Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend has never been a big deal for me. I do a mental “thank you” to the military and then go on with my business. I don’t like parades; I’ve never had a summer house that needs to be “opened” for the season; for most of my adult life I’ve never even had a backyard within which to barbecue, should the mood strike me.

So mostly, Memorial Day weekend has meant hoping that someone would invite me to one of those big fun summer parties you’re supposed to go to (but might exist only in magazines or the most froufrou echelons of The Hamptons), or sniffing around (oh so casually) for an invitation to someone’s summer house, or finding some Fun Family Activity, dammit, to fill that no-school Monday.

A  non-event, really, is what I’m saying.

Which is why you can imagine my surprise when I got all verklempt reading Anna’s blog post about various red,white, and blue recipes.  I mean, the little star-shaped pancakes are pretty cute, but they’re not worth getting all emotional about.

No, it wasn’t the pancakes (sorry Anna), but a sudden pang about missing the rhythms of home.

It’s comforting, knowing what’s coming, knowing how the year will unfold. Out here, where I’ve still not spent an entire year, everything is sort of a surprise – but nothing much seems to change. It’s more or less hot; it’s more or less sandy; it’s more or less windy.  I guess it’s summer here because it’s already so hot: so hot, in fact, that the boys’ school cancelled after-school swimming lessons because of the heat. Too hot for the instructors to be walking around on the pool deck, apparently.

How will the summer unfold here? I don’t know. I know when the boys’ school ends for the year; I know when we’re traveling back to New York; I know when we’re coming back here. But other than those punctuation marks, I’m not sure what the other markers are. Ramadan happens in there somewhere, as dictated by the lunar calendar, and the end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid, which is determined by the first sighting of the crescent moon.  As near as I can tell, between now and early October, most of Abu Dhabi goes into the malls and hides until it’s not so steamy out – the opposite of what happens in the Northeast, where people climb out of their dark apartments, blinking like moles in the sunlight, and recklessly bare their wintery skin to the warmth.

Not knowing the rhythms of a place is one of the (many) unexpected things on my list of “stuff that’s weird about expat life.”  It’s like you’re always just the slightest bit off-kilter because you’re missing signposts and landmarks you didn’t even know mattered.  I mean really, missing Memorial Day? That’s weird.

It’s not the red-white-and-blue I miss, though (and yes, there’s probably a political metaphor in there somewhere, but we’ll leave it safely buried for now).  I miss that sense of belonging, I think: everyone knows it’s Memorial Day; everyone (mostly everyone) gets Monday off or gets to commiserate about not getting Monday off.

Here? Monday is just…Monday. And it’s gonna be hot. That much I know for sure.

I took this picture on my whirlwind trip a few weeks ago. I guess there is a reason they call New Jersey the Garden State. I may not miss the red-white-and-blue, but I miss green a whole hell of a lot.

Here’s something I try never to miss: the yeahwrite linkup. Every week we “small” bloggers (we may be small bloggers but we all have very tall personalities) link together under the curator-ship of the elegant Erica: click, read, come back and vote for your faves.
read to be read at

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28 Responses to Memorial Day

  1. anna May 27, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    can i just say thank you and that this is the best shout-out i’ve ever gotten on one of my cooking/crafting holiday posts?

    i wish you were here to come bbq in our suburban back yard, but honestly, where would the excitement be in that? better to unravel some new traditons, so you can amuse everyone at backyard bbqs and summer homes with your tales of life abroad when your time for memorial day celebrating comes again.

    • Deborah Quinn May 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      well you just remember that bbq invitation, lady. we’re the sort of people who actually show up…! Although true, probably not this year. Who is to say about next year, though…maybe I will be waxing nostalgic this time next year for temperatures of 107 as i sit in some green New York park. (And I love your recipes & crafts, even though my kids are sadly beyond “craft day”)

      • anna May 28, 2012 at 4:40 am #

        i think my kids may be beyond it too – my three year old calls it “arts and crap.” thanks, buddy.

  2. KSB May 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    “Not knowing the rhythms of a place is one of the (many) unexpected things on my list of ‘stuff that’s weird about expat life.’ It’s like you’re always just the slightest bit off-kilter because you’re missing signposts and landmarks you didn’t even know mattered.”

    Boy, oh boy, can I identify with, relate to, and empathize with that!!!!

    That feeling of always being a wee bit off-kilter, of not being quite lost but not really knowing your way around either, of being nervous or at unease at occasions that are supposed to be casual fun and relaxing…..that can keep one unsettled and exhausted, in little chipping away ways, can’t they? The seemingly insignificant, little, mundane details and rhythms of life sometimes suddenly loom large in unexpected ways, and keep us dancing, don’t they? Boy, oh boy, do I feel you on this post! ;D

    • Deborah Quinn May 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      Thanks KSB! I thought maybe it was just me that was noticing this slightly off-balance feeling – and it’s only with Memorial Day, weirdly, that I’ve been able to put my finger on one possible cause of the feeling. I guess it’s because you’re sort of prepared for the BIG holidays and traditions but the other things catch you by surprise. Good lord, does that mean I’m going to be all misty-eyed at missing fireworks on the 4th of July (a holiday I NEVER EVER pay attention to, in the States). eek!

      • KSB May 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

        I know, it’s quite weird that it is the little things that hit us, suddenly and unexpectedly, isn’t it? I agree with you that it is because we prepare ourselves for the big things; the little things tend to sneak up on us in our unguarded moments. I think it is kind of like how one can learn about and study structural, systemic, and institutional things about another country through books, multimedia materials, and other resources, but can only learn via direct experience about daily rituals, common mannerisms, and other little social interactions. And, in a way, our emotions are grounded in the little, mundane, but familiar things that we take for granted. Even if you never really paid attention to Memorial Day or the 4th of July in the States, they did form part of the background noise of familiar everyday life for you, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the silence of that noise suddenly became very loud for you. That muted silence of noise can be unsettling uncannily; nothing’s quite wrong, just slightly off-kilter. By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a sudden craving for blueberry pie–food seems to be inherently tied with feelings of home and belonging and of being away, and odd cravings (in step with your pregnancy metaphor, coincidentally) seem to be both generated by and able to sooth that off-kilter sense of not being quite centered–if that happens, I say indulge, don’t fight! Be creative with substitutes if need be, but don’t ignore or try to just quiet such cravings–a simple piece of pie can go a long way in making home!

  3. Mayor Gia May 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Interesting! I never lived abroad so I never gave it much thought, but not having a rhythm would distress me too.

  4. stephanie May 29, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Beautiful writing, Deborah. What you say here is also a celebration of perspective. If you miss these things they have great value. As you suggest you don’t think about missing Memorial Day of all things. But then you do miss it, and realize why, and what is important to you. I lived in an ex-pat community for 3 years in Costa Rica. Very green there so I didn’t miss that, but I missed many other things. Living again in the States I value greatly what we have here. So many of us would benefit by this perspective. I wish it were somehow attainable without leaving the comfort of our home. Great post.

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Right – wouldn’t it be great if we could walk in others’ shoes without actually leaving our own comfy footwear? : )
      I do miss a lot about the States and then again, there’s a lot of the daily grind there that I’m glad to have left behind, even if only for a little while. Costa Rica must have been amazing, in all senses of the word.

  5. Shannon May 30, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I grew up as an ex-pat (including in the ME) and it took me years after coming “home” to trust the rhythm of life here – the passing of seasons, holidays, back to school, end of school, etc. Also, knowing the same group of people for years and years without break because our community is not transient. I can imagine that growing up with these things and then moving away would be a shock. I would miss them now, for sure. Nice post, it took me back….

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

      The transience is something I’m really not used to – that sort of here today, gone tomorrow thing is quite astonishing. My kids have friends who have already, in their short lives, lived in 3, 5, 8 places. Wonderful and then also, of course, a bit unsettling for everyone. I’m telling myself that this particular experience (which probably wont be followed by another international posting) is good for all of us in the long run, even if in the short run, it’s occasionally exhausting!

  6. Carrie May 30, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    I admire your bravery living in another country, it’s truly inspiring. I hope that your bout of homesickness is quick and that your visit back home is one that you can truly enjoy.

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      I’m not sure “brave” is quite the right word: more like “there’s a job…” : )
      But people are resilient, right, so we do what we need to do with what we have. Homesickness comes and goes – another shifting constant in our lives here!

  7. Vanessa May 30, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    I think the missing green would distress me the most. My eyes need to see familiar places and things. That doesn’t stop me from admiring someone who has embraced such a different life though.

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      I bought a potted plant the other day, so desperate was my need for DIRT and green growing things. Doubtless I’ll forget to water it and it will fry to death on my windowsill, but in the meantime…it’s kind of nice. Maybe I just need to do more of that to satisfy my green-needs!

  8. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms May 30, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    You just don’t know what you don’t know. “…you’re always just the slightest bit off-kilter because you’re missing signposts and landmarks you didn’t even know mattered.”

    Wow, you haven’t been there a year so every day really is an adventure. It is always so fascinating to stop by your hood, murky signposts and all, or maybe, especially because of those. Ellen

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by – consider this response me offering you a virtual cocktail or cuppa joe, depending! We are, in the scheme of things, pretty new to this expat adventure, you’re right. I’m curious to see how/if things feel different next year. Maybe the murk will lift…

  9. Kristin May 30, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    I enjoyed reading this. Memorial Day, for me, is a strange day. I always get verklempt as least once, usually twice. Taps does it, even saying the Pledge of Allegiance does it. And I am not a nationalistic person. As the child of immigrants, however, I do appreciate what is going on here. And my travels have shown me that, for all the complaining we do, the USA has got it going on in ways that many places can’t imagine. And then I go back to grumbling about all the crap that I hate.

    Nice shout out to Anna!

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      love that Anna! And “Taps” always does me in too…absolutely. You’re right – I complain about the US and then I look around and think hmm….where else would I rather be? Sometimes Canada seems like a pretty good choice but then there’s that whole Winter thing…ugh. So I stay here and wax nostalgic about there…

  10. kristin May 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    You are brave to be facing all that up-in-the-air-ness!

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      It’s not brave, really; it’s just what is at the moment, right? It might look brave from the outside but from inside, it’s just the way we live. Plus it’s hard to say “brave” and not remember the first two months here where I pretty much spent at least an hour a day crying or moaning inside that there was no way on EARTH I could do this thing!

  11. Adrienne May 30, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Sometimes it’s the little things that bring our the big emotions. I can understand this feeling. I bake. When life is spiraling our of control, I know that eggs, flour, sugar, and oil will make a cake. There’s comfort in the little things. If you can’t find certainly in the big things in life right now, bake a cake! 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      Love that suggestion…but I have a truly crappy stove that burns on the top and undercooks on the bottom. it’s the bane of my existence. so I do the laundry instead…same idea. Imposing order on what feels chaotic, absolutely!

  12. Heather May 31, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    So I’ve stopped at your site several times to read and talk, but I always seem to get a toddler fist in my face at just the wrong moment.
    I could have written this post (if I had better writing skills). It is strange to think of America going about its business when you live so far away. (we were in South Africa for 3 years so my husband could get his PhD in ancient languages. We’re rolling in the dough now! Woohoo.)
    I’m so glad you are staying longer and we get to read more! You’ll cherish every single tiny experience. Or at least 80% of them……

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      LOVE your drawings and am so glad you joined up with yeahwrite so I could find your blog! Oh yeah, a phd in ancient languages. that’s about as lucrative as, say, being an english professor (me) or marrying one (my husband). but hey…they might need ancient language teachers here in AD….just saying…. : )
      (and that emoticon is pretty much the extent of my artistry).

  13. Alison@Mama Wants This May 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    I hope you find a rhythm of some kind in Abu Dhabi. I know you’ve been there almost a year, but it takes time. I’ve been living in Malaysia nearly all my life and guess what? I’m not sure I know the rhythms 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn June 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Those elusive rhythms, you’re right – I know I won’t figure it out in one year, or even two, or even more (were we inclined to stay more). But it will be interesting to see how our perspective changes as we settle deeper in. Hmm. I guess it’s sort of like getting used to the rhythm of having baby #2, where for a few years there’s only been the one! (but I’ll let you write those blog posts!)

  14. Jay- The Dude of the House June 1, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I once spent July 4th in London. It was very strange that no one cared, though it made sense that that group didn’t.
    Then I spent Bastille Day in France a week later and got to experience the other side where I didn’t care about their holiday. Stranger in a strange land, as they say.

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