Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Turducken of '14 and Finny's birthday

We have some pretty cool friends who live up in Ras Tanura.  We started reading their blog when we found out that moving over here was a possibility.  It was an incredible resource on everything from packing to traveling abroad.  We've met up a few times since we've been here and they are such great people.  Glenn at one point started bragging about his turducken skills and it was decided that we had to make it happen some time in this holiday season.  The weekends before Thanksgiving got booked up really fast so we decided to make it a week before Christmas dinner, on December 20th.  It was a really yummy meal and we were able to have the Redmond family over and a couple of other guys who were available and without dinner plans that night.  

 Once again the turducken was a huge hit.  Which, I think is a pretty big deal considering it was all purchased and cooked in Saudi.  A huge culinary score for Glenn.
 Finn's birthday was on Sunday the 21st.  It was Tate's first day of Winter Break so he got to be home with us and that was probably Finn's most exciting present.  We love having Tate at home to play with and it's SO nice that they get along so well, most of the time.  I woke Finn up singing "Happy Birthday" and his face just lit up with excitement that it was his big day.  The first thing he said was, "And now I can open my presents?!"  We had breakfast and opened presents from Aunts and Uncles then Tate and Finn ran around playing with the new fun toys and creating stories to make believe with the new toys.  It was so cute to watch.  I made some cupcakes to take to a play group at the park to share for his birthday.
It was a beautiful, warm day and we spent almost 2 hours playing at the park with a ton of kids who were all off of school.  By the end both boys were exhausted and Finn was very ready for his afternoon nap.  When Glenn got home we had mac and cheese for dinner so we could get out really quickly and avoid prayer times as much as possible, then we headed to a play place at the Dhahran mall called Billy Beez.  Poor Finny was a little under the weather and it just got worse at the night progressed.  We got into a little playground structure just after the first evening prayer time and it lasted less than half an hour.  Finn kept following Tate around and then getting nervous or stuck and then he'd cry until Tate or some other kid helped him get down to us.  Then he wanted to go up again after he was consoled for a minute.  Tate was really sweet to stay by him and try to take care of him but after about the 4th time of Finn melting down we left and tried to find some games to play.  Unfortunately the basketball games were broken, but we played a few other games and then headed home.  Finn opened his presents from us.  A book, a new game, and new Darth Vader bedding which will be so cute on his bunk bed when it eventually arrives.

Finn was very sweet and let Tate help him unwrap his presents.  Both boys were very tired by the end of the night.  Turns out they were both on the brink of some fun Christmas viruses!  Even so, I think Finny still had a fun birthday.  We're sure glad he's our little boy and glad that we got to take a whole day to celebrate him.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dear Finn,

Dear Finn,

You are three today.  That happened so fast.  It seems like we just celebrated your 2nd birthday.  Watching you play on your new little slide and playing at a bounce place with the Cluff girls.  Then blowing out candles with Grampa, Nana, and Kenzie all singing to you with us.  And this year, we are living in Saudi Arabia.  We celebrated a little differently this year but you, as always, have taken it in stride.  It takes a lot to ruffle your feathers, Finny.  You're a pretty easy going kid.  Well, that may not be entirely accurate.  This year you've shown your stubborn side even more than in years past.  There are weeks where the answer to every question is "no".  Where you flat out refuse to do everything we ask you to do.  Where you are testing and pushing just, it seems, for fun.  But as long as I remind myself that this is a hard week.  A hard little phase.  And that it, along with most things that are difficult about raising you, will pass and the next week you'll be your happy-go-lucky self again, we muddle through just fine.  But here's the important part, Finn.  When it comes to the big stuff, the potty training and living with family and moving to the opposite side of the world, you really are easy-going.  This move hasn't phased you much at all.  You're just as happy playing with your few toys and exploring our few parks and taking long bus rides to doctor's appointments with me here as you were at home going to the science museum and running quick errands in our car and exploring numberless fun places to play.  And that, my little boy, makes me so proud and makes me completely astounded every day.  This move had every right to rock your world and while your little sisters' arrival may still do that to you, thus far, you're doing incredibly well and we are so proud of you.  

You continue to be one of the most darling little boys your dad and I have ever met.  You look exactly like your Dad.  Sometimes I look over at you when he's holding you in church and look at your two profiles and I feel like I'm seeing my sweetheart so many years ago looking into your face.  Your hair is still beautifully blond and I really hope it doesn't change.  It's funny how it makes you a bit of a celebrity over here.  Everyone wants to ruffle your hair as you walk by.  It hasn't bothered you one bit.  Nor do you really seem to notice it much.  People like you.  But people have always liked you and thought you were adorable so, what's new?  You are a solid little boy.  So strong and tough.  You wrestle and play with Tate and you seem to actually enjoy it when he knocks you over and plays rough with you.  He seems to like being able to dominate you a bit, and you seem to like being knocked around so it's kind of counter productive sometimes to tell him to stop when you keep laughing and loving it when he knocks you over.  

You are a very active little boy.  Your newest love is riding your bike.  You first rode a bike this summer at Gregor and Amy's house.  You jumped on a little tricycle of theirs and took off.  So we got you one of your own as soon as we got home and you rode it to Tate's school every morning in Colorado and would beg to ride it around the block all day.  We brought it here in one of our e boxes and I'm so glad we did.  You love riding your bike and you are surprisingly in control and can steer really well.  You'd rather be outside at a park or playing basketball or bowling than inside doing anything else any day.  Basketball may still be your first love, but anything with a ball makes you light up.  

We decided to potty train you a few weeks ago and, I'll be honest, I was really worried about it.  You are a very intrinsically motivated little guy.  If you don't want to do something, there is very little we can do to change your mind.  Sticker charts don't really do it for you.  You can do without treats.  New toys are fun, but not fun enough to make you do something you don't want to do.  Luckily for us, potty training became sort of a challenge for you and you wanted to master it.  Within the first few hours you were saying, "Mom, I stopped the pee!  I need to go potty!"  Once again, proving this amazing mastery over your little body that far surpasses other kids your age.  Your drive will take you far in life, little guy.  When you want something, you try and try until you get it done.  I hope you'll be able to apply this focus in the right directions as you grow because if you do, you'll be a force to be reckoned with.  You are a tough little kid, but you still have a conscience, which is a balance I'm grateful for as your mom.  If you're caught doing something naughty, you cover your face with your hands and act embarrassed.  You're quick to say sorry if you hurt someone's feelings and a little turn on time out usually turns you around, sometimes only temporarily, but being disciplined does hurt your little heart.  

This year you've just started to have the patience for books and games.  We broke out "Hi Ho Cherrio" a few weeks ago and you could have played it all day.  In years past books, especially longer ones, have not held your attention at all.  You just couldn't sit still long enough and they couldn't hold your interest.  But lately you've loved to listen to stories and they often transfer into your make believe play, especially when your brother is around to play with you.  I love it.  You're not a huge snuggler, but you'll let me snug you while we're reading books and that is good enough for me.  Your favorite shows vary.  Basically you're into whatever Tate is into.  You watch Wild Kratts, Super Why, and any Disney movie at all.  We've started doing a little "reading practice" every day since we moved here.  You're excited about it because it's a big boy thing to do, just like Tate has reading practice.  You've picked up your letter names and sounds really quickly and you're doing better on colors too.  You're a smart little squirt.

You love food and are much more adventurous than your brother but you are starting to balk at some of the different looking things we put in front of you.  Most vegetables are right out, but even then it sometimes depends on how hungry you are.  You could eat fruit for every meal.  You love apples, berries, bananas, plums, peaches, pretty much any fruit.  You like sweets, but you don't need them and when you get a dessert, you're rarely interested in it enough to finish it.  If you're not interested in something you either don't touch it at all, or you'll eat some and then take FOREVER to chew and swallow it.  Seriously, you could be working on a mouthful for half an hour until we lose patience and finally tell you to just spit it out.  

You love music.  We brought our ipod stereo in our suitcase and it's been fun to watch you every morning choose the soundtrack for our day.  You love to turn on fast music and dance around so crazy, or Pirates of Penzance and you sing along or wave your hands to conduct "major general" really fast.  Sometimes you just get a pillow and lie down next to the stereo listening and chilling while I clean up breakfast.  

You adore your big brother and your daddy.  You are definitely the happiest at the end of the day when they are both home to play with you.  You are a daddy's boy for sure and he loves that!  He connects with you and plays with you like no one else can and it's clear he has a special place in your heart.  It's Christmas break right now and you're in absolute heaven having Tate home from school to play with you.  You guys get along great most of the time.  You know how to push each other's buttons, but most of the time you love making up stories to act out together or playing with toys or pretending to be battling dinosaurs, or fighting jedis.  Watching you two very different little guys absolutely adore each other is one of my greatest joys as a mom.  I'm so glad you're such good friends and hope you always will be.  

I can't wait to see you as a big brother.  You seem excited to meet your little sisters but I know you can't really have any idea how much these two babes are going to rock your world.  But most likely, you'll take it in stride like most life-changing events that have every right to throw you off kilter.  You're very proud of the fact that I have two babies in my tummy and you tell people all the time.  Last week on the bus you were sitting on my lap and put one hand on each side of my tummy and started singing, "rock-a-bye babies" to your little sisters in there.  It was so sweet.  

You do have a pretty sweet side once in a while.  It kind of takes me by surprise when you decide to let it out.  But once in a while, you snuggle me and give me unsolicited hugs and kisses, and tell me you love me.  It's a new development and I love it more than I can tell you.  

We love you, little Finn.  You are such a joy to be around.  I still haven't had a day when I feel like I've squeezed you or kissed your delicious little cheeks enough.  Your smile lights up the room.  You have the most awesome and fun facial expressions, and you know how to have a really good time.  I'm not so secretly ticked that you're growing up so fast.  I can't believe it was three Christmastimes ago when we brought home teensy you from the hospital in Houston.  And now we're about to bring home your little sisters.  Too fast.  I just love you so much right now I wish I could keep you and your brother just like you are for another couple of years.  It seems too perfect to get any better.  But as with most things involved in being your mother, somehow it does keep getting better.  

You are an incredible, strong, kind, smart little stinker.  Your dad and I love you more than words, little guy.  We are so grateful that we get to be your parents and watch you dominate this little life of yours.  We are in awe of you, kiddo.  Happy birthday, little Finn.
The world is yours.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Al Hasa, Al Ahsa, Al-Ahasa

This past weekend we spent our Saturday in Al Hasa.  Glenn has a very kind Saudi co-worker who has continually offered to show us around the area where he was raised and Saturday worked out perfectly so we took him up on his offer to explore a new area with an expert guide.  We passed several signs pointing our way but almost every one had a different spelling for a seemingly simply spelled region.  Al Hasa could also be Al Ahsa or Al-Ahasa...or a few others that we didn't write down.  So funny.
Also on our drive down we cranked Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride and other Christmas classics while driving through scenery like this:

Kind of mind-blowing looking around at the desert where we now reside and listening to our Christmas tunes.  Last Christmas we were driving around snowy Colorado with no idea what our next year would bring.  
Just a few months ago we would look for bunnies and prairie dogs as we drove around town.  Now we play "who sees a camel".  

 What a crazy life.
The first stop on our tour was a really cool fort.  Tate wanted pictures of him saluting in every hallway, just like the Nutcracker, of course.  We were in a fort after all.

 My two little toy soldiers.
 They were thrilled to be able to run around after being stuck in the car for a couple of hours.  There were hardly any tourists around at all and the weather was beautifully mild all day.

 I kept thinking of my mom when we passed all the old doors.  She has a thing for old doors.

 Here's Glenn and Finn with Glenn's work buddy Baqer (pronounced bah-ker)

 We wandered into the little sitting room for some shade and a few family pics.

 On our way out one of the guys at the front desk of the fort told us they had gifts for us.  He's involved in some sort of cultural outreach program and since we are clearly American, he wanted to give our boys some gifts and take some pictures with us.  Well all right.
 The boys were thrilled with their treasures.  Here they are holding their own miniature Qu'ran and "A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam".
They thought it was very cool that they got gifts for visiting a fort.  Finn carried around his "Kuhram" all day.  He was so excited to have his own tiny book.  We told him it was a book of scripture and he would point to pages and say, "Does this say Jesus?"
Next, Baqer took us to an amazing antique shop.  More old doors out front.
We didn't buy anything, but it was fun to wander through the treasures.
Driving in Saudi.  A little kid hanging out the top of the car.  Sure.  Why not?
The restaurant that Baqer wanted to take us to for lunch didn't have a family section open at lunch time which meant that I wouldn't be able to go in.  So he got some take out from another place and then took us to his family's date farm to eat.  This is the big room where all 14 of his siblings, or as many as can make it, gather for Friday dinner each week.  We ate chicken, fish, rice, and vegetables on the ground with our hands.  We brought sandwiches and fruit for the boys.  They weren't quite up to the "full Saudi" meal experience, as Glenn calls it.

Lucky for us, his farm had a western and an eastern toilet.  They're both in identical doors right next to each other.  Finn needed to go potty and he walked into the eastern toilet first, paused for a minute, then said, "Nope.  That's just a shower."  Shut the door and then found the actual western toilet.  So funny.
Then we fed our left overs to the goats.  Finn was a little hesitant.  You can see the pita he threw at the goat in this picture.
He warmed up a bit with some help from Glenn.

Next Baqer took us to the Hofoof caves (pronounced hoe-foof).  Finn called them the "poof poof caves", which I think I like better.
Yes, I did wander through some sandy caves, with my two children, while 7 months pregnant with twins and wearing an abaya.  Thank you very much.  Unfortunately my girth did limit some of the more narrow cave explorations, but we did our best.
The caves were pretty incredible.  The boys had so much fun exploring and choosing which fork to take next.  Most of the big forks of the caves were lit and the ground was pretty much level so it was just a cool walk through amazing caves.  No gear or flashlights necessary.  Here are the boys wearing their "scared" faces.

Aaaand showing their tough muscles.

Our last stop was to a pottery place where we watched a couple of guys making some pretty cool pottery.  It was incredible how fast they were and how uniform they could make goblet after goblet.  

Thanks Baqer, for a fantastic family adventure.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bahrain Take 2, or Ode to the Sofitel

Bliss.  Absolute bliss.  We decided our family needed one more weekend OOK (out of Kingdom) before we were on baby lockdown for a while waiting for the babes to arrive and then adjusting to the two new babes at home.  We had a particularly rough week here in Saudi and the weekend couldn't have come at a better time.  
Since we were celebrating our family "babymoon" of sorts, we decided to go all out and book a resort with its' own beach that came very highly recommended by several of our friends.  It was more than the last hotel we stayed, for sure, but the perks were absolutely worth it.  Private pools and beach, club level meals for free throughout the day, a beautiful relaxing room, free kids club (which we didn't take advantage of this time), a few really yummy restaurants on sight, and tons of other things that we never got to on our two night stay.  We drove across the causeway on Thursday after school and work and it was dark by the time we arrived.  We just got some dinner at their yummy Italian restaurant and went to sleep.  The next morning, we woke up to this view from our balcony:

We "slept in" as much as we can sleep in now, and then headed to the club lounge for a buffet breakfast.  All the fruit Finn could eat and all the pancakes Tate could eat...which is a lot.  It was wonderful.
Then we explored the grounds for a little bit and let the boys run.
It was so nice to stay somewhere with so much outdoor space to run and play.  We stressed the importance of "inside best behavior" with the promise that they could wrestle and yell and run as soon as we got outside and it was a very effective compromise.  They behaved really well all weekend and had so much fun.  Tate wants to go there every weekend now and is disappointed every weekend when that is not the plan.
Our little crazies playing on the hammock.  This is right before Finn rolled off and hit his head on the bottom brace causing a pretty decent goose egg, poor boy.

So so beautiful.
After about an hour of wandering and exploring our hotel and grounds we decided to run some Bahrain errands.  We were worried that this weekend wouldn't happen because getting our car came right down to the wire.  We'd ordered our new vehicle but couldn't buy it until Glenn's drivers license came through and it finally did and we were able to get our car just a couple of days before we left.  Our new Saudi car.  And the first time we've ever paid cash for a new car.  Good gracious that feels good.
It's a 2014 Acadia.  The bucket seats were a must with out soon to be family of 6 so the boys could climb in the back seat without having to move the little girls' car seat bases.  Leather interior, entertainment system...which we discovered on the way over the causeway doesn't play our huge collection of DVDs...should have thought of that!  So we ended up paying way too much for a few in Pal format to use in the car.  We love it so far.  It's comfortable, has enough trunk space for everything we need (we think:), and the boys love it too.
We drove over to Babies R' Us to try to get a few baby things.  The biggest priority was car seats with bases.  We have a double stroller coming in our shipment and just thought we could get the car seats here and save us some space in our e boxes.  Turns out when they say, "You can get pretty much everything you can get in the US, in Saudi"  what they mean is, "You can get like 2 things you can get in the US, in Saudi.  And they will be different and lower quality and cost more."  Lesson learned.  We looked at several stores over the course of the weekend and couldn't find a single infant seat that snapped into a base.  Every store had just a few options of car seats (because most people here don't use them) and none of them had bases that buckle into the car.  So we'd have to buckle both seats in every time we get in and out of the car.  And we wouldn't be able to use them with our stroller because we need the kind that will snap into our stroller.  Long story longer, we got incredibly lucky and one of the generous ladies from our fellowship group is going to bring them back from the states for us when she comes back from Christmas break.  Sheesh!
After Babies R' Us, which was a huge disappointment, we went to City Centre Mall again.  Oh I could shop there all day.  Glenn could shop there for about an hour before he wants to rip his hair out.  There was Christmas music playing, Christmas displays in the windows.  It made me so happy!

The boys were happy too.  One of our missions of our trip was to purchase a bit of Christmas contraband.  Since, as my cousin Katelyn puts it, Saudi is where Christmas goes to die.  Glenn was anxiety ridden about said mission all weekend but I was insistent so he relented.  Poor, sweet Glenn.
We went to another kids movie, ate some lunch, picked up a car load of overpriced goodies and then headed back to the hotel for the afternoon.  On the way we ran into an enormous cavalcade of motorcycles.  There must have been some sort of event going on that weekend.  This motorcycle train was miles long and they shut down the freeway as they went by.  The boys were thrilled.
It was a little chilly for my taste and the water was pretty cold, but the boys didn't mind one bit.  We spent a little bit playing in the kids pool.

So beautiful.
Tate watched a cartoon nutcracker a couple of weeks ago and we've been listening to the Nutcracker music ever since. He has his favorite songs and loves to dance around with Finn and play Nutcracker and Mouse King.  Here he is as the Nutcracker fighting Glenn as the Mouse King while humming his own soundtrack.

Seriously.  I want to go back every weekend too.
Being away from the Kingdom for a few days after a really hard week, and to be with my guys in such a beautiful place was like a deep breath for my soul.
After swimming, we looked for sea shells on the beach until it got too chilly.

Then we headed inside for baths and room service.  Remember how magical room service was as a kid?  Okay it still is pretty cool for me too.  You pick whatever you want and make a phone call and then they bring it right to your room?!  That's amazing.
The next morning we "slept in" and got some breakfast and then spent a couple of hours at the pool.  The water was SO cold but we eventually all got in.  It took Glenn and I much longer than it took the boys.
Tate, as usual, spent most of his time under the water.
He has taken great strides in his swimming abilities since moving here.  He can jump in and swim to back to the wall, or across to the other side of the pool all by himself.  He's still not very graceful, but he doesn't panic and he's getting more confident every time he's in the water.  
Finn loves the water too.  It's so fun to be in the pool with our two little fish.

Finn regretted getting in the cold water.  Just for a second.
Swimming makes our boys so stinkin' happy.

It's impossible to take a grouchy picture of the boys when they're in the water.
Tate, however, is hard to catch above the surface.
After swimming, we got dressed, got some lunch, and then checked out to head to the mall one more time...because I begged Glenn.  I got some cookie cutters, because what is Christmas without sugar cookies?  Some Christmas jammies for Tate, and a few other treasures then we got some cold stone and left the mall feeling entirely satisfied.
What a great weekend.  I don't know how we'll ever stay anywhere else after staying at the Sofitel.  It was so perfect.  Great food, great outdoor space and pools, and a beautiful room.  Just what we needed for our last trip OOK for a while.