Ho, ho, ho! The modern Twelve Days of Christmas

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-00-09-43Who knew before having kids that the month of December would leave you feeling like you’re crawling to Christmas?

Even though I swore this year would be different, I found myself yet again facing 12 days of Christmasgeddon in the final weeks of school.

There were no piping pipers, French hens or milking maids – and the only rings were the ones run around me by my children, school and work.

Here’s how it went:

On the first day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the second day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Two hundred dirhams
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the third day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
The school gave to me
A reminder for costumes for the school concert (“and volunteers please to pin stars on 400 t-shirts”); instructions for festive fun-wear; and a shift at the bake sale.

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Seven new midnight leaping-Elf moves,
Six different outfits,
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true loves gave to me
A coughing virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the ninth day of Christmas
Work gave to me
Ninety pages of Yearbook to edit

On the tenth day of Christmas
I gave to myself
A severe reprimand for buying not 10 but ZERO presents

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Eleven packs of crisps,
Ten yet-to-be-bought pressies,
Nine kids to tea,
Eight hours of shopping,
Seven midnight leaping Elf moves
Six different outfits
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My son’s baseball team gave to me
Twelve dirty jerseys, all needing washing…

Then the end of term arrived. We limped over the finish line, and suddenly it’s beginning to feel a lot like the Christmas holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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On finally getting a chic tree (after 11 years)

Christmas pasts in our household have always looked something like this: Haul the dusty box containing our fake tree from the storeroom. Assemble tree, by slotting twenty branches of bashed-up greenery into the right holes. Arrange fronds in a symmetrical fashion, with no help whatsoever from the children (the same children who 30 minutes previously were desperate to put the tree up).

Next, I’d attempt to sort out the spaghetti junction of tangled lights, while stopping the boys from jumping on the tiny bulbs and attempting to create a fuzzy, homely, festive atmosphere with jingles in the background and the sweet, gelatinous smell of mince pies in the oven.

Then (and don’t tell me you haven’t done this too!?) indulge my secret habit of rearranging haphazardly placed baubles later.

Ha! It was all … so stressful!

Now I just have to keep the dog away

Now I just have to keep the dog away

Not only because of the general chaos and mess that ensued, but because Christmas decorating with two small boys involved such terrible colour schemes, and so many bald spots on the tree, smashed decorations and tinsel-tastic explosions.

What on earth’s happened to the lights?” I asked one year, after DH strung up new gaudy, electric bulbs with the boys. “They’re all blue, and flashing … kind of like a police car rushing to a traffic accident.”

“You’ll get used to the neon-blue glow,” DH had laughed, and I’d stared, mesmerised, half expecting to hear the wail of a siren, eventually agreeing that the boys’ handiwork was indeed lovely. And colourful.

This year, thanks to the boys being that much older, it all went a lot more smoothly than usual – and a bigger kitchen in our new house meant there was room for a second white tree, decorated only by moi!

I have to say I’m rather pleased. So it’s not quite the same as when my dad used to take my brother and I to a farm that sold firs in all shapes and sizes, and we’d come back in high spirits with a freshly cut tree smelling of pine resin and the outdoors. But my chic white tree winks away rather cheerfully and casts a lovely warm hue over the kitchen.

Season’s greetings to all!

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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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