Monday, May 4, 2015

Yasmin Farm Tour

A couple of months ago (already!) Gman, Noah, and I signed up to go on a farm tour out in the middle of the desert near the Saudi Arabia boarder in Wafra. The flyer sounded promising with lines like "everything from fresh cheese to fresh fruit and vegetables are produced here" and "dairy cows, chickens, goats, large vegetable fields and even climate controlled greenhouses." It also said there was a fully stocked shop with dried fruit, olive oil, spices, etc. and "unique wooden trays and chairs for sale" as well as a small cafe. All of this plus a free tour with samples at the end. It sounded like a good day trip, a rare thing here.

The day started off rough. In general, Noah and I rarely leave our neighborhood, Salmyia. There is just no reason to. We have pretty much everything we could want within walking distance including four malls and at least one or two of every chain restaurant in Kuwait. And if we really want we can have whatever it was that we wanted delivered, including such delicacies as ice cream, french fries, and popcorn. Whenever we do leave Salmyia we are usually disappointed. We spend half the time sitting in traffic (with a baby who HATES the car) and when we get there, the experience turns out to be kind of crappy. I think my expectations are too high. Anyways, so as we leave Salmyia at 7:30am on a Saturday, it starts pouring rain. It might have been the only time it rained in Kuwait this year and it was the only time we planned on an outdoor activity. The rain confused and delayed the already haphazardly organized event. Somehow we made it to the farm in one piece and with dry weather. On the way there we drove through the flattest sandiest desert that was just barely separated from the road by piles of trash. That's when we got to see camels and a burned out car too! The day was getting interesting…

Upon arrival the the farm we are told to cover our feet in plastic for the duration of the tour. This was to prevent unwanted germs (bacteria? disease? pathogens?) from getting near the plants and animals. I realized halfway through the tour (it was hard to hear the guide because it was such a large group) that the farm, Yasmin Farm, was actually the supplier for the organic and local section of our beloved grocery store, Sultan Center, and in fact owned by Sultan Center. The produce and dairy products are indeed fresh (and delicious) but you pay for the luxury of having hours old cow's milk in hand in geographic location where that type of farming is not indigenous. Look for the brand Alban Dairy.

I was impressed with the cleanliness and thoroughness of the parts of the farm we saw - mainly the cows and goats. We couldn't see the chickens because they are so susceptible to airborne illness that they are kept under lock and key in an immaculate building where they experience the free-range lifestyle in air conditioning. Our guide Katherine also happened to be the farm manager and was definitely in charge of making sure everything met American standards as far as quality of care for animals and maintenance of facilities. One interesting thing was that every functioning part of the far was covered by a roof. Normally you think of rolling hills of corn or beautiful rows of strawberries when you think of a farm, but here mostly everything was covered in greenhouses or under a roof with open sides. It made sense because of the heat, and you could see that also adding to the cost of doing business. Speaking of the heat, an interesting thing Katherine mentioned on the tour was that they have to add molasses to the cow's feed in the summer because they lose their appetite when it hits 100! 

Since most of the tour was about dairy farming, cows and goats, Katherine kept saying the work "milk." We saw lots of utters and even a baby goat nursing from his mother. Somehow the message of milk got across to Noah, because he was diving at my chest the entire time signing for "eat." We couldn't help but laugh, especially when we then noticed our friend's baby rooting around too. 

It was fun to sample the products at the end of the tour, then see them in the shop. It was a visual reminder of which products were the local ones for when we got back home and went to the store. They also had fresh milk for sale in metal tins. We obviously had to get one even though we normally don't drink milk! 

The only disappointing thing about our visit was that there wasn't a cafe (or unique trays and chairs for sale). So when the tour was over we basically just left. We had planned all the driving during Noah's naps (= peaceful drive) so the car ride home, hungry and tired, was a doozy. It would have been nice to be able to plan ahead and pack a picnic to have there or in the car on the way home. 

If you are interested in visiting Yasmin Farms in Wafra, the tour is free and you do not need reservations to my knowledge. I recommend going on a Saturday morning around 9am like we did. At one point they had a website, but now I can't find it. So...

I also have the GPS coordinates (which say you're going to Saudi but you aren't, so don't worry). But the Garmin is already packed and en route to the US. When I get it on the other end I'll update this post with the coordinates! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Downtown Kuwait City

When we found out we were moving to Kuwait, I typed "Kuwait City" into Google to see what images came up. I was curious to see what our new home was going to look like. Much to my disappointment there weren't really any images of Kuwait at all. Everything that I thought was Kuwait ended up being Dubai or Oman or even Jordan in a few cases. I had to wait until I got here and drove around to really get a sense of the place. As romantic as that sounds, for me it was terrifying. I needed to know so I could start imagining myself living here.

So with that in mind, I wanted to show you so images of Kuwait. I took these pictures hanging out the window of our car as we drove around. While they aren't the most beautiful images, I hope you can see some of the goings-on of everyday life. 

These pictures are of the downtown area. It is the oldest part of town and what is officially called Kuwait City. It's where the heritage souk is (where my rug dealer is!) and the fabric souk. What I find interesting about it is that it is jam-packed with activity and people with an incredible range of architectural styles represented. Mostly poor immigrants live downtown in complete squaller. In general they don't do much maintenance on buildings, cars, etc. here and I'm under the impression that it's a cultural thing throughout Arab countries. There's also orange dust covering everything.

Notice the air conditioning units stuffed in the walls and people crossing wherever in the road. There's also a mosque in the middle of a round about. I guess they really want you to feel thankful when you get there! My favorite building is the Gulf Bank building. It's the yellow looking one (detail pictured last) that looks like a relic from the 1950s. I love that it looks like it's from the Jetsons. 

Friday, May 1, 2015


Dhows (pronounced d-how with a soft 'h') are the traditional boats of Kuwait. Kuwait City is an important port in the Gulf and has always heavily relied on the seas for all of it's needs, including trade and food. Before big shipping tankers and pleasure yachts, Dhows were used for all those seafaring needs, with different designs used for each purpose and made by hand. There were dhows for pearl diving, fishing, trade, and even to bring fresh water back from other places! Now there are only fishing dhows still in use but a few were made for display at the Scientific Center (good sampling of the range of design) and at the National Museum. The ones pictured are anchored at the dhow harbor in downtown Kuwait City as you drive towards the Grand Mosque from the Kuwait Towers on Arab Gulf Road. We've driven past so many times and I'm glad I took the time to get out of the car and check it out one afternoon before it was too hot. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Guest Posting on New Diplomat's Wife

I recently wrote a guest post for my friend Ania's series on her blog, The New Diplomat's Wife, called Notes from the Field. The series was created to give you a glimpse into what it's like to live in different cities around the world. They are usually written from the perspective of a diplomat or diplomat's spouse (diplo-spouse as she calls it!) and are really fun to read. 

I was incredible flattered when she asked me to write one for Kuwait City. Considering our time here is coming to a rapid end, it was a great excuse to look back on our life and let it all soak in. Go over to her blog and read about Kuwait and then get sucked in reading all the rest!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Yoga with Baby

photo from my Instagram

I don't like sweating. I'm not super coordinated. I wouldn't consider myself outdoorsy or athletic. All of these things make it a challenge for me to pump myself up for regular exercise. For most of my 20s I lived in places where I walked everywhere and with some yoga or a run sprinkled in here and there I was able to get away with not having a daily workout routine.

Now not only do I have the baby weight to lose but I also want to get in better physical shape to stay healthy and keep up with my energetic little buddy. I bought a running stroller and started running with him, but my poor knees rebelled. It has been difficult to exercise at home with a baby climbing all over me.

A friend of mine recently posted on her blog about an online yoga studio based out of LA called YogaGlo. (Go check out her blog, Jenny Weigle and her post on the studio!) They have tons of classes focusing on exercise, meditation, whatever you might be looking for to develop your practice. As Jenny mentioned in her post, they have classes from 5 minutes to 90 minutes and it's only $18 a month. (Friends with new babies or expecting babies - they have several pre and post natal classes!)

This sounded really appealing to me. I also don't have a car or extra time or a sitter for Noah, so driving to a studio or gym locally hasn't been an option. On top of that, I've been practicing yoga for over 10 years but haven't ever gotten past a certain point so I always feel slightly defeated when trying to go to the next level. I started taking the classes about 20 days ago (free trial for 15 days!) and I have already noticed a huge difference in my practice. I am already much stronger physically and more centered and calm emotionally. Most days I've been able to do an hour class but if I am tired (teething nights!) or needing to spend my time otherwise, then I can take a 20 or 30 minute class and still feel like I got a workout in. Plus it is much less sweaty than running and so I can go right from my workout to picking up Noah out of his crib and moving on with the day. I've also noticed a difference on the days I manage a workout I sleep much better and feel less anxious.

Is physical fitness a priority to you? How do you make time for it?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Highland Spirit Bed & Breakfast, Dufftown, Scotland, UK

About 45 minutes west of Aberdeen, nestled in the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands in an area called Speyside is the quaint village of Dufftown. It's the type of town where everybody knows everybody and within days of being there we had "the usual" at the local diner with our favorite waitress and legitimately passed people we knew in the street. The landscape is picturesque with luscious green hills, spotted with thick forests, beautifully manicured gardens, and grazing sheep, which one can hear always baa-ing in the distance.

The air is so fresh that coming from Kuwait where a mix of burning fossil fuels and orange dust constantly linger in the air, our lungs almost burned with relief having taken actual deep breaths. Not only is the air perfectly fresh but one can smell the dampness of whisky production in the air. Dufftown rightly calls itself the Malt Capital of the World boasting home to seven local whisky distilleries including one called Balvenie and another called Glenfiddich. I'm not sure if you've heard of them, they're so small and local (insert sarcasm). Of the seven distilleries within walking distance of downtown Dufftown, a few are open for tours and tastings, including those mentioned. And there are at least five or ten more within a short car or train ride (Aberlour, The Macallan, and Strathisla are a few). This place is a whisky lovers dream.

But we didn't go to Scotland for the whisky. Well okay we did, but it wasn't the only attraction. Several years ago friends of ours, Alistair and Karen, retired from their day jobs to pursue their dream of owning and running a bed and breakfast. They settled on the town of Dufftown and found a beautiful 19th century home which is now the Highland Spirit Bed and Breakfast. It's one of those fantasy life changes that you see in the movies. However, renovating a historical home through blistering Scottish winters (and with no heater!) isn't exactly romantic. It's hard and tiresome (and did I mention cold?), making it a true labor of love.Yet they took every measure to renovate the home with historical and environmental concerns in mind. Every painstaking detail was considered and included throughout the home and grounds. The walls are covered with artwork from local artists, or have subject matter specific to the home. Even the teacups in each room are meaningful. (check out pictures of interior, more details on their renovation process, and history of the home on their website here).

When Alistair and Karen began their venture, we began planning our visit. We finally decided to go the summer after Noah arrived and wanted to meet our families there to have him baptized. Before I knew it the tickets were booked and three and a half month old Noah was on a plane with Gman and me, Scotland bound.

When we arrived at the Highland Spirit our friends greeted us at our car and helped us inside. We had some tea while waiting for our families and getting the VIP tour of the house. There are three rooms each very comfortably furnished and outfitted with luxury toiletries in the bathroom and soft white sheets on the bed. We enjoyed complimentary (and delicious) coffee, tea, and Scottish shortbread cookies every afternoon in our room.

They also happily helped us plan our itinerary for our 10 day stay. There is more to do in the area besides whisky tasting. Even if you don't drink you wouldn't be short on recreational pursuits (fishing, hiking, and sight seeing to name a few). We had several days planned for tastings, day trips to the coast, visits to other towns and castles as well as plenty of time for putzing around town and going on several of the numerous local nature hikes (and naps for everyone!). There was not enough time in 10 days to do all there is to do! We planned our trip to be in town for the Highland Games as well (what a treat! more on that in another post). Everywhere we went the locals were so friendly and always ended up knowing our hosts. The familiarity made our whole trip there feel very homey and relaxing.

The bed and breakfast is not only the most comfortable place to stay, but it has seriously the best food in town. In keeping with their detail oriented design and service, the breakfast menu is a carefully edited selection of traditional Scottish favorites. Yes they serve a full Scottish breakfast, but our favorite ended up being the reliable, filling, and a bit naughty porridge with honey and Monkey Barrel whisky. Yes, whisky in your porridge. I mean, why not? When in Rome…

One of the services that Alistair and Karen offer is packed picnic lunches. We took them up on this for one of our castle day trips and were so glad we did (and later wished we'd done it every day!). Again, they make the best food in town (and surrounding towns!) and we didn't have to do any planning or worrying about what and when we were going to eat.

As I mentioned above we wanted to have Noah baptized during our trip as well. I'll talk about it in more detail in a later post, but Karen used the same thoughtfulness she uses to take care of her bed and breakfast to make sure that everything - including setting up the pastor, bagpiper(!) and after party - were perfect for Noah's christening. I never had to raise a finger! I'm forever indebted to her kindness for making one the most meaningful moments of our life with Noah absolutely perfect - no exaggeration!

With seven adults and a baby there is potential for lots of standing around saying, "well what do you want to do," and room for meltdowns and fights. But because of our generous hosts and friends our visit to Scotland greatly exceeded our expectations (mine are always unrealistically high) and it is one of the experiences that I will never forget and can't stop talking about.

I highly recommend a stay with our friends in Dufftown. You will enjoy luxurious accommodations amongst an idyllic landscape filled with passionate, friendly people (and lots of whisky).

Visit their Facebook page here and their website here.

Love you guys!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Kuwait National Day

Kuwait National Day and Liberation Day (the two most important holidays here besides the religious ones) were in February. I had the intention of watching the festivities all day and writing about it as I saw it but instead we decided to have a party and watch as a group. It was very fun to take turns with the binoculars! We were expecting complete chaos and 1,000s of revelers. I heard stories about how in years past one couldn't even walk through the main road along the water (Arab Gulf Road) because the traffic was so thick with cars and people. People suggested we go to the grocery store and stock up for several days because we wouldn't be able to get in and out of our apartment (since we live on that street). As we prepared to hunker down, a local non-Kuwaiti made a comment to us, "Oh, don't worry there won't be any traffic this weekend because all the Kuwaitis will be in Dubai drinking."

Maybe that was true because what really happened was pretty tame. Though not lacking in entertainment. There were two main ways of celebrating. One was decorating one's car with Kuwaiti flags. The one above won our prize for most festive. The thing on the top spun when he drove. It was quite fabulous as you can see. The other thing to do was sit in completely optional traffic and let children spray you and your car with super soaker water guns. The children were SUPER into it (no pun intended) and it was actually sweet to watch people purposefully slow down to let the kids get them. There was one kid who was sort of the ring leader (there's always one). Not only was he wearing a track suit but his father stood on the sidewalk behind him always ready with a back up water gun. Whenever he ran out of water he would go back to his dad for the other. It was completely indulgent and Kuwaiti and we loved it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Digital Paintings

Last year I went to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa, Florida and purchased several new art pieces. One of them was a 12 x 12 inch painting of a blue boat floating lazily on greenish water. It made me think of the water of Florida, which is home to me, and I had to have it. The painting is called Blue Floating Dinghy #2 and is part of a Dinghy Studies series by artist John Leben. My mom bought Deserted Dinghy #13 and it is just stunning in person.  

Leben is known for his whimsical imaginative paintings of houses and towns in unexpected places - like a whole treehouse town. He paints in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. What I like about the painting I bought (and his other work) is that he actually has a nice brushstroke even though he isn't using a paintbrush to create the marks. The paintings are detailed and there are even smudges or searching lines. I like how fully he has developed the medium.

I use a Wacom tablet to edit and draw in Photoshop but I hadn't considered creating paintings with it before. So a year later, I started tinkering and it's really fun! I have no idea what I'm doing! The paintings I've been playing with, so amateur compared to Leben's, seem to develop like watercolors with the brushstrokes layering on top of each other. Above is a painting of a pomegranate; I'm having fun playing with the different shades of red. It has been fun to make little drawings and paintings that I have no intention of showing anyone. If I like something I can save it, if not I can delete it. There isn't any guilt for throwing away large pads of paper. Making digital paintings has also been an easy way to be creative while Noah is taking a nap. There is no set up or breakdown so I can use the whole hour I have to myself to paint. There isn't tempting toxic paint sitting out for tiny hands to get into either.

What do you think? Would you consider new mediums like digital painting and drawing as "real" art?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Why I Love my Therapist

When I was living in NYC it was the thing to go to a therapist. Everyone had one. People left the office during their lunch breaks to go to their therapists. They began sentences with "my therapist suggested…" and borderline bragged about it.

Otherwise going to a therapist has traditionally been seen as a negative thing. Something is wrong with you and you go to the psychologist/psychiatrist to be fixed. When one is going through the process to obtain a security clearance with the US government, on the form you fill out they ask you if you have ever had mental health counciling and if so what for. The question is in the section of questions about drug use and post traumatic stress. There isn't really an option to write, I like going to therapy to better myself. So in other words, would you consider going to a therapist if you weren't in a crisis?

Since having a baby I haven't had much time for myself. I have been all consumed with baby and his needs, wants, and potential needs and wants. Any extra time I would spend starring blankly at Gman while trying to take a deep breath or we would talk about logistics, to-do's, or how cute Noah is. All the while I had so much stirring in my heart. There has been so much change and yet I had never felt more at peace in all my life. For once I have no where to be but exactly where I am. But I also feel a huge desire to mature and grow. When I talked to my sister about it (she is a mental health councilor) she suggested I first read the book, Boundaries When to Say Yes and How to Say No (by Cloud and Townsend), then go talk to a therapist. She recommended a friend of hers in Denver.

That book was completely life changing for me. I didn't even know what boundaries were or why I needed them beforehand. Boundaries aren't putting up wall around you or in between you and your loved ones, like it sounds. It's about saying this is where you end and I begin. You worry about you, I worry about me then we can help each other out along the way. The book covers boundaries with your parents, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and even understanding yourself more. It is very positive and uplifting. The main message is boundaries are used to establish deeper and more mature relationships as well as to help you carry only your own burden (not everyone's around you as some of us tend to do). I HIGHLY recommend it. It is written towards a Christian audience, so if you aren't Christian just sort of skim past that because the meat and potatoes is really not religious, it reads as common sense.

Once I read the book I started seeing my therapist. Being able to have an hour a week to talk about myself exclusively to someone who was paid to listen and advise me is really a treat. No where else in my life do I have this outlet. It has become something I look forward to twice a month. It is the only time I have that is completely uninterrupted and focused on me. Becoming a mother is truly wonderful, but it is so so easy to lose oneself in the whirlwind of it all. Going to my therapist has not only brought me back to myself but has allowed me to take action in creating more meaningful and mature relationships with myself and the people around me.

The experience of talking to a therapist has also been different than I expected. She doesn't just sit there and go "mmm, hmm" "and can you tell me more about that?" "How did that make you feel?" etc. We start each session with her asking me what I'd like to talk about that week. It can be anything and doesn't have to pick up where we left off last time. Even the weeks where I think, should I cancel? Nothing has really happened. I don't even know what I'd talk about, I end up filling a full hour with discussion. It's wonderful!

From this experience I feel strongly that you don't have to be in dire straights to go to a therapist. You can go to one because you might just have some questions about a relationship you're in or about a decision you have to make or simply just to have some time to yourself about yourself. I have been going since September and have already had some very intimate and confrontational talks with the people most important in my life. I would not have had these conversions in the past. Being honest and speaking with conviction from my heart has changed these relationships for the better and has built a platform for further development.

Not only that but I've discovered I'm an introvert. Who knew?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Drinking Fountains in Kuwait

As you may already know, Kuwait is a desert and it gets really freakin' hot here in the summer. Like 120 degrees F and above. If it's not super hot it's still very dry and one can quickly become dehydrated. I drink about 64 oz of water or more a day and sometime it doesn't feel like enough. All around town they have public drinking fountains. They are free, cold, and 100% potable. You can just pull up next to one and fill up your water bottle. There aren't very many reliable public services here so I really like that this is one that actually works. I also love how they are all decorated, some with copies of traditional items, like the vase below, or local architecture, like the Kuwait tower. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Birthing Story

It has taken me a year to write this post. That isn't because I have nothing to say. It's because I am petrified to try to sum up one of the most important and incredible life experiences I've ever had in 1,000 works. That experience was the birth of my son. Today is his first birthday, so I couldn't think of a more fitting time to finally share.

The process of becoming a mother is deeply intimate and yet it is one of the most common shared experiences we have as humans and women. I felt extremely private about my pregnancy and the goings on in my inner belly. How can you describe to someone who has not gone through it how it feels to have new life moving within you? It wasn't strange or alien, it was life giving and beautiful. I'd never felt so proud of my body and so proud to be a woman any other time in my entire life (culminating with the birth). Even the days where I was afraid to leave the house because I thought I might vomit in public or I was too fatigued to go in spite of it, when I looked in the mirror I felt beautiful. I felt free. I never once thought of myself as fat, ugly, or lacking. I was fulfilled and rightly glowing. To be free of the harsh criticism of my physical body was worth every hardship of carrying a child.

In the media, movies, blogs, causal talk amongst friends, you get a picture of what labor and deliver might be. The woman suddenly experiences water gushing from her body and is rushed to the hospital screaming at her husband/partner ("I hate you!" "Epidural!") while the doctor holds her legs in the air and she pushes five times and the baby is born. Then everyone is sweating and crying and in love and basically clapping. I guess in a way these things could be true but they weren't for me. I think it makes birth sound terrifying.

I was not afraid of childbirth. Even after way too many unsolicited horror stories of birthing gone wrong (why?!) I still felt excited to meet my son and see if he was as I had gotten to know him. Having the baby in my belly, I knew his habits and preferences already. I knew when he was up and when he slept. I knew when his active times were and if chocolate or caffeine seemed to affect him. He got hiccups at least 3 times a week and thought 4am was definitely the best time for gymnastics. Still, at 40 weeks I wasn't ready to share him with everyone else. I was really enjoying being pregnant at this point (all puking subsided after 12 weeks or so, thank god) and had no problem keeping Noah all to myself. I wasn't uncomfortable nor thought things like "get this baby out of me!" I felt pretty content. Apparently he did as well because at 41 weeks there was no sign of his exit.

Having a baby was the hardest thing I've ever done. When I thought I couldn't bear it for another second, I had to. When I thought my body was going to physically give up, I pushed through. When the pain was so intense I thought I might rather die, I felt relief. There was no turning back, no stopping, no relenting. But like all things, it passed with time. Yoga/meditative breathing, patience, determination, and a positive attitude got me through 80%, an epidural the other 20.

Despite my disappointment of not having a 100% natural unmedicated childbirth, and having to fight tooth and nail not to have a c-section even though we were healthy and strong, I had a satisfying labor and delivery. When Noah was placed on my chest I felt a calmness come over me. I felt peaceful and quiet and almost out of my body. He was so perfect and tiny and wonderful. He was like I had know him all along. I got to touch his precious hands and face and belly instead of just feeling them. I got to watch him quietly lay in his swaddle and check out the world around him.

I was suspicious and mildly grossed out by the idea of nursing, but once my baby was in my presence I felt comforted by his nuzzling around, latching on to my breast, and nursing for the first time. It was just supposed to happen. It felt natural and calming. He was a little suckling pro, too.

Afterwards, all I could think of was a six inch Italian sub from Publix with BBQ chips and a sweet tea. No joke. My father-in-law commented in amazement that he'd never seen me eat that fast. I stared at him with lettuce and drippings all over my face and hospital gown. I was STARVING. And then I didn't sleep for 9 months. The end.
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