Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I admit it...I'm an earring virgin!

As most of you know by now, I got my ears pierced three weeks ago as a celebration for my 25th birthday. Word got out about it, and the reaction I got most was, "Wait, you didn't have pierced ears before?!" Nope. But I do now! It only took me a couple extra decades to get on the train that every other girl got on when she was six or eight...ok, maybe even twelve. No wait...I know a few people who didn't have theirs done until their twenties. I don't feel too bad, then. :)

Growing up, my dad didn't want us to get earrings; I guess he didn't really see the point. He finally gave into my sister, Laura, I think around her 16th birthday or so. By the time I was 16, I could have cared less about earrings and didn't really think they'd look good on me. So I never did anything about it. I guess what really pushed me to do it now is the fact that I'm trying to accessorize more...and this opens whole new avenues.

I'm getting excited to wear different earrings. A couple of my friends and family members gave me a few different pairs for my birthday, so I want to try them out! Only another week until I can take these "training studs" out. What, am I five years old and learning to ride a bike? I have dealt with minor infections in both lobes, but nothing too bad. Once I got past the initial tenderness of the whole experience, everything has been great...

And so, here I am in the earring world. It's kind of funny because I was expecting everyone to notice and fawn, but I realize that if people didn't know if I had earrings before or not, they're probably not going to be making a big deal out of them now. But I've also realized that I now notice women's earrings much more now...and I always think that now I've finally joined the ranks and can be cool like them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The curse

Peter Parker's curse was being Spiderman. I think mine's worse...and it struck again just last night. Let me see if I can explain...

A few years ago, one fateful Christmas, I was so excited for the gifts I was going to be giving my parents. See, they are quite difficult to shop for, so finding gifts that you are proud to give them is an accomplishment. Three times a year you have to trudge to the store and try to come up with some brilliant plan that can top the last gift you gave them. It had gotten to the point where ties where standard for my dad. That year I thought I had hit the jackpot. I had listened closely to things my parents would have enjoyed or needed, and I was giddy to make my purchases and wrap them up, anticipating the looks of happiness that would certainly brighten my parents' faces upon the removal from the paper. Christmas morning came...I looked around at the big haul Santa Claus had brought: a haircutting kit for my mom; the same movie I had gotten for my dad. WHAT?! I believe I actually cried that morning. It wasn't a big deal, but after all the excitement, what's a girl to do? I think what made me saddest is that I love giving the gifts, probably more than the receiving, so it was quite disappointing.

After that year, it has become a family joke that I always end up getting the same gift for someone that another person got for them as well...except Annie's usually gets opened last, and that's when the bad news hits. "Oh...," the person says with a sheepish smile on their face, "you shouldn't have!" And I am grinning with pride that I found something they will probably love. Until their face falls a little... " I'll have two!" Excuse me, did you say TWO? This is when I usually throw my hands up in disgust and offer to take the gift back and get them something they actually didn't get.

The last few celebrations we've had, I've done pretty well for myself, tried to collaborate with the other gift-givers so we will not duplicate. Phew, right? I must have been getting too comfortable and maybe a little arrogant in my gift-choosing...

Yesterday was my sister Sarah's birthday. Her husband called me up when I was at my boyfriend's house Saturday evening and invited me to come to the family dinner he was putting together for last night. I thought I'd have another week because usually we reschedule family birthdays for the next Fast Sunday dinner for which we all congregate. "Sure," I say, "need me to bring anything?" We settle on something, and then I realize this means I don't have the extra week I thought I would to find a gift for her. Luckily, Ben and I weren't doing too much that night anyway, so we headed to Target.

Well, I am awful at shopping, so we spent about ten minutes milling up and down the DVD aisles, trying to find something that screamed Sarah to me. I finally found a MythBusters DVD I thought she'd like. Since my family usually goes in on gifts together, I decided maybe a kitchen gadget would be nice for her to have, too. No luck. We stared at that aisle and couldn't decide anything either. Hmmm...oh, how about a GAME?! Games go over great in our family. After perusing that aisle for a few minutes, I found one that I thought looked fun. And I think I uttered the phrase, "This looks like a game my family could fight about." Perfect.

So fast forward to Sunday evening...I show up at my parents' house, and my first order of business is to actually wrap the gift. But upon walking in, my nephew runs up holding a green box that looks very familiar. Wait...don't I have that SAME green box in one of these bags I'm carrying? How did he...? "Aunt Annie! We're going to play the game I gave Mommy for her birthday!"

So I pull mine out of the Target bag and say, "You mean, this game?" Oh dear.

It's like the curse of The Babe. But if you think about it, the Red Sox actually won the World Series and broke that one. Please, Universe, tell me what I can do to stop this!! I guess I really can't help it if I share great ideas with the people in my family without even knowing it. :)

Friday, April 25, 2008


For anyone who's been to my place in the last four months, you've probably been a witness to the incessant dripping that took place in my kitchen. I don't know what went wrong, but my faucet contracted a drip (wow, like a disease?).

My friend, German (pronounced hair-MON), offered to fix it every time he came over. "If you buy the part, Annie, I'll install it." Apparently the cartridge--a device that controls flow in the faucet--was bad and needed to be replaced. So I looked online and talked to my dad to figure out which part to buy.

I was quite pleased with myself when I returned triumphant from Home Depot with a Moen faucet cartridge. The next time I saw German, I was glowing with pride at the fact that I had finally broken down and decided to fix the dang thing. He offered to come over that night with his tools and replace it. Said it shouldn't be a problem, and wouldn't take long at all.

Turns out the old cartridge was much worse than we expected. If you can imagine, German was standing in the sink trying to yank this thing out of the faucet workings. Poor guy...he didn't know what he was getting himself into. Oh, and to make matters even more pleasant, one of my valves was bad, too. So at 10:30 that night, we decided to call it a day and just replace the whole dang faucet the next day.

Back to the hardware store. I wanted something nice but not completely expensive, and Home Depot actually had some great options. I settled on a good ol' simple Delta faucet with a sprayer, plain and silver. I found what I thought was a good valve, made my purchase of the items and headed home.

German came over that next day and got to work on the installation of the new faucet. And it was so pretty. But I had gotten the wrong valve, so we had to go back to the hardware store...again. Well, we hadn't budgeted enough time, and so the faucet didn't get completely installed that a third day was necessary for silicone sealing and the finishing touches.

Ah, running water in the kitchen. What a wonderful blessing! And no dripping makes it even better.

This is the old faucet. You can't see it very well, but it was disgusting and corroded.

And the new one!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Whoa! Fifth time's the charm!

So I took this little typing speed test I saw on a couple of my friends' blogs. I'll be honest, this is my fifth try.

111 words

Speed test

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being alone is strange...and good!

My sister, assistant at work, roommate and friend, Rachel has moved out of my place. She left the 1st of April, and since then, my house has been fairly quiet! Don't get me wrong, I love that girl and we've had so much fun the last two years, but I also love a little independence.

She moved back up to my parents' house for the summer to take courses in American Sign Language Interpreting. For those of you who don't know her, she is amazing at sign language. We even tease her that she is always finger spelling, but that's what keeps her senses sharp. They have a program up at the DATC (Davis Applied Technology College) that she has started, and I think it will really help her.

Her plan is to move back in with me at the end of the summer. Until then, the kitchen will only get messy when I cook something. I can leave things out in the middle of the living room and not feel guilty that I'm infringing upon anyone's space. I can listen to my music or watch television whenever I want and not feel bad about waking her up or watching one of our favorite shows without her.

I mean, honestly, she is very low maintenance and we get along fabulously. We can talk about everything and we have so much in common. But after working together, living together, going to everything together with our group of friends, it's probably best that we part ways, at least for a little bit. I know I'll miss her, but just in case you start feeling sorry for me, just know that I like some alone time, too!
This is us last summer when my mom pulled out the camera...we just can't help it! (Man, my hair is long!)

Moonlight Serenade...sounds romantic!

Every year at my alma mater high school, the jazz band has a fundraiser where they have a fancy dinner, a floor show, lots of music and dancing. Tickets sell fast for this event! It's called "Moonlight Serenade" and is supposedly so romantic and filled with sentimentality for those of us who once attended dear old Davis High.

When Rachel, my sister, was a senior in high school a couple years ago, she actually took part in this as one of the prestigious Moonlight Singers. She is good, I'm not going to lie. So we make it a point to acquire tickets and attend. It's kind of fun to get dressed up and go to a nice dinner and then do some dancing. Not my typical hey-let's-go-on-a-date, but once in awhile, it's kind of fun.

A little history: Moonlight Serenade 2007 was somewhat disastrous. Don't get me wrong, the night was a lot of fun. Rachel took one of our friends she had her eye on, and he willingly agreed to come along for the festivities. And I took my back-and-forth boyfriend (we were in the "friends" stage at the time...but you know I wanted more...I always wanted more! Good thing he's married now and that rollercoaster ride is over!). We had a lovely time. And in the week that followed, both Rachel and I discovered that our dates had had girlfriends at the time they had come with us...huh, a little detail they had forgotten to relay to us, set on perhaps winning their hearts.

Needless to say, both of us were jaded by last year's experience, and we definitely didn't want to repeat it. We discussed it and decided to take friends we thought would enjoy dancing and have fun. I asked one of my friends 5 weeks in advance. Apparently when it got closer, he had gone and gotten himself a that idea was out. So I asked another guy from our ward who we knew loved to dance. He agreed, and we were set to go. Rachel asked another friend from the ward, and he was pretty sure he could come, but would have to wait until it came right down to it (he's working on a Master's/PhD program right now...and it's CRAZY busy!)

Long story short: Our friend in school just couldn't take the huge chunk of time our evening required, and he let us know the day before. We started calling around trying to find someone else, but it was difficult to find a date in that pinch. To make matters even more pressing, the friend I had asked had a problem with some electrical sparks in his house that day and couldn't go either. We were both dateless and struggling, going through our phones frantically. I even considered giving my tickets away. Also, Matt, our brother, was on deck, just in case we couldn't find someone. It sounds silly now, but in that moment, we were both a little stressed and frantic because we didn't want the tickets to go to waste!

Luckily, Rachel found someone she knew as a friend of a friend that she'd come to know in high school. He agreed to go. And after much phone scrolling, I took my friend Ben (see the earlier posts about the guy who came and picked me up from the airport after my trip...oh, and stay tuned for later posts in which he appears). Both of them were such good sports, and we promised not to make them dance...a lot. ;)

Dinner was fun and delicious. We kept talking to the waiters and Ben kept asking them what instrument they played (the regular band students have to help serve at this event as part of their grade). We were laughing about our own high school days and enjoying the music. It was pretty fun! And Rachel's date, Andrew, had fun as well. They even danced with us for a little bit. What good sports!

Then we had to stop at my parents' house and drop something off, so we all went in and my parents met the guys. We played with the dog for a little while and talked about I don't know what, but it was 11:30 before we got out of there. I felt like I was driving home drunk or something. I would like to apologize to the people in my car on the way home that night...and probably the other drivers on the road. I should have sucked up my pride and let someone else take the keys away from me. Thankfully we made it home safely and had had a good time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

U2 and the lost contact lens

After vacation, I felt like I wanted to do a little more exploring around my own little Utah world. It's not big, so there aren't many options, but enough to satisfy me for a bit (at least until I get a hankering to leave the country and go on more adventures). So a few Fridays ago, a few friends of mine and I went to the Clark Planetarium at the Gateway. I've never been before, but I've heard about some of the exhibits and laser shows. We were going to be attending the new U2 laser show because how can you go wrong with U2?

**CAUTION: If you get squeamish reading "eye" stories, SKIP THE NEXT COUPLE PARAGRAPHS!**

We got in our seats and I started gazing upon the dome screen, wondering what was in store. I've been to planetariums before, but never a laser show. The lights went down and the music started (U2 is great!), and upon starting to try to intake all the images and everything else going on around me, my contact lens started to freak out. For those of you who don't know, I wear gas permeable contact lenses to correct my astigmatism. That's the hard plastic kind...which is my excuse for why I always look like I've been doing hard drugs. As a side note, you'd think that after ten years of contact lenses that I'd be more accustomed to them....I guess it's a good sign that my body will never get used to me shoving hard plastic in my eye. Well, as I'm sitting there in the show, weighing my options, I decide to do a quick-and-dirty cleaning method (sorry to gross some of you out), and I pop the lens out and put it in my mouth. I went to put it back in my eye, and usually I'll just put it anywhere on my eye (which is a feat with no mirror!) and then use my eyelid to move it onto my iris. Well, no such luck this time, and it felt like something was down in my eye, so I figured I'd just wait out the show (there was no readmittance once you left the theater!) and then find it afterwards. I mean, it had to be IN my eye for as much pain as I was in.

After the U2 extravaganza--quite good, but nothing like I thought it was going to be--I went to the restroom and had my friend Melinda try to help me find it. My eye was screaming red in color and it hurt like the dickens. The contact HAD to be in there! We couldn't find it. I figured I'd go home and flush it out with drops. So for about two hours, my eye was in excruciating pain and I could only halfway see. I tried to be a trooper and not keep mentioning how much it hurt...but it HURT.

Finally, we made it back home and I had Rachel poke around in my eye for a few minutes. We were both getting frustrated and a little grossed out and we still couldn't find anything. So I took out my other contact lens and put on my glasses. I had resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to go to the eye doctor in the morning.

**OK, I think it's alright to read again!**

Next morning, I called the eye doctor's office and told them of my predicament. The receptionist said, "I think we consider that an emergency. We'll double-book you with our first appointment this morning." Oh hallelujah. Well, guess what...the eye doctor couldn't find it either--which made Rachel feel a lot less frustrated about the situation.

The optometrist said I must have lost the contact and scratched up my cornea in the process. Awesome. And by awesome, I mean, NOT awesome. She gave me some soft contact lenses that were my prescription but didn't fix the astigmatism. They made my vision kind of halo-ish, everything just a touch out of focus, but they did the trick! I was supposed to sleep with those in, and they were going to act like a bandage for my eye while my new gas perms were coming in. I have to tell you, it was strange being able to see but not having my eyes bright red. A tradeoff of sorts, I guess...clear vision = pain? That doesn't make sense at all.

Anyway...long story longer...I have my new contact lenses now. And it's nice to see the clear, crisp world again. My recommendation? Take the money you would have spent on the U2 laser show at the planetarium and invest it in a U2 album. Lasts longer and you usually don't lose contact lenses jamming out to U2 in your car.

Getting caught back up...

So many stories. And I want to write about them all. Something in me craves the storytelling...I know my stories aren't that funny or eventful, but they serve a couple purposes. First off, it's always interesting to look at the ol' blog in a few months' or years' time and remember the silly things I blogged about. Kind of one of those "oh yeah!" moments that I wouldn't have had otherwise, because let's face it: I don't keep a good journal. Secondly, I feel that if I want to read about other people's lives, I have to be willing share in my successes and admit to some bumps along the road; the blog format is ideal for that type of exchange. I confess that I religiously keep track of my friends' blogs, and I know some of you read mine pretty often...and most of you know I'm not as religious at posting as I am at following. Hmm...I'd like to change that. And so, in the next few days, I shall try to take my stories from the last few weeks and get them up here, complete with pictures in all their lovely glory. After that, I hope to be able to stick with this, because honestly, it's fun! Happy reading!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Trip Loose Ends

A few other things that I've been remembering as I'm trying to capture my experiences and encapsulate them for all time...

  • Avery did some pretty funny things. I guess he now associates the phrase, "dang it!" with poop. Laura said it a few times when he would poop when he wasn't supposed to, so it caught on. Anytime she'd be changing a poopy diaper or if he'd poop in the toilet (he's in the middle of potty training), he'd say, "Dang it!" Hilarious.

  • Avery also played the attention game. One time he screamed from the back of the car, and Laura turned to look at him. He smiled a sly, sneaky little smile. She said, "You did that just to get my attention, didn't you?" I turned to look at him, and he had a serious crusty on his face! Whoa! That two-year-old can sure throw some daggers!

  • The first day I was there, Matt took me to one of the perfume stores in the mall. I got to smell the traditional Middle Eastern smell of oud. I wish I could describe it...if I had to use adjectives, I'd use musky and overpowering. And kind of old ladyish. They all burn it in their homes so it permeates everyone and everything. Let the record show that I am not a fan.

  • As I was flying into New York from Salt Lake, back when I was anxious to get going on my vacation, I looked out over the island of Manhattan, right before we landed. I'd been looking at maps of it, and it was really neat to see it all there before me, bird's eye view, lit up and wonderful. Lame, I know, but it was really cool in the wee hours of the morning.

  • In the airport in Bahrain as we were making our connection on the way home from Egypt, I had to use the bathroom. I found one, but the only stall available was the hole-in-the-floor version. I decided I'd rather wait. Luckily, Laura and Matt found a different bathroom that had actual toilets, and I ventured out to find those.

  • I learned a few Arabic words while I was there. Yellah means "let's go;" la means "no;" shukran means "thank you;" and something I learned in Egypt from Matt was mafiche faloos which means "I am not a rich person." I know these are probably spelled wrong, but in my defense, Arabic is a different sound them out the best you can, and you've probably got it.

And here are some pictures from the first few days of the trip, too...

New York/Getting Home

Well, when we landed at JFK, I almost cried, I was so happy to be back on the ground. And back on ground where my phone would work! I checked my messages, and even though we had found out about my sister's baby being born already, they had left me a couple voicemails. Considering it was about 7:30 in the morning Eastern time, I wasn't going to call them quite yet.

The passport officer in New York was quite funny, too. It was raining in New York (which made me almost want to cry!), and when I came through, he thought he'd make a funny joke on my name. "It's only raining here, not snowing yet!" I laughed awkwardly and said something stupid like, "Well it is now that I'm here!" Yeah, shameful joke, but keep the people who hold your fate of getting back into the country in their hands happy, you know?

Getting through Customs at the airport was a debacle...although it could have been a lot worse. The luggage took forever getting off the plane, but what did I connecting flight didn't leave until almost 5:00 that evening. Anyway, you have to fill out one of those declaration forms while you're on the plane, and declare all the things you've done while you were away. I didn't declare I'd been on business, so that was questionable (hey, I was visiting family!). Also, I had to put something about touching livestock since I'd ridden that camel. And a yes to the question about having plant products with me (those dang date candies!). I got up to the main officer in customs and he asked me to describe my yes answers, and then he sent me to the agriculture line. The lady there had to look at my candies (my mother had better be grateful!), but they passed, and I was good to go. I'm always afraid I'm going to screw something up when I travel alone and that I'll be considered some sort of threat on security. But I made it through relatively unharmed.

I had this crazy idea that I'd just check in for my flight to Salt Lake, drop off my bags and be ready to head out to the city. I caught the AirTran and headed to my terminal, got in line and waited, and by now it was about 9:15. Things were moving at a quick clip for my plans! I got up to the desk and the lady told me I wouldn't be able to check in for another hour and a half because they were only allowed to take baggage up to six hours before a scheduled flight. Awh crap. So I got to hang out there while I felt like forever, but I called Sarah and saw how she was doing, and I did some reading in my book. Mercifully, 10:40 came around and I got to the kiosk, checked in and bolted out of there on my way to the subway connection.

Now, I'm not professing to be a New York subway expert by any means, but I went there a little over a year ago and became familiar with the workings of transfers and the different colored lines and all. So I wasn't afraid of getting lost. Turns out I should have been a little more afraid! I was looking at the line I was on, and a little bit before it was too late, I realized I had to get off and transfer to a non-express train on the same route if I was planning on getting up to Central Park and Gray's Papaya. Luckily I figured that out soon enough and switched trains at Penn Station.

Going outside in rain and 40 degree weather after you've just spent two weeks in a virtually paradisiacal climate is painful. I just remember this big sadness swept over me, but it was quickly overtaken by the excitement to be in the city and at Gray's Papaya, famed hot dog joint. And they were pretty good hot dogs!

It was strange getting to actually listen to and understand everyone's conversations as I milled about the city. I walked down 72nd Street, past The Dakota, the apartment building where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived and in front of which, John was shot. Just across the street was Central Park where a memorial was set up for him. It was covered in flowers and people were surrounding it. When I was little, I learned how to play "Imagine" on the piano. I didn't think anything of it, but listening to it now as an adult, how profound it is! I have a few friends who are avid (that's an understatement) Beatles fans, so they were quite pleased to see the pictures I took of the Imagine memorial.

I didn't stick around for long because I had another H&M to see. I got back on the Subway and headed down to 34th Street to Herald Square. It was the most logical H&M location for my needs of the day, and it turns out, it's right next to the Macy's made famous by the movie "Miracle on 34th Street." It was nice to have my phone to just snap a quick picture so I didn't have to pull out my camera and risk looking all touristy. The H&M was fantastic. I wanted to spend probably twice the time and money I actually did there, but my wallet needed a break after vacation and time constraints put me in kind of a rush. I did find some really cute things, though, in sizes that actually fit me! God bless America! And since I've decided to accessorize more, I picked up a cute necklace and bracelet. I also purchased a cute pants suit and the shirt I had fallen in love with at the H&M in Dubai, but they only had up to the size just below what I needed.

And back to the Subway where events got a little scary for a few minutes. I missed the transfer I needed to take the orange line back to the blue line which would take me back to the airport. I got out my map and frantically began trying to find an alternate route. Fortune smiled upon me, and I found a stop that would get me there, just a few down the line. Phew!

Back at the airport, I realized I didn't have a ride home once I got to Salt Lake. I had talked to my friend Ben who wanted to take me to the Collective Soul concert upon my landing, but I really wanted to go see my niece. I had emailed him but never heard back, and in New York I had no access to the Internet. So I was texting around, trying to see if someone could come get me. Turns out that he (Ben) had given away the tickets and he called to offer to come get me from the airport anyway. AND to go visit my sister and the new baby in Ogden. Talk about a knight in shining armor! I was very happy that he was willing to play chauffer that night.

So I boarded the plane in New York, at ease about having a way home once I got there. The flight was jam packed full. I was expecting to get some blogging done, maybe having some time to read...but I was so claustrophobic and annoyed by everyone else on the flight that I got restless. One of the women in the seats across the aisle from me was speaking SO loudly to her children, and they spoke loudly in return. It was probably about five families, each with three or four children, each of them trying to keep their kids happy by buying all the snacks and movies that became available. And I was so tired after traveling for so long and having so little sleep that I wanted to reach out and strangle someone. The lady sitting next to me was traveling with her teenage daughter, so she was getting disgusted with all of the commotion as well. I kept hearing her make these snide remarks under her breath, and that just set me off even more. I finally just put on the noise cancelling headphones and tried to take a nap, but that woman's screeching was so loud that it penetrated my bubble. I can still remember her daughter's name: Ella. I heard it about 23490875384 times. "ELLA! Hand me this!" "ELLA! Get the game out of the bag!" "ELLA! Do you want a snack?!" And another woman wasn't seated next to her kid, who was about ten. She had to yell back to him whenever he wanted anything. "Want me to buy you a snack?! Which one? Huh? What?!?" I mean, yeah, take care of your kids, people, but we're in a plane, and everyone can hear you. And there ain't no getting away because we're all stuck listening to the dilemma of trying to find milk for the baby's bottle. Whoa...this post just got a whole lot of bitter.

Suffice it to say that I was once again so happy I could cry when we touched down in Salt Lake. I found my way to the baggage terminal quickly, hoping that I could avoid some of the confusion and frustration from the plane. I got there and it was already swarming with children and parents looking for their skis...I figured out that it was Spring Break and everyone wanted to come for a fun ski weekend in Park City. I sat a ways away from the baggage carousel and that's where Ben found me, slumped in a heap of travel mess. I was so past feeling and so tired (I had only slept about three hours in 48), but so excited to go see my niece. We talked there for a little bit and then found my bags without a problem, and we were on our way.

After the drive up to the hospital (I think I already blogged about going to see my niece for the first time) and then back to Provo, I was beat. Home felt so strange. But a good strange. I could sleep in my own bed, drive my own car, eat my own food. Yes, vacation was fantastic, but even though I didn't want to face the reality of it...

I was home.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Abu Dhabi, Final Day

I woke up this day of my vacation both excited and sad. It would be my last day in the Middle East, so I was dreading the trip home, but I had a lot of fun and things to do, so I was excited to get started on the events of the day.

First off, we were awoken about 7:00 am by a phone call from my bro-in-law, Dennis. He was calling with news that our niece, Isabelle, had been born. I was sad it was while I was out of the country, but I looked forward to seeing her when I got home!

We began our adventures of the day by heading out to the desert to the camel track. Abu Dhabi was hosting a 10-day camel racing event where people from all around brought their best racers and pitted them against other camels. Laura and the boys and I got to pull up in the car, right to the starting line of the track. We took lots of pictures and video of an attraction I never thought I would see...camels with electronic jockeys racing along the track as their owners followed by the side in their SUVs. As it turns out, though, we were quite the spectacle as well, considering that we were the only women there and the only Westerners. Men were staring at us and laughing, but we decided to brush it off and enjoy the experience. One elderly man even came up and wanted to shake our hands...we asked if we could take a picture of him; it's pretty cool!

The races didn't last long, so we went to the Carrefour so I could pick up some fun things to bring home for people. I found some date candies that my mom loves and some other chocolates with wrappers that look like ladybugs. They're so cute! I also got some other snacks for the plane (and they came in handy!). This is when I picked up a whole bunch of spices from the bins there. You scoop some up into bags...and there were so many options and so many smells! And everything was so inexpensive. I went nuts. When I got there, there was another couple there, but by the time I left, there were about six or seven people vying for their chance to get to the spices. Laura says it's never that busy there. And the guy who was weighing and labeling them for me was having a hard time keeping up! Now when I want to remember my vacation, I get my big bag of spices out and take a whiff. So great!

Then we got to head over to Matt's workplace and have lunch. I had already met some of his co-workers the night before, so it was fun to see them in their work setting. We went to the cafeteria where everyone came and talked to us...we were quite the spectacle with Jameson and Avery running around, though. Those kids are so full of energy! I had to get special clearance to get in the building and everything, but luckily, I don't have a police record, so I was safe. Phew! Dodged that bullet.

I was getting to the point where I was getting a little depressed because everything was becoming my "last" whatever of vacation. I had to say goodbye to my nephew, Avery, because I was going on a desert safari that afternoon and evening, and he was laying down for his nap. I don't think he really realized what was happening, but I got a hug and a kiss and off he went. Even though he was a two-year-old pill some of the time, he is sure cute. And even sadder is that I forgot to say goodbye to Jameson when I left for the desert safari. I got back from it after he had been to bed, but Laura had promised him I'd go in and say goodbye. Luckily I didn't wake him up when I did!

But...back to the desert safari. After I had gotten most of my stuff packed and ready to go (I was planning on catching my plane just after getting done with the evening's left at 2:00 a.m. UGH!), my driver, Amir, came to pick me up for the dune adventure. His company had been recommended by one of Laura's neighbors. Laura and Matt had tried to find someone they knew to go with me that evening (Matt wouldn't have gotten off work in time, and Laura was too pregnant to go dune'll make more sense when I describe it), but no such luck. They felt bad, but I the way I saw it, I would have to meet new people anyway, so what did I care if Laura knew them or not? Amir came to get me, and Laura told him to make sure I had fun and bring me home safe. He was so nice and chatty.

We followed Amir and the other family he had to pick up out to our destination. I ended up riding with two women, one from Canada, the other from Wales. We got to know each other better as we headed out into the desert for our night of fun. They were both teachers; the one from Canada was in Abu Dhabi working, and the one from Wales was living in Canada...and that's where they had met! It was fun to hang out with them because they were both a little wild. It was funny/annoying because the Canadian girl's car, the one we were in, had this beeper on it so whenever you went over 120 kilometers per hour, it sounded like a pager, constantly. And she liked to we got about 30 minutes straight of beeping. I'm surprised I'm not still hearing it now.

We got to our destination where Amir then took us dune bashing. Dune bashing is a sport (um, sure?) where you get in an SUV, buckle up, and then the driver cruises up and down the sand dunes, kind of crazy-like! It sounds really dangerous, but it was so much fun, and I didn't feel worried or scared at all. The girl from Canada was a little more afraid and kept shouting expletives from the back seat. I got some excellent video footage of my vantage point with her cursing in the background on the audio. :)

We made it back to "camp" where they had camels available to ride. And ride I did. I was alone because the other women had already taken their turn, but it was kinda fun, just me and the camel man and the camel (duh). The caretaker offered to take my picture. I'm not letting a photo op like this pass by! I also got my view from the camel. Getting up on the camel wasn't hard, just a little worrisome because it's lots higher than a run-of-the-mill horse. Once I was up, no problem. Getting back down was a different feel like you're about to face plant into the camel's neck because he puts his front legs down and then his hind ones. But the experience was priceless. If you get the opportunity to ride a camel, take it! Unless you're scared of camels...or heights...

The rest of the night I spent watching the sunset, enjoying the stars, and thinking about how I would miss the Middle East. I would definitely miss how warm it was. I would miss getting to sleep in and have time to wander around and discover new things. And most of all, I would most assuredly miss my family there. But for the night, I was still there, and I wanted to be in the moment.

We had dinner, a huge buffet of traditional cuisine, lots of veggies and meats, pita bread, hummus, matobal...some of the best I've had. It was fantastic, and I didn't feel one bit guilty. The woman from Wales was a vegetarian, but she put that on hold for her trip to Abu Dhabi and enjoyed herself as well. And Amir still kept an eye on me because he knew I was kind of flying solo that night.

For entertainment, there was a belly dancer who was very talented. Our crowd was kind of tough, but she got some people to join her, and then we all did the last dance together. I got to talk to her for a bit afterwards, and it turns out that she's only been dancing for a year, and she'd never had lessons before--self-taught! Bravo, I say. It was fun to dance to the music and enjoy the bonfire...but the night had to end some time, right?

The ride home was uneventful, except that I had to remember where Laura lived so I could be dropped off. I had had a difficult time finding my bearings in the city, especially since I wasn't ever the driver. But I did remember their street number, so we found it without too much problem. When I got home, I took a shower and drudged through the final stages of packing.

I seriously didn't want to leave. I don't think I've ever not wanted to get back from a vacation so badly. Usually by the end of it, I'm ready to be done and get back to normalcy, but not this time. We stalled for a good twenty minutes, just talking and joking and remembering the funny things that had happened while I was there. Laura and I probably hugged four times before I finally got into the car and had to wave goodbye. After this vacation, I feel like Laura and I have connected better than we ever have before. Even now as I write this, I am sad because I miss her and how fun she made my vacation.

I made it to the airport with plenty of time, but it was probably a good thing because the security there was tight, especially on flights headed to the United States. Two separate guards searched through my backpack and opened up my laptop and my headphones and mocked my stash of chocolate. I told the first one that I'm a woman, so I need that much chocolate. He told me that men love chocolate, too. He was quite jaunty for midnight and for his duties of rummaging through people's things sniffing for something fishy. Fortunately I passed inspection and didn't have much trouble checking in. I did, however, fall asleep for a little bit in the terminal while I was waiting for the plane to board, and I woke up with only about twenty minutes left before we took off. I'm surprised no one woke me up!

The man in the terminal who checked my passport cracked me up, though. My passport picture was taken when I was sixteen...for those of you who knew me back then, I've done some changing since then. I'd like to think that I've aged well since the awkward years of teenagehood. The officer opened up my passport and said something about how old the picture was and he said, "You are much prettier now." I don't know whether that was supposed to be a compliment or not, but it sure made me smile.

On the plane, I had to start psyching myself up for the fifteen-hour flight. The twelve-hour flight out there had been about enough to drive me bonkers, so I was getting prepared for a long haul with bad food and awful sleeping conditions. I was so happy, though, to discover that the flight was only about halfway booked, and the lady next to me went and sat somewhere else so we could all spread out and sleep a little better. Thank goodness for small blessings! Also, there was a hot flight attendant who was very nice (hey, it's his job, right?) and quite easy on the eyes. I know, I know...after reading all of these posts I'm sure you're saying, "Geez, Annie! Can't get your mind off the good-lookin' fellas!" Hey, I'm single and of course I'm lookin' for the eye candy!

Anyway, the flight wasn't too bad. I only got about two hours worth of sleep in small stints, but there were on demand movies and I studied my plan of attack for New York for a little bit, too. Just trying to be prepared. I was going to have a few hours to take the subway into Manhattan and do a little sight-seeing and shopping.

Dubai/US National Day

That Monday was pretty exciting for me. As I was preparing to journey out to the UAE, I noticed that Dubai was a prevalent news topic that ran across my usual news headlines I scope out. It's booming with business, commerce, and crazy things like build-your-own-island. And this day, I was going to witness it all firsthand.

We decided to get an early start so we could get as much in as we could before the boys hit the shut-off point where they become a tangle of tired and whining. Driving to Dubai was kind of comical, I thought. You leave Abu Dhabi, a coast of skyscrapers and budding business, and you drive and drive. Dubai is only an hour's drive from Abu Dhabi, but it's mostly desert, vast and dry.

Laura was a bit nervous with getting there because--as she described it--all the roads and landmarks change each time you go there. There is construction EVERYWHERE. She says that each time she goes, the buildings she saw under construction the last time are now finished and new ones have undergone the building process. As we were trying to find our freeway exit, Laura went into focus mode and Jameson went into question mode. Finally she said, "Jameson, I'm trying to find the place we're going, and I can't do that if you're squawking at me." He was quite adament in his response of, "I'm NOT squawking! I'm NOT!" And he kept that up for about two whole minutes. Way to contradict yourself. :) It reminded me of a few days previous when he had asked her to apologize to him after she had reprimanded him for his bathroom incident in Egypt. She told him she wasn't sorry for scolding him, but if you can imagine a 4-year-old demanding his mother to say she's sorry...quite funny!

We started out our journey in Dubai that day at Mall of the Emirates. This was one of the big highlights of my trip, as they have an H&M there. For anyone who doesn't know what H&M is, it is a clothing store with reasonable prices and awesome fashions. My friend Scott asked me if H&M was a type of candy...I told him it was sort of like candy for women... I found some hot jeans there. Then I started perusing the other stores, and that's when I found Ski Dubai. Yep, ladies and gents, they have created a haven for people who miss snow and the sport of skiing, right there in the mall, complete with lift. The picture I got isn't the best, but you get the point...

The rest of the shopping experience was somewhat frustrating. People are littler than me over there, so everything would be just a little too small. I was tempted to make the purchases anyway and force myself to fit into them at some later date, but I was too depressed. But it was fun, nonetheless. There were some great stores I've never seen in the US, and lots I'd heard of but never actually been to. I did find some really cute lingerie for Natalie for when she gets married this summer. Who else can say that they have imported lingerie from Dubai? And it's hot!

After getting some lunch and wrapping up the majority of our shopping, I was discussing my frustration with Laura...she pulled me into a couple stores and picked out some things for me. She told me I need to branch out and look for more feminine items. She's probably right...and she noted that if I want to be noticed, I need to advertise myself. Whoa, that's a strange concept to me, because I am not for sale! (Although... just kidding!) Anyway, I made a deal with her that I would work on finding some hot things before the next time I see her, which will probably be at the end of May. Time's ticking!

I wanted to see the architecture and islands I'd read so much about, so we got back in the car and headed along the freeway to see the skyline. Impressive! Especially the Burj Dubai, world's tallest building. It seriously towers over everything else around it. Kind of makes the other buildings look like toys. I got some cool shots of it. I also got some awesome pictures of the Burj Al Arab, the 7-star hotel that looks like a sail. It's the world's tallest hotel (come on, it had to be the world's tallest or best something, right?).

Then we ventured out onto one of the palm islands, Palm Jumeirah. You can't tell at all that it's a palm tree, but it's pretty fascinating to think that I was out on this huge manmade island! They sure know how to build a coastline out there.

After snapping pictures galore, we headed back home so Laura could get some rest. On the road home, I saw a sign that made me laugh. Because of all the construction, there was a road sign that said, "Beward of Road Surprises." Watch out for those jack-in-the-boxes and ghosts on the road! I would have gotten a picture, but going on the freeway wasn't conducive to getting a good shot. The boys fell asleep on the way home, and Laura was about ready to turn in herself! She was drained from playing chauffer, tour guide (thanks Laura!), and mommy. But the fun wasn't over for the day for me yet!

As I may have mentioned in my posts before, my bro-in-law works at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. They celebrate something called US National Day, which is somewhat like the 4th of July, in that they celebrate being US citizens and all, but there aren't any fireworks or anything. Laura was too tired to go and very gracious to help me get ready so I could go with Matt instead. She said that most of these parties are generally boring and don't hold much excitement for her, so she wasn't too sad that I was going in her place. After hearing this, I didn't know if I was excited or not, but I was definitely curious to find out what was going on.

We got there before most people because Matt had to sit at a booth for the ex-pats to sign up to get their absentee ballots sent to them for the election this November. I was a bit shy to begin with, but soon found myself talking with some very interesting people, mostly diplomats and their spouses. I got to find out a little bit more about the visa process, and everyone was so gracious. Also, if I may note, I had never been to nor ever expected to attend such a soiree. It was like parties you see in the movies. Food everywhere. Entertainment, drinking, laughing, hob knobbing. Surreal. And I was in the middle of it! I just owned it like I was something important, and that seemed to work because I had a great time. And I can't forget to mention that there were some pretty handsome men in uniform there, too. Too bad it looked like I was already on a date...unfortunate they didn't know it was my brother-in-law. The night did get a little long, but the view and beach at the hotel where it was held were beautiful. An experience I'll never forget. And I even helped someone get signed up for their absentee ballot!

Abu Dhabi, Day 2 (well, kind of?)

The next day was a combination of frustrating and fun. And it was only frustrating because of me. Laura was great to schlep me around and try to keep the boys happy and help me figure things out. This was the day we kind of realized that I only had three more days to see everything and buy souvenirs. We figured out what I still needed to see and do and started trying to put together a schedule of what we were going to do.

Since Heritage Village had been closed (sort of...the artisans were taking their daily break, but the village itself was still open) on the first day I had been in the country when we tried to go, we decided to give it another go. Turns out that they weren't open on Sundays--at all. Strike two, and you're out, Heritage Village. We figured that it wasn't really worth making another trip out there when I had other things to see and do, and I had gotten the feel of it a week prior.

So Laura gave me the scenic tour of the docks and the produce importing warehouses and the fishing boats and nursery suppliers out by the gulf. Commerce happening before my eyes! That was fun, and my nephews enjoyed seeing the boats.

Then we went to a little mall out there and I did some shopping. I found some cool plates with a design that kind of looked like henna, and a pretty white platter (luckily, these fragile items survived the trip home unharmed and unbroken!) Laura took the boys for some lunch while I sauntered about, trying to find things that didn't look like touristy junk and didn't cost an arm and a leg. That's the problem with me: I like authentic things, but things that I will use and won't end up sitting somewhere I will forget about. I'm also somewhat of a cheapskate, but I was a little more driven to spend more just because this was an opportunity I'd probably never have again and I wanted to make the most of it.

After scouring the mall and getting more and more frustrated, I finally met up with Laura and the boys. Avery needed to get home and get a nap, so we decided that Laura would drop me off at a different mall with some stores that were more inclined to my wants for the day. As most of you know, shopping is fun for me, but only in small chunks. I realized that this was when I needed to get it done, and I wouldn't have many other opportunites, so I embraced the moment and wandered the mall for three hours. The beautiful thing about vacation was that I ate whatever I wanted, so I stopped for ice cream, had some lunch. Laura had told me about a store called Lulu that had some fun shoes and other authentic items like bags and such, so I headed down there to check it out. I went up and down the shoe aisles about twelve times (this is not an exaggeration!) and found a few cute ones, but my feet are too big for anything they've got there. It was disconcerting, to say the least. Eh, c'est la vie. I tried! I did find a cute bag that I bought and a bottle of tamarin juice syrup, which we had been looking for before but were unable to find. I also found a poster of a fairly good-looking man that I admittedly stared at for a good whole minute. Please don't mock. If you are a woman and had seen it, I daresay that you may have done the same! ...and maybe even if you'd been a guy! All I can say is that if I'm remembering it now, you must realize that it had a profound impact on my life at that moment. :)

Laura came and picked me up from the mall--talk about feeling 14 again--but only after I had run into one of the ladies I had met at Enrichment the night before. She stopped me and had this brilliant look of recognition on her face, but it took me a minute to realize that she was talking to me and to realize how I had met her before. Being in a foreign country and having someone recognize you is a strange experience!

We went and picked up dinner, and on the way, we saw this little candy shop with Iranian candies. They're more like a combination of cookies and candy, but super tasty...I highly recommend them, should you ever get the chance to pick some up. The lady at the shop kept giving us more and more tastes, and the boys were in heaven, especially since we hadn't gotten home to eat our dinner yet. They tried to sell me a full kilo of candy because it would apparently "travel better," but I really didn't need that much!

That night, we ate Filipino food. I think I impressed Laura with my culinary adventurousness because last she knew, I was sticking with the hamburger and fries. My tastes have luckily changed since I was seventeen. Then I helped Matt do the dishes...he said he'd miss me when I was gone because it cut his work down. We joked in Egypt that I was his second wife, the packhorse, because I usually ended up carrying stuff. And you can only imagine how people looked at our odd little traveling group...sorry, veered off topic there.

After dinner, Laura and I headed down to the local salon to get some henna done. I was so excited! Laura had brought some when she came to visit Utah in October, and it was a lot of fun, so I was anticipating an interesting experience getting it done by the professionals. We got into the back room where they do the henna, and it's several Filipino girls who are really good at what they do. They had my feet done in about fifteen minutes. Then we had to sit there for about 45 minutes to let it dry and get it scraped off. Here's where it got interesting. There were some other women in there having henna done on their hands and arms (I didn't want to get my hands done because I work in an office where I have to have a mostly professional image, so henna all up my arm probably wouldn't be a go...), and Laura, being the social butterfly she is, struck up conversations with the people we met. There were two adult sisters there, one of them had her accounting degree, and the other was finishing up school for a business administration degree (you go, girls!). They spoke pretty good English, but they told us we should learn Arabic. Laura told them it was hard...and she's right! But those girls had a good grasp of the English language, so talking with them wasn't too difficult. We found out that the one who was graduating soon was three months pregnant with her first child and that her marriage had been arranged. Maybe I'm just naive, but I thought people didn't do that anymore...yep, just my ignorance showing there... She talked about it like it was just run-of-the-mill. I don't know about you, but I would definitely not want my parents choosing a husband for me. I guess that sort of takes the stress out of dating and trying to find the "perfect" one and all the high expectations, though. So a case could be made either way. Another woman who came in later talked to us for a bit, too. She kept telling us that our skin was "too white" (which, I guess the Arabic language speakers confuse "so" and "too" sometimes). And Laura was trying to relate with her and told her that white people are always trying to make their skin tanner. See, they're envious of our pasty (well, at least mine!) whiteness, while we're jealous of their tanness. They even have skin bleaching creams and everything. It was awesome to feel somewhat idolized. And a very interesting exposure to the culture, sitting there in the salon where all of the women take off their hair scarves and extra robes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Back in Abu Dhabi...

And once again, I have slacked in my blogging duties. I now give to you the next installment of my trip to the Middle East...

First day back in UAE from Cairo was a Saturday. We were all dazed and trying to get back to normal life, but I was still in vacation mode. So Laura and I woke up early that Saturday morning and headed for a little taste of UAE life at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It's been under construction for twelve years, and they hope to have it done by Ramadan (which happens during Fall this year).

This place was huge. A few things I can remember about it: it can fit 20,000 people at full capacity, including all prayer rooms and the courtyard. It has materials from countries all over the world including China and Italy. The Grand Mosque is the world's second largest mosque, second only to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. And in the tradition of biggest and best they have in the UAE (come on, they weren't going to let an opportunity like that pass!), it houses the world's largest chandelier, weighing in at 8 1/2 tons. And we were sitting directly underneath it when our guide told us this fact! They had beautiful stone inlay work that looks like paint, but has been painstakingly crafted to look like this. So amazing!

Our visit to the mosque was very interesting, but kind of a slap in the face, culturally speaking. Laura had heard from one of her friends, who had toured the mosque before, that women were admitted and not required to wear the normal sheila (hair covering) and abeyah (robe-type garment) if they had long pants and long sleeves. We geared up and even brought our own head scarves. In the desert, wearing long pants and long sleeves was asking a lot, I thought, but out of respect to their building and their religion, I was definitely on board. We got to the entrance to the mosque and were immediately told to go to the desk where they handed out abeyahs and sheilas. We tried to tell the people that we had heard we would not be required to wear the items, but they told us to put them on. I guess I'm used to America where the less clothing, the better. And even believing in my own religion that people should be modest...I felt a little disconcerted. But I wasn't passing up on the experience, so I complied and met up with the tour group. I think the thing that angered me (but even more so, Laura) the most is that the men were ok to wear short sleeved polos and shorts, but I was being required to put on a black robe and hair covering. And even more angering? Some of the women did not have to don the appropriate coverings. How do they pick and choose who is "immodest?" I may have just felt jilted, but it seemed to me that half of the women who were not covered were more immodest than I was. But, if that's what it takes for me to show respect to the Islamic religion, I was ok. I survived. I'm not going to lie, was hot! The outside temperatures were around 75 degrees, and I was burning up! Laura talked to the tour guide afterwards and told her our concerns, and she picked up a feedback form she could submit with her suggestions. I didn't feel oppressed just having to wear the coverings...I felt oppressed because others were not required and I felt like I had been singled out...although this may not have been the case...ok, enough ranting!

All in all, the experience made me think a lot about how far women's rights in the Middle East have come. Women are now allowed to go to school and to hold jobs, but there are still things that kind of weighed heavy on my mind as I considered the culture I was experiencing. One little thing that kind of irked me...I was told that men and women have to cover equally (uh oh, here she goes about covering...goodness!), but the traditional clothing for the men was all white, cotton-type fabric. Hey, that's great in the desert! Cooler and drier, I think. On the flip-side, all the women wear black synthetic fabrics. And here's my theory...I could be completely off, but doesn't that seem funny? I mean, in the hot, hot desert, men get to wear the cool clothing but women wear the dark, hot clothing. My guess is that women are expected to stay inside and are less-than-excited about venturing out into the excruciating heat when they are covered in black clothing. Please don't think I'm a Feminazi or anything...these are just my observations. Also, something that shocked me a little was that the marriages are still arranged by the parents...more on that later. I'm back off my soap box now...

So, back to the events of that Saturday. Once we were done at the mosque, Laura and I ran to the Carrefour (the French Wal-Mart they have in Abu Dhabi) to pick up things for the Enrichment Meeting Laura was in charge of that night for the Relief Society in her ward. Interesting things at the Carrefour: you weigh your vegetables right in the produce section. Laura almost forgot to have it done before we went to go check out. But we'd been a couple times before, so I reminded her. She was struggling that day with all of her responsibilities, so I was glad to be there and help out. Also at the Carrefour, they have candy towers. I wanted to buy one and eat it all. But alas, we were buying vegetables.

We got everything packed up and most things prepared for the Enrichment activity, and we headed for the church. The ward there in Abu Dhabi is a fairly decent size and the activity was quite well-attended. There are a lot of Filipino women in the ward there, and they were so welcoming and kind, as were the other people. It was the Relief Society Birthday Celebration that happens in Relief Societies around the world, so it was fun to be a part of it in another corner of the world. We had a pot luck with a lot of new dishes for me to try, inlcuding lots of things from the Phillipines. All of the women were so nice as they were asking about me and where I was from and how I liked my vacation. We played a getting-to-know-you type game, and I was the wildcard because no one knew me! But I got so many compliments, and I felt like I was just one of them. One woman looked at me, and unabashedly she said, "You are so beautiful." Imagine my delight when I hadn't showered that day and felt at my most awkward and out of my element! It was so kind because it was said with absolute sincerity without any type of agenda. I need to learn from her and be more forthcoming in my compliments. I also felt like one of the gang because I got to play the piano in their little program. A group of women was singing some parodies on some of the hymns, and they needed someone to practice with before the activity began, so I stepped in. The woman who was going to play for them didn't mind at all, and it was so nice to be able to have something to offer to all of these people who had taken me in their arms. They were genuinely interested in me, and that made me feel wonderful!

After Laura and I got home, we just wanted to unwind, and Laura felt bad about leaving Matt alone with the boys all day. I felt bad because I felt like I was putting crazy demands on Laura's time while I was there, and neither of them were able to get their normal things done. So to unwind, we popped in a movie and we both fell asleep. I think that kind of runs in the family! Either that or we had worn ourselves out with all of the planning and running around...probably a combination.