Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Play Day in South Dakota

Here it is, our reward for zooming across the US, we gave ourself a break – one day to play, and we are right where we want to be, in Wall, South Dakota, from where we will go straight into some of the most dramatic scenery the world has to offer, the South Dakota Badlands.

The Badlands Loop was amazing. Few other tourists, but all blown away by the scenery and the displays. It probably took us longer than it needed to, but we were having such a good time. Many people were camping, and pulling long campers- there are many many spots for any kind of camper.

Then on to Hot Springs, with a few stops on the way, starting with Reptile Gardens, for AdventureMan. They have amazing displays, some very expert shows, and some of the fattest snakes I have ever seen. Here are some of the fat prairie dogs:

Then on to Mt. Rushmore, which is very impressive:

Then we took winding scenic highway 16 south, through the forests, and meadows full of amazing game; pronghorns, buffalo, and deer.

We took our time, stopping to watch the buffalo roam, enjoying the wonderful scenery. When we got to Hot Springs, we checked into the Red River Rock Resort and Spa, found our beautiful room, but still had time for one more special thing before our early evening massages – so we hurried to the Mammoth Museum, Wooo HOOOOO!

We had a great guide, Kelly, who kept the group informed and entertained, and my friends, this museum is totally awesome. Several years ago a developer began bulldozing this site for a housing development, but stopped immediately when he started unearthing these huge bones. With amazing vision, the city constructed a building to protect the site, which continues to be excavated, a little more every year. The museum is huge, and all the bones are still in their original locations, just partially excavated so we can see how they lay.

Kelly explained how mammoths used to come for the sweet grass growing around the edge of this sinkhole, then they would fall in and couldn’t get out. They have found many many skeletons of mammoths – and other animals – going down as far as they have been able to measure.

This museum is worth a trip – to South Dakota, and to Hot Springs. Our hotel and our massages were just a bonus, but this museum – this museum was the prize.

Then back to our room for our wonderful massages, getting rid of the stresses and strains of four straight days of driving, and a quiet evening as relaxed as limp noodles.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Public Art, Travel | 7 Comments

Sunday in South Dakota

We were on the road out of St. Joseph by 7:09 a.m. and I was driving. Conditions could not have been better – few cars, we zip from Missouri into Iowa, up into South Dakota, turning west at Sioux Falls, where we learn that South Dakota has a speed limit of 75 mph, wooo HOOOO!

We have been watching all the American farmland – we’ve seen a lot of farmland:

Once we got into South Dakota, we began seeing signs for the Corn Palace. You may not have heard about the Corn Palace, but it is built every year from corn, by local artists, and is a big deal in Mitchell, South Dakota. We can’t drive by Mitchell without going to see it; it changes every year, but is always . . . hmm . . . sort of spectacular, in a very corny sort of way. It really does grow on you.

So we exit the highway to go see the Corn Palace and discover that it is also a big street festival this weekend, so it was really a fun place to be as I was snapping a few photos of this year’s Corn Palace decorations . . .

And then we ran across town to visit the big Cabelas so AdventureMan could buy a new hat:

There are dead stuffed animals everywhere, displayed . . .

From there, some of our joy of arriving in South Dakota paled as we slogged all the way to Wall. It’s my fault. I had found a town called Kadoka, at the head of the Badlands Loop, and I was sure there would be hotels there, but since we don’t really know where we are going to land every night, I hadn’t really checked or made any reservations.

It gets worse. AdventureMan carefully got all the AAA information for our trip, but then somehow left the travel books by his side of the bed. I was supposed to get an iPhone so I could find places and make reservations as we travelled, but I never got one, mostly because no one ever has any. So sometimes AdventureMan will tell me to look it up on my iPhone and sometimes I will tell him to look it up in the AAA books, but that is a really, really bad idea when we are both tired and wishing we had a place to stay.

So I did what I often did, and prayed for a miracle.

I feel kind of bad wasting God’s time on my frivolous needs, like a nice place to spend the night, when he has a lot of more important things on his plate, but in desperation, I flat out prayed.

And a miracle happened. When we drove into Wall, we went left, and there were some little cabins and a man who wanted to show them to us. They were brand new, and utterly clean, and full of charming attention to detail, with a great big good bed, and TV, and wireless internet and . . . well, everything, including a discount. Now that, my friend, is the grace of God, a miracle, a prayer answered even better than anything I could have asked for.

We love the Badlands. This is our second time in the area; it has a weird, ascetic kind of beauty. It is the passion and fury of weather and seasons against natural elements and stone loses. Tomorrow we will drive through, and end up at a spa in Hot Springs, SD, where all these hours of driving will be massaged away. You can check it out here: Red River Rock Resort Hotel and Spa. Come visit the Badlands. Come stay in these lovely cabins and drive through the haunting environment.

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Travel | , | 6 Comments

Just How Emirati Do You Have to Be? (Mixed Marriages)

Thank you, Little Diamond, for sending the article from The National. I totally love this article, and hats off to it’s author, Sultan Al Qassemi.

Mixed marriages bring strength upon strength to the UAE
Sultan Al Qassemi

Not too long ago, I boarded a plane in Dubai bound for the United States. There were a number of Emirati families on board, some of whom I recognised and greeted. After a 14-hour direct flight, we descended from the plane and made our way to passport control.

One Emirati family walked towards the line for US citizens and, in my naivety, I almost told them they were standing in the wrong queue. I hesitated, correctly it turned out. They were American citizens and obliged to stand in the US citizens section.

Many people who hear this story immediately assume that the mother was a foreigner. Not only is that incorrect – the mother is a true-blue Emirati – but she also works in the UAE government.

In the past week, I was reminded of this by an article in The National relating to mixed parentage. The Grand Mufti of Dubai, Dr Ahmed al Haddad, made controversial comments questioning whether there should be restrictions on Emiratis marrying outside their nationality.

In truth,a substantial number of talented Emiratis have been born to mixed marriages, a point that Dr al Haddad’s comments did not seem to take into consideration. According to one person who was present at the panel discussion, Emiratis from mixed marriages may have “mixed loyalties”. So are they Emirati enough?

Well, let us take a look at some of these Emiratis to find out. Ali Mostafa, the director behind City of Life, is the product of a mixed marriage. City of Life, which depicts contemporary life in Dubai in a powerful and realistic fashion, has become an international ambassador for the UAE after opening in Australia and Canada with a screening scheduled in Washington DC. Is its director Emirati enough?

Omar Saif Ghobash and Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE ambassadors to Russia and the United States respectively, both have foreign-born mothers and yet they serve the UAE with as much attention and dedication as any other Emirati ambassador. I have written before about how Mr al Otaiba has worked tirelessly on behalf of the country, in particular on the nuclear 123 agreement with the United States. Mr Ghobash speaks six languages and was heavily involved in bringing New York University to the UAE’s capital. Are they Emirati enough?

Razan al Mubarak is also a product of a mixed marriage. Her late father, like Ambassador Ghobash’s, gave his life for the country. Ms al Mubarak, in her roles as assistant secretary general of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society, is busy protecting the country’s wildlife on both land and sea. Is she Emirati enough?

At Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment arm Mubadala, the chief operations officer, Waleed al Mokarrab al Muhairi, also happens to be chairman of Yahsat, Advance Technology Investment Company and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. But perhaps most importantly, he is credited with being “one of the principal architects behind the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic vision”. And yes, Mr al Mokarrab comes from a mixed family.

Wael Al Sayegh is a writer, poet, translator and founder of the consultancy firm Al Ghaf, which delivers “inter-cultural induction programmes to multinational organisations serving the region”. Mr Al Sayegh has spoken to many multinational corporations about UAE culture and offered a Dubai perspective to foreign news outlets, including the BBC, during recent high-profile criminal cases. Is he Emirati enough?

Sarah Shaw, an Emirati whose biological father is English, currently works at the General Secretariat of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and is a huge supporter of Emiratisation. Is she Emirati enough?

Other Emiratis from mixed families who have made substantial contributions include the director general of the Dubai World Trade Centre, Helal Saeed al Marri, the film director Nawaf Janahi and the columnist Mishaal al Gergawi, among many others.

There are examples in my immediate circle of Emirati friends who genuinely care about this country, not despite one of their parents being foreign born but perhaps because of it.

Should the UAE, and specifically Dubai, known for being hospitable and welcoming to people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures, make our very own citizens feel unwelcome?

The truth is the UAE is a richer country because of these individuals of mixed backgrounds. What we should concentrate on is strengthening the ties that people have to this great nation. I have previously suggested military service for Emirati high school graduates, cultural immersion and social volunteering as ways to build civic participation.

Frankly, it would be insulting to question the loyalty of Emiratis who are born to a foreign parent. It is also unfair, un-Islamic and ultimately in this case un-Emirati to generalise about people of any background. The Emirates is a vibrant country of many colours – only seeing a single shade excludes too many of its strengths.

(The author, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government)

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Middle East, Relationships | 6 Comments

Day Two, Mostly Missouri

Day two started early in Arkansas, and I cajoled AdventureMan into telling me university stories as we drove into Missouri, where we stayed the entire day, driving north, driving west, and driving north again, the whole day. AdventureMan spent a lot of time in this area around Memphis while at university, and hung out at Beale Street with his other music and blues loving friends. The early morning highways were a delight:

Just outside St. Louis, we crossed the great Missouri:

We like to stop at least every couple hours, buy a coffee, stretch our legs, take a rest stop. Around lunch time, AdventureMan saw a sign for 2 Dudes BBQ, and we couldn’t resist the name and the fact that it was only two blocks off the interstate. We found it without a problem:

It had our kid of menu – simple, and the food was the same – simply GOOD.

AdventureMan had the pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw and beans – ALL good:

I ordered the smoked half chicken (that was the smallest chicken they had) and it was smokey, cooked, and moist – it is really really hard to get all three. Plus, while I normally go for the really spicy sauce, the Two Dudes normal barbecue sauce was both vinegary-tangy and sweet, and knocked my socks off. (I didn’t eat the bread) and the cole slaw was apple-y tasting with poppy seeds – oh YUMMMM.

Outside, I caught one of the dudes grilling up some ribs, and he laughed when I asked if I could take his picture, and said “sure” and even arranged the ribs for me:

If you are driving on 1-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, you will find the Two Dudes BarBQue at exit 193, in Warrenton, MO. You will see signs, follow those directions. 🙂

About an hour up the road, in Fulton, we saw the Visitor’s Center across from where we were buying gas, and AdventureMan had a burning question he needed answered: Was this where Winston Churchill had made his “iron curtain” speech, and was this why they had a museum devoted to Winston Churchill? The answer, from the delighted and helpful ladies, was ‘yes’.

Fulton also has this moving and meaningful monument to fallen heroes – one of my weak spots.

We skirted Kansas City, zipped past Fort Leavenworth, where we had a wonderful year back a long time ago, and landed in St. Joseph, birthplace of Jesse James, where we found a hotel with a great pool so we could kick back and kick some laps, kicking out all those kinks and aches that driving all day can bring.

After dinner, mostly lettuce (LOL) AdventureMan helped me get a photo of this wonderful ice-cream vendor; I adore this old fashioned kind of commercial art:

And then we had a great adventure, trying to find the historical center of St. Joseph. We found the center, full of stately and gracious mansions and impressive and imposing old buildings, most in fairly good condition, and we found a lovely city park, down by the river, where the sun was setting . .. and you know me, and sun, and water . . .

Too soon, we had to leave, the mosquitos were eating me alive. I actually bought repellent today, but did I remember to put it in my purse???

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Sunsets, Travel | 2 Comments

Day One, Osceola, Arkansas

We start the day sadly, rushing around with last minute things and the Qatari Cat KNOWS what is going on and RUNS when I try to pick him up! He never does that. He is always such a good kitty, but when I caught him, he said “eh eh eh eh eh eh eh” to me; he told me clearly he does not want to go to the Kitty Hotel. When we got there, his suite was waiting, we put his special towel and his baby in the sleeping area and filled his dish with his food. Fresh water was already waiting. He was OK, a little miffed at us, but OK. The people at We Tuck ‘Em Inn were wonderful, and we know he will be spoiled rotten by the time we return.

Just as we hit Mobile, Alabama, Mobile was also hit with a huge rainstorm. Off to the right, we watched a truck on the freeway entry ramp skid and spin around, out of control. Just a minute later, we saw police and a wrecker trying to get another truck out of a deep ravine at the side of the freeway. It was a fearsome storm, and we were glad we were out of it.

We toodled up through Mississippi, in fact it felt like we spent most of our day in Mississippi, because we did. We were on a not-quite-freeway that cuts catty-corner across the state to Jackson. Most of the way it was two lanes in each direction, fairly fast, but every now and then would be an intersection with stoplights. Around noon we stopped . . . somewhere . . . to have a healthy meal, but my healthy boiled shrimp was surrounded with deep fried french fries, hush puppies and a mayonnais-y cole slaw, and AdventureMan had fried catfish. It may be fish, but it was fried, along with fries and hushpuppies. You can see a remnant of my meal, but AdventureMan at ALL of his!

This road was fascinating. Lots of big black Tundras and Denalis and pick-ups of all kinds, lots of farm equipment, a lamb in someone’s back yard and a truck full of cattle . . . I told AdventureMan that Mississippi is a lot like Kuwait:

Just out of Jackson, Mississippi, we stopped for gas:

Driving toward Memphis, we spot a good German town – Gluckstadt means lucky city:

We get through Memphis without a hitch, way faster than we expected, and we settle in Osceola, Arkansas, where the entire downtown ‘historical Osceola’ is full of empty stores with broken windows, falling down houses, even a large stone church – or library? where pigeons are now living. We did find some spots of beauty down near the river:

“Don’t open your door after dark!” our Indian hotel manager warned us and our eyes are big wondering if this is some kind of Stephen King thing and the harvest-corn-king roams around killing unwary tourists, but she followed it with “we have lots of mosquitos in these parts.” Indeed. I have several bites already to prove it.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Food, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Travel | 5 Comments

Five Theories on Why the Housing Market is Still Falling

This is from AOL News Opinion Round-Up and not one of them mentions my favorite theory, which is – the big huge bulge of baby boomers is now retiring and downsizing, there is a glut of housing on the market because there is not the same market for houses that existed when this big bulge of population was mating and bearing children. I think the ‘problem’ is greatly a natural phenomena related to the demographics. Experts disagree. 🙂

Why Is the Housing Market Plummeting? 5 Theories

Max Fisher
The Atlantic Wire
(Aug. 24) — Sales of existing homes dropped 27.2 percent in July, accelerating the recent decline in the already frail housing market. This brings the number of existing houses sold to an annual rate of only 3.83 million units, the lowest figure since 1999. The number of single-family home sales hit its lowest level since 1995. Some economists even fear that this signals the end of housing as an investment. How bad is this and what does it mean?

The Role of Expiring Tax Credits: Dow Jones Newswires’ Meena Thiruvengadam and Sarah Lynch explain, “The steep decline in sales in July reflects both a souring in the U.S. economic recovery and the expiration of a government tax credit program that has been supporting the housing market for more than a year. The tax credits offered certain buyers up to $8,000 to sign a contract by April 30. Deals originally needed to close by June 30, but lawmakers pushed that deadline to Sept. 30. Still, the tax credit’s expiration drove pending home sales down 30 percent in May and caused a double-digit dive in mortgage application volumes even as interest rates hovered near their lowest levels in generations. July’s existing home sales data reflects the May plunge in pending sales, which typically become existing sales within a couple of months.”

Tax Credits Caused ‘Collapse’: The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle writes of the homebuyer tax credits, “This housing collapse is the aftermath of that mania. The depth of the collapse suggests that in fact, the housing tax credit was not generating new demand as much as moving demand forward a few months. That means that we’re going to have to work out the aftermath in months of low home sales. … This only reinforces my belief that housing is no longer a good way to generate wealth. The government can’t fix this market, which needs to find a new, lower level. It can only very temporarily distort it.”

Market Fears Double-Dip Housing Recession: The Los Angeles Times’ Alejandro Lazo reports, “The big drop, which was worse than what many analysts had expected, sent stock markets tumbling Tuesday morning as investors feared a double dip in housing. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1%, as did the S&P 500, a broader measure of stocks. … The July plunge was the third consecutive monthly decline following the April 30 expiration of the tax credit, which offered up to $8,000 for certain buyers.”

Ballooning Supply Worsens Problem: The Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio explains, “This is the second highest inventory in a year. The number of months it would take to sell the current supply of homes also swelled in July to 12.5, which was a huge jump compared to June’s rate of 8.9. It’s also nearly double November’s rate of 6.5. Given the low rate of sales this summer and consistently high foreclosure rate, inventory will likely continue to grow. This is a really, really bad report. The awfulness of July’s sales were a little exaggerated due to all of the demand having been pulled forward form the buyer credit. But it’s unclear how many months of demand were captured early by the credit, so it’s hard to know when its effect will wear off.”

Entire Housing Market Is Stalled: Reuters’ Felix Salmon warns this report “means that despite record-low mortgage rates, people aren’t able to buy houses: essentially all the benefit from those low rates is going to people who already own their homes and are taking the opportunity to refinance. The news also means that there’s a big gap between buyers and sellers: the market isn’t clearing. Sellers are convinced that their homes are worth lots of money, or will rise in price if they just hold out a bit longer; buyers are happily renting, waiting for prices to come down. And entrepreneurial types, whom one would expect to arbitrage the two by buying houses with super-cheap mortgages and renting them out at a profit, don’t seem to have found those opportunities yet. Houses are rarely a liquid asset; they were, briefly, during the housing boom, but now they’re more illiquid than ever.”

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions | 1 Comment

Road Trip

We are having fun. We are doing a long road trip, which will include seeing the Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore, and Hot Springs, South Dakota where there is a mammoth museum and archeological site.

We love road trips; we just hate the long stretches of interstate with nothing, nothing nothing. We just have to get through those to get to the places we love.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Holiday, Travel | 8 Comments

Looking for Ebonics Masters

I haven’t heard a word about ebonics for a long time, and then this, in today’s AOL News. I had thought it was one of those flash-in-the-pan things, here today and gone tomorrow. Have not heard a serious word about ebonics in, literally, years.

DEA Seeking Ebonics Experts for Narcotics Investigations

Allan Lengel
(Aug. 23) — If you speak Ebonics, the federal government may have a job for you.

The Drug Enforcement Administration wants to hire people fluent in Ebonics to help monitor, transcribe and translate secretly recorded conversations in narcotics investigations, according to the website The Smoking Gun and DEA documents.

The Smoking Gun reports that up to nine Ebonics experts will work with the DEA Atlanta Division after obtaining “DEA Sensitive” security clearance.

Ebonics, or “Black English,” generally is defined as a nonstandard form of English spoken by African-Americans.

According to the job description, Ebonics experts will decipher the results of “telephonic monitoring of court ordered nonconsensual intercepts, consensual listening devices, and other media,” the website reported.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Crime, Cultural, Language, Law and Order | Leave a comment

Why People Give

An urgent message came out today asking us to help the homeless people in Pensacola – and there are a lot of them, thanks to the warm climate. With all the rain recently, sleeping rough has been doubly rough, and it has been made worse by a sudden humidity-moisture related surge in the mosquito population.

As I talked with AdventureMan about our donation, he laughed. I was in fund-raising for a while, and was unexpectedly good at it. One thing I learned, there are a lot of ways to persuade people to donate, and then again, sometimes people will donate and you haven’t a clue as to why they felt this urge to be generous.

AdventureMan laughed; he totally got it. I used to work with a homeless, a long time ago, so I have a soft spot where they are concerned. Mosquitos also love me, and I get these horrid great but huge itchy bumps any time I am anywhere near a mosquito, AdventureMan always says he keeps me nearby because they head straight for me and ignore him.

Of course we donated. Wet homeless people and mosquitos, it was a golden combination. If you would like to donate, too, you can, through the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless (Working to Eliminate Homelessness). They will hold an Annual Fundraiser on Saturday September 11th from 7pm – 11pm at The Garden Center.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | Charity, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Fund Raising, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Relationships, Social Issues, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

Welcome Home Dinner and Empress Rice Recipe

We had a dinner yesterday, to welcome AdventureMan home, and just to gather together friends and family in the area to have a good time.

AdventureMan stuns me with his ability to transfer all those time zones with no effect. He slept through every night, no problems. Amazing resilience. He also bought a great big watermelon, and made juice from it – delicious!

The Happy Baby is now big enough for a high chair. A high chair is a really good thing now, because he has started crawling, and he is really, really fast, especially when he is going after a cat!

Now that he is crawling and jumping and going to school, his little baby fat is turning into muscle:

(Sorry if this one is a little fuzzy, but he is jumping so fast I can’t get a clear photo)

Following traditional Middle Eastern / Southern customs, we had way too much food:

Including several long time favorites, one of which was Autumn Plum Torte:

One old favorite I am making again (I lost the recipe for a while) is Empress Rice. This recipe is so easy, so rich, so so good:

Empress Rice

1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 cups rice, raw
2 cans consomme
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup sliced mushrooms, drained
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Set oven for 325°F / 160°C

Saute onion in butter until golden brown. Brown raw rice with onion, then add all the rest of the ingredients. (How easy is that??) Grease a 3 quart/litre casserole, cover, and bake in oven for 1 hour and a half, or until liquid is absorbed. 8 – 10 servings.

(I did not make this with mushrooms, because our son doesn’t like mushrooms, but mushrooms make it richer. For church suppers, I sometimes add in some sausage, like smoked turkey sausage, or some chicken chunks.)

Some of the things I served I have shared with you before:
Autumn Plum Torte
Cauliflower Salad
Soused Apple Cake

It was a great gathering, lots of stories exchanged, lots of laughing, and sweet little Happy Baby went to sleep just as lunch was served, freeing his parents to relax and enjoy a couple hours of socializing. 🙂 My old friend in Germany slipped into my kitchen and functioned as my second right hand; I actually enjoyed having her help because it’s like she knew what I needed before I knew I needed it. We could hardly believe so much time had passed when our last guests left; time just flew by, the sign of a truly memorable gathering.

August 23, 2010 Posted by | Community, Cooking, Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Food, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Recipes | Leave a comment