Friday, June 29, 2012

Bits of Random

My husband experienced a rather violent episode of vertigo. One part of me felt terrible as he has dealt with horrible nausea and wild spinning in his head. The other part of me thought while thinking of my own bouts of   uncontrollable nausea and wild spinning in my head (never officially diagnosed), "see I wasn't faking it!" Terrible, I know. But that little imp inside of me wouldn't quit.

It requires a lot of creative energy to manage 5 kids home from school. We are having fun, working hard, and playing. But all that takes time and energy, which leaves little left over for other projects, like writing posts for my blog. I have a couple of posts I need to write, which are not being written, spinning instead forever in my head. But I can be patient, they'll come when it is time.

Now that I'm used to hitting shift and enter to go to a new paragraph for FaceBook, I can't break the habit in my other writing. Weird.

I like to go out and explore places and see people. But I always come home drained and fatigued. When my 5 kids are home for the summer, I want to go out, but I dread it at the same time. It requires even more energy to make sure all the children are safe and keeping up as we walk along. And then, of course, I'm exhausted when we get home, and cranky. Have I mentioned what a terrible person I am when I am cranky? Anyone else face this dilemma with shopping and going out?

My husband was on a business trip for 5 days. I think it was the first business trip he's ever taken where we haven't had a major disaster back home. I'm good with that, but not really sure that the good luck will hold in the future.

I really, really want to go to Petra. The question is, would it be better to go in the fall when it isn't as hot?

I also really, really want to go to Egypt. Can't the people/government just get it together so I can visit without worrying about safety? Shouldn't my tourism needs be top priority? Right?

I adore swimming at night. And Riyadh is much more attractive at night.

I wish my 2-year old would keep taking his naps. 'Cuz falling asleep at 5 p.m. and then waking up at 6:30 p.m., and then staying awake till I go to bed, is really not working for me. 

Who knew that a canister of beads would keep ALL my children entertained for hours--even the 12-year old? I didn't. I based my guess on the fact that my boys didn't really enjoy those beads when they were smaller. But now, they are almost addicted. 

I really appreciate a hot fudge sundae. It's the little things in life that keep us going.

I wrote a very negative review about a book I read recently on Goodreads and the author responded to my comments. She was very civil and made some interesting points. Her comments didn't change my opinion of the book, though I could understand what she was trying to do. I never really thought that an author would respond to my little comments about a book made on Goodreads. Who knew?

Just finished The Paris Wife  by Paula McLain, a semi-fictional novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. I read with the same kind of horrified fascination you devote to watching a car wreck take place. You are powerless to stop it, it scares you silly, and yet you can't stop looking. In spite of that, I thought the book was very interesting. The descriptions of American artists like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and others living Paris during the 1920's were fascinating. I was simultaneously appalled at the way they experimented with marriages and relationships and also curious how that affected their creative processes. Sorry, I thought this was going to be short, but evidently I have more to say. I'll save that for Goodreads.

Some friends loaned us the extended version of the 3 Lord of the Rings Movies. We've been watching them and I am reminded again of the complexity of  the Tolkien stories, characters, and themes. My son is finally interested in reading the books. I continue to be impressed with Peter Jackson's ability to bring to life, so magnificently, the books. Very powerful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Truck Stop Outside of Riyadh

The truck stops outside of Riyadh crack me up. They serve almost as a strip mall out in the desert. You would be surprised at what you will find at a truck stop.

Normal things you would expect to find at a truck stop, which you will find at a truck stop in Saudi Arabia:

1. a gas station
2. convenience store
3. restaurant

Things you would NOT expect to find at a truck stop, but which are common at truck stops in Saudi Arabia:

1. A mosque
Truthfully it isn't surprising that mosques are found at truck stops. As Muslims pray 5 times a day, this gives devout Muslims a nice place to pray during a road trip. The mosques aren't always grand like they are inside Riyadh.

2. A dry cleaner
Saudi men wear white thobes, white fitted robes, as their normal attire. (Yes, western clothing is normal as well.) With the sand and dirt, I suspect the only way to keep those thobes crisp and white is through a dry cleaner.

3. A wal-mart type store which has everything--and I mean EVERYTHING.
My husband ran into such a store to get some things and I had a good time chuckling over the items I saw available at this truck stop including mattresses, bedding, strange metal lockers, pots, pans, brooms, etc. It's perfect if you are going camping and forgot something.

4. Beggars
I think I saw beggars at this same shop. Four black-garbed women walked to the entrance and sat down. I assume they were beggars, because several customers came through the doors and handed them money.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Little Pieces of Joy: AKA Chocolate

I'm a chocoholic. I confess I need at least one piece a day and sometimes two or three. Eating chocolate in Europe ruined American chocolate for me. I was introduced to dark, bittersweet chocolate (the good kind, not the stuff Hershey's likes to pass off as chocolate) and can hardly eat a piece of milk chocolate. I often feel like eating some American candy bars is like eating a piece of flavored wax. Not tasty.

My one guilty pleasure is Peanut Butter Cups. I never could find them in Sweden and they are really hard to find in Riyadh.

So today, when my son saw a box of Peanut butter cups at our little corner store on the compound, we bought 10 packages. Yes, you read that right. Ten luscious packages of peanut butter cups are now stored in my freezer.

Life is good.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Build a Saudi Sandbox: A Tutorial

My two youngest children LOVE digging in the dirt and sand. Unfortunately, our complex does not have a good sandbox. 
 I do, however, have a creative and inventive husband. And he came up with this solution to our sandbox deprivation.

1. Buy several cinder blocks at the nearest building center. Arrange them in a pattern so they form a box.
2. Drive out to the desert where the sand is fine and clean. 

3. Fill up bags, buckets, and storage bins with the red sand.

 4. Skip along the dunes at sunset.

 5. Drive sand back to the sandbox structure and fill.

6. Fill with little people and let them play until they beg to come inside.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Putting my new camera through its paces

My camera succumbed to an untimely demise. Faced with the triple threat of doom: a toddler, tile floor, and a sandy desert, it gave up the ghost in defeat.

My husband and I went looking for a new camera today. And after the previous destruction, we wanted something really durable. When we found the Fujifilm Finepix XP50, a water-proof, shock-proof, freeze-proof, and dust-proof, we knew we had found our camera. 

You can't get a new camera without testing it, right?

Check out these really cute models who were willing to let me photograph them in the wave pool. (Read--my really cute kids!)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sickness and Normalcy

My daughter is sick with a headache and fever. She is rather limp and weak from the fever. And so we are home. I'm tackling the terrifying aftermath of the weekend. And despite, having a sick kid at home today, things are pretty normal.

Actually, when you have five kids, with four of them attending school, it is pretty normal to have at least one at home sick with something.

So while I pick up toys, sweep floors, restore order to the chaos, and tend my sick daughter, I think about how having my family with me has made living in Riyadh immeasurably better.

1) Having a family brings routine and structure to my life. Getting four kids on the bus is kind of a rush (maybe not always a good one, but a rush nonetheless) which kick starts my day. If I didn't have kids, it would be harder to drag myself out of the bed and get moving.

2) Wherever I live, I still have to take care of my family. Sometimes the location makes it easier. And other times, it is a bit more challenging. Living on a compound with so many amenities actually makes my job easier as a mom.

3) My family gives me meaning and purpose. I'm not bored here because I still have meaning and purpose to my life. My identity is still the same whether I'm in New York or in Riyadh.

4) My kids make it easier for me to go out. When we go out to malls or to other places in Riyadh, I always get positive reactions from Saudis and tend to interact more with the local population because of the kids.

5) I find it easier to make friends because of the kids. If nothing else, I get to talk to other adults because our kids play together.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Comings and Goings

With the large number of expats living in Riyadh, it is inevitable that there are people always moving in and moving out.

We attended a Ma'a salama party for a neighbor on Thursday. The party was held by the pool and I expected that the kids would have a fun time splashing in the pool for a couple of hours with friends. I didn't expect this:

It was pretty much all kinds of awesome. My three older boys spent most of the three hours climbing up the slide and then crashing down it into the water. Now that's a way to have a farewell party!

I really love living here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seeing the Big Picture

I am the mother to five really cute kids. Yes, you read that right, 5 kids. And 5 kids, as you can well imagine, are a lot of work. It's good, happy work, but hard nonetheless.

My oldest is 12 years old.

While I pregnant with him, my sister introduced me to scrapbooking. I liked the idea of combining pictures with words and pretty paper. Never underestimate the power of pretty paper. And so I scrapbooked about my first son, and then second son, when he came along just 21 months later.

When my boys were 2 and 1, we moved to Sweden. And suddenly, my scrapbooking had more urgency. I felt compelled to document this terribly exciting adventure we had undertaken. I took pictures of the buses we took to get around. I snapped photos in the grocery store, of the cobble-stones in the center of Lund, of flower vines clinging to old walls, and ancient trees.

That first year in Sweden, I found myself pregnant again with our third son. He was born in a rush in a Swedish hospital. It really was a wonderful time.

Then I got sick, really sick, and was eventually diagnosed with lupus, and thought my world would shatter. I had three really small boys. It was a tough time. The boys were like most small boys and got into a lot of trouble. I was very tired most of the time, trying to cope with sleepless nights, keeping a house clean, feeding and caring for my boys was overwhelming, my husband was enrolled in a pretty demanding PhD program. I had friends and support. But at the same time, I was a young mother of three boys in a foreign country. And through it all, I kept scrapbooks. They helped me keep my perspective, focus on the positive parts of my life, and cope with my challenges.

Thankfully, with good medical care, I was able to regain much of my health and the quality of my life really improved. A few years later, we had our miracle baby, a beautiful girl. 
During this time our family was able to take some wonderful trips to different countries. We soaked up culture, art, music, food, history, architecture, and life during these trips. And I documented them on my blog at A Stranger Here. Between my scrapbooks and my blog, I felt like those outlets allowed me to process my life, to see my blessings,and to see the big picture of this life I was living and creating. I could look at my trials and hardships with perspective, realizing that life, while hard at times, was very, very good. 

Then my husband graduated from Lund University and our lives changed.

Six months later we packed our suitcases, all 12 of them, and moved back to the U.S., to New York. Living in New York, was simultaneously good and bad. I experienced culture shock to a magnitude that I had not anticipated. Along with culture shock, I suffered from deep homesickness for Sweden and our friends there. Add to that an unexpected pregnancy which left me very sick and horribly fatigued, and it was a challenging time. We also had some external challenges that were difficult to face. 

I kept blogging and making pages for my scrapbook. And even though I struggled, I still felt blessed. And really, when you have a baby like this, who wouldn't feel blessed? 

Now that we live in Riyadh, I keep writing on my blog and I work on my scrapbooks almost every day. My blog posts help me process this experience in Riyadh, and my scrapbooks keep my grounded, helping me see the big picture.

I don't have a perfect life. But I do have a remarkably rich life filled with both good and bad things. I strive to keep perspective and my eyes on the big picture through my blog and through my scrapbooks. The whole purpose of sharing this is that I think we all need perspective in our lives. And I encourage you to do whatever it takes to keep your perspective, to help you through the hard times, and to see your blessings. That may be blogging, scrapbooking, journaling, photography, music, art, or something else. Whatever it is for you, keep on doing it. I promise you it does make a difference in your life.

How do you keep your eye on the big picture? What do you do to keep your perspective?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tae Kwan Do Competition

My three oldest boys take Tae Kwan Do two times a week on the compound. They participated in their first competition this past weekend. I thought they were adorable as they circled around their opponents trying to get a hit by either kicking or punching. (Is that the wrong reaction to have? Maybe I was supposed to think they looked ferocious???) Whatever!

My favorite moment of the competition when J was in his first match and Bubba J (the two-year old) ran to help his brother fight the other kid. That's brotherly love!

Foreign Artists in Riyadh: An Exhibition Hosted by the Art and Design Group of Riyadh

Abayas in a row. . .
The Art and Design Society KSA hosted an art exhibition last night featuring the work of foreign artists in Riyadh. I was lucky enough to go and spend the evening in the company of 9 artists along with art lovers from Riyadh. The exhibition was held at the private villa of a local artist in Riyadh who generously allowed the Art and Design Society to use her basement gallery for the exhibition. As it was a ladies-only event, we were allowed to shed our abayas for the evening. This is a sight you would never see in the U.S. (at least for most Americans) with the abayas hung up on coat racks. 

Nine artists showed their work: Jen Buchanan (Australian), Walaa Gad Desouky (Egyptian), Anne Claire Fabre (French), Heather McClellan (American), Michelle Maree (Australian), Saida Oihabi (Moroccan), Susanne Tabet (German), Asma Tariq (Pakistani), and Gosia van Unen (Dutch-Polish). There were a variety of mediums and styles displayed. I spoke with three of the artists and received their permission to post their paintings on my blog. Please do not share these pictures as they do belong to the artists. If you want more information or to see more of their works, please contact them at their email addresses or go to their facebook pages. I have provided links to the artists.

There was a wonderful display of food brought by the artists, highlighting food from their individual countries. The food was delicious and gave us a taste of the diversity of cultures and experiences represented by the artists. Heather McClellan, an American, brought pumpkin pie, an American favorite. There were some delightful treats to sample. 

Asma Tariq, Jen Buchanan, Gosia van Unen, Susanne Tabet, and Saida Oihabi each gave short presentations about their art work and training. I found the presentations really interesting. Gosia van Unen is prolific in her output. It is clear that she has an intense to create and experiment. Her work is very diverse and interesting. Jen Buchanan discussed her passion to teach students and to create work as a means to look critically at our world. Asma Tariq discussed the precision in her technique to create her exquisite miniature works of Mughal style paintings. She paints using a magnifying glass. She also discussed this royal style of painting. I was quite captivated by her artwork. Susanne Tabet spoke of being so moved by the beauty of artists like Modigliani and attempting to recreate their works. I loved the way she spoke about how her art affects her personally, how it soothes and moves her with the beauty of the colors, lines, and movement. Saida Oihabi was trained in France but also has a rich Moroccan heritage. She spoke movingly of an orphanage near her home in Morocco. She helps support this orphanage through her artwork. 

I am not an artist myself. But I do consider myself creative and artistic as a writer, a scrapbooker, and a musician. As these writers discussed creativity, inspiration, technique, and education, I felt like I could apply that inspiration to my own creativity. There is an energy and excitement when you meet artists and view their work. I also liked the idea that art challenges us to think critically about our world. And certainly, these paintings made me step back and think. 

I would have loved to show you paintings from all 9 artists, but I wasn't able to speak with all of them personally and didn't feel like I had the write to share pictures of their work without their permission. Here are three paintings that I really enjoyed. Again, I'm not an artist, so I'm just sharing my uneducated opinions and reactions to these particular paintings.

This first painting is called "Al Hayq 1" and was painted by Saida Oihabi, a Moroccan woman who was raised in France. I found this painting so beautiful with graceful, flowing lines, the repetition of the white robed women, and the sense of mystery evoked. The women are completed veiled and we only see their backs. I do find women in the Middle East fascinating, mysterious, and unapproachable covered in their veils  and robes. There is a privacy and a dignity portrayed by these women. And to me I also see a real difference in cultures. In the U.S., women don't hide behind veils and robes. We lack a subtlety in our dress, behavior, and movements. That contrast strikes me every time I venture out into Riyadh. Of course, women in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia are garbed in black. That is almost more forbidding and ominous in a way. 

I found the painting both beautiful and thought-provoking. Thought-provoking because it caused me to ponder my own reactions to differences in cultures and the way women dress in this area and what that dress means to me.
"Al Hayq 1" by Saida Oihabi. For more information, please contact Saida at   This image is shared by permission from Saida Oihabi. Please do not copy or share this image.

I love this painting, "Saudis" by Heather McClellan. I know Heather personally. She is a wonderful art teacher and a delightful person. She is currently working on a series of paintings focusing on women in countries she has visited. (She has a wonderful painting about Thai women that is fabulous). She showed this painting at the exhibit. I apologize for the poor quality of the photograph. I love this painting because of the bold black color, interspersed with bright pops of color. I love how Heather highlights the different ways Saudi women cover their faces and their eyes. Since Saudi women cover most of their faces, their eyes become very evocative and compelling. It is a little hard to see from the photograph, but there are henna designs throughout the entire painting. The swirling patterns create a lot of movement in the painting. I think the faces of the women are beautiful. I like this painting because where I sometimes feel that Saudi women are forbidding their black attire, Heather sees mystery, beauty and elegance in their faces. Again, this is really causing me to look at my own environment here in Riyadh. Simply wonderful!
"Saudis" by Heather McClellan. This image is shared by permission from Heather McClellan. Please do not copy or share this image.

Asma Tariq's miniature paintings immediately captured my attention when I entered the gallery. Exquisitely framed, they drew my eye the marvelous detail and forms of the paintings. As I mentioned earlier, Asma Tariq paints in the Mughal style ( which is an art form that very few artists in the world still use. Her paintings represent months of painstaking painting and burnishing as she creates these miniature works of art. I thought this painting was just lovely. I love the grace, form, and beauty of the women in the picture. I love the movement of her body and her clothing. Then the curves are mimicked in the border. I spent quite a bit of time examining the picture. Really beautiful!
"Rhythm within" by Asma Tariq  (Mughal style Miniature Gauce on Wasli with Pure Gold).   For more information please contact Asma at or visit her Facebook page at Asma's Painting Art

I truly enjoyed the evening as I looked at the different works of art. I realized after listening to the artists talk about their work, that painting and creating is a way for these women to process and think about the world and their own lives. This is very much the way I feel about writing, scrapbooking, and music. When I write, I process what I see, what I feel, and what I learn. I often walk away from an experience and write about it and come to greater understanding of that experience, because of the writing. With my scrapbooking, I am processing my own family's story as we move through this life. Scrapbooking brings me joy as I chronicle my children's development and growth. It also allows me to relive wonderful experiences we share as a family. And music gives me an outlet for my emotions. When I'm feeling down, singing or playing the piano, or both, lifts me and allows me time to just feel. I felt a bit of a kinship with these artists. We may not create the same way, but our creations allow all of us to find meaning and value in the world in which we live.

I look forward to more evenings with the Art and Design Society of KSA. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Under Construction

Riyadh is a city that is CONSTANTLY under construction. The only thing that rivals it would be the perpetual construction on 1-15 in Utah between Provo and SLC. I frequently see clusters of giant tower cranes working on buildings. Roads are being torn up and rebuilt, so getting around the city can be very challenging. (This reminds me, I need to talk about the use of the U-turn in driving. You never make a left turn, you always do a U-turn. But more about that later. . .)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Desert Work

We went to the desert again today. But our destination wasn't sandy dunes with magnificent views. It was slightly more prosaic. My husband is a scientist and works outside of Riyadh frequently.  (He does have an office in the city where he also spends time.) We went to see the complex where my husband spends his days working on solutions to problems.

The views were different here. Instead of smooth red sand, we were confronted with tan rock running for miles in all directions. At the complex, we sat underneath a covered pavilion and ate our lunch. Below us were sparse fields of green, dotting the beige landscape.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Mosques seem to be around every corner of the city of Riyadh. Not surprising at all. For the most part, the mosques in Riyadh seem to be rather plain, without a lot of adornment. I find them functional and beautiful. Exotic to my eyes because I've never really seen mosques (with the exception of the mosque in Jerusalem). Anyhow, I thought you might appreciate seeing some different mosques I've snapped pictures driving around the city.