ended with tea, followed by a great question and answer portion.

Our host, taking us through the culinary adventure

Our host, taking us through the culinary adventure

Tea time

Tea time

The hostess made everyone feel so at ease ahead of the Q&A by jokingly saying, “I know that someone wants to know how many wives my dad has” – bottom line: there are no stupid questions and no topic is off limits. (For the record: her dad only has one wife, and she lived in a house with her parents, brothers/sisters, two uncles and their families, and grandparents).

When the breakfast was over, she lit some incense-equse thing (I wish I could remember the Arabic word for what it was!), which is what is used to politely guests out of the home – time to leave, I suppose!

Get outta here! ;)

Get outta here! 😉

Following the breakfast, Anna and I explored Al Bastakiya, the neighborhood near the creek. Anna wanted to pop into an Arabic calligraphy shop and made friends with this gentleman, who taught her how to write her name in Arabic:

His English > our Arabic

His English > our Arabic

We then hopped an abra across the creek to the Gold Souk – we looked, but didnt purchase – so much self restraint! And then headed home. Al Bastakiya is such a fun spot, and as I’ve attested before, the Center for Cultural Understanding should be a must do on any tourist or expat’s “to do” list while in Dubai. It was such a fun way to kick off Anna’s week in Dubai. More on the rest of her trip tomorrow. Until next time…