Over the moon to run into an astronaut!

They say things happen for a reason – although I couldn’t really see the truth in this as our bags were offloaded from the flight we were scheduled to be taking to Cape Town.

Boarding was underway and we trooped up to the counter, clutching our boarding passes and passports. We’d already checked we didn’t need visas.

“And you have the birth certificates?” asked the gate agent matter-of-factly.

That was all it took – the curveball that brought our travel plans to a screeching, shuddering halt. My throat tightened as a sinking feeling in my chest took hold. DH and I stared blankly at the man behind the desk, then at each other, as we processed the news that South African immigration required original birth certificates for all children under the age of 18, even when travelling with parents and even when said kids were clearly far too noisy and troublesome to have been kidnapped.

Somewhere in the back of my hearing I heard a last-call boarding announcement.

“We’ll try to find a solution,” said the gate agent, who – kudos to him – did try, and let us down gently, before sending us home with a regretful shrug.

Getting out of the airport, without having left, then proved a whole challenge in itself – as did finding our suitcases. We eventually climbed into a taxi without our luggage. Disappointed, but determined to try again the next day.

Things went a lot more smoothly the following morning, and as we boarded the Boeing 777 we were greeted with the news that there was a special guest on board. “Who is it? Who is it?” clamoured the kids. I think they hoped it was a famous YouTuber – Dan TDM or the other one, whose name completely escapes me.

Apollo 11 shot Buzz Aldrin to (excuse the pun) stardom in 1969

Apollo 11 shot Buzz Aldrin to (excuse the pun) stardom in 1969

But the VIP passenger was far, far better than that – in a league of his own, in fact. It was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, and he was sitting right behind me.

I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to talk to him so much that my mind began whirring with possibilities. I could show him my supermoon photos to get him on the topic. Tell him I’ve always wanted to go to the moon, ever since my mum sat me down in front of a black-and-white TV as a baby to watch the moon landings in the early 70s. Failing that, I could wait until he needed the bathroom, and queue up outside (Saddo, I know!).

DH shook his hand. “Mr Aldrin? It’s a pleasure to have you on board,” he said as Buzz made his way to the cockpit to meet the operating pilots. On his way back, I smiled at him, noticing his t-shirt promoting manned missions to Mars. Buzz smiled back!

Buzz is a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration

Buzz is a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration

His hair is winter-white now, his face timeworn and wrinkled (must be about 86). His eyes were ever so slightly milky with age but there was an unmistakable twinkle in them – a sparkle that suggested he wasn’t about to stop exploring the planet (indeed, he was on his way to Antarctica to visit the South Pole!). Wearing blue jeans with a low-slung belt, he kept a low profile and none of the other passengers realised who he was, until the end of the flight when the captain said over the tannoy that he was honoured to be flying Buzz Aldrin.

So did I get to talk to him? Well, no. Not exactly. He’d flown from the States, and slept most of the way. But I spoke to his travel companion, who was lovely and said she’d take a photo with my younger son. “Go on,” I urged Son2, nudging him to cooperate, pleading with him in his ear to “just.do.it” – to no avail. Son2 was struck with shyness, and the opportunity passed. Still, I’ll never forget the moment I sort-of met a hero of mine.

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Circles in the Sand – the BOOK is here!

Super excited to announce Circles in the Sand – the BOOK is now available on Amazon!

Have you ever just popped into IKEA?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]In this collection of short stories, you’ll meet all sorts of characters straight out of daily life in Dubai. Helicopter Mum. The Atlantis Tooth Fairy. Shopaholic Katie, who disappears down the Karama rabbit hole while buying handbags.

There’s also school teacher Hilary (will she get to keep the Range Rover gifted to her by the royal family?); little Amir, a historical character who wants nothing more than to do his first, dangerous pearl dive; and overworked Marcie, whose husband gets overexcited at the Expo 2020 and swaps their housemaid for a robot.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]The book also includes Cupcakes & Heels, the story of workaholic mum Julie Wainscote, who becomes an overnight Twitter sensation when her live TV gaffe goes viral. Fired from her job, she takes up the challenge of becoming a stay-at-home mum to her son. But when she realises the school run is a catwalk, the coffee mornings involve competitive catering and the class bear has been to Lapland, she has to admit the adjustment required may be beyond her.

PRAISE FOR CUPCAKES & HEELS: “An uplifting and candid story about one of the most difficult decisions any mother has to make. A truly funny, insightful and beautifully written slice of parenting life.”

DOWNLOAD LINKS:

In the UK: Click here

US, UAE and worldwide: Click here

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Son2’s Trump card

It was an interesting day in the Middle East yesterday. The kids came home from school totally spooked. Son1 burst through the door, wailing “Nooooooooo! He won!” His face looked strained, worried. I wondered how much he knew about the election, and it turned out a lot more than I thought.

Son2, only eight, was jittery and hyped up– much of this rubbing off from the adults around him, of course, but he had so many questions about what had happened, his mind racing with frightening images of walls and Muslims being banned.

Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications

Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications

Kudos to the teachers, for sorting the fact from the fiction and for dealing with all the questions: But why does he want to ban Muslims? (some of the young Muslim kids were crying after an awful rumour went round that I’m not going to repeat). Why does he want to build a wall? Who voted for him? Will he ban Halloween too? (!!!)

Son1 was worried for his friend Ali, Son2 for his little friend Ibrahim. Growing up in the multicultural melting pot that is Dubai, they know people are different and that different is good.

After it all calmed down, I sat for a while and watched the big sky over our desert bubble, hoping, just hoping, that it will all work out okay, somehow. And if it doesn’t, well Son2 has the answer: “I’m going to put Donald Trump in my squashing machine!”

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Read me (if you dare)

There is a time of the year (it used to be a night, now it’s nearly all month) when expat communities in Dubai become satellite suburbs of the good ole’ US of A.

It starts with a few Halloween decorations here and there, a bush covered in cobwebs, creepy spiders on the wall, and by October 31st morphs into a full-blown horror scene with grave stones and skeletons, strung-up ghosts and ghouls, along roads normally festooned with bougainvillea and desert roses.

Doesn't DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)

Doesn’t DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)

Last night, as the sun slipped from view behind the white picket fences of our new compound and the pumpkins began to glow orange, the children took to the streets en masse, in fancy dress. They were trailed by their parents, many of whom had made a valiant effort and donned costumes too.

If you saw a blondish mother in a floor-length, gold, Cleopatra outfit with jewels dripping from my forehead, limping along (my shoes hurt), wiping the sweat from my brow (it’s still humid to be walking around clad head-to-toe in cheap polyester material) and completely lost from my kids, then that was me.

When I finally caught up with my 8yo, who waits for this night all year and gets beyond excited about dressing up and getting a massive stash of candy, it occurred to me that I should ask him what he was saying to the people answering the constant stream of door knocks.

“Are you saying thank you?” I asked.

He gave a firm nod.

“And saying trick or treat nicely?” I enquired.

“I tell them, “Give me all your sweets or you’ll die,” he replied, totally deadpan.

“You’re what?” I gasped. “ YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!!!” I felt my heart skip a beat at the mere thought of how this was going down with all our new neighbours.

Stash of sweets: The face says it all really

Stash of sweets: The gleeful face says it all really

A little chat followed that he wasn’t a prankster-gangster, he was a grim reaper and had to be polite – or I’d confiscate all his sweets – and he nodded again before running off into the darkness with his friend-in-crime.

Then there was just the small matter of getting back to our house, in my flowing robes and heels, along a road that felt twice as long as it normally does so I could cool down. “You look like Cleopatra the morning after,” quipped DH, who’d taken his shock of white hair off a long time before and was enjoying a bevvie indoors with his mother (dressed as a 1920s’ Flapper).

All in all, it was wonderful night, full of frights and sights – not least of them DH and myself!

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Little America: Dubai’s ball field, basketball and more

INFO POST: Despite the heat, guest blogger Kristin Lewis can truthfully say they are never bored in Dubai

rangers-baseball-team-dubai

On offer in our glorious desert city is horseback riding, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, trampoline parks, skate parks, skydiving lessons at FlyDubai, indoor skiing or tubing at Ski Dubai, and ice skating and hockey at a huge rink in the middle of Dubai Mall. There’s an active diversion at almost any mall in the city. Whether it be indoor football, soft play areas or glow-in-the-dark mini golf – you will find something.

Almost any sport you can name is available to the kids at some time throughout the year. Cricket, rugby, rounders, netball and soccer (otherwise known as NOT-American football), are biggies here. On rare non-uniform days at school, sports team kit is off-limits, as there are just too many strong opinions about whose team is best.

The baseball fields: a self-contained quad of baseball diamonds on a green plot of land in clear view of the Burj Khalifa

The baseball fields: a self-contained quad of baseball diamonds on a green plot of land in clear view of the Burj Khalifa

For us American folk, our interests are accommodated too – basketball, American football and (my personal favorite) baseball. Walking into the Dubai Little League baseball complex is equivalent to the mothership calling me home. It is SO American and it totally rocks, and is made even cooler because kids from lots of other countries participate on the USA-named teams. The complex has beautifully kept baseball fields, t-ball fields, clean bathrooms and – get this – a snack shack that sells hot dogs, hamburgers, the best nachos E.V.E.R. and a few healthy things, although I’m not really sure what those are.

Ball park with a view

Ball park with a view

While I gripe about going to some of my kids’ activities, baseball is not one of them. If there is a conflict, my husband and I will actually argue about who gets to go to the ball field. Hubby even volunteered to help coach this past year just to have a solid excuse to attend as many games as possible. I think I may volunteer for team mom next season just to spite him. This is hands down my son’s favorite sport too – he loves the camaraderie of the game, the parent-led teams and the thrill of having someone’s car alarm go off when he accidentally hits a foul ball over the fence.

My daughter, on the other hand, would rather stick a fork in her eye than be dragged to a baseball game. Oh my goodness, the days she has to go with us can be painful – “It’s SO hot I can’t concentrate on my homework, it’s SO bright I can’t see my homework, it’s SO loud I can’t focus on my homework, the bench is SO hard I can’t get comfortable to do my homework.” It has now been mandated that all homework be left at home – at the ball field, everyone eats nachos and enjoys the game. No forks allowed.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

Since baseball is obviously not her thing, my daughter recently came to the realization that her other sports passion is basketball. Her first year on the court she was named team captain, which tells you something – that everyone else is playing an abridged version of netball. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good player…and also one of the few to understand most of the rules of actual basketball. The whole team tried really hard, but they were just SO polite. Although we promised to never be those parents, my husband was in the stands almost every game with a vein bulging from his forehead. Out of his mouth was a constant stream of “GET THE BALL!”, “DEFENCE!” and my personal favorite, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”

It got so bad that our daughter actually marched up to the stands one halftime and told her Dad to get out and not come back until he could behave himself. Meanwhile, I felt like the belle of the ball in the stands, smiling graciously as I intercepted questions from other parents about traveling, free throws and the three-second rule.

COMING SOON: In the final blog of Kristin’s three-part series on activities in Dubai, she writes about rock-climbing and water parks. 

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On losing it over homework (and why they won’t cooperate)

Saturday morning (the last day of the weekend here in the UAE) saw me feeling determined: my kids were going to get their homework done early, rather than leaving it until last thing on Saturday night when we’re all tired and would rather stick pins under our nails.

So I sat down at the table, drumming my fingers while the boys shouted out various excuses, from needing to land an airplane on whatever computer game they were playing to being hungry/needing to run an urgent errand/feeling ill etc.

I heard my youngest son chasing the dog. “Bella … Bella. EAT it.”

I finally got them to the table, where it quickly became obvious we might still be sitting there hours later with my boys yawning and feigning snoring over small heaps of crumpled paper.

“I’m not going to do it for you,” I told my eldest. “I’ll sit here doing some work of my own, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK.” I emphasised the words with a raise of the eyebrows.

Son2: "Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?"

Son2: “Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?”

Son1 shot me a look, and even the plants on the windowsill looked as though they were seeking an escape from within.

Fifteen minutes later, Son1 was still struggling, complaining that he couldn’t find a good website to answer the question he’d been set. I heard the flicking sound of the rubber he was fiddling with – then he dropped his pen on the floor, which always sets my teeth on edge after the third time. At one point, he nearly slid off his chair.

A stare passed between us. I might have felt my face flash hot with annoyance.

It’s at this point that I try to remember what Clive Power, managing director of Dubai-based Power Tutoring, told me:

“It’s usually difficult for parents to help with their own children’s homework. Children like to keep their work/life balance just as much as adults. We don’t like bringing work home and it interfering with our family life, the same is true for children. It would be just as strange for children to have their parents in the classroom as it would be for the teacher to have a meal with the family in the home. So when the parent takes on the role of the educator as well, there’s confusion. Children can even question whether the emotional support and unconditional love will still be there if they get the answers wrong or don’t understand things fully.

“We’ve had qualified teachers who’ve come in and said that they can work with all the children in the school, but not their own children,” Clive continues. “It’s the blind spot on the car, the part of your back that you can’t quite reach to scratch.”

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-23-23-45So today, as my son continued to whine that not one of the websites he was looking at told him the answer, I tried to bear Clive’s words in mind – then felt the small hairs on the back of my neck rise and lost it with my son anyway.

“You know, your father and I – we had to do this WITHOUT GOOGLE! We couldn’t just type a question into the internet and get the answer, a thousand times over on the screen in front of us. We had to look in BOOKS, ENCYCLOPAEDIAS to do our homework! There was no Wikipedia, no search engines. No internet!

“Can you even imagine that?” I finished, beetroot red in the face. “Do you even know how lucky you are?”

Son1 gave a small nod, his alarmed eyes as wide as saucers.

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Wordless Wednesday: Stuck in the sand

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Well a trip to the desert wouldn’t be the same without the car getting stuck in soft sand. While our pup chills, DH starts pushing

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