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Monday Listicle: the anti-resolution resolution list

I took a little internet break over the winter holidays, or tried to, anyway (I can’t ignore twitter, what can I say) but now I’m back in Abu Dhabi, back in the interwebs, wondering what to write. I mean, it’s seven days into January. I don’t know about you slackers but I’ve already lost ten pounds, written a novel, redecorated the house, re-organized my files, and gotten a second doctorate.

Okay, that last one is a joke.

You can imagine my relief, then, when that fantastic Northwest Mommy suggested that we write a list of things we have no intention of changing in 2013. Sounds good to me. And then maybe I’ll get around to pondering the meaning of the new year sometime later this month, when I celebrate Barack’s second term and my last year of being forty. I mean, omigod my last year of being in my forties. Yes. That’s right. In 2014 I hit fifty. Or fifty hits me.

So with that end in sight, herewith a list of things that ain’t gonna change in 2013. At least not this month.

1. There will be cheese. I went a whole month without cheese, really I did. And good lord was it dull. A shop window in New York gave me a word for myself:

The word is “turophile” and it means a connoisseur of cheese. Yep. If you’re on Broadway around 18th street, stop in at Beecher’s. Try the Hooligan. You won’t be sorry.

2. There will be family. Last Christmas, when we visited New York, I raced us around visiting all and sundry, without logging in nearly enough time with my family. This year I learned my lesson and we spent a big chunk of our time hunkered down with family galore. Well, we’re not that big a group when all is said and done, but so it was a small galore, but still…a galore. And it was galore-ious. For those friends who we didn’t see, thousands of apologies and promises for long visits this summer, after we get the kids out of the bread line.

cousins queuing up for soup, Depression style

3. There will be driving. I will drive around to various soccer-related events. I will drive and drive and drive, in my little SUV, stunned that somehow I moved all the way to freaking Arabia and became a soccer mom. Here I am in an cosmopolitan city, living in a fifty-story high-rise, and yet I drive around like I live … in New Jersey.

4. I will keep working on my various writing projects. And more than that I will not say, other than to say that if I keep saying “my writing projects” in public, then eventually I will have to produce said projects. Which is to say that in fact I haven’t really written a novel this year. Yet. Dammit.

5. There will be teaching. And as much as I might complain about grading the essays and preparing for class, it’s still the best teaching gig I’ve ever had. Bright, committed students from around the world–the kind of students who are shocked shocked when they go to other institutions and discover that sometimes students come to class without doing the readingStudents like these? A gift.

6. I will remain fascinated (rather than frustrated) by life in Abu Dhabi, life in the Gulf, life so far from “home.” I suppose this one is really more of a hope than a resolution but I’ve seen what happens to people when they only see frustration. It’s an odd place to live, there’s no doubt, but it’s not altogether a bad place to live, if a person has to live somewhere.

7. I will be grateful for the health and happiness of my children, who amaze and delight me on a daily basis. I don’t know about you, but the tragedy of Newtown haunts me; I say a tiny “thank you” every time I hug one of my kids.

8. Husband and I will find time to be together when I’m not nagging him about picking up his socks and he’s not wondering why I’m so tetchy about making the bed every morning. Remarkably, we will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary this summer, so we should probably remember to be nice to each other most of the time all year.

9. There will be ladies night out. I believe that couples should spend time together without kids (if they have them; without pets if they have those), but spending time with women friends helps me re-charge my batteries. A walk on the Corniche, a long lunch, or a weekend away from the families–it’s practically a medical necessity (and certainly helps with #8, above). Roger Cohen, in this column from the NY Times, said that “one has best friends in part to talk with them about the problems one has with one’s loves.” Bingo, baby. I mean….that’s what I would do if I ever had any problems with darling sock-dropping Husband.

10.  I will keep in mind this advice from Bill Cunningham, via a chalkboard outside a shop in New York:

Continue Reading · on January 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, Monday Listicle, NYC

Monday Listicle: Food

Mid-December and the madness is upon us: students trapped in end-of-semester zombie-state, with circles under their eyes down to their jawlines; piles of (as yet ungraded) papers; emails from Grandma asking what the boys want for Christmas presents; a round of holiday parties (some a pleasure, some an obligation); and of course the requisite dementia-inducing Christmas music being piped into all the malls.  The cognitive dissonance of standing in the grocery checkout line at the Australian-owned grocery store next to a woman swathed in black abaya and sheyla as my groceries are rung up by the lovely Filipina at the register … and Bruce Springsteen howls “Santa Claus is comin’ to town…”  Sometimes the world seems much flatter than other times.

But. Holidays. Holidays in almost any culture means sharing and eating food. Cookies, cakes, pastries, soup…all the recipes come out at holiday time.  So Stasha’s listicle this week–suggested by Bridget at the always funny Twinisms— asks us to think about food, and I thought that maybe I’d list my favorite recipes or favorite holiday treats, but let’s face it: I am a competent cook and only a so-so baker, so my recipes aren’t going to be that much fun.

Better, I thought, to offer you all a list bounteous with schadenfreude: you can read my list of food fails and feel better by comparison. Consider it my holiday gift to you.

You’re welcome.

1. My new favorite cocktail, the French 75.  A delicate drink that packs a whammy: gin, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, champagne. I read the recipe, thought “hey, that’s easy,” and mixed up a cocktail for myself and Husband.  Who knew you weren’t supposed to put the champagne in the cocktail shaker with the other ingredients? Do you know what happens when you put champagne in a jar and shake it? Yes. Expensive French fizz pretty much all over.  Expensive French sticky fizz. The drinks looked pretty (although a tad foamy), but apparently you’re only supposed to top off the glass with champagne. Who knew?

2. Baked brie. Who doesn’t love a baked brie? Gooey warm cheese wrapped in flaky pastry (courtesy of Pillsbury, natch) that gets spread on yet more bread. Dee-vine.

Now I’d like you to imagine the top of that delicious-looking treat completely charred. Yep, blackened, as if the instructions read “cook Cajun style.”  In case you’re wondering, blackened baked brie is not a taste treat. Not even if you try to slice off the burned top and flip the thing over. Then you get something that resembles smushed bread floating in goo. Unappetizing in the extreme.

3. Pizza with goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions. Yum. You can serve this for supper or cut it into small pieces and use it as an appetizer. Use pizza crust, or boboli, or flatbread, then spread goat cheese, sauteed spinach, and carmelized onions on top. Heat the pizza a bit so the goat cheese gets warm and melty.  Do not flip it over onto the bottom of the oven as you try to take it out of the oven. If, perchance, you should flip the entire goddamn thing onto the bottom of the oven, make sure no one sees you scoop the toppings off the oven floor and attempt to re-arrange them on the pizza crust.  Should someone see you do that, you can assure them that it’s okay because you never clean the oven, so it’s not like they’re going to be tasting any chemicals along with their goat cheese.

4. Very Important Realization (VIR): checking the expiration date on the package of yeast is always a good idea. Otherwise, your pizza crust dough might look something like this:

We went out for dinner instead.

5. Birthday cakes. Ah, birthday cakes. I want so badly to be that parent, the one who lovingly crafts perfect confections for the little darlings. Erin, over at the Sisterhood of the Sensible Momsshe is that parent:

If she weren’t so funny and kind, you’d sort of have to hate her.

My birthday cakes don’t look like that. They’re more…um….let’s say they exhibit a charming DIY sensibility, shall we?

Another VIR?  Frosting is the spanx of baking. It can make anything look good. Or at least okay.

6.  And yet a third VIR?  Find friends who cook, and cook well.  Their recipes and advice (and samples!) are invaluable. I’m lucky to know Sean over at Big Poppa Eats, with his cobbler, and Lily, Abu Dhabi’s very own Queen of Tarts. And of course, the Sisterhood of Sensible Moms (when I’m not feeling intimidated, cakely speaking)…

7.  My foodie talent might run in the family. During our growing-up years, when we asked my mom what was for dinner, she’d say “chicken glop” or “hamburger glop” or, basically, whatever form of protein she’d purchased mixed with some cans of tomatoes and spices. Usually it tasted good but the concept of “glop” remains in my head, whenever I confront the dinner hour, with one kid who does not like sauces, another kid who loves sauces, a husband who will eat pretty much anything, and me, who would happily be a vegetarian but lives in a house of carnivores.  That’s why I often find myself in what I call three-way chicken hell, even though I vow (pretty much monthly) that I will not cave in to all these separate preferences.

8. Shopping for food in a country not your own always presents challenges. For the most part, I can find food we’re used to here, or at least versions of what we’re used to. There is bacon, for instance, although it’s hideously expensive and requires doing the walk of shame into the pork room at the grocery store. But then there are those jarring moments when you realize, as you browse the shelves, that you’re in a country that caters to a palate very different than your own:

9.  This:

Would someone please explain A) what is a “malt loaf” and B) what it means to have “squidgy energy”?

10. Okay. I will make one gesture towards recouping my culinary sense of self.  I have learned how to make a pretty kick-ass cinnamon roll. And the smell of baking cinnamon rolls is like a holiday all in itself.

Continue Reading · on December 12, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, food, Monday Listicle, UAE

Monday Listicles: what i learned in 2012

Stasha’s listicle today, with a suggestion from Kerstin at Auer Life: ten things we learned in 2012.

I’d like to go on record as saying it’s still a little soon to be making lists about the entirety of 2012. I mean, in the next six weeks, before 2013 hits, I still plan to learn Arabic, figure out the intricacies of crochet, and master the art of pie-crust.

In the meantime, however, and in no particular order, what did I learn in 2012?

1. I love twitter. I love the challenge of 140 characters; I love the fast responses; I’m a sucker for a good hashtag.

2. I learned to paddleboard. I even bought one: a nifty inflatable thing that rolls up and fits in the back of my car. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s great exercise. And then I hurt my shoulder and I’ve not been able to paddle for almost two months.

3. Blogher ’12 taught me all kinds of things: say hello to strangers, because they might turn out to be Good Day Regular People, or The Suniverse.

4. I learned also at Blogher to give people talking to you your full attention, because the person speaking might be the mah-velous Marinka and when you realize you missed an opportunity to talk to her, you will feel pretty much like an idiot for…well, let’s see, that was August and this is November so…

5. I learned that missing my sister and my mom and my brother – and my dear friends “stateside” – is something that needs to be kept sort of over there in a little room that doesn’t get unlocked very often, because if it did get unlocked, then the rushing of emotion would be almost Sandy-like in its power.

6. I know a little bit about this whole expat thing now, even though I am surprised almost daily by what I don’t know. And I’m surprised, sometimes, by my own resilience (or powers of denial – see #5)

7.  I learned that there are limits to my imagination: I could not for the life of me imagine why a woman would want to vote for Romney. I’m sure there are many, many women who had good reasons for casting their votes for him, but I can’t get myself into those moccasins. I think that makes me a bad less-good person.

8. I learned that I like – no, I mean really like – Rachel Maddow. And I wonder if anyone has done a survey of women who consider themselves more or less straight to see how many of them would consider switching to the other team if Rachel would but cast a friendly eye in their direction.

9. I learned – or rather, I am learning – that living without cheese is a bit like living without daily phone conversations with my sister. It’s possible, but it’s nowhere near as much fun.

10. I learned – or re-learned – that I am happiest when I’m writing. And yet, of course, writing is also this:

What’s that old saying? A writer is person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Yeah. That. I guess you could say I learned that in 2012, too.

Continue Reading · on November 19, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Monday Listicle, writing

Monday’s Listicles: James Bond(ish)

Stasha’s list this week reminds us that A) It’s the 50th anniversary of James Bond; and B) in the United States on Monday it was Veteran’s Day. I’ll remind you that in the UK (and Canada and maybe also Australia) it’s “Remembrance Day,” which is sort of like the US Memorial Day, as near as I can tell. Caleb’s grade sang “A Long Way to Tipperary,” which you know? There aren’t many Tipperary references in New York public schools, which is a shame. I love that song.

So everyone is remembering soldiers and war rages pretty much all around us, to greater or lesser degree, and god only knows what’s going to happen. Sometimes it really seems like the world is going to hell in a handbag, as my friend Chris likes to say.

The world needs a new superhero, clearly; I’m not sure that Mr Bond, even in all his Daniel Craig-ness, can save us.  But Stasha says to make a list of Bond things, and I have to confess: I don’t know much about Bond.

So instead of Bond, I give you a list about mom, your mom…and the Bondish gadgets that M, or J, or Q, or some other letter of the alphabet should invent, post-haste.

1. Saran Wrestler: This tool tames the recalcitrant plastic wrap that clings to everything, everything but the sandwiches being slapped together at 630AM for school lunchboxes.

2. Water Pellets: These pellets can be carried in a purse, bag, or pocket without being damaged, but when dropped into a receptacle and mixed with just the teensiest drop of parental spit, immediately liquify in order to satisfy the OMIGODIMDYING shrieks of the soccer players in the back seat of …

3. The Car. This supersonic vehicle plays a key role in the world-saving (or at least world shlepping) activities of momyourmom. It has been customized to suit her needs in several ways. The interior has been rendered impervious to melted chocolate, grass stains, cleats, farts, pretzel crumbs, ice cream drips, and blood. And, secondly:

4.  Sibviders: These transparent plexiglass dividers can be deployed to drop from the car ceiling and slide between squabbling children, effectively enclosing each child in a sound-proof, poke-proof box (with air holes).  A similar divider can be deployed between the driver and the passengers.

5. EnterTainAPen: This elegant ballpoint can, with a flick of a button, transform into a crayon-loaded cartridge, which is used in conjunction with–

6. ElastiPad.  Not to be confused with an iPad, which is bulky, or an iPhone, which is very small (particularly for toddler-sized fingers), the ElastiPad has a surface similar to a white board, but can be expanded or collapsed according to need; it provides the perfect drawing surface for the EnterTainAPen and can be utilized for line-waiting, traffic-jamming, doctor’s waiting room fiddling.

7. SibJitsu Training: An intensive immersion course that can be mastered by putting the instructional DVD under your pillow one night. A SibJitsu Sensei Master can, with one smooth rhetorical move and some fancy footwork, broker a lasting peace in the “didnotdidtodidnot” wars.

8. Tote Bag of Silence: A fashionable satchel that can be stretched into a soundproof bubble within which one can make and receive phone calls, texts, and emails in peace and quiet, during children’s sporting events, school fairs, and even high school dances.

9. Laundry Lenses: These x-ray glasses can be worn by whomever is doing the laundry in order to see if the pockets of dirty clothes contain gum, candy, crayons, ink pens, rocks, wads of paper, stickers, blue-tac, live animals, or Important Notes from Teachers.

10. AutoFind:  A small hand-held radar device that detects the whereabouts of homework, shoes, socks, soccer uniforms, the red five-pronged Lego piece that completes the 1027 piece ship, sheet music for the piano lesson in five minutes, glasses, hat, keys, lunchbox, sandwich from three weeks ago that has started to breed under the couch.


photo of Desmond Llewelyn & Bond gear source

Continue Reading · on November 12, 2012 in family, Kids, Monday Listicle, Parenting, pop culture

Monday Listicle: Autumn

Ah, fall…the days when the sun is warm but the air is crisp, the farmer’s market fills with apples of every conceivable description, and sweaters are retrieved from the bottom drawer.  In New York, in particular, the fall is fantastic – the stinky clotted air of August blows away, most of the tourists go back to their regular lives (in which, we hope, they do not amble down the middle of sidewalks holding up their iPhones like divining rods, in hopes that the wee iElves will send them in the correct direction).

Yes, fall…the theater season is in full swing, the movie listings swell with new releases, museums and galleries line up their big exhibits…

It’s exactly like that here. Except for, you know…sweaters, apples, tourists, iElves, theater, movies, museums, and art galleries.

Stasha’s listicle this week is about autumn but even before I knew that would be her subject, I had been thinking about fall.  This time last year, I was still in the just-arrived expat fugue state; I couldn’t really have told you what day it was, much less what season. Now, however, I am awake and aware; I’m pretty sure it’s Wednesday and I know it’s October and thus, fall.

Sort of.

Living in a place where it’s always summer is odd – it’s not even like LA, where a person might want a little jacket or something against the evening chill.  Here, if you’re lucky, the temperature goes down to…80F in the evening, or maybe, maybe 75. Don’t get me wrong – the fact that I will not spend February leaping across the slushy chasms of New York street corners is just fine with me, but I do feel nostalgic for fall.

1. Boots. I love boots. Tucked into our storage facility in New York are my adored motorcycle boots…and suede boots, tall boots, low boots, high-heeled maybe-I’m-really-Condi-Rice boots…And while, yes, it’s true, some women here do wear boots in January and February, I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s like having hockey teams in southern Florida. It just doesn’t make sense.

2. TV. We still get Entertainment Weekly here (about two weeks after the fact), so I just got the issue that describes all the new TV shows.  True, I wouldn’t watch probably 95% of them if we still lived in the States, but I could, if I wanted to. Probably I could figure out how to stream these shows now, or download them, or something like that, but you know? Most of those shows aren’t worth that kind of commitment. And that’s what I miss, more than anything: the mindless flop onto the couch, remote in hand, for a little quality multi-tasking hour or so. Because a person can’t just watch TV. That would be, I don’t know, sinful or something, wouldn’t it? So I used to watch TV and answer email, or fold the laundry, or figure out why there were legos embedded into the rug. Now I do all those same things but without the company of pretty people with big heads bobbling around on the telly.

3. Apples. Let us have a moment of thanks for the gift that is the Honeycrisp apple, piles and piles of them at the Union Square Farmer’s Market.  Or Fujis, or Lady Gala, or… The apples here get flown in from New Zealand, Italy, France.  And while there’s something sort of glamorous about that (not to mention expensive), they don’t taste as good as when they’ve been picked the night before.  Caleb and I always have an apple binge when we go back to New York during the winter holidays–it’s usually just past apple season, but still better than you can get here.

4.  The farmer’s market, in general, in early fall: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes to die for. The last riches of a summer garden, all on display. I usually get my Martha Stewart on, at this time of year: I make tomato sauce, ratatouille, roast a lot of vegetables, and then dump everything in the freezer so that in mid-March, I can have late August on my dinner plate.

5. The New Season. Why “the new” gets launched in the fall, I don’t fully understand. Maybe it’s because the weather gets yucky, so all we want to do is sit inside and be entertained? I miss the buzz that surrounds all new releases, although, as Husband points out, we very seldom could afford to see even a fraction of the theater that looked interesting. Mostly that was my fault: I would price out the cost of theater tickets and a babysitter and decide that no show was going to be worth approximately eight-five thousand dollars. Every fall, as the new season launched, I would launch too: into a diatribe about the ridiculous cost of theater and how theater owners were alienating the next generation of theater-goers because only the very rich and/or ladies on tour buses from New Jersey could afford tickets.  But still. I miss the buzz.

6.  Fuzzy things: scarves, sweaters, socks.

7. The stinky-gingkos, as Liam used to call them. When the gingko seeds squash on the ground, they smell a bit like old cheese and wet leaves. It’s odd to miss a bad smell, but it’s a very specific, very autumnal scent.

8. Huge, splendid, dramatic dahlias, in deep purple and incandescent orange.

9. My wonderful French raincoat, purchased in Paris many years ago. It’s perfectly plain outside – just a tan trenchcoat – but inside:

 I don’t ever get to wear that coat here, because we don’t get days like this:

And that would be what I don’t miss about autumn in New York: cold, wet, drippy, and always the possibility of losing an eyeball to the idiot carrying a golf umbrella that would shield an elephant.

10. The autumn sky in Abu Dhabi, with what passes for “weather:”

Weather. Which is to say: clouds.

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Continue Reading · on October 3, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Monday Listicle, NYC, UAE

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