Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's a sad, sad day...

In a move to "protect" UAE citizens, the government has decided to ban the import of all pork products and derivatives... even though the World Heath Organization assured them that you cannot contract the virus from consumption of pork products. Looks like I have to change my menu for next week (we were going to have Breakfast Burritos one day... with sausage). Stupid pork haters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Sorry I've been off the radar these past few days. I have a final in A&P that I've been studying for, as well as pretending to finish my final report for Technical Communication (meaning I open the Word document it's in and stare at it for a bit before thinking better of it and heading off to Facebook... Hey, at least I'm honest!).

Marcia was wondering, no, we still don't have our passports back yet, but we should have them by Monday. We got the paperwork back on my blood work and chest scan and apparently if you don't have AIDS or Tuberculosis, the UAE government determines that you are "fit" as my paperwork so proudly declared. Perhaps they'll add swine flu to that list before long. What the heck is going on over on that side of the world, yo? Seems that things are falling apart. So odd.

Anyway, otherwise we've just been killing time by spending some of it on the roof (short stints of 20 minutes or my son looks like he's literally going to keel over and die), I've been cooking some, and we’ve all been reading. Oh, that's Kaden latest thing, "reading" in bed with Mommy and Daddy before bed, but not having a story read to him, he likes to sit and "read" silently like Mommy and Daddy. So we get a few more minutes of book time before he's off to bed and we'd best follow, or we regret it in the morning. So that has been nice.

In other news, my son's two favorite words right now are "truck" and "fox" (we read Fox in Socks the other night). This would typically be cute, but he says truck like "cock" and fox like... well you can probably guess, but it isn't the most appropriate word for my almost-two-year-old to be saying over and over while we cruise by people on the street (and then clapping his hands in pride).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Medical Exam

There are most certainly some things I am going to miss about this country (if) when we leave. There are the usual things like some really dank Arabic food, the ability to have anything delivered if I desire (even Burger King), and this morning, I discovered another: the option to pay a designated amount of money for the pleasure of being treated like royalty.

Kaden and I are almost through with the process to get our residence visas here. The only thing left was my medical exam. Ok, those who know me know I would rather die (almost literally… ask Marcia about a certain blood infection I ignored…) than get stuck with a needle. I definitely could never be a junky. Anyway, as part of the screening they do, blood work is required to check for AIDS. I had literally been dreading this aspect of the visa since we got here and Stu had to have it done. The other thing they do is a chest scan to make sure you don’t have TB.

Anyway, so we get there at 8 in the morning thinking it will be smooth-sailing (people here don’t wake up till noon); no biggie, right?) Wrong! There were hundreds of men waiting downstairs for their screening. I was picked out of the crowd by one of the administrators and told that women go upstairs. I was thinking, “Yay! There won’t be any women waiting and I can get right through.” Wrong, again. The same situation as upstairs, so I get in line (ahem, “Queue”) to get a number and then the guy at the desk does a double take (I imagine at the English I’d used and the blonde ponytail) and then says, “Oh… you want to go fast line?” Heck yes I want to “go fast line”, how do I do that? He sends me over to another counter where the lady says it will be 100 Dirham to get in and out in less than ten minutes. I don’t even have to look at the faces of my fellow waiters to know that they have been there FAR longer than ten minutes so I eagerly agree and fork over my 100 Dirham (in addition to the 250 for the exam).

Best 30 bucks I’ve ever spent! One of the guards comes over, grabs me by the arm and shuffles me past the hundreds of waiting women to the front where I am checked in, eye scanned, photographed, and then, tripping trying to keep up with my arm, hauled back to have the blood work done.

She quite literally sits me down in the seat (and we’re talking a “security guard” who was a slight Filipino who was MAYBE 90 pounds soaking wet). I barely have time to tell the Indian doctor that “I don’t do well with needles” before I realize I’m already done and guard-lady is dragging me along to the next station while we leave dozens more waiters to wait in our wake. She grabs a gown as she is almost-running with me to a closet (with no lights) where she says, “Bra, shirt, off. Diss on. Come back to me.” I do as she says; stripping in the dark while she taps her fingernails on the door impatiently.

I am then handed off to the chest-screen-lady and bid farewell by my guard who hands me a 3 x 5 card to bring back with me tomorrow to get my results. The chest screen took exactly 6 seconds and then I had to figure out which was the front of my shirt as I fumbled to get dressed again in my dark closet.

After figuring out there was a “fast” route, we were out of there in less than ten minutes. I feel bad for all of the people who are probably still waiting, hours later, who cannot afford the 100 Dirham to get the heck out. I already have a three-inch bruise from the draw though, which made me scowl and mumble something about how my Mom could have done it way better.

But, in a couple more days we’ll finally have our visas officially and never have to go to Oman again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Easter Eggs

Because we were in Italy for Easter, we never got a chance to dye Easter eggs. Last year I was a failure and literally FORGOT Easter since I was lacking to Hallmark reminder in the stores that I was so used to seeing. So, this year we decided to go ahead and do our eggs a few weeks late. Kaden thought it was awesome getting to “paint” his “ball”. Marcia sent us the sponge-paint kind and so we did that. It was way better than just dying them, but also way messier. Here are the results:

Preparing to paint!
painting, painting

Our painted eggs!

Kaden's Play Date

Yesterday after my boys got back from playing with Matt (and giving Mommy her lovely alone time), we all took a nice long nap and then got back together with Matt to go to the Lebanese Flower for dinner. We all had a great time and a lot of laughs and Kaden found out that he LOVES hummus (eaten plain, with a fork right out of the bowl).

Afterwards we had a hilarious car ride and trip to Lulu’s to get toilet paper (down to half a roll) and milk and then headed back to hang out at the apartment. Matt is Kaden’s best friend and he was absolutely heartbroken when it was bed time and Matt had to leave. He was clinging to him and crying, poor baby. But here they are playing:

Kaden sharing his "milk-a" with Matt

Time for Kaden to get measured (he grew another half-inch in the past month)
Then it was time for Matt to get measured too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Alone Time.

So this, quite literally, never happens. I am in my house alone right now. Kaden is not sleeping and Stu is not at work. I am actually alone! I have been sick for the past week (and I still feel awful) so Stu and Kaden headed over to Matt's house to give Mommy some alone time and to play video games (soooo sad I'm missing that! haha). I hope between the two of them they can keep my kid alive for a few hours, lol.

We are supposed to be going to dinner tonight though too, so hopefully I can get some good peaceful rest in and be well enough to feel like going out. Right now I am going to take advantage of this anomaly and take a bath with my book (Breaking Dawn of course) that I won't have to get out of because someone needs me! Then I might take a nap. Oh, the possibilities! :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day Eight: Friday (Going Home)

We didn’t think our reservations all the way through when we booked our trip, so we failed to account for an eleven A.M. checkout in combination with a 10:40 P.M. flight departure. At first we were pretty worried about what we’d do with a toddler for 9 hours with no shelter, possibly in the rain, until our 8:00 hire car picked us up. But the gentleman downstairs was fairly accommodating and let us keep the room until 7:00 for an extra 90 Euros instead of charging us for another whole night there.

We both felt much better knowing we’d have a place to change diapers and relax between walks instead of worrying about walking too much and having nowhere to rest afterwards. We headed out and took advantage of no one else being awake and sat for a bit at the Trevi Fountain. We stopped by a few shops and picked up some souvenirs and then walked around town until Kaden fell asleep.

After a few hours in the room, we headed off to Hard Rock Café Rome for lunch. Because we’d been to the one in Dubai, we figured it could become a thing we do. The Rome one seemed light on memorabilia, but, in true Roman form, the ceiling was painted like a fresco. I loved it!

Kaden picking out his meal.

After lunch we walked around another side of town and ultimately ended up back at the hotel so Kaden could nap before we left. I definitely emotionanlly torn when it came to leaving. While we fell in love with Rome like everyone else does, I was also feeling slightly claustrophobic and ready to get back to a less chaotic pace (and eat food that was not from a restaurant).

While we waited for our really cool Mercedes (a black sedan with tinted windows that time) to pick us up, we chatted with Maximo, the concierge. He swore we were British, from our accents. I think it’s funny because we sort of get that a lot. I insisted that we were, in fact, American, but that we’d gotten used to paying attention to our annunciation after living so long among non-native English speakers in UAE. He laughed and said that we “didn’t talk as fast or as loud” as most Americans. I thought that was funny. Maximo was awesome and quite taken with us. He gave Stu his email address so we could keep in touch as he told us about the history of his family (all Roman) and that he now lives on a farm 15 kilometers outside of town with his wife and two young boys. It made me envious of the picture of good food, family, and loving your hometown that he described.

Signing the guestbook at the hotel.

Flying home was quite a pleasure. Kaden was a perfect angel and slept almost all of both flights, only waking up for landings and even then was just calm and helpful while we waited in line.

Getting back into UAE was HOT. I stripped my jacket off as soon as we left the airport, and then rethought the decision to wear thick jeans home. Kaden wasn’t much happier about the weather:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Problem Solving: The Idaho Way

Judge orders defendant's mouth taped shut

Gag was used after judge lost patience with man's disruptive outbursts
The Associated Press
updated 10:09 p.m. ET April 21, 2009

POCATELLO, Idaho - An eastern Idaho judge who lost patience with the disruptive behavior of a defendant ordered court officials to tape the man's mouth shut with duct tape during a court hearing.

The unusual move was ordered by 6th District Judge Peter D. McDermott during a probation violation hearing for Nicklas Frasure, 23.

Frasure was convicted of felony theft in 2008, but the judge retained jurisdiction for sentencing depending on Frasure's response to treatment. In October, Frasure was released from a state mental hospital in Blackfoot.

He is accused of violating his probation by not taking prescribed medication.

During the hearing, witnesses told the judge that Frasure's behavior had been strange and erratic since his release from the state hospital. They also said he has not been taking his medication and has been consuming alcohol, factors also contributing to mood and emotional swings.

Probation officer Julie Guiberson testified that Frasure is a threat to himself and others.
Repeated verbal outburstsDuring Monday's hearing, Frasure interrupted the proceedings with repeated verbal outbursts and unusual behavior and ignored several orders from McDermott to restrain himself. After another series of outbursts, McDermott told bailiffs to silence Frasure.
The bailiffs then found a roll of duct tape, tore off a piece and put it over Frasure's mouth, according to the Idaho State Journal.

"He's obviously not mentally competent," Frasure's lawyer Kent Reynolds told the judge.
Earlier in the hearing, Reynolds had asked the judge to order a mental competency evaluation for Frasure.

McDermott said he would consider the request, but did not immediately rule on it. McDermott placed Frasure under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Department of Correction. He is being held in the Bannock County Jail awaiting transfer to a state facility. Officials, citing privacy rules, declined to say where he would be transferred.

Gag removed at end of hearingAn Associated Press call for comment, left with the Idaho Judicial Council, was not immediately returned Tuesday. The council investigates all complaints filed against Idaho judges.

The American Civil Liberties of Idaho refrained, for now, from commenting on McDermott's decision to silence Frasure.

"The ACLU of Idaho cannot comment on the specifics of this case," said Monica Hopkins, executive director. "However, on one hand judges have a right to keep order in their court and on the other the defendants have a right to assist in their own defense and be present at trial. Our hope is that judges employ the least restrictive manner of keeping order in their courts."
At the end of the hearing, the judge ordered bailiffs to remove the gag and said he hoped Frasure's condition would improve with being under state custody.

Frasure responded, "You want to arm wrestle?" as he was led out of the courtroom by bailiffs.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Day Seven: Thursday (Vatican Day)

Another early day for us with Kaden getting up at before 6:30. We had our breakfast as usual and then packed a lunch and headed to the bus stop to catch the 62 bus to St. Peter’s Basilica.
As expected, St. Peter’s was huge on all scales and absolutely stunning. Like the Trevi fountain, this is something that cannot be see or done justice in pictures. It is, quite literally, larger than life. The church that sits there now took over a century to complete, with all of the great artists of the Baroque and Renaissance periods having their hand in its completion. After taking in the façade (courtesy of Bernini), and marveling at the obelisk (erected in 1586 with the help of 150 horses and 47 winches), the final thing I noticed was the crowd. At barely past 8:00 in the morning, the line to get through the security checkpoint was already circling half-way around the ellipse of the piazza. Luckily for us, the bouncing of the bus had lulled Kaden to sleep, so waiting in line did not include a screaming, impatient baby.

The downside to St. Peter’s, and take note if you plan to travel there with a baby or toddler, is that we could not take the stroller or the diaper bag into the church. We had to check them in a little room before carting the monkey who only wanted to get, “Down! Down! Down!” the whole time.

We’d been especially lucky, considering we’d decided to visit the Catholic center of the universe over Easter weekend, to have avoided hugely large crowds up until that point. At the Vatican they were inevitable, and were all the hassle and headache they were cracked up to be.
For those who don’t know, St. Peter’s is built on the site where St. Peter (one of the 12 apostles) was supposedly martyred and buried. And serves as the site of many pilgrimages of Catholics.

I’d been looking forward to seeing the Vatican most in our plans for our trip, but I honestly felt a little ripped off by how commercialized it all felt. I mean sure, tourists want to get mementos and trinkets to take home with them from their vacation… but do they really need to purchase them every 50 feet in the Vatican Museums between priceless works of art and Christian artifacts? But I digress.

We had a fairly brief walk around the basilica (Kaden couldn’t decide if it was shaped like a “seew-coh”, a “s-care”, or an “Oh-boll”). I finally got to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, I’d been waiting the whole trip to see her. Then we headed over to the Vatican Museums.

Stu in front of the basilica.

The facade

The obelisk.

Below the church are the tombs of many popes. Here are a few:

Guards in silly uniforms.

Michelangelo's Pieta (the real reason I came to Rome :))

Kaden had a great view of everything.

The ceiling.

The "keys to the Kingdom of Heaven"

The alter. The canopy-like thing is Bernini's baldacchino. It is 30 meters tall and claimed to the be the largest piece of bronze in the world.

The dome.

Below the baldacchino is a plain slab of marble that serves as the alter. It is allegedly over the crypt where St. Peter's body is buried.

Saint Andrew with the St. Andrew's Cross

After waiting in line for 45 minutes, we made our way through the insane amount of Christian history that adorns its walls and rooms. It is literally too much to really see. I had sore feet by the time we made it to one end of the long hall to see the Sistine Chapel. My first thought was that it was smaller than I’d envisioned, my second was that seeing it in person was… exactly what I’d expected. While so many of the sculptures and fountains around Rome are larger and far more grand than I ever expected, the Sistine Chapel, adorned with Michelangelo’s greatest adult achievement, his Last Judgment (above the alter), and of course, the amazing ceiling, was exactly as the hundreds of pictures I’ve seen of it suggest.

Daddy outside the Vatican walls.

Unfortunately blurry, the painting in the center is Raphael's last painting. It is called Transfiguration.

Pieta, by Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini

Bibles with bling.

We made our way to the Raphael rooms through a secret elevator for people in wheelchairs (we had our stroller back by this time) and then took a wrong turn and ended up having to carry Kaden and his stroller up and down way too many flights of stairs and trekking back through the Sistine Chapel once more as the flow of traffic lets you do nothing else. I doubt that there is much of a fire code in place at the Vatican, but it was most certainly over capacity. The room was hot with the incredible amount of bodies crammed into it.

Kaden was grouchy by that point though, so we hurried a bit through the halls we’d already seen and made it out unscathed. Stu decided the Vatican was his favorite part of the trip. I’m more torn. On one hand, I will always have the memories of personally seeing some of the greatest art every created, but I was definitely more moved by the Pantheon. Whether it was because that was one of the first things we saw, or because the crowds left something to be desired of the personal experience I was hoping to have, I don’t know. Either way, being at the Vatican was the first time of our trip I felt like a genuine tourist among tourists, just there to take my photos and leave. It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. It was supposed to be so much more. Here we were at the home, essentially, of the person we Catholics quite literally hold to be the closest person to God, and I was unmoved. Calling it a disappointment is an understatement.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The Last Judgement

One of the frescos on the walls, this one is Perugino's Handing over the Keys to St Peter.

One of my favorite paintings, this is by Raphael and is found in the Raphael rooms. It is called School of Athens and features Plato in the center, pointing up. He is standing beside Aristotle while a portrait of Michelangelo, as Heracleitus, is leaning against a block of marble and writing on a sheet of paper. The person of the far right in the black beret is a self-portrait of Raphael himself.

By the time we made it out of the museums it was pushing 2:00, so we decided to catch a bus back to the hotel and picnic in the room instead. Kaden fell asleep on the ride and so we wheeled him into the room and left him sleep in his stroller while we ate lunch on the bed.

Here are my boys at the bus stop, being cute faces as usual.

By this time, we’d seen everything and more that we planned to see while we were there and were all pretty ready to head back home to a more normal and less hectic daily schedule. I think seven days is about the maximum time living in a hotel can stay enjoyable. Kaden missed his toys, I missed my routine, Stu missed our car, and we all were craving a little alone time.

Poor Stu was still feeling awful, so he rested up until dinner, which he didn’t even want. Poor guy. He relented however, and we went back to our trattoria. Stu opted for an appetizer of assorted fried fare (mozzarella cheese, zucchini, Suppli, etc) and Kaden and I had my usual, but we ate inside since it was sprinkling. We had decided not to take the camera because of the rain which was a mistake as we found several things we would have liked pictures of. We found a place and bought a few postcards as keepsakes.

We were extremely lucky with the weather forecast. I’d checked a few days before we left and it was calling for rain on all but two days of our trip, and those days still had 10% chances of rain, but it only sprinkled once.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped for gelato and it was perfectly fabulous as usual. Then we called it a night and headed back to the hotel to watch CNN World (that and BBC are the only two stations in English).

Day Six: Wednesday

We headed off bright and early as Kaden decided to get up at 6:30, toward San Clemente. Saint Clement was the 4th Pope and was martyred by being tied to an anchor and drowned.
We knew going in that it was going to be the furthest distance we’d walked up till that point (it is a few streets beyond the Colloseum), but decided against taking a bus because it was so early and the basilica didn’t open until 9:00.

Though every step we took hurt, we finally made it! We wanted to check out this particular church because it is a 12th century church at street level (built around 1100), built on top of a 2nd century Roman pagan temple dedicated to Mithras. Mithrasism was an all-male cult that came from Persia to Rome in the 1st century BC and was a rival to Christianity. This particular temple was used for rituals and initiation as well as an apartment complex for the members.
Beneath the basilica and among the ancient temple ruins, there is a small catacomb from the 5th or 6th century. Kaden didn’t really like that part, but was otherwise perfectly fine running through the dimly-lit ruins otherwise. I have to admit that even I was freaked out and would not have wanted to be stuck down there alone, that’s for sure.

Kaden has an odd fixation with these disgusting creatures.
The front gate to get into San Clemente.
This was beneath the church. We weren't supposed to take pictures, so we didn't have flash for the rest of these. Sorry they are so blurry. You get the idea though.

See the guy who is holding the book? His ring had an actually gem stone in it. Ruby maybe? It was a really cool addition to the mosaic.

Extremely narrow passageways... maybe 3-4 inches of space on either side of my shoulders.

This is the small catacomb. Eerie. Kaden didn't like it one bit (intuition?)

We got to pass the Colloseum again and have therefore officially walked all the way around it. We then figured, since we’d walked so far already, we might as well keep going and headed to Circus Maximus. It now is basically just a huge, long, sloping football field with what looks like a track in the middle. However, it used to be Rome’s largest stadium. It could hold 300,000 spectators for chariot races, athletic events, and wild animal fights. I found it fascinating, as we sat on the wall letting Kaden sleep, that it is still used by Roman athletes who were jogging or walking throughout the area.

Circus Maximus.

Kaden was not as impressed with it as I was.

We made our way through the hills of the forum/Capitol area and out onto the main street to head back to our hotel. We picked up some more fixin’s for lunch and then I took a shower again to relax my aching feet while Stu rested (he’d been suffering from a sinus cold… wear a jacket in Rome) and Kaden hopped between nibbling on his lunch to talking to the crowds below the window, to playing with his toys.

We headed out for another walk in the late afternoon just to get out of our hotel room, but with the intention of not going too far because our feet were still so sore. We tried to go to a pasta museum, but once we found it, discovered it was closed for now. Lame. So we walked all around the cobblestone alleys of the Quirinal area of town (nearest to our hotel) and got some gelato from yet another gelato shop in town. By the time we left, we were able to provide a fairly comprehensive review of the gelato shops of Rome. Hehe. We also scouted out some potential pizzarias for dinner and then headed back to the hotel because Kaden had fallen asleep in his stroller. We ducked into another small Baroque-style church right beside the Trevi. It was quaint and lovely, but of course not nearly as grand as many we’d seen.

We walked down to what looked like a pretty promising pizzeria a few blocks from our room and got their special which came with Suppli, pizza and a drink. It was a fail. Even Kaden wouldn’t eat more than a single bite of the pizza and the best I could say about it was that the Coke was good (and it really was good). So unfortunately, not all of Rome’s cuisine leaves the palate begging for more. We walked around a bit more afterwards and then stopped into the grocery store for picnic stuff to take with us to the Vatican in the morning.