Friday, March 14, 2014

Under Construction

After nearly six years of residence here at blogger, I will be moving the blog over to Wordpress. I don't have any technical complaints about blogger, except that I have exhausted what I'm able to do graphics-wise and found more options over at Wordpress.

Along with this move, my aim is to bring the blog back to its original intended use - as a way to work on my writing. Over the years, this has morphed into various different outlets, serving as a networking site, a travel blog, and a place to post my photography. But one of my primary goals in this new phase of my life is to get back to the thing I love the most - writing - and to work diligently at it to make it better, sharper, and smarter.

What has resulted is The Letters Project, a series of letters written to an undisclosed recipient. My hope is that this project will continue to grow and morph and attract it's own following, but still retain the faithful readers (mostly my parents and a few friends) who still come to thenewglitterati.com to keep in touch. I hope that this new project takes me back to my roots as a blogger and not further away.

Thanks for bearing with me through all of the metamorphoses of this blog, and stay tuned as I work through the details of set-up. Eventually I will redirect my domain name, thenewglitterati.com, to land on the wordpress site but I am waiting until I have everything tightened up over there and ready to go. This site via blogger will still be available through its own domain name, but my work will continue at the wordpress site. 

In the meantime, you can check out the construction and early pieces of The Letters Project here

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

First post - new home

Still working on the logistics of porting over the web address, but The New Glitterati is moving!

For a saucy preview, click here

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Words when there are none...

I can't stop checking for updates on MH370. Twitter, as usual, is my main source of information because it's the most up-to-date, even if it's packed with too much theory. A healthy dose of skepticism and checking the feeds of legitimate news sources usually helps me fill in the gaps.

I have had a sinking feeling in my gut since waking up yesterday to the first alerts regarding the missing aircraft. Aircraft do not "go missing." This is no Amelia Earhart in a tiny plane over uncharted territory, this is a Boeing 777 with over two hundred souls on board vanishing from the highly technologically-advanced radars of multiple developed countries. It has become one of the largest search missions ever seen, with planes and boats from all over the world looking for a single sign beyond a pair of twin oil slicks that this plane is somewhere on earth. 

Adding to the tension is the chilling fact that two passengers came on board with stolen passports. While this may be coincidental, the world's gossip feed - Twitter - is buzzing mightily with theories that it's not. And there's no evidence to the contrary. But right now, it's all just speculation sprinkled with the usual unwelcome fear-mongering.

In my new life as an expat, my world is both shrinking and expanding like some alternative universe. Where once, countries like Malaysia and planes filled with foreigners were so very far away from home, suddenly they are not. My perspective on world events is shifting. This is not to accuse Americans of being as uncaring and desensitized as much of the rest of the world seems to think. But it is an indication of how isolated we are in the world, how far away from everyone else who is crowded onto this side of the planet. Americans have fewer ties with other countries by nature of its geographical loneliness, and also by virtue of its sheer size. The US covers more inches of the map and therefore has more news generated within its own borders than any other country in the world (except maybe Russia...I'm not up on my geographical proportions). Moving to another country, one that is smaller than the US state of Maine, is changing my perspective drastically because suddenly I am living in a place with international neighbors on all sides. While this by no means makes me suddenly some global diplomat, it does mean that I am exposed to and absorbing much more world news than I ever did before.

Additionally, in my new expat life I have made several friends who work for Etihad, the major airline of the UAE. I had the good fortune of becoming extremely close with a former cabin crew attendant (who I sadly had to leave back in Baltimore) and she taught me a lot about the life of a flight attendant and the demands and scares and excitement of the job. I can't stop thinking about the Malaysian crew members aboard the flight, and how, despite extensive training and incredible preparedness, something - who knows what - had to have gone horribly, horribly wrong aboard MH370. I have intense feelings about anyone whose job puts them in dangerous places or risky situations, but for a cabin crew member this is the worst of the worst of situations, regardless of what happened. 

Tension in the Muslim-nonMuslim world is already rippling and while there are kind, open-minded individuals begging the world's community to pray for these souls regardless of religious affiliation, I know that fear mongering spawns hatred and distrust. There are so many people in this world who believe that terrorism is synonymous with Islam, and it's difficult to blame them entirely for their ignorance when you look at how these things are portrayed in the media. When the Boston marathon bombing occurred last year, my first thought was - "Please let it be some crazy old white man living in a remote cabin and talking to aliens and not anyone claiming to be of the Muslim faith." Ignorance, particularly the fearful and egotistical brand of American ignorance, refuses to acknowledge the basic fact that Muslim people do not do bad things - bad people do bad things. 

That rant may be off-topic and fueled by side conversations and speculation, but my feelings on the subject exist outside of this issue. Regardless - an entire plane has gone missing, and, as usual, the many conflicting faces of humanity are playing themselves out in the Twittersphere with rants and accusations and prayers and "facts" that are not really facts. And then, among the static and deafening noise, there are posts of pure love, of total sadness, motivated by nothing more than the aching hearts of those who are frightened and devastated and hoping for the best but understanding that in a case like this, the disappearance of a plane is overwhelmingly indicative of the very worst. I find hope in these posts, from all over the world, and I find pride for America when I see posts of concern and hope from my fellow countrymen who are so far away and yet still connected. 

I hope and pray for resolution, answers, and peace. For love and understanding. For more of this and less finger pointing and fear and terror. I hope that the souls on board MH370 are peaceful, wherever they may be, and that the best of humanity outweighs the worst. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Home!!

The cats and I aren't the only ones with a new home - I am currently working on a brand new layout and host for thenewglitterati.com. Details TBA soon!

It's gonna be so amazing.

In other news: House of Cards whaaaaaaaaat?! We're almost finished Season 2, although Netflix tells us that 3% of its users completed the first season within like 48  hours of release or something ridiculous.

In other news: tickets procured for Macklemore/Ryan Lewis in April and Justin Timberlake in May! 

In other news: I will not be getting up at 2:30am to watch The Oscars live, but I will be attending a get-together tomorrow evening for the recast at 7:30pm. I wish I could say I'd stay off of social media until then, but that's just silly.

Off to pick up probiotics and get new tires for the Jeep. Another exciting day in the life of an ex-pat. I may even go on an adventure to find color balancing shampoo for blondes!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Bad Night

WARNING: This is a post about cats and vomit. Proceed with caution.

One of the things about going from being in an Extreme Long Distance Relationship to Living Together For The First Time is a period of time affectionately known as Getting Used To Each Other's Crap.

The Gentleman and I have been together for over three years at this point, but we both knew that moving in together was going to require some transition. We are both very used to being on our own. For the most part, however, we've transitioned quite nicely and aside from the rogue argument about wet towels (HONESTLY JUST HANG THEM UP) or an accidental wine spill every day from time to time, it's been just fine.

The Gentleman has been incredibly patient with my out-of-work anxiety, which manifests in delicious dinners (that took 16 hours to make) and him coming home every evening to find that I've purchased some new girly smelly thing or moved things around in the house. He has also been patient with the fact that I've only been here for two weeks and am in the early stages of making new friends and finding things to do on my own.

Hence, the other night, he was quite excited because I had plans to try a new book club and he had plans to play video games on the couch. 

This dream was swiftly quashed.

First, I had been feeling "off" for last day or so. Tired, headachey, angsty...symptoms that I chalked up to being bored but that began to get worse and by Tuesday afternoon were accompanied by that menacing gurgle of the stomach. By the time I was showering to get ready to go to the book club, I discovered a desperate need to lie down and/or die. When I couldn't lift the blow dryer to dry my hair, I suddenly realized that the thought of taking a cab downtown to a social event was but a pipe dream. I put on yoga pants and crawled into bed and it was the best decision I'd ever made.

This in and of itself wasn't so big a deal. I was happy to lay in bed and doze while watching Super Fun Night on my iPad, and The Gentleman had the tv all to himself for video games.

And then Small Troubled Cat began screaming.

I have heard this cat howl before - and it's horrible - but a screamer for no reason she is not. This was a horribly painful, miserable yowling and we both came running to discover that she'd deposited a stomachful of food all up and down the hallway of the flat. I cleaned it up and went back to bed. Small Troubled Cat is not a puker normally (that's the other cat, Sushi, who I start to worry about if he doesn't puke at least once every other day), but I just assumed something hadn't agreed with her. She seemed fine, too; happy to join me on the bed where we convalesced together. Until, suddenly, she started convulsing and yowling again and then proceeded to puke up little piles of white foam.

I ran around the house with paper towels and disinfectant spray, cleaning up the little piles, and she convulsed and yowled. The Gentleman looked up a 24 hour vet, and I frantically Googled "yowling cat puking up white foam."

Don't Google that.

The yowling, according to Google, was because she is not normally a puker and she was terrified every time her little body convulsed. In retrospect, it's quite funny - she is so obviously broken as a cat that she terrifies herself when she vomits. Add this to the list of other things she's scared of - brooms, dryers, hair dryers, the dry cleaner delivery guy, mops, plastic bags, life itself....

Small Troubled Cat puked her way around the flat for a good hour and a half. At this point, I was even more exhausted and feeling like crap, Sushi (the other cat) was perplexed and annoyed that she was getting all of the attention, and The Gentleman (who has never had pets before) kept asking me if she was dying. We finally collapsed on the couch in front of Archer (video games having long been abandoned) after the last violent round of foam pitching, and Small Troubled Cat crawled, exhausted, into my lap. 


Resting after an hour and a half of pure trauma. For me.
She stopped puking after that, and the next morning she scarfed down her breakfast and then proceeded to bring me each of her toys to show them to me. I'm pretty sure she's ok.

We have no clue what she got into to make her puke and convulse like that, and a thorough check of the flat revealed nothing. She's been fine since.

Oh, and in case you were still worried about me, after the cat puking incident I went to bed and slept for 11 hours and felt a thousand times better the next day. While I was loathe to have to skip out on new book club, in retrospect it was excellent timing - had The Gentleman been on his own when the Small One freaked out, it would have been pure chaos and I'm sure they both would have been yowling and vomiting out of fright.

Also, I must add a note here that The Gentleman is the most patient and kind roommate I've ever had. Especially for someone that has never had pets (and was deathly allergic in his youth), he has adjusted well to his fiance and her two cats coming to live with him and has been flexible and accommodating. Except for his office - which is the one room in the flat in which the cats are not allowed and therefore the one room they are desperately curious about, but that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Black Bean Burgers

Excitingly - and fortunately - I came to this country with a job lined up. Not so excitingly, it takes time to process a new visa and to jump through all of the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get everything done. This can take several weeks and up to a month to complete.

The first week or so I was here, it was pure bliss to have some time to decompress. I'd been living out of a suitcase for the two weeks prior since all of my belongings were packed onto a moving truck back in icy cold Baltimore and are currently making slow, prodding progress across the Atlantic ocean and around a couple of other continents to make its way here.  My last month in Baltimore was exhausting chaos, and then suddenly I found myself with no need to set an alarm in the morning, nowhere to be during the day, and hours and hours to fill. I spent long hours exploring the grocery stores, walking around our new complex, and a baffling amount of time in places like Carrefour.

The second week I was able to settle in a bit more. After the epic trip to Ikea, there were places to put things from the 3 suitcases I'd brought with me. A couple of trips to Carrefour suited us with basic kitchenware. I found a gym that offers yoga and spin, reached out to my handful of contacts here for lunch and beach plans, and began to form my own sort of schedule that stretched to fit the hours of the day that my new roommate (The Gentleman) was at work.

This third week has had me chomping at the bit, however. The newness and basic novelty has worn off, and without any more real "house stuff" to do until my 39 boxes of personal belongings arrive (scheduled for sometime in mid-late March), filling those hours has been increasingly more difficult. There are only so many trips to Ikea one can make, and only so many hours of the day to spend in the gym. There is, of course, the small matter of The Book I Am Writing (story of my entire life), and a litany of excuses to accompany why little progress has been made there, but that's besides the point.

And, for your information, I AM working on The Book I Am Writing. IT'S A CREATIVE PROCESS THAT TAKES TIME. Also, it took me two days to find the proper height for my desk chair and the proper angle that the curtains should be to let in plenty of daylight without flooding the room, and those are both very important aspects to Book Writing.

One massive time waster   procrastination device   new project has been my commitment to eating more healthfully. With nothing but time on my hands for the first time in my adult life, I made the decision upon moving here to try and avoid processed foods as much as possible. After so many years of living off of Lean Cuisines and frozen turkey burgers, I wanted to make an effort to have a little more control over what goes into my body. 

Another goal with this whole "eating clean" project has been to learn to be a better cook. My family will be dismayed and probably feel betrayed by this very public confession, but it is high time for me to come clean on this account: I am not a very good cook. It's not for lack of talent or taste, because when I take the time to learn things I find that I am actually very good at improvising, but I missed some basic cooking skills early on (probably because I was too busy day dreaming about ponies or some shit) and thus know that I have sloppy techniques. Thank God for my iPad and YouTube. The iPad primarily lives in the kitchen and serves as my bible for all things Basic Cooking Skills. The search history is full of things like "how to slice a mango" and "how to dice a shallot" and "substitute for chipotle" (BECAUSE THERE IS NO CHIPOTLE ANYTHING ANYWHERE IN THIS COUNTRY). And with my newfound (but temporary!) unemployment, I finally have time to focus on the basics.


Pinterest was an excellent place to start as there are tons of die-hard foodie zealots who favor not only healthy foods, but flavorful ones as well. One of the sites I've come across via Pinterest is The Foodie Physician who does some pretty excellent healthy spins on comfort food. On a Superbowl Sunday post, The Doc posted some delicious-looking black bean quinoa burgers and sweet potato fries that I decided to try. "Decided to try," completely ignoring the fact that while we have kitchen basics (some pots and pans, one really good knife, one spatula, one rubber spoon, a rice cooker, and 47 varieties of wine and liquor glasses - essentials), we are still lacking many things which are currently in a shipping container heading halfway across the planet.

So, the veggie burger and sweet potato fries recipe seemed like an excellent place to start, mostly because it involved a shit ton of prep work which would give me some valuable knife skills practice and would take up enormous portions of my day which is extremely important when you are procrastinating in writing the Next Great Novel.

The first step involved a shopping trip to Waitrose. I absolutely love Waitrose, a British-owned chain of supermarkets. I'm sure in the UK it's akin to Giant or Publix, but to me it's British and therefore of superior quality and therefore I love it. Spinney's is also not bad, but the location closest to us is on the smallish side, so I usually hit up Waitrose for big shopping trips and walk on over to Spinney's when I realize we're out of, say, canned chick peas or wax paper. 

One of the rules of being an expat here (aside from "There are no rules," which is a hilarious little epithet meaning that just because something is one way one day by no means will be the same the next; this applies to traffic patterns, hours of business, and the whims of personnel working that day) is that if you see something and like it, buy 10,000 of it because chances are very good that it won't be there the next time. Because everything is imported, it's nearly impossible to depend on certain food items being readily available from one shopping trip to the next. And, thus, it would portend that on my trip to Waitrose to purchase items for black bean quinoa burgers that Waitrose would have no canned black beans available. Only these:


With an obvious hole in my culinary knowledge, I purchased 4 bags of said beans because I planned to double the recipe and make enough black bean burgers to freeze for the coming months when I do actually have a job. Only later did I think to look up the canned:dried ratio and discover that one bag of those things is equal to like twenty cans of black beans. Result: we will not have to purchase black beans for the remainder of our time in the Middle East. Also, the freezer is full of soaked black beans. Money saver!

I couldn't find basic rolled oats, but Google told me that British Jumbo Oats can do. I considered the barley and porridge as bonus healthy ingredients.
Thankfully, I was able to forage for and find most of the other ingredients. Except "chipotle peppers in adobo." There were no chipotle peppers or adobo to be found, and I was hesitant to substitute Thai green chilis or random Chinese pickled chiles. I made do with lots of cumin, dried coriander, and ground chili powder and that did the trick.





Now, despite my lack of understanding of basic canned:dry ratios, I have previously made things with dried black beans and I knew well enough to stick them in water the night before a culinary attempt. But what I didn't expect was that the next day - a good 12 hours later - they would still be hard little rocks in their bowls of water. After consulting Ye Olde iPad, I threw them into a wok to add some heat to the process. This took another TWO HOURS until they even began to be soft enough to work with. I cooked them, and cooked them, and cooked them, adding more and more water. The plus side was that I threw in some chicken stock (no vegans here!) and plenty of cumin and chili pepper so that they were at least very well seasoned prior to being mushed into oblivion, but this took for-freaking-ever and completely ruined my other Novel Procrastination Plan of going to the beach in the late afternoon.
I finally managed to get them to a decent consistency. The recipe calls for leaving some of the black beans to the side to work into the paste whole for consistency, and I highly recommend it. 

Here came the second problem, however - without a food processor or a masher, I had to figure out a way to mush up the beans. I started out with my bare hands, then experimented with a small gardening hoe that came with the new set I got at Carrefour (14 dirhams!), and ended up crushing minuscule numbers of beans at a time with a basic fork. It took for-fricking-ever. But, finally, I had my basic bean paste. 

A third problem arose with the rolled oats. How to grind them up into the proper consistency? The oats are a crucial ingredient to these burgers - so many veggie burgers can just totally fall apart, and the addition of a binding agent is necessary. Too often, binding agents used can be unhealthy additions - fatty bread crumbs for example - so I was definitely keen to use the oats but lacked the equipment to prepare it. Hence, some major improvisation took place. 
I took an empty wine bottle from the recycling bin, poured half of the oats between two sheets of wax paper, and proceeded to roll and pound those suckers out using the empty bottle as a rolling pin. When I'd done about as much as I could, I took our one good kitchen knife and chopped the hell out of them until I was left with a nice - albeit somewhat still chunky - powder. In the end it turned out to be a decent enough consistency to hold the burgers together, and I even think the final product benefited from a little courseness. In the future if I make these with an actual food processor, I probably won't grind them into anything finer than what I did here.


I actually already had a ton of cooked quinoa that we'd made with dinner a few nights prior, so that was one time saver. Still, I officially began the veggie burger process the night before around 11pm when I put the beans in to soak. I started chopping ingredients around noon yesterday, and by the time the last thing was chopped, sauteed, and ready to go into the big bowl to actually make the patties it was encroaching on 4:30pm and I still needed to refrigerate the patties for a few hours prior to cooking. Hence, my clean eating project turned out to be a masterful time-taker-upper and I had spent nearly the entire afternoon working on it. Another day of not writing, hooray!

But just look at how they turned out:

Those little orange splotches are egg yolks. The eggs here are bright orange. I have no good explanation for this.



I refrigerated the patties for probably 3 hours before I actually cooked two of them. The rest I wrapped in wax paper and put into freezer bags so future dinners, and I saved two of them for our friends who live in the next complex over. Overall, I made about 12 decent-sized burgers which was a successful doubling of the recipe.

The sweet potato fries turned out to be super easy to make. I - again - underestimate how much a single unit would yield and ended up with enough fries to fill two smallish freezer bags (about 2 portions per bag) which I froze. They will just need to be defrosted a bit, tossed in seasoning, and thrown into the oven for future dinners.


Right before hitting the grill pan
By a stroke of luck, Waitrose did have these in stock: 


I am an avid breakfast burrito eater, and I love these things. They are also good for sandwiches or for toasting to use as a snack with hummus or guac. Or, in this case, as a black bean burger wrapper.

I finally managed to serve dinner just before 9pm which was actually good timing because The Gentleman didn't come home from his swim practice until shortly after that. I served the burgers in a wrap with mozzarella, tomato, and avocado (for me - The Gentleman is strangely highly allergic to avocados) and seasoned the fries with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Everything turned out surprisingly delicious, and I could definitely taste the difference of homemade black bean burgers vs frozen. They were more flavorful and fresher, and - despite not having any kitchen appliances to assist in the process - the consistency was much more palatable.




However, I am left with the impression that making all of one's food from scratch takes up a tremendous amount of time. And I didn't even make those tortillas, which are the only processed food there mucking up the balance (aside from the ketchup, but whatever - I LOVE KETCHUP). I think that relegating one day or night a week to making a big batch of food that can be frozen or eaten throughout the week is a decent goal to aim for. 

Besides, I'm supposed to be Writing A Book.

PS: Writing this entry took an hour and a half. But only because halfway through, while the photos were loading, I had to go take a 20 minute nap. There are some aspects of being temporary unemployed that I am relishing, and a 20 minute midday cat nap is one of them.
























Monday, February 24, 2014

Today's Lesson: Cooking Takes Forever.

Real post (with photos) to follow, but suffice it for now to say that if you decide to make black bean burgers from scratch without:

a) a food processor
b) canned beans (only dry)
c) a masher
d) all of the above 

(correct answer is, of course, d- all of the above)

...it will take you 16 hours. Doesn't include actual cook time once the patties are made.

My stuff needs to get here soon. 


Monday, February 17, 2014

Lady Who Lunches

One of the weirdest transitions in moving to another country has been suddenly finding myself with nothing but time.

Whereas the last couple of months in Baltimore I felt as though each day was crammed from 6am-11pm with work, chores, errands, goodbyes, and a half dozen on-going To-Do lists, I am catapulted into this weird parallel universe where I wake up in the morning and have absolutely nothing I have to do, and nowhere I have to be.

This is not an easy transition.

It's only been ten days, and already I am feeling the anxiety of "what to do with myself." The obvious choices - relaxing, reading, writing - seem difficult to commit to at the moment because these are my go-to "alone" activities and hobbies; the things I retreat to when I need down time. Now, with nothing but down time, it feels painful to sit down to read or write. It doesn't help that The Gentleman had to go back to work the day after we arrived and that I don't yet know many people here. 

In Baltimore, I filled every single minute of every day. Part of that was the anxiety of being in a long-distance relationship. Too much down time meant too much time to fixate on the absence of my partner, and it was much easier to over-schedule and run myself ragged than to sit around and think about all of the things I was missing. In Baltimore, I also had a job that would take as much of me as I was willing to give, side jobs that were equally amendable, and a healthy social circle. Down time was a luxury. It also meant that during my "down time," I was too exhausted to do anything but watch Netflix in bed, but that's besides the point.

The biggest mistake I could make right now would be to sink into the weird exhaustion that occurs when you have too much time on your hands. Not having anything to do can really put a damper on your productivity because it's all too easy to slip into a pattern of laziness and "I have all the time in the world," and the next thing you know it's 6pm and you're still in your pajamas watching Hulu. I am not that person - and never have been - and so dealing with all of this free time is going to require some good old-fashioned planning and coordination.

Also, in moving to a new country, I've found that it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and to start to crave the four walls of your new flat as comfort. This is a terrible idea. Not leaving the house just makes things worse, and even if the thought of trying to painfully explain to one more cab driver where you need to go - when you yourself aren't even 50% sure - you have to force yourself to get up and out. To get dressed at least.

Not that this has all been bad. I am only just now feeling the first twinges of discontent and hoping that my visa comes through quickly so that I can get back to work (unbelievably, I so crave routine and responsibility). Most days, I get up and enjoy a long leisurely workout, a long leisurely shower, and then I (gasp) cook breakfast and lunch. I fold my clothes carefully instead of tossing them into drawers, I squeegee the glass walls of the shower to prevent streaks, and I take my time doing simple tasks properly. Because I have the time. When it takes forever to find a cab or when a waiter takes overlong to get my order, I don't panic or stress. It's no problem. I have the time. This is a luxury in and of itself, especially coming from a mid-Atlantic city that prides itself with being right up there with New Yorkers in terms of militant timing and demands. 

It's both freeing and surreal to feel this consistent, pure lack of anxiety on a daily basis. The constant thrumming of energy that existed in the base of my throat and in my chest (that would really only go away when I was completely and totally exhausted, and even then would trickle into my mind and tick away while I slept) is gone for the first time in my adult life. 

Learning how to balance the good (I sleep like a baby these days) and the bad (it's 9:45am and I'm still in pajamas - not a good start) is going to be a process. Ideally, it takes about 30 days to get all of the visa paperwork said and done, and I am trying to focus on the fact that my time as a "lady who lunches" (yawn) is temporary and that I should enjoy it while I can. It's all a learning process. 

Now, I'll let all of you who are currently giving me stink eye get back to your jobs and your hectic lives while I make the bed and get dressed. BIG DAY!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cupcakes

You know you're living in the Middle East when....
I got the brilliant idea that I wanted to make cupcakes for The Gentleman for Valentine's Day, specifically red velvet cupcakes with vanilla icing (NOT cream cheese, as he seems to have some seriously mixed feelings about cream cheese in general as a food item). 


You can buy this at Carrefour! Whatever it is...
This entailed a shopping trip to Carrefour, a rather impressive collection of household goods, where you can purchase anything from pet food to fresh produce to "Indian Gadgets" [no lie - there's a section for that] to small appliances to a Costco-like collection of wardrobe choices. You can find just about anything and everything at Carrefour, as long as you're not uber-scrupulous. And by that, I mean that while you can find really nice coffee makers and hair products, you might be stuck with Hello Kitty for your oven mitt selection. It's a gamble.

It took me approximately nine and a half hours to find everything I needed at Carrefour. This included mens bodywash, tins of cat food, a Black and Decker coffee maker, Listerine, a shower rack, air fresheners, and (of course) cupcake mix and accouterments. My cart looked like one of the ones at the end of a Wal-mart checkout line where the cashier throws everything into it that people decide they don't want at the last minute.

ONE THING YOU NEVER CONSIDERED ABOUT MOVING TO A COUNTRY OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES:

1. Your education has failed you.
Here is the extent of my knowledge regarding the metric system: I know that a 5k is 3.1 miles, a 10k is 6.2, etc. (Thanks, running!) I know, vaguely, that 0 degrees Celsius is very cold and 30 degrees Celsius is very hot. The End.

Thankfully, most measuring cups and spoons handily come in both metric and "regular" measurements (Americentric statement right there), and Betty Crocker is available in the Middle East with both measurements right on the back of the box. But where the metric system confounds me also meets one of the things that terrifies me the most about living abroad: learning to operate household appliances.

Behold, our oven:



What. The what. Is that. It looks like a pictogram off of the cap of a Natty Boh bottle and if you don't figure it out, you risk ruining dinner and possibly your life. Also - temperature...in Celsius. Given a delicate art such as baking, a few clicks in the wrong direction could spell ruin here.

The Gentleman had warned me that he had to download a .pdf manual and read it cover to cover to figure out how to operate the washing machine, but he hadn't even attempted a use of the oven just yet. So I followed his lead and went online and discovered that I could input the serial number of the oven unit (found inside the front door) and get instructions - in English - on how to operate this complicated piece of machinery. I learned that the little snowflake means "defrost" (imagine that!) and the picture that looks sort of like a biohazard symbol sandwiched between floating water and sky is actually a convection oven setting. I also downloaded an app for my phone to convert metric measurements and figured out that the cupcakes needed to be baked for 15 minutes at 180C. Another good tool  for this is The Metric Kitchen, which is helpful without being judgy about Stupid Americans and their stupid non-metric measuring system.

The cupcakes turned out delightfully, thanks to the modern conveniences of cooking with one's iPhone and iPad handy for moral support and also thanks to Betty Crocker's foolproof red velvet cupcake mix, which is readily available out here. I even found vanilla icing (NOT CREAM CHEESE) and some red goop that I thought would be easy to manipulate but ended up just splooshing all over the place for a stab at "decoration."

Behold! Success!
Side note: I screwed up one of the first cupcakes trying to delicately drizzle the red goop in a pattern and got mad and ended up turning the mess into the word "poop." The next day when the domestic help came to clean the house (I can't even talk about that right now - let's save that little guilty nugget for another post), I told her she could help herself to the cupcakes and I am 99% sure she ate the one that said "poop" on it. Hopefully she doesn't know what that means, and thank God I didn't decorate it with one of my more abrasive (and recognizable) four letter words.

The Gentleman was quite pleased with the surprise. My major project done for the day, I was rewarded with a lychee martini and sushi at So Cho and then drinks at Pearls and Caviar. Your typical Thursday night out at the Souk in Abu Dhabi.

I really, really love lychee martinis.

Pearls and Caviar with a pretty stunning view of the Grand Mosque.
Upper deck of Pearls and Caviar

Coming up: how rearranging furniture will push the cats to the brink of sanity, a fishing trip in Dubai, and dealing with being a "lady who lunches" until the work visa comes through.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Expat - Days 2 and 3

In this uber-exciting account, the cats arrive and we make an epic trip to IKEA.

First of all, I keep forgetting that I've only been here for 3 days. I am trying to figure out why I'm tired all of the time, and then I remember that I'm still burned out from my last hectic month in Baltimore and now currently trying to remember my new phone number, what time it is where, and what is in my shipment (in a boat somewhere crossing the Atlantic) and what I need to buy. Also, in other interesting discoveries, no one seems to know where anything is. I have thrice - perhaps even more - now gotten into taxis and had the cab driver ask me for directions to where I am going. You're asking the wrong person, here, dude. There are like 14 highways that crisscross this area and I have no clue what goes where.

Live animals! 50 pounds of paperwork taped to the top.
Moving the cats was simultaneously the easiest and most stressful aspect of the move. Easiest because we used a fantastic service - Pet Relocation - and they took care of everything. They told me which vet to use in Baltimore (apparently, you need one certified in international travel), helped me set up appointments, made sure I had all of the right paperwork correctly filled out, looked at the cats' records and told me which vaccines they needed, and walked me through every step of the process. They even told me exactly which carriers to purchase which are approved for international travel. The stress aspect came from the upsetting knowledge that I would be putting the cats through a lot to get them to the Middle East. Fiona, aka "Small, Troubled Cat," (click here for pics) throws a royal bitchfit whenever she has to go somewhere in the car so I couldn't imagine sticking her on a plane for umpteen hours.

A couple of things I didn't know about international pet travel:

1. As of (insert historical date here), pets are not allowed inside the cabin of commercial airliners when flying internationally. Instead, they must be shipped as cargo in a special pressurized cabin dedicated solely for this purpose. As a result, there are a limited number of carriers that actually do pet transfer services - Lufthansa, British Airways, and KLM to name the 3 that I know of. The plus side is that the hubs for each of these have boarding facilities and are well-versed in pet travel.

2. A reputable pet transfer service WILL NOT SEDATE YOUR PETS. I had originally thought this was the most humane way to get animals through very long flights, but my agent gave me some literature explaining that animals are naturally predisposed to dealing with high levels of stress and that sedation will confuse their bodies and can cause them to go into cardiac arrest. This is apparently the primary reason for things going wrong in pet shipments. 

The Relocater agent worked with me for the past month explaining each step of the process - health certificates, vaccines within 30 days, final vet visit within 10 days of travel, USDA health certificate approval - there was more paperwork involved in shipping the cats than my visa has required. An agent picked up the cats from where I was staying in Baltimore and another agent brought them to our new flat in Abu Dhabi. Door to door service! Also, they signed me up for Flight Aware alerts so I knew when the cats' flights departed and arrived, and they gave me all of the tracking information for the shipment. 

I wonder if the Animal Hotel is near the Red Light District?
The cats had a 10 or so hour layover in Amsterdam where they stayed in a kennel, had their crates cleaned, and were given food and water and a litter box. The agent in Abu Dhabi called once he had cleared customs with the cats and assured me that both were alive and looked good.

I have no idea how much either cat freaked out over the 48 hours that we were on our separate travels from Baltimore to Abu Dhabi, but I will say that within an hour or so of arriving in the new flat they were eagerly eating treats and purring and acting completely normal. However much #smalltroubledcat freaks out, she bounces right back. I didn't get much sleep that night because she slept ON my neck, licking my face. 

I was so relieved to have both cats arrive healthy - although probably not happy - and they are settling in quite well in the new flat. They have a balcony to lie on and many windows to look out of, and it's not -10 degrees the way it was in Baltimore so they're not huddled around the radiators trying to keep warm. Everyone is quite happy.

New desk! (one of 3 trolleys)
On the third day, God created IKEA and we went and bought everything. I didn't ship much in the way of furniture, and The Gentleman was living previously in a furnished apartment, so we had to buy things like a coffee table, dressers, a dining table and chairs, and a desk for me. Fortunately, if you spend more than 2500dhs (about $680 - which we most definitely did) they not only do free delivery but provide a team to put your furniture together. Huzzah not having to assemble IKEA furniture! 

Also, it's important to note that IKEA hosts Curry Wednesdays and you can make reservations for two for the classy IKEA Valentine's Dinner. The Gentleman refused to acquiesce, leaving me to believe that he doesn't think I deserve reservations for Valentine's Day at IKEA. Jerk.

All of our new furniture will be delivered on Monday, which will be quite welcomed as we're currently using cardboard boxes as our coffee table and have clothes all over everywhere because there's nowhere to put them. I did buy plates, bowls, utensils, and some pots so last night we had a very civilized dinner of leftovers on actual plates instead of paper and using actual utensils instead of plastic. 

The cats are weirdly obsessed with the shower. They don't understand it, and they like to go in it after it's been used and lick the water off of their paws. Weirdos.

 Coming up - chaos as it rains in Abu Dhabi!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Expat Life - Day One

Abu Dhabi sunrise, desert angle.

This whole "moving to another country" thing is pret-ty crazy.

After the chaos of the past couple of weeks, the cats and The Gentleman and I all got on our respective flights and headed out across the Atlantic. And across Europe. And a good chunk of the Middle East too, because "home" now is right smack in the middle of the Middle East. 

Alas, we could not all get on the same flights. I flew Lufthansa through Frankfurt, The Gentleman British Air through Heathrow, and the cats flew KLM through Amsterdam. They had a 10 hour layover during which I sincerely hope they went to see the Van Gogh museum and Anne Frank house and didn't just hang around in "coffee shops." 

The Gentleman and I got to Abu Dhabi around the same time and, Gentleman that he is, he'd already picked up all of my (excessive) luggage and loaded it onto a handy cart. And then we headed home for our usual post-travel ritual of late-night sushi delivery, duty free wine, and Hulu.

Home. What a strange concept right now. Let's talk about that in a couple of weeks. Right now, I keep having weird flashbacks that I didn't mail my rent check or that I need to stop by Target to pick up paper towels. I was a bit disappointed at the movie selection on Lufthansa and briefly wondered if they would have better picks on the return flight and then realized - dizzingly - that for the first time, there is no return flight. That was a one-way. Return to Baltimore TBD. 

Jet lag hit me particularly hard this time - I blame the lack of movies on Lufthansa and the ridiculously comfy business class recliner seats because I slept way too much on my flights - and I woke up at 4am. I sat on the couch amidst the sparse flat (my shipment won't arrive until sometime in March, and we are so devoid of furniture and household goods that I ate my oatmeal with a plastic fork this morning) and had the first moment of true realization. Everything has been such a frantic tornado of errands and chores and last goodbyes and this was - quite honestly - the first moment of quiet reflection I've had in possibly over a month. 

I realized the daunting overwhelm of moving to a new country and felt dizzy. The weather forecast popped up on my phone - snow. Definitely the forecast for Baltimore, because Abu Dhabi is ranging delightfully in the 65-75 degree range currently. I deleted the alert for Baltimore. I suspect there will be many more moments of disentangling the details of my life in Charm City, but also moments of excitement as I begin new threads here.

I managed to go back to sleep for a couple of hours, and then followed my travel-savvy friend Jessica's advice to work out in the morning and drink copious amounts of coffee. In the gym, I met a guy (Australian, I want to say) who told me that he and his wife are starting a runner's group in the complex with a lot of interest so far. The Gentleman and I went to lunch together and then went to Etisalat (the Verizon of sorts) and set up my mobile. He dropped me off at one of the malls so I could go to the pet store and pick up food for the cats, and then I was on my own because I don't yet have a car or even a local driver's license.

Taxis in the UAE are plentiful and cheap and commonly used for routine transportation. I had no trouble getting a cab home from the mall, and then no trouble getting a second cab to the nearby (but not really walkable) grocery store.

Grocery shopping was an interesting experience - there are overwhelmingly British and Asian influences here so while you have 400 different types of biscuits to choose from and amazing spices and cooking sauces, your salsa is limited to Pace Picante. (Is that the stuff made in New York City? I can't remember.) It took me over an hour to get everything on my list, and I ended up leaving without scallions because I couldn't find them and got flustered and googled "substitute scallion" to no avail and ultimately gave up. Shopping in new grocery stores is exhausting because when you don't know how items are laid out, you wind up circling up and down the aisles looking for a single item on your list and walking right by fourteen other things that you need. Circle back, rinse, repeat.


Soooo much quinoa. WHY DO WE DO THIS??
Once home, I attacked the kitchen. The movers that The Gentleman used very kindly put things away, but they literally put one or two items in every drawer and cabinet, and The Gentleman does not have very many kitchen items. So one drawer might hold four delivery menus and a spoon and a second drawer might have garbage ties while a third is designated for two plastic forks. Maddening.

On a lovely note, I discovered that The Gentleman, like me, also excessively hoards quinoa. I found four bags of it in the pantry. Two of them opened. Between the two of us, we are going to stock a world's supply and drive up prices for resale. 


Coffee table. For now.
On a lovelier note, I'm about to go and make some dinner for us. Which we'll eat off of paper plates with plastic forks and a packing box as our coffee table, but that's fine. Because we're together, and we're here in our new home, and this is truly the first day of the rest of our lives.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gypsy

I'm currently homeless, jobless, and without a car - and it's kind of awesome. 

I moved out of my beloved house in charming Little Italy last week and am staying temporarily with (very generous) friends in Harbor East until I exit the country this Saturday. This morning, I went to the MVA with my pal Jessica and signed over the title to her and turned in the tags for my (also beloved) Mazda 3. That car was (is) so awesome, and it's going to a very good new life with Jessica who, I know, will love and care for her as much as I did. 

The Gentleman got in last night, and we managed to catch some of the Superbowl (what the hell was that) before totally passing out from sheer exhaustion.

And then, suddenly, everything that I needed to do is done. All of the balls are no longer in my court,  but in the courts of those holding my international paperwork and earthly belongings and all I have to do for the rest of the week is tie up a few loose ends, present my Capstone project for my certification, graduate with said certification, and say a lot of tearful goodbyes.

There's nothing like moving to another country to bring you closer to people you love. Every lunch, brunch, dinner, drink, walk, and workout is painted with "only x left" or "one last," and it's also a time of recollection. "Remember when we..." and "Remember that time..." All of these conversations bring to a close the life you have been living and remind you that, whatever ish went down, all of it was mostly good and fun and will be missed.

And, suddenly, after a year and a half of long distance, The Gentleman - who is no longer my boyfriend, but - I hate this word but - my fiance is here, and there's no pending goodbye, no terrible public airport moment or tearful car ride home alone after a drop off. When we leave Baltimore on Saturday, we leave together, and we head to our new home in the desert. It will take some getting used to to have his handsomeness around me all of the time. Also, I fear a coup between him and the cats. There will be battles. But we'll figure it out.

Excitingly, there are invitations for book clubs, weekends in Dubai, workout classes, brunches, and dinners already in what will be my new home. Over the last year and a half, we've cultivated the seeds of what I hope will become good friends out there and a social life that will prove as fun and fulfilling as the one I had in Baltimore, albeit in a completely different setting. 

But, for now, it's wrapping up the few loose ends that exist here, attending some lovely gatherings full of people we know and love who are coming out to wish us well on our adventure, and making sure that the cats feel loved and appreciated in the midst of the craziness. 

And it's kind of nice to be a gypsy. But only for a week. I'll be ready to go home by the end of it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Empty Room

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another" -Anatole France

There is just something about an empty room. It's the same room - my room, the same four walls I've lived in for the last few years. The same view from the windows, the same light coming in at exactly the same angle as it has around 4pm on a winter's day. Devoid of the things that make a room a bedroom, however; a bed, a lamp, a shelf of books; it's just a room. Where someone new will see possibilities, I see what was.

I don't think I have ever made such a drastic transition in my entire life, and I don't think I have ever been so ready to do so. In my time here in Baltimore, I've done everything I wanted to do, I've lived every life I wanted to live here, and I'm ready to move on. I'm ready for a new climate, a new culture, a new favorite cafe to work in, a new job, a new (permanent) roommate who I'm pretty psyched to live with, and the next stage of my life.

"We must die to one life before we can enter another." So many goodbyes in the past week, and many more to come in my last 8 days here in the States. These changes have been so very longed for, but they do have their melancholy. And there will be slips and scrapes and bad navigation and tearful conversations back home because the UAE doesn't have the right shampoo for girls with fine blonde hair and transition, but I welcome it. 

While I hope to one day feel more settled than I have, I hope to never be complacent. New challenges, new adventures, new paths while still working hard to maintain the love and relationships and lessons learned from prior lives. Because you can - and should - never fully shed yourself of your past lives. Rather, they should inform and complement the stages to come.

I leave one empty room behind with most of my earthly possessions packed into a shipping crate that will begin it's terrifically slow plod across the Atlantic next week (and take 6 weeks to reach me in the Middle East), but there is another empty room waiting for me. A room where I'll put a bed, a lamp, a shelf of books, and make it into a bedroom. An office. A living room. A really fabulous balcony. One life is being tied up in neat little bows, but another is only just forming. 

And leaving behind a part of myself is just fine by me - because that means there is always something to come back to to visit.